Ancient audiences were familiar with the Oedipus story. How does Sophocles create suspense, despite our knowing the end?

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readerofbooks's profile pic

readerofbooks | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

This is a good question, but your question assumes something that might not be true. Just because you know how a story ends, it does not mean that the story will have no suspense. Don't people read and watch the same movie several times? Here are few reasons why:

1. Everytime you watch something again, you tend to learn or see something new.

2. Also you have to keep in mind that you are not the same person when you watch something twice. For this reasons, there is a freshness to watching something for a second time.

3. Finally, there is a dramatic atmosphere that draws the audience in. This alone create suspense.

jtullier's profile pic

jtullier | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

Storylines may be the same, but the translation and presentation of the storyline can create totally different interpretations...and therefore suspense.

The Oedipus Trilogy (especially Oedipus Rex and Antigone) are two examples. 

  • The plays were originally written in Greek, so the translator has much control over the English version of the play.  I have read one translation of both plays in which the language appears to have been written for the Shakespearian stage, while another uses a more modern English translation...even using "hell" and "damn."
  • Since plays are to be performed, the second shift comes with the director who selects the translation that he or she wants to perform, and then casts the parts with characters to represent his or her views.  In this manner, Oedipus could be portrayed in a manner that wins the audience's sympathy or as one that the audience feels "got his just dues."  In two presentations of Antigone, the sentry is portrayed totally different.  In one he was a very proper Greek soldier doing his duty.  In another performance he used improper grammar, with a Cockney-Irish dialect.  The latter made his "cow-down" to Creon to save his own hide -- someone else's fault.
  • The third aspect that changes is the actual actors and actresses (thank goodness we still do not use boys for the parts of the women).  Working with the director, the actor or actress presents the character and his or her lines in a manner that may be totally different from one presentation to another.
  • The fourth aspect is the placement of the play in different periods.  A director could choose to present the play in the original Greek background, or could update it make it appear (setting and costumes) in almost any period of history--whatevery the audience will allow.

Realistically, with this trilogy the suspense is constant since there are so may variables in the translation and presentation...one does not know what will be next...only that the storyline will be there.

Hope this helps, Achowalogen

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