M. H. Abrams says that “almost all literary theorists since Aristotle have emphasized the importance of structure, conceived in diverse ways, in analyzing a work of literature” (300).
The matter of the structure of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex is a subject of varying interpretation among literary critics, as this essay will reveal.
In “A Great Translator’s Reflections on Oedipus the King,” Gilbert Murray, professor at Oxford University in England, cites structure as one of the reasons why he chose Oedipus Rex as a work of translation:
On the whole, I can only say that the work of translation has made me feel even more strongly than before the extraordinary grip and reality of the dialogue, the deftness of the construction, and . . . the unbroken crescendo of tragedy from the opening to the close (105). . . . But Sophocles worked by blurring his structural outlines just as he blurs the ends of his verses. In him the traditional divisions are all made less distinct, all worked over the direction of greater naturalness. . . .This was a very great gain. . . .(107)
Murray’s appreciation of the “crescendo of tragedy” in Oedipus Rex is echoed in the sentiments of another critic: In Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge, Charles Segal says that the protagonist fares well in the first series of tests, but declines towards his catastrophe in the second series:
The first three tests are, respectively, Oedipus’ meetings with Creon, Teiresias, and then Creon again. In each case he is pursuing the killer as someone whom he assumes is other than himself. . . . The second series begins with Jocasta and continues with the Corinthian messeng...
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...Terms, 7th ed. New York: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1999.
Murray, Gilbert. “A Great Translator’s Reflections on Oedipus the King.” In Readings on Sophocles, edited by Don Nardo. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
Owen, E. T. “Drama in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus.” In Twentieth Century Interpretations of Oedipus Rex, edited by Michael J. O’Brien. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968.
Segal, Charles. Oedipus Tyrannus: Tragic Heroism and the Limits of Knowledge. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1993.
Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. Transl. by F. Storr. no pag.
Van Nortwick, Thomas. Oedipus: The Meaning of a Masculine Life. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1998.
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