Oedipus Rex, by the Greek playwright Sophocles, is, without a doubt, one of the greatest examples of dramatic irony. There are many instances where the audience knows so much more than the main characters, and Sophocles uses irony to point to Oedipus as Laius’ murderer as well.Additionally, Oedipus is most definitely a tragic hero-he had a tragic flaw, namely that he was relentless and often rash in his search for the truth about Laius’ death and his killer; this ultimately lead to Oedipus’ own destruction. He also refuses to compromise or humble himself before others and stubbornly refuses to allow others to express different opinions from their own. Oedipus is so arrogant and self-confident that he challenges the will of the gods (hence, the entire basis of the play).
One of the early examples of dramatic irony in the play is during the scene in which Oedipus accuses Creon of plotting against him with Teiresias, an old, blind prophet. Creon is a great friend to Oedipus, and Teiresias, by at first refusing to reveal the murderer is trying to protect Oedipus, not plot against him. This is ironic because what is actually occurring is the opposite of what is perceived. Additionally, it is extremely ironic that Teiresias is blind. His old age represents his wisdom, and his physical blindness is ironic because he is able to see the reality in Oedipus’ situation. Conversely, Oedipus is not physically blind, but is unable to see the truth. During the play Teiresias reminds Oedipus of his ability to solve the riddle of the Sphinx in the past, and he presents another riddle. The irony of the riddles is that although Oedipus had solved the first one to lift Thebes’ plague, he did not realize that it was symbolic of his own life. To contribute to the irony, Oedipus curses Laius’ murderer and vows to avenge the former king’s death. He is virtually condemning himself. His speeches foreshadow his imminent doom- he is destined by the gods to be a victim, and there is nothing he can do to escape the fate he once learned of from the oracle.
As a tragic hero, Oedipus is the classic definition. He has many characteristics of a great leader- strong, upright, clever, proud, arrogant, etc. However, these attributes also add to his downfall. He makes, rash, hasteful decisions at times, especially in front of the people. When Teiresias and Creon encourage him to speak privately of what they have discovered, he refuses to listen because he cannot imagine that it would possibly regard a matter that would defame him. Oedipus is shocked when Teiresias tells him the truth, and then reverses the accusation by declaring that Teiresias actually is responsible or Laius’ murder. Thus, we can see that Oedipus is rich, proud, and stubborn. He does not wish to see the reality of the situation- and his virtual blindness will lead him make himself physically blind in the end when he finally sees his mistakes.
This classic Greek play is indeed one of most proficient examples of irony and a tragic hero. Sophocles’ ability to withhold information and use irony to build up suspense is unique. He effectively creates an intriguing plot with his strong, well-developed characters.