Poetic irony, or poetic justice, is a literary device which creates the image of an ideal form justice. It often occurs at the end of the novel or a play where the characters end with what is rather expected of them from the eyes of the reader. It is generally revealed or brought about by an ironic twist of fate, or “cosmic irony.” It gives the reader the feeling that “fate” has intervened and everything fell into place as it should have just as the reader or viewer may have thought the character was going to get away with their misdeeds.
In these situations, bad characters in the novel are rewarded with punishment that amounts to their deeds while the good characters are equally rewarded with what can be said as an ironic twist of fate, with good. It shows how literature can be used to convey moral lessons to society. This device is used by the writer to confirm with the moral principle in the society.
The phrase “poetic justice” was coined by Thomas Rymer, an English literary critic, in “The tragedies of the Last Age Considered” in 1678. According to Thomas, tragedy was to be changed how it was written. He was of the view that characters of moral decay be punished and those of good deeds to be rewarded. He saw the idea of plots having a moral lesson to pass on to the society.
Rymer critics were not limited to specific writers; he went ahead to critics Shakespeare on his novel Othello. Though with little support back then, poetic justice has taken shape over the decades, and many writers have employed it, including Shakespeare. His critics were at the times when the role of literature was that of providing a moral lesson to the reading population. Poetic justice was vital in encouraging people to remain morally upright to receive good rewards later in life.
Examples of poetic justice are typical in the current society and also in novels. For instance, in William Shakespeare’s King Lear, evil characters-Regan, Oswald, Goneri, and Edmund- are seen as thriving through the play. The good ones-Kent, Cordella, Lear, Gloucester, and Edgar go through suffering and disguise. The good character prayers are unanswered even after turning to God. At the end of the play all evil characters are punished for their deeds. Gordelia dies in prison, and Lear is overpowered by the grief of losing her daughter and dies. Edgar murders Edmund and Goneri kill her sister Regan by poisoning her.
In Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble enjoys torturing orphans. In the end, he and his wife become so poor that they live in the warehouse they once owned.
Poetic Justice definition in literature adheres to the universal code of morality that keeps society fabric. It stretches readers, also, develop the point that morality deserves commendation while evil is always punished.
Emotional feeling to the good characters that make them follow through the novel or play. Hence poetic justice offers relaxation and resolution.