Media Adaptations

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There is an outstanding sound recording from 1974 of the opera-oratorio adaptation of Oedipus Rex by Igor Stravinsky and Jean Cocteau; the text is translated by e. e. cummings. It is available from Columbia Music.

Oedipus Rex was adapted as a film by Tyrone Guthrie, starring Douglas Campbell, Donald Davis, Eleanor Stuart, and Douglas Rain, Motion Pictures, 1957. The translation is by poet William Butler Yeats.

The play was also adapted for film by Pier Paolo Pasolini, starring Franco Citti, Silvano Mangano, Julian Beck, and Pasolini himself as the High Priest, Euro International Films, 1967. This epic film was shot in Morocco. Its interpretation of the Oedipus story is bleak, emotionally demanding, and self-consciously autobiographical.

Another film version from the 1960s is that of Philip Saville, starring Christopher Plummer, Lilli Palmer, Orson Welles, and Donald Sutherland, Universal, 1968.

Rainer Simon, a German filmmaker, directed Der Fall Dipus, or The Oedipus Case. Set in summertime Greece when a foreign military detachment camp out near Thebes and film the Oedipus story, the film stars Sebastian Hartmann, Tatiana Lygari, and Jan-Josef Liefers, 1990, Toro Film.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) adapted the play for film, starring Michael Pennington, Claire Bloom, and John Gielgud, 1991, Films for the Humanities, British Broadcasting Corporation. Excellent performances from the principal actors as well as from the chorus; staging is minimal but sufficient.

Oedipus Rex was adapted as a film for the Living Literature: The Classics and You series, Lesson No. 5., 1994, available from RMI Media Productions.

Two half-hour, made-for-video stage performances of the play are available from Children's Television International (The Play Series, volume 2) and Encyclopedia Britannica Educational Corporation (The EBE Humanities Program, Drama Series).

Far from a literal translation of the play is Woody Allen's Oedipus Wrecks, a short comedy about a Jewish New York attorney, Sheldon Mills, who is constantly being nagged, followed, and publicly humiliated by his overbearing mother, Sadie Millstein. The film stars Allen, Julie Kavner, Mia Farrow, and Mae Questel, 1989, Touchstone Pictures; it is the third segment in an anthology film entitled New York Stories.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy. Macmillan, 1907.

Further Reading

Aristotle. The Poetics. Translated by W. Hamilton Fyfe. London: Heinemann, 1927. Aristotle's important discussion of effective tragic form includes many references to the exemplarity of Sophocles's play, and provides a useful understanding of classical poetic theory.

Bates, William Nickerson Sophocles, Poet and Dramatist. London: Oxford University Press, 1940. In a chapter on Oedipus, Bates summarizes the plot and offers general, laudatory remarks on Sophoclean tragedy, followed by discussions of the protagonist and Jocasta.

Bowra, C. M. Sophoclean Tragedy. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1944. Bowra's focus is on the role of Apollo and the gods in the play, offering a historical reading that contextualizes the oracle in Athenian society.

Bushnell, Rebecca W. Prophesying Tragedy: Sight and Voice in Sophocles's Theban Plays. Cornell University Press, 1988. Bushnell compellingly argues that Oedipus's desire to speak and his aversion to silence together create a character whose faith in the efficacy of human words unsuccessfully challenges oracular knowledge.

Davies, M. "The End of Sophocles's O.T." Hermes, Vol. 110, 1982, pp. 268-77. Davies argues that the last scene of the play, in which Creon ushers Oedipus into the palace but does not send him into exile as some have assumed, shows us that neither character has changed psychologically as a result of the reversals of fortune in the play. Oedipus still understands himself in the majestic terms of a king, and Creon remains cautious and concerned.

Dawe, R. D., ed. Sophocles: The Classical Heritage . New York: Garland, 1996. This collection of criticism of...

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the play includes excerpts for the works of Aristotle, Corneille, Voltaire, and modern theorists as well. Also contains a few discussions of performances of the play from the Italian Renaissance to the present day.

Dodds, E. R. "On Misunderstanding the Oedipus Rex." Greece and Rome, Vol. 13, 1966, pp.37-49. Dodds's famous and generous account of three popular but misguided undergraduate interpretations of the play is extremely useful in helping to sort out the play's attitudes towards oracular knowledge and human culpability.

O'Brien, Michael J., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex. Prentice-Hall, 1968. O'Brien's indispensible collection of essays includes notable excerpts from the work of Francis Fergusson, Bernard Knox, Richard Lattimore, and Victor Ehrenberg, as well as a smattering of quotations from Plutarch, Longinus, Freud, and Marshall McLuhan.

Fry, Paul H. Homer to Brecht: The European Epic and Dramatic Traditions. Edited by Michael Seidel and Edward Mendelson. Yale University Press, 1977, pp. 171-90. Fry's introductory lecture for undergraduates focuses on the riddle of the Sphinx, Oedipus, and the problem of knowledge, and the pathos generated by the punishment of the gods.

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald. [New York], 1949. This volume also contains Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone; all three translations are considered standard ones.

Waldock, A. J. A. Sophocles the Dramatist. Cambridge University Press, 1951. Waldock challenges Bowra's discussion of the play, claiming that its plot does not center around the role of the gods in human life but rather the consequential pain of ambitious desires to gain knowledge.

Whitman, C. H. Sophocles: A Study of Heroic Humanism. Harvard University Press, 1951. Whitman compares Oedipus to Pericles, the Athenian leader and general, and also discusses the play in general terms. A balanced though dry antidote to the polemical tones of Bowra and Waldock.

Wilder, Thornton. American Characteristics and Other Essays. New York: Harper and Row, 1979. Wilder provides learned reflections on the play's treatment of the oracle and discusses the attractiveness of myth-making for western writers.

Winnington-Ingram, W. P. Sophocles: An Interpretation. Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Offers detailed account of the second choral ode, or second "stasimon," in order to demonstrate the usefulness of close attention to commonly neglected aspects of the play.


Historical and Social Context