It is not the tragic subject matter of the text that is of primary interest – but rather the manner in which the plot is developed. The story line progresses as if the reader is “unpeeling an onion.”
The tale of King Oedipus is well known. An enraged Oedipus unknowingly slays his father (Laiusq, King of Thebes) and supplants him as monarch and as husband to his own mother (Queen Jocasta). As each successive “layer of the onion” is unpeeled, Oedipus is brought a step closer to realizing the true nature of his actions. Foretold in prophecy and initiated by his anger, the downfall of Oedipus comes to fruition as all facts gradually come to light.
This “enlightening” starts with the revelations of a blind prophet named Tiresias. Though sightless, Tiresias can “see” the truth. He argues with Oedipus “…you have your sight, and do not see… . Yea, you are ignorant… .”(Sophocles, 15). Understandably, Oedipus is enraged at the prophet’s accusations and fatally insists on investigating the murder of King Laius.
In Aristotle’s Poetics, it is stated that a tragedy must be complete – having a beginning, middle and end. Of equal importance “…the sequence of events, according to the law of probability or necessity, will admit of a change from bad fortune to good or from good fortune to bad.”(Aristotle, 15).
The impetus for the downfall of Oedipus, “Known far and wide by name” (Sophocles, 1), is his anger. Enraged he slew King Laius and in anger he hastily pursued his own ruination. From the aforementioned recriminations of Tiresias to the conflict with his brother-in-law Creon (his ill temper again displayed – “Tempers such as yours most grievous to their own selves to bear,… .(Sophocles, 25); through the revealing exchanges with his wife/mother Jocasta and her slave (whose pity saved the infant Oedipus), damming insight grows in a logical sequence, all the while fueled by the Oedipal rage. Realizing the heinous nature of his actions, Oedipus blinds himself in a fit of anger and remorse – now, as Tiresias, he can see.
In an age where popular entertainment is apparently guided by the maxim “more is better” (see the body count in any popular “action thriller”) and “special effects” dominate, Oedipus Rex achieves its climax in a refreshingly concise and intelligent manner. “For the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place. This is the impression we should receive from hearing the story of the Oedipus.”(Aristotle, 24). In 1500 years will The Phantom Menace be as revered?