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Oedipus the King

by: Sophocles Translation by Robert Fagles, 1984, Penguin Books, New York Organizational Patterns: This translation of the text does not provide concrete divisions, but could be seen and approached as 7 main scenes, each followed by a reading or dialogue by the Chorus. The lines of the text are numbered in multiples of 5. Many translations also include an introduction and appendix with supplementary materials. The Robert Fagles translation published by Penguin as The Three Theban Plays (Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus) is one such translation. Issues Related to the Study of Literature: Themes: 1. Self-Knowledge 2. Pride 3. Sight vs. Blindness/Light vs. Darkness 4. Truth 5. Responsibility/Accountability 6. Fate vs. Choice Setting: The play takes place entirely outside of the royal house at Thebes, with a set that usually includes double doors entering the house, and a stone altar. The action of the play occurs all in the one day that Oedipus finds out the truth about himself. (The three unities: 24 hours, one location, one story or action.) Foreshadowing: The oracles: The oracle at Delphi prophecies to Jocast and Laius that their son will grow up to murder both of his parents. Years later, the oracle prophecies to Oedipus that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Oedipus' fear that he killed Laius: The tale of Laius' death begins to ring a little too true to Oedipus, who killed a man at a crossing where three roads meet just prior to defeating the Sphinx and assuming the throne of Thebes. Jocasta's fear that Oedipus is her son: Jocasta realizes after speaking with the messenger that the story of Oedipus being given to the king and queen of Corinth is too coincidental for comfort, and she begins to dissuade him from finding out more about his past. Oedipus' name means "Swollenfoot", indicating that he is Jocasta's son: It would seem as though Jocasta would have put these two facts together immediately, but then the story would have been over before it began. Tiresias' verdict that Oedipus killed Laius: Although blind, Tiresias was a seer. He indicated to Oedipus that the man he was seeking was himself. He did not provide details, however, because he cared about the family and did not wish for the assured tragic results of the revelation of the truth.

Point of View, Narrative Voice: The play uses an objective, dramatic point of view, in which we as the audience take a strict observer's role of the events as they occur. At times we get some of the benefits of limited omniscient narration when certain characters interact with the Chorus, revealing their feelings, ideas, or actions. The play focuses, however, on the events as they are revealed to, and as they effect, Oedipus. The Chorus acts as Narrator, helping the audience to come to conclusions and determine how the story should affect them. Tone: The overall tone of the play is ominous and foreboding. It becomes clear to the audience that Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother, fulfilling the prophecies of the oracle. There is tension as the audience or reader must watch Oedipus and Jocasta set themselves up for the big fall of realizing the truth. The audience is trapped, waiting to see the worst played out before them. Irony: Irony is the driving force of the play. It is unfortunate, but very ironic, that everyone goes to such great lengths to avoid the prophecy of the oracle that Oedipus will grow up to, only to place him in exactly the right position to do so! Jocasta and Laius send Oedipus to be killed as a baby, which would have worked, except the shepherds decided to let him live as long as it was somewhere far away. Then, the whispered warning at the banquet that Polybus was not Oedipus' father sent Oedipus to the oracle again, causing him to receive the prophecy that he would kill his father and sleep with his mother. This information sent him on the road to Thebes, so by running away from the prophecy, he actually ran to fulfill it! It is also ironic that the person who can see most clearly, Tiresias, is blind, and that Oedipus' "sight" into his own life pushes him to blind himself. Affective Issues Related to the Work: I think that all students will be able to relate in some degree to the concept of fate, or a decreed future, as illustrated in the play. Have they ever felt like someone or something was dictating their future, and they felt helpless to do anything about it? What happened? What are some options for choice the student may have (or have had)? This concept may get a little sticky, however. (For example, why did this happen to Oedipus?) Why did Oedipus still try to follow through with the consequences he had set for Laius' murderer? What is the value of being accountable for your actions? What are some good ways to develop self-knowledge? How can knowing ourselves effect our actions? What are some of Oedipus' characteristics? How do they compare to students' characteristics? What can be the effects of pride? Do you think that pride is Oedipus' hamartia, do you think it is something else, or do you think he does not have a hamartia? Why do you think Sophocles chose to have his "seer", Tiresias, be portrayed as blind? Are there different ways of "seeing"? What are some of those ways? How can they be compared to eyesight?

