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Irony in Oedipus Rex

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Irony in Oedipus Rex

In the play Oedipus Rex, there are several ways that Sophocles demonstrates the use of irony. Irony is a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader, although unknown to the character. Typically, irony is used for humorous or empathetic effect. Irony plays an important part in the play because irony helps set up Oedipus's character traits and foreshadow what is going to happen in the play. As the audience, one knows Oedipus's fate long before he does, so his actions; are his desperate attempts to keep his fate from coming true.

The way Oedipus acts is very ironic. Oedipus is very blind to himself, he blinded by his ignorance. Oedipus is warned by the oracles that he is destined to one day kill his father and beget children by his mother. When he runs away from home to avoid his fate, he ends up bringing the prophecy to life. “Traveling to Delphi, he came/ to a place where the three roads met and was ordered off the road by a man/ in a chariot. Blows were exchanged, and Oedipus killed the man and/ four of his attendants.” (Sophocles 1227). The man Oedipus meets and kills unbeknownst to him is his birth father. Despite the warning from the oracles, Oedipus is too blinded by his confidence and ignorance that he relies on his knowledge instead of the oracle’s. “I make this proclamation to Thebans: If any man knows by whose hand Laios, son of Labdakos, met his death, I direct that man to tell me everything, no matter what he fears for having so king withheld it.” (Sophocles 1234). Oedipus is a very confident man, he thinks very highly of himself, and such a trait causes him to let his confidence guide his decisions, which is one of his tragic flaws. Another way irony is shown in Oedipus Rex is by the way all the characters in the play, except the oracles, know nothing about the fate awaiting them, their speech and actions are the way it is shown. Many dramatic ironies come from Oedipus himself. His words and actions are full of dramatic irony. “I swear I did not do the murder, I can not name the murderer.” (Sophocles 1236). Understanding what the audience knows about his both his fate and his past actions, such statement is very paradoxical because Oedipus will make a very similar claim later. “I am no murderer.” (Sophocles 1243). Another example of dramatic irony in the play is in the scene where Oedipus and Tiresias are arguing while Oedipus questions him.

Listen to me. You mock my blindness, do you? But I say that you, with both your eyes are blind: You can not see the wretchedness of your life, Nor in whose house you live, no, nor with whom. Who are your father and mother? Can you tell me? You do not even know the blind wrongs that you have done them on earth and in the world below. (Sophocles 1239).

Tiresias is a physically blind man, but he sees how Oedipus is blind to his own ignorance.

Situational irony, is when what happens is different from that is expected to happen.

For the king ripped from her gown the golden brooches that were her ornament, and raised them, and plunged them down into his own eyeballs, crying, ‘no more, no more shall you look on the misery about me, the horrors of my own doing! Too long have you known the faces of those whom I should never have seen, too long been blind to those whom I was searching! From this hour, go in darkness!’ And as he spoke, he struck his eyes- not once, but many times:” (Sophocles 1264).

Oedipus never expected his life to turn out such way. He spent his whole life trying to make sure the prophecy did not come true. So, when Iokasta kills herself because she was so ashamed of herself; ashamed of what her and Oedipus had done, Oedipus came to the realization his fate turned out the way it was destined to, when he realized his fate came true he finally saw how blind and ignorant he had been through his entire life. When he plunged the golden brooches into his eyes which caused him to become blind, he was figuratively able to see himself and his life for the first time. Tying into this, a similar moment is when Oedipus says the person who killed the king will be either cursed and sent to exile or killed. “You are aware, I hope, that what you say/ means death for me, or exile at least” (Sophocles 1246). Making such a statement ironic because when Oedipus realizes the man he murdered was the king of Thebes, he went through with his promise. He gave himself both physical punishment and exiled himself from the kingdom. Another example of situational irony in Oedipus Rex is when Oedipus runs away from Corinth, and his parents so he would not kill his father. Such a situation holds great irony



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