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A well-developed paragraph will be fine. You’ll see that there is no research for these questions beyond reading my lecture below. I’m looking for your thoughts.
pick up 1 of those.
- 1) How do people live their lives if they attribute their fate to forces outside of themselves? By contrast, how do they live their lives if they attribute to themselves the course of events in their lives?
- 2) Do you think that despite the fact that Sophocles wrote to audiences 2,500 years ago that he deals with any issues that still have relevance to audiences today?
THE PLAYWRIGHT SOPHOCLES: HIS ISSUES AND RELEVANCE
The playwright is the maker of plays who creates characters, dialog ue and action–the tools through which he tells a story in an organized manner. The playwright is the artist, the craftsman, the creator without whom the play would not exist. Right? Well, you’ll learn from your textbook readings for this lesson (Chapters 3 and 4) that the playwright’s place in contemporary theater is the subject of some controversy. In ancient Greece, however, the playwright was held in great esteem. Chapter 4 examines key tasks of the playwright including: 1) selecting subject matter; 2) determining focus; 3) identifying a purpose; 4) adopting a point of view toward the dramatic material. This chapter utilizes, illustrates and adds to the theater vocabulary we developed in Lesson 1. Chapter 5 looks at the ways in which playwrights develop dramatic structure and create dramatic characters. This chapter gives us some foundation material that we will apply to our upcoming examination of the model tragedy Oedipus Rex. You need to read either Chapter 3 ORChapter 4 and take an online quiz on the chapter you read (by clicking on the ASSESSMENT link in the course menu to the left of this page). If you’d like to earn extra credit, you may take both quizzes.
Of the three great, Greek tragedy writers (Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides), Sophocles (496-406 B.C.) is the most technically flawless and the most popular of his time. Sophocles’ plays are noted for their expert plot construction, the dramatic element to which Aristotle gave so much importance. His tragedy Oedipus Rex, as we’ve noted, is considered a model of tragic plot structure. He is credited with introducing the third actor (which contributed to increased dialogue and dramatic conflict) and the use of painted scenery.
Sophocles focused far less than Aeschylus on man in the grips of the absolute power of the gods. Instead, he emphasized human frailties. Sophocles is considered both an idealist and a cynic for related reasons. He portrayed his characters as they ought to be, not in the light in which he perceived man. Critical of the state of man, he glorified man’s potential to struggle against his destiny. While denying neither the existence nor power of the gods, Sophocles attributed to men the power (and responsibility) to make choices and assume responsibility for their actions.
Sophocles developed the use of painted scenery and introduced Phrygian music in tragedy. Perhaps one of Sophocles’ most important contributions was his resistance to writing tetralogies or even formal trilogies. Each of his plays is complete in itself and not dependent upon other plays.
In today’s writing assignment, let’s focus on the playwright and — in particular — Sophocles. The readings in your text address many choices that playwrights make in writing their scripts. In exploring the functions of the dramatist, let’s not lose sight that first and foremost the playwright is — an artist All artists work with external restrictions. Many say a great artist is liberated by the restrictions to find ways to express himself and find a unique voice. So, what restrictions confronted the ancient Greek dramatists? Because theater was performed only several days a year at national festivals, Greek dramatists could write only for big occasions that were religious in origin and imbued with ritual. Because they were writing for celebrations of the city, the Greek dramatists’ audience was the Athenian people–ALL of the Athenian people. The playwrights could not choose their audience. They could not select a niche populace to whom to write. Another restriction was the physical structure of the theater, itself. The size and structure of their venue, their theater, was pre-established. They couldn’t decide to use a smaller theater or an indoor theater. Additionally, the Greek playwright needed to write for the chorus as well as actors and was restricted in regard to the number of actors he could use.
In ancient Greece, playwrights were held in the highest esteem. Initially, only the playwrights were honored with awards in the great theater competitions. Through their scripts, dramatists such as Sophocles and Aeschylus spoke to (remember? — the audience came to hear) and guided all the Athenians in weighty matters such as the ways of man and the gods. Their writing was both art and a civic and national service.
Let’s focus on one Greek playwright — Sophocles. His play “Oedipus Rex” was the model that the philosopher and theater critic Aristotle used in his analysis of tragedy (“The Poetics”). It was the well wrought, tight plot structure through which Sophocles told this tragedy (based on an ancient myth) that particularly impressed Aristotle. But what about his subject matter? Imagine, if you can, living in the Golden Age of Greece. One of the great issues of the day was the viability of the gods. For years, there had been unquestioning faith in the gods. The gods were believed to control men’s lives. And man often became the pawn in petty jealousies and competitions among the gods. That the gods were capricious meant only that man could count on nothing other than that the gods “made him do it.” Enter the Golden Age of Greece, the birth of democracy, and an emerging sense that man, not the gods, was the measure of all things–that it was in man that the answers to the great mysteries of life resided. The debate this fostered was no less than a debate over whether the gods existed. As some denied their existence, others quaked at the retribution the gods would exact when they discovered man’s doubts. Others took a more centrist position that the gods and man could co-exist. Such was the position Sophocles avowed in his writings. Unlike some writers of his time, he never denied the existence of the gods. At the same time, he did not see them as all-powerful. Many of his plays deal with the struggle of man to find his rightful place in the universe–to determine how to lead a moral life and display character and assume responsibility despite the possibility that gods might foretell, perhaps even influence, the course of events in men’s lives.
Sophocles was a tragedian. “Sophocles used the sophisticated form of his tragedies to represent and explore the fate of heroic individuals in a moment of moral crisis,” note Klaus, Gilbert, and Field in Stages of Drama. “All of his protagonists prove to be singularly heroic in their commitment to a moral principle they establish for themselves, even though their commitment brings great suffering to themselves and their loved ones…In any style of performance, the astonishing climax of Oedipus Rex continues to bear witness to the dignity and frailty of human nature.” in essence, the traditional tragic hero engages in a noble struggle to assert the independence of man by defying the gods. So we return again to the issue that tragedy–while showing the fall of the tragic hero–is uplifting to the audience that “bears witness” to his fall because of the recognition they come to about the ways of the gods and man.