This essay examines "Philoctetes" as an exercise in self-representation by looking at the self-referential and metatheatrical dimensions of the play. After suggesting an enlarged understanding of metatheater as "a particularly vigorous attempt to engage the audience at the synthetic and thematic levels of reading," I examine "Philoctetes" as a self-conscious discourse on tragedy, tragic production, and tragic experience, one which participates in a larger conversation in the late fifth century about the ethics of tragedy, including the remarks of Gorgias on theatrical deception (ἀπάτη). The play points up its own constructedness in a variety of ways, most strikingly in the theatrical character of the intrigue by which Odysseus deceives Philoctetes, which provides a play within a play and a representation of texts and readers, plays and spectators. In laying bare the kinds of strategies and techniques that undergird this "intratext," "Philoctetes" offers a model of tragedy and of the tragic poet based on power, deceit, and manipulation. Yet by attributing these characteristics to the moral deficiencies of its internal creator and by demonstrating his failure to achieve his ends, "Philoctetes" rejects such a theater of sophistry. At the same time, the play considers issues of textual reception by providing in Philoctetes an audience for this internal text and a protocol of reading that suggest a more positive model of tragic response. "Philoctetes" uses this model to offer the spectator a subject position that affirms the inherent value of reading tragedy, a humanistic model of reading based upon the audience's identification with and sympathy for the tragic protagonist. Sophocles thus finds in this exercise in self-representation a way to frame critical questions on dramatic theory and to define his own dramatic practice.
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