What are three examples of dramatic irony in "The Cask of Amontillado"?

Three examples of dramatic irony in "The Cask of Amontillado" include:

  • the carnival scene where Montresor fabricates a story about Amontillado wine. The reader knows that he is manipulating Fortunato, who is completely unaware of Montresor's true intentions;
  • when Montresor feigns concern for Fortunato's health and suggests that they leave the vaults; and
  • when Montresor toasts to Fortunato's long life.

In each instance, Fortunato fails to recognize that Montresor is plotting his demise.

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In some ways, almost the entire story can be seen as an example of dramatic irony. This kind of irony is created when the reader or audience knows something that one or more characters do not. Montresor tells his audience immediately that he never threatened Fortunato but, rather, allowed the man to believe that he had no "cause to doubt [Montresor's] good will." Thus, we know a great deal more than Fortunato—that Montresor is actively plotting Fortunato's "immolation" for example—throughout almost the whole story.

When Montresor says that Fortunato is clearly busy and that he will go to see Luchesi instead, this creates dramatic irony because we know that Montresor has been searching for Fortunato specifically and will not seek out another local wine expert.

When Montresor explains that he had told his servants "not to stir from the house" and that he would not be home all night, he knows that this will "insure their immediate disappearance"; we know something that the servants don't, creating dramatic irony.

When Montresor says that the "gait of [his] friend was unsteady" due to alcohol, this creates dramatic irony because we know that he does not see Fortunato as a friend.

When Montresor offers Fortunato some Medoc as a "proper caution" against the cold and the nitre, we know that he is not actually concerned for Fortunato's health but is actually getting him drunk in order to manipulate him more easily.

In the end, however, one could argue that a different dramatic irony is created. Early on, Montresor said that one of his requirements for revenge is that he exact it with impunity, without incurring any negative consequences for himself. He now says that, when he went to fit the final brick into the wall that would imprison Fortunato, he "struggled with its weight." He has just erected an entire wall of these bricks, so it seems unlikely that he would just now struggle with one unless something else besides physical weakness were causing the struggle. Perhaps he feels guilty, making it hard to place the final brick.

After Montresor places the final brick, he says, "My heart grew sick—on account of the dampness." Again, though, the dampness hasn't bothered him this whole time, so why would it bother him now? Perhaps, again, his heart feels sick because his conscience is burdened by his deed. Further, the fact that he's telling this story some "half of a century" after the events could also indicate that he's been carrying around some guilt. If this is the case, then he has NOT achieved impunity—the burden of guilt is a negative consequence—and thus did not truly achieve his revenge, though he does not seem to realize this. Thus, dramatic irony is created here as well.

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Dramatic irony occurs throughout Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" as Montresor cleverly manipulates his enemy Fortunato as part of his malicious revenge plot. One example of dramatic irony takes place when Montresor runs into Fortunato at the carnival and begins to manipulate his pride. Montresor fabricates a story regarding his recent purchase of the rare Amontillado and says that he is on his way to consult Luchesi about its authenticity. This is considered dramatic irony because the reader is aware that Montresor is playing on Fortunato's "weak point" while Fortunato has no clue that he is being manipulated. Fortunato thinks that Montresor is his friend, foolishly believes his story, and insists on following him to his family's catacombs.

Another example of dramatic irony takes place within the vaults when Fortunato begins to cough excessively. Montresor feigns concern for his health and begs him to return. Fortunato responds by commenting that his cough is nothing and says that he will not die of a cough. Montresor replies to Fortunato's comment by saying, "True—true." This is an example of dramatic irony because the reader knows that Montresor is not worried about Fortunato's health and plans on possibly murdering him. Fortunato is completely unaware of Montresor's malevolent intentions and believes that Montresor is being a sincere, concerned friend.

A third example of dramatic irony takes place shortly after Fortunato's coughing fit when he raises his drink and toasts to Montresor's deceased ancestors. Dramatic irony occurs when Montresor toasts to Fortunato's "long life." Once again, the reader is aware that Montresor wishes ill on Fortunato and plots his demise. However, Fortunato is too intoxicated and focused on tasting the Amontillado to recognize Montresor's evil intentions.

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Dramatic irony occurs when characters in a story are unaware of things known by the reader, thereby creating suspense or humor. In the case of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," we know from the very first paragraph that Montresor, the narrator, seeks vengeance for the unspecified "thousand injuries" inflicted upon him by Fortunato. However, Fortunato remains blissfully oblivious to Montresor's malice until the end of the tale, meaning that many of the two characters' statements take on different meanings when viewed from the perspective of Fortunato or from the perspective of readers. Here are three examples:

When Montresor first brings up the cask, he tells Fortunato, "My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature." Fortunato accepts this compliment blindly, but readers know that Montresor is lying through his teeth.

Shortly thereafter, the two have this conversation:

"Enough," he said; "the cough's a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough."

"True—true," I replied . . .

