Short summary - The Infernal Machine - Jean Cocteau

French literature summaries - 2021

Short summary - The Infernal Machine
Jean Cocteau

The play, based on the motives of the myth of Oedipus, is set in Ancient Greece. The queen of Thebes Jocasta, in order to prevent the prediction of the oracles from coming true, stating that her son, when he grows up, will kill his own father, the ruler of Thebes, King Lai, seventeen years ago ordered a servant to injure the feet of his youngest son, tie him up and leave him alone in the mountains for certain death. A certain shepherd found the baby and took him to the king and queen of Corinth, who had no children, but passionately dreamed of them. They raised him with love, calling him Oedipus. Turning into a young man, Oedipus learned from one of the Delphic oracles that he was destined to kill his father and marry his own mother. Unaware that he is the adopted son of the rulers of Corinth, Oedipus leaves them and leaves the city. On the way, he meets a horse escort. One of the horses bumps Oedipus. A quarrel breaks out between him and the inept rider. The rider swings at Oedipus, he wants to reflect the blow, but, having missed, hits not the rider, but his old master. The old man dies from the blow. Oedipus does not even suspect that his father, King Lai, ruler of Thebes, is killed.

Jocasta, an inconsolable widow, bitterly mourns her deceased husband. A few days later, rumors reach her that the ghost of King Lai almost daily at dawn appears to the soldiers on guard duty at the city's fortress walls, incoherently talking with them and asking them to warn his wife about something incredibly important. One night Jocasta comes to the wall in the hope that her arrival will coincide with the appearance of the ghost, and while the ghost is not visible, he tries to check if the guards are cheating on her. Throughout the entire scene of their conversation, an invisible ghost reappears at the wall, vainly calling out to his wife and begging to pay attention to him. Only after the queen and her adviser Tiresias leave, the soldiers manage to see the ghost of the king against the background of the wall, who only manages to ask to tell the queen to beware of the young man who is currently on the outskirts of the city. Having uttered the last words, the ghost disappears, never to reappear in the world of the living. At this very time, not far from Thebes, Oedipus collides with the Sphinx, whom he was looking for everywhere, but when faced with him, he does not immediately recognize him, since the monster appears before him in the guise of a young girl. By that time, the Sphinx was already tired of making riddles and killing all those who could not solve them, so he prompts Oedipus to answer his next question and gives the young man the opportunity to emerge from the competition as a winner. The defeat of the Sphinx gives Oedipus the opportunity to marry Jocasta, for the queen promised that she would marry someone who would be able to deal with the Sphinx and become the ruler of Thebes, which Oedipus had long sought. Oedipus is happy and, not thanking the Sphinx for his kindness, pleased with himself, runs away towards the city. The Sphinx is outraged by the ingratitude of Oedipus, he is ready to send after him Anubis, a deity with a human body and a jackal's head, and order him to tear Oedipus to pieces. Anubis, however, advises the Sphinx not to rush with retaliation and tells him about the joke that the gods planned to play with the unsuspecting Oedipus: he will have to marry his own mother, give birth to two sons and two daughters with her, and three of the children should will die a violent death. The Sphinx is pleased with this prospect and agrees to wait in order to fully enjoy the picture of Oedipus grief in the future.

The wedding day of Oedipus and Jocasta is drawing to a close. The newlyweds retire in Jocasta's bedroom. The queen asks her husband to pay tribute to traditions and meet with the blind elder Tiresias, the spiritual mentor of Jocasta. Tiresias is extremely pessimistic about the marriage of the queen and the too young, and besides, he believes, the poor vagabond Oedipus. Learning that Oedipus is the offspring of the kings of Corinth, Tiresias changes his attitude towards the newlywed and his opinion about the queen's marriage in general.

Having met in Jocasta's bedroom, the newlyweds almost immediately plunge into a heavy sleep to the limit of people tired of daytime worries. Each of them dreams of horrors - Oedipus associated with the Sphinx, and Jocasta with the predicted incest. Waking up and seeing old scars on Oedipus's legs, amazed Jocasta begins to ask him about their nature and, to his relief, learns that he received them, according to the stories of his parents, as a child during a forest walk. Unable to contain his excitement, Jocasta makes her husband a semi-confession, telling him how allegedly one of her maids seventeen years ago took her baby son with pierced feet to the mountains and left there alone.

The next seventeen years, that is, the years of the married life of Oedipus and Jokasga, flew by as one happy moment. The Theban royal spouses had four children, nothing darkened their existence. But after the illusory happiness, a catastrophe broke out. The heavens unleashed an epidemic of plague on the city so that the king would experience true grief and realize that he is just a toy in the hands of the ruthless gods. Oedipus learns that his father, the king of Corinth, has died of old age. This news partly even pleases Oedipus, since it gives him hope that he managed to avoid the fate predicted to him by the oracle. Oedipus's mother, Merope, is still alive, but her advanced age, according to Oedipus, serves as a reliable defense against the implementation of the second part of the prediction. However, the messenger who brought the news of the death of the king informs Oedipus that he is the adopted son of the deceased. Many years ago, a shepherd, that was the father of a messenger, found the baby Oedipus in the mountains and took him to the palace.

Oedipus did not kill the king of Corinth, but he recalls that once he nevertheless caused the death of one person who met him at the intersection of the roads leading from Delphi and from Davlia. At the same second, Jocasta realizes that it was Oedipus who killed Laius, his real father, and realizes that the prediction came true in full. She leaves Oedipus in sacred horror, talking with the messenger, Tiresias and Creon, brother of Jocasta, and commits suicide by hanging herself on her own scarf. Oedipus, remembering the confession of Jocasta seventeen years ago, remains convinced that he is the son of Laius and the servant of Jocasta. Noticing the disappearance of his wife, he follows her, but in horror returns and reports the death of his wife. His eyes gradually open, he realizes that Jocasta is both a son and a husband at the same time, and the plague that has struck Thebes is a punishment to the city for the fact that the greatest sinner found refuge in it. The plague is designed to heat up the atmosphere so that a thunderstorm that has come from the depths of the ages finally breaks out. Desperately, Oedipus rises to his chambers.

After a while, the cry of Antigone, one of the daughters of Oedipus, is heard from there. She calls everyone present upstairs: Antigone found the corpse of her mother, and next to him - her father, who gouged out his eyes with the golden brooch of Jocasta. Everything around is covered with blood. Creon cannot comprehend why Oedipus did just that: he believes that it would be better to follow the example of Jocasta. Tiresias is inclined to believe that this is a matter of the pride of Oedipus: he was the happiest of mortals, but now he prefers to become the most unhappy of them.

The ghost of Jocasta, dressed all in white, appears on the stage. Only the blind Oedipus and the almost blind Tiresias are able to see him. Now Jocasta appears before Oedipus only as his mother. She consoles her son and, from now on protecting him from all dangers, takes him away after her. Antigone, who does not want to part with her father, also leaves with Oedipus. All three leave the palace and leave the city.