Effective Dramatic Irony
In Oedipus The King, Sophocles creates rising action by asking dramatic questions throughout the play. These questions generate suspense in the audience when they become dramatic irony and amplify the climax. During the falling action, Oedipus is engulfed in misery when he experiences a reversal of fortune. Finally, Oedipus goes through a discovery process ending when he discovers his tragic resolution. According to Aristotle, a tragedy consist of a drama that contains incidents that arouse pity, and a tragic hero that ordinarily is a man of noble stature not because of his own virtue but rather his own intelligence and reasoning. Sophocles uses dramatic irony as an element of fiction in Oedipus The King that builds rising action, foreshadows, and shows a reversal of fortune. According to Literature, dramatic irony is a kind of suspenseful expectation, when the author and the audience understand the implications and meanings of situations on stage, and foreshadow the oncoming disaster, while the character does not.
Aristotle describes dramatic irony used in the plot of Oedipus The King as a reversal. When the first messenger arrived with the news that contrary to the prophecy that Oedipus would kill his father and begat children with his mother, his father had died of old age. However, the audience is privileged with the knowledge of the dramatic irony soon to unwind. In the Exodos, a midst the falling action, the Queen commits suicide by that bed where long ago the fatal son was conceived Oedipus who should bring about his fathers death. (Exodos 20-22) The reversal as described by Aristotle, is revealed when the Queens suicide was a result of the double fruit of her marriage, a husband by her husband, children by her child. (Exodos 23-34) This example of dramatic irony is important to the rising action, while the Exodos is a precursor to the falling action and resolution.
In Oedipus The King, dramatic irony is used in order to create suspense among the audience. Oedipuss attitude toward the solution to the plague, allows for such uses of dramatic irony that bring the reader more in tune with the action on stage. Oedipus strongly forbids the people of his country to receive that man (King Laius killer) or speak to him, no matter who he is. (Scene I 20-22) The dramatic irony, in the Exodos, is that Oedipus discovers that he is the killer of his father, King Laius and pleads to be driven out of this country as quickly may be, to a place where no human voice can ever greet him. (Exodos 207-208) According to Literature, the Exodos is the final scene of the play, also containing in this case, the resolution. As said by Aristotle the tragic fall should arouse solemn emotions such as pity and fear, but if performed well does not leave the audience in a state of depression. Sophocles demonstrates this during the rising action when Oedipus has a hateful agitated perception of the perpetrator, while the audience feels pity toward Oedipus since he himself is the executioner that he seeks. Suspense is also shown by dramatic irony when Oedipus vows to take vengeance on the man that killed King Laius. The audience is aware that Oedipus has just vowed to take vengeance on himself, thus evidence that the dramatic irony in the play contributes effectively to the readers perception of the play. These cases of dramatic irony result in the audience becoming more sympathetic to Oedipuss misfortune.
Dramatic irony is an element of fiction that foreshadows the tragic fall of Oedipus. In the Prologue, Oedipus is begged to act quickly and to act effectively in liberating the city from the tyrannical rule of the plague. Oedipus delivers assurance to his children of Thebes rendering sick as you are, not one as sick as I. (Prologue 62) Here, Oedipus is saying that as King, he has a responsibility to protect his kingdom.After Oedipus learns that he is the plague during the discovery process of the Exodos, Oedipus finds out that he is sick in his daily life, sick in his origin, (Exodos 171) and he will suffer it all twice over, remorse in pain, pain in remorse. (Exodos 98-99) Before the Exodos when Oedipus discovered he was truly sick, he eluded to his concern for his children in the Prologue, while also foreshadowing the tragic turn in events.
In Oedipus The King, dramatic irony is the central tool that results in the audience becoming aware of events that the character is not. Answers to dramatic questions build suspense and anxiety for the audience. Dramatic irony builds rising action, foreshadows, and shows a reversal of fortune, thus contributing effectively to the plays plot.
1. Kennedy, X. J.. and Dana Gioia, eds. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry,
and Drama. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 1383
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