Oedipus, Blake’s version of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, was first performed at the Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough, Halifax, in September 2001, with Conrad Nelson as Oedipus, John Branwell as Creon, Sarah Parks as Jocasta and Barrie Rutter as Tiresias. The opening lines of the original describe a plague afflicting Thebes – in 2001 Britain was also struggling with a plague, the foot-and-mouth-epidemic, and the
Sophocles’ play combines the power of primal myth with the intricacy of a detective story: how did Oedipus come to murder his father Laius? and then sleep with his mother Jocasta? In the following speech, he recounts the episode which answers the first of those questions. There’s less use of dialect than in The Cracked Pot, but both the setting and the language have strong Yorkshire overtones.
One day on my wanderings I happened on the spot
where you say Laius met his death. A beck
running by, a drystone wall, a hawthorn tree
shaved slantwise by the wind: there I am,
sun beaming down, scrats of cloud in the sky,
minding my own, pondering which road to take,
when along comes a coach party – a driver,
two men on horseback, a messenger boy
running ahead, and a man inside the carriage,
just as you said. There’s plenty room to pass,
but the driver and the bigwig inside
scream at me to clear out of the bloody way.
If only they’d ask nicely I’d not mind
but when the driver tries to force me off the road
I see red and fetch him one full in the face,
and then the old fellow inside the carriage
leans out and raddles me with a spiked club
or something, and keeps thumping me over the head
till I lose patience and learn him a lesson.
My blows are flisky little tigs, that’s all,
but before I know it he’s reeling under ‘em,
he’s rolling through the door of the carriage,
he’s laid out on his back eyeing the heavens
and the body I’m battering is a corpse.
And then the others come at me, his servants
wave on wave, every last mother’s son of them
after my blood, and I’ve no choice, I let fly,
it’s their lives or mine. Next thing there’s only me
left standing – the upshot is they’re all dead too.
You see what that means: if the man in the carriage
was Laius then Tiresias is right –
I am the source of this town’s infection…
Oedipus/Antigone was published as a single text by Northern Broadsides and may be available online HERE