Essay on Oedipus Rex
In Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, the theme of irony plays an important part through the play. What Oedipus does, what he says, and even who he is can sometimes be ironic. This irony can help us to see the character of Oedipus as truly a 'blind' man, or a wholly 'public' man. A great irony is found in Oedipus's decree condemning the murderer. Oedipus says, "To avenge the city and the city's god, / And not as though it were for some distant friend, / But for my own sake, to be rid of evil. / Whoever killed King Laios might - who knows? - / Decide at any moment to kill me as well." Later he says, "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." When we know the truth that Oedipus is the killer he speaks of, this statement becomes very ironic. Oedipus puts himself as his worst enemy, as he says later, "I think that I myself may be accurst / By my own ignorant edict." Oedipus makes many ironic statements throughout the play. One of the most poignant is when Oedipus makes a 'Freudian slip' and says 'highwayman' instead of highwaymen. This could suggest that Oedipus subconsciously knew that he had fulfilled the prophesy all along and had suppressed this knowledge as it was too horrible. Oedipus first invokes the gods, saying, "I pray the favor of justice, and of all immortal gods." Then, when they grant that justice, he damns them: "God. God. . . . What has god done to me? . . . Children, that god was Apollo." At the beginning of the drama, Oedipus unknowingly tells the truth again: "Sick as you are, no one is as sick as I." Oedipus confirms this later, after he knows the truth, by saying, "For I am sick in my daily life, sick in my origin." It is ironic also that Oedipus saves the city from the plague of the Sphinx and in doing so, he brings on another plague some years later by his very presence. The theme of sight, 'true' sight, and blindness also contains much irony. The first instance of this is in the scene between Teiresias and Oedipus. Teiresias plainly says, "You mock my blindness? But I say you, with both your eyes, are blind." Oedipus, who saw plainly the riddle of the Sphinx, who is a great ruler over the city of Thebes, cannot see his own fate and his own life for what it is. Oedipus is, as Seth Benardete says, the totally public man, he can see the outside world but cannot see within himself, he cannot see the truth. This lacking of the 'inner' sight (private) is what gives Oedipus his gift with the 'outer' sight (public). He cannot encompass the both of them. When he does learn the truth, he blinds himself, thus destroying his 'public' persona, and since he is wholly public, he destroys himself. The Choragos tells Oedipus, "You were better off dead than alive and blind." The use of irony in Oedipus Rex reveals much about the character of Oedipus. We see that Oedipus truly is the 'public' man and can only possess one sight, that of the 'public' world. This public persona proved to be the end of him when he decreed his own fate to the people of Thebes. The 'private' sight, the inward sight, which Teiresias accuses Oedipus of lacking, is perhaps only suppressed in Oedipus, as he makes many ironic 'prophesies' of his own hinting that he knows of his true fate. The ultimate irony of the play is that Oedipus runs from Corinth for fear of the prophesy that he would murder his father and marry his mother coming true, and in running, he makes the prophesy come true. The Delphic Oracle told him that he would kill his father and marry his mother. To avoid this fate, Oedipus ran from whom he thought were his parents, and directly to whom were his real parents, where he did that which he set out to avoid. We see here the futility of trying to avoid the prophesies, another theme of the play. Jocaste says, "you will find no man who can give knowledge of the unknowable." She then tries to...
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