Five Reasons Why You Should Read the Theban Plays

I honestly don't even know who I am anymore. Me, the girl who did everything in her power possible to avoid classics classes while in college (as in BC work, not like Bronte), read Sophocles' three Theban Plays for fun this past month (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone). I actually taught Antigone again, for the fourth time, so I guess that one was obligatory. I had such a good time explaining the backstory, though, that I even sold myself on the whole thing and ordered copies to read for pleasure. I had read Oedipus when I was in high school (didn't we all?), but Colonus was a first for me. I admittedly like Antigone the best, probably because I know it so well and Colonus the least, but really, I can truthfully say I thoroughly enjoyed the process. And now I'm here to convince you to do the same:

The stories- Incest! Death! Suffering! Family drama! This is how I entice my students before they start reading Antigone, by giving them the details on poor Oedipus killing his dad and marrying his mom. They're horrified, but hooked! They went into Antigone being intrigued and were more motivated to tackle the language. I have a ton of kids reading the other plays for outside reading now, since these themes have proved to be so interesting. And really, they are. The way that Sophocles just totally destroys Oedipus' family is horrific- basically the first train wreck people couldn't stop watching (except a chariot... really).

It's accessible (especially with the right translations)- I know we typically think of things written by scholars and great playwrights like Sophocles as incredibly challenging, but I really think with a tiny bit of literary elbow grease anyone can successfully tackle these three books. And then, when you surprise yourself and do, you can be super proud that you're nailing Sophocles.

Sophocles' commentary on power- Creon's progression through various degree of power is such an interesting process and is so timely. Sophocles shows what happens when someone gets too much control and refuses to listen to others- he's left with nothing, no one, and without respect. The church vs state debate is also relevant, the challenging notion clearly a problem that has haunted civilization since the dawn of infrastructure and bureaucracy. 

Fascinating minor characters- I love discussing Ismene, Antigone's sister, with my students. Is she smart in her desire to protect herself from Creon or is she a coward? Teiresias plays such an integral part in the three plays as well, despite not having many spoken lines. Haimon is also a fascinating character, as Antigone's cousin-fiancee who pulls the original Romeo and Juliet sort-of-move at the end of the series. 

The minimalism- I gravitate towards contemporary novels with details, extensive plot development, multiple perspectives, and hundreds of pages. The Theban Plays are quite the opposite, considering Sophocles was really at the forefront of developing a lot of these theatrical advances. Not long before Sophocles' time there were only one or two characters in a play! These plays are still very short on cast lists, don't devote any space to developing settings (except in Oedipus at Colonus, there is some time spent discussing a sort of sacred area he is at), and there aren't a ton of stage directions. It totally works, though, as the reader/audience isn't getting distracted by irrelevant information that detracts from what Sophocles is doing with the characters and their tragic story. 

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