A Cross-Cultural Take on Oedipus the King

“The patients become the playwright’s plague-weary Thebans, the playwright’s grim and fearful chorus. Like the cast, they are all black, and the resonant but never stated implication is that they have AIDS.”

“…As a result, his fall has an element in it of just deserts, as though he were being punished for his hubris, and this robs from the mounting human tragedy that gives the play its brutal power.”

These quotes are from a 2001 New York times theater review of an adaptation of Oedipus the King set in contemporary Africa.

As a result of setting the play in Africa, the context of the story changes, meaning that there are different reasons as to why events in the play occur. The writer of the review, Bruce Weber, notes that instead of going through a devastating plague, the people that Oedipus rules over are struggling with AIDS. A plague as gruesome as the one that the Athenians were concerned with at the time of the original Oedipus story is not an issue that would concern anyone today, or in 2001, and so it is understandable that this detail would be altered for a modern adaptation. The use of AIDS instead of the Athenian plague makes for a much more relevant comment on modern African life for that time period, as in 2001, when this play was written, AIDS was prominent issue in Africa. The ideas are similar enough for the use of AIDS in the story to seamlessly work in the story – the people are upset that something so horrible has spread, and so they turn to their leader, Oedipus, for guidance. The story of Oedipus himself and his prophecy continues from there.

Furthermore, Weber observes how Oedipus’ weakness is still hubris, but his fall is somewhat different in this adaptation, which could also affect the theme. Weber claims that “…it’s hard to imagine him as a revered leader. He’s Oedipus the Prince, someone who suffers on his sleeve, who doesn’t have layers of self-certainty to be peeled slowly and inevitably away as his heritage and his fate are revealed to him.” Oedipus in this adaptation is a young, privileged, and somewhat lucky character. His demise is only seen when he blinds himself at the end. In the original play, Oedipus’ decision to uncover the killer of Laius by any means necessary in order to help his people is a noble one, and the audience can pity him when his fate is revealed, which adds to the purpose of the play itself – to find a “reason” for the Athenian plague. In this contemporary version, there may be a comment being made about leadership in Africa and how the situation regarding AIDS may have been handled poorly. There is a change in theme and purpose.

Citation:

Weber, Bruce. “Timeless Tragedy, Transported in Time.” The New York Times, 30 Jan. 2001. Accessed 5 Sept. 2017.

Link:

Tags:

OnStage, CLAS2, Euripides, Sophocles, Antigone, Oedipus, Medea

 

 

 

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