Sophocles (496-406 bc) was the author of more than a hundred plays, of which only seven survive; these include three based on the saga of the royal house of Thebes: Antigone (c.442), King Oedipus (c.430) and Oedipus at Colonus (406).
Rachel Kitzinger, writing of Derek Mahon’s Bacchae, noted that his ‘great achievement emerges most strikingly in the beauty of his choral odes’; and the same is true of Oedipus. This new version is striking too for its dramatic invention. It reminds us that Sophocles’ Theban plays aren’t only about Oedipus but about Thebes, the human community. The city is stricken by an unidentified plague: everyone suffers. Oedipus, the cause of this, will also bring redemption. Destroyer and saviour both, he will rescue Thebes through shocking self-discovery and expiation.
By pairing King Oedipus and Oedipus at Colonus Derek Mahon creates a single play unified by the arc of the hero’s tragic fate.