Frank Jevons in “In Sophoclean Tragedy, Humans Create Their Own Fate” comments on Sophocles’ irony:
In this connection we may consider the “irony of Sophocles.” In argument irony has many forms That which best illustrates the irony of Sophocles is the method by which the ironical man, putting apparently innocent questions or suggestions, leads some person from one preposterous statement to another, until, perhaps, the subject of the irony realizes his situation and discovers that when he thought he was most brilliant of impressive, then he was really most absurd. . . .(62).
Let us explore the irony, in Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, and see if we don’t conclude that, as it applies to King Creon it brings quite the same result as in Jevons’ stated situation.
In Sophocles: The Theban Plays E. F. Watling comments on Sophocles’ usage of dramatic irony in his dramas: “. . . that powerful and subtle weapon of ‘dramatic irony’ which Sophocles used with especial skill, whereby the audience can judge every speech and action of the play in the light of their previous knowledge of the situation” (12). M. H. Abrams defines dramatic irony as a situation wherein:
“the audience or reader shares with the author knowledge of present or future circumstances of which a character is ignorant; in that situation, the character unknowingly acts in a way we recognize to be grossly inappropriate to the actual circumstances, or expects the opposite of what we know that fate holds in store, or says something that anticipates the actual outcome, but not at all in the way that the character intends”(137).
This type of irony is commented on by Thomas Woodard in the Introduction to Sophocles: A Collection of Critical Essays:
Recent interpreters have realized that concealed debates, dialectical themes, and symbolic antitheses inform each Sophoclean tragedy. Tradition pays homage to “Sophoclean irony” (a rival of “Socratic irony”), which implies a twofold dramatic situation, known to be twofold by the audience in spite of the fatal delusion of a character. . . . 7).
The twofold situation in Antigone involves the audience’s knowledge of what happens between Antigone and Polynices prior to the time of the drama, when the brother requests that the sister assure his corpse of burial at the time of his death, mindful of the penalty to be paid if the body remained unburied. Also it involves, as Watling describes: “listening to a tragedy somewhat in the attitude of a Christian audience at Nativity or Passion play, familiar with the accepted version of the story. . . .(12).
The drama begins with Antigone inviting Ismene outside the palace doors to tell her privately: “What, hath not Creon destined our brothers, the one to honoured burial, the other to unburied shame?” Antigone’s offer to Ismene (“Wilt thou aid this hand to lift the dead?) is quickly rejected, so that Antigone must bury Polynices by herself....