We all know the basics: Oedipus offed his father and married his mother.
The Three Theban Plays: Antigone – Oedipus the King – Oedipus at Colonus
Sophocles · c. 441-406 BC
Robert Fagles translation · Penguin, 2008 · 430 pages, paperback
Oedipus the King, though, isn’t about the incestuous prophecy, but instead about Oedipus’ relentless pursuit – no matter the cost – of the truth, what he does with that truth and how he’s treated in spite of it all.
More than the story of ancient myth and its piecemeal modern echoes – thank you, Herr Freud – Sophocles gave us the measure of the man: integrity unmatched, good intentions to the last, a sense of justice that places no king above the law.
It’s a shame we only remember the sullied reputation. Continue reading
Iago. Meanness, villainy, devilry…spite. His villainy inflamed by changing motives, Iago plays his spitefulness for sport.
Othello · William Shakespeare · 1603
Norton, 2008 · 82 pages, hardcover
William Shakespeare based Othello on a work by the Italian writer Cinthio. In the original Iago seeks retribution for his wife’s disloyalty, and it becomes a drama driven by vengeance. In Shakespeare’s version this motive is diluted: the affair between Iago’s wife, Emilia, and Othello is only a supposition (Iago admits to as much and Emilia makes light of the rumor). It’s no more than barracks banter and is hardly alluded to in the play.
Iago’s evilness is more terrifying and Othello a more difficult work for this revision. Othello isn’t a drama about jealousy or vengeance anymore; it’s a drama about manipulation and the fortitude of rumors and lies. Continue reading