10 Examples of Irony in Shakespeare

Examples of Irony in Shakespeare

Shakespeare is one of the prevailing masters of irony – he uses dramatic, situational, and verbal irony in such a way that few others have been able to replicate. Truly, when one talks about irony, if they do not talk about Shakespeare, it is a crime against literature. Here are some of his best examples:

Dramatic Irony

Romeo and Juliet

“For fear of that, I still will stay with thee,
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again. Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chamber maids.”

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo finds Juliet in a drugged sleep, he assumes her to be dead, and kills himself. However, Juliet was not dead. Upon awakening to find her dead lover beside her, Juliet then kills herself. It is also ironic that many people think of this story as being romantic, when it is actually a tragedy.

Othello

“Why the wrong is but a wrong i’ th’ world, and
having the world for your labor, ’tis a wrong in your
own world, and you might quickly make it right.”

Othello blames Desdemona for cuckholding him, but the audience knows that she has been truthful. Iago lied to Othello about Desdemona’s infidelity.

Macbeth

“Duncan is in his grave.
After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.
Treason has done his worst; nor steel nor poison,
Malice domestic, foreign levy, nothing
Can touch him further.”

In Macbeth, the title character plans the murder of Duncan, while feigning loyalty to him. Duncan does not know what Macbeth plans, but the audience does – and may want to warn him!

The Tempest

“O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!”

In The Tempest, Miranda does not know that Gonzalo is with her on the island, but both her father and the audience do know that he is there.

Verbal Irony

Julius Caesar

“Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
and Brutus is an honorable man”

This quote, spoken by Julius Caesar himself, is an example of irony because, at this time in the play, the audience (and certain members of the cast) know the Brutus is not honorable at all – he too is planning to stab Caesar on the Ides of March.

Romeo and Juliet

“I will not marry yet; and, when I do, I swear
it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,
rather than Paris”

You knew there was a reason so many teachers use this play in high school – it is filled with all types of irony. In this scene, Juliet confuses her mother with her speech. She says that she is not ready to marry yet, but she is quite literally preparing herself to be wed that night.

Hamlet

“A little more than kin, and less than kind.”

These are the very first words that the audience hears Hamlet say – and it is ironic. He is talking about his uncle, who is also now his step father – a little more than kin. When he says “less than kind,” it is ironic because his uncle is the one who killed his father.

Situational Irony

Romeo and Juliet

“Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Going into the story of Romeo and Juliet, most people think that they will hear a love story. However, in a situationally ironic turn, the story they hear is actually a tragedy – they hear the story of how two young teenagers lost their lives.

Macbeth

“My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise

“And nothing is but what is not.”

Macbeth kills Duncan to gain power and the throne, thinking it would make him happy. However, he finds that he has to keep murdering and killing in order to keep the power that he has achieved. Eventually, Macbeth’s people despise him, and he despises his people.

Antony and Cleopatra

“Let Rome in Tiber melt, and the wide arch
Of the ranged empire fall!”

This example from one of Shakespeare’s most beloved plays is ironic because that is exactly what Antony has to do – give up his empire. However, when it comes time for him to actually give it up, he is hesitant to do so, which starts a whole bunch of trouble for the pair.

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