The second play sequentially of Sophocles' Theban tetralogy but written last and produced at the Dionysia posthumously.
The play picks up years after the events of Oedipus Rex, with the now blind and beggarly Oedipus and his daughter Antigone arriving at Colonus. They stop to rest in a sacred grove and are confronted by citizens concerned for the sanctity of the place and fearful of Oedipus' curse. Oedipus knows this as a sign of his imminent death and asks for an audience with Theseus, the king of Athens.
Ismene, Oedipus' other daughter, arrives bearing news of the succession crisis in Thebes, where their younger brother Eteocles has ousted the older Polyneices, who intends to wage civil war as a result. Oedipus' favour is central to the success of the war, but in bitterness he chooses to give his favour to the people of Colonus rather than his sons. Theseus gratefully accepts his blessing and declares him a citizen of Athens.
Creon appears to force Oedipus to go to Thebes by abducting Antigone and Ismene but Theseus intervenes. Polyneices also appears to request Oedipus' aid, but upon rejection makes Antigone promise to bury him, knowing he will die. After his exit a thunderstorm appears and Oedipus recognizes the moment of his death, bids farewell to his daughters and goes off with Theseus in secret. Despite their grief Antigone and Ismene choose to return to Thebes to try and stop their brother's rebellion.
This play contains examples of:
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Inverted actually. In a very static play the abduction of Oedipus' daughters is a surprising moment of frantic action amidst the calm.
- Anachronic Order: This was the second play chronologically, but this was from Sophocles' (apparently incomplete) swan song and premiered, under his grandson Sophocles the Younger's direction, a few years after the poet's death.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: Oedipus just... disappears at the end.
- Blind Seer: Oedipus has become one, and personally brings down a curse on his own sons.
- Doomed by Canon: Though taken from myth and so obviously a Foregone Conclusion, there's a specific feeling of Doomed by Canon that comes at the end of this play when Antigone and Ismene resolve to go to Thebes to try and stop their brothers. Though Antigone is a sequel, Sophocles wrote it over thirty years before Oedipus at Colonus.
- Downer Ending: Eteocles and Polyneices are going to war against each other, and we know from other sources that each slew the other.
- I Have Your Wife: Creon kidnaps Oedipus' daughters (his own nieces).
- Local Reference: Sophocles sets this play in his hometown of Colonus.
- The Musical: Made into a gospel musical in the 1980s, The Gospel at Colonus.
- Older and Wiser: Though still the main character, Oedipus is greatly changed from the previous play.
- Prophecies Are Always Right: Oedipus knows this better than anyone, and accepts his death when he recognizes the prophesized signs.
- Thanatos Gambit: Oedipus makes sure that Thebes will not benefit from his death, and ensures the future success of Athens.
- Tragic Hero: Oedipus is one that has survived from his tragic fall and since gained some measure of dignity back through the blessing his bones will bring to Athens.