“What report do you come bringing us from god?”
“A good one! For I say, things hard to bear might chance to mean good luck — if, by some chance they turn out straight.”
Thus, Creon reintroduces himself to Oedipus after a long journey, bearing significant news. His report is of course not good. This I the first thing I said as I walked onstage for three nights, in the recent Classics department production of Sophocles’ Oedipus. This circular, beguiling phrase, swollen with hope and deceit, has come to haunt me.
“Things hard to bear might chance to mean good luck.”
This is the way many of us saw the world until this past week. We made projections and viewed polls that reassured us that the worst-case scenario would not occur, that we lived in a lightly progressive, essentially just society whose flawed foundations would not be shaken by hatred. But we were wrong. We sat there, in our rooms, in crowds, alone, with our loved ones, and we watched the results pour in. Many of us learned that night that the world we live in is not the one we had believed it to be.
November 9. I’m backstage at our dress rehearsal, and I’m crying a little. A fellow performer tries to cheer me up by suggesting I pretend our Oedipus is the president elect. It does help. But I see the show differently. Mad as our Oedipus is, I can’t help but see Creon, the future ruler, as the true analogue.
Putting aside incest, what is Oedipus about? A fair ruler in adverse times is challenged by confusion, paranoia and rumors both true and dubious which lead to his self-imposed destruction. Meanwhile, Creon, the bumbling religious oaf, an insignificant carrier of news whose capriciousness nearly leads to his execution, returns triumphant and scorns the hobbled former leader without remorse. Was this Creon’s plan all along, or was he just lucky? I’m not so sure, but what’s important is that, in Oedipus as in life, the more virtuous party destroyed themselves through their own flaws.
“Things hard to bear might chance to mean good luck — if, by some chance they turn out straight.”
Things didn’t turn out so great for Oedipus, and they might not for us either, but if we can resist our former complacency we might be able to set things right. We’re going to have to be brave, brave like Antigone is brave when she stands up to Creon’s misguided tyranny out of respect for her family and for a higher power. Some of us will protest. Some of us will make strategic donations. Some of us may flee, which can be an act of bravery as well. And some of us will be college students.
November 10. The first performance has wrapped up, and I’m talking to my father. He thanks me for a show that has gotten his mind off politics for the first time in days. We talk about a lot of things, eventually coming to the value of the humanities in politically tense times. He tells me that when he was in college studying archaeology, he would often think to himself how devoting himself to this study, which had no direct relation to war or nations or power or current events whatsoever, would piss off guys like Reagan and Nixon so much. I liked the idea.
A play can only be as good as its performers, but I’d say we were quite great. I have a great love and admiration for my fellow cast members, and for our director, Frederick Ahl. I hope sincerely that our show provided catharsis and relief for the 250-odd audience members who saw our production. I’d like you all to remember, as we approach what for many of us will be some of the most trying years of our lives:
“All things have a moment of beauty.”
Nathan Chazan is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Next Panel will appear online at www.cornellsun.com Wednesdays this semester. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.