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Dramatic Irony

Dramatic Irony Definition

A plot device to create situations where the reader knows much more about the episodes and the resolutions before the chief character or characters. 

Dramatic irony is a stylistic device that is most commonly used by storytellers, in plays, in the theater, and in movies.

For example, the reader may be already aware that a character is relying on deceitful characters, is making suicidal decisions, or is going to be killed, but the particular character and some other characters may not know these facts. The actions and words of characters will therefore mean different things to readers and audiences from what they mean to story and play characters. As a speech device, dramatic irony is used to embellish, emphasize, and to convey moods and emotions more effectively.

Important Uses of Dramatic Irony

This form of irony is considered by many writers as a potent tool for exciting and sustaining the interest of readers and audiences. The irony creates a big contrast between the immediate situation of the character and the episodes that will follow, and therefore, generating curiosity.

By allowing the reader and audience to know more things ahead of the characters, the irony puts the reader and audience superiorly above the characters and encourages them to hope, to fear, and anticipate the moment when the character would find out the truth behind the situations and events of the story.

Usually, the irony lies in the back-stories and scenes that the character is not involved in; in the misunderstandings amongst characters; and in the brazen deceptions that the readers and audiences are aware of but the characters do not know.

Dramatic irony is also used more often in the tragedies. In such stories, the readers and audiences are pushed to sympathize with the characters all the way to the tragic end. The irony is used to emphasize the fatality of limited understanding even on innocent and honest people, and to demonstrate the painful repercussions of misunderstandings. The characters in the story or play will remain ignorant about the bad fate while the reader or audience knows about the heartbreaking end.

Examples of Dramatic Irony in Literature

One of the most widely known examples of the irony comes from Oedipus Rex, a play by Sophocles in early Greece. Oedipus is blind of the facts that he has killed his blood father and committed shameful incest with his blood mother. So, when Oedipus confidently tells Creon, his brother-in-law, that only a foolish man can commit gravely sins against his family and expect mercy from the gods, both the reader and audience understand the implications of his words better than he does.
Shakespeare’s plays abound with dramatic irony.

In Merchant of Venice, the reader is aware that Lancelot is cheating his father openly; in Tempest, Prospero and the reader are aware of the presence of Gonzalo on the Island but Miranda does not.

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo finds Juliet in deep and drugged slumber, assumes her dead, kills himself ignorantly before Juliet wakes up, discovers her dead lover and kills herself.

In the Animal Farm by George Orwell, the readers are aware of much more facts than the animals. For instance, the readers know that the pigs have spent the money they got from selling Boxer to the slaughter to purchase whiskey.
Dramatic irony involves the reader, raises expectations, intensifies episodes, and propels stories forward.

If you have any questions or comments, go ahead and leave them in the comments section below.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Victoria July 29, 2013, 8:42 pm

    Can you possibly give actual quoted examples? Other then that this passage is vary helpful.

  • dasani December 2, 2013, 10:40 pm

    this site is good for studying

  • Neil March 20, 2014, 3:10 pm

    are there any examples of dramatic irony in The Shawshank Redemption? I can’t find much in this movie. please help

  • wendy chioma chinagoro May 15, 2014, 8:02 am

    u said in dramatic irony the audience knows something that the characters dont know. why should that be when the characters have studied the play and should know better than the audience

    • Hagerty English June 7, 2014, 8:57 am

      You are confusing character and audience. Characters are made up by the author to tell the story. They are alive only in the story. They are not real human beings. The audience is the living human being studying the story.

    • Megan Owens August 19, 2014, 12:41 am

      Characters, not actors.

  • Joshua Tenchavez July 23, 2014, 12:08 pm

    You make my task so easy! Thanks for your knowledge 🙂

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