What idea about Sophocles as a dramatist do you form from
your study of King Oedipus?
Ans. Sophocles is a tragic dramatist, and in order to consider him as a dramatist, we must take into account several factors essential for a tragedy. Aristotle considered King Oedzpus as the masterpiece of Sophocles’s life’s work, and as the perfect type of tragic composition. According to him, “there are six parts of every tragedy, as a whole (that is) of such or such quality, viz, a Fable or Plot, Characters, Dicton, Thought, Spectacle and Melody.” If we are to evaluate Sophocles as a dramatist, the evaluation must be with reference to how skilfully he handles those elements in King Oedipus.
The most important of the six elements is the combination of the incidents of the story The incidents of King Oedipus are as follows There is the arrival of an oracle about the plague in Thebes commanding the banishment of an unknown murderer of the late King Laius. Then Oedipus, in the course of his investigation of the murder of King Laius quarrels with Teiresias, who is regarded as a person with prophetic vision, and as a true servant of the gods. Oedipus is then depicted as hot- tempered and suspicious, and he quarrels with Creon, the, true servant of the state. The next section of the “fable” states that a messenger comes from Corinth. From his account of the baby Oedipus, Jocasta realizes the truth and goes to hang herself. But Oedipus misunderstands the situation and persists in the enquiry. After that, a shepherd is brought from Cithaeron, according to the revelations of the Corinthian shepherd. Now, from the shepherd of Cithaeron’s account Oedipus realizes the truth that he is the son of Laius and Jocasta, and rushes out to blind himself. Then a messenger from the palace reports the suicide of Jocasta, and self-blinding of Oedipus. Oedipus enters the stage lamenting his fate, and gets ready for banishment from the country. These incidents of the plot have been pieced together by Sophocles in an admirable way in this drama. E.F. Watling in his introduction to his translation of King Oedipus, says, “In brief, its greatness lies in the combination of a faultlessly articulated plot with the profoundest insight into human motive and circumstance.”
Sophocles maintains with absolute perfection the three unities — the unity of time, the unity of place and the unity of action. About the unity of time, Aristotle says, “Tragedy endeavours, as far as possible, to confine itself to a single revolution of the sun, or but slightly to exceed this limit.” King Oedipus maintains this unity with considerable. accuracy. About the unity of place, Aristotle said that tragedy should be confined to a narrow compass. By unity of action Aristotle meant that a play should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, and should include nothing irrelevant to the development of the single plot. These unities of place and action are also correctly maintained by Sophocles.
As regards characters, the main characters of the play, Oedipus, Jocasta, Teiresias and Creon, come out life-like, with the three dimensions of length, breadth and depth. The minor characters are also quite pointed — they focus on the aspect of their nature which is most relevant to the plot.
Sophocles’s diction cannot be fully appreciated except through a study of the drama in the Greek language. Translation can not represent the full force of his diction. But Sophocles’s diction stands out as simple, and at the same time, strong, even in translation. For example, we can refer to Oedipus’s coming back into the palace after he is sure of his identity. He expresses his feelings in the following words:
With wild hallooing cries he hurled himself
Upon the locked doors, bending by main force
The bolts out of their sockets — and stumbled in.
The language is simple but strong, effective and economical. Thought and character are intimately related.
They are expressed in action By “melody” Anstotle means “What is too completely understood to require explanation.” These points become evident on a close analysis of the language of Sophocles.
Sophocles has very successfully used these elements of a tragedy in King Oedzvus. He is rightly considered as a great tragedian, and King Oedipus as his masterpiece.