Ironic, Isn't it Oedipus As in most ancient Greek plays, dramatic irony plays a huge role in Sophocles's "Oedipus the King." From the beginning of the play Oedipus is ignorant of the dreadful acts he has committed: the murder of his father and marrying his mother. But the audience watching the play is well aware of these facts. Therefore every word, every reaction of Oedipus' with regards to the murder lends itself to dramatic irony. This important aspect of the play not only helps in developing the plot, but it also reveals Oedipus's ignorance and "blindness," and eventually contributes to his downfall.
The first major role dramatic irony plays in this work is to simply develop the plot. Before the actual play begins, the audience is given a brief synopsis of the events leading up to the opening scene. Therein the audience learns that Oedipus, the King of Thebes, had murdered his father Laius and married his mother Jocasta.
Because the audience is privileged to this information from the start, the following events told in the play are much more comprehensible. If the audience did not receive this vital information the play would be nothing more than a simple murder mystery. In that case, the tragic climax at the end would have an overall decreased impact. Without the knowledge of Oedipus's fatal flaw, the audience cannot sympathize or relate wit him, which would make them care less about his final fate. But since the audience does have that knowledge and can see Oedipus's fall coming, they can connect with him on a much more human and personably level. The presence of dramatic irony lends sorrow to the entire tragedy and enables the audience to sympathize with the ignorant and ill-fated protagonist. The effect of the tragedy is therefore more profound and long lasting. On the other hand, if Oedipus knew of his transgressions from the start, none of the events in the play would take place. The climax would happen immediately, with no affect on the audience because they had no time to relate with Oedipus. The dramatic irony is essential on both the part of the audience and of the characters, and without it the play would be vastly different.
The dramatic irony also exposes Oedipus's blindness and ignorance to the offenses he committed. The best examples of this can be seen in Oedipus's interactions with the blind profit, Teiresias. Oedipus was a naturally proud man who placed little validity into fate and prophecies. When Oedipus begins to ridicule Teiresias's physical blindness, the profit attempts to divulge what the audience already realizes: Oedipus's inevitable downfall. The enraged prophet warns Oedipus that although he can physically see he is actually 'blind' (meaning that Oedipus is unable to see the truth.) Teiresias then tells Oedipus that only when he becomes physically blind can he ever see the truth. Oedipus pays no heed to the words of the old profit and continues to remain ignorant. It is also ironic that Teiresias, who has no eyesight, can perceive reality more accurately than any other character in the play.
Finally, the presence of dramatic irony contributes to the tragic climax of the play and to the downfall of Oedipus. Oedipus and Jocasta's final realization of what they had done brings about both their sorrowful ends. In Jocasta's case, she killed herself after finding out she had married and had children with her son. Oedipus, in turn, tore out his own eyes, fulfilling Teiresias's prophecy. Since neither character had any knowledge prior to climax of their crimes, the severity of them was greatly emphasized. Both characters' reactions were done briefly after that moment of extreme shock, terror, and revulsion. If either party had any previous knowledge of their crimes, their reactions may have been less severe.
Dramatic irony was a major factor in the telling of events, Oedipus's blindness, and the tragic climax in "Oedipus the King." Permeating every part of the play, this grand irony was vastly important, allowing it to be one of the most famous Greek tragedies ever written.