Discuss how the technique of time is used to raise tension in Oedipus Rex.

Expert Answers
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the interesting reasons time is relevant to Oedipus the King is that much of the plot action has occurred before the play even begins. Oedipus's parents got the prophecy and attempted to leave him to die as an infant many years ago (Oedipus is now an adult), Oedipus has already killed Laius (his biological father) and solved the riddle of the Sphinx to become King of Thebes, and Oedipus has unknowingly been married to his mother for long enough to have four children with her. The audience already is familiar with the plot: we know that Oedipus is the murderer who has caused the plague in Thebes. The drama of the play unfolds as Oedipus realizes what he has done and who he is.

The time of the play itself is quite short, apparently occurring over the course of one day. At the start of the day, Oedipus is a respected king whose people ask him to help drive the plague from Thebes. By the end of the day, he has blinded himself and is banished, doomed to live a miserable life wherein he always will remember the dire sins he has committed. The tension created by the use of time in the play mostly relates to the dramatization of Oedipus's realization that he is the murderer. As more information is revealed -- for example, when Oedipus learns that Polybus, King of Corinth, was not his biological father -- the audience watches in suspense to see when and how Oedipus will finally know the truth. The short span of time helps to emphasize how quick and dramatic Oedipus's tragic fall is: in the course of a day he goes from a man who is envied and powerful to a man whose fate is the worst anyone can imagine. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is very interesting and a unique perspective on the drama.   Time is an element that helps to raise the tension level in the play.  The fact that Oedipus is on a self imposed time schedule is what drives the drama.  Oedipus has pledged to immediately rid his people of the plague that has gripped his kingdom.  Oedipus demands action and an end to it immediately.  He does not ever indicate that he is willing to allow such an investigation to take its own time or to proceed in due course.   Rather, Oedipus drives the issue by wanting answers and wanting them soon.  He is driven to discover a way to end the plague immediately.  This time element is what heightens the tragic unfolding of events because he refuses to acquiesce to any potential pleas from anyone to deliberately and cautiously pursue leads that could be destructive.  Instead, Oedipus seeks to force the issue in terms of discovering “the answer” immediately.  Even his actions upon finding the truth are done in an immediate condition, as he blinds himself almost instantly from seeing the damage that he has caused.  Time is what drives him, the sense of the immediacy, and in what, despite its bizarre placement, Dr. King would call “the fierce urgency of now.”