The Role of Foreshadowing in Oedipus the King


\'You are the curse, the corruption of the land!’. With these words, Tiresias, a blind prophet in \'Oedipus The King’ set the actions in play that would turn king to beggar within the day. Prophecy and foreshadowing is an important part of playwriting, and adds an element of suspense that is not possible any other way. Whether it be the witches of MacBeth, the ramblings of Tiresias in Oedipus: The King, and Antigone, or whether it is the unrealized foreshadowing by Figaro in \'The Marriage of Figaro’, foreshadowing gives the reader or the audience something to puzzle themselves over, until the play or novel is actually over. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that some of the greatest plays ever written would be impotent if their elements of foreshadowing was removed.
Foreshadowing is defined, in Webster’s dictionary, as \'to give a hint or suggestion of beforehand’. In drama, foreshadowing is generally used for several purposes, including the creation of tension, creation of atmosphere, and adds an element of credibility to a character. All of these are important elements of a play. However it is not hard to imagine a play in which more then half of the elements of a plot, namely exposition, discovery, point of attack, complication and crisis all be caused by an act of foreshadowing or prophecy. Indeed, “Oedipus the King”, which was considered the greatest play in history by Aristotle, was one such play.
“Oedipus the King” was the story of the King of Thebes, Oedipus, and his dark past history which no one, including himself to a point, was aware of, one that involved abandonment, patricide and incest. Thebes was beset by a plague, and a delegation was sent to Apollo, the Greek God of healing, where they received instructions to find the murderer of the previous king of Thebes, King Laius. This form of foreshadowing was necessary for the storyline to have a starting place, and acts not only as foreshadowing, but also as discovery, because it gave new information that moved the plot forwards. A problem with this is the fact that it requires an act of God, something that Aristotle frowned upon in his definitive text \'Poetics’. In the case of \'Oedipus the King’, Sophocles managed to get around the problem by having the consultation happen off-stage, but in a good drama, this \'form’ of foresight is generally frowned upon. As such, it should be avoided, unless where completely necessary, as in Oedipus.
Another type of foreshadowing showcased in \'Oedipus the King’ was intended as a point of attack, and it was when the blind prophet Tiresias directly blamed King Oedipus for plague sent by Apollo. This form of \'foreshadowing’ differs from the first one, which was intended only to give a starting point for the storyline. The blame which is leveled against Oedipus was totally unexpected, and it left the audience in complete suspense throughout the play, as they tried to figure out how Oedipus was involved in the plot to kill Laius. This helped build the suspense, and was what really started \'the ball rolling’ so to speak, in an effort to find out what the past of Oedipus actually was. This plot device grabbed the audience’s attention, and adds complication, which is necessary in any play.
The third, and most highly ironic, foreshadowing happened when Oedipus, in a fit of anger, said to Tiresias, “You’ve lost your power, stone-blind, stone-deaf - senses, eyes blind as stone!”. By the end of the story, Oedipus was almost exactly that. By day’s end, Oedipus no longer possessed the sense of sight, and had lost his kingdom to his brother-in-law. A complete reversal of circumstances, which saw him, in the play \'Oedipus at Colonus’, enter the city the same way that Tiresias entered Oedipus’ court on that day, blind as a bat, with a helper without whom he would be useless.
\'The Marriage of Figaro’ has one obvious prophetic scene, where Figaro says “Look to the day’s work, Master Figaro! First bring forward the hour of your wedding to make sure of the ceremony taking place, head off Marceline who’s so deucedly fond of you, pocket the money and the presents, thwart His Lordship’s little game,