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Teaching Guide

Teaching Oedipus the King

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Also known as Oedipus Rex, this classic tale is no dinosaur—after all, tragedy never goes extinct. We can help you ham it up to get your class excited for the King…by comparing Oedipus to Hamlet, of course.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity transforming Oedipus the King into a music video (is OedipusVEVO taken on YouTube?).
  • essay questions exploring fate and free will and, of course, the Oedipus complex. 
  • pop culture and historical resources from The Simpsons to Sigmund Freud.

Oedipus may have a complex, but our teaching guide isn’t complicated.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: We all wear a few masks, right? Well, in this activity, students will learn about ancient Greek theater and the use of masks. And of course, we'll bring it back to the text by having them analyze the characters of Oedipus the King and create masks that express their major character traits.

This project will take up to two class periods in addition to a week-long homework assignment.

Materials Needed: A computer with Internet and projector, or access to a printer (to show students images of masks).

Step 1: Start by introducing the assignment. There's no way the students won't be psyched when you tell them they get to make masks. If you do the activity around Halloween, they might be even more into it.

Get specific by discussing with students the use of masks in ancient Greek theater. We recommend checking out this easy-to-understand and totally legitimate blog for the dish.

Step 2: Once they know the deal behind masks, show the students a few images so they can have a clear picture in their heads. We don't want them thinking everyone looked like The Joker.

You can find a bunch of neat (and public domain!) images on Wikimedia Commons.

While you're scrolling through the images, ask students what character they think each mask represents. How can they tell? What distinguishes each mask?

Step 3: For homework, have students choose a character from the play—let them know that they'll be making a mask for whichever character they choose.

They should refer to the Shmoop character analysis for the character that they've chosen and think about the following questions:

• What are their most important character traits?
• Are they characterized differently by different people?
• What stands out the most—their appearance? their personality? their status?

And last but not least

• What textual evidence (quotes!) support your arguments?

Step 4: In class the next day, the students will share their thoughts with each other. Break them up into pairs—where each person of the pair has chosen the same character to analyze—and have them discuss their answers to the questions above.

Step 5: Now for the fun part. Students will create a mask of their own for one of the characters in Oedipus the King. Give students some time in class to plan—working together can get the creative juices flowing—and then give them a week to complete their character masks. They can use any material they want, from good old fashion paper and colored pencils to a design tool on a computer. They shouldn't imitate the real Greek theater masks you showed them; instead, they should get creative and make it modern.

Step 6: Have the students present their character masks to the class and explain in what ways the mask represents their character. Here are some questions to answer in the presentation:

• Why did you chose these colors? This shape? These materials?
• How does your mask represent this specific character? What distinguishes it?
• How do the specific elements create a holistic picture of the character?

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th & 10th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.3, 3.4, 3.7, 3.11; Writing: 2.2. 11th and 12th grade Literary Response & Analysis: 3.2, 3.3, 3.4; Writing: 2.2.)

Instructions for Your Students

We all wear a few masks, right? Well, Ancient Greek tragedies and comedies were always performed wearing masks. The masks helped the actors portray their larger-than-life characters to the audience, and may have even helped project their voices out into the audience. For this assignment, you'll get to create your own modern spin on a mask for one of the characters in Oedipus the King.

Step 1: In class, you'll be thinking about the role of masks in ancient Greek theater. These aren't just your ordinary Halloween masks—they had very specific elements and purposes.

You'll also see some images so you can have a clear picture in your head. Yeah, the Greek actors didn't end up looking like The Joker, that's for sure. While you're looking at the images, think about what each mask represents. How can you tell? What distinguishes each mask?

If you're hungry for more after class discussion, check out this easy-to-understand and totally legitimate blog for the dish.

Step 2: For homework, choose a character from the play. You'll be making a mask for whichever character you choose, so make sure it's a character that inspires some creativity in you.

Refer to the Shmoop character analysis for the character that you've chosen and think about the following questions:

• What are their most important character traits?
• Are they characterized differently by different people?
• What stands out the most—their appearance? their personality? their status?

And last but not least

• What textual evidence (quotes!) support your arguments?

Step 3: Now for the fun part. You will create a mask of your own for the character you've chosen.

You can use any material they want—from good old fashion paper and colored pencils to a design tool on a computer—but make sure that the materials you select are in some way representative of your character. For example, if you choose Tiresias, you might decorate your mask with feathers to show the way he reads the future from the flights of birds.

If you need some inspiration, check out some images of Greek theater masks. But don't imitate the real masks! Instead, get creative and make it modern.

Step 4: Present your mask to the class and make sure to answer the following questions:

• Why did you chose these colors? This shape? These materials?
• How does your mask represent this specific character? What distinguishes it?
• How do the specific elements create a holistic picture of the character?

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WANT MORE HELP TEACHING OEDIPUS THE KING?

Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Photos    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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