Research Essay

General Guidelines for a Research Essay on Oedipus

Topic: Choose three or four of the elements (or use three or four aspects of the historical context) of the tragedy of Oedipus the King and show how each of them illustrates the main theme of the play. (Pick one theme.) Ultimately, your goal is to discover how each element shapes the meaning (the theme) of Oedipus the King.

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Elements of tragedy: Historical context, character development, role of the chorus, symbols, setting, tone—specifically irony.

Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (425 B.C.–5th Century Athens, Greece)

The Historical Context of Oedipus the King: (An element of drama): The historical and cultural context of the play is Athens in the Fifth Century B.C.E. When you examine the historical context of a work of literature, you are investigating the cultural, philosophical, religious, and political background of the work in order to discover how and why the historical context shapes the meaning of the text.

Here are some questions to help you think about and research the historical context of the play:
• How important was a belief in the Gods to people who lived in fifth century Athens?
• Did the rulers of Athens and people of the upper classes regularly consult oracles, like the one at Delphi, to guide their decisions?
• Athens had recently suffered through the plague when Sophocles first produced Oedipus in 425 B.C.E. (“Critical Casebook” 947). How long did the plague last in Athens in the Fifth Century? How did the people of Fifth Century Athens react to the plague and its terrible consequences? Did the Athenians blame their rulers or the Gods for the plague? Do the similarities of the two plagues help shape the meaning of Oedipus? In what way?
• What was role of the dramatic festivals in Athenian life (see page 944 in your textbook—“The Civic Role of Greek Drama.”)
• What was the role of women in fifth century Athens? Is the character of Jocasta representative of upper-class Athenian women? How specifically?
• Who were the great philosophers of the time? Were the philosophers influential in shaping public belief? Was a person’s ability to use his reason considered to be an important character trait? What about the ability to persuade or to be persuaded? Was pride considered to be a flaw in a person’s character? By whom and why?
• Sophocles’ drama Oedipus was based on the well-known folktale of Oedipus. Research other well known versions of the tragic story by other ancient Greek poets and dramatists to determine how and why Sophocles changed the details of the legend in his drama Oedipus the King. How do the details that Sophocles changed help emphasize the development of Oedipus’ character in Sophocles’ version of the events? How do the changes help emphasize the theme of the play?
• What was happening in the government in Athens at the time the play was produced? Who was the leader? What was his character?

Requirements for the Researched Essay:

1. Use a minimum of five secondary sources in addition to the primary material (the literary work itself). Avoid using material from questionable web sites and any other questionable sources. Journal articles must be from peer-reviewed academic journals. If you are not sure about the quality of any source, whether print or online, be sure to check with me before you use it in your paper. Please note that you may use two of the articles following Oedipus in your textbook as sources for this paper.

2. Develop your paper fully — use adequate detail, give specific examples, cite passages, and illustrate with incisive quotations. Be sure to use in-text, parenthetical citation in MLA format for both paraphrased material and direct quotations. Begin your research as soon as possible.

3. The text of your paper should be at least 700-1,000 words (about four to five typed, double-spaced pages) excluding the Works Cited page.

4. On the first page, in the upper-left-hand corner, type your name, the course title, my name, and the date. Number your pages in the top right-hand corner of the essay. Use a standard 12-point font with 1” margins all around. Use MLA style with parenthetical citations (no footnotes or endnotes) and a works cited page with each citation in correct format and listed in alphabetical order.

5. Quoting or paraphrasing from a short story or Oedipus in your textbook: In the in-text, parenthetical citation following the paraphrase or quotation from Oedipus in the textbook, put the line numbers or number. If you have not mentioned the author in the sentence or your paraphrase or quote is not clearly from the play, you should include the author’s name—Sophocles–in the parenthetical in-text citation.

6. Do not include any block style quotations (quotations longer than three lines). In addition, avoid using too many short quotations. As a general rule, each main point should include a short quote from Oedipus to support that point. Try to work the quote into your sentence structure. Always introduce your quotation or provide a lead-in for your quotation.

7. Follow the quote with your explanation of the quote by answering the question, what does the quote prove?

Writing the Annotations for the Annotated Bibliography
Your Annotated Bibliography should include annotations for a minimum five articles that you plan to use in your essay. At least three of those articles should be peer-reviewed (refereed).
Format: Begin each annotation with the MLA-style citation for the article or book. A good annotation has six to seven sentences or more. Each sentence should center on a strong action verb. Try to avoid “to be” verbs and weak verbs such as “says,” “writes,” “does.” These verbs do not usually express either how the author approached the writing of the article or how the article “works” rhetorically. Also, avoid the use of personal pronouns when writing the entries.
1. The first sentence should include the author’s name and a rhetorically accurate verb (such as asserts, argues, suggests, implies, claims), and a “that-clause,” containing the major assertion (thesis statement) of the work, for example, “Joan Smith traces man’s use of machinery to make the work easier and the world more livable.”
2. After stating the thesis, summarize the main points used to support the thesis and the author’s conclusion.
3. Be sure to alphabetize the citations in the bibliography. You should NOT number them.
4. The annotated bibliography should include an annotation for all of the articles that you will use in your essay. However, if you find an article that you want to use in your essay after you have submitted your annotated bibliography, you should definitely use the newly discovered source. You will not have to go back and add the new source to your annotated bibliography.
5. Your researched argument essay should include the standard “Works Cited” page, which should include citations in MLA format for all the articles that you have cited in your essay.


Baker, Sheridan. “Attitudes.” Journal, Vol. 22, 1966, pp. 125-39.
Baker asserts that writers’ attitudes toward their subjects, their audiences, and themselves powerfully influence the quality of their prose. Baker supports his assertion with examples that show how inappropriate attitudes can make writing unclear, pompous, or boring. He concludes that good writers respect their audiences, are aware of their readers’ needs, and remain “amiable toward human failings” (127). Baker’s purpose is to make his readers aware that negative attitudes can sabotage their attempts to become better writers. He establishes an informal relationship with his audience of college students who are interested in learning to write with conviction (128).

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