Peripeteia in Oedipus Rex

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 in 'Oedipus Rex' is that king Oedipus realizes that he killed his father and married his mother.

Defining Peripeteia

Peripeteia is the sudden change in a situation. This is a term used to describe plot twists in literary works, like the Greek play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. The peripeteia is the climax of the plot of a piece of literature. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and dramatic critic, was one of the first to discuss peripeteia in drama as the 'reversal of the situation.'

Peripeteia in Oedipus Rex

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, king Oedipus does not know this truth. He is a good king who tries to get rid of a plague on the city by following a prophecy to find Laius's killer.

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. The final piece of this puzzle is in discovering who Oedipus's parents are. Oedipus finds out that his parents were not actually his parents. The last thing he has to know his who his real parents are because if it is Laius and Jocasta, then he has actually killed his father and married his mother.

Building up to the peripeteia, Oedipus has a conversation with the herdsmen who found him abandoned on the mountainside. Reluctantly, the herdsmen tells Oedipus that the abandoned child, 'was one of the children of Laius.' Now, Oedipus realizes the truth. It is his moment of peripeteia. He says this:

'O, O, O, they will all come, all come out clearly! Light of the sun, let me look upon you no more after today! I who first saw the light bred of a match accursed and accursed in my living with them I lived with, cursed in my killing.'

Peripeteia as the Climax

A climax is the point of the story with most conflict and tension. It is one part of the plot or action of the story. The action, tension and conflict rises until it reaches the climax and then it falls after the climax and ends in a resolution. The sudden change in situation, or peripeteia, is what causes the ultimate conflict and tension in the play, so the peripeteia in the play is also the climax.

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