Dramatic Irony in Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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Dramatic Irony in Oedipus

In the play written by Sophocles, Oedipus the King, there are several instances of irony. Dramatic irony, or tragic irony as some critics would prefer to call it, usually means a situation in which the character of the play has limited knowledge and says or does something in which they have no idea of the significance. The audience, however, already has the knowledge of what is going to occur or what the consequences of the characters actions will be. The degree of irony and the effect it has depends upon the readers' grasp and recognition of some discrepancy between two things.

Our first taste of dramatic irony comes very early into the play when Oedipus vows to bring to justice the killer of Laius, which is in reality himself. When he learns that the bringing of justice of Laius' killer will rid the city of a terrible plague, he sets forth with a plan to track down the killer.

Oedipus begins to curse the killer and vows:

Oedipus: As for the criminal, I pray to God -

Whether it be a lurking thief, or one of a number -

I pray that that man's life be consumed in evil and wretchedness.

And as for me, this curse applies no less (968)

This is very ironic, as Oedipus is indeed, without knowledge of the truth, talking about himself.

Another example of dramatic irony is the power of fate and Oedipus' powerlessness against it. Throughout the play we are aware of Oedipus' fate and we realize there is nothing that he can do to change it. When Oedipus tells his city after listening to their plea for help against the terrible sickness and plague that has taken over the city:

Oedipus: I know that you are deathly...