The set up for Sophocles' Oedipus
Remember as you start to read this play (after having read the introduction
to the period in the Fagles book) that you are reading a play that was
written for an audience who already knew "the story." Oedipus'
fate, his destiny and his eventual marriage, were common knowledge to the
audience that attended plays regularly at the festivals in Greece. That
being the case, Sophocles was not intending to write a "who-dunnit." No
one attending the festival of plays was going there to find out who Oedipus
was or what he had done. They already knew that (unlike many of our contemporary
audiences for whom the Oedipus myth is a new one). We often come to this
play knowing little about Oedipus other than that Freud used him as the
model on which to name the Oedipus complex, the psychological theory linking
young men's problems to their attachment to their mothers.
As you read this play, it will become clear to you (or we hope it will)
that the story is not about that. Remember, as you found out in the introduction
to the Greek historical period in Fagles, that the play festivals were
civic events in which plays were presented in order to discuss issues of
great import to the populace. And so it becomes interesting to try to discover
what the 'great issues' were that Sophocles was attempting to discuss in
this play and why it has remained as the classic base of dramatic theory
over these many years.
If the play was not a story telling event, then what was it? that is our
question as we approach the reading today. Look carefully at the way the
chorus (the representatives of the city and perhaps of us as well) want
to believe in Oedipus, their leader. Look at hos Oedipus treats his leadership.
See if you can uncover how Oedipus rates himself as a leader of men. Does
he possess the wisdom Nutting claims our leaders should have? What is his
opinion of the gods and their prophesies? Try to remember that this was
a society built on their reverence of the Gods and their decisions. What
would happen if the entire society should reject the power of prophecy?
Is Oedipus warned early on not to puruse his search? Why does he keep going?
Is he a good man and a good leader? Should he abandon the search? And what
is it he is truly searching for: a murderer or a new sense of the truth
about himself? Does the search change from one search to another?Does he
succeed? What does he accomplish at the end of the play? What does he now "know"?
Is that worth the price he must pay?
These are the real questions of the play. As we watch it, we know a truth
that Oedipus does not and we observe as he has the chance to pull back
from finding the truth at every point in the play. As you read the play
(the second time - for the first time you will probably only be able to
follow the basic story) see if you can see the horror of knowing what someone
else does not know and whether you question whether the search for 'the
truth' is worthwhile.