Sophocles Bedford

Characteristics of Sophocles' plays:

emphasis on individual characters
reduced role of chorus
complex characters, psychologically well-motivated
characters subjected to crisis leading to suffering and self-recognition -
including a higher law above man
exposition carefully motivated
scenes suspensefully climactic
action clear and logical
poetry clear and beautiful
few elaborate visual effects
theme emphasized: the choices of people

The Greeks Did you see it on TV -- "Modern Classics"? Well, I understnad the problems of "Classic Cola"... If you read the pages on postmiodernism, you know the difficulties we have after the end of history. What is "classics"? I reserved this name for every great script and writer before the Summer of 1968... Why 1968? Summer?
I'll explain it in THR413....

It is amazing how very few good plays exist -- you can finish them all in two semesters, if you are willing to read one play a day.
That is what you should do, read!
Read good literature while you're in school, because later you will read a lot trash. You will be paid to act or direct and most of the time it will be trash...

THR213 Dramlit, The Bedford DRAMA (2002): Aeschylus - Agamemnon? Sophocles -- Oedipus Rex (would love to cover Euripides - Medea). Fall 2002: Aristophanes "Lysistrata"! Next -- Marlowe (Doctor Faustus?)


What is Protogonist?

How do you understand the functions of Chorus?

Fate concept. Explain it.

Name three Greek playwrights...

That was the test. If you can't answer the questions, you should take the class!

Oedipus eTest *

Oedipus Intro *

Critical commentaries together with Oedipus: Poetics, Freud, Levi-Strauss (structuralism and myth; avegetation myth, Taplin ("tragedy is essentially the emotional experience of its audience").

Some Links:
Oedipus: summary

Dramatic Irony & Guide

The Shrew * Fall 2004 UAF * "The Greek vision focused on the immediacy of experience and on the nature of man: Man is free, but fated, fated but free. What qualities does he reveal? Through suffering, what does he learn, not about the gods, for they are simply “given”, but about himself? Oepidus the King is Sophocles’ farthest penetration into these mysteries." [ ]


OEDIPUS THE KING online * Theatre UAF 2005 Rex *

"Fear? What should a man fear? It's all chance, chance rules our lives. Not a man on earth can see a day ahead, groping through the dark. Better to live at random, best we can. And as for this marriage with your mother—have no fear. Many a man before you, in his dreams, has shared his mother's bed. Take such things for shadows, nothing at all— Live, Oedipus, as if there's no tomorrow!" (Oedipus the King, 1068–1078)


Greek playwrights used the chorus primarily to:
A. move scenery from the skene.
B. comment on the action.
C. welcome magistrates to the theatron.
D. play musical instruments.


"People of Thebes, my countrymen, look on Oedipus. He solved the famous riddle with his brilliance, he rose to power, a man beyond all power. Who could behold his greatness without envy? Now what a black sea of terror has overwhelmed him. Now as we keep our watch and wait the final day, count no man happy till he dies, free of pain at last." (Oedipus the King, 1678–1684)
* Oedipus X : 2005 * Sophocles

Tragedy : case-study
Study & Discussion Questions:

Describe the exposition revealed in the Prologue.
Create a staged reading of the debate between Kreon and Oedipus in scene ii. Discuss the use of logic and reason by each character.
Explain Teiresias's cryptic dialogue. What prevents him from speaking plainly?
Discuss Oedipus's journey toward the truth of his biography. What human instincts prevent him from "seeing" the truth?
Describe the acts of violence that occur off stage. How would you stage these events today?










To do it in 2005 (Spring) -- Kabuki Style? See Rashomon Project.

Sophocles (496?-406 b.c.). Born into a wealthy family at Colonus, a village just outside Athens, Sophocles distinguished himself early in life as a performer, musician, and athlete. Our knowledge of him is based on a very few ancient laudatory notices, but he certainly had a brilliant career as one of the three great Greek classical tragedians (the other two are Aeschylus, an older contemporary, and Euripides, a younger contemporary).

He won the drama competition associated with the Dionysian festival (entries consisted of a tragic trilogy and a farce) at least twenty times (far more often than his two principal rivals). However, Oedipus Rex, his most famous tragedy, and the three other plays it was grouped with, took second place (ca. 429 b.c.).

