Theban Plays

Theban Plays

Theban Plays

Theban Plays

Synopsis

This powerful new rendering of the plays of the Theban cycle includes, in addition to the translators' celebrated Oedipus Tyrannus, annotated new translations of Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus. Peter Meineck is Producing Artistic Director of The Aquila Theatre Co, Visiting Scholar at the Center for Ancient Studies, New York University and teacher of Greek Drama at the Tisch School for the Arts.

Excerpt

The first of the three Theban plays, Antigone, was written in the glory days of Athens while the Parthenon was being built. Then came Oedipus Tyrannus, probably staged after Athens had gone to war with the Spartan alliance and had been struck by a fearful plague. And, last of all of Sophocles' plays, Oedipus at Colonus was written in the twilight of the Athenian empire and staged after its author's death. More than thirty years passed between the writing of the first and the last of these three plays, yet they are often read together. And why not? They are Sophocles' most famous plays, they have common themes, and they follow one family through a cycle of disasters.

Do not think of them as a trilogy, however, for Sophocles did not write them to be performed together. They are not anything like the plays in the Oresteia of Aeschylus, which follow a distinct, tight chain of events from bloody beginning to peaceful resolution and were written to be seen together as presenting an almost continuous story in which one play shows the cause from which spring the actions of the next, and in which the final play brings the cycle to a resolution.

If we saw the Theban plays in the order of the stories they tell, we would not find—and should not look for—a similar chain of causes. Each play is complete in itself, presenting the causes of its own action in its own terms. We would see Oedipus first as the mature ruler of Thebes (Oedipus Tyrannus), a ruler with a terrible secret who is, at the same time, a man who takes pride in his talent for bringing what has been secret into the light. In the second play (Oedipus at Colonus), we would see him as a homeless old man, reduced to begging for a place to sit—and die—on sacred ground near Athens, but also as a man who brings a blessing to the Athenians, a hero who will have the powers of a god. And what brought this situation about? Nothing in the first story prepares us for Oedipus' extraordinary death. The last play would be an anticlimax; here we would see Oedipus' daughter Antigone daring the wrath of the king in order to give proper burial to her outlawed brother. In itself, this is a splendid play, but it does . . .

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