The Iron Hand of Dramatic Irony Essay

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The Iron Hand of Dramatic Irony

Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus is considered by many scholars to be the most significant masterpiece of Greek drama. Through Oedipus Tyrannus, Sophocles is able to develop and establish dramatic irony, a theatrical device that allows the audience to understand the hidden meanings of the words and actions of the characters, though the characters themselves remain oblivious. Therefore, the behavior of the characters become ironic because they are unable to grasp the reality of the truth that is being unraveled before their eyes. "Dramatic irony may be described as putting into a speaker's (character's) mouth words that have for the audience a meaning not intended by the speaker" ("Dramatic").
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When Oedipus engages in a conversation with the chorus, he claims that he is "a stranger to the act" (line 221) of how the late King Laius died, yet he unknowingly is the one who is guilty of the very act. Dramatic irony is also seen as Oedipus essentially places a curse on himself as he "call[s] down the most vile damnation- for this vicious act" and thus condemns himself to wear the "brand of shame. . . forever" (lines 237-238). Oedipus' fear that the man who has killed Laius "might turn his hand against [him] too" (line 141) proves to be ironic because Oedipus is unaware that it was his "own hand that struck the blow" (line 1328). Dramatic irony is again produced as Oedipus announces that he "will avenge [Lauis] as [he] would avenge [his] own father" (line 248) because Laius is Oedipus' own father. The statements that are made by Oedipus, though logical and innocent, demonstrate the dramatic irony that Sophocles employs throughout the play. Sophocles wields dramatic irony "so frequently and so skillfully that it became a recognized characteristic of his drama [. . .] in Oedipus Tyrannus, it dominates the play" (Bates 19).

Sophocles does not confine himself to only using the words of the dialogue to produce irony; he applies it in the action as well. For most of the play, Oedipus remains unaware that
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