In “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe, Montresor seeks revenge without being punished. What Fortunato has done to Montresor, the reader never knows except that he mentions an insult and a thousand injuries. The story, narrated by the main character, is a flashback. The reader discovers at the end of the story that Montresor is confessing his crime fifty years later.
Verbal irony simply defined is when a character says one thing and means another or uses words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of the literal meaning. Verbal irony occurs when the literal meaning of what the speaker says contrasts heavily with the speaker's actual message. Almost everything in this story is ironic. However, this story is Poe’s greatest use of verbal irony.
The use of verbal irony begins with the character's names which have parallel meanings. Fortunato's name means "fortunate" in Italian which adds an additonal element of cynical humor to Fortunato's jovial and unsuspecting character.The name Fortunato is a pun on the word fortune. Montresor's name in Italian implies repression and unhappiness.
Montresor's dialogue makes particular use of verbal irony since he is aware that Fortunato has no idea what awaits him and thus will totally misinterpret Montresor's words.
Montresor tells his victim, "My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met."
Fortunato interprets these words to mean that Montresor is fond of him and is happy to see him. Montresor, on the other hand, actually despises Fortunato and is only happy to see him because Montresor can now carry out his murderous plans. Furthermore, the word "luckily" also recalls the meaning of Fortunato's name and is thus entirely unfitting for Fortunato's fate.
When Fortunato has his coughing spell, Montresor feigns concern knowing ironically that he will not die of a cough:
Ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!—ugh! ugh! ugh!”
My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes.
“It is nothing,” he said, at last.
“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. (Verbal irony)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.
“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
Other examples of verbal irony include Montresor's showing of the trowel to Fortunato to prove he is a Mason. Ironically, Montresor is about to become a mason by imprisoning Fortunato, but he is not really a Freemason.
Later, as they drink the Medoc, Fortunato drinks to the dead and buried, not realizing that he is about to join them, Montresor sardonically drinks to Fortunato's health which Montresor knows will not last for long.
There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour.
In the end, Montresor finds his revenge and in the the best ironic form tells Fortunato to rest in peace. Thus ends Poe’s delicious story of vengeance and irony.