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Irony in The Wild Duck and Oedipus the King

Tragic irony is one type of dramatic irony. In tragic irony the words and actions of the characters contradict the real situation occurring, one of which spectators are aware. Dramatic irony generates dramatic conflict, in that one or more characters rely upon something that the audience knows to be untrue. In Henrik Ibsen's study of family illusions, The Wild Duck, and in Sophocles' study of a well-meaning but misguided King, Oedipus The King; the authors rely heavily on tragic irony for impact. In The Wild Duck, Hjalmar Ekdal is unconscious of the fact that despite his image as a loving husband and father, he is a cruel, uncaring tyrant. In Oedipus The King, Oedipus is unaware that the murderer he seeks to right things in Thebes is, indeed, him. By using tragic irony to propel the action of Hjalmar and Oedipus, Ibsen and Sophocles respectively create dramatic conflict because we are aware of what these, ultimately tragic, characters are not.

The three acts of dramatic irony are installation, exploitation and resolution. We see these three stages in the tragic irony employed by Henrik Ibsen in The Wild Duck, in the character and actions of Hjalmar Ekdal, a married man with an adolescent daughter named Hedvig. We know early in the play that Gina is a former servant girl in wealthy industrialist Hakon Werle's house. He has an affair with her and, when she becomes pregnant, he marries her off to Hjalmar, a former classmate of his son Gregers, to make the baby legitimate. That baby is Hedvig. Like Oedipus, the Ekdal family remains unconscious or unaware of this truth. They are happy only because they are able to live a "life-lie" as doctor Relling calls it (Ibsen 115). In many ways, this is because others help paint over the Ekdal family blemishes to make them appear as the perfectly married couple and family. Ekdal imagines himself a great inventor, an image his wife polishes well. As Westcott maintains...

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