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Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 ANCIENT GREEK DRAMA A Case Study on Sophocles and Oedipus the King 33.

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Presentation on theme: "Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 ANCIENT GREEK DRAMA A Case Study on Sophocles and Oedipus the King 33."— Presentation transcript:

1 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 ANCIENT GREEK DRAMA A Case Study on Sophocles and Oedipus the King 33

2 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 The Ancient Greek Theater The ancient Greek theater originated in the 6th century B.C. At that time Greece was divided into city-states, which functioned as independent countries and included a single major city and the area surrounding it. Athens, Sparta, Thebes, and Corinth were powerful city-states in ancient Greece. Athens was the leading cultural center, renowned for its arts, learning, and philosophy while Sparta was the dominant military power. Ancient theater on the Greek island of Kós

3 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 The Ancient Greek Theater continued… Thespis of Icaria was considered the first Greek actor- playwright. He was accompanied onstage by only a chorus. Thespis played all the roles he created, distinguishing characters with the use of masks. At times, he would engage in dialogue with the leader of the chorus. Unfortunately, none of his scripts has survived. Still today actors are referred to as thespians. The most important competition for playwrights occurred during the festivals in honor of Dionysus (god of change, transformation, wine, agriculture, and fertility) – festivals funded with public and private moneys. Dramatists submitted three tragedies and a satyr (a short, comic afterpiece) in hopes of winning prizes. Sophocles won more first prizes than any other playwright. Woman holding a theatrical mask Terracotta figurine made in Tanagra, Greece ca. 325–300 BC.

4 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 “In Athens, the classical period, the Golden Age of Greek civilization, all Athenians have to be theatergoers because it’s a civic obligation to go to the theater. … It’s not just political … it’s a religious duty – in fact, festivals and religion go together.... Theater … was taken so seriously that we might as well call it … a sacred narrative. … It’s as real as what history might be to us.” — Professor Gregory Nagy Professor of Classical Greek Literature, Harvard University Director of the Center for Hellenic Studies in Washington, D.C.

5 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 The Theaters Since the theater was so important to the ancient Greeks, elaborate construction plans were undertaken for grandiose outdoor amphitheaters which could accommodate audiences of more than 15,000. The audience sat in tiers that sloped up hillsides on which the theater were built. The performance took place on an elevated platform (proskenion). Behind the acting area was a scene building (skene) that functioned as dressing room and as scenic background. Below the stage was the orchestra or dancing place for the chorus.

6 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 The Actors Actors wore masks that amplified their voices, similar to megaphones. The masks were large, and with the elevated shoes sometimes worn by actors, the characters seemed larger-than-life. Movement was difficult, so sweeping gestures, like beating one’s chest in grief, were necessary to convey emotion. Actors were carefully trained, especially in vocal dexterity and movement. With an advanced knowledge of acoustics, the theater designers made it possible for all in the audience to hear the actors’ voices. All actors were men who often played several roles in a play. Actors were so respected in ancient Greece that they were exempt from military service. Thespis was the lone actor on stage in his productions. Aeschylus added a second, Sophocles added a third. Therefore, no more than three actors were ever on stage at the same time in an ancient Greek tragedy.

7 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 The Audience Everyone was expected to participate in the theater either as part of the play or part of the audience. The king would invite foreign dignitaries as his guests. (Despite being considered the cradle of democracy, Athenian culture discriminated against women. In the theater, they were forced to sit in the upper tiers.) The audiences were more expressive than audiences of today. If they liked a performance they would roar with approval. If they disliked a performance, they might hiss and throw things at the stage. The judges decided prizes based upon audience reaction.

8 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Playwrights In addition to Sophocles, the two other major tragedians from ancient Greece are Aeschylus and Euripides. Aeschylus (c. 525–c. 455 BCE), wrote over 70 plays, but only 7 have survived. He is the author of The Oresteia, the only extant Greek trilogy, which consists of Agamemnon, the Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides. His plays have a pronounced moral and religious content. By adding a second actor to his productions, he emphasized character interaction and reduced the role of the chorus. Euripides (c. 480–406 BCE) wrote about 90 plays with no more than 19 having survived. His greatest works include Alcestis, Medea, Trojan Women, and The Bacchae. He is also the author of Cyclops, the only complete satyr play still extant. His plays portray especially strong women. Aristophanes (c. 446– c.386 BCE ) is the foremost comic playwright of ancient Greece. Eleven of his forty plays have survived, including The Acharnians, Clouds, Peace, The Birds, Lysistrata, and The Frogs.

9 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Sophocles He was also known for his musical skill and his handsome appearance. In ancient Greece and today, however, he is best known as a playwright. He wrote more than 100 plays, but only 7 have survived: Ajax, Antigone, Trachinian Women, Electra, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus, and Oedipus the King, which many consider the greatest play ever written. In Poetics, Aristotle (c. 384–322 BCE) used Oedipus as his model to illustrate the power and workings of a great and forceful tragedy. Sophocles (c BCE) was born during the Athenian Golden Age, when the military power, artistic glory, and philosophical achievements of Athens were at their zenith. He held political and military positions, serving as a general in the Athenian army. He also served as a priest of Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine.

