Oedipus the King is generally considered his most representative work. Aristotle considered it a perfect tragedy. As well as all his works, this tragedy talks about fatalism, a traditional theme for Greek literature. Something specific to Sophocles is to focus upon the interior life of his characters. This kind of view was to be considered a very modern approach, in fact the early introduction of psycho-analysis technique to the dramatic writings. The plot is about Oedipus, main character, who kills his father and marries his mother in an attempt to avoid the very prophecy he ultimately fulfills.
Oedipus cannot escape his fate, but he finally finds peace, after enduring the worst the fates had to offer. Oedipus still is the most played tragedy of all Greek theater.
Most of the story takes place before the first line of the play. Oedipus, the protagonist or the main character, is the son of King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. An oracle predicts that Laius is " doomed/ To perish by the hand of his own son.” After learning this, he decides to deliver Oedipus, his infant son, to a servant, with orders to kill him. But the servant has not got the strength to fulfill the king’s request and, instead abandons the baby in the fields, as the believes the baby's fate has to be decided by the gods.
The baby is rescued by a shepherd, who gives him the name of Oedipus (or "swollen foot"). Not having the means to raise the infant, the shepherd gives it to a fellow shepherd from a distant land. This second shepherd carries the baby with him to Corinth. Here Oedipus is raised in the court of the childless King Polybus of Corinth, as if he were his own.
After some years, when Oedipus was a young man, he hears a rumor that he is not the biological son of Polybus and his wife Merope. Very suspicious, and because nobody conforms this hypothesis, he asks the Delphic Oracle whom his parents really are. Instead of giving him a direct answer, the Oracle tells him he is destined to "Mate with his own mother, and shed with his own hands the blood of his own sire." Oedipus leaves Corinth, looking for his true parents, Polybus and Merope.
On the road to Thebes, he meets Laius, but he does not know he is in front of his true father. They start arguing, and the fight finishes with Oedipus murdering Laius. This way a part of the oracle's prophecy is fulfilled. After a while, he arrives to Thebes, kingdom that was kept under the curse of the Sphinx.
Oedipus solves the Sphinx riddle: "What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon, and three in the evening?” answering "Man".
The Sphinx throws herself off the side of the wall and Oedipus's reward for freeing the kingdom of Thebes from her curse is kingship and the hand of queen Jocasta. But, Jocasta is his biological mother, so the prophecy is fulfilled. All this takes place before the beginning of the play, which starts, years after Oedipus has taken the throne of Thebes.
The kingdom was affected by a plague, sent by the gods in response to Laius's murder. Oedipus searches for the murderer, not understanding he, himself carries the guilt.
A blind prophet, Tiresias is called by the king to give help for the search. The prophet’s answer is that Oedipus is looking for himself, and as response, Oedipus accuses Tiresias of conspiring with Creon, Jocasta's brother, to overthrow him.
Shortly after, Oedipus calls for the only surviving servant of Laius. The servant witnessed the murder and ran away from the city, when Oedipus became king, not wanting to be the one to reveal the truth.
Soon the king is informed of the death of Polybus, whom Oedipus still believes to be his real father. The messenger also tells him that he was in fact adopted. Afterwards, the servant reveals the truth and runs away in shame.
But only after a second messenger arrives with the shepherd, who reveals that Oedipus himself was the child abandoned by Laius, he realizes what he is, and leaves furiously.
Shortly after, Oedipus finds out that Jocasta has hanged herself. When discovering her body, Oedipus gouges out his eyes with the golden brooches on her dress.
Oedipus, entrusting his children to Creon, decides to live in exile. He wants his child to accompany him, but Creon refuses, and Oedipus is exiled alone. At the end of the play, the chorus narrates Oedipus tragic history.