How Is Dramatic Irony Used in Oedipus The King?

Updated: February 11, 2023
Dramatic irony is used extensively in Oedipus the King. The audience is aware of Oedipus' true identity and his fate, while the characters in the play are not. This creates a sense of suspense and irony as the characters move closer and closer to the truth.
Detailed answer:

Dramatic irony is prevalent throughout Oedipus the King, mainly as a result of the audience’s superior knowledge of the future. The play opens with a prophecy that Laius’ son would murder him and marry his wife. The audience knows that Oedipus is the son Laius speaks of, but Oedipus does not. As a result, the audience is privy to information that makes what would otherwise be ordinary situations appear more dramatic and tense. We know Oedipus will marry Jocasta, thinking that she is his mother, only to kill both her and his father in a fit of rage when he learns the truth. This sets up a sense of tension because characters are well aware of what has been predicted about Oedipus without knowing of their own roles in fulfilling this prophecy.

Oedipus acts alone in fulfilling this prophecy; from the beginning he is on a quest to remove the plague from Thebes that threatens to destroy his newfound home. He offers to find out who has been murdering those who are most distinguished in Thebes by speaking with Tiresias and Creon.

It is ironic that Oedipus is considered the savior of Thebes, as he is also the cause of all of their suffering. The citizens of Thebes believe that Oedipus killed Laius and saved them from a terrible curse which was imposed upon them. However, they are unaware of the fact that Oedipus himself is directly responsible for bringing that curse upon them.

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