Irony in Oedipus the King

Topics: Oedipus, Oedipus the King, Sophocles Pages: 6 (2284 words) Published: July 10, 2007
Tragedy, in English, is a word used to indicate other words such as misfortune, calamity, disaster and many more such words. However, this word has another dramatic meaning, not far from its original meaning in English. In Western theatre it is a genre that presents a heroic or moral struggle of an individual that leads to his or her ultimate defeat or misfortune. When the audience and reader share the playwright's particular social perception and social values they easily empathize and relate with the fall of the protagonist (main character) from a prominent and high position into a state of misery or total destruction. On the other hand, Aristotle defined the term ‘tragedy' as "a man not preeminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is brought upon… by some error in judgment… the change in the hero's fortune must not be from misery to happiness, but on the contrary, from happiness to misery." Sophocles' Oedipus the King is a good example of a tragedy. In this story, Oedipus moves, to put it this way, from "hero – to – zero." In his superior position Oedipus resolves to find the answers to the suffering in the land and unfortunately, his efforts lead to his downfall because of his mistake in judgment. Oedipus, who is also the protagonist, helps bring to occurrence his own destruction without any will in his fate. Oedipus is not only destined to perform such abominable acts but his very behavior and personality (which leads him to doing these) determines his fate. He ignores the very signs, which could have avoided the tragedy. By not paying heed to the oracle or following up on the rumors about his heritage, Oedipus sets into motion the fate that was designed for him. His belief and arrogance about who he is lead to his fall. A major aspect that is dominant in this play from the very beginning is Sophocles's use of irony. Irony is a figure of speech that is used to convey meaning that is contrary to its literal sense or simply the opposite of what it is intended. There are three kinds of irony; verbal, situational and dramatic irony which will be explained further into the paper with respect to ‘Oedipus the King.' Below is an outline of the story of ‘Oedipus the King' by Sophocles. It includes observations and opinions about what I think Oedipus did to contribute to his tragic end. The play is set in the city of Thebes, which has been seized by a deadly plague at the start of the play. The reason for the plague is that Laius' murderer has not yet been punished. Laius was the ruler of Thebes before the current King (Oedipus) and was murdered during a journey by a group of robbers. The gods at Delphi proclaim that unless the murderer is caught and punished, Thebes will continue to suffer. King Oedipus strongly makes a commitment to find the murderer and have him prosecuted. Everyone in Thebes is forbidden to withhold any information about Laius' killer. Oedipus himself curses the murderer. Tiresias, the old prophet, is also consulted over the matter by Oedipus. Instead, Tiresias refuses to reveal anything to Oedipus because he is aware of the shocking fact that it is the ignorant Oedipus himself who is the murderer and that Laius was Oedipus' father and now he is married to his own mother. The old prophet prefers to be silent because he does not want to be the cause of Oedipus' ruin. Oedipus, on the other hand, interprets this silence as treachery and betrayal. He labels Tiresias together with Creon, his brother in law, as traitors. An angry Tiresias leaves, with a warning that Oedipus will cause his own ruin. Creon is distraught by Oedipus' irrational behavior. As the investigation into the murder proceeds, the fact that a single witness is still alive comes to light. Oedipus sends for this witness, who is actually an old shepherd. Meanwhile, things turn around as a messenger from Corinth brings news that the Corinthian King, Polybus, is dead. He asks Oedipus to take up the...
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