Comparing The Infernal Machine and Oedipus Rex (the King)
The myth of Oedipus’s incest and parricide has been retold many different times. The basic story line has remained the same. Oedipus leaves Corinth to try to escape a fate of incest and parricide. After he leaving the city, he ends up saving Thebes from the Sphinx, becoming king of the city and in the process fulfilling the prophecy. The character of Oedipus changes in each play to help support a different meaning to the entire myth. Cocteau’s The Infernal Machine and Sophocles’s Oedipus the King are both centered on the myth, yet their themes are different. By changing Oedipus’s personality, motive, relationship with Jocasta, his mother and wife, and his character development Cocteau makes his theme the idea that the gods simply play with humans, instead of like Sophocles’s theme that man can not escape his own fate.
Sophocles depicts Oedipus as an intelligent though too proud man, however Cocteau depicts Oedipus as an egotistical and not too smart man. In Oedipus the King, Oedipus actually solves the riddle of the Sphinx and then became known for being clever. Teiresias, an old blind prophet, reminds him of this: "But it’s in riddle answering you are strongest." Soph. O.T. 440. Oedipus intelligence is also shown in his inquisitive nature. From the beginning Oedipus searches for the killer of Laius by asking many questions. This eventually leads to his downfall, though Jocasta tries to make him stop asking questions:
"I beg you—do not hunt this out—I beg you, if you have any care for your own life. What I am suffering is enough." (Soph. O.T. 1060-1063)
Cocteau’s Oedipus does not have to solve the riddle of the Sphinx because she gives him the answer and then gives him a body to take to Thebes. Oedipus’s only concern was "Now how should I carry it (the Sphinx’s body)." Cocteau, Infernal Machine, p. 58. In The Infernal Machine Oedipus’s pride is like that of a young saucy teenager, in that he feels nothing can hurt him. This pride brings out his temper only once in the play. It is when he is speaking with the Sphinx.
"I believe you now. But if this is a trick, I’ll drag you by the hair and crush the blood out of your body." (Cocteau 48)
Sophocles’s Oedipus has a greater pride that is constantly setting off his temper. From the very beginning when he accuses Creon, the brother of the queen of Thebes, of plotting against him he lashes out and threatens: "(I’ll) Kill you, not banish you." Soph. O.T. 625. This temper lasts throughout the play even towards the end when he is questioning the unwilling Herdsman and says: "You’re a dead man if I ask you again." Soph. O.T. 1167-1168. In a way both characters have the same temper, however Cocteau only shows it once while it is very prevalent in Oedipus the King.
Another difference in the plays was the motivations of the different Oedipuses. In Cocteau’s play Oedipus is motivated by the idea of fame. He wanted to leave...