Ancient Greek audiences would already know the background, and in fact the entirety, of the Oedipus story. Therefore what makes this particular play so great is its ability to present this material in an evocative and powerful manner, in order to nullify the reality that most of the audience already knew its contents. Modern audiences might recognize the name Oedipus from Sigmund Freud's famous "Oedipus Complex" - particularly his theory that young boys lust after their mothers and see their fathers as competition for their mothers' favors. This theory springs from Jocasta 's comment that killing your father and marrying your mother are the kinds of things men often dream of (981). Freud's theory has been hotly debated and, indeed, is currently dismissed by most classical scholars – though the fact that the issue remains the subject of much psychological debate is proof that the Oedipus story continues to be powerful even thousands of years after the advent of Sophocles' play.
Jocasta urges Oedipus not to look into the past any further, but he stubbornly ignores her. Oedipus goes on to question a messenger and a shepherd, both of whom have information about how Oedipus was abandoned as an infant and adopted by a new family. In a moment of insight, Jocasta realizes that she is Oedipus’s mother and that Laius was his father. Horrified at what has happened, she kills herself. Shortly thereafter, Oedipus, too, realizes that he was Laius’s murderer and that he’s been married to (and having children with) his mother. In horror and despair, he gouges his eyes out and is exiled from Thebes.