Summary*see dramlit 2007 : part I : antiquity : the greeks
Thebes, the native city of Dionysus and a center of his cult, is also close to the central oracle of Apollo at Delphi.
QuestionsOedipus suffers because he is a great human being. Yes, he makes an error, but it is his greatness as a human being which leads him into this error. That word error is important. It comes from Aristotle's concept of hamartia, that characteristic of the tragic hero which leads to his destruction. This phrase is often translated as "tragic flaw." And that translation has unfortunately encouraged the moralizing tendency, because the word "flaw" suggests some corrigible moral error, some sin, which he shouldn't have done.
Pasolini on Pasolini: "I wanted to make the film freely.... I had two objectives: first, to make a kind of completely metaphoric – and therefore mythicized – autobiography; and second to confront both the problems of psycho-analysis and the problem of the myth." (In the half hour documentary on Pasolini included on the DVD, one section is devoted to a concise examination of his views on this film.)
NotesSophocles (c.496 B.C.–406 B.C.) Oedipus the King. The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.
SOPHOCLES, the most perfectly balanced among the three great masters of Greek tragedy, was born in Colonus, near Athens, about 495 B. C. His father was a man of wealth, and the poet received the best education of the time, being especially distinguished in music. He began his career as a PARAtist at the age of twenty-seven, when he gained a victory over Æschylus; and from that time till his death in 405 B. C. he retained the foremost place as a writer of tragedy. Like a true Greek, he played his part in public affairs, both in peace and in war, and served his country as a diplomat and as a general. He was profoundly admired by his contemporaries for character as well as genius, and after his death was honored as a hero with annual sacrifices. His son, Iophon, and his grandson, Sophocles, both gained distinction as tragic poets.
 Besides lyrics, elegies, and epigrams, Sophocles is said to have composed upward of one hundred and twenty plays, one hundred of which are known by name, but only seven have come down to us entire. These are the “Trachiniæ,” dealing with the death of Heracles; “Ajax,” “Philoctetes,” “Electra,” “Œdipus Rex,” “Œdipus at Colonus,” and Antigone.”
 The development of tragedy by Æschylus was continued by Sophocles, who introduced a third actor and, later, a fourth; reduced still further the importance of the chorus, and elaborated the costumes of the players. He did not, like Æschylus, write trilogies which carried one story through three plays, but made each work complete in itself. The art of clear and full characterization was carried to a pitch of perfection by him, the figures in the plays of Eschylus being in comparison rather drawings in outline, while those of Euripides are frequently direct transcripts from real life, without the idealization given by Sophocles. With his restraint, his balance, his clearness of vision, his aptness in the fitting of means to ends, and the beauty of his style, he stands as the most perfect example in literature of the characteristic excellences of the Greek artist. In the two PARAs here given will be found illustrations of these qualities at their highest.
Pacino Eyes Oedipus, February 3, 2000
If you thought the family tragedies in The Godfather were high drama, then have we got a topper for you. Three-time Michael Corleone portrayer Al Pacino is eyeing (pun intended) a run at the ultimate Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex.
The Oedipus complex is a concept developed by Sigmund Freud, who was inspired by Carl Jung (he described the concept and coined the term "complex"), to explain the maturation of the infant through identification with the father and desire for the mother.
It is based on the Greek myth of Oedipus who kills his father Laius and marries his mother Jocasta. The Oedipus conflict or Oedipus complex was described as a state of psychosexual development and awareness first occurring around the age of 3 and a half years (a period of development known as the genital stage in Freudian theory).
Theory of the Oedipus Complex: Relying on material from his self-analysis and on anthropological studies of totemism, Freud developed the Oedipus complex as an explanation of the formation of the ego, the super-ego and the id. The traditional paradigm in a (male) child’s psychological coming-into-being is to first select the mother as the object of libidinal investment. This however arouses the father's anger, and the infant surmises that the most probable form of this is castration.
The infant internalizes the rules pronounced by his father. This is how the super-ego comes into being. The father now becomes the figure of identification as the child wants to have his phallus, but resigns from his attempts to take the mother, shifting his libidinal attention to new objects of desire.
Carl Gustav Jung claimed that young girl's desire is for the father, known as the Electra complex, which is basically a reverse Oedipus complex. This is often falsely ascribed to Freud. In fact it aroused Freud's anger for he had more complex construction of the female Oedipal complex: The girl is originally attached to the mother as well, however the discovery of the absence of a penis leads to an anger at the mother, who is held responsible. She therefore turns her libidinal attachment on to the father and imagines that she will become pregnant by him. She believes that the pregnancy will replace the missing penis, which she envies and will allow her to gain equal status with the father.
