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Sophocles? Oedipus Rex Essay, Research Paper
Throughout history there have been some astonishing Greek plays. Some plays were more comedic in nature, so were romance plays and then there were some that were tragic plays. One of the greatest Greek tragedy plays ever written was Oedipus the King.
Brilliantly conceived and written, Oedipus the King dramatizes the self-discovery and tragic downfall of Oedipus, the King of Thebes. It tells the story about a young Greek who was fated to murder his father, marry his mother, and in the process become the King of Thebes, before ultimately meeting his downfall due to his own deeds. That makes this play so fascinating is that there are numerous underlying themes within the story, and I will attempt to shed light on one of these themes, that being the dramatic irony of blindness. I shall do this by focusing on the words and actions of a minor character in the play, Tiresias.
A minor character is a character that is developed in such a way to help reveal themes and depict certain literary devices. Literary devices are used in mostly all literary works, as they can help reveal pertinent information and also move the story along. In the play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, the minor character of Tiresias is responsible for foreshadowing Oedipus? fate, developing the theme of blindness, and also illustrating dramatic irony. Tiresias uses his fortune teller abilities to foreshadow the anguish and destruction that Oedipus will encounter after he learns the truths of his life. Tiresias is also responsible for further developing the theme of blindness by using his own physical blindness to reveal to Oedipus his intellectual blindness. Lastly, Tiresias is ultimately responsible for imposing dramatic irony because of his great knowledge of the truth of Oedipus. In Sophocles? Oedipus Rex, the character of Tiresias is developed in such a way that he utilizes many dramatic devices in order to reveal information and move the play along. As a fortune teller, Tiresias is able to see the fate and destruction of Oedipus? life. Tiresias uses his great ability to reveal to the reader the downfalls in Oedipus? life that will soon occur because of his quest to know his fate.
The character of Tiresias demonstrates the use of foreshadowing in order for the reader to be aware of Oedipus? fate.
?You have mocked at my blindness, but you, who have eyes, cannot see the evil in which you stand; you cannot see where you are living, not with whom you share your house. Do you even know who your parents are? Without knowing it, you are the enemy of your own flesh and blood, the dead below and the living above here. The double-edged curse of your mother and father, moving on dread feet, shall one day drive you from this land. You see straight now but then you will see darkness. You will scream aloud on that day; there is no place which shall not hear you, no part of Mount Cithaeron here which will not ring its echo, on that day when you know the truth about your wedding, that evil harbor in which you sailed before a fair wind. There is a multitude of horrors which you do not even suspect, and they will equate you to yourself and to your own children.?
Oedipus the King, pg 28.
This passage foreshadows the destruction and misery that will soon be a part of Oedipus? life. Tiresias also foreshadows the self-mutilation and destruction of Oedipus. The following quotation clearly displays the use of foreshadowing by Tiresias,
?You see straight now but then you will see darkness.?
Oedipus the King, pg 28.
The preceding quotation foreshadows the self-destruction that Oedipus will commit because of the blindness that he holds towards his past and his fate. Tiresias explains to Oedipus that even though he can physically see now, in the future he will be blinded because he has learned the truth of his life. Tiresias clearly utilizes foreshadowing to illustrate the downfalls that will occur in Oedipus? fated life.
Tiresias further develops the theme of blindness in Oedipus the King. Tiresias is a blind man who can actually see the fated outcome of Oedipus? life. Even though Oedipus has full use of his physical vision, he is completely blind of his past and his fate. Tiresias uses his own physical blindness to make Oedipus aware of his own intellectual blindness towards the truths of his life. Tiresias reveals to Oedipus that it is Oedipus? physical sight that deters him from seeing the truths of his past. The proceeding passage illustrates the theme of blindness as revealed by Tiresias to Oedipus.
?You have mocked at my blindness, but you, who have eyes, cannot see the evil in which you stand;?
Oedipus the King, pg 28.
