Oedipus Tyrannus

by Sophocles

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What parallels and thematic elements are shared between Oedipus Tyrannus and Mouawad's Scorched, and how does Mouawad update the Ancient Greek material?

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The parallels between Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles in 429 BCE, and Scorched, written by Wajdi Mouawad in 2003, include the shared themes of self-discovery, relentless search for the truth, fate vs. free will, and the apportionment of guilt and shame. Parallels in the plot of each play include events reflecting a traumatic family history involving murder, incest, and the abandonment of children.

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There is a convergence of themes and notable parallels in the plots of the ancient Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles in 429 BCE, and Scorched (originally written in French and titled Incendies), written by Lebanese playwright Wajdi Mouawad in 2003.

The inciting incident in Oedipus Rex involves the plague, blight, and famine which the gods have inflicted on the people of Thebes, who turn to their king, Oedipus, to relieve them from their suffering. Creon reports to Oedipus that that only way to lift the plague, blight, and famine from the city is for Oedipus to find and punish the murderer of Laius, the former king of Thebes.

To find Laius's murderer, Oedipus must reconstruct the past, which ultimately turns out to be his past. Oedipus's unrelenting quest for the truth leads him to discoveries about himself that he prefers would have remained unknown, not only for his own sake, but for the sake of his wife, Jocasta, and his children.

The inciting incident in Scorched is the death of Nawal Marwan, followed by the reading of her will, which contains odd and disconcerting instructions for her burial. Nawal also left each of her twin children a letter, with instructions for Janine to deliver one of the letters to her father, who she and her brother have never known, and for Simon to deliver the other letter to their brother, who neither of them even knew existed.

In order to deliver their letters to their father and brother, Janine and Simon must discover their pasts in much the same way that Oedipus discovers his—slowly, painstakingly, and, at times, very reluctantly.

A significant difference between Oedipus Rex and Scorched is that the story of Oedipus Rex is told from Oedipus's perspective as the son of Laius, husband of Jocasta, and brother of his own children, whereas Scorched is told from Nawal's perspective, which is the perspective of the Jocasta character in Oedipus Rex, as the mother and wife.

Like Jocasta, Nawal has a son taken from her as a baby, not because of an ancient prophecy, as in Oedipus's case, but because the baby's birth, if discovered, would bring scandal and dishonor to Nawal's family because he was the illegitimate son of a Muslim refugee.

Flashbacks scenes are played out in Scorched but only recounted in narrative form in Oedipus Rex, but both plays are, in a sense, memory plays which are pieced together one memory at a time until the entire past history is revealed.

For Oedipus, the story is devastating because he discovers that he's at fault, in one way or another, for everything horrific that happens to Laius and to Jocasta, and for the four children he had with Jocasta who will carry the curse of Oedipus with them throughout their lives.

For Janine and Simon, who bear no fault whatsoever for their past, the story is a revelation to them, and is a story that frees their mother, finally, from the horrific story of her life.

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