Chapter Three: The Plays
Oedipus the King and Prometheus Bound
After reading the play excerpts from Chapter 3, you should be able to
• Be familiar with the basic plot and characters Oedipus Rex
• Know some of the themes of Greek plays
• Know what is Freud’s “Oedipus Complex”
• Be familiar with the basic plot and characters of Prometheus Bound
Oedipus Rex is one play of a trilogy by Sophocles
• Oedipus Rex, Oedipus the King, Oedipus Tyrannos
• Oedipus at Colonus
• Oedipus, King of Thebes
• Jocasta, wife of Oedipus and Queen
• Creon, brother-in-law to Oedipus
• Tieriasis, blind prophet
• Laius, former king of Thebes, whose murderer is unknown
Oedipus becomes king by answering the riddle of the Sphinx
Riddle of the Sphinx
The answer to the Sphinx’s riddle: man!
So how is Oedipus Rex the ultimate Greek tragedy?
• First, Oedipus is of high rank and station as the King of Thebes.
• He has a tragic flaw, which in this case is pride or hubris.
• He finally recognizes his guilt and has a reversal of his behavior, although his symbolic gesture
of blinding himself cannot repair the damage done by his past choices.
• The audience viewing this play would experience a “catharsis” because they would understand
that the meaning of this play is that you cannot escape the will of the gods.
Oedipus remembered for his violent act
Modern Oedipus with Blood
Modern Day Chorus
Jocasta in Unusual Headpiece
Freud and the Oedipus Complex
The middle play of a trilogy by Aeschylus.
Three Promethean Plays
• Prometheus, the Fire Giver
• Prometheus Bound
• Prometheus Unbound
• Prometheus is one of the original 12 Titans.
• Prometheus’ gift of fire to mankind angers Zeus.
• Prometheus is credited in Greek mythology with creating man, as well as educating him.
• Zeus had intended to destroy man.
• Prometheus is ordered to use fire to cleanse the earth.
• Instead, Prometheus shows man how to use fire to his advantage.
Staging and Characters
• The action of the play was thought to be staged on the balcony (top of skene house) to
represent the mountain top on which Prometheus is bound.
• The Chorus serves as Prometheus’ confidant.
• Other characters include Oceanus, father of the Chorus; Io, a madwoman forced to wander the
earth by Hera, and Hermes, messenger of Zeus.
Zeus orders Prometheus chained to a rock/mountain.
Part of Prometheus’ punishment is torture: an eagle eats his liver each day!
Prometheus’ liver re-grows each night, so he must endure the torture once again the next day!
What Gothic novel was subtitled, “The Modern Prometheus”?
• Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
Prometheus outside of Rockefeller Plaza
• Oedipus Rex by Sophocles was considered the standard example of a true Greek tragedy.
• His tragic flaw was his pride or “hubris”, which led to his ultimate downfall.
• Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus showed that even when a titan defies the gods there is a
heavy price to pay.
• Both plays illustrate the Greek themes of the search for truth and the consequences of fate and
• Cohen, Robert. The Theatre. 6th edition. Mayfield Publishing: 2003.