Dramatic Irony In Hamlet

In Act 1 and 2, what are some examples of dramatic irony in Hamlet?

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Examples of dramatic irony in the first two acts of Shakespeare's Hamlet include at least the following:

  • Claudius and Gertrude assume in Act 1.2 that Hamlet is depressed because of the death of his father, but they are only partially correct.  After they question Hamlet and he launches into a soliloquy, the audience knows that he is also deeply upset about the hasty, incestuous remarriage of his mother to his uncle.  Indeed, Hamlet seems to dedicate more lines during the rest of the play to his mother's remarriage than to his father's death. This is dramatic irony, since the audience knows something the characters of Claudius and Gertrude do not.  The audience is aware long before Claudius and Gertrude are that Hamlet is extremely upset with Gertrude for marrying Claudius. 
  • The audience also knows that Hamlet is only pretending to be "mad" or insane.  He tells Horatio that he will be putting on an "antic disposition"--pretending to be mad.  Claudius spends much of the next three acts trying to find out specifically why Hamlet is mad, while the audience knows Hamlet is pretending.  This, too, is dramatic irony. 
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since dramatic irony is the kind of irony in which a character in the play thinks one thing is so, but the audience or reader knows better, scenes involving Polonius serve as having dramatic irony:

  • When Polonius speaks with his son Laertes, who is about to return to France, the father gives advice to his son.  But, buried in conversation are the themes honest vs. deceit and love vs. betrayal as, after Laertes leaves, Polonius instructs Reynaldo to spy on his son. (Act I,sc.3)
  • In his conversation with Ophelia, as well, Polonius is deceitful.  While he questions her about Hamlet, he does shown concern for his daughter's feeling; however, he later informs the king that after Hamlet is mad based upon what Ophelia has told him.  Polonius, then, arranges for Claudius and himself to betray Ophelia's trust by spying on her with Hamlet. (Act II)
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