Oedipus the King Essay
The Greek drama Oedipus the King, written by Sophocles, is regarded as one of the most perfect tragedies ever written. The tragedy Oedipus the King is highly esteemed partly due to its use of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony means that facts or events, which are not known to the characters on stage or in a fictional work, are known to the audience or reader. Sophocles uses dramatic irony to demonstrate how little the protagonist really knows. The main dramatic irony in Oedipus the King contrasts Oedipus’s limited knowledge of his unfolding situation and how the audience is fully aware of it.
Oedipus’s lack of knowledge and resulting quest to seek the truth reveals many flaws within his character. The use of dramatic irony reveals the king’s pride, temper, and mortality. Dramatic irony reveals Oedipus’s excessive pride, or hubris. The Thebians look upon their great king as a savior after Oedipus uses his wisdom to solve the Sphinx’s riddle and save his people. However, it is Oedipus’s lack of knowledge which makes him appear prideful and egotistical.
Oedipus reassures the people of his greatness by saying, “Now you have me to fight for you, you’ll see: / I am the land’s avenger by all rights / and Apollo’s champion too. ” (I. 153-155). The city of Thebes suffers from a great plague at the time and Oedipus vows to root out the cause of it. Oedipus calls himself the “land’s avenger” because he wants to rid the city of the plague and once again be a hero. The king will not stop until he purges the entire city of disease and becomes a legend again. Also, Oedipus says how he is “Apollo’s champion”.
This is extremely ironic because the god Apollo destines Oedipus to kill his father and marry his mother. Dramatic irony in the play helps reveal one of Oedipus’s tragic flaws, pride. The use of dramatic irony also reveals Oedipus’s fiery temper. Oedipus calls for the blind prophet, Tiresias, in order to reveal how he can cure the city of Thebes. Oedipus wants to know the identity of Laius’s murderer at all costs. After the king hears Tiresias accuse him of being the murderer, Oedipus rages and accuses Tiresias of lying:
OEDIPUS. You’ve lost your power, stone-blind, stone-deaf–senses, eyes blind as stone! TIRESIAS. I pity you, flinging at me the very insults each man here will fling at you so soon. (I. 422-425) In this passage, Oedipus insults Tiresias by calling him “blind as stone”. The king says this solely because he does not like what Tiresias tells him. If Oedipus would hear good news, the king would praise Tiresias for his foresight. In response to Oedipus’s insults, Tiresias says how men will soon say that Oedipus is blind and deaf.
The irony of Tiresias’s statement reveals itself after Oedipus eventually blinds himself by poking out his eyes. Also, the statement stands for how blind Oedipus is to the truth about his past since Oedipus does not know his parents’s true identity. Oedipus’s temper exposes itself during his insulting and degradation of the blind prophet, Tiresias. Dramatic irony in the play also reveals Oedipus’s mortality. The Thebians regard their king very highly and even worship him. Some people believe he is a god sent to guide them through times of hardship.
Oedipus’s great pride leads him to think that he is indeed a god on earth. This becomes apparent when Oedipus say to the people, “You pray to the gods? Let me grant your prayers. / Come, listen to me… (I. 245-246). The people call out to the gods in need due to the terrible plague. Oedipus takes it upon himself to take the place of the gods and save the people. The king puts himself as an equal to the gods, showing his excessive pride. However, Oedipus cannot be a god. Oedipus’s tragic downfall, culminating in his death proves that he is a mortal being.
It is ironic that Oedipus calls himself a god because in the end it is revealed that he is far from it. Oedipus’s lack of knowledge and resulting quest to seek the truth reveals many flaws within his character. The use of dramatic irony reveals the king’s pride, temper, and mortality. The dramatic irony creates suspense that appeals to the reader. Sophocles perfects his tragedy by using dramatic irony throughout the entire story to demonstrate how little Oedipus really knows. In addition, Oedipus’s tragic flaws are exposed to the reader due to the irony throughout the play.