What is the dramatic irony in the play Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The dramatic irony in the play Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, is that through the soothsayer Teiresias, the audience becomes more aware and more convinced that Oedipus is the murderer of the late King Laius; not only that, Laius is actually Oedipus’s father, Oedipus has married his mother, and all of Oedipus’s children have been born from incest.  Teirsias flat out tells Oedipus and the audience that Oedipus is the murderer of Laius when he says “I say that thou art the murderer of the man whose murderer thou pursuest.”  It takes Teirsias a lot longer to tell Oedipus that his problems run much deeper than just murder, but by the time Teirsias has left the scene the audience has learned that Laius was Oedipus’s father, that he has married his mother, and procreated children that are both his children and his siblings.  Teirsias first illudes to Oedipus’s lineage when he says “I say thou livest with thy nearest kin in infamy, unwitting in thy shame,” and again later when he says, “thou hast eyes, yet see’s not in what misery thou art fallen, nor where thou dwellest nor with whom for mate.  Dost know thy lineage?”  Finally, the audience becomes convinced of Oedipus’s plite when in Teirsias’s final speech, Teirsias describes Laius’s murderer as wearing purple robes and leaning on a sceptor, that the murderer will be proved to be both brother and sire to the children in his home, and that their mother will prove to have born both a son and husband to herself and a murderer to his sire.  All of which, Oedipus completely disbelieves until he relentlessly examins the evidence throughout the rest of the play.