LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature: Tragedy & Africa

Lecture Notes

Oedipus Rex: begin Theban Cycle



Oedipal Conflict as family, inter-generational affair: Euripides's Hippolytus


Questions for Euripides's The Trojan Women

Euripides "most tragic of poets"


1. Use of chorus in Obsidian Theater production?


Prof. Emeritus Gretchen Mieszkowski's reaction:

We went last night. I was disappointed, but glad to have seen it.  I thought the first half was far too shrill, so shrill that I often couldn’t understand the words. The director should have gotten them to lower their voices so they weren’t bouncing off the walls in that very small space.  The second half, however, worked much better.  Helen was good and intelligible and the action came together well as Astyanax was carried off on the shield.

There’s a 1971 film of this play with Katharine Hepburn and Vanessa Redgrave. I’ve sent for it on Netflix but they say there’s a “long wait.” 

instructor's reply:

I half-consciously observed what you said about the actors’ loudness and resulting incomprehensibility but probably accounted my difficulties more to my unfamiliarity with the play, which also accounted for much of my pleasure since, as I mentioned over the phone, experiencing a classical tragedy without prep made for a fresh or novel audience experience.

That 1971 film has a great cast—also including Genevieve Bujold and the peerless rantipole Brian Blessed as Talthybius—but, as I recall, isn’t rated highly. I once had a poor-quality videotape from a late-night broadcast but never watched far into it. It seemed like one of those movies based on a play that can’t decide whether it’s a filmed play or a film-as-such, but let me know if it’s worth watching.


Syrian women refugees' Trojan Women

1971 Trojan Women: Talthybius, Andromache, & Astyanax



Aristotle's Poetics: parts XIII, XIV; Discussion: instructor

13b [x-romance] Nor, again, should the downfall of the utter villain be exhibited.  A plot of this kind would, doubtless, satisfy the moral sense, but it would inspire neither pity nor fear; for pity is aroused by unmerited misfortune, fear by the misfortune of a man like ourselves.

contrast Romance

13b brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty [Gk hamartia; the "tragic flaw"].  He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous—a personage like Oedipus, Thyestes, or other illustrious men of such families. . . .

535 TIRESIAS: That quality of yours now ruins you.                     [tragic flaw]

13c] [T]he best tragedies are founded on the story of a few houses [i.e., families

Oedipus l. 770 Jocasta to brothers-in-law

XIV[a].  Fear and pity . . . result from the inner structure of the piece

For the plot ought to be so constructed that, even without the aid of the eye, he who hears the tale told will thrill with horror and melt to pity at what takes place [catharsis],

[6e Plot as soul of tragedy]

the impression we should receive from hearing the story of Oedipus.

we must not demand of tragedy any and every kind of pleasure, but only that which is proper to it.

[14b] Let us then determine what are the circumstances which strike us as terrible or pitiful. [catharsis; compare sublime]

14c when the tragic incident occurs between those who are near or dear to one another—if, for example, a brother kills, or intends to kill, a brother, a son his father, a mother her son, a son his mother, or any other deed of the kind is done—these are the situations to be looked for by the poet.



more on tragic flaw

402 You blame my temper,
but do not see the one which lives within you.     
[the one = Oedipus’s temper; tragic flaw?]





How is Oedipus like a detective story?

How is Oedipus unlike a detective story?

How is a detective story (or any other narrative) like a ritual?

What kind of "ritual" or "ceremony" is going on in Oedipus?



How is Oedipus like a detective story?

gathering of information and evidence to support or refute charges, puzzle being put together

false clues, misleading evidence

Oedipus as detective, questions witnesses

Narrative: something happened in the past, now being recreated


137-8 a person
who might provide some knowledge men could use?      [i.e., a witness? (detective theme)]

144 We might get somewhere if we had one fact—      [detective theme


How unlike a detective story?

detective convicts himself


with Oedipus story, audience pre-knows ending


How is a detective story (or any other narrative) like a ritual?

relate detective theme to learning theme; narrative as critical thinking and problem solving

restoration of order < narrative + conflict / resolution



Brooks on narrative

249 "You pray, but if you listen to me now"

treat your own disease

281 he is our pollution

God or man? 37 Oedipus "the first of men"; 355 Tiresias our god-like prophet

56 the city celebrates you as its savior.

conspiracy theory 413 & earlier, + 455, 463, 481

conspiracy as downside of problem-solving, questions-answers [tragic flaw]

Oedipal conflict: 554-5;

952 [oracle] my fate to definle my mother's bed . . . murder the father


dramatic pause: 673 (recognition scene managed > suspense?)