This quotation clearly depicts the development of the theme of blindness, as Tiresias is telling Oedipus that even though he can see, physically he is blinded by his quest to know the truth of his life. Tiresias tells Oedipus that he cannot see the torment that is a part of Oedipus? life. Tiresias reveals to the reader that to see physically does not mean that you can see intellectually, as Oedipus clearly displays towards his past and his fate. Dramatic irony is used to provide the reader with some relief, perhaps comical, through the use of knowledge from one character or even the reader that another character is oblivious to which, in turn, creates an ironic situation or atmosphere. Irony is displayed throughout Oedipus the King and is ultimately displayed by Tiresias. Tiresias, who is completely physically blind, can still ?see? the wretchedness of Oedipus? life. On the other hand, Oedipus, who has complete use of his sight, is totally blind to his past and his fate.
The extent of Oedipus? intellectual blindness is assisted by his ongoing quest for the truths of his life which ends up ruining him. It is ironic that a man who is blind physically can see the suffering and madness that will come to Oedipus in the future due to his ongoing drive for knowledge.
?He will be revealed as brother and father of the children with whom he now lives, the son and husband of the woman who gave him birth, the murderer and marriage-partner of his father.?
Oedipus the King, pg 31.
In this passage, Tiresias reveals his knowledge of Oedipus? past to him. Oedipus has just learned the truth of his past from a man who cannot see which becomes very ironic to the reader. It is at this point in the play where Oedipus learns that knowledge or sight of his past brings evil, pain, and suffering into his life. It is quite ironic that a man of such a physical disability can still use his intellectual vision to see the truth and fate of Oedipus. Irony is brought by Tiresias many times in this play. It is especially evident when Oedipus and Tiresias are first speaking to each other.
?I say that without knowing it you are living in shameful intimacy with your nearest and dearest. You do not see the evil in which you live.?
Oedipus the King, pg 25.
Tiresias informs Oedipus of the evil that is seen within his life. Tiresias? words said to Oedipus are extremely ironic because even though Tiresias cannot see physically he says he can still ?see? the evil within Oedipus? life. It is also ironic that Tiresias foreshadows the self-mutilation of Oedipus after he learns the truth of his past and fate. It is ironic that a man who once did not see the truth of his past and fate does not want to see physically because of his great suffering.
?He ripped out the golden pins with which her clothes were fastened, raised them high above his head, and speared the pupils of his eyes. ?You will not see,? he said, ?the horrors I have suffered and done. Be dark forever now ? eyes that saw those you should never have seen, and failed to recognize those you longed to see.?
Oedipus the King, pg 93.
Since Tiresias had revealed to Oedipus his past, Oedipus has now found the truth of his life and now that he can see intellectually, he cannot endure the suffering that the truth has brought upon him.
It is quite ironic that Tiresias, who revealed to Oedipus the truth of his past is blind physically and now that Oedipus has learned the truth, now blinds himself physically because he cannot endure the pain and suffering that his quest for the truth has brought upon him.
Tiresias clearly displays the use of dramatic irony within the play. In the play Oedipus the King by Sophocles, the minor character of Tiresias is responsible for foreshadowing Oedipus? fate, developing the theme of blindness, and also illustrating dramatic irony. These literary devices used by Tiresias all help contribute to and depict the pain and suffering that is endured by Oedipus. Tiresias applies his knowledge of Oedipus to revealing certain things to the reader and also to other characters in the play. Tiresias is responsible for foreshadowing to the reader the destruction and evil that will be evident in Oedipus? life once he is aware of the truths of his life. Tiresias also aids in developing the theme of blindness by using his physical inability to see to reveal to the reader and Oedipus the extent of his quest for knowledge and the evil that it will bring upon his life. Lastly, Tiresias is responsible for demonstrating dramatic irony by using his physical blindness to ultimately reveal to Oedipus his intellectual blindness. Many people in society today are blind to their past, and how the out-come of certain events affect them. Some of these people think that the only way to conquer this blindness is to seek out the truths of their past in order to lead a more fulfilled life.
Sophocles, Bernard Knox, ?Oedipus the King.? Washington Square Press,
1st Edition, New York, 1994.
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