He lived during the golden age of Athens, when architecture, philosophy, and the arts flourished under Pericles. In 440 b.c., Sophocles was elected as one of the ten strategoi (military commanders), an indication of his stature in Athens. But his long life ended in sadder times, when the Peloponnesian War (431-404 b.c.), between the Athenian empire and an alliance led by Sparta, darkened the region.

Though Sophocles wrote some 123 plays, only 7 have survived; nonetheless, these few works establish him as the greatest of the ancient Western tragedians.

Chekhov05: Schiele-Naked

Shakespeare @ Amazon *

Fall 2005 -- Pygmalion? No.

It is obvious that the great triumvirate of Greek tragedy--Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides--did not, like Minerva, spring full-armed from the head of Zeus, but were the end products of a long line of development. Several reputable scholars have pointed out that Egyptian culture was greatly admired by the Greeks, among other reasons for its religious development. Even Herodotus, Greek historian living in the fifth century B.C., held that the Greek Dionysus was but a slightly disguised Egyptian Osiris, whose suffering, death, and resurrection made him the symbol of the renewal of life and the yearly round of the seasons. It has been suggested that the acceptance of the Egyptian deity and his "naturalization" into Greek legend brought ceremonies to Greece which, for the first time, can truly be called dramatic. (Roberts 21)

The Classics

* chronology *
What is classics? You tell me! Shakespeare and Chekhov? Mustang 67? Fifties rock-n-roll? Never-mind, the Greeks.

From Aristotle to 20th century

I would refer you to Spengler ("Sunset of the West"), who believed that every era consists of two different stages -- culture and civilization. Like the Greeks and Romans in antiquity. The Greeks, of course, is the Classics, the Culture.

Sophocles and Shakespeare: What is Tragedy?

There will be a special page on genres one day. Or pages. Then I can "examine" the evolution of tragedy over 25 recorded centuries. You know that there is no less tragedy in the world today, but tragedy and comedy are not about the nature of events -- it's an issue of perception!

[ compare with the Epic Theory ]

Dramatic and Epic (The Poetics)


Six Principles

Tragic Hero

PS. For the readers/students of Hamlet -- not in the textbook (read online).

215 People -- read "Oedipus"! Also, read "Antigone" -- if you want "A" (Commentaries on Sophocles pp.92-110 is a must. Also, Greek Drama p.31)

Writing Suggestions:

Attempt to chart the structure of Oedipus Rex, including rising action, conflict, climax, and falling action.
Locate the precise moment when Oedipus moves from a psychological state of denial to open recognition of the truth. Now describe the stage picture at this moment, including all characters on stage. How might you place or "block" the actors playing each role for maximum effect?
Discuss the motivations of the Chorus of Theban Elders as a voice of the polis.
Discuss the theme of blindness in Oedipus Rex. Describe the use of intellectual, physical, and metaphoric blindness throughout the play.

Everything "before me" is the classics. I hope the future will put me in this category too.

What will become "classical"?

History and Historicity (interpretation of history, according to each paticular period).

New and continuation: Structure & Texture. The beginning and evolution. Shakespeare is in the middle, between us and antiquity (good to keep the perspective).

