Tabooed Actions and Social Sanctions in “Oedipus Tyrannus” by Sophocles and Shaffer’s “Equus”

Introduction

Both Oedipus Tyrannus by Sophocles and Equus by Shaffer cover tabooed and socially unacceptable behaviors, but while the Greek drama stresses punishment for breaking societal conventions, the contemporary one struggles with the impossibility of helping the perpetrator to correct his ways.

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Main body

The crimes committed by the titular character of Oedipus Tyrannus are grave, but the retribution he faces befits them in the eyes of the Ancient Greek audience. When Oedipus finally has his epiphany and learns he is guilty of both incest and patricide, soon he gorges his eyes out and sentences himself to a self-imposed exile from Thebes. By doing so, he fulfills an Aristotelian requirement of the tragic experiencing a dramatic reversal of fate as a result of his flaw.

In the final lines of the tragedy, the chorus stresses this idea clearly: “Everyone who looked at him was jealous of his fate, / what a flood of grim misfortune overwhelms him now!” (Sophocles 1527-1528). As far as the Ancient Greek audience is concerned, Oedipus’ socially unacceptable actions mandate a harsh punishment that would make the former king’s life the opposite of what it was previously.

However, self-mutilation and self-imposed exile are just a part of the punishment Oedipus has to endure: apart from the penance he forces on himself, there is also social ostracism. It is especially evident in the last phrase by Creon, when the former king begs him not to separate him from his daughters, at least for the time being. Creon answers harshly: “Power’s left your retinue. It wasn’t yours for life” (Sophocles 1523). The play emphasizes that Oedipus, who has only recently a king, is now denied even the opportunity to spend some time with his children – an authority possessed even by the poorest of his former subjects.

This change occurs because the same people that lauded him until recently now refuse to accept his commands. It shows that from the perspective of Ancient Greek society, socially unacceptable behaviors mandate punishment, not correction.

Shaffer’s Equus takes place in a modern setting and demonstrates another approach to the issue. In his thoughts that wrap the play up, Dysart depressingly thinks that, while he may “cure” Alan from his tabooed and sometimes violent worship of Equus, he cannot make him a productive member of society. When he exclaims, “My achievement, however, is more likely to make a ghost!” Dysart expresses this frustration: he can make Alan socially acceptable but at the cost of removing what makes him Alan (Shaffer 133).

While Dysart never claims that mutilating horses is normal and should not be discouraged, he also cannot discard the fact that the worship of Equus is the only way for Alan to fulfill himself. Thus, Equus illustrates a shift in perspective: while the Ancient Greek tragedy emphasized punishment for not adhering to societal conventions, the modern play cautions that enforcing these conventions may turn people into mere husks.

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Conclusion

To summarize, Oedipus Tyrannus and Equus both approach tabooed and actions but do it in profoundly different ways. The first tragedy stresses the necessity and inevitability of responsibility for socially unacceptable actions and emphasizes that society must reject the perpetrators so that justice would be served properly. Yet the modern-day play, instead of exalting in the punishment of the perpetrator, reflects whether societal restrictions deprive people of something inherently human.

Works Cited

Shaffer, Peter. Equus. Longman. 1993.

Sophocles. Oedipus Tyrannus. Translated by Luci Berkowitz and Theodore F. Brunner, W. W. Norton & Company, 1970.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, June 24). Tabooed Actions and Social Sanctions in “Oedipus Tyrannus” by Sophocles and Shaffer’s “Equus”. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/tabooed-actions-and-social-sanctions-in-oedipus-tyrannus-by-sophocles-and-shaffers-equus/

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"Tabooed Actions and Social Sanctions in “Oedipus Tyrannus” by Sophocles and Shaffer’s “Equus”." StudyCorgi, 24 June 2021, studycorgi.com/tabooed-actions-and-social-sanctions-in-oedipus-tyrannus-by-sophocles-and-shaffers-equus/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Tabooed Actions and Social Sanctions in “Oedipus Tyrannus” by Sophocles and Shaffer’s “Equus”." June 24, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/tabooed-actions-and-social-sanctions-in-oedipus-tyrannus-by-sophocles-and-shaffers-equus/.


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StudyCorgi. "Tabooed Actions and Social Sanctions in “Oedipus Tyrannus” by Sophocles and Shaffer’s “Equus”." June 24, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/tabooed-actions-and-social-sanctions-in-oedipus-tyrannus-by-sophocles-and-shaffers-equus/.

References

StudyCorgi. 2021. "Tabooed Actions and Social Sanctions in “Oedipus Tyrannus” by Sophocles and Shaffer’s “Equus”." June 24, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/tabooed-actions-and-social-sanctions-in-oedipus-tyrannus-by-sophocles-and-shaffers-equus/.

References

StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Tabooed Actions and Social Sanctions in “Oedipus Tyrannus” by Sophocles and Shaffer’s “Equus”'. 24 June.

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