Oedipus Rex: The Three Types of Irony

written by: Kristina Dems • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/20/2012

Oedipus Rex is one of the best Greek tragedies of all times. The Oedipus Rex irony is the king’s tragedy of fate. This article will help you identify the different dramatic ironies of Oedipus Rex as categorized according to verbal, tragic and situational ironies.

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    Brief Overview About the Playwright.

    Oedipus Rex is the king in a story by Sophocles, one of the best Greek dramatic playwrights of all times. The Oedipus Rex irony is focused on the king’s tragedy of fate. Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides were acclaimed as the three greatest ancient Greek tragedians during the Golden Age of the Greek Drama.

    Sophocles (495-405 B.C.) came from an affluent family of merchants and received the best education offered during that time. Because of his beauty and grace, he was invited to participate in many dramas. He was a great innovator and made significant improvement in the presentation of Greek tragedies:

    • He eliminated the trilogic form of always having three related tragedies in a drama; instead he presented only one complete story; and
    • He reduced the importance of the chorus by adding a third actor in the play.

    Out of the 123 plays he wrote, only 7 survived: Ajax, Antigone, Trachinian Women, Oedipus the King, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus of Colonus.

    The following are the ironies presented in Oedipus the King:

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    The Dramatic Irony

    Dramatic irony is extensively used in the play to emphasize the twist of fate that hound the protagonist. These tragic events happening to the characters are unknown to them but well-known to the audience.

    1. Verbal Irony is illustrated in the hero’s speeches.

    • Oedipus demands that the evil man who murdered Laius be punished, but he is unaware that he is the murderer.
    • Oedipus accuses Creon of framing him for the murder of Laius so that Creon would become king. Creon states that he is not interested in being king as he is contented with his present position of wealth and power.
    • Oedipus explains that he ran away from his parents to avoid the prophecy that he would kill his own father and marry his mother. He does not know that he is adopted and his true parents were Laius and Jocasta.
    • Oedipus ridicules Teiresias for his blindness but Oedipus is also a sightless, witless and senseless man to the truth of his own actions.

    2. Tragic irony is shown by the character’s actions and even verbal actuations resulting in a pathetic outcome which the spectators are aware about beforehand.

    • Due to the prophecy, Oedipus leaves his parents and escapes to another city. He does not know that he was an adopted son. His escape leads him to the city where his true parents reside.
    • Unknowingly, he kills his own father and refuses to admit the crime.
    • Oedipus does not know that he marries his own mother and has four children with her. Incest is one of the greatest crimes, so he causes the plague to happen in his city.

    3. Situational irony is the disparity between the anticipated outcome and the factual end when invigorated by dissolute fitness.

    • The situations are: Oedipus is an adopted son; he hears the prophecy; so he escapes to the city of his real parents.
    • It happens that he unknowingly kills a man who happens to be his father and is persuaded to marry the queen who happens to be his own mother.
    • The plague strikes the city as punishment for committing incest.

    Irony is very effective in emphasizing the hero’s downfall as illustrated in Oedipus Rex Irony. The audience looks at Oedipus suffering his cruel destiny without considering him less than a hero.

    To expand your knowledge about Oedipus Rex, you may want to read the Oedipus Rex Study Guide.

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