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What is Dramatic irony?

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mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Irony, in general, is a contrast between what is stated and what is meant, or between what is expected to happen and what actually happens.

In particular, dramatic irony involves a contradiction between what a character thinks and what the audience or reader knows to be true.

This type of irony occurs frequently in theatrical productions and in cinematic productions. One very simple form of dramatic irony is used in the horror film industry. This is often exemplified as a young, naive woman walks down a hallway or onto a dimly lit path of some kind where the audience knows that the monstrous creature or maniacal killer hides and waits for her. 

In classical works and in modern theatrical productions, dramatic irony is frequently employed. In The Odyssey, for instance, there is dramatic irony in the scene that takes place in the swineherd's hut because Telemachus and Eumaeus do not know that the beggar is really Odysseus in disguise, but the audience does know.

In another example, there is dramatic irony in Shakespeare's Macbeth early in the play. When the second witch addresses Macbeth, "All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!" (1.3.50) Macbeth ponders,

....I know I am thane of Glamis;
But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives,
A prosperous gentleman...(1.3.72-74)

But the audience knows that King Duncan has earlier ordered the death of the Thane of Cawdor because in Scene 2 he was found to be a traitor.

No more that thane of Cawdor shall deceive
Our bosom interest: go pronounce his present death,
And with his former title greet Macbeth (1.2.63-65)

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The general term "irony" means a contrast between two things. Two kinds of irony include irony of situation and verbal irony. Irony of situation is a contrast between what is expected and what happens. For example, a consistent cheater gets cheated on. Verbal irony is a contrast between what is said and what is meant, as in a student who says "I just looooove getting up early to go to school." Of course we can tell that what he meant is nothing like what he said.

Dramatic irony is a contrast between what a character knows and what we (the readers or audience) know.

The words and actions of the characters therefore take on a different meaning for the audience or reader than they have for the play’s characters. 

Cartoons are full of dramatic irony. For example, think about a guy who has...

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jamphilips | Student

Dramatic Irony is a literature device that is used when the audience or reader knows something that the characters do not know. This often times used in plays but in prose as well. An example of this would be in William Shakespeare's Othello, where the reader/audience knows that Iago is a villain (which is revealed through his soliloquies), however, the other characters do not find this out until the end of the play. 

Yojana_Thapa | Student

Dramatic Irony is when the reader has more knowledge than the characters in a story.

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laurto | Student

Dramatic irony is the dramatic effect achieved by leading an audience to understand an incongruity between a situation and the accompanying speeches, while the characters in the play remain unaware of the incongruity. In other words, it is when the reader/ audience knows about something the character does not. 

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