In Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech, what is the dramatic irony?

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Dramatic irony is created when the audience knows more than one or more of the characters. Shakespeare employs dramatic irony in this scene because Polonius and Claudius have just arranged to have Ophelia walk around where Hamlet is sure to run into her, so they can observe the young ex-couple's interaction. Polonius has previously ordered his daughter to break off her relationship with Hamlet, and he has come to believe, since then, that unrequited love has driven the young prince mad. In an effort to verify or disprove this idea, the king and his adviser hide themselves so that they can watch Hamlet's behavior with Ophelia. Hamlet is unaware of their plan or their presence, and so this would qualify as an example of dramatic irony.

The very idea that Hamlet is thinking (rather than acting) about thinking about why we as humans don't act is a kind of dramatic irony.  We understand that Hamlet has what he perceives to be a monumental task, but as readers we are starting to get a bit frustrated...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 563 words.)

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