Oedipus Rex Brief Analysis
Greek literature, from the beginning of times, has embraced Greek mythology and the legends related to ancient Greek society. This literature is comprised of various forms, primarily poetry and Athenian dramas. The underlying plots of these Greek dramas mainly represent the elements of tragedy, rhetoric, and irony that dominate the scripts of the Greek tragic playwrights. The Greek tragic dramas were used to create an effect of suspense and tension among the audience at the realization of the impending tragedy at the climax of the drama; even though they are aware of the truth all along. One of the most prominent features of the Greek dramas is dramatic irony. It occurs in a play when the situation and the associated actions/words are unharmonious. This concept is explained more in-depth through the aid of a popular Greek drama: The Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles.
The underlying plot of this play revolves around a prophecy about the protagonist, Oedipus, which claims that he will kill his father, marry his own birth mother, and as a result, would bring plight, destitution, and plague on his city, Thebes. This prophecy is fulfilled; however, Oedipus is ignorant of the fact (Fort & Kates 17). The setting of the play starts from the time when Thebes is suffering from plague and infertility and the people approach their King Oedipus to help them out. Following on the advice of the Oracle of Appollo, he commands that the murderer of Laius is found out and punished; unaware that he himself had murdered him on a journey long time back. As is apparent, the writer has weaved the main crux of the plot around the irony that Oedipus, ordering for the search and the dire punishment of the killer is in reality paving a horrific path to destruction for himself. As quoted in the writer’s own words, Oedipus says to the people (Oedipus Rex):
“For whoso slew that king might have a mind/ To strike me too with his assassin hand/ Therefore in righting him I serve myself”
The protagonist unknowingly is creating the danger for himself, and will as a result be punished and rightly ‘served’ for the wrong he did to his father. In another instance, when the blind seer, Teiresias, is called for to give away the identity of the murderer, he says that Oedipus is the one. Upon hearing this, Oedipus says to him (Oedipus Rex):
“With other men, but not with thee, for thou/ In-ear, wit, eye, in everything art blind”
The irony here is that Oedipus is insulting Tieresias’s ‘vision’ when in reality he himself lacks the ability to see the truth and becomes blind towards the end of the play. Moreover, another example is shown when Oedipus’s wife, Jocasta, informs him of the message brought by a messenger from Corinth, that King Polybus is dead by natural causes (Oedipus Rex):
“Say, did not I foretell this long ago? / Thou didst: but I was misled by my fear”
She relays this information in the hope that Oedipus would let go of his belief in the prophecy; however, this announcement actually brings the prophecy to the light, when the messenger tells Oedipus that King Polybus was not his biological father.
The effectiveness of the dramatic irony around which the plot is skillfully entwined is portrayed by the fact that the audience mentally cringes at the words spoken in the play unknowingly by the characters; because the audience is aware of the horrific tragedy that is to befall the characters and this grabs their utmost attention till the very end (Boulding).
Boulding, Scott, A. Metaphor and Dramatic Irony in “Oedipus Rex. May 17, 2009. Web. 30th September 2009.
Fort, Alice Buchanan & Kates, Herbert S. Minute History of the Drama.New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. Print.
Haigh, A.E. The Tragic Drama of the Greeks. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896. Print.
Oedipus Rex. Web. 30th September 2009.
Oedipus The King- Analyzing Dramatic Irony. Web. 30th September 2009.
Sophocles & Dawe, Roger David. Oedipus Rex. (eds.1)Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1982. Print.