The chorus, left alone on stage, chants first of Oedipus's greatness among men, and then about how fate brought about his horrifying destruction. The chorus adds that though Oedipus saved Thebes (from the Sphinx), the city would have been better off had it never seen Oedipus.
Though he committed them unwittingly, Oedipus's deeds are so shameful that even the Thebans whom he saved from the Sphinx find him repulsive and wish they were blind to him.
A second messenger enters with news of events in the palace. Jocasta locked herself in her room to mourn Laius and her own fate. In hysterical grief, Oedipus ran through the palace searching for Jocasta with sword drawn, cursing her. He knocked down her door to find hat she had hanged herself. Now weeping, Oedipus embraced Jocasta and lowered her to the floor. He took two golden brooches (pins) from her robes, and plunged them into his eyes until he was blind, screaming that he no longer wanted to see the world now that he knew the truth.
Oedipus's deliberate self-mutilation remains one of the most shocking acts in theater. But, as typically happens in Greek drama, the violence takes place off stage and then is described on stage by someone who witnessed it. The truth, and the shame and guilt its discovery released, have killed Jocasta and blinded Oedipus.
The chorus and the messenger are struck with grief and pity. Oedipus enters, but they can't bear to look at him. Blood pouring from his eyes, Oedipus speaks of his agony, of darkness, of insanity. He begs to be cast out of Thebes as a cursed man. He wishes he'd never been saved as a baby.
Oedipus is still revolting because of his past deeds, but his act of blinding himself has immediately made him worthy of pity too. He's now a victim more than a villain.
Oedipus gives a long and heart-rending speech about the terrible things he has done and that have happened to him, as ordained by Apollo. Yet he insists that it was his own hand that blinded himself, he claims, not the hand of fate. The chorus asks why he blinded himself instead of killing himself. Oedipus says he could not bear to look his father and mother in the eyes in Hades (hell), and, alive, he cannot look bear to look at the faces of his children or his countrymen. He asks the chorus to hide him, kill him, or hurl him into the sea.
Although Tiresias predicted that Oedipus would end up blind, Oedipus emphasizes that it was his own choice to blind himself. He did not choose to kill his father or marry his mother. That, he says, was the will of the gods. But blinding himself was an act of his own free will, a response to the fate and shame that the gods have forced on him.
Creon enters. The Chorus expresses hope that he will restore order to Thebes. Creon forgives Oedipus for his past actions, and orders that Oedipus be brought inside so that his shame may be dealt with privately. Oedipus begs Creon to banish him in order to save Thebes. Creon agrees to do it, but only after consulting an oracle to make sure that the gods support such an action. Oedipus notes that his sons are old enough to take care of themselves, but begs Creon to look after his daughters, Antigone and Ismene.
Just as Oedipus restored order by defeating the Sphinx, Creon restores order now. Creon has assumed the role of leader without missing a beat. Notice his different leadership style, though. Where Oedipus was a man of action and was willing to try to defy fate, Creon is much more cautious and makes sure he is doing the will of the gods before acting.
At Oedipus's request, Creon sends for Antigone and Ismene, who enter, crying. Oedipus hugs them. Weeping, he tells them that they will be shunned because of his terrible acts, and that as the products of an incestuous marriage they will be unable to find husbands. He tells them to pray for a life better than their father's.
Oedipus is correct that his misfortune will continue into the next generation, as shown in Sophocles's play Antigone. Throughout Greek literature, shame and guilt are often passed down through families.
Creon then puts an end to Oedipus's time with his daughters, and again refuses to grant Oedipus's wish for immediate banishment until the gods explicitly grant it. Oedipus then asks Creon to give him more time with his daughters, but Creon responds only by reminding Oedipus that he will no longer have any power for the rest of his life.
Creon's treatment of Oedipus at first seemed gracious. Now he beings to flex his political power, but Creon ends up wrong. In Oedipus at Colonus, the dying Oedipus has gained a new kind of power that Creon will try to take and control.
All exit except the Chorus, which laments that even the most powerful and skillful of men can be ruined by fate. The Chorus ends with these tragic words: "Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last."
The chorus suggests that, just as Oedipus was unable to escape his destiny, all people, however great, are always subject to the whims of fate and the gods. Trying to escape fate brings more pain, which can only be stopped by death.