The Role of Foreshadowing in Oedipus the King

Essay by `Stonecold'A-, September 1996

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`You are the curse, the corruption of the land!'. With these words, Tiresias, a blind prophet in `Oedipus The King' set the actions in play that would turn king to beggar within the day. Prophecy and foreshadowing is an important part of playwriting, and adds an element of suspense that is not possible any other way. Whether it be the witches of MacBeth, the ramblings of Tiresias in Oedipus: The King, and Antigone, or whether it is the unrealized foreshadowing by Figaro in `The Marriage of Figaro', foreshadowing gives the reader or the audience something to puzzle themselves over, until the play or novel is actually over. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that some of the greatest plays ever written would be impotent if their elements of foreshadowing was removed.

Foreshadowing is defined, in Webster's dictionary, as `to give a hint or suggestion of beforehand'.

In drama, foreshadowing is generally used for several purposes, including the creation of tension, creation of atmosphere, and adds an element of credibility to a character. All of these are important elements of a play. However it is not hard to imagine a play in which more then half of the elements of a plot, namely exposition, discovery, point of attack, complication and crisis all be caused by an act of foreshadowing or prophecy. Indeed, "Oedipus the King", which was considered the greatest play in history by Aristotle, was one such play.

"Oedipus the King" was the story of the King of Thebes, Oedipus, and his dark past history which no one, including himself to a point, was aware of, one that involved abandonment, patricide and incest. Thebes was beset by a plague, and a delegation was sent to Apollo, the Greek God of healing, where...