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Free Study Guide for Oedipus the King by Sophocles

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Dramatic Irony

The success of Oedipus Rex as one of the greatest Sophoclean tragedies is largely due to the brilliant interplay of dramatic irony in the play. From the beginning of the play Oedipus is ignorant of the dreadful acts he has committed: the murder of his father and marrying his mother. But the audience watching the play is well aware of these facts. Therefore every word, every reaction of Oedipus’ with regards to the murder lends itself to dramatic irony.

Oedipus’ speech demanding the people to reveal the murderer in the initial part of the play is an important instance of dramatic irony. Little does he realize that in cursing Laius’ murderer to live in wretchedness he is cursing himself. This curse does indeed come true when in the end of the play Oedipus and his family are doomed to a life of pain and suffering.

Another important instance of dramatic irony is a little later in this same section when the old soothsayer visits the king. When Oedipus begins to ridicules Tiresias’ blindness, he in turn predicts an unusual circumstance. The angry prophet warns that while Oedipus can see, he is actually ‘blind’ (that means he will be denied the truth) whereas when he will turn blind (i.e. lose his eyesight) only then will he be able to see (or realize) the truth. It is also ironic that old Tiresias who has no eyesight can perceive reality accurately.

These cases of dramatic irony lend pathos to the entire tragedy and enable the reader of the play or the audience to sympathize with the ignorant and ill-fated protagonist. The effect of the tragedy is therefore more profound and long lasting.

STUDY QUESTIONS - Essay Topics - Book Report Ideas

1. Discuss the role of fate and free will as addressed in Oedipus Rex. In other words, is Oedipus always determined by his fate or are there particular instances where he could have prevented his tragic downfall?

2. ‘Fate is character.’ Discuss this theme in reference to the play.

3. Discuss the role of the minor characters in Oedipus Rex such as the Theban and Corinthian shepherd. What is their function in the play?

4. What is the function of the chorus in Greek tragedy?

5. Is the punishment meted out to Oedipus fair? Why or why not?

6. Describe Creon and what his function in the play is.

7. Are there any places where Jocasta acts towards Oedipus in a way which could be interpreted as maternal?

8. How is dramatic irony used in Oedipus Rex? Provide some instances of dramatic irony in the play.

9. Analyze the metaphors of sight and blindness in this play.

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Oedipus Rex / Oedipus the King Free BookNotes Summary

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