He did!! .…during the #AskArmitage Twitter Q&A Richard Armitage said,
There it is…Right there in black and white. A tweet that has had me wriggling in Classics nerd delight since last week. (So much so that I will overlook the fact that Mr. Armitage was shockingly non specific in his verbiage given that there are numerous extant variations on the Oedipal theme.) I imagine that it’s safe to assume that he’s referring to the iconic Oedipus the King by Sophocles. I like this play a lot. In fact, it is the second Greek tragedy that I read as an undergraduate, but the first one that I really comprehended in any meaningful way. (I will accept pats on the back for continuing in the field after my first exposure to Greek tragedy in the form of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound for an Intro to Honors course during my first semester at college.)
I just can’t do it. There isn’t really a need to spoiler alert a 2500 year old play is there? In any case, foreknowledge of the details of the Oedipus myth was an important part of the interplay between the unfolding drama and the audience. At one point, EVERYBODY, including the audience, knows the great secret. EVERYBODY but Oedipus that is.
Sophocles’ Oedipus is perhaps the archetypal tragic hero. In solving the Sphinx’s riddle and saving Thebes, he proved himself a hero, achieved excellence (arete) and seems to have been successful at warding off the trap of hubris after he was made King of Thebes. In these qualities, he is a much less detestable character than say, Jason with his general ineptitude, or Pentheus with his aggressive arrogance. No, as the story opens, we are introduced to Oedipus as a king who is greatly troubled by the hard times that have come upon his people. A king who vows to stop at nothing to seek out the truth and lift the curse, promising punishment for the guilty party.
Yet he is far from perfect. He lashes out repeatedly at people who are wholly innocent or worse, trying to save him from the horror of the truth. The blind seer Tiresias who knows the truth but refuses to tell it, his brother-in-law Creon who is accused of colluding with Tiresias to take the throne for himself, and even his wife Jocasta who he accuses of being mercenary when she, having figured out the truth, begs him to stop his questioning, for his own sake:
In the end it is revealed that Oedipus’ tragic hubris took place long before, when as a young man, he sought to avoid the fate foretold to him by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi. This notion of the immutable nature of fate loomed very large in Greek tragedy, and those who tried to escape fate usually suffered greatly for it…Oedipus is no exception.
Another element that really jumps out at me throughout this play is the imagery of blindness. It is the blind seer Tiresias who first “sees” who Oedipus is….and as Oedipus slowly comes to know the truth he reflects that the blind seer did “have eyes.” It is the final scene though, when Oedipus emerges on stage, blinded, but finally fully aware of the truth, that is the height of tragic drama:
Yep…this play has lost none of it’s power in the millenia since it was first written for the Greek stage. I would LOVE to see Richard Armitage in the title role. To see him work through all of that pathos. To see him partner again with Yael Farber, who has a long standing interest in Classical tragedy…maybe even perform it in the open air at the ancient Theater of Epidauros?
I would pay my eye teeth to see that!
(Pun totally intended!!)