James's Reviews > Oedipus Rex

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
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Sep 01, 11

bookshelves: plays, poetry
Read from August 30 to September 01, 2011

And I thought Hamlet had an odd family. Oedipus' tragic case is that of curiosity killed the cat, or is it of inescapable fate, or something else that my feeble mind can't discover. Sophocles, so many centuries after the theaters in Athens became silent, still begs reading and interpretation, because he was a writer of great power, who here crafted a story of such power that Freud, being both purposely controversial and self-serving, named it one of the three greatest literary works of all time. Here, although I'm unworthy to do intellectual battle with the good Doctor, I disagree. Somewhat. There's just something lacking in the way certain of the scenes play, or some of the dialogue comes off, it doesn't always feel natural, although I'm hardly a theater critic; granted, I don't fault Sophocles for this, as these relatively minor issues can be attributed to both translation and reading it instead of seeing it performed, although a play should stand up just on literary quality as well. Although the gods may not look favorably upon that judgement, I just think it's missing something, especially when compared with the later "Oedipal" drama (and the next of Freud's top three) Hamlet; of course, nothing can truly stand in comparison with Hamlet except more Shakespeare, but that's another story. Okay, so I admit it: I can't put my finger on it, but something is keeping me from giving it five stars. Must everything be reasoned out at length? These are informal reviews after all. Anyway, what struck me here was how fierce the writing is; I don't know if it was the particular translation, but Oedipus' speeches burn across time with a furor unmatched in most literature, and warrant four, nearly five stars on their own. And of course Sophocles is eloquent and a brilliant psychologist throughout. The story needs no explanation; it's the deepest, darkest of Western stories, and nothing more need be said. Count no man happy until he's read Oedipus.
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