Play Comparison: Oedipus the King and A Doll’s House
Dramatic irony is a literary tool employed by playwrights to createsuspense, amusement and facilitate a crucial climax in plays. Itensures that audiences are more engaged in the narrative andassociate with the characters. Dramatic irony in a play is achievedwhen the audiences are aware of something, which the character is yetto know. It also applies when one character is aware of somethingunknown to the other characters. This paper is an analysis ofdramatic irony apparent in the plays Oedipus the King and ADoll’s House. The plays are completely different narratives,yet each employs dramatic irony as an imperative.
In Oedipus, the main character is a mythical male destined tomurder the father and wed his mother. The play by Sophocles is aGreek myth. The audience is perceptive of the eventualities. However,the protagonist is unaware that he is accountable for killing KingLaius. He is also unaware that the king is his father and the womanhe weds is the mother (Higgins and Regina 10). For instance in line248, Oedipus refers to being “a stranger to the story.” Thismeans that he is unaware of the king’s death despite being thekiller. The play A Doll’s House, presents dramatic irony ina different manner. In the play, not just the audience that is aware,but also other characters are conscious of the happenings unknown toone of the characters. The protagonist, Nora employed lies inborrowing money years ago when her husband was unwell. To get themoney to move her husband, Torvald, to a warmer climate, which favorshis well-being, Nora had to falsify her father’s signature inborrowing a loan. She states, “You don’t know all. I forged aname.”
The playwrights have different backgrounds. Sophocles and HenrikIbsen writing relates to experiences they encountered in their life.Oedipus is illustrative of Greek theater, which differs from ADoll’s House representation of contemporary prose drama. WhileSophocles was a king during the theater competitions, Ibsen wasbrought up in a poor family. The different status in life explainswhy the playwrights choose to present their drama in unique ways.Sophocles writes the play with the protagonist as a king, though heincludes tragedy in his play. Ibsen’s play derives from a similarevent in his life. The events narrated in the play happened to hisfemale ally, who borrowed money from a bank to seek treatment for thehusband (Stobaugh 404).
Social and cultural conditions have assisted in creating audiencesfor the play, which explains the difference in the depiction ofdramatic irony. As noted, Oedipus represents Greek theaterwhile A Doll’s House is contemporary theater. The disparityarises from the cultural centrality of Greek theater. All civiliansattended the plays, as they were an annual festival, includingthousands of spectators. Audiences were drawn by the singing, dances,special effects and attractive language and judges could decide themost talented playwright (Arnott 60). Ibsen play suits thecontemporary audience due to its presentation of realism. In Greekplays, audiences were more interested in amusement, whilecontemporary audiences are more interested in realism. The dramaticirony in Sophocles play amuses audiences in the manner that theprotagonist murders his father unknowingly and progresses to wed themother. Ibsen’s dramatic irony presents a real image of a wifedoing the unacceptable to save her husband.
The playwrights’ use of language is effective in enhancingdramatic irony in the plays. The audiences are already perceptive ofthe drama that will unfold in the plays. This is because of thelanguage strategies employed by the playwrights, which are similarfor both plays. The language applied is pleasurable and all throughsuitable to the situation (Hornbrook 83-84). For instance, languagehas been utilized in creating tension. In A Doll’s House,Nora often holds information from other characters, especially herhusband, to ensure that she does not disclose her secret. Christineasks Nora if she has told the secret to her husband, she says “Goodheavens, no!” During such instances, tension is created due to thepossibility of the unexpected happening. It is difficult to foretellwhat the character will say when she starts speaking. Similarly,Oedipus uses language in creating tension especially when theprotagonist in line 301 he vows to fight for “Laius as if he weremy father.” The audiences know about the king’s murder, but theprotagonist only realizes then that he may have been responsible forthe killing.
The plays depict dramatic irony, which is apparent in the dramaticnature of characters. The characters illustrate the dramatic natureof human behavior. The fact that a person can be able to actcompletely different depending on the situation demonstrates thathuman beings are dramatic. In Oedipus, we see a king that hasthe capability to murder anyone that attempts to attack him, forinstance the band of travelers. His ability to murder is alsoapparent when he kills king Laius. However, the play also depicts theprotagonists as a character of great insight. He is a suitable rulerbecause he is considerate of his subjects’ desires. In A Doll’sHouse, Nora is depicted as a ‘doll’ meaning that she isunable to make decisions on her own and depends on the pampering ofher husband. However, when the husband falls ill her intelligence inthe ability to make decisions becomes apparent when she secretlyborrows a loan. As the play progresses Nora’s behavior changes froma submissive woman to one that pursues her desires.