French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan refined this very crude theory in his linguistic theories. He claimed that the position of the father could never be held by the infant. On the one hand the infant must identify with the father, in order to participate in sexual relations. However the infant could also never become the father as this would imply sexual relations with the mother. Through the dictates on the one hand to be the father and on the other not to, the father is elevated to an ideal. He is no longer a real material father, but a function of a father. Lacan terms this the Name-of-the-Father. The same goes for the mother — Lacan no longer talks of a real mother, but simply of desire, which is a desire to return to the undifferentiated state of being together with the mother, before the interference through the Name-of-the-Father.
This desire necessarily lacks something, i.e. it is a desire of lack. The father and accordingly the phallus (not a real penis, but a representation of mastery) can never be reached, thus he is above or outside the language system and cannot be spoken about. All language relies on this absence of the phallus from the system of signification. According to this theory, without a phallus outside of language, nothing in language would make sense or could be differentiated. Thus Lacan remodels the linguistic theory of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure. It is this idea that forms the basis of much contemporary thought, especially poststructuralism. Nothing can be thought that is outside of language, but the phallus is there and therefore structures the whole system of thought accordingly.
Critiques of the Oedipus Complex:
Popular culture often seeks to portray Freud as a pervert and proclaim his theory of the Oedipus Complex utter nonsense. However, considering the tenacious hold it seems to have over our cultural imagination, this seems a rather simplistic way to attack the Oedipus Complex, especially with the interesting refinements added through new generations of psychoanalysts. However there were also always a great deal of critiques of the Oedipus complex within psychoanalysis and among philosophers who acquainted themselves with the work of Freud.
Alfred Adler contended with Freud's belief in the dominance of the sex drive and whether ego drives were libidinal, he also attacked Freud's ideas over repression. Adler believed that the repression theory should be replaced with the concept of ego-defensive tendencies - the neurotic state derived from inferiority feelings and overcompensation of the masculine protest, Oedipal complexes were insignificant.
Feminist theory has mostly rejected Freud's concept of penis envy, either by dismissing psychoanalysis as a project of masculine mastery, by essentializing femininity thus reclaiming difference as an asset, by using psychoanalysis and simply ignoring it, for example by adopting a version of the Electra Complex or an alternative identificatory pattern (e.g. Hélène Cixous) or by adopting / developing more progressive rereadings of Freud, like those of Jacques Lacan (e.g. Juliet Mitchell, Jacqueline Rose and Judith Butler).
Philosophers Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze, along with radical psychoanalyst Félix Guattari, have used their work to show how internalized power structures are a function of the world order we live in, bent on disciplining the subject. Discipline is meant by Foucault in both its senses, arguing that the science of man has created its own object, relying on Friedrich Nietzsche's concept of the will to power. According to this theory the Oedipus Complex can only arise historically under certain conditions.
Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (pt.1) apply this to the dissemination of Freud's Oedipus Complex, which they call Oedipalization. They believe that the capitalist system and psychoanalysis as its tool rely on making people believe in a father, who is more powerful than them and has a phallus, which will always be unobtainable for them. Their idea is that the family structure is the smallest unit of this subjection because now power does not come from a central force like God or a monarch, but is spread over small power units which keep people in submission. Therefore they assume a system of pure immanence without an outside. They believe psychoanalysis is intent on producing neuroses while the capitalist system is really inherently schizophrenic. They propose an escape through anoedipal structures, relying on psychoanalyst Melanie Klein's concept of partial objects and proposing non-centered schizophrenia as a tendency to strive for, displacing psychoanalysis for schizoanalysis.
• Background Information
• Literary/Historical Information
• Historical Context Of The Play
CHARACTERS[ 8th century B.C. -- the first drama in recorded history. ]
King Oedipus - the king of Thebes. A man ruled by a fate, according to which he is to murder his father and marry his own mother. Oedipus is unaware of the fact that he has already committed these dreadful acts. He is highly intelligent, short of temper, and impetuous.
Jocasta - the queen of Thebes. She is Oedipus' wife as well as his mother but is as ignorant about the latter fact as is Oedipus. She is a good and loving queen who does not hesitate to speak her mind.
Creon - Jocasta's brother. He is a responsible and loyal Theban citizen. Judicious, rational, and consistent in nature, he acts as a foil to the more impulsive Oedipus.
