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Sophocles’ Ajax: expect the unexpected

By M. Heath and E. Okell

Abstract

This paper examines the staging of Sophocles’ Ajax, and some aspects of its treatment of the traditional story. Starting from Scullion’s argument against the standard assumption that there is a change of location after the exit of the chorus at 814, we work out the consequences of the single location for the play as a whole. In tracing the unfolding sequence of events on stage it becomes clear that Sophocles has organised this sequence in a way consistently calculated to surprise the audience. We argue that he was seeking the same effect in his adaptation of the traditional story. First, there is reason to believe that Sophocles has made a surprising innovation with respect to the antecedents of the play’s action that makes Ajax a more radically problematic figure. Secondly, we suggest that Sophocles may have placed Odysseus’ resolution of the confrontation between Teucer and the Atreids in a new and surprising light by integrating the action of this play with subsequent events more closely than is generally recognised. The dramatic strategy we identify is thematically appropriate in a play in which the leading character enunciates the principle that ‘nothing is beyond expectation’ (648), and which closes with the reflection that we need to see to understand (1418-20)

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Year: 2007
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.whiterose.ac.uk:3584

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