Here, Montresor's agreement that the cough won't be fatal sounds to Fortunato like simple acknowledgement. Yet readers understand that Montresor knows the cough won't kill Fortunato, because Montresor plans to kill Fortunato long before the disease has time to turn deadly!

A third example occurs when Montresor describes his coat of arms, "A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel." Fortunato takes the statement at face-value as a factual description of the Montresor family crest. But readers know that Montresor believes that he represents the foot stomping upon the snake that is Fortunato, an inference supported by a Latin motto that translates to "no one attacks me with impunity." Moreover, in a second layer of irony, readers know that Montresor is obsessed and murderous. In all likelihood, they see Montresor, not Fortunato, as the treacherous serpent biting at the heel.

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"The Cask of Amontillado" is shaped by the dramatic irony that is created out of its very first two paragraphs. Here we learn that Poe's narrator (Montresor) desires vengeance against Fortunato and also that he has kept Fortunato himself ignorant of his malice. That is the main dramatic irony that drives this story, with most of its examples serving as an expression of that tension.

This story's action takes place during the carnival, where both Montresor and Fortunato are established as wine connoisseurs. Montresor runs into his enemy and expresses that he has recently acquired Amontillado (though he confesses that he is unconvinced of its authenticity). Reading this conversation, with the knowledge of Montresor's vengeful intentions, one can get a sense by which Poe's narrator is manipulating Fortunato, using the wine as a lure to entice his enemy into whatever trap he has designed. All the while, Fortunato takes Montresor entirely at his will, not suspecting that he has malicious intentions.

When they come to Montresor's home, you can observe another example of dramatic irony, this time involving Montresor's servants:

There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry in honour of the time. I had told them that I should not return until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was turned.

These unseen servants have no suspicion as to the true purpose of Montresor's instructions, which is to remove them from the premises, giving him have free reign to enact his revenge. Meanwhile, there is also Fortunato to consider, who remains not the least bit suspicious about the lack of servants as he continues to walk into Montresor's trap.

As one final example, after they enter into the catacombs, Fortunato starts coughing. At this point, Montresor suggests they turn back:

"Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back; your health is precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible..."

Knowing what we do about Montresor and his intentions, these words are yet another act of manipulation on Montresor's part (a manipulation of which Fortunato himself remains ignorant). Again, Montresor's malice continues to express itself, while Fortunato remains entirely ignorant to these sinister interactions.

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The essence of dramatic irony is that something is not understood by a character in the play or story which is understood by the audience or the reader. There is nothing that Montresor does not understand, so it must be Fortunato who is the target of dramatic irony. There are many examples of this. 

Fortunato is wearing a jester's costume when Montresor encounters him on the street celebrating the carnival. Montresor says, "How remarkably well you are looking to-day." The reader knows Montresor thinks Fortunato looks like a fool and that this is appropriate because he intends to make a fool of Fortunato. 

Fortunato does not know how truthfully he himself is speaking when Montresor urges him to turn back and he responds:

“Enough,” he said; “the cough's a mere nothing; it will not kill me. I shall not die of a cough.”

“True—true,” I replied...

The reader knows full well that Fortunato is going to die, but not of a cold or a cough.

A good example of dramatic irony occurs when Montresor tells Fortunato he is also a mason. Fortunato asks for a sign.

“It is this,” I answered, producing from beneath the folds of my roquelaire a trowel.

Fortunato will not understand that Montresor has lured him down here with the intention of murdering him, but the reader understands this all along. When Fortunato sees the trowel he is surprised but he does not understand why Montresor should be carrying it. At this point the reader understands that the trowel will be used as part of the murder plot, but the reader does not yet understand exactly what Montresor intends to do to his victim. Montresor is acting with such brazenness because he is a little bit drunk and because he knows he already has Fortunato at his mercy. Fortunato is unarmed, while Montresor has a rapier. Fortunato is totally drunk and could not defend himself. He is already as good as dead.

Poe's use of irony is subtle because the reader knows what is going to happen but does not understand exactly how it is going to happen until it actually happens. Montresor finally makes his intentions obvious to the reader at the point where he says:

A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite. In its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the other a padlock. 

Another example of dramatic irony which runs throughout the story is that Fortunato is eager to taste the Amontillado and the reader knows--or at least is very sure--that this cask of Amontillado does not exist. Fortunato probably has no intention of telling Montresor the truth if he finds that the Amontillado is genuine. He is only interested in the wine because Montresor says he got a bargain. Fortunato would like to buy some for himself. We know he is thinking of putting on a show of tasting the wine, making the facial expressions of a connoisseur, trying another sop, and finally shaking his head and telling Montresor that it is only ordinary sherry. He intends to fool Montresor--but he has fooled him too many times in the past, and this time, as the reader knows, Montresor is going to fool Fortunato. Perhaps the greatest dramatic irony is that Fortunato is chasing after an enormous cask of gourmet wine which does not even exist.

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