Link to UK site, related to our studies

Take Theatre History Class!
James M. Brandon
Hillsdale College
TOP 50 LIST (I went with 50 because it seemed a logical break point considering the amount of responses that I received.)
(The first number represents the number of points, and the second number represents the number of respondents who listed the individual.  Lists were compiled “in order of importance” and each individual received points based on their placement.  So, for example, a ranking of “1” scored 10 points, a ranking of “2” scored 9 points, etc.)
1. William Shakespeare    834/94
2. Sophocles     403/50
3. Constantine Stanislavski   391/64
4. Bertolt Brecht     333/59
5. Aristotle     313/38
6. Jean-Baptiste Moliere    294/56
7. Thespis     221/14
8. Henrik Ibsen     213/43
9. Aeschylus     179/24
10. Samuel Beckett    149/37
11. Anton Chekov    140/27
12. Euripides     146/23
13. Richard Wagner    104/19
14. Zeami Motokiyo    91/16  
15. Antoinin Artaud    85/18
16. Peter Brook     84/19
17. = Aristophanes     79/14
18. Plautus     73/13
19. Edward Gordan Craig    62/14
20. Adolph Appia     53/12
21. Sarah Bernhardt    52/12
22. V. Meyerhold    52/10
23. David Garrick    49/13
24. Eugene O’Neill    47/10
25. Chikamtsu Monzemon    42/8    
26. = Sebastiano Serlio    39/6
27. Christopher Marlowe    38/7
28. George the Duke of Saxe-Meinegin  36/10
29. Jerzy Growtowski    35/9
30. Tennessee Williams    33/9
31. Stephen Sondheim    28/9
32. Richard Burbage    28/4
33. Lope de Vega     27/6
34. Rogers and Hammerstein   26/7
35. Laurence Olivier    25/7
36. August Strindberg    25/6
37. Denis Diderot     24/4
38. George Bernard Shaw    21/6
39. Alfred Jarry     21/4
40. Giacomo Torelli    21/3
41 (tie) Aphra Behn    20/5
41 (tie) Arthur Miller    20/5
43. Orson Welles     20/3
44. The Wakefield Master    19/2
45. The Bibiena Family    18/4
46. Henry Irving     18/3
47. T’ang Xianzu     18/2
48. Hrosvitha     17/4
49. August Wilson    17/3
50. Bharata     17/2
Aeschylus (5)
Adolph Appia (1)
Aristotle (15)
Aristophanes (1)
Evan Baker (1)
Julian Beck & Judith Malina (1)
Samuel Beckett (1)
Brecht (3)
Richard Burbage (1)
D. W. Griffith (1)
Jerzy Growtowski (2)
Meyerhold (1)
Palladio (1)
Rogers and Hammerstein (1)
Roscius (1)
Shakespeare (48)
Sophocles (9)
Stanislavski (3)
Thespis (9)
The Wakefield Master (1)
Richard Wagner (1)
Robert Wilson (1)
Tang Xianzu (1)
Zeami (1)
The responders submitted:  210+ names (the “+” is for multiple entries, such as “Rogers and Hammerstein,” which I counted as one entity)
Total number of respondents: 108
Breakdowns of respondents:      
30 women
78 men
70 representing educational institutions
38 representing individual artists, theatres or arts councils
In = addition to the 108 responses, my query generated about 75 comments, criticisms, and questions via e-mail
Virtual 3 Sisters
Mono Studies:
THE BACCHAE, A monologue from the play by Euripides, TRANSLATED BY GILBERT MURRAY [This translation of The Bacchae was published in 1904. It is now a public domain work and may be performed without royalties. ]
MESSENGER: We climbed beyond the utmost habitings
Of Theban shepherds, passed Asopus' springs,
And struck into the land of rock on dim
Cithaeron -- Pentheus, and, attending him,
I, and the Stranger who should guide our way.
Then first in a green dell we stopped, and lay,
Lips dumb and feet unmoving, warily
Watching, to be unseen and yet to see.
A narrow glen it was, by crags o'ertowered,
Torn through by tossing waters, and there lowered
A shadow of great pines over it. And there
The Maenad maidens sate; in toil they were,
Busily glad. Some with an ivy chain
Tricked a worn wand to toss its locks again;
Some, wild in joyance, like young steeds set free,
Made answering songs of mystic melody.
But my poor master saw not the great band
Before him. "Stranger," cried he, "where we stand
Mine eyes can reach not these false saints of thine.
Mount we the bank, or some high-shouldered pine,
And I shall see their follies clear!" At that
There came a marvel. For the Stranger straight
Touched a great pine-tree's high and heavenward crown,
And lower, lower, lower, urged it down
To the herbless floor. Round like a bending bow,
Or slow wheel's rim a joiner forces to,
So in those hands that tough and mountain stem
Bowed slow -- oh, strength not mortal dwelt in them!--
To the very earth. And there he sat the King,
