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Your final grade in the course will be determined on the basis of the assignments listed below:

Scene analysis—10% of total mark (1000 words)

Essay 1—25% of the total mark (2000 words)

Essay 2—25% of the total mark (2000 words)

Examination—40% of the total mark (3 hours)

Scene Analysis

At the end of “Act I” submit a scene analysis of 1000 words to your tutor. In order to receive early feedback on your work, you should submit this first assignment near the end of the first month of your enrolment in the course.

You may choose one of the following scenes for analysis:

Agamemnon, p. 33, line 841 to p. 34, line 947

Oedipus the King, p. 81, line 1040 (beginning “Dearest”) to p. 83, line 1214

Medea, p. 93, line 96 to p. 94, line 211

Lysistrata, p. 115, line 801 to p. 116, line 876

In your scene analysis consider the following, if relevant to the passage. Check the definitions in the “Prologue” to the course if you need to clarify the terminology.

  1. Defining the Action
    • list of events (development and climax)
    • significance of events in terms of the tragic or comic situation.
    • consequences
    • rhythm (movement and stillness)
    • emotional development (tension and relaxation)
  2. Setting
    • place and time
    • significance
  3. Characterization
    • presentation (how the characters define themselves, how they are defined by others)
    • degree of self-awareness
    • credibility
    • characters’ main argument or point of view—relationship to main action—function in the scene
    • interaction with other characters (conflict)
    • significance of names
  4. Dialogue
    • as an expression of character
    • style of language (prosaic or poetic, direct or indirect)
    • use of allusion
    • tone
    • rhythm (recurring patterns)
    • monologue or soliloquy
    • debate or discussion
  5. Structure
    • introduction, development, conclusion
    • climax
    • dramatic foreshadowing—irony
    • dramatic interest (expectation, gratification, unpredictability)
  6. Imagery
    • verbal
    • spatial (in the set or properties)
  7. Conclusion
    • total effect of the scene.

For further information on scene analysis, consult your tutor. Texts on scene analysis are available at the Athabasca University library, including:

David Grote. Script Analysis: Reading and Understanding the Playscript for Production. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1985.

James Thomas. Script Analysis for Actors, Directors, and Designers. Boston: Focal Press, 1992.

Scene Analysis: Sample

Oedipus the King, pp. 71–73, ll. 1–244

The scene is set in front of Oedipus’s palace, the royal house of Thebes. This is the place where king and people meet through the intermediary of the priest. Oedipus steps out from the skene and moves onto the larger playing space of the orchestra. A stone altar stands at the centre of the orchestra, providing a focal point for the unseen presence of the gods in the play and for the petitions of the priests and people.

The play begins in medias res, or “in the middle of things.” There is no introduction: the protagonist, Oedipus, appears unannounced, entering through the gates of the city of Thebes; he has come to address the people who have gathered there—as the ruler of Thebes, he feels a strong responsibility to address the people’s concerns and fears. Oedipus’s short introductory speech is confident and reassuring, even patronizing: he addresses the citizens as “my children” (71.1). He proudly proclaims his identity: “I am Oedipus” (71.9), but at this point he does not know his origins or his real parents. He also proclaims his desire to know the “truth”; ironically, he learns more truth than he could possibly anticipate or deal with.

The character of Oedipus dominates the scene. He is the first to speak, immediately assuming a royal demeanor—proud, confident, and determined to help, but willing to listen to the priest and his people (at this point). Yet there are already indications of his fallibility: he appears “majestic,” yet has a “telltale limp.” As a baby, Oedipus’s ankle was pierced when his father left him on a mountainside to die. “Oedipus” literally means “swollen foot.” Indirectly, the priest characterizes Oedipus as a “man of experience” whose intelligence and courage have saved Thebans in the past.

The old priest acts as the spokesperson for the citizens, explaining to Oedipus that the city is dying and establishing the need for action: plague has ravaged the people; disease, the crops and animals. The priest believes that the people of Thebes are being punished by the gods for some heinous moral or religious crime, which must be detected and rightfully punished. Since Oedipus has saved the city from the predations of the Sphinx, a deed which earned him the right to be king, the citizens’ hope is that he can also save the city from this new curse. The response of the priest establishes Oedipus’s credentials and his history in respect to his time at Thebes.

Oedipus responds to the priest that he is already on the case, having dispatched his brother-in-law, Creon, to the oracle of Apollo at Delphi for the god’s advice. Upon Creon’s return from the oracle, Oedipus and Creon engage in a rapid series of questions and answers, almost like the interrogative process of a trial, but this exchange fails to provide a clear answer for the problems in Thebes; Creon’s obscure message from Apollo only complicates the mystery, which the rest of the play must unravel.

