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The Most Complicated Element of Sophocles’s “Oedipus the King” for the Modern Audience Essay

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Updated: Jul 9th, 2021

Introduction

Although theater is one of the most important kinds of art and entertainment, its modern interpretations seem to have more popularity and success with the audience than classical plays. Still, ancient playwrights were the ones who started the tradition, and it is crucial to pay due respect to their works. To make classical theatrical shows easier for the modern audience to understand, it is necessary to analyze their elements, single out the most complicated of them, and come up with a way of remodeling them. Sophocles’s Oedipus the King is one of the most acclaimed plays, but because of the chorus, it may be not successful with the viewer nowadays. Thus, it seems reasonable to introduce some other characters replacing the chorus in order to make the play more accessible to the audience.

The Most Difficult Aspect to Comprehend

In Oedipus the King, there are several elements that might seem complicated for a modern theatergoer. For instance, the Greek notion of fate, which is the leitmotif of the play, may seem strange for the present-day down-to-earth person. Thus, when one of the characters says “we are sure / that the gods must have helped you to save our lives,” the audience might feel skeptical about it (Sophocles 38-39). Another confusing aspect of the play is the idea of prophecy. While it was very popular in Sophocles’s times, the “prophetic powers” to which so much attention is paid in the text are not likely to be accepted well by modern viewers (Sophocles 323). However, if these elements are concerned with text issues, there is another one which is represented by many characters on stage: the chorus.

The chorus is rarely used in modern theater, and it may be the reason why those who view Oedipus the King in a traditional production find it difficult to comprehend. In the plat, the chorus consists of fifteen people who appear next to the orchestra from time to time and sing long passages. For instance, at the beginning of the play, lines 1-150 are told by actors whereas lines 151-215 are sung. The singing is mostly aimed at praising the gods, and Sophocles uses flattering language here: “the sweet-sounding voice of Zeus” (151), “in awe we invoke you” (155), “O you three with your threefold power” (161).

Further, the chorus leads a dialogue with Oedipus, and then later, it again interrupts the play in its usual manner. However, it is possible to talk about interference in the context of modern theater. Meanwhile, in the times when the play was written, the chorus was considered as an important element, and it completed the performance rather than seemed irritable and unnecessary.

Another function that the chorus performs is that of prophecy. Singers present some characters or predict events, which may seem queer for the audience who might find such presentations redundant. For instance, in the conversation between Oedipus, the Corinthian messenger, and the shepherd, the chorus interrupts the characters numerous times. Singers let Oedipus know who the shepherd is: “I know him well – he was Laius’ man, / one of his trusty shepherds” (Sophocles 1117-1118).

Then, the chorus again interrupts the conversation by expressing its opinion about life: “Your fate, / O wretched Oedipus, / is the example I take, / to prove the gods bless nothing” (Sophocles 1194-1196). This and similar instances do not seem natural, the chorus constantly interrupting conversations, expressing its opinions, or trying to convince characters in something.

In the final part of the play, it is largely only Oedipus and chorus that are on stage. Whenever Oedipus says something, there is an answer from the chorus. Moreover, the opinions of the fifteen Theban elders change very quickly. When Oedipus tells the audience he blinded himself, the chorus exclaims, “How could you dare such a dreadful thing – / to blind yourself? (Sophocles 1327-1328). However, soon after that, the chorus sings, “better, / it seems to me, to be a dead man than a blind one” (Sophocles 1367-1368).

At this point, the chorus irritates not only the audience but Oedipus himself, who tells the men, “Do not tell me how things are best done nor try to give / me advice” (Sophocles 1369-1370). Finally, apart from such dialogues, the chorus also deprives the audience of the possibility to make their own conclusions about the play. Similarly to the introductory part, the ending one is led by the chorus that explains the moral of the story.

Suggestions for the Play’s Modernization

Since the major problem for the modern audience seems to be the chorus, my direction of the play would involve getting rid of this character. Instead, I would have a few other roles that would perform the various functions of Sophocles’s chorus without irritating the viewer or creating a strange atmosphere on stage. To substitute for chorus’s praising and worshipping songs, I would create a character that would be sickeningly flattering and whose words would be treated without trust. To cover for the chorus’s apprehensions and fears, I would have a female character who would be Oedipus’s aunt or cousin. Finally, in some episodes, such as revealing secrets or predicting the future, I would delete the chorus’s verses altogether so that the audience could interpret events by themselves.

Conclusion

Although the rhythm of people’s lives is becoming faster and faster, everyone still should find some time for entertainment. Theater is one of the ways in which people can get distracted from their chores and spend time in a pleasant place with some crucial ideas to consider. To make modern theater more accessible for the audience, some classical plays should be adapted. In Sophocles’s Oedipus the King, the chorus seems to be a redundant element whose functions can be performed by newly introduced characters. Suggested changes are expected to draw viewers’ interest to the old play and breathe new life into it. Theater is an important element of people’s social life, and it should be modernized and adjusted for the audience’s better understanding.

Work Cited

Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” The Theban Plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus, at Colonus, Antigone, translated by Ruth Fainlight and Robert J. Littman, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009, pp. 1-63.

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"The Most Complicated Element of Sophocles’s "Oedipus the King" for the Modern Audience." IvyPanda, 9 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-most-complicated-element-of-sophocless-oedipus-the-king-for-the-modern-audience/.

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IvyPanda. "The Most Complicated Element of Sophocles’s "Oedipus the King" for the Modern Audience." July 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-most-complicated-element-of-sophocless-oedipus-the-king-for-the-modern-audience/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Most Complicated Element of Sophocles’s "Oedipus the King" for the Modern Audience." July 9, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-most-complicated-element-of-sophocless-oedipus-the-king-for-the-modern-audience/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Most Complicated Element of Sophocles’s "Oedipus the King" for the Modern Audience'. 9 July.

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