And slowly, lest it cast him in its spring,
Let back the young and straining tree, till high
It towered again amid the towering sky;
And Pentheus in the branches! Well, I ween,
He saw the Maenads then, and well was seen!
For scarce was he aloft, when suddenly
There was no Stranger any more with me,
But out of Heaven a Voice -- oh, what voice else? --
'Twas He that called! "Behold, O damsels,
I bring ye him who turneth to despite
Both me and ye, and darkeneth my great Light.
'Tis yours to avenge!" So spake he, and there came
'Twixt earth and sky a pillar of high flame.
And silence took the air, and no leaf stirred
In all the forest dell. Thou hadst not heard
In that vast silence any wild thing's cry.
And up they sprang; but with bewildered eye,
Agaze and listening, scarce yet hearing true.
Then came the Voice again. And when they knew
Their God's clear call, old Cadmus' royal brood,
Up, like wild pigeons startled in a wood,
On flying feet they came, his mother blind,
Agave, and her sisters, and behind
All the wild crowd, more deeply maddened then,
Through the angry rocks and torrent-tossing glen,
Until they spied him in the dark pine-tree:
Then climbed a crag hard by and furiously
Some sought to stone him, some their wands would fling
Lance-wise aloft, in cruel targeting.
But none could strike. The height o'ertopped their rage,
And there he clung, unscathed, as in a cage
Caught. And of all their strife no end was found.
Then, "Hither," cried Agave; "stand we round
And grip the stem, my Wild Ones, till we take
This climbing cat-o'-the-mount! He shall not make
A tale of God's high dances!" Out then shone
Arm upon arm, past count, and closed upon
The pine, and gripped; and the ground gave, and down
It reeled. And that high sitter from the crown
Of the green pine-top, with a shrieking cry
Fell, as his mind grew clear, and there hard by
Was horror visible. 'Twas his mother stood
O'er him, first priestess of those rites of blood.
He tore the coif, and from his head away
Flung it, that she might know him, and not slay
To her own misery. He touched the wild
Cheek, crying: "Mother, it is I, thy child,
Thy Pentheus, born thee in Echion's hall!
Have mercy, Mother! Let it not befall
Through sin of mine, that thou should'st slay thy son!"
But she, with lips a-foam and eyes that run
Like leaping fire, with thoughts that ne'er should be
On earth, possessed by Bacchios utterly,
Stays not nor hears. Round his left arm she put
Both hands, set hard against his side her foot,
Drew . . . and the shoulder severed! -- Not by might
Of arm, but easily, as the God made light
Her hand's essay. And at the other side
Was Ino rending; and the torn flesh cried,
And on Autonie pressed, and all the crowd
Of ravening arms. Yea, all the air was loud
With groans that faded into sobbing breath,
Dim shrieks, and joy, and triumph-cries of death.
And here was borne a severed arm, and there
A hunter's booted foot; white bones lay bare
With rending; and swift hands ensanguinèd
Tossed as in sport the flesh of Pentheus dead.
His body lies afar. The precipice
Hath part, and parts in many an interstice
Lurk of the tangled woodland -- no light quest
To find. And, ah, the head! Of all the rest,
His mother hath it, pierced upon a wand,
As one might pierce a lion's, and through the land,
Leaving her sisters in their dancing place,
Bears it on high! Yea, to these walls her face
Was set, exulting in her deed of blood,
Calling upon her Bromios, her God,
Her Comrade, Fellow-Render of the Prey,
Her All-Victorious, to whom this day
She bears in triumph . . . her own broken heart!
For me, after that sight, I will depart
Before Agave comes. -- Oh, to fulfill
God's laws, and have no thought beyond His will,
Is man's best treasure. Aye, and wisdom true,
Methinks, for things of dust to cleave unto!
Web Assignments:

You are the dramaturg for a new production of Oedipus Rex. Using the Perseus Project at Tufts University (, find historical information. Focus your investigation on images of Oedipus.
General information on ancient Greek theater can be found at Using the photos and links here, write a brief essay on an element of Greek theater (production or text) that would assist your understanding of Oedipus Rex. Perseus Project ***

A Treasury of the Theatre Vol. 1
Book by John Gassner; Simon and Schuster, 1951 [ quotes ]

** Oedipus online *


From theatre

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