In his book Poetics Aristotle gives a clear conception of plot in a drama. For him it is the “first principle”, and “the soul of a tragedy”. He calls plot “the imitation of the action”, and the arrangement of the incidents. He required a plot to be “whole”, that is, to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. For him a plot should have unity, namely “imitate one action”, and the “whole” should be such that its parts are so united that if any one of them is displaced or removed, it is disjointed and disturbed. The incidents arouse pity and fear which are purged out of the audience’s mind through a process called
The plot of King Oedipus is structured in such a way that Aristotle’s definition of plot can be perfectly applied to it. It is because of the immaculate structure of the plot that King Oedipus has been regarded as the masterpiece of Sophocles, and the greatest of all Greek tragedies.
The plot of the tragedy has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning, Laius, king of Thebes, ruled over Thebes, and Jocasta was his queen. The Delphic oracle told him that any child born to Jocasta would become his murderer. So, as soon as a child was born to Jocasta, Laius snatched him from the nurse’s arms, riveted his feet and gave it to a servant to leave it exposed on Mount Cithaeron. But the servant, gave it to a Corinthian shepherd, who in turn gave it to Polybus, who was the childless king of Corinth. The baby was brought up by Polybus as the prince of Corinth.
The middle of the story begins from the time when Oedipus hears a man say, in a drunken state that he was not Polybus’s son. He goes to Pitho to consult the oracle there, but comes back disappointed of an answer.
The oracle tells him that he will kill his own father, marry his mother, and “become the parent of a misbegotten brood”. He flees away from Corinth, determining never to see home again so that so such horror should even come to pass. When he comes to the place in Phocis where three roads meet, he meets Laius riding on a chariot and escorted by some men. Oedipus gets into a quarrel with him, and out of rage, kills Laius, and all his men, unaware that Laius was his real father. He moves farther on towards Thebes and meets the monster Sphinx who was giving a riddle to every Théban that passed her way, and eating him if he failed to solve the riddle. Oedipus solves it and the monster, out of despair, kills herself. Now the Thebans make him king and he marries the queen Jocasta unaware that she is his own mother. He fathers four children. A plague then descends upon Thebes. The Deiphic oracle is consulted once more, and it replies that they must expel the murderer of Laius. Oedipus launches a search for the murderer. Teiresias is called. He points indirectly to Oedipus as the murderer. Then from his conversation with Jocasta he suspects himself. To get further clues to the mystery, he calls the man to whom Laius gave the baby to leave on the mountain to die from exposure there. That man says he gave it to a Corinthian shepherd The shepherd coincidentally arrives to give the news of Polybus’ death, and to rnvite Oedipus to become the king of Corinth. From his interrogation of the shepherd he comes to know for sure that he is the murderer of Lauis.
The end of the story tells us that Jocasta commits suicide and Oedipus blinds himse!f. Creon becomes the king of Thebes.
The story ofKing Oedipus is dramatized, not of course in the sequence as given above, but through a flashback technique. Here the story starts with the plague ravaging the city of Thebes, and the incidents previous to that are recalled up to the present moment, and then the end or catastrophe takes place.
The story is so arranged thatit fulfils Forster’s condition of emphasis on causality and becomes a plot. It also fulfils the conditions of the three unities — unity of action; unity of time, and unity of place. That means the plot is tightly constructed with no superfluous incidents or characters. Each episode leads logically into the next. The whole story takes place in the same place, and within twenty four hours. All the secondary characters are sharply defined, broadly and realistically drawn. A brilliant use of irony highlights the weaknesses in Oedipus’ personality, and foreshadows the tragic conclusion of the play.
All these factors create an impeccable plot.