Sophocles’ Theban Plays: Production of Oedipus

Sophocles was a famous ancient dramaturge. He was also a reformer, as he introduced innovations in stage production of plays. He increased the number of actors up to three, and the number of chorus participators was increased from12 to 15. Sophocles improved decorations, masks, props, and introduced painted decorations. All these changes served a goal to give the action more movement, to strengthen the illusion of the audience and the impression from tragedy. Thus, tragedy was humanized. More attention was given to inner feelings of characters. “The visual and aural impression tragedy delivered was often spectacular” (“The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles” n.p.). That is why; I would use all means to make the performance as impressive, as possible.

First of all, stage setting is important. “The ancient Greek dramas were performed each year in Athens as part of the festival of Dionysus, god of wine, vegetation, religious ecstasy, the mask, and the theatre” (Segal 15). The production should take place in the open-air theatre. “The circular performance area, or orchestra, into which the audience looks from above is backed by a long, low building (the scene building…)”, “the circular space in front of the scene building is called the orchestra or “dancing place” and it is here where the chorus and probably the actors also perform” (Segal 16).

I believe, the stage should not be bear. As action takes place in front of the King’s palace in Thebes, decorations should describe the gates of the palace, very beautiful and ornamented. They can be sparkling, like golden, or decorated with flowers. No curtain on the stage supposes that action should be divided according to the plot, so that the audience could understand inner anxieties of the characters. If possible, I would use special effects, like sound of thunder, when action gains its culmination and Oedipus finds out that it is him, who killed his father. For example, when the priest tells about prophecy of oracle, some dark signs, like black stripes of clothes in the wind, can be used. As there was no possibility to use light effects, the action should take one day from dawn till sunset. When Oedipus takes the golden pins from clothes of Jocasta and plunges them into his eyes, some effect of blood flowing on the cheeks can be achieved by use of little packets with blood of animal.

As for costumes, they should be bright. Oedipus wears long red wrap. Actors should be in masks. Men played women roles. That is why, the mask of Jocasta is bright, depicting a face of a beautiful woman, but bearing some sadness on the face. Her clothes are long and majestic, as she is a queen. Shepherd or Teiresias do not wear expensive clothes, they are dressed simply. All actors should have buskins on (shoes on high platforms).

Chorus speaks to actors. And they should be dressed respectively in some kind of national costumes. Chorus do not leaves its place, it constantly interferes into action. It should reveal emotional feelings of actors. Their costumes should not be bright. On the contrary, they come with Priest to Oedipus for help to aid with plague. So they should reflect not only misfortune, which overtook the city, but also imminent drama in the palace. Great importance is given to chorus at the end of the play. They sing about man’s doom not to be fortunate until he is dead. The song concerning it should be sing not only pathetically, but also with some kind of moralizing and sermon.

Song and dance were intrinsic (“The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles” n.p.) The odes sung by the chorus as a whole are accompanied by the aulos, a reed instrument (Beer 32). So, I would choose some national music, different mood of which depends on the state of characters: sad, solemn or inspiring.

We have already mentioned that male actors should have stylized masks and elaborate costumes. Only three actors are allowed. Thus, costumes of Creon, Priest and Oedipus should be different and show that Oedipus is a king, Priest serves his god, and Creon is Jocasta’s brother, noble man. Actors’ gestures are exaggerated, their recitation – solemn, overemotional. The main part is, of course given to Oedipus, and should show his inner anxiety, especially deep, after he found out that he was his father’s murderer and the prophecy came true. The actor should play fury when he calls his servants and asks for a sword, despair when Oedipus comes upon Jocasta’s body, and laments tormenting his soul when he begs to be exiled. And when Oedipus asks for some more detail about the incident at crossroads, he should have not only curiosity, but also suspicion and a premonition of evil. So, actors should do their best speaking not only loudly, but also inspired and expressive.

In conclusion, “Whatever else it did to entertain, move, and awe, Athenian tragedy dramatized human vulnerability to the gods” (“The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles” n.p.). Thus Greek tragedy represented a real performance, full of bright colors and spectacle. Oedipus shows deep grief in the family and tragic events, so the performance should excite the audience immensely and keep it in tension every minute of the production.

Works Cited

Beer, Josh. Sophocles and the Tragedy of Athenian Democracy. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004.

Segal, Charles. Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge. NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.

The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Kolonos, and Antigone. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2004.

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