Dramatic Irony

Definition of Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is an important stylistic device that is commonly found in plays, movies, theaters, and sometimes in poetry. Storytellers use this irony as a useful plot device for creating situations in which the audience knows more about the situations, the causes of conflicts, and their resolutions before the leading characters or actors. That is why readers observe that the speech of actors takes on unusual meanings.

For instance, the audience knows that a character is going to be murdered, or will make a decision to commit suicide; however, one particular character or others may not be aware of these facts. Hence, the words and actions of the characters would suggest a different meaning to the audience from what they indicate to the characters and the story. Thus, it creates intense suspense and humor. This speech device also emphasizes, embellishes, and conveys emotions and moods more effectively.

Difference Between Dramatic Irony, Situational Irony, and Verbal Irony

Whereas dramatic irony is the irony of words in which the readers and the audiences have a full understanding of the event while the characters are oblivious of it, situational irony is something happening unexpectedly as it was not envisaged before. Therefore, both are different. However, verbal irony is not dramatic as dramatic irony happens in plays and with the character himself, while verbal irony could happen with the character speaking it having full consciousness. This is the main difference between dramatic irony and verbal irony that character is unconscious in the first instance and conscious in the second.

Dramatic Irony vs. Irony

The simple irony could happen in anything; it could be a situational irony or even verbal irony. However, dramatic irony occurs only with a character speaks about what he does not know that has already happened, or that he is completely unaware of it when the audiences are fully aware of the situation. It could be verbal irony or a type of irony but it happens with a character having oblivious of the real situation.

Cosmic Irony

Cosmic irony is a type of irony in which supernatural forces are involved with human beings left to see the situation getting out of their control. It is also called chance in Thomas Hardy. The higher power involved in such a situation could be gods, goddesses, fate, supernatural forces, or cosmic working of the universe having no human involvement, or the power to get involved. This is also called the irony of fate as it happens in Oedipus Rex with Oedipus unknowingly marrying his mother and murdering his father.

Historical Irony

This type of iron occurs when history is something else but has been stated as something else. It is also a type of irony in which a character has to adopt a stance in the past not to do something but has to do it due to the circumstances. This is called historical irony due to the inverse repetition of the same historical moment.

Socratic Irony

This type of irony is feigning ignorance in which a character is fully aware of the situation but feigns that they are totally ignorant. Such characters question innocently and elicit required information through responses given by others. Playing dumb is also a type of Socratic irony. It is adopted in response to the reticence of some people who would not normally concede such information.

Creating Dramatic Irony

  1. Think of your characters, their situations, and their conflicts.
  2. Decide where to make characters disclose or hide main information from other characters.
  3. Place a character in a situation where he should state what he is unaware of.
  4. If you have read Hamlet, think about him and Claudius and the situation in which such characters are placed.
  5. Create a conversation between characters to show their ignorance of the situation or information that they are disclosing.

Examples of Dramatic Irony from Literature

Example #1: Macbeth by William Shakespeare

“There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.”

This is one of the best examples of dramatic irony. In this case, Duncan says that he trusts Macbeth, not knowing about the prophecy of witches that Macbeth is going to be the king, and that he would kill him. The audience, on the other hand, knows about the prophecy. This demonstrates dramatic irony.

Example #2: There’s Something About Mary by Jonathan Richman

“I’ve done it several times before.”
“It’s no big deal.”

Jonathan Richman’s comedy movie, There’s Something About Mary, contains several instances of dramatic irony. For instance, when Ted thinks that the police have arrested him for picking up a hitchhiker, the audience knows that the police are actually interrogating him about a murder. Therefore, when Ted delivers these seemingly-innocuous lines, it is comedic to the audience.

Example #3: Othello by William Shakespeare

Othello: I think thou dost.
And for I know thou ‘rt full of love and honesty
And weigh’st thy words before thou giv’st them breath…”

This is another very good example of dramatic irony when Iago manipulates Othello, and Othello puts his faith in Iago as an honest man. However, Iago is plotting against him without his knowledge. Again, the audience knows that Iago is deceiving, but Othello does not.

Example #4: Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

“If someone knows the killer is a stranger,
from some other state, let him not stay mute…
I pray, too,
that, if he should become an honoured guest
in my own home and with my knowledge,
I may suffer all those things I’ve just called down
upon the killers.”

Oedipus Rex presents one of the best examples of the dramatic irony of all time. In the play, Oedipus seeks to expose the murderer of King Laius to solve a riddle; nonetheless, he himself is the murderer. Here, he declares that the murderer, who has killed Laius, might also kill him, not realizing the fact that he himself is the murderer.

Example #5: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

“To be able to be free from care, quite free from care; to be able to play and romp with the children; to be able to keep the house beautifully and have everything just as Torvald likes it!”

Nora is delightedly looking forward to those moments when she would be able to pay off her debts to Krogstad. This reflects that she would be free. However, her speech shows the use of dramatic irony when the readers know that her freedom is, in fact, bondage, which she comes to realize by the end of the story.

Function of Dramatic Irony

Many writers use dramatic irony as an effective tool to sustain and excite the readers’ interest. Since this form of irony creates a contrast between the situation of the characters and the episodes that unfold, it generates curiosity. By allowing the audience to know important facts ahead of the leading characters, dramatic irony puts the audience and readers above the characters, and also encourages them to anticipate, hope, and fear the moment when a character would learn the truth behind events and situations of the story.

More often, this irony occurs in tragedies, where readers are led to sympathize with leading characters Thus, this irony emphasizes the fatality of an incomplete understanding of honest and innocent people and demonstrates the painful consequences of misunderstandings.

Synonyms of Dramatic Irony

Like several other literary devices, Dramatic Irony doesn’t have direct meanings. However, some words could be close synonyms for it such as sardonicism, dryness, causticity, sharpness, acerbity, sarcasm, trenchancy, satire, derision, ridicule, sneering, and wryness. Some others could be mockery, sarkiness, and backhandedness.