This article explores some aspects of how Sophoclean irony works. I begin by looking at one set of words across Sophocles' extant tragedies, a vocabulary which has not been discussed adequately by critics, namely, the language of lusis, "release," "undoing." This group of terms (lusis, luein, lutêrion, ekluein and so forth) constructs a systematic view of the failure of human hopes for control over narrative, a failure that goes to the heart of Sophocles' view of human action. The hope or proclamation of a solution in Sophocles turns out again and again to be ironically undercut. The second section of the article explores the standard model of dramatic irony, at one level implicit in this analysis of lusis. In the standard model of dramatic irony, the audience recognizes what the characters on stage cannot: the spectators understand and see the meanings concealed from the actors. Here, I investigate four limit cases where an audience cannot be certain how ironic the tragic language is: the very recognition of irony becomes unstable (and with it the secure position of the audience). This analysis focuses on apparently functional and everyday remarks, where the passing-whether humans or words-may shift from the accidental or circumstantial into the realm of significance. Bringing together the two sections, the irony of lusis and the analysis of irony, raises finally a question about tragic ambivalence-one of the most heatedly debated issues in contemporary criticism of tragedy-and the relation between tragic ambivalence and tragic politics.


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pp. 21-52
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