Vocabulary Issues: This may be one of the first introductions to Greek names, gods and mythology that many students are receiving. Pronunciation and spelling of names needs to be researched and indicated for students. Many of the terms involved with Greek drama will probably be new to students, including Aristotelian plot structure, and definitions such as hamartia and catharsis and the unities. The translation is very readable, but the wording and flow of sentences will still be thick and difficult in several parts. Some of the words which may pose a challenge for students are: Rout Seer Conspiracy Surmise Omen Clairvoyant Explicit Treachery Hearsay Oracle Fate Furor exposition Major Concepts: Bad things can happen to good people. Oedipus was trying to escape trouble, not run to it, but fate had other plans for him. Accountability for our actions. Oedipus never tried to revoke his promise for punishment for Laius' murderer, even when he discovered it was himself. This idea is especially important in this day for our school-aged population, as they are becoming the citizens and leaders of tomorrow. There is more than one way to "see". Tiresias provides a clear example of being able to see and recognize truth, even without eyesight. Many times we focus on what we lack, but there are other ways to perform almost any function. Society will answer the sin of Oedipus on the heads of his children. What are examples we see of this today? How can we fight biases like these in ourselves? Background Knowledge: First and foremost, it could greatly benefit the students to learn about Greek Theatre, including, but not limited to: the Festival of Dionysus, the performance space (set, acoustics, who could attend), Aristotle's Poetics and Aristotelian plot structure (and other definitions such as hamartia and catharsis), elements of performance (music, dance, Chorus, costumes and masks, etc), Greek mythology and the gods, etc. Tragedy as a genre. Ancient Greek cities, civilization, culture, beliefs. What was expected of a man of

Athens? What was the meaning and importance of the oracles? Sophocles and his works, introducing more actors, etc. Implications for Students of Diversity: The vocabulary issues that apply for all students especially apply for students of diversity. Vocabulary words may seem twice as foreign to them. The terms of the elements of Greek Theatre should be carefully reviewed. It could be explored that students of diversity might relate to Oedipus living in Thebes as a supposed "Corinthian". Up until the action of the play, he has created a successful life for himself in a foreign land. Is the language the same? Maybe something these students could relate to is the set-up of government and civilization at the time. Who had power, who could vote, etc. Gender Issues: I don't know if this will affect anyone, but if Laius dies, shouldn't the kingdom go to Jocasta? Research gender roles in Ancient Greece (female students may be a little outraged!). Who had power, who could vote, etc.? Were there women on stage in Greece during Sophocles' time? How were women portrayed usually in the theatre? Does Sophocles reinforce this or challenge it? How might a production of Oedipus be different without women in the cast? With women in the cast (Chorus, too.)? How might it be different if Sophocles had included Merope in the story somehow? What do you know about Oedipus' daughters/sisters Antigone and Ismene? What kind of women are they? If you were Jocasta, what would you have done when Oedipus was born and you received the prophecy? When Laius died? When you found out the truth? How do you think these events effected Antigone and Ismene? Do girls receive this type of stigma because of their families today? How? The Central Question/Enduring Issue: The two issues that hover around this work are the examination of fate vs. choice, and sight vs. blindness. Neither question is given a full resolution in the work, leaving them open for the reader or audience to come to terms with them personally. Many argue that, contrary to the average tragic hero, Oedipus does not have a hamartia, therefore making his a bitter, inexplicable fall. So does the answer to Oedipus' character and story lie in the fact that fate overpowered his choice, or the way in which Oedipus responded to fate? As for sight vs. blindness, the blind seer can "see" better than Oedipus, and when Oedipus can "see" the truth, he is so appalled that he blinds himself. What is the message about sight, especially in regards to our mistakes and flaws? What does it take to be able to "see"?

Research Issues/Project Ideas: Have students assume the role of playwrights whose plays are entered in the Festival of Dionysus this year. Some examples are Aeschylus, Euripides, Sophocles, etc. Have them

debate why their play should win, using examples from plays or records of these types of debates. Research the quality and ways of life for three different Ancient Greek citizens: a landowning young man, a woman, and a servant. Role play the differences and interactions between them. Research the costuming used in Greek Theatre. Create masks for the main characters of the play. Draw or build a model of a Greek amphitheatre. Create a visual representation of a tragic hero, according to Aristotle's Poetics. Create a visual representation of Oedipus and write a paragraph of how he compares with the tragic hero mold. Create an in-class graphic organizer of Greek gods and their influence on ancient Greek citizens. Students will make a Power Point presentation or website about the Festival of Dionysus and the place of Greek theatre in ancient Greek civilization. Students will rewrite sections of the play or the entire play, switching gender or power roles. Reader's theatre or memorized performances of sections of the play. Informational/Functional Texts: Research books/websites about Ancient Greece civilization Research books/websites about Greek Theatre, and the Festival of Dionysus Pictures of Greek ruins, amphitheatres, sketches of what it was probably like. Books/websites about Sophocles, his characters, his works, how he compares with his contemporaries. Books/websites about Greek gods, mythology, oracles, etc. Artwork of masks, costumes of the period. Videos of the performance.

Aimee Pierce, BYU, 2003


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Microsoft Word - Concept-Vocab Analysis.doc