25 Jan 2020

Irony in Oedipus Rex | Ironic Remarks and Situations



Tragic Irony

Irony is the reversal of action and situation. Irony may be verbal or situational. Tragic irony was used firstly in ancient Greek tragedy and later almost in all tragedies. Irony comprises essentially in the contrast of the two aspects of the same remark or situation. A declaration made by a character in a play may have one meaning for him and another meaning for other character and the audience. In the same way, a situation   may have a double significance in the sense that the audience may foresee a disaster while the characters may be ignorant of it. Irony increases the tragic effect.

Sophocles has used irony effectively in his plays. "Oedipus Rex" is full of tragic irony and is found in most of the speeches and situations. There are many situations on which the audience is aware of the facts while the speaker is ignorant of those facts and some other characters, on the other hand, present a contrast which lends an increased emphasis to a tragic fact or to the final tragic outcome. The announcement of Oedipus that he will make a determined effort to trace the murderer of Laius and the curse that Oedipus utters upon the killer and upon those sheltering the criminal, possess a tragic irony in view of the audience's knowledge that Oedipus himself will finally prove to be Laius' killer.

Oedipus proclaims that no house in Thebes is to provide shelter to the wretched man and that the gods will curse those who disobey his command. In that way, without knowing the true meaning of his words, Oedipus announces the sentences of exile against the murderer and heightens the tragic effect of the discovery, which comes towards the end of the play. Oedipus does not know that he himself will become the victim of the punishment, which he is proclaiming, but the audience knows it.

The scene between Oedipus and Teiresias is replete with tragic irony throughout. Teiresias is the prophet who knows everything while Oedipus does not know himself as much. Teiresias would not like to reveal the secret but Oedipus quickly loses his temperament thus provoking the prophet to say what he never wanted to say. Teiresias tells Oedipus that he himself is the guilty man he is looking for and that he is living in a sinful union with the one he loves. The impact of these words is entirely lost upon Oedipus. The charges of Teiresias enrage him and he insults the prophet by calling him a sightless not showing his own inner blindness.

 Irony lies in the fact that Teiresias, physically blind, knows the truth while Oedipus who has normal eyesight, is totally blind to that truth. There is irony   in the contrast between what Oedipus truly is and what he thinks himself to be. To Teiresias he brags of his intelligence quoting his past victory over the Sphinx. The terrible prophesies which Teiresias makes relating the fate in store for Oedipus also possess irony. We know their tragic impacts but Oedipus treats them as the rambling of a madman. These predictions become more disgusting when we realize that they will prove to be true and valid.

Teiresias foretells Oedipus that the killer of Laius will ultimately find himself blind, an exile, a brother and a father at a same time to the children he loves, a husband a son to the woman who bore him. Even the Chorus, unaware of the facts, refuses to believe what Teiresias has said about Oedipus. Thus both Chorus and Oedipus are unaware of the truth while Teiresias and the audience is fully aware of it.
Tragic irony is also found in the scene with Creon. Creon begs Oedipus not to think him a traitor or disloyal and not to pass the sentence of death or exile against him. But the power drunk Oedipus shows himself relentless. This situation is ironical of the final scene where the roles are reversed. There Oedipus begs Creon to look after his daughters, and pleads him to pass the order of exile against him. Creon, being a moderate man, does not show himself unrelenting in that scene. The pathos of the final scene is intensified.

Then there is the scene with Jocasta. Oedipus and Jocasta are not aware of the true facts. The audience, aware of the facts, experiences a deep sorrow at the fate, which is going to overcome these characters. Jocasta is sceptical and doubtful of oracles. She thinks no man can possess the secret of divination and as a proof she tells what she and her husband did to the child, who, according to the oracle, was to kill his father. There is vivid irony in Jocasta s’ unbelief in oracles and her citing as proof the very case which is to prove the truth of one oracle received by her and the late Laius. This irony deepens Jocasta's tragedy.

There is irony in the scene in which Oedipus gives an account of his life to Jocasta, which Oedipus gives to Jocasta. Oedipus thinks himself to be the son of Polybus and Merope: he escaped from Corinth after the oracle had told him of the crimes he would commit: he has all along been under the impression that he has avoided committing the crimes predicted by the oracles. But all the time Oedipus has been unknowingly performing many actions leading to the fulfillment of those very prophecies which he had been striving to belie, just as King Laius had earlier taken desperate but in vain measures to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy which has been communicated to him by the oracle.

When the messenger from Corinth brings the news of Polybus' death, Jocasta gets another chance to make fun of the oracles without realizing that her mockery will turn against herself. "Where are you now, divine prognostication?" Jocasta tells Oedipus that this news shows the shallowness of oracles because Polybus Oedipus’ father has died a natural death. There is irony also in the simple remark of the messenger that Jocasta is the "true consort" of Oedipus. Neither messenger nor Jocasta knows the awful meaning of these words. Jocasta makes a triumphant speech on the desirability of living at random and on mother marrying as merely a creation of the imagination. Jocasta makes this speech only a few moments before the truth reveals upon her.
                                                   
The Corinthian messenger, who wants to free Oedipus of his fear of marrying his mother, ends by revealing unknowingly, the fact that Jocasta's husband, Oedipus, is really her son, although this revelation is at this stage confined to Jocasta. The tragic irony of this situation and in what is said by the Corinthian messenger and Jocasta in this scene is evident.

The song of the Chorus, after Jocasta has left in a fit of sorrow and grief, is full of tragic irony. The Chorus thereby pays a salute to what it thinks to be the divine parentage of Oedipus. There is a big contrast between this assumption of the Chorus and the actual reality. The Theban shepherd s’ arrival is the point at which the tragedy reaches its climax. After the discovery there is scarcely any room for tragic irony. The final part consists of a long narration of the self-murder and the self-blinding, a dialogue between Oedipus and the Chorus, and a scene between Oedipus and Creon including the brief lament by Oedipus on the wretched condition of his daughters.

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