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Oedipus Rex and Ancient Greek Theater. Archetypes Sophocles and Athenian Society Maps of Ancient Greece Origins of Greek Drama The Role of the Chorus Ancient Greek Theaters Stichomythic Dialogue The Tragic Hero Freytag’s Plot Triangle. Archetypes .

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oedipus rex and ancient greek theater

Oedipus Rex and Ancient Greek Theater


Sophocles and Athenian Society

Maps of Ancient Greece

Origins of Greek Drama

The Role of the Chorus

Ancient Greek Theaters

Stichomythic Dialogue

The Tragic Hero

Freytag’s Plot Triangle

  • An archetype is a basic model, a prototype, a paradigm, an exemplar.
  • An archetype is atavistic and universal; it is a product of the “collective unconscious.”
sophocles 497 or 496 to 406 b c
Sophocles (497 or 496 to 406 B.C.)
  • Sophocles was born in Athens.
  • Sophocles was the best-known ancient Greek playwright.
  • While Sophocles was a member of the ruling class, he was aware of the social inequalities in Athenian society.
  • Sophocles used his plays to warn his fellow Athenians of “divine retribution” for social injustice.
  • Sophocles explored the fate-freewill dichotomy in his plays. While humans eventually have to face the consequences of their decisions and actions, freewill was not more powerful than fate or destiny. In fact, one’s freewill could actually work toward fulfilling fate!
origins of greek drama
Origins of Greek Drama
  • Sixth Century B.C.
    • Thespis essentially invented acting by stepping in front of the chorus and performing a solo.
    • Thespian has come to mean actor.
  • Fifth Century B.C.
    • Each year plays were performed in an annual competition to honor Dionysus (Bacchus).
    • Each playwright wrote three tragedies and a satyr-play (a farce for comic relief) for the competition.
    • Sophocles won twenty of these competitions.
    • Sophocles introduced the third actor on stage. (Aeschylus introduced the use of the second actor on stage.)
    • Sophocles Theban plays, while often anthologized together, were actually not originally written as a trilogy. In fact, Antigone was written first, Oedipus Rex was written second, and Oedipus at Colonus was written last.
the chorus
The Chorus
  • Group of 15 men who sang lyric poetry and danced to music
  • Unpaid and drawn from the citizenry at large
  • Considered a civic duty
  • Costumed in light masks and the dress of the people
  • Link between audience and actors
    • Served as the “ideal spectator,” responding to the play as the playwright intended.
    • Functioned as the conscience of the people, establishing an ethical perspective from which to view the play
  • Reflected upon what had happened and foreshadowed what was to come
  • Questioned, made requests of, and at times advised the central characters
  • Helped to establish mood and heighten dramatic moments
  • Helped to establish pacing
  • Provided tension release
  • Separated the scenes
  • Performed in song with a back-and-forth movement that heightened the emotion of the performance
    • Strophe (left to right)
    • Antistrophe (right to left)
    • Epode
  • A character or characters onstage interacted with the Chorus through a song, the kommos, or through a leader or spokesperson, the Choragos, who would step forth from the Chorus to become a character on stage.
stichomythic dialogue stichomythia alternating individual lines of verse between two speakers
Stichomythic dialogue (stichomythia): Alternating individual lines of verse between two speakers
  • A technique used to provide contrast to long speeches
  • A technique used to present thesis and antithesis, questions and answer, argument and refutation.
  • A technique that allowed playwrights to distinguish for the audience one masked actor from another
  • A technique used to heighten the drama
  • Usually occurs at moments of high tension
  • Usually structured in parallel lines of verse
  • Sometimes structured using antilabe

The Crime of Laius (Laios):

  • Pelops: King of Pisa, husband of Hippodameia, father of Chrysippus (from a previous marriage), Atreus and Thyestes, among others.
  • Laius took refuge in Pisa after fleeing Thebes; his older cousins (Amphion and Zethus) ruled Thebes at the time, and he feared for his life.
  • Pelops welcomed Laius and entrusted him with the training of Chrysippus in the art of war and charioteering.
    • Antiope, mother of Amphion and Zethus, was raped by Zeus.
    • Amphion married Niobe, who bragged about her many children and insulted the goddess Leto. Leto’s twins, Apollo and Artemis (fathered by Zeus), killed all Niobe’s children in retaliation. Amphion either killed himself or was killed by Zeus after vowing revenge, and Niobe either killed herself or was turned to stone.
    • Zethus had only one son, who died, so he killed himself.
  • Laius fell in love with and abducted Chrysippus, taking him back to Thebes once the “coast was clear.”

Pelops gathered his army and marched to Thebes to retrieve his son, but Hippodameia conspires with her two sons, Atreus and Thyestes, to kill Chrysippus (in some versions Chrysippus kills himself out of shame).

  • Pelops banished Hippodameia, Atreus, and Thyestes to Mycenae, where Hippodameia hangs herself and Atreus becomes king.
  • Laius, having angered Pelops and the gods with his behavior, was cursed by Pelops and warned by Apollo not to have any children. Hera also sent the Sphinx to torment Thebes.
  • Laius, begin motivated by passion more than reason, did not heed Apollo’s warning and had a son with Jocasta (Iocaste)—Oedipus!

As far as Atreus and Thyestes are concerned, Atreus became king of Mycenae and Thyestes seduced Atreus’ wife. Atreus retaliated by serving Thyestes’ two sons to him at a “reconciliation” dinner. Thyestes cursed Atreus and his two sons, Agamemnon and Menelaus. Sound familiar?

  • Menelaus was the king of Sparta and husband of the infamous Helen, the reason (mythologically speaking) for the Trojan War!
  • Agamemnon was king of Mycenae and fought with his brother in the Trojan War.
  • According to legend, both survived the war and returned safely home, but Agamemnon was betrayed and killed by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus—another son of Thyestes!
  • Orestes avenged his father’s murder, which is the subject of Aeschylus’ trilogy Oresteia.
tragic hero
Tragic Hero
  • He is elevated to a high status and position in society, and he possesses noble stature and greatness.
  • While he embodies nobility and virtue, he is flawed.
  • His downfall or demise is due in part to freewill, an error in judgment (i.e., hamartia) associated with a tragic flaw (e.g., hubris).
  • His downfall or demise is due in part to fate.
  • His misfortune is not wholly deserved; the punishment exceeds the crime.
  • He gains awareness, insight, and self-knowledge as a result of his fall from grace.
  • An action of great magnitude is at the center of the plot.
  • Pathos (that which evokes pity or sympathy) is an essential element of the play.
  • The plot is carefully sequenced, moving from the complication to the unraveling or denouement.
    • Complication: Prologue to turning point
    • Denouement: Turning point to the resolution
    • Complicated plots involve reversal (peripeteia), which is a sudden change or reversal of circumstance or fortune, and recognition (anagnorisis), which is a change from ignorance to knowledge.
    • A catastrophe occurs, which usually spirals outward: not only does the tragic hero suffer, but his family also suffers.
    • A catharsis (a purification or purging of emotions; a spiritual renewal) occurs.