Oedipus notes

opens with question; cf. Hamlet: Who's there?

12 You can be confident that I will help.     [Oedipus as problem-solver; cf. detective]]

37-8 We judge you / the first of men

50 or learning from some other human being.          [learning theme]

56 the city celebrates you as its savior.

59 Restore our city [detective theme]

80 I followed up the one thing I could find  [followed up, find = path metaphor > detective metaphor] 

102 CREON: Good news. I tell you even troubles        ["Good news." = dramatic irony]

117-18 CREON:   By banishment— 
or atone for murder by shedding blood again.     
[Lines 117-18 preview conclusion]

137-8 a person
who might provide some knowledge men could use?      [i.e., a witness? (detective theme)]

144 We might get somewhere if we had one fact—      [detective theme]

160 shed light on darkness.       [light / darkness metaphor; learning theme]   

213 Our city dies—we’ve lost count of all the dead.

245 Dionysus

308 fate swooped down onto his head

308-10 I / will fight on his behalf, as if this matter / concerned my father    [dramatic irony] 

343 rumors—but inconclusive ones       [ rumors = potential clues for detective]
from a long time ago.

355 our god-like prophet

363 an answer to our question: the only cure
for this infecting pestilence is to find                                                     
[detective / disease themes]

395 Do you intend
to betray me and destroy the city?              [Oedipus turns suspicious easily; flip-side of detection]

402 You blame my temper,
but do not see the one which lives within you.     
[the one = Oedipus’s temper; tragic flaw?]

421 For the accursed polluter of this land is you.                   [pollution metaphor + dramatic irony]

435 you yourself
are the very man you’re looking for.         
[detective theme + irony]

439-41 with your dearest family,
unknown to you, you are living in disgrace. 
You have no idea how bad things are.

462 Creon, my old trusted family friend,
has secretly conspired to overthrow me                      
[conspiracy theory]
and paid off a double-dealing quack like this,               
[quack = trickster, charlatan]
a crafty bogus priest, who can only see
his own advantage

499 Do you know the family you come from?        [ironic reversal: witness interrogates detective]

535 TIRESIAS: That quality of yours now ruins you.                     [tragic flaw]

663 OEDIPUS: And if you think you can act to injure
a man who is a relative of yours                          
[dramatic irony]

673 dramatic pause: (recognition scene managed > suspense?)

703 think this through, as I do.    [learning / understanding motif]

737-8 It's not fair to judge these things by guesswork,
to assume bad men are good or good men bad. 

756 cf. Agamemnon, Pentheus--inability to change > harden to inflexibility, unreceptive

770 JOCASTA: You foolish men, why are you arguing                                       770
in such a silly way? . . . You, Oedipus, go in the house, and you,
Creon, return to yours. Why blow up
a trivial matter into something huge?
[Where the men equated their personal status with the city-state, Jocasta differs by reducing the argument to a personal or “trivial matter.”]

789 pay Creon due respect

800 Oed to extremes

815-18 when you lose your temper, you go too far. [tragic flaw / Aristotle’s hamartia (error) / hubris (excess, pride)]

841 such unremitting rage

844 It’s Creon’s fault. He conspired against me.

874 OEDIPUS: Lady, as I listen to these words of yours,
my soul is shaken, my mind confused . . . [recognition scene]

894 In shape he was not all that unlike you. [cf. Homecoming / Mourning Becomes Electra]

952 [oracle] my fate to defile my mother's bed . . . murder the father

1166-68 Jocasta speaks of Oedipal Complex

1182-4 Apollo prophesies Oedipal Conflict