The Greek tragedy of Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles, owes much of its impact to the audience's previous knowledge of the characters and their fate. This circumstance allowed the playwright to make powerful use of irony and allusion. Throughout the story Oedipus searches for his identity, and the answers to his questions are visible to the audience, but not to Oedipus. Sophocles illustrates these answers, the truth, by using irony. There are three types of irony, and I will define each of them and discuss their use in Oedipus Rex. I will also discuss the significance of irony to the play and to the audience.
Irony is a contrast in which one term of the contrast in some ways mocks the other term. It always implies some sort of difference or lack of harmony. Irony can be split into three kinds: verbal irony, dramatic irony, and irony of situation. Verbal irony, the simplest and the least important, is a figure of speech in which the opposite is said from what is intended. It is not meant to be cruel nor kind; it is just used as a device. Dramatic irony is the contrast between what a character says and what the reader knows to be true. The author tells the reader something different, or something more, than the character himself intends or understands. The author indirectly comments on the character's nature and the value of the ideas he utters. In irony of situation, the most important kind, the difference is between appearance and reality, or between expectation and fulfillment, or between what is and what would seem appropriate. The difference is between the actual circumstances and those that seem appropriate or between what is anticipated and what actually happens.
Verbal irony is found within the conversation between Oedipus and Teiresias. In line 323, Teiresias states, "If you could only see the nature of your own feelings - and knows quite well that Oedipus is unaware of the sins he has committed.