Destiny, Fate, or Free Will?: Unit, Part I Oedipus

In keeping with CCSS, this Destiny Unit may prove helpful. Special emphasis for Oedipus should be on argument, reason, and structure. I taught this play successfully with 9th graders from a Perrine lit book (it’s all we had), so it can be done!  

First have students consider this overarching question:   

Are our lives predestined, or do we have freewill? 

I. As a hook, consider asking students to write their responses in a quick-write. From there, delve into the two sides of the discussion, asking students to make notes of any reasons or examples that they find convincing (as support or refutation of their own). The use of a question ultimately provides a stronger connection and purpose for reading the text.

For homework, consider asking students to formalize their answer in an essay response of two paragraphs:  one reasoned argument (why their view is valid), and one reasoned counter-argument refutation (why the opposing side’s view is invalid). Their goal is to convince the opposition to move to “their” side of the debate.

II. While it might be tempting to go into a great deal of information on Ancient Greece or Ancient Greek Theatre, consider holding off on that focus until after you've moved through the text of Oedipus. Your goal is to use the hook to make them willing readers of a pretty tough text:

Oedipus: Best. Tragedy. Ever. 

Using a chalk/white board or a very long piece of paper, have a student create a timeline of what happens in the story while you’re presenting it. This timeline should be available throughout the reading of the play. It might look like this:

(Of course, you'd add in all relevant events, but I'm sure you get the idea.)  
III. Now that you’ve got their attention on the story behind the play, let them know why it was such a big deal. Provide a brief explanation of Aristotle’s unities of time, place, and action. They’ve all read plays before, but have they thought about the plot of the play versus the story within it? When the time comes, have them mark the “spot” where the play begins on the timeline. The understanding of structure is crucial in meeting CCSS, and if nothing else, they will “get” flashback by the end! 

Challenge them to think of a film that meets Aristotle’s unities. This should be a quick, lively discussion that ends with a clear understanding of what Aristotle meant and how the structure of this tragedy meets those unities. 

Finally, in preparation, help students understand the concept of the “chorus”. A good example, (ironically?), is the use of voiceover of the character of Ted in “How I Met Your Mother”. Another example that might work is the use of the mice in Babe, or the three street urchins in Little Shop of Horrors. Whatever helps them understand how the chorus works as commentators, group ensemble acting, and helping the audience reach catharsis

IV. For homework, have them research these terms:  catharsis, hamartia (ah-mar-TEE-ah), peripeteia (peri-pe-TEE-ah), anagnorisis (ah-na-nor-EES-ees), and hubris. Using graphic organizers, such as Word Maps, may prove helpful:


We'll move into the reading of the play next with Part II.

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