Why Sophocles used foreshadowing to heighten tension in the play

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WhySophocles used foreshadowing to heighten tension in the play “Oedipusthe King”.

Oedipusthe King is a Greece tragedy written by Sophocles and first performedin 429 BC. The drama unfolds as a political thriller, murder mysteryand the philosophical whodunit. The author puts more emphasis on theirony of a man who is very determined to track, put in the publiclimelight, and punish the suspected assassin, but the assassin turnsout to be himself. The author uses prophesy and foreshadowing as themost important elements of playwriting to create suspense andincrease tension. The drama is full of instances of foreshadowingthat enhance the tension and leave the viewers of the actualperformance or readers of the play with issues to puzzle over.Foreshadowing is a technique used to suggest what might happen later.In most cases, foreshadowing is used to warn people of the disasterto come. Sophocles managed to successfully apply the foreshadowingtechnique to heighten tension that could not be possible in otherways, warn about the future anguish that Oedipus and the kingdomwould face, and gain the attention of the audience by creating itsurge to follow the unfolding of the foreshadowed events.

Thefirst foreshadowing takes place when the King’s brother in law,Creon, returns from Apollo where he had been sent to consult aboutthe cause of the plague and what could be done to finish it. Creondelivers a displeasing feedback from Apollo (the Greek God of Music,healing, and prophesy) stating that the plague that had strickenThebes would proceed until the murder of Laius is avenged through thebanishment or the killing of the murderer. Creon states, whilereporting the King and the priest, “Well, he was killed, and Apollocommands us now to pay the killer back, whoever is responsible”(75). The author uses this foreshadows to suggest that the plaguewill continue for the unforeseeable future. This foreshadowing causetension to the King, the priest, and the residents of Thebes becausethe murder had been done long-ago and there was sufficient evidencethat could help them identify the murderer. It would therefore beuncertain when the plague would end given the fact that the murdererof Laius was hard to find. However, the murder is identified towardsthe end of the drama and is kept ready for expelled from the city asforeshadowed. The foreshadowing had prepared the audience for thisoccurrence. It also created suspense and tension because peoplewondered who the murderer could be and whether he would be found andpunished to relieve them from the plague.

Anotherinstance of foreshadowing occurs when King Oedipus gives a promise offinding and punishing whoever killed the preceding king, named Laius.Oedipus states that he will put in the public limelight and punishthe murders even if they come from the royal household, in which heis the King. Oedipus states “if by any chance he proves to be anintimate of our house, here at my hearth, with my full knowledge maythe curse I just called down on him strike me!” (77). Theforeshadowing implies that the culpability of the murder of Laius,the earlier king of Thebes, would eventually be associated with theroyal family. This is a source of tension to the priest and theentire city that was grieving from the plague that had stricken itand made life difficult for the residents. It would be moredisastrous if the guilt is discovered with the king’s (Oedipus)household.

Third,the foreshadow of King Oedipus being the blame for the plague isrevealed in the drama when Tiresias, the blind prophet confrontsOedipus directly for the pestilence sent to the city by Apollo.Tiresias tells the king, “I charge you, then, submit to that decreeyou just laid down: from this day onwards speak to no one” (78).The blame that was leveled to King Oedipus was unexpected and itcreated tension by leaving the audience in suspense throughout thedrama. The revelation that Oedipus is to blame for the plague createsseveral questions, such as how could Oedipus contributed towards themurder of Laius? Although this foreshadowing adds complications andtension, it helps in the discovery of the past life of Oedipus.

Thefourth foreshadowing, which takes the form of an irony, occurs whenKing Oedipus becomes angry with the revelations made to him byTiresias the prophet. Oedipus describes Tiresias’ features notknowing that he would eventually posses those negativecharacteristics. Oedipus tells Tiresias “You have lost your power,stone blind, stone-deaf-senses, eyes blind as stone” (78). Oedipuspossessed almost all that he stated to Tiresias towards the end ofthe drama. Oedipus had lost his kingship to the brother-in-law andcould no longer be able to see. He enters the city with a helperbecause he could not see the same way Tiresias entered Oedipus courtlike a blind bat and with a helper. The foreshadowing heightenstension by forecasting the loss of power and eye sight, although itis not clear who will lose them between the king and Tiresias.

Anotherforeshadowing occurs when Tiresias says that Laius died on the crossroad. The cross road as described by Tiresias is made by the meetingof three paths. Oedipus is aware of the location of the crossroad andthe incident that took place. He confesses that he had once killedfour people at that crossroad. This heightens tension because itraises the possibility that King Laius could have been one of thefour people killed at the crossroad by Oedipus. This foreshadowinganticipates that King Laius’ killer is his swollen footed and lameson, Oedipus. This relates to an earlier description of Laius’ son,the infant of Jocasta. The son is described as one who had a shaftrun through the two ankles. This could only leave the son swollen andlame, which as the exact meaning of the name Oedipus. This isforeshadowing gives the audience a glimpse that Oedipus was thekiller.

Inconclusion, the use of foreshadowing technique in the drama “Oedipusthe King” allowed Sophocles to heighten the tension of theaudience, warn about the future anguish that would befall Oedipus,and attract the attention of the to follow the unfolding of theevents. Oedipus makes a declaration against the murderer, not knowingthat the calamity will later befall him. The extensive usage of theforeshadowing in the drama warns the audience about what should beanticipated in the play. However, Sophocles does this in a verytechnical way to ensure that suspense is created. This has beenachieved by avoiding the full disclosure of the events to be unfoldedin later stages of the play, but ensuring that the tension of theaudience is heightened.


Fagles,R. Oedipusthe king by Sophocles.New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporation, 1984. Print.