How are the three types of irony used in Oedipus Rex?

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Most texts, if they utilize irony, will use one or two types. Oedipus Rex, therefore, is unique because it implements all three types of irony in fundamental ways. The primary irony in the play is dramatic irony, which is when the reader is aware of something that characters in the story are not. The reader realizes Oedipus' true identity, his past crimes, and his incest much earlier than Oedipus himself and several other characters. Thus, when the reader sees moments such as Oedipus pronouncing death upon Laius' murderer and Jocasta stating that Oedipus favors Laius, he or she sees the tragedy of the story all the more clearly. In fact, this tragedy of ignorance is applied to every character in the play other than Teiresias, who is actually a prime example of verbal irony.

Verbal irony is usually characterized by if there is a difference between what is said and what is meant. In the story of Oedipus Rex, Teiresias is a "blind seer," which seems to be an paradox. Though Teiresias is physically blind, he has special insights into reality, which is how he knows that Oedipus is Laius' murderer. This irony between being blind and seeing is carried through the the end of the story when Oedipus brutally blinds himself only when he learns the truth and "sees" it for the first time. Thus, Sophocles plays with these motifs through verbal irony multiple times.

Situational irony, or when there is a difference between what is expected and what happens, also plays a heavy role in the text as a whole, especially as it relates to attempts to escape fate. When Jocasta and Laius slit the ankles of their three-day old son and leave him to die, they do not expect that their son could survive. Likewise, when Oedipus runs away from his adopted parents to avoid killing his father, he meets his birth parents and kills his father and marries his mother.

Sophocles wove all three types of irony into Oedipus Rex cohesively, and all three help to deepen this tragic tale.

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When Sophocles wrote Oedipus Rex, he used three forms of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic.

Sarcasm is a form of verbal irony when a person says something that means or is interpreted as something else, usually the opposite. We find verbal irony in the characters' speeches. Teiresias and Oedipus have a conversation in which Teiresias uses sarcasm. He refuses to “reveal the troubling things inside me, which I can call your grief as well.” Teiresias is trying to tell Oedipus that he will not divulge that Oedipus is the one who killed Laois. Oedipus does not understand this, and he thinks that Teiresias is withholding information about impending doom.

Another type of irony that Sophocles uses is situational or tragic irony, which involves the action in the play. Situational irony occurs when an unexpected event takes place. Oedipus runs away from his parents but ends up getting closer to his real parents. He blames others for the killing of Laios, but he finds out he is the one who murdered him.

Dramatic irony happens when the audience is privy to information that a character is not. In the case of Oedipus Rex, the audience is told in the introduction that he is the murderer, but Oedipus himself does not know this and blames others. The irony occurs when he learns that he is the actual murderer.

Sophocles uses irony throughout Oedipus Rex to both entertain and teach. He attempts to instruct the audience about the strength of fate and that one can never be too sure of oneself. He warns people to be humble because you never know when you could be in the wrong.

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