10 Irony Examples in Shakespeare

Irony in Shakespearean literature reveals the unexpected and is highly valued. William Shakespeare masterfully employed three different types of irony: dramatic, verbal, and situational, each lending its own distinctive taste to his literary works. Shakespeare often uses dramatic irony to give the audience more information than the characters. The twist reveals secrets to the readers, not the characters. Shakespeare uses verbal irony as a creative weapon. It flips the literal meaning of words. Speakers intend one thing but say another, resulting in amusing or thought-provoking outcomes. Situational irony in Shakespearean literature is when expected outcomes contradict unforeseen consequences. The plot’s twists defy expectations and keep us enthralled in Shakespeare’s world. Here are some excerpts from Shakespeare’s renowned works.

Examples of Irony in Shakespearean Literature

Example #1


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.

Macbeth’s secret intentions are revealed through dramatic irony as he considers Duncan’s death. Duncan is unaware and resting while Macbeth struggles internally. The audience has the key to the plot and they see the tragedy unfold. Macbeth’s soliloquy reveals his inner conflicts and foreshadows his treacherous path.

Example #2

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 this example, Miranda’s exclamation, “O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here!” highlights dramatic irony. She admires new arrivals on the island, seeing them as good and beautiful. The newcomers are the opposite of good, which is ironic.

Example #3

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.

The tragic finale in the above example is marked by dramatic irony. The audience knows both lovers are alive, yet Romeo and Juliet, unaware of each other’s survival, choose to end their lives with poison. The story’s beginning as a romantic tale gives way to a devastating irony, which establishes it as a timeless illustration of tragic irony.

Example #4


I essentially am not in madness, but mad in craft

The audience is captivated by the interesting web of dramatic irony in Hamlet. Hamlet, feigning madness, is the only one who knows that the king is dead. The audience understands his complex plan, creating dramatic irony in the play.

A little more than kin, and less than kind.

Here, Shakespeare masterfully employs irony from the very beginning. Hamlet’s first words artfully capture the irony of his situation. The audience instantly understands that his uncle is now both stepfather and regicide. The clever wordplay captivates the audience from the story’s beginning.

Example #5

The Winter’s Tale

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?

The example above shows irony through King Leontes’ baseless suspicions of his wife and friend’s infidelity. Hermione’s innocence is known to the audience, intensifying the king’s unwarranted accusations. Dramatic irony highlights tragic effects of suspicion.

Example #6

Julius Caesar

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

In the above lines, the repetition of “Brutus is an honorable man” serves as a brilliant example of verbal irony. Brutus’ actions contradict his claim of honor. The ironic refrain serves to emphasize the stark contrast between his professed integrity and the morally complex decisions he takes, contributing to the depth of the drama.

Example #7

The Merchant Of Venice

I never knew so young a body with so old a head.

Dramatic Irony occurs in Act 4, Scene 1 when Portia disguises herself as a young lawyer named Balthazar. The audience knows, but not the court. Doctor Bellario’s words about her youthful looks and wise mind set the stage for an intriguing twist.

Example #8

Taming Of The Shrew

Here’s no knavery. See, to beguile the old folks, how
the young folks lay their heads together!

A web of comedic irony is present in Act 1, Scene 2. Hortensio’s disguise scheme to win Bianca is met with Grumio’s irony. Grumio is unaware that Lucentio is also deceiving to woo Bianca. The play’s humor is set by the double irony that highlights the absurdity of courtly love ideals.

Example #9

Antony and Cleopatra

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

The narrative of ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is woven with irony. Antony considers letting Rome crumble for love, but becomes reluctant to give up his empire. The irony highlights the play’s central theme, the conflict between duty and passion, and adds depth to the character’s struggles.

Example #10

Much Ado about Nothing

“Will you not tell me who you are?” asks Beatrice, “No, you shall pardon me” he replies.

In this example, Shakespeare masterfully employs dramatic irony. Beatrice recognizes Benedick’s voice when she asks about the masked man’s identity. They hate each other, but hear about their hidden love, adding irony to their relationship.