Verbal Irony In Romeo And Juliet Act 2

What is an example of verbal irony in Act II of Romeo amd Juliet?

I can find lots of examples of dramatic and situational irony in ACT II, but verbal irony is a challenge.

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2 Answers

andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In verbal irony, a character, intentionally or unintentionally, says the opposite of what he or she really means. The most common form of such irony is found in sarcasm. Verbal irony can also be seen in exaggeration, overstatement or understatement. An example might be "Thanks for being so early," when the person being addressed is obviously late. The irony would only be understood if the context in which it is used is clear to the reader. 

One example of verbal irony can be found in line 112 of scene lV, when Mercutio speaks to the nurse. She has been sent by Juliet to seek a reply from Romeo about their plan to wed. When Mercutio sees the nurse, he makes fun of her and says, in part:

God you good e’en, fair gentlewoman. 
He sarcastically refers to the nurse as a "fair gentlewoman" when he knows that she is neither. He had, prior to his comment, remarked that her fan was more attractive than her and later makes bawdy and rude comments about her.
mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet does, indeed, contain much dramatic irony as the audience is often aware of things about which characters are unknowledgeable. However, in the search for verbal irony, the reader must look to Mercutio for such lines. In Act II Scene 1, for instance,  Benvolio and Mercutio seek Romeo, who has separated from them at the party since he has sought the affections of Juliet.  In this act, Romeo scales the Capulet walls in order to catch sight of Juliet.  Meanwhile, while Benvolio calls for his cousin Romeo, the droll Mercutio tries to lure Romeo by calling out Rosalind's name and by teasing him about Rosalind.  When he does, Benvolio scolds him, saying that Romeo will be angry.  Mercutio replies,

This cannot anger him. 'Twould anger him

To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjur'd it down.
That were some spite; my invocation
Is fair and honest: in his mistress’ name,
I conjure only but to raise up him.(2.1.25-31)

Here Mercutio definds his mocking of Romeo by saying that Romeo would only be angry if he were to insult Rosaline.  But, since this is subtly what Mercutio is really doing, Mercutio is being ironic. 

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