The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Gospel at Colonus is a curious blend of the ancient Greek drama of Sophocles and a modern gospel musical. The text is an adaptation of Sophocles’ Oidipous epi Kolni (401 b.c.e.; Oedipus at Colonus, 1729), the second play in the cycle of the Theban Trilogy, although it makes references to certain occurrences in both Oidipous Tyrannos (c. 429 b.c.e.; Oedipus Tyrannus, 1715) and Antigon (441 b.c.e.; Antigone, 1729). The immediate setting of The Gospel at Colonus is a black Pentecostal church service, where the play opens with the black preacher taking the text for his sermon from the “Book of Oedipus.” Through flashback, musical performance, and dance, the audience is transported back in time to the suffering of Oedipus, the King of Thebes’ self-imposed banishment from his home city, and his difficult journey in search of sanctuary. Oedipus’s journey and his constant suffering are dramatized in the audience’s imagination as the Pentecostal preacher re-creates the classic story of redemption through suffering.

The first scene shows Oedipus on the road, accompanied by his younger daughter, Antigone, as he approaches the gates of Colonus, the city in which he will ultimately be granted a resting place. Although the townspeople attempt to refuse his entry out of fear that his sins will...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The most obvious dramatic device employed in The Gospel at Colonus is the use of flashback. Even as the preacher mounts the podium to begin his sermon, the impulse to “look back” is present. Thus, as the preacher introduces his text from the Book of Oedipus, he begins to draw the picture of the once mighty King of Thebes, who is brought down so that he might be exalted, or “saved” in the Christian context. At one juncture, obviously to impart to the congregation just how low Oedipus was brought, the preacher recounts how Oedipus blinded himself by plunging the golden brooches from his wife/mother’s garments into his eyes so that he could look no more on the sins he had committed. The power of such imagery is palpable for the audiences—the one listening to the sermon within the play, as well as the one experiencing the play.

The Greek Chorus, represented in The Gospel at Colonus by two gospel-singing choruses, is also an important dramatic device in its function as the Aristotelian notion of the ideal spectator and in the role of a contemporary gospel chorus. In the former sense, the two groups often provide point-counterpoint or strophe-antistrophe in order to give the audience different views of the same incident and to advance the plot by illustrating the preacher’s next point in the text. The fact that both choruses are singing the same song at the end of the play confirms and underscores the play’s important theme of...

(The entire section is 443 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

D’Aponte, Mimi Gisolfi. “The Gospel at Colonus (And Other Black Morality Plays).” Black American Literature Forum 25 (Spring, 1991): 101-111.

DeVries, Hilary. “A Song in Search of Itself.” American Theater 3, no. 10 (1987): 22-25.

Feingold, Michel. “Gospel Truth.” Village Voice, November 22, 1983, p. 109.

Gussow, Mel. “Colonus Mixes Songs with Sophocles.” New York Times, November 12, 1983, p. 12.

Kroll, Jack. “An Oedipal Jamboree.” Newsweek, April 4, 1988, 75.

Rich, Alan. “Oedipus Jones.” Newsweek, November 21, 1983, 105, 107.

Rich, Frank. “A Musical of Sophocles and Pentecostalism.” New York Times, March, 25, 1988, p. C5.