In Oedipus Rex, Jocasta and Oedipus commit violence towards themselves offstage. How do they do this? Why does Sophocles make this creative choice happen offstage?
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Throughout the entire play, the action takes place on the palace steps. After learning that she has accidentally married the son she tried to kill, Jocasta goes inside the palace and kills herself. When Oedipus finally comes to the same realization, he also goes inside and gouges his eyes with Jocasta's broach. There are two primary reasons why Sophocles has these two events take place offstage. First, plays during this time typically did not have gore onstage, to protect the delicate disposition of the women in the audience. Such a notion seems foreign and perhaps even absurd to us today, because gore and bloodshed are very common in modern movies. At the time, though, many believed that a woman was too delicate to be exposed to such images. Second, Sophocles strictly adhered to Aristotle's unities of drama. Aristotle wrote that drama should be united in action, place, and time. While different writers applied these guidelines in different ways, Sophocles kept all of his characters in one place -- the palace steps in the case of Oedipus Rex -- and had people come to that spot. Thus, all the messengers coming to Oedipus to report different occurrences. Practically speaking, this was probably easier as well because of the limited staging and effects options of the time.
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