In dramatic literature throughout the ages, no greater force has existed to fell heroes, seal fates and carry out the means of Greco-Roman tragedy than that of irony. Sophoclesâ€™s three Theban plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antingone serve as an ideal mediums to illustrate three distinct and prevalent dramatic themes: that of dramatic, situational, and cosmic irony. All three types of irony are illustrated and epitomized in classic tragic form within the plot of the trilogy, making it a perfect tool for analysis of the ancient literary motif.
Oedipus the King is set in Thebes, a kingdom beset by plague and death. Oedipus, ruler of Thebes, is beseeched by his people to ...view middle of the document...
Upon hearing an account of the murder Oedipus realizes he himself slew Laius in self-defense. This leads to further revelation around a prophecy that Laiusâ€™s son would kill him, and conditions around Oedipusâ€™s birth that prove his current wife, Jocasta, is actually his mother.
Jocasta, driven by grief, kills herself. Oedipus discovers her body and then stabs his own eyes out, blinding himself. He then begins to weep and, using a boy to lead his path in a manner similar to Tiresias, approaches his old confidant Creon. He entrusts his daughters to his care, says goodbye to his daughters and asks for exile.
The theme of dramatic irony resurfaces as the play draws to a close. Oedipus has been on a journey the entire play to painstakingly discover the truth, a truth that was from the beginning known by the audience. The horrific revelation that Oedipus has killed his father and wed his mother is not shocking to the audience, while the real entertainment comes in observing the irony of the characters coming to terms with a secret that to the viewers was never a secret at all.
While dramatic irony is an easily observable theme to any casual viewer, a deeper analysis of the playâ€™s subject matter reveals another irony present: that of situational irony. Situational irony is thought of more as irony in its traditional sense, especially when applied to the framework of a literary tragedy. It is â€œan outcome that turns out to be very different from what was expected, the difference between what is expected to happen and what actually does.â€3
This theme is prevalent in Oedipus the King, mainly through the juxtaposition of sight versus blindness. The protagonist, Oedipus, has sight in the literal sense, but he is completely non-perceptive to the truth of the events that surround him. By contrast Tiresias, the blind prophet, actually has the most â€œsightâ€ of all in that he accurately predicts the outcome of the investigation in the early lines of the play. The irony is more observable when Oedipus first mocks Tiresias, saying â€œIn ear, wit, eye, in everything art blind.â€4 In actuality it is Oedipusâ€™s close-mindedness that blinds him to the clear truth that Tiresias is expressing.
Sight and blindness resurface in the placeâ€™s resolution when Oedipus finds his wife and mother dead to a suicide. After holding her body he stabs his own eyes own, blinding himself. The loss of his literal eyesight is equated with the clear view into the truth that he has just gained. In the end scene the manner in which Oedipus is led into his own court, by a little boy, is exactly the same way Tiresias entered to meet with Oedipus. Now the circle is complete, and the playâ€™s ironic theme that earthly eyesight often leads to clouded judgment and perceptive blindness is established.
Perhaps above all other types prevalent in Oedipus the King, the most widely-used irony is cosmic irony. Cosmic irony is defined as irony â€œassociated with the notion of...