10 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Oedipus the King and Greek Tragedy Oedipus the King follows the conventional structure of a Greek tragedy: Prologue – provides exposition and establishes the conflict that the protagonist must face. Párodos – the entrance of the chorus. Episodia – a series of scenes, usually debates between characters in which the action and the events of the play are presented. Stasimon – an ode presenting the communal voice of the chorus that separates the scenes. Exodos – the concluding scene, including the final lines of the chorus.

11 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Classical Unities As Aristotle outlines in Poetics, Sophocles observes the classical unities in Oedipus: Time – the action of the play takes place within one day. Place – the action of the play takes place in one setting (the palace steps). Action – the play includes only action and details that lead to the conclusion. Sophocles’s use of the classical unities contributes to the play’s conciseness and suspense. There are no extra scenes and no extra words. Every detail drives the play to its conclusion. The result is a powerful and absorbing drama.

12 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 King Oedipus As the play opens, what is Oedipus’s objective? Does it change as the plot progresses?

13 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Oedipus’s Objective At first Oedipus wants to rid the country of its torment, which remains his goal. But it becomes more specific with the return of Creon from Delphi: to find the killer of La ї os. Finally, it becomes to identify his parents, which is to say, to identify himself. His objective becomes more specific, but never deviates or becomes inconsistent with service to country.

14 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Oedipus as Tragic Hero King Oedipus serves as Aristotle’s paradigm of a traditional tragic hero. Consider the following characteristics: 1. The traditional tragic hero must be extraordinary in rank and deed – “of high estate,” “great reputation and prosperity.” What kind of king was Oedipus? Note how the citizens react to him at the beginning of the play, and, perhaps more revealingly, at the end after his downfall. Is anyone in the play pleased with Oedipus’s fall and humiliation? What heroic deeds did he perform? 2. A Tragic Flaw – “Hamartia” A tragic flaw is the personality trait or fated mistake that leads to a tragic hero’s downfall. Some argue that Oedipus is guilty of hubris (excessive pride); others that he is too rash (consider his actions before the play opens and his temper during the play). But does Oedipus’s whole character contribute to his movement from happiness to misery in a sudden reversal of fortune? Oedipus may be proud and he may be rash, but he is very caring, very honest, and relentless in his pursuit of the truth; in short, he is very noble and very brave. 3. Outside elements cooperate in the hero’s fall. Consider the oracles, the actions of his parents, and bad luck. Can we hold Oedipus fully responsible for his downfall?

15 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Oedipus as Tragic Hero continued … 4. Recognition – “Anagnorisis” Oedipus becomes fully aware of the import of his past actions only when the messenger from Corinth addresses him. By the end of the play, he has gained knowledge about himself, the gods, and the world. 5. Willingness to Suffer As an extraordinary and now fully informed individual, the tragic hero must be willing to suffer for his transgressions, even though he may not be fully responsible. Oedipus not only accepts his edict issued early in the day, but he also blinds himself as further punishment. At the end of the play, consider how Sophocles develops audience sympathy for Oedipus. Is this the reason for the scene with the fallen king and his two daughters?

16 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Oedipus as Tragedy Restoration – Traditional tragedy follows a pattern of upheaval and restoration. Because the tragic hero is such an important figure, the nation itself is affected by his fate. However, by the end of the play, the tragedian restores hope and the country is once again in balance. At the end of Oedipus, the future of Thebes looks promising: the curse is removed and Creon seems well suited to be king. Poetry – The traditional language of tragedy is poetry, which establishes an exalted atmosphere and expresses the heights and depths of human emotion and action more completely. Catharsis – The emotional renewal created by an audience’s feelings of pity and terror for a tragic hero, resulting in the recognition that the hero’s tragic fate was just and that his acceptance of that fate makes the tragedy complete.

17 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Freud on Oedipus Are you more fascinated or horrified by King Oedipus? Consider Sigmund Freud’s comments on the king and his theory of the Oedipus Complex: “His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours – because the oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him. It is the fate of all of us, perhaps, to direct our first sexual impulse toward our mother and our first hatred and our first murderous wish against our father. Our dreams convince us that that is so. … Here is one in whom these primeval wishes of our childhood have been fulfilled, and we shrink back from him with the whole force of the repression by which those wishes have since that time been held down within us.”

18 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Iocastê and Creon as Foils A foil is a character who contrasts with the protagonist. The contrast emphasizes personality traits of the protagonist. Consider Iocastê as a foil to Oedipus. Is Oedipus more courageous than Iocastê in confronting the truth? Her suicide, which many find understandable given her circumstances, contrasts with Oedipus’s dignity and bravery as he confronts his tragic fate, further enhancing his tragic stature. Most readers and viewers will not lose any respect and sympathy for Iocastê. Consider too how Creon contrasts with Oedipus. Note Creon’s calm response to charges of treason and Oedipus’s quick-tempered response to Teiresias and his accusations concerning his brother-in-law. At the close of the play, note too how Creon double checks with the oracles before banishing Oedipus.