Tiresias - The blind prophet of Thebes, Tiresias has been blessed with immortality. He is the only one in Thebes who is aware of the facts of Oedipus' life.
Chorus - The Chorus plays a very important role in Greek tragedies by providing background information, commenting on the action of the play and revealing the psychological and emotional tenor of the action. In Oedipus Rex, the chorus is formed of Theban citizens who witness Oedipus' tragedy. They are a link between the actors and the audience because they voice the emotions, anxieties and concerns of the people watching the tragedy.
A Corinthian Shepherd - An old man from Corinth, who brings the news of the Corinthian king's death. He is also the man who had presented the infant Oedipus to the Corinthian ruler after he had been abandoned by the Theban shepherd.
A Theban Shepherd - another old man who was a confidante of King Laius. He is the sole witness of Laius' murder and also the one to hand over the infant Oedipus to the Corinthian Shepherd.
Although both these shepherds are minor characters in the tragedy, they do play a major part in unraveling the mystery of Oedipus' birth and Laius' murder.
The two daughters of Oedipus - Antigone and Ismene make an appearance in the play although they are not assigned any dialogue.
A messenger, priests, attendants are the other minor characters.
Scene Summaries with Notes
• Prologue And Parodos
• Exposition And First Stasimon
• Rise In Action
Oedipus Rex can be divided into a Prologue; an Exposition (First Episode); Rise of Action (Second Episode); Climax (Third Episode) and Exodus (Fourth Episode). Each episode ends with a stasimon, or a choral ode.
0:00:00 – Prologue: Unlike most of the film, the opening sequence is set in a Thebes situated in pre-World War II Italy but the action is the same as in the myth. We see the birth of Oedipus to the beautiful Jocasta and her husband, Laius (here a Fascist military officer who lives in a spacious villa). Jocasta has a tender scene alone with her baby in a placid meadow, as the infant looks up at the tall swaying trees. Jealous of his son, Laius grabs him by the feet (Oedipus literally means "swollen foot"). Cut to...
0:11:53 – Oedipus's Childhood in Corinth: We are now in the ancient world of myth, on a barren hilly plain. A sheperd finds the baby (Oedipus) and gives him to the delighted, and childless, King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth. Cut to...
0:18:01 – Young Oedipus: Oedipus is now a handsome youth (who cheats in a discus match).
0:22:17 – Oedipus leaves Corinth to explore the world. An oracle tells him that he will murder his father and marry his mother. So when Oedipus sees signs pointing back to Corinth he avoids them like the plague. He has visions of what his life might be like if he were to go to any of three other cities. At last he strikes out for Thebes.
0:34:47 – Oedipus is stopped by now elderly Laius's wagon. His guards attack Oedipus, who kills all of them but one (who escapes) and Laius.
0:43:40 – Oedipus sees a mass of people fleeing Thebes which is under attack from a monster. Oedipus finds the dreaded sphinx (which here resembles an African witch doctor) and slays it.
0:53:00 – His reward is the kingdom of Thebes and the hand in marriage of the now-widowed Queen Jocasta.
Now and then the question arises: How much do you have to understand in a work of art to appreciate it? And, when it comes down to it, what does “understand” really mean? Moreover, is it possible that the deepest appreciation begins only when you close down the superficial craving to “make sense” of things and open yourself up to a purely intuitive response?
These were some of the thoughts that visited me as I watched Anatoly Vasilyev’s often magical production of “Song Twenty-Three. The Burial of Patrocles. Games,” drawn from Homer’s “The Iliad,” at the School of Dramatic Art.
Vasilyev arguably is Russia’s most refined aesthete, a director of extraordinary sophistication whose command of his craft is nearly absolute and his distrust of, or at least discomfort with, spectators is legendary. I have seen him take the stage before a performance to scold audiences and assert that, if he had his own way, he wouldn’t let spectators into his theater at all. It was an outburst – quite calculated, of course – that should not be taken at face value, but should be understood as a declaration of artistic independence. The point here isn’t Vasilyev’s prickly relationship with the people who perceive his art, but rather his deep emotional and spiritual commitment to his work.
