thumbnail of Metaphysical roots of the drama; Oedipus Tyrannos: Tragic Flaw?
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From Cincinnati we present the second in the 1968 series of six Frank L. Weil Institute lectures delivered at the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. The lecture is Dr. Robert Bruce Dean Dean of the Yale School of Drama. Who is general topic is the metaphysical roots of the drama. These lectures are released through the University of Cincinnati station WG you see the title of this program is it appears tyrannous tragic flaw or tragic error. Here is Dr. Robert Burstein. There is a great renaissance thinker named John the key still Vigo who was a favorite of James Joyce. Quite often quoted him and built a system in Finnegans Wake on his theories. And. Theory that interest in Joyce was a kind of cyclical theory of history. Think of have. In which we go assume that
in all the great ages of mankind the cycle went through three the sting stages a stage in which God's will power. The next day in which heroes were paramount. And followed by the stage in which. Mankind men were paramount. This. Was concluded with a clap of thunder and then the cycle began again. Now this is certainly true of the great Greek dramatists Escalus concentrates primarily on the gods. Sophocles concentrates primarily on Heroes. And the river these concentrates primarily on men. The clap of thunder is the invasion from the north by the Macedonian barbarians. We ourselves in the West have gone through a similar development and we shudder to think with a clap of thunder. Might be but with Europe it is. We come to the great sceptical mind the stage in the drama
before. Religion gives way to cynicism. And even need others on the stage before and then to begin the writing comedies in which the chorus doesn't function at all which there are no in vocations to the garden in which. The invocation is to fortune. And to characters. Characters. What you repeat is does is to reduce all of universal war to reason. Questions everything. And he doubts everything. And he subjects all inherited religious notions to a rather intense scrutiny. And this underlying rational. Islam is very clear in his approach to the guards. It's interesting that Europe is concentrating on mankind. And giving you a realistic view of the great heroes of the past. Which Agamemnon
becomes the querulous old man. Helen of Troy is simply a rather a patient's heart. And soul for his beauties naturalizing and rationalizing all the great mythological events. He also brings the same mentality to an examination of the Goddess. In fact he assigns to the god certain human foibles and failings and then blames them for his plays are full of statements such as. I am angry against the God or it is natural for men to be when blinded by the God or if only man could be a curse to the Guard instead of vice versa. And when he writes a very interesting play called The Power to us. He gives and he deals with the central action. Namely the passionate love of Vader for his stepson to apologise and the
suffering that apologise undergoes as a result of his passion. But he makes it all the result of a kind of celestial feud that's going on between two goddesses Artemus and Aphrodite each fighting for primacy each very jealous of their own rights and this kind of judgement being made on the guards is one step before the gods are to disappear altogether. Now Nature who adore Greek drama and who gave us new insights into us. Hated your abilities as you hated Plato and Socrates and you hated him for the same reason for their moralism. For their realism for their lack of access to say he called your abilities a civic mediocrity he called him the power of a static sock with tism. In other words the person who has the best the ties Socrates put the teachings of Socrates into dramatic form.
And said of him finally by a very hero's have a counterfeit mask passions and other but counterfeit mask worthless. Now this is very high. Judgment on Europe it is. And it's not entirely fair. Your buddies wrote some extraordinary plays. And one. Oddly religious play called The back I the last play he wrote. Indeed your body seems to be celebrating religion at the very moment that he's undermining it. But it's this lack of ecstasy that Socrates the nature the tester and especially the concentration of your abilities on the average man. Through your abilities says nature of the average man forced his way from the spectators benches on to the stage itself. But he could not say this of Sophocles. Because Sophocles deals very specifically with a great man with Heroes his whole concentration is on Heroes and indeed at
the same time that he is. Analyzing. The actions of heroes what makes them great. He is. Giving us a complete acceptance of the religious order within which the heroes are functioning and suffering. He has no sense of benevolence in this order the world is not good. The gods are not good. In fact he doesn't make any ethical judgement on this order at all. He doesn't find any need to believe it to be benevolent. Oedipus. Who is of course the great creation of Sophocles. Is a much more central hero. In Oedipus Rex or Oedipus Duran and then there's all rest days in the forest diary of ESCALUS. But this indicates that Sophocles interest and focus is on the human figure. No gods ever appear on
Socrates day. We have lots of oracles. Lots of divine ingoing are a lot of seers who express the gods in hand. But you never see a garden there as you do and ask us. And as you do on the other hand. In Europe it is. So the emphasis is naturally going to shift to human responsibility. If the gods appeared on the stage they would have to justify the universe or justify themselves. They don't do this but we do get some attempt at examining and probing the accent the extent of human responsibility in this strange world in which the gods function but seem to function outside of morality outside. Of ethics. Now our. Everest runners is the most typical. And. At the same time the most perfect. Play the Sophocles ever wrote. Indeed there are some who believe it's the most perfect play
ever written. It's lofty. It's terrifying. And it's puzzling. It's ultimately I suppose fully and the magic. That enigmatic in the most highly charged poetical way. It's full of complexity it's full of tension it's full of ambiguity it's full of the most marvelous theatrical stuff. Now it's been subject to an extraordinary number of interpretations most of which you are familiar with. I suppose the most obvious and the most immediate one that comes most immediately to our minds is the Freudian interpretation Evers the Oedipus of Sophocles becomes the origin of the famous Oedipus complex. And that in this view of the. Play the play becomes a kind of archetype for the primitive human psychological structure. That structure being implicit in every man and his desire to kill his father and marry his mother.
