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Greek Drama: Tragedy & Oedipus Rex. SOPHOCLES Born in Athens, Greece, between 500-494 BCE Belonged to an affluent Athenian family Wrote at least 120 plays,

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Presentation on theme: "Greek Drama: Tragedy & Oedipus Rex. SOPHOCLES Born in Athens, Greece, between 500-494 BCE Belonged to an affluent Athenian family Wrote at least 120 plays,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Greek Drama: Tragedy & Oedipus Rex

2 SOPHOCLES Born in Athens, Greece, between BCE Belonged to an affluent Athenian family Wrote at least 120 plays, 90 of them tragedies Died BCE

3 Social & Political Athens 5th Century BCE Athenian government was an “exclusionary democracy,” run by elected officials in the form of an open assembly. –Only about 10% of the population was eligible to participate. –Women, slaves, & “non-citizens” were excluded.

4 Social & Political Athens 5th Century BCE Although Sophocles was a member of the ruling class, he was aware of the social inequalities in Athenian society. His plays include repeated attempts to warn his fellow Greeks of the divine retribution that would come to them as a result of their prejudices & injustice to the poor.

5 Religious Ideas The Greek pantheon consisted of hundreds of deities in a complex hierarchy. The familiar “Olympian” gods - closest to humans - were a relatively small part of the overall scheme.

6 Religious Ideas While immortal & powerful, the gods were not all-powerful in the sense of our modern concepts of God. The gods themselves were subject to FATE and to each other’s will. –In Oedipus Rex, the Delphic Oracle is the prophet of Oedipus’s doomed fate, but she’s not the cause of it - nor is Apollo.

7 Fate & Free Will The Greeks did, to some extent, believe in FREE WILL. Still, FREE WILL was not more powerful than DESTINY. –Oedipus is a perfect example of the belief that, try as they might, people cannot avoid the destinies to which they are born.

8 Fate & Free Will Nonetheless, as Oedipus’s FATE is the result of his father’s earlier misdeed, human FREE WILL cannot be completely dismissed either.

9 Oedipus’s Backstory Laius - Oedipus’s birth father - was raised by a single mother who ruled Thebes as her dead husband’s regent. Laius’s two young cousins usurped the throne & plotted to kill young Laius. So, Laius was smuggled out of Thebes and given to Pelops, King of Pisa, to raise.

10 Oedipus’s Backstory Laius became the tutor of Pelops’s favorite son, Chryssipus, whom he abducted and took back to Thebes. The two cousins having died, Laius claimed his throne & held Chryssipus captive. Pelops raised an army & demanded the return of his son, but it was discovered Chryssipus was already dead.

11 Oedipus’s Backstory Laius & his house were cursed because of his poor treatment of Pelops & Chryssipus. When Laius married Jocasta, he was warned NOT to have children by her because his son by Jocasta would one day kill him. One night, while drunk, Laius imprudently disregarded the prophecy* - and Oedipus was conceived.

12 Oedipus’s Backstory Thus, while Oedipus is, to a large extent, a pawn of FATE, at the root of that ill destiny is an act of FREE WILL that went against nature and angered the gods.

13 One More Note on Oedipus’s Backstory Oedipus came to rule Thebes by solving the riddle posed by the Sphinx and thus saving Thebes from chaos and destruction.

14 What was the Sphinx? The Greek Sphinx was a demon of death and destruction and bad luck. It was a female creature, sometimes depicted as a winged lion with a feminine head, and sometimes as a female with the breast, paws and claws of a lion, a snake tail and bird wings. She sat on a high rock near Thebes and posed a riddle to all who passed.

15 The Sphinx The riddle was: "What animal is that which in the morning goes on four feet, at noon on two, and in the evening upon three? ” She strangled those who could not solve the riddle. Finally, Oedipus came along to save the day.

16 Oedipus & the Sphinx Oedipus was the only who could answer that it was ” man, who in childhood creeps on hands and knees, in manhood walks erect, and in old age with the aid of a staff. ” The Sphinx was so mortified at the solving of her riddle that she cast herself down from the rock and perished.

17 Oedipus & Greek Drama So, how did Oedipus’s story end up on the stage in play form?

18 Origins of Greek Drama Sixth Century BCE –According to legend & recorded by Aristotle, Thespis essentially invented acting by stepping in front of the chorus & performing a solo. –The word “thespian” has come to mean “actor.”

19 Origins of Greek Drama Fifth Century BCE –Athens made tremendous advances in philosophy, rhetoric, literature, science, architecture, and visual arts. –Tragedies were performed in annual competitions that were a part of the Lenaia and the Great Dionysia, religious festivals held in honor of Dionysis.

20 Dionysis One of the twelve Olympian gods God of wine & ecstasy Inspirer of ritual madness Patron of theater & agriculture

21 Theatre of Dionysus, Athens

22 Theater of Epidaurus

23 At the religious festivals… Each competing playwright produced 3 tragedies & a satyr-play. The three best submissions were approved & given a chorus for performance. On the last day of the festival, a prize was awarded to the tragic playwright voted best of the year.

