Oedipus Rex, by Sophocles, (as translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald), is replete with dramatic devices - one of which is known as Sophoclean Irony. Sophoclean Irony can be divided into two terms:.
unconscious and conscious irony. Unconscious irony occurs when a character speaks what he believes is the truth, but the audience (fore-armed with knowledge of the truth) knows that it is not. Conscious irony is evident when a character knows the truth but is reluctant to reveal it: thus, he speaks cryptic lines deliberately intended to be ironic. Both types of irony will be examined in this paper and passages from the text will be cited in support of this thesis. .
At the moment of his birth, Oedipus received a reading from the Delphic Oracle which stated that the baby was destined to grow up to murder his father and marry his mother. Shocked, his parents (King Laios and Queen Locaste of Thebes) try to circumvent Hera's curse by turning the infant over to a loyal servant (The Theban Shepherd) to take to the top Mt. Cithaeron to be killed. After nailing his ankles together and leaving him to die of the elements, the old shepherd relents and hands the child over to a traveling shepherd from Corinth to take back to the childless King and Queen to raise as their own son. For the next twenty years, Laios and Locaste rule in Thebes believing their son to be dead. Unfortunately, Hera sends a drought associated with a sphinx to bedevil Thebes. A desperate Laios travels back to the Delphic Oracle for a reading.
Meanwhile, back in Corinth, Oedipus grows to manhood believing Polybos and Merope (the King and Queen of Corinth) are his real parents. Soon, he too learns of his horrible fate and seeking to avoid it, he flees hi supposed homeland. As fate would have it, along the road, Oedipus meets Laios and kills him in a fit of rage. Thus, he has unwittingly fulfilled the first half of the prophecy.