Oedipus the King

HUMN 142 Studies in Literature

Describe the exposition, complication, climax, and denouement in Oedipus the King.

There are really two questions that motivate the dramatic sequence. The first is Who murdered King Laius? What is the second question?

Aristotle noted that a tragic hero had a weakness of character, a hamartia or tragic flaw (p. 1203). Consider Kennedy’s question #2 (p. 1244), “How does Oedipus exhibit weakness of character? Point to lines that reveal him as imperfectly noble in his words, deeds, or treatment of others.”

Do the choral interludes merely interrupt the play with wordy poetry? Other than providing song, dance, and variety, do they have any value to the telling of the story?

Since the spectators were familiar with the plot and characters, it would have been difficult for Sophocles to evoke suspense, but there were many opportunities for holding an audience’s attention with dramatic irony. Review the concept of dramatic irony (pp. 701-702), and point out examples in Oedipus the King.

In psychoanalytic theory, the Oedipal Complex is described as the erotic attachment of the son to the mother, accompanied by an attitude of rivalry and hostility toward the father (The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior). According to the theory, this situation arises when a child is between three and seven years old. If a child does not pass through this stage effectively, as an adult he will be subject to a variety of mental illnesses. Sigmund Freud was convinced that the Oedipal Complex was a universal phenomenon which explained why there are powerful taboos against incest in practically every culture.

Is there evidence in Oedipus the King to suggest that the Oedipal Complex may have universal significance? What is your reaction to Freud’s Oedipal theory?

What is Aristotle’s Poetics about? What does Aristotle mean by purgation or katharsis (p. 1204)?

Respond to Kennedy’s question #12 (p. 1244), “Does this play end in total gloom?”