The Infernal Machine

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Jocasta – one woman, two characters
‘The Infernal machine’ by Jean Cocteau is based on the Greek tragedy ‘Oedipus the King’ by Sophocles. This play is a modern adaptation, almost in the form of a farce, of the Greek tragedy. The main plot of the play is exactly the same as that of Sophocles’ play, but Jean Cocteau has added a new style or touch to the story, through which he has attempted to turn it into a comedy. The character of Jocasta, who was the wife and mother of Oedipus, is the most prominent element which Cocteau used to make his play ‘foolishly’ humorous. Jocasta in the Greek tragedy had a sense of dignity and nobility, but the Jocasta in this play is portrayed as uncultured and perhaps even vulgar. In the ‘Infernal Machine’ Jocasta called the prophet Teiresias, not by his name, but by a nonsensical word, ‘Zizi’. There is no mention of this nearly insignificant detail in the original play. But, in Cocteau’s play, this word added a tiny bit of a dim-witted or childish humour to the story. The next example of a slightly less idiotic humour was concerning Jocasta’s red scarf; throughout the play she had it around her neck, and once, while walking up the stairs Teiresias stepped on it. So, at first the queen uttered only a cry, and then by making a drama out of it, as if the scarf had literally chocked her to death, she exclaimed, ‘All day long this scarf is strangling me...,’ and one day ‘it will be the death of me’. Another example of a silly humour is in the Act I where Jocasta first appeared. She was telling Teiresias about her dream which ‘makes her ill for the day’ when suddenly she heard music. At first she got furious and said, ‘This music must be forbidden! This scandal must stop at once!’ But then, although she knew that she had to mourn for her dead husband Laius, when she heard that people were ‘dancing in the crowded parts of the town’ so as to ‘keep up their courage’, immediately Jocasta also desired to dance. Her husband had just died,...
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