24 The Three Greatest Athenian Tragic Playwrights Aeschylus - wrote the Oresteia, a tragic trilogy, & introduced the use of a second actor onstage, interacting with the first. He also began to develop a more complicated plot. He won 13 festival competitions. Euripides - wrote Medea. He won 4 festival competitions.

25 The Three Greatest Athenian Tragic Playwrights Sophocles –brought a third actor on-stage, created scene design, and enlarged the chorus from 12 to 15. –wrote the “Theban plays,” Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. –won 20 festival competitions.

26 The “Theban Plays” While Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone are often anthologized together and in “chronological” order, they are not a trilogy. Antigone was written first and Oedipus at Colonus last - about 40 years later. Each work should be considered a separate work, NOT episodes in a serial.

27 Conventions of the Greek Theater Dramatic Irony –The audience was already familiar with the plots, taken from well-known myths. –Therefore, they always had more information about the action than the characters onstage did. –Suspense was in HOW the well-known events would transpire & in the audience’s watching the events unfold in “real time.”

28 Conventions of the Greek Theater Plays were acted in the daytime, with minimal sets and props. Actors were all male. Actors wore masks, wigs, and high- heeled boots, which increased their visibility to the audience & added to the formality of the experience.

29 Greek Tragedy Masks


31 Conventions of the Greek Theater To increase dramatic intensity, the plays observed the THREE UNITIES described by Aristotle…

32 Unity of Time All the action of the play took place within twenty-four hours, in continuous time. Dialogue and the Chorus provided background information.

33 Unity of Place All of the action was limited to a single setting.

34 Unity of Subject One single main plot focused on the main character. There were no sub- plots.

35 Conventions of the Greek Theater Due to the religious intent and dignified style, no violence was shown on stage. The messenger ran on stage and spoke to the audience of any deaths or killings.

36 The Chorus Was used to present exposition & to provide commentary on the action & characters: –15 men represented the citizens. –They were always on stage, and they frequently sang and danced. –They always had a leader who carried on a dialogue with the main characters or with the rest of the chorus.

37 The Chorus The function of the chorus was to… –Set the tone –Give background information –Recall events of the past –Interpret and summarize events –Ask questions –Offer opinions –Give advice, if asked –Stay objective –Act like a jury of elders or wise men who listened to the evidence and reached a moralistic conclusion at the end of the play

38 The Chorus Performed in song with a highly formal and stylized back-and-forth movement that heightened the emotion of their performance: –Strophe - first part of a choral ode –Antistrophe - follows the strophe –Epode - completes the chorus’s movement

39 Greek Tragedy Aristotle’s definition in his Poetics: “an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative, through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation of these emotions” (VI.2, p. 23).

40 Key to Tragedy: Catharsis Aristotle said tragedy aroused the emotions of PITY and FEAR. Ideally, tragedy brings about a purging of these emotions. This release of feelings = Catharsis.

41 Key to Tragedy: Catharsis The release was/is thought to produce emotional relief and encourage psychological health. Tragedy heals. Catharsis = the end goal of tragedy.

42 The Tragic Plot Tragedy is not true in the sense that history is true. It’s not a duplication of life, but a representation. Plot consists of a self-contained and concentrated single action. Only those incidents integral to the action are included in the play.

43 3 Major Elements of the Tragic Plot Peripeteia / Reversal of fortune Anagnorisis / Recognition Scene of suffering / Pathos 1. Peripeteia - “reversal of fortune” from good to bad.

44 3 Major Elements of the Tragic Plot 2. Anagnorisis - a change from ignorance to knowledge, producing love or hate between the persons destined for good or bad fortune. This recognition = discovery of true identity or involvement, establishment of guilt or innocence, & revelation of previously unknown details. *In the best tragedies, the peripeteia (reversal) & anagnorisis (recognition) occur together and create suspense.

45 3 Major Elements of the Tragic Plot 3. Scene of Suffering - a destructive of painful action, such as death, bodily agony, or wounds. This destructive or painful action should be caused by loved ones. This will arouse the most fear & pity. *All 3 of these elements appear near the play’s conclusion because they are the probable & inevitable results of the exposition & complications.

46 Hamartia The tragic condition is often the result of the tragic hero’s hamartia, often defined as the tragic flaw that leads to the hero’s downfall. More accurately, hamartia is an error in judgment or perception, the hero’s inability to see his flaw or to accurately foresee the consequences of his decisions or actions.

47 Hubris A common trait associated with hamartia is hubris (or hybris). Hubris = exaggerated self pride or self confidence, which often results in fatal retribution. Hubris against the gods is generally regarded as a character flaw of the heroes in Greek tragedy and the cause of their destruction.

48 The Tragic Hero The tragic hero’s misfortunes are not caused by vice or depravity - but by some great error. The error makes him human to the audience; thus, he arouses fear and pity in us because we can see ourselves in his place. We - the audience - are able to sympathize with the protagonist because he is imperfect, just like us, and his suffering exceeds what he deserves. This sympathetic identification makes catharsis possible.

49 Oedipus as the Tragic Hero As you read Oedipus Rex, consider Oedipus as a tragic hero… Do you believe he is a pawn of FATE? How much blame does he bear for his situation? Do you feel fear & pity for him? Does the play move you to a cathartic response?

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