Situational Irony In Romeo And Juliet

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Verbal irony is a contrast between what a character says and what the character actually means. Often, sarcasm plays a role in verbal irony. We especially see a few instances of verbal irony in Scene 1 of Act 5. One instance of verbal irony can be seen when Romeo's servant, Balthasar, brings him news about Juliet. When Romeo asks Balthasar, "How fares my Juliet? ... For nothing can be ill if she be well," Balthasar responds by saying, "Then she is well, and nothing can be ill" (V.i.14-17). The verbal irony in this phrase is that Juliet is as well as she can ever be because she is dead. In death, Juliet cannot suffer through illness or tragedy ever again; therefore, she is as well as she will ever be.

Verbal irony can be seen again after Romeo purchases poison from the apothecary. The apothecary points out that it is illegal to sell poison and that the punishment is death, but Romeo convinces him to do so any way. Romeo then ironically refers to the poison as "cordial" in the lines:

Come, cordial and not poison, go with me
To Juliet's grave; for there must I use thee. (V.i.88-89)

A cordial is a sweet liqueur or a sweet medicine. The irony in this passage is that because Romeo is using the poison to bring himself much longed for death in order to join Juliet in death, the poison is "sweet" to Romeo. Hence, it is ironic that something noxious that can bring death can be seen as sweet tasting.   

These scene also introduces situational irony. Situational irony portrays a conflict between an actual event in a story and what was expected to happen. Hence, situational irony is seen through the events in a story. The situational irony introduced in this scene is that Romeo literally does expect to lie in death with Juliet, whom he believes to be actually dead. However, we know that Juliet is not actually dead yet. Hence, the situational irony is that Romeo kills himself, or in this scene is planning to kill himself, thinking that Juliet is truly dead when she is actually still alive.

Another example of situational irony also revolves around Juliet's faked death with respect to Friar Laurence and is revealed in Scene 2 of Act 5. Friar Laurence expected to rescue Juliet and unite her to Romeo through faking her death; however, ironically, his letter detailing the plan to Romeo was never delivered to Romeo. Hence, the plan fell through and both Romeo and Juliet killed themselves for real.

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