During the dialogue with Creon, Oedipus displays some impatience, which will increase as his desire for truth is resisted by those who are withholding details of his past or—in the case of Tiresias—of his future. Already in his questioning of Creon, there is tension and a hint of pride in his self-assured demeanor. He is at once very self-aware and deeply ignorant of the salient circumstances of his past.

Creon plays the role of a “straight man” to Oedipus—
courteous and obedient, but secure in his position in the royal family: “Very well/ I will tell you what I hear from the god” (72. 107–108). He is plain-spoken and pragmatic. His function at this point in the play is to provide more details about the death of Laius and about the possibility of finding a witness. There is a tone of prevarication in his responses, hinting at the possibility of conflict with Oedipus.

The chorus as a whole represents the ordinary citizens of Thebes, who are experiencing and responding to disaster. The chorus is divided into three groups: the guards, the priests, and the citizens with their leader. In their rhythmic ode (chanted in unison), the citizens establish the religious, social, and political scene and create a mood of impending doom. The lengthy ode (by the chorus) that concludes this scene is an emotional plea lamenting the fate of the people of Thebes to the gods. It evocatively characterizes the gods through imagery, according to their essential relationships to the people’s lives. This plea for help establishes a mood of anticipation and dread as well as a sense of the powerlessness of humankind in the face of the larger forces of fate and the gods. It ends the scene on a climactic and anticipatory note with an impassioned plea for salvation from death.

Through the interaction of Oedipus, priest, Creon, and chorus, this scene succinctly establishes the story, the main characters, and the social setting of the play. It anticipates much of what will follow so that the audience can focus primarily on Oedipus’s determination to learn the truth about who he is. The scene suggests both the heroic possibilities of humankind and its tragic limitations.

The imagery is primarily that of death, disease, violence, and conflict, which is sometimes ironic. For example, Oedipus tells the priest, “Well I know/ you are sick to death, all of you, but sick as you are, not one is sick as I” (71. 71–73). There are recurring references to blindness, anticipating the scene in which Oedipus gouges out his eyes when he cannot bear to see the faces of the children he has fathered with his own mother. Images of blindness and sight also allude to Oedipus’s inability to “see” the truth even when he has his sight. Images of storm-tossed seas that threaten to engulf the ship of state anticipate the disastrous emotional storms that will swamp the protagonist.

As the play progresses, the details of Oedipus’s social and personal history are gradually pieced together like a jig-saw puzzle. This first scene is replete with ironic foreshadowing, and anticipates through imagery the fate of Oedipus. It ends with an emotional climax—a lengthy ode by the chorus—that articulates the pain suffered by the citizens and anticipates the pain that Oedipus will also experience with full self-knowledge.

Work Cited

Sophocles. “Oedipus the King.” The Wadsworth Anthology of Drama. 5th ed. Ed. W. B. Worthen. Boston: Thomson Wadsworth 2007.

Essays

You are required to submit two 2000-word essays, each worth 25% of the final grade. Essay 1 should focus on works in “Act I” and “Act II.” Essay 2 should focus on works in “Act III,” although for the purposes of comparison, you may choose plays from any part of the course. However, you should write on different plays in each essay.

You have the option of rewriting the essays if you are dissatisfied with your grade. If you choose a new topic, the new mark will be credited; if you rewrite the essay on the same topic, the mark will be the average of the first and second attempt.

Examination

Once you have completed the scene analysis and the two essays, you should contact the Office of the Registrar and arrange to write the final examination. Procedures for applying for the examination are outlined in the next section, and in the current edition of the Athabasca University Calendar, on the web site or in print.

You have three hours in which to write the final examination. It is a “closed book” examination. You will not be permitted use any texts or instructional aids. The examination is worth 40 per cent of the final grade. You must write the examination to receive credit for English 303.

You have the option of writing a Supplemental Exam should you fail on the first attempt, or if you wish to improve your mark. The higher mark for the original or the supplemental examination will be calculated in the final mark.

The format of the examination is as follows:

Part A: The first part of the examination resembles the self-test review sections of the Study Guide and the scene analysis. You will be asked to analyse the excerpt in terms of action, character, imagery, and style of dialogue.

Part B: Short-answer questions, based on the Study Questions in the Study Guide. You should write a paragraph of about ten sentences, supporting your answer with textual references.

Part C: An essay of 500 words, comparing two or three plays in terms of a topic.