And what Freud assumes is that some of these was kind of. A carrying along. An archetype aeration unconscious in primitive form. Even without knowing it expressing what is in the hearts and minds of the audience out front. Now this is an interesting interpretation of the play. Oh it is the derivative of the play at all its inter-breeding the animists behind the writing of the play and the trouble with it is that it makes every man the equal of others. The something unusual and unique about a verse that is not being reached through this broad interpretation. Roy is generalizing every man as Oedipus. Secondly there is a interpretation that was very popular in the 18th century. And is also popular today. The so-called neo classical edifice Voltaire wrote a play called The Deep.
In which he made the play an expression of his own atheism or scepticism and made the action of Oedipus an attack on the gods. What could the gods be if they treat man in this way. This by the way is the same way that G-d created the myth when he wrote about it in his place. A deep and it's much the same way the Cocteau wrote about it when he wrote a play called The infernal machine that the universe is accidental and terrifying. Man is victimized against his will he has no control over his fate. The guards are awful. The guards are like some machine without a mind and when they are on coil and spring at you you become the victim of their fury a fury without reason without motive. Well this is interesting. For insights into the minds of men who wrote these adaptations but it is of course a totally wrong interpretation of the play that some Publius wrote. Then there
is the anthropological interpretation that became very popular among the Cambridge anthropologists in the late 19th century in the early part of this century. And they saw the play as a ritual acting out of primitive rites. We've gone into some of these rights already. The whole notion of the scapegoat guard was torn apart mutilated piece together and resurrected. They see the structure of primitive society as having to do with the isolation of a king or scapegoat figure. He is isolated he becomes a kind of sacrificial figure and is torn apart. He's called the pharma co's and he's turned to pieces and mutilated his agony is called the sporadic house. And this of course is the history as we've seen of die and I says the history of Osiris the history of Adonis. And it becomes the history of the great Greek heroes in the in this
literature the history of apologies who was also torn apart by the pancreas. And it appears if you consider his tearing out of his eyes the kind of mutilation of a pharmaco figure. Now this is an interesting theory too but this too seems to generalize the heroes so that they're all the same. You can't distinguish apologies from at a purse from a pen Thea's from Di and I says this is the interpretation you bring to bear on what specifies them what's different about each of these. And the trouble with all of these interpretations I think is that they are extrinsic to the plays under discussion they don't deal with the play itself. They deal with something outside the play whether it's a psychological interpretation or the philosophical interpretation or the anthropological. They don't deal with the formal action that's created by the playwright. Nor do they explain the act intrinsic dilemmas of a play like Oedipus dryness or give one any
sense of the extraordinary UV neatness of such a play as edifice surround us. I think probably the best way to start dealing with a play like this is to treat it as a story. In fact it's best to treat it as a detective story as Francis Fergusson the scene he's called it the best detective story ever written and I think it's certainly a prototype for. For the great James Bond novels and Agatha Christie notions what have you if you look at it in this way. Something is causing a plague in the US. There's a blight the end Bertil of it. Which is on the cattle. It's on the fields and it's on the women in the fields not bearing. There's no fruit. The women a stero is the worst possible thing that can happen to a people because it means the race might die out. And you notice that when King Lear curses his daughter Goneril the worst thing he can wish her is to Realty in her will.
