Catharsis and Conclusion

Chorus’ have Opinions Too

Of course, amongst the unfolding plot and the development of Oedipus, we should be able to gain some greater insight. A look at the chorus can reveal what may have been considered ‘important’ within the context the play was written in, and (may) continue to be important today.

Broadly, the play is divided into several sections (called episodes). The chorus is first introduced in the parados, similar to the modern day prologue. At the end of each episode the chorus sings an ode. Here the chorus would literally sing their way across the stage and back again, reflecting on what has been said (as they never left the stage) and foreshadowing future events. The chorus would also give the audience clues as to how the audience should react to individual characters.

Task: Look at the first three odes (526-572; 954-997; 1195-1214). Write a brief summary (a few sentences) that describes what is being expressed in each ode.

We have already spent some time considering the effect dramatic irony might have on the audience. Amongst other things, we discussed how it might raise tension and evoke sympathy. It is in the fourth ode and the exodus, know in modern literature as an epilogue, that the audience is given quite precise details on the effects of this irony.

Task: Read the fourth ode (1311-1350). What clues are there to suggest how the audience should feel about the unravelling of Oedipus. If you are having trouble, compare 1320-1327 with 1334-1139. Look for the same idea in the exodus (1678-1684)

What’s the Big Idea?

Fate vs. Free Will

Jocasta line at 1069 is quite curious. What might she be asserting here?

  • to claim that the most important forces which create, shape, guide, reward, and afflict human life are out of human control. The outcome and all the various stages of the game are determined from non-human sources.
Task: How is this concept developed over the course of the play? Can either position be justified? What is Sophocles attitude towards this topic?
Knowledge and Power

Oedipus is in a curious position in the play where he has power but lacks the knowledge to wield it effectively. Unfortunately for him, it is the acquisition of knowledge that eventually leads to his downfall.

In contrast to this idea, is lack of wisdom, his ability to apply experience or good judgement, equally causes his fall.

Task: Explain these two statements. How might they be linked to some of the other concepts in the play? (hubris? hamartia?)



Aristotle in Poetics referred to catharsis as “most often defined as the “purging” of the emotions of pity and fear that occurs when we watch a tragedy”.

Try reading this article on catharsis. What conclusion does the writer come to pertaining to tragedy as catharsis?


Consider the following paper 2 questions. Respond to one of them in light of our study of Oedipus.

In plays a character who appears briefly, or who does not appear at all, can be a significant presence, contributing to action, developing other characters or conveying ideas. To what extent have you found this to be true of at least two works you have studied? (May 2009)

A dramatist often creates a gap between what the audience knows and what the characters know. With reference to at least two plays, discuss how and to what effect dramatists have used this technique (May 2008)

A change in status of the characters in a play (a success, for example, a loss or exposure) helps to convey the ideas and/or values of the dramatist. How and to what extent has change in status contributed in this way to at least two of the plays you have studied? (May 2008)

Image: ‘Coro Pescado / Fish Chorus


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