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THE CRITICS - LITERATURE CRITICISM - CRITICAL ANALYSIS
Here are some thought-provoking and stimulating comments from major critics who have studied the Oedipus trilogy. These brief excerpts should help you with an overall view of the plays and the characters and may give you ideas for further reading or research when writing your papers or essays.
A perfect tragedy should imitate actions which excite pity and fear, and also effect the proper purgation of these emotions. The change of fortune presented should be that of a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous-a personage like Oedipus, or other illustrious men of such families. 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 with pity at what takes place. This is the impression we should receive from hearing the story of Oedipus.
Aristotle, The Poetics
Oedipus is man rather than an individual tragic hero. The play is characteristic of the Greek attitude towards men to see him not only as an individual but also as an individual in society, a political being as well as a private person.
Bernard Knox, Oedipus at Thebes, 1957
The basic conflict in the play is most simply defined as one between man and god: The king's belief in reason and doing one's duty is smashed by a mysterious, immovable, supernatural force.
Gilbert Norwood, Greek Tragedy, 1928
The gods of Sophocles are not like the God we are used to hearing about in the Bible. Our God rules absolutely, giving mercy and making judgment. The classical gods do not judge, they are merely forces of right or wrong. Judgment is the work of fate, and means simply to give a man his due.
Tom Driver, Oedipus the King, 1961
...the proud tragic view of Sophocles sees in the fragility and inevitable defeat of human greatness the possibility of a purely human heroism to which the gods can never attain, for the condition of their existence is everlasting victory.
Bernard Knox, Oedipus at Thebes, 1957
Each single incident in the play is the sort of thing that can and does happen. Sophocles does not blame these people; neither therefore must we; it is not a matter of guilt and punishment, but of how people can in fact be deceived.
H. D. F. Kitto, Greek Tragedy, 1954
Oedipus'... humiliation is a lesson both to others and to him. Democritus' words, "the foolish learn modesty in misfortune," may be applied to Oedipus, who has indeed been foolish in his mistakes and illusions and has been taught modesty through suffering.
C. M. Bowra, Sophoclean Tragedy, 1944
Sophocles' chorus is a character that takes an important role in the action of the play. The chorus may be described as a group personality, like an old Parliament. It has its own traditions, habits of thought and feeling.
Francis Fergusson, The Idea of a Theatre, 1968
Sophocles plays continually on the opposition of light and darkness, sight and blindness. In the Teiresias scene, Oedipus is revealed as mentally blind to his real position and the dangers which surround him. It is the blind prophet who has true knowledge. At the end of the play, when Oedipus has found the truth, he destroys the sense organs which had led him into error. He is now blind, but sees truly.
Peter Arnott, Oedipus the King, 1960
We wish to thank the following educators who helped us focus our Book Notes series to meet student needs and critiqued our manuscripts to provide quality materials.
Principal Wang High School of Queens, Holliswood, New York Sandra Dunn, English
Teacher Hempstead High School, Hempstead, New York Lawrence J. Epstein, Associate
Professor of English Suffolk County Community College, Selden, New York