Essay, Research Paper: Oedipus Rex


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Oedipus Rex a Greek tragedy written by Sophocles in the early days of antiquity
is based upon an even more ancient story in Greek mythology. Sophocles, however,
knowing that his audience is aware of the outcome of the play utilizes that
foreknowledge to create various situations in which dramatic and verbal irony
play key roles. However, citing all of the irony in Oedipus Rex would require
the writing of quite a hefty book, for time and convenience only a few examples
will be cited. Through his use of irony Sophocles manages to avoid simply
retelling an old tale, though the audience is cognizant of the story’s end
they are intrigued by the irony present in the story. For instance when Oedipus
pronounces his curse upon the head of King Laius’s murderer in the opening
scenes of the play : So will I fight on the gods’ side, And on the side of the
slain man! But my curse be on the one who did this, whether he is alone Or
conceals his share in it with others. Let him be free of no misery if he share
my house Or sit at my hearth and I have knowledge of it. On myself may it fall,
as I have called it down! -Oedipus from Oedipus Rex When Oedipus pronounces this
sentence he has already unwittingly judged himself, and to the excitement of the
crowd foreshadowed later events to come. This statement, is a classic example of
verbal irony. In it Oedipus thinking that he is directing his pronouncement upon
some bandit, or conspirator, in all actuality he is truly condemning himself.
Further examples of irony include his speech when he first answers the chorus
“…Because of all these things I will fight for him as I would my own
murdered father.” The irony inherent in this speech that Oedipus makes to the
chorus lies for the most part in this single line, since the murdered King Laius
is his father. Sophocles does not reserve his use of irony to verbal irony, but
he also ranges into areas of irony dramatic in nature. The entire play could be
said to be an example of this, after all throughout the entire play Oedipus is
unaware of the fate that awaits him, even though the viewer is intensely aware
that Oedipus the King will become Oedipus the Beggar. Sophocles was a pioneer in
his field. The plays that he penned, that survived through the eons are revered
as much now as they were during his day. He often wrote scripts for events in
mythology that had already “occurred” and were common knowledge to the
populace that viewed his productions. In order to keep these audiences returning
for more, Sophocles made liberal use of irony. By doing this he tantalized the
viewer into wanting to see how the events that occurred later would mentally
affect the main character, in this case Oedipus.
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