Frye and Oedipus Rex


Responding a little more to Russell Perkin’s last post:

Your “superstitious” response to teaching Oedipus Rex is understandable. I recall a workshop, where a teacher (after 30 years experience) didn’t feel ready to tackle Oedipus Rex, which struck me as odd, seeing that the plot seems pretty reader friendly, as opposed to “writerly,” to use Roland Barthes’s term. But now I know how deep the play is after applying Frye to it.

Frye’s archetypal criticism effectively places the work at the centre of the literary and social universe, where the Bible, Literature, Film, Popular Culture, Literary Criticism, Psychology, and Sociology orbit around it.


Reuben sleeps with Israel’s concubine (Genesis 35:22).

Adam rejects the Sky Father to be with the Earth Mother.

Jesus is the opposite of Oedipus: Oedipus kills Father and possesses mother sexually. Jesus obeys Father (Father kills son) and marries mother spiritually, as He is everyone’s (The Church’s) bridegroom.

The curse and plagues and unknown suffering echoes Moses and the Pharoahs and Job.


Countless stories of Father killing son, son killing father, incest, search for origins, prophecy: see “My Oedipus Complex” by Frank O’Connor.


Too many to count, but most popular include Killing of the Father (James Bond: The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day; Gladiator, Star Wars).

Popular Culture:

The Rap song by Immortal Technique Dance with the Devil where gang initiation results in son raping and killing mother.

Literary Criticism:

The Oedipus myth is used as a critical term/conceptual myth by Harold Bloom, in ways the writer writes (anxiety of influence) and readers read (misreading), both trying to kill off earlier influence.


Obviously, The Oedipus Complex. Even the 5 Stages of Grief (Oedipus goes through Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Acceptance) appear here first. And Jung’s idea of synchronicity, or meaningful coincidence, is the basis of every literary action/plot.


The search for the adopted parents, usually the father, is a major issue given the popularity and technology of sperm donors.

Video of Immortal Technique’s Dance with the Devil after the break.


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2 thoughts on “Frye and Oedipus Rex

  1. Russell Perkin

    Thanks for this, Peter. You’ve given me even more reason to teach the play! I studied Frank O’Connor’s story in high school – a long time ago – and haven’t read it since, but still remember it vividly. It obviously made a deep impression.

  2. Tam O'Tellico

    An interesting perspective, though I think it’s quite a stretch to include the Jesus myth. I say, myth because virgin birth was already an old, old tale by Jesus’ time, and gods cavorting with humans is a stock plot in Greek mythology. Joseph, the father in the Jesus tale (as opposed to the Father), is the ultimate cuckold, and one can only imagine the reaction in First Century Judea to a man claiming his fourteen-yr-old “virgin” bride is pregnant, not by him but by God.

    That leads one to suspect the whole tale was concocted, because in First Century Judea, Joseph and Mary would both likely have been stoned to death — he for blasphemy, and she for blasphemy and adultery. But we daren’t bring that discussion up in class — let alone in church.

    And don’t forget Sylvia Plath’s poem “Daddy”. Though not Oedipal in the strictest sense, it is filled with Oedipal rage right from it’s shocking opening line “Daddy, I have had to kill you.” And certainly, Plath’s real life story has a tragic ending.


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