|Sigmund Freud; photo by Max Halberstadt|
Few concepts from modern psychology have entered the cultural and popular imagination to the extent of Sigmund Freud’s Oedipus Complex. At once a source of revulsion and titillation, the theory that young boys desire their mothers and hate their fathers is named for the ancient myth of Oedipus, who unwittingly fulfills an oracle’s prophecy that he will marry his mother and kill his father and, when he learns the truth, puts out his own eyes in despair. Yet the opera Greek, based on the play of the same name by Steven Berkoff, finds the courage—and the audacity—to turn the legend on its head: the modern-day Oedipus (Eddy) defiantly lives his passion rather than retreating in shame. Is it wrong? Or…could Eddy actually be right?
The opera—and the selections that follow from the play, the opera, Freud, and more—flirts with the ambivalence between love and duty, passion and jealousy, eroticism and paternalism as Eddy seizes his own destiny.
EDDY: So I run back, I run and run and pulse hard and
It’s love I feel, it’s love
What matter what form it takes, it’s love!
GREEK, MARK-ANTHONY TURNAGE
JOCASTA: And as for this marriage with your mother—
have no fear. Many a man before you
in his dreams, has shared his mother’s bed.
Take such things for shadows, nothing at all—
as if there is no tomorrow.
OEDIPUS THE KING, SOPHOCLES
His destiny moves us only because it might have been ours— because the Oracle laid the same curse upon us before our birth as upon him. It is the fate of us all, perhaps to direct our first impulse towards our mother and our first hatred and first murderous wish against our father. Our dreams convince us that this is so.
THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, SIGMUND FREUD
Freud’s Oedipus was engaged in a struggle for emancipation, first from maternal nature and then from the culturally produced constraints—paternal, symbolic, cultural identifications … When the boy finally left the unconscious dynamics of the Oedipal relations behind, he brought to consciousness, and thus to completion, the process by which he recognized himself as the subject of his own history.
HAVING AND BEING, JOHN E. TOEWS
The psychologist Sigmund Freud (at age 16) with his adored mother in 1872.
EDDY: Why should I put out my eyes, Greek style,
Why should you hang yourself
Does it really matter that you’re my Mum?
Have you seen a child from a mother and son?
No. Have I? No.
Then how do we know that it’s bad?
Bollocks to all that!
Yeah, I want to climb back inside my Mum.
What’s wrong with that? It’s better than shoving
a stick of dynamite up someone’s arse and
getting a medal for it.
GREEK, STEVEN BERKOFF
In the symbolic and theatrical representation of a process of revealing, I might compare the poet [Sophocles] to the work of the psychoanalyst. The past is unraveled, the guilt of Oedipus is brought to light … we are compelled like Oedipus to uncover and recognize in our own inner minds those suppressed impulses.
THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, FREUD
Freud depicted the very first stages of life as already involving a dialectic of ambivalences which result from a political dynamic of domination and dependency … Freud’s paradigm dependence evokes both love and aggression. Love leads to feelings of protection and safety on the one hand and anxiety on the other, which at first gives rise to submission and obedience, and then to endeavors to gain power and become independent, as well as to hate and hostility.
OEDIPUS POLITICUS, JOSÉ BRUNNER
What Oedipus gives us, positively, is not a purgation of despair but an enthusiasm for Oedipus’ single great quality: his absurd courage. Oedipus, as he begins to see where he is going, secretly delights in it. Camus defines the absurd life as a “permanent revolution” and defines revolt as a “constant confrontation between man and his own obscurity.” Oedipus is a man in revolt against his destiny, his fate … he defies the oracles at the same time he is submitting to them. He refuses to turn back his search, he refuses Jocasta’s compromises, he refuses to alter his collision course with destiny … he becomes an absurd hero.
OEDIPUS AND THE ABSURD LIFE, ROBERT COHEN
Eddy seeks to reaffirm his beliefs and to calculate a new order of things with his vision and life-affirming energy. His passion for life is inspired by the love he feels for his woman, and his detestation of the degrading environment he inherited. If Eddy is a warrior who holds up the smoking sword as he goes in, attacking all that
he finds polluted, at the same time he is at heart an ordinary young man with whom many I know will find identification.
INTRODUCTION TO GREEK, BERKOFF
This article was originally published in the fall 2016 issue of Boston Lyric Opera’s Coda magazine.