That her line will die out that you'll come to an end that there will be no perpetuation of herself in any way whatsoever. This is happening in the US and Oedipus is confronted with the awfulness of the happening on the very first pages of the play. The priest tells him we all stand here because the city's stumbles towards death. Hardly able to raise up its head. A blight has fallen upon the fruitful blossoms of the land. Of blight upon the flock in the field and upon the bed of marriage play ravishes the city editors paying not God but foremost of living men seeing that when you first came to this town of the readers from the parsing of the riddling Sphinx we beseech you always supple eons to find some help. Whether you find it by your power as a man or because being near the God of God has whispered you uplift
us days. Think upon your fame your coming brought us luck be lucky to us still. Remember that it is better to rule over men than over a waste place since neither walled town nor ship is anything if it be empty and no man within it. Well this establishes a number of facts for us that Oedipus has a certain blessed and lucky quality. He's come to this kingship by solving the riddle of the Sphinx. It isn't said that anyone who solved that riddle gets the queen and gets this kingdom of thieves at risk comes alone not knowing who he is or who he belongs to and solve the riddle. So the people believe that he's close to God in some way and indeed he is unlike all those close to God he's going to be destroyed by the gods. Those in the God love they destroy. And he must help them to throw off this horrible yoke to throw to do away with his terrible play.
Well we've seen how the whole dynasty in religion is dedicated to increasing fertility among women and in nature and Oedipus functioning as Dion ICE's himself now must find a way to bring back fertility and harvest to the slam. Well edifice is very anxious from the first to discover the cause what is causing this play. Why is it upon the land. And he soon learns that the pollution is caused. By a criminal a criminal who killed a man and now only a man. But the great king of the king led us. And as soon as he learns of this the other is a terrible curse upon this criminal. This is my proclamation children of Cadmus. Whoever among you knows by what layers some of lab because was killed must tell all he knows. If he fear for him so often being guilty denounce him self the show will be in a less
dangerous suffering no worse thing than banishment. If on the other hand there be one that knows that a foreigner did the deed. Let him speak and I shall give him a reward and my thanks. But if any man keeps silent from fear or to screen a friend here or what I will do to that man. No one in this land shall speak to him. No office sacrifice beside him but he shall be driven from their homes as if he himself had done the deed. And in this I am the ally of the Pythian Guard and of the murdered man and I pray that the murderers live may should he be so hidden and screened dropped from him and perish away. Whoever he may be whether he did the deed with others or by himself alone. And you are late to make so far as man may. These words good and now since you desire who hold the power which he held once and have his wife a wife she who would have borne him is had he but lived. I take up this cause even as a woodworker that of my own
father. And if there be any who do not obey me in it I pray that the gods send them neither harvest of the earth no fruit of the womb. But let them be wasted by this play or by one more dreadful still. It may all be blessed forever who hear my words and do my will. And that speech is full of ironies. Obviously. And it's full of heart because he is uttering a terrible curse here is over uttering a curse of the very same sort that is now laid Deaves on the man who caused that play. Will Oedipus now proceeds to examine witnesses as a good detective would. Who's responsible for this. And he brings in those who might know something about it at first hand. The first person to come is the receiver's the famous blind see a half man half woman a man with the breasts of a woman. A blind man who sees and this business of being blind and
seeing as opposed to Oedipus who sees and is blind is the central metaphor of the play. The word eyes and seeing recurred over and over again throughout the play until the very end of it you realize why in the culminating horrible moment when Oedipus tears out his own eyes and sees what's a receiver's is stunned by Oedipus. Who has a very high spirited high strung proud man as we know. And stung by him. He tells him that he himself. Is the criminal. It seems to me as a service that you have helped to plot the deed and short of doing it with your own hands have done the deed yourself and you eyesight I would declare that you alone had done it. And to receive. So that is what you say. I charge you to obey the decree that you yourself have made and from this day out to speak neither to these Nor to me.
You are the filer of this land. But it was just thinks he's brazen. He refuses to accept this and consequently he calls him another witness. Korea his uncle Korean is innocent in this play whatever he may become in the end think any and whatever he may become in Oedipus at Colonus namely a tyrant in both those places. He is here an innocent man trying vainly to clarify a situation that he doesn't know too much about. But Oedipus still proud still high spirited still irritable quick to jump to conclusions assumes the crayon is plotting against him. Korean wants the power and the to get the very end. But because he wants the crown he is willing to answer in a plot against editors. Along with two receivers and make it appear that edifice is the filer of his land. Next he comes to his wife.
