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Infernal Machine


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A: Jean Cocteau Pf: 1934, Paris Pb: 1934 Tr: 1936 G: Trag. in 4 acts; French prose S: Thebes, mythical past C: 12m, 5fA Voice tells the story of Oedipus, ‘one of the most perfect machines devised by the infernal gods for the mathematical destruction of a mortal’. Jocasta and Tiresias, walking on the ramparts of Thebes, are warned of impending tragedy by the ghost of Laius but cannot see or hear him. When Oedipus appears, the Sphinx, an attractive young woman allied with the Egyptian god of the dead Anubis, falls in love with Oedipus and reveals her secret; he callously abducts her. Oedipus marries Jocasta, happy to find an older woman, but is alarmed when he looks into Tiresias' eyes. Jocasta notices his pierced feet but remains silent. Seventeen years later Oedipus learns the truth. Jocasta hangs herself, and Oedipus blinds himself with her brooch. The dead Jocasta appears and, with her daughter Antigone, leads Oedipus away. Tiresias prevents Creon from stopping them, since they now belong ‘to the people, poets, and unspoiled souls’, but Creon speaks of their ‘dishonour and shame’.

A: Jean Cocteau Pf: 1934, Paris Pb: 1934 Tr: 1936 G: Trag. in 4 acts; French prose S: Thebes, mythical past C: 12m, 5f

Cocteau's rewriting of the Oedipus myth, based on his own earlier version of Oedipus the King of 1928, is one of the most important of the score of significant versions written since Sophocles . Adopting a Senecan view of the tragedy (Oedipus as the innocent victim of malignant fate), Cocteau presents a grotesquely desolate view of the world. While Sophocles traces the gradual revelation of truth, Cocteau, particularly in Act 3 in Jocasta's bedroom, takes us behind closed doors into a nightmare experience, at once banal and terrifying.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Jean Cocteau (1889—1963) French dramatist, novelist, and film director


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