Theme of Appearance & Reality in Oedipus Rex

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The Syllabus of Islamia University of Bahawalpur, Pakistan...


THEME OF APPEARANCE AND REALITY DRAMATIC IRONY IN ‘OEDIPUS REX’ In the play Oedipus Rex the theme of appearance and reality is so dominant that the play can be termed as the tragedy of appearance. In this play most of the characters are ignorant of reality. Being ignorant of his fate or circumstances, the character tries to get rid of the trouble, but is entangled more and more into it because of his doomed fate. 1. If we start from the birth of Oedipus we see that when an oracle tells the king Laius that this son will kill him and marry his own mother, Laius and Jocasta give their infant son to a servant to leave him on a hill side to be killed there. But the reality is that the servant gives the child to a Corinthian herdsman. He passes the little boy on to king Polybos of Corinth. Oedipus thinks himself as the real son of Polybos but in reality he is an adopted son. 2. When Oedipus overhears from a drunken man that he is not the son of Polybos, he asks the Oracle to tell him the truth. The Oracle adds to his worries that he will kill his father and marry his mother. Thinking Polybos and Merop his real parents and avoiding the shameful situation Oedipus leaves Corinth forever. While wandering he kills four passengers including his own father Laius. Here Oedipus did not know the reality that he had committed Patricide. 3. When the people of Thebes offer him the kingship of Thebes they do not know the reality that Oedipus is the murderer of their king. And when Oedipus and Jocasta the widow of Laius fell in love with each other and marry, no body knows that they are mother and son committing incest. 4. Oedipus speech demanding the people to reveal the murderer in the initial part of the play is an important example of irony. Because he does not know that cursing Laius’ murderer to live in wretchedness he is cursing himself. 5. When Oedipus came to know that the murder case of the former king is not investigated, he suspects that there is a hand of Creon in killing the king. But in reality Creon is not power-hungry and he is a fair man. 6. Oedipus taunts Tiresias for his blindness. He says’ ‘You sightless, witless, senseless, mad, old man. You child of endless night. You cannot hurt me or any other man who sees the sun.’

This is an excellent example of verbal irony though Oedipus himself was the child of endless night. His own sight blinded him of the truth. 7. Oedipus thinks that being an intelligent man, he is the master of his own life, and fate has nothing to do with him. But in reality he is not more than a puppet in the hands of fate and power of gods. The background of the story is also very ironical. Oedipus solves the riddle of Sphinx. In appearance his solving the riddle leads him to success but in reality this success is the cause of his failure or tragedy. If he would not have solved the riddle he would have not become the king of Thebes and thus would not been the husband of Jocasta.


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