This year’s Triennial Greek Play at Cambridge Arts Theatre is Oedipus at Colonus
PUBLISHED: 16:32 28 August 2019
This year’s Cambridge Triennial Greek Play - performed by students in ancient Greek every three years - is Oedipus at Colonus, written by Sophocles just before his death in 406 BC, nearly 2,500 years ago.
This year's Cambridge Triennial Greek Play - performed by students in ancient Greek every three years - is Oedipus at Colonus, written by Sophocles just before his death in 406 BC, nearly 2,500 years ago.
It was put on at the Festival of Dionysus by Sophocles's grandson in 401 BC.
It was the last of a trilogy of plays about the unfortunate Oedipus, set in Colonus, a village near Athens and also where Sophocles was born.
Usually the Greek play, acted by Cambridge University students but directed by a professional director, is a lot of fun. There will be a short tragedy first and then a comedy, often performed in modern dress with much visual and verbal humour.
This year, the director is Daniel Goldman and the show is a single tragedy. Though this play is not well-known outside people who study the classics, Oedipus's story is a moral for us all.
When he was born, the Oracle told Oedipus's parents that he would grow up to kill his father and marry his mother.
He was the son of Laius, King of Thebes and his wife, Queen Jocasta. Terrified, they abandon the child, leaving him out to die. The prophecy must be thwarted.
But the child doesn't die. He is rescued by a kind-hearted shepherd who takes pity on him. He grows up in far away Corinth brought up by parents who never tell him his true story.
But as a young man, he goes to a temple where he too hears the Oracle's terrible prediction.
Horrified, he vows never to return to Corinth and thus keep his parents safe.
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But having exiled himself from Corinth, he travels to Thebes where on a road he meets his natural father and kills him in a fight. Discovering he has killed the King of Thebes, he follows convention and marries the queen, unaware that he has now fulfilled the prophecy. He has killed his father and married his mother because he does not know that is who they are.
The moral of the story, if there is one, is either - don't kill people and marry their wives. Or parents shouldn't listen to Oracles. Or, as my grandmother often, said: "The more you try to escape your fate, the more you hurtle towards it."
This play describes the end of Oedipus's tragic life.
When he discovers what he has done, in an earlier play, Oedipus the King, he blinds himself - lamenting the death of Jocasta: "She's the mother of us all."
Now in Oedipus at Colonus, the blinded Oedipus has come with his daughters Antigone and Ismene to beg mercy from Theseus, the king of Athens.
Led by Antigone, Oedipus enters the village of Colonus and sits down on a stone.
They are approached by a villager, who demands that they leave, because that ground is sacred to the Furies, or Erinyes. Oedipus recognises this as a sign, for when he received the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, Apollo also revealed to him that at the end of his life he would die at a place sacred to the Furies and be a blessing for the land in which he is buried.
The chorus, consisting of old men from the village, enters and persuades Oedipus to leave the holy ground.
They then question him about his identity and are horrified to learn that he is the son of Laius. Although they promise not to harm Oedipus, they wish to expel him from their city, fearing that he will curse it.
Oedipus answers by explaining that he is not morally responsible for his crimes, since he killed his father in self-defence.
The play, at Cambridge Arts Theatre, from Wednesday, October 16 to Saturday, October 19, will have surtitles over the stage with a translation of the text. The Cambridge Greek Play is a tradition dating back to 1882. Previous actors include the poet Rupert Brooke, the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and the current star Tom Hiddleston.
Shows at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Schools and students, £23. Standard tickets, from £23-£35 from 01223 503333 or www.cambridgeartstheatre.com.