Who we know but he does not is also his mother. And with your pastor his wife. He'd trade stories of the oracles who figures so prominently in this play. And what the oracles told your caster was that her son would kill his father. And sleep with his mother. Do not fear there is truth in what he says listen to me and learn to come for the nothing born of woman can know what is to come. And Oracle came to Laos once I will not save the biz but from his ministers that he was doomed to die by the hand of his own child sprung from him and me when his child was but three days old layers pounded speech together and had grown by fewer hands upon attack was Mao. And when Laos was murdered at the place where three highways meet. It was also at least the rumor says by foreign robbers. So Apollo did not bring it about the child to kill his father. Now the latest die in the dreadful way he feared by his child's
hand. That was how the message of the sea is mapped out the future. Pay no attention to such things but the God would show he will need no help to show it but bring it to light himself. Whoever has also has a story of the oracles. Very similar to a parallel story but slightly different in its outlines. Without consulting my father or my mother. I went to deal with Steve has told me nothing of the thing for which I came but much of other things things of sorrow and of Tara that I should live in incest with my mother and to get a brew that men would shudder to look upon that I should be my father's murderer. Hearing these words I PLAYED OUT of color and from that day have but known where it lies when I found its direction by the stars. Now these are. Stories that are very similar as I said for one story has to do with a man who was the son of your cast and the other has to do with a man who thinks he is the son of a couple named Bolivia's polypus Amir AP in chorus.
And your cast and others have not yet put together the parts of this jigsaw puzzle. It was the detective is still doing a little dance here. And as a result they begin both of them to doubt the oracles of the gods. Now you can be sure whatever anyone doubts the oracles of the gods and Sophocles that they're about to have their heads handed to you cast this as all oracle of the guards where are you now or this is the man who Oedipus feared and shunned lest he should murder him. And now this man has died a natural death and not by the hand of Oedipus. This is when the messenger comes in. That poly verse says father is dead. And never says the same thing. Why indeed my wife should one look to their pity and see it go to the birds that scream above our heads for they would have it I was doomed to kill my father and now he's dead. Hidden already beneath the earth. And here are Maori who had no part in it unless indeed he died from a longing for me. If that was so I may
have caused his death but Pali verse has carried the oracles with him into Hades. The Oracles as men have understood them and they are worth nothing. Well they're worth nothing. The messenger has brought good news namely that the man is dead father is dead. That's good news because he died a natural death. But good news in Sophocles is quite often followed by bad news and the messenger brings good bad news the bad news is don't grieve polygraphs is not your real father. Well this begins to complicate the plot. And get Oedipus a little nervous and your cast even more nervous and the whole situation is finally cleared up when the herdsman is brought in and after being threatened with the third degree with torture. Identified as Oedipus not isness on a polypus the mirror but as the son of the caster and layers.
He did not kill him as he was told to do but the man was handed over. The child was handed over to a shepherd. Who gave him to these people this couple in Corinth. Well the jigsaw puzzle finally fits together. Edifice learns that he is cursed himself. And now he has to sentence himself for the crime. Your caster. Goes in and hangs herself. Oedipus blinds himself with the brooches and we finally get the significance of all the seeing and I am blinding imagery. The blind see those with vision are blind. Oedipus goes blind and finally sees. He dragged the Goban brooches from her breasts and lifting them struck them upon his eyeballs crying out. You have looked enough of those you ought never to have looked upon Pharao long enough to know those that you should have known Henceforth you shall be
dark. He struck his eyes not once but many times lifting his eyes and speaking such as lifting his hands and speaking such a like Word as the blood poured down and not with a few slow drops but all at once over his beard in a dark shower as it were. Well this is a very exciting story just stripped to its essential plot outlines. And it will be ours of a modern detective story writer with the will to create it. The detective is looking for a culprit throughout a book or a play or a movie and ends up by discovering he's the one he's been looking for. And has to commit justice upon himself discovers that he is the one that is I'm willingly committed the crime. The rhythm of the play is very clear when it's looked at as a story there is a steady accumulation of suspense and action a crescendo of excitement. The interviews grow shorter and shorter. The interview with a Reeses being long less long. The Messenger.
Metaphysical roots of the drama
Oedipus Tyrannos: Tragic Flaw?
Producing Organization
University of Cincinnati
WGUC (Radio station : Cincinnati, Ohio)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Producing Organization: University of Cincinnati
Producing Organization: WGUC (Radio station : Cincinnati, Ohio)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-44-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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Duration: 00:28:38
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Chicago: “Metaphysical roots of the drama; Oedipus Tyrannos: Tragic Flaw?,” 1968-11-15, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 11, 2022,
MLA: “Metaphysical roots of the drama; Oedipus Tyrannos: Tragic Flaw?.” 1968-11-15. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 11, 2022. <>.
APA: Metaphysical roots of the drama; Oedipus Tyrannos: Tragic Flaw?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from