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Peripeteia in Oedipus Rex

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachel Noorda
This lesson discusses peripeteia, a sudden change in a situation, that is used as the climax in ''Oedipus Rex'' by Sophocles. The sudden change in situation is that King Oedipus realizes that he killed his father and married his mother. Updated: 04/22/2021

Defining Peripeteia

The Greek play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles has a very famous peripeteia woven into its plot. A peripeteia is the sudden change in a situation and is a term used to describe plot twists in literary works, usually the climax of the plot. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and dramatic critic, was one of the first to discuss peripeteia in drama as the ''reversal of the situation.''

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  • 0:04 Defining Peripeteia
  • 0:30 Hidden Truths
  • 1:30 Peripeteia as Climax
  • 2:44 Lesson Summary
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Hidden Truths

The entire plot of Oedipus Rex revolves around a hidden truth: that King Oedipus murdered his father and married his mother. At the beginning of the play, Oedipus does not know these facts. He is a good king who tries to get rid of a plague on the city by following a prophecy to find Laius'skiller.

Tieresias, the blind prophet, tells Oedipus, ''Thou art the murderer of the man whose murderer thou pursuest.'' But Oedipus refuses to believe Tieresias at first. This leads him down a path to find the truth. When a messenger comes to Oedipus to tell him that his supposed father Polybus had died, Oedipus tells the messenger about the oracle who said that Oedipus would kill his father. The messenger tries to relieve Oedipus' fears by telling him that Polybus was not his real father. But this only make Oedipus more anxious and determined to find out who his real father is. This is the beginning of the rising action that builds towards the climax.

Peripeteia as Climax

A climax is the point of the story with most conflict and tension, after which follows the resolution. The sudden change in situation, or peripeteia, is what causes the ultimate conflict and tension in the play, so the peripeteia is also the climax.

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