19 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Dramatic Irony Dramatic Irony is a discrepancy between what the characters know and what the audience or readers know. Sophocles uses dramatic irony to create tension and suspense as we wait in horror for Oedipus to catch up with us. Consider specific examples. in Scene I, Oedipus says, “… I take the son’s part, just as though / I were his son, to press the fight for him and see it won!” (ll ). In Scene III, Oedipus says, “… I can not be dishonored. / Luck is my mother” (ll ). What other instances of dramatic irony occur in the tragedy?

20 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Light and Darkness Imagery Note, among others, the following images of light and darkness that run throughout the play: In the Prologue we hear that Thebes is “all darkened” (line 33) and that Oedipus “must bring what is dark to light” (line 134). In the Párodos the chorus tells of the “nightfall of the past” (line 7). In Scene I, Teiresias warns Oedipus that he will be driven from Thebes “with only night upon your precious eyes” (lines ) – also an example of foreshadowing. In Scene II, Oedipus tells Iocastê that “a shadowy memory crossed my mind” (line 201).

21 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Light and Darkness Imagery continued … Odes I, II, III, and IV include references to the sun, lightning, flaring light, and more. The imagery of light and darkness reinforces the shadowy nature of knowledge. It can be very difficult to detect the truth among all the shadows, camouflages, and ambiguities. One of the ironies in the play is that those who are blind see the truth most clearly: Teiresias and Oedipus at the end.

22 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Chorus The chorus most distinguishes a traditional Greek tragedy not only from a modern and contemporary play, but also a Shakespearean tragedy. The Greek chorus sang and danced in the orchestra, the area between the audience and the stage, and represented the common or communal viewpoint, often raising questions and concerns that would be on the minds of audience members. The chorus has several other functions. For instance, since the violence occurs offstage and the scenes usually include only dialogue, the chorus relieves an otherwise static presentation with its dances or stylized movements as it crosses the stage during the odes.

23 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Chorus continued … The chorus serves to make the passage of time more plausible, as a few hours in the play’s action sometimes passes between scenes. The chorus interacts with characters through the Choragos, a functional character who in Oedipus provides cautious advice and suggestions, verifies the identity of the shepherd, and worries about Iocastê. What specific functions does each ode have in Oedipus? In the Párodos:The chorus establishes a melancholy mood and provides exposition. The leading citizens of Thebes are confused, frightened, and desperate.

24 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Chorus continued … In Ode I, the chorus prepares the audience for what will occur, including the fact that the killer of Laïos will be caught and that Teiresias will make a bold, bewildering pronouncement. In Ode II, the chorus helps introduce theme, such as the importance of keeping the laws of the gods, maintaining faith in the oracles of Delphi, and avoiding the sin of hubris. In Ode III, the chorus focuses attention on the critical issue: Who are the parents of Oedipus? The tone is desperate and full of concern for their beloved King. In Ode IV, the chorus expresses great sympathy for Oedipus, which, in part, manipulates the audience’s emotional response. In the Exodos, the choragos closes the play with a comment about human frailty and the unpredictable nature of existence.

25 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 Religion in Oedipus At the time Sophocles wrote King Oedipus, many Greeks were losing faith in the oracles. Through the play, Sophocles makes a strong statement in favor of the traditional religion based on Homeric mythology and faith in the oracles. Consider Ode II, but particularly lines 34-46: Shall we lose faith in Delphi’s obscurities, We who have heard the world’s core Discredited … The deeds and the strange prophecies Must make a pattern yet to be understood. … Our masters call the oracle Words on the wind, and the Delphic vision blind! Consider the fate of those who disregard the oracles.

26 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 For Further Consideration Does Oedipus’s punishment exceed his crime? If you were responsible for Oedipus’s punishment, what would be the sentence? If any? What could Oedipus have done to avoid his downfall? Anything? Do you feel pity for Oedipus? Why or why not? Compare Oedipus as a tragic hero with Hamlet and Othello. Read W. B. Yeats’s Purgatory, a play inspired by Oedipus and in which a son kills an abusive father. Was Oedipus’s father abusive? How do Oedipus and the Old Man in Purgatory pay for the murder?

27 Literature: Craft & Voice | Delbanco and Cheuse | Chapter 33 For Further Consideration continued… Read Ruth Eisenberg’s poem “Jocasta.” The poem opens a window onto the Queen’s possible motivations and feelings. But how consistent are these motivations with Sophocles’s Iocastê? Research Teiresias. How does he obtain his gift of prophecy? In what other myths does he display his gift? Write a newspaper column reporting the tragedy of Oedipus. Base your account on interviews with characters. You might interview Iocastê just prior to the messenger’s arrival from Corinth, one of the suppliants after Teiresias’s meeting with Oedipus, the Choragos after the action of the play has transpired, Creon three days later, or one of Creon’s sons a few days later.


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