“Song Twenty-Three” is a work of extraordinary depth, scope, beauty and precision. Supremely contemporary in the pristine clarity of its visual appearance, it is, in essence, another of Vasilyev’s experiments in resurrecting the sacred quality of antique drama. This has been true to one degree or another of several Vasilyev productions over the years – “The Lamentation of Jeremiah,” “Joseph and his Brothers,” “Mozart and Salieri” and others. The sources have been vastly different, ranging in these cases from the Bible and Thomas Mann to Alexander Pushkin, but the purpose in all of them has been to recover the mystery and sanctity of the theatrical act. Not infrequently, Vasilyev has collaborated in this task with the composer Vladimir Martynov. His music again stands at the center of “Song Twenty-Three.”
The production offers an interpretation of one aspect of “The Iliad,” focusing on how Achilles avenged the death of his friend Patroclus in the Trojan War by slaying scores of the enemy and then set to the task of honoring Patroclus’ memory with a ceremonial burial followed by athletic competitions. Even with the relatively detailed libretto provided by the theater, only the most basic aspects of this narrative are clear in performance. Such as it is, the action is static and figurative – there is no effort to imitate the horses or chariots of Achilles’ army; no attempt to illustrate the great feast in any practical way; no need to approximate realistically the pyre on which Patroclus’ body was cremated. The details of the story are delivered almost exclusively through the actors’ chanted, highly inflected pronunciation of the text, although this more often tends to obscure rather than clarify the chain of events.
Before any character begins a monologue of any importance, he or she begins with a shout of “Ya! A!” This has numerous repercussions on our perception of the performance, all of which may be erroneous, though they influence us none the less for that. Perhaps it is an avowal of wholeness, for these sounds are the last and first letters, that is, the Alpha and Omega, of the Russian alphabet. Perhaps it is an assertion of individuality, for the letter and word “ya” means “I” in Russian. Perhaps it is merely a brief training exercise, a vocal warm-up for the actor to prepare his or her voice before launching into soliloquies whose quality as rhythm, tone and music is at least as significant as the meanings the words carry.
Unimportant in itself, this aspect of “Song Twenty-Three” is emblematic of the production’s general ambiguity: We often do not know exactly what we are seeing or why it is being offered, and yet we are constantly aware of its effect on us.
The repetition of text in Martynov’s spare, monotone songs, laments and incantations sometimes drives home basic pieces of information. “Bury me,” the choir of 20 sings over and over, reminding us of the dying request made by Patroclus’ slayer Hector and by Patroclus himself when he appears to Achilles in a dream after his death. At other times, Martynov reaches out to other cultures for musical influences. In the final ceremony, he employs the raucous, rhythmic clacking of the Indo-Chinese tradition of musical rituals, while during the burial scene he includes a long segment from an Altaian epic poem sung by Nikolai Nogon, one of the foremost throat singers from Altai.
Vasilyev keeps the acting space cleared of everything but the essentials. A few swords and bows lie on the floor in front of some colorful rugs. In a niche way back at the end of the stage an Oriental painting is washed in pastel colors. At the outset, the actors sit silently and motionlessly for what seems an interminable period of time. This is Vasilyev throwing down the gauntlet before an audience shaking and humming internally with the speed of the urban life. Without making a sound or a move, Vasilyev’s actors, through the aggression of absolute passivity, force everyone in the hall to attune themselves to another rhythm entirely. When they do come into motion, the actors employ the slow, deliberate gestures and steps characteristic of Japanese theater. Everything seems alien and, in part, for that reason it intrigues us and encourages us to set aside our prejudices and accept it for what it is. This act of theatrical seduction is handled especially well by Ilya Kozin as Achilles, Igor Yatsko as Agamem
The centerpiece of the production is a prolonged scene of death and mayhem that is structured with exquisite taste and inventiveness. A stretch of blue cloth is pulled across the stage to represent a river and two female figures carrying infant dolls gingerly step across it into a space bustling with human activity. As the women slowly move downstage, stopping and striking iconic poses inspired by renaissance depictions of madonnas, two soldiers emerge mechanically from the wings to intercept them and hack their babies to pieces with swords. After this has been repeated a half-dozen times, some stagehands appear pushing wheelbarrows full of naked dolls representing dead babies. They dump them on the floor and the dancing and game-playing continues unabated, the horde of small corpses hardly noticed by anyone.
The striking clarity of this segment stands in contrast to most of the rest of the performance, which acts on its audience more through allusion and suggestion than through direct illustration. But the magic of this production is that, beyond the obscurity of the narrative there is another plane entirely, one of catharsis and wonder, the plane on which art and ritual meet. Martynov’s music and Vasilyev’s meticulous, nuanced direction join to create a performance whose emotional impact is intrinsic and perceptible even when there is no way of explaining it.
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