Both plays have a dramatic structure. Prior to the commencement ofthe plays, all the important events have already happened in thecharacters’ lives. The play reaps the aftermaths of the previoushappenings. The playwrights demonstrate how each action of everycharacter is the outcome of articulate specified experiences in theindividual’s former life. For instance, Nora’s inability tomanage money is a childhood experience inherited from the father. Herhusband refers to her as “flying through her fortune.” Oedipusmurders are a result of a previous prophesies that he would becomeking. However, A Doll’s House lacks the five-act structure like inOedipus. Instead, the playwright utilizes three acts. Five actsrepresent the theatrical action arrangement, which are “exposition,complication, climax, falling action and catastrophe” (Travis165-168). Contrary Ibsen merges exposition with complication. Climaxis evident in act two, while the other arrangements are apparent inthe third act.
Imagery and foreshadowing are aspects that have made Oedipus theKing to become a famous play to date (Travis 219). As the playcommences, the priest employs the difference between darkness andlight to portray the immediate situation of Thebes. Afterwards,audiences see Oedipus declaring to Creon that he will bring light todarkness, in reference to finding Laius’ murderer. Metaphoric useof light and dark also avail foreshadowing, because it is theprotagonist’s will to expose the truth, which results in hisself-realization of the evil that he has done. These are some of theillustrations in the play where foreshadow is created. Audiences aremore likely to engage in a play where they feel that an evil shouldbe brought to light. The play effectively meets this need byemploying characters that are totally clueless of what will unfold,due to the evils they have done in the past. This brings in play theaspect of dramatic irony, as the protagonist is so focused on solvinga murder, which he is unaware that he is the culprit.
A Doll’s House is famous because of Ibsen’s ability topresent a realistic play. Many people, especially women, are able torelate to what happens to Nora. The playwright employs the phrase‘doll’ to refer to a woman that has given up her identity togratify societal needs. “ I have been your doll-wife here childrenhave been my dolls.” This means that in most instances, women areunable to express their identity. Despite being economically stablecompared to other female characters, Nora lives a difficult lifesince society mandates that Torvald dominates their marriage(Stobaugh 414). Torvald disregards Nora by viewing her as someonethat is incapable of making sound decisions on her own, because sheis a woman. Despite being intelligent, Nora has to conceal her loandue to the restrictions set for women in taking loans without thehusbands consent. Female audiences associate with the suffering anddifficulty Nora faces in hiding her secret. Despite the loanbenefiting the husband, we realize that what she did couldnevertheless be viewed as a noble act. Ironically, the husband doesnot realize the efforts Nora has made in saving his life, whichenhances the dramatic aspect of the play.
A Doll’s House could be more successful for an audience myage. The play is contemporary, in addition to employing three acts.In addition, the play is more relevant to current day societyhappenings. It is and progresses to be difficult to define the roleof women in society. Although people have become modern, women arestill expected to progress being submissive towards their husbands.The drama can be staged through editing the plot to make it moresuitable for the audience and characters. For instance, Nora’s loanis revealed early on the narrative, which compels her to separatefrom her husband. The play may then conclude by demonstrating theintelligence in women, acknowledged by the husband seeking forforgiveness from Nora. The objective will be to present women in adifferent light, as independent and considerate persons, capable ofmaking decisions on their own.
Arnott, Peter D. Public and Performance in the Greek Theatre.New York: Routledge, 2002.
Higgins, Charles, and Regina K. Higgins. Cliffsnotes Sophocles`Oedipus Trilogy. Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide, 2000.Internet resource.
Hornbrook, David. One the Subject of Drama. New York:Routledge, 2002.
Stobaugh, James P. World Literature: Cultural Influences of Earlyto Contemporary Voices. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2012.Print.
Travis, Roger. Allegory and the Tragic Chorus in Sophocles`Oedipus at Colonus. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999.Print.