Love is Blind

“Oedipus does not know who or what he really is. As we have seen, he is proud of his achievement in freeing the people of Thebes from the ravages of the Sphinx. He is clever and shrewd and selflessly generous, but he knows too little about himself, knows nothing about his own inner life: his impulsiveness, his quickness to anger, his lack of self-control. It is always hard to acknowledge a painful truth. Few people want to admit their faults.  Oedipus has the hubris, the self-assurance and arrogance of the powerful, and as you saw, he unwisely disregards the advice of the prophet Teiresias, whom he condemns and threatens with violence. It simply does not occur to him that Teiresias is telling the truth: it is Oedipus himself who is the reason for the plague that is now afflicting the city. It is he who has killed a man who turns out to have been his father, and then fathered daughters unknowingly with a woman who is his mother. The shock of the discovery causes him—remember—to blind himself as his own punishment for his crimes. Now he is blind, but ironically sees himself clearly. “Know thyself” was a Greek maxim honoured by Socrates himself. Let us re-read aloud the climax of the play from the point when he makes his terrible self-discovery, when he acquires self-knowledge. Who wants to be Teiresias?”

Dan Davies was a creditable Teiresias, defending himself with wounded dignity against Oedipus’ furious accusations; Queen Jocasta was played thrillingly by Joy Halsall, a charismatic drama student; and Isolde Schick was a sonorous Chorus, commenting sorrowfully on the unfolding tragedy, but it was the performance of the blinded and humbled King Oedipus who electrified the class as he emerged from the wings, eyeless sockets streaming blood, outstretched arms groping the empty air as he sought a final embrace from Ismene and Antigone, his daughters, who were also his sisters. “O children!” he called in a husky voice laden with doom. “Where are you? Come here, come to my hands, a brother’s hands which turned your father’s eyes, those bright eyes you knew once, to what you see now: a father seeing nothing, knowing nothing, begetting you from his own source of life!” Hansie (‘TJ’) Pownall as Oedipus continued in a voice shaking between sobs of anguish, “Then who will marry you? No one, my children; clearly you are doomed to waste away in barrenness unmarried.” Hansie was Oedipus. “Do not take them from me!” he cried pitiably as Ismene and Antigone were led away. When Isolde as the Chorus in a sombre voice delivered the play’s final warning, “Count no mortal happy till he has passed the end of his life free from pain,” the class was held in awed silence until it was broken by the sound of stifled weeping at the back of the room only seconds before the bell rang. It came from Rebecca Cooper as Antigone, the girl who said she was “not very good at English.”

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Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.
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