Literature Reviews

Review: The Theban Plays by Sophocles

theban plays

Rating: ★★★★☆

Title: The Theban Plays (Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus)

Playwright: Sophocles

Genre: Greek Tragedy

Publication Date: c. 441 BC*

Publisher: Unknown**

Where to buy: The Theban Plays

Summary: King Oedipus is cursed and unknowingly commits atrocities. The consequences of his actions shape his legacy.

Trigger Warnings: death, threat, abuse, suicide, violence, gore imagery.

*The plays were among a few plays that survived.


A cruel fate

Set in Ancient Greece, Oedipus and Antigone, father and daughter, contend with fate. On a side note, although Antigone was first produced by the tragedian, Sophocles, the events in Antigone are without a doubt the fatal consequences of the actions of Oedipus (in Oedipus the King and Oedipus at Colonus) or rather, the Greek deities.

The most compelling play out of the trilogy was Antigone, as its eponymous protagonist defies a powerful male character despite fate looming over her.

ANTIGONE:

These laws – I was not about to break them,

not out of fear of some man’s wounded pride,

and face the retribution of the gods.

(Line 509 – 510, p.82)

About five years ago, I read Antigone for the first time and I loved Antigone’s fiery character, however, upon reading the other plays in the trilogy, I would not class Antigone as a feminist play, as her intentions are not about herself. I think it would be accurate to say that Antigone’s voice is incredibly powerful, more than her actions, as she wishes to tear down the laws her uncle has made. Having heard excerpts of the play performed several times, Antigone’s voice is the one that stays with you. So the question is: does Antigone fight for herself or for others? I would say both.

So, how did Antigone come to be? The Leader in Antigone notes the “wild” similarity between Antigone and her father, Oedipus. In terms of events, Oedipus the King (also known as Oedipus Rex) is the first in the trilogy and subsequently,  Oedipus at Colonus, then lastly, Antigone. The events which arise in Oedipus the King were truly horrifying to read. I was vaguely aware of a psychological term, Oedipus complex (don’t look up until you’ve read the play), but I could not believe what I was reading. For the sake of spoilers, I won’t disclose what happens, but be prepared for some ugly truths.

What disturbed me most was the idea that you cannot control your fate; it is literally in the hands of the Greek deities. The question that kept appearing, for me, was why? Why did Oedipus have to go through those particular series of events? Why did his daughter, Antigone, meet a similar fate? Were the Greek deities just using Oedipus as a demonstration of their power? I ultimately feel sorry for Oedipus as he truly doesn’t deserve what happens to him.

SOPHOCLES, WHY DID YOU WRITE ABOUT “YOU KNOW WHAT”?

If you’ve read it or had it spoiled for you (like it was for me), you know what I’m talking about. The issue that I am talking about is of major significance so it won’t be named here. What confuses me most about this issue is that it was prophesied, meaning that the deities planned for this to happen. WHY?! This is why I can only rate the trilogy 4 stars as I simply find the social issue horrifying.

Why did I read it?

I wanted to re-read Antigone and I thought, why not the whole trilogy?!

Does the playwright have other works?

Sophocles wrote several plays, such as Electra, Ajax, and Philoctetes.

Overall…

The play exemplifies what a tragedy is, a fatal fall from grace.

– Melissa Jennings

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