Sophocles

Definition

Theater

  • (496 - 406 BC) One of the three great tragic playwrightsof ancient Greece; he wrote 123 plays during a career of 60 yearsand was still writing at the age of 90. His plays dwell on the conquestof suffering. Only seven tragedies survive: Ajax (450 BC),Antigone (442 BC), Oedipus Rex, alsoknown as Oedipus Tyrannus (429 BC), Trachiniae(425 BC), Electra (409 BC), Philoctetes(409 BC), and Oedipus at Colonus (401 BC).

    Sophocles studied tragedy under Aeschylus, whom he defeatedin the Dionysia in 468 BC. He went on to win a further18 contests in less than 30 years. However, his most famous work,Oedipus Rex, won only second prize (as one of a group of threeplays judged together).

    Sophocles's formal innovations included adding a third principalactor, limiting the role of the chorus to one of commentary, and makingplots more complex. He remains popular with modern audiences largelybecause of his sympathetic approach to his characters.

    Oedipus Rex, which gave Freud the term 'Oedipus complex',is the story of the King of Thebes who unwittingly murders his fatherand marries his mother. The most renowned modern performance of Oedipuswas given by Olivier in 1945 with the Old Vic at the New Theatre.The production is remembered by those who saw it for Olivier's searingcry when Oedipus learns he has murdered his father. Olivier claimedhe was imitating a cry he heard in a Canadian forest, where skunkswere caught by making their tongues stick to a block of salt.

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