Oedipus the King Analysis

Oedipus the King Analysis
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Dramatic irony is one of the dominant literary techniques that boost up the tragic effect of Sophocles’s play, “Oedipus the King”. This type of irony in the play not only intensifies the audience’s horror about the inevitable destiny of the protagonist but also makes him a helpless but heroic victim of Fate. By definition, dramatic irony refers to any situation in which the readers or audiences know something of which any particular character appears to be ignorant. The dramatic ironies mostly revolve around the protagonist Oedipus’s ignorance of the truth about himself. In the play “Oedipus the King” there are a number of places in the plot where the audiences know more than what Oedipus knows about himself. Indeed some of Oedipus’s situations and acts may seem to be simply ironic. For an instance, once Oedipus curses the murder of King Laius as following: “Upon the murderer, I invoke this curse– / whether he is one man and all unknown, / or one of many–may he wear out his life / in misery to miserable doom!” (lines 266-271) Indeed though Oedipus himself has committed patricide and incest, and though he himself is the murderer of his father King Laius, this very situation in which he tells these words cannot serve as an example of dramatic irony. It is because till this point Oedipus as well as the audience is ignorant of the true murderer. Since, at this point, the audiences, like the protagonist, are in darkness, the dramatic irony does not occur here.

Indeed dramatic irony occurs, in a true sense, when the audience begins to learn about the truth about Oedipus as the murderer from Tiresias’s presence in the play. From the dialogue between Oedipus and Tiresias, the audience now begins to believe that Oedipus himself is the murderer of his father. But in contradiction, Oedipus remains in the same darkness and still continues to search for the culprit who is Oedipus himself. For example, Tiresias once tries to hint that since Oedipus himself is the murderer and therefore, the cause of infliction in the kingdom, his knowledge will not do anything good to him (‘knower’): “How terrible to know / when it does not help the knower; for knowing this / well I let it slip—I should not have come here”. (Line 334-336) Here though the audience learns the truth that Oedipus is the murderer, the protagonist himself fails to perceive Tiresias’s message. In this very situation, the audience begins to feel the horror thinking what would happen to Oedipus, a man so honest and good at heart, so devoted to the welfare of the city and so obstinate to find out the truth if he learns that he himself is the cause of his people’s suffering. Still failing to perceive the truth, he creates pressure on Tiresias to reveal the murderer: “You worst of wicked men! You would anger / a stone! Will you reveal nothing, but instead / show yourself unmovable and impractical?” (Line 353-355) Since the audiences here know that Oedipus is the polluter (though he does not know that he is the real culprit), dramatic irony occurs here. Another instance of dramatic irony is that: when the audiences are informed that Oedipus has an incestuous marital relationship with his mother: “He will be revealed to live with his children / as brother and father both…” (Line 480), Oedipus still believes his mother to be his wife: “My dearest Jocasta, my wife, why did you / send for me to come here from the house? (Line 977-978)  

Works Cited:

Sophocles. Oedipus the King. Available at www.enotes.com/oedipus-rex-text/oedipus-rex