Editor’s blog: The City’s Oedipus complex

To the National Theatre to see Ralph Fiennes as Oedipus. This is one of London’s hottest tickets, but it goes without saying that the evening is no barrel of laughs. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could turn Oedipus into a feel-good production – the play is, after all, the tale of a man who unwittingly kills his dad, shacks up with his mother (producing four children) and then when he discovers the error of his ways puts his own eyes out and is banished. Nevertheless, I’d thoroughly recommend you seek out a ticket: you come out feeling thoroughly purged, as was the intention of Sophocles when he wrote it two and a half thousand years ago. He knew the value of catharsis.

What did strike me, though – and I wasn’t the only one in the audience to be muttering this as we cleared the aisles – were the parallels between plague-afflicted Thebes and the modern-day economic woes that we’re experiencing across the world. (I noticed the economist Roger Bootle in the Telegraph yesterday used the word plague to describe the current global contagion.) The moaning dismay and fear of the Greek Chorus could have been 15 Robert Pestons bemoaning our fate as he does each morning on Radio 4’s Today programme. ‘Ah me! What countless woes are mine? / All our host is in decline.’

The reason Thebes is suffering is that the god Apollo has put a hex on the place because Oedipus is its king and his wayward behaviour has brought disaster on his city and his family. Your hubris leads you to err from the path of righteousness – even without knowing it – and you pay the price. Underlying the whole thing is a sense that life is highly precarious and everyone feels desperately insecure.

But don’t let this get you down. The ancient Greeks didn’t. There are ways to lance the boil and start out on the road to a cure and better times. Realisation that you’ve made an appalling mistake is the start. I’d be slightly hesitant before drawing any parallels with our own predicament but George W being banished back to his ranch in Crawford, Texas – albeit without using one of Barbara’s brooches to spike his eyes – may well be a turning point.


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Editor’s blog: The City’s Oedipus complex
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