Abstract: This essay discusses the ironic qualities of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. The play is very ironical in that it entwines the themes of free will as well as predestination. Even though we are sickened by the tragic life of Oedipus and the other characters, we are still able to appreciate the ironic characteristics of the play itself. Indeed, we eventually come to realize that man is free and yet he is also fated.
Sophocles? Oedipus Rex
The primary characteristic of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex is that it is an ironic play. The play?s irony grasps the audience in a profound way because of the awareness that occurs regarding everything that is going on. Even though we, as observers, are sickened at the tragic life of Oedipus and the other characters, we are still able to appreciate the ironical characteristics of the play itself. The irony primarily exists in the context of man being free, but at the same time, fated.
Without doubt, this play very much reflects the Greek vision which emphasizes the immediacy of experience and the nature of man. We see that man is free and that he has free will. At the same time, man also must reconcile himself to a certain fate. Irony is inherent in this very concept.
Indeed, as demonstrated in Oedipus Rex, while there is free will in the human condition, there is also predestination to one?s life. In this play, we see how the main character Oedipus is free to run, but ultimately he cannot run away from himself. Oedipus was once a man of power and wealth who suddenly falls destitute. He goes from having much respect in his great position to being polluted, blind, and expelled from the land that he once ruled.
In this ironic play, the questions are obvious: Is there such a thing as justice in the world? If there is justice, then why did these terrible things happen to Oedipus? Did Oedipus bring this misfortune upon himself? And if he did not, then how can we account for innocent suffering?
In many respects, the irony is that while Oedipus is treated unfairly by fate, he is also the initiator of events that torment him. Oedipus uses his free will, yet fate molds the outcome of the decisions that he has made. In other words, he is free and, therefore, to some extent, completely responsible for the events that happen to him.
In the end, it is Oedipus himself who takes the initiative to ascertain the truth from the two material witnesses to his exposure and rescue. In this context, he is free to act. By his own action, Oedipus discovers that he has committed two terrible sins -- ignorance and innocence. In many respects, the catastrophe that befalls Oedipus is a product of external factors, but at the same time, we have to keep in mind that Oedipus is also a person with free will. Let us remember, after all, that it is Oedipus himself who insists that speed becomes the only guarantee of success.
The irony ultimately lies in the tragedy of Oedipus. He ends up discovering his own identity and he learns that he is an ignorant man. In other words, his self-discovery is, in a very ironic way, the discovery of his own self-destruction. The ultimate irony is that when Oedipus finally sees clearly for the first time, it becomes a moment when his eyes cannot bear what they see. Oedipus sees his reality and he cannot face it.
Thus, the basic theme of Oedipus Rex is the irony of fate. Ultimately, dramatic irony and the irony of fate are the most important elements in the play. For a character like Oedipus, irony primarily exists in the context of man being free, but at the same time, fated.