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Sophocles' Use of Writing Style and Dramatic Devices in Oedipus Rex

Summary:

Sophocles employs a formal and elevated writing style in Oedipus Rex, using dramatic irony, foreshadowing, and symbolism to enhance the tragedy. The audience knows Oedipus's fate long before he does, creating tension and anticipation. Symbolism, such as blindness and sight, underscores themes of knowledge and ignorance, while foreshadowing hints at Oedipus's inevitable downfall.

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In Oedipus Rex, what writing style and dramatic devices does Sophocles use?

In Oedipus Rex, the main characters speak largely in extended prose monologues while the Chorus chant their lines in a Strophe (turn) and Antistrophe (turn back) structure.

Overall, dramatic irony is dominant dramatic device used by Sophocles.  We, the audience, know that Oedipus killed his father and murdered his mother, but Oedipus and Jocasta remain oblivious, despite foreshadowing in their own dialogue, Tieresias' warnings, and testimony by first-hand witnesses.

Imagery related to sight and blindness, metaphors for knowledge and ignorance are also used frequently.  "Sight" is used 14 times; "See" is used 19 times; "Eye" is used 16 times; "Blind" is used 16 times.  For example, Oedipus tells Tieresias:

Thou knowest, though thy blinded eyes see naught,
What plague infects our city; and we turn
To thee, O seer, our one defense and shield.

Fate imagery is also prevalent.  Imagery related to "oracles," "Delphi," "curses," "destiny," and the "stars" show the cruel suffering Oedipus' choices have caused.

Apostrophe (a speech made directly to a person or thing not present) is also used often for dramatic effect.  In Oedipus' last monologue, he lists several:

O Polybus, O Corinth, O my home...

AND

Why didst thou harbor me, Cithaeron, why
Didst thou not take and slay me?

Lastly, rhetorical questions are found in abundance, all related to man's questioning of himself, fate, and the gods:

How had I dared to look you in the face?

What, born as mine were born?

Say, friends, can any look or voice
Or touch of love henceforth my heart rejoice?

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What dramatic techniques does Sophocles use in Oedipus the King?

In his great tragedy, Oedipus Rex, Sophocles employs the dramatic techniques of foreshadowing, symbolism and irony. In form, he also employs the Chorus for various purposes.

Foreshadowing

While there are several occurrences of foreshadowing, one striking example occurs when Oedipus tells Creon who returns from the oracle at Apollo,

For whoever he was who killed that man
would as soon kill me with that same violent hand.
Helping that one, therefore, I am helping myself. (ll.150-152)

Another example of foreshadowing occurs when Oedipus declares that he will punish the man who is responsible for the plague in Thebes:

I ban this man, whoever he is, from all land
over which I hold power and the throne.
I decree that no one shall receive him....
but instead that everyone must expel him
from their homes, as this man is the source
of our pollution, as the oracle. (ll.240-248)

Symbolism

While the seer Tieresias is physically blind, Oedipus is symbolically blind. For instance, Oedipus says that he could not fail "to see this" when the people of Thebes tell of their tribulations. Yet, his inability to perceive the truth that he so logically and assiduously pursues contributes greatly to Oedipus Rex's downfall because Oedipus does not understand what the truth really is. When, for instance, Tieresias tells Oedipus that he is the "polluter," the king becomes enraged and accuses Tiresisais of mental blindness,

There is, but not for you. You don’t have this,
since you are blind in your ears and mind and eyes (ll. 390-391)

In another act of metaphorical blindness, Oedipus believes that Creon makes his report from Apollo because he desires the kingship that is Oedipus's:

the trusted Creon, my friend from the very beginning,
beguiles me and secretly desires to ourst me,
engaging this craftily-working wizard
this tricky beggar, who sees clearly only
for profit, but is blind when it comes to skill. (ll405-409)

Imagery

There is light/dark imagery that suggests understanding and misunderstanding.  For instance, Oedipus argues against Tiresias, who tells Oedipus that he is the cause of the plague upon Thebes,

You live in one single night,
so that you can never harm me
or any other who sees the light. (ll395-397)

 Irony

The use of dramatic irony prevails throughout the drama. In one instance of dramatic irony, in which the audience knows more than Oedipus, the king declares,

...you will rightly see me as an ally,
avenging both this land and the god together....
For whoever he was who killed that man
would as soon kill me with that same violent hand.
Helping that one, therefore, I am helping myself (ll146-152)

Further, Oedipus ironically makes an order against himself as he decrees that no one will be allowed to speak to the person who has brought the curse upon Thebes, nor will he/she be permitted to associate with him.  

I decree that no one shall receive him
or speak to him, nor make him partner
in prayers to the gods or sacrifices,...
but instead that everyone must expel him
from their homes, as this man is the source
of our pollution.... (ll242-248)

After Tiresais informs Oedipus that the king himself is the cause of the ills of Thebes, Oedipus retorts with magnified irony,

With these same taunts you now hurl, you will find me great. (l.464)

Chorus

The Chorus in Oedipus Rex, is a technique that Sophocles uses to represent the feelings of the people and is "broader and more socio-religious" than the opinions of individuals in the play. 

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