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This often creates intense suspense and humor. It is a literary device by which the audience’s or reader’s understanding of events or individuals in a work surpasses that of its characters. Dramatic irony is most often associated with the theatre, but examples of it can be found in literary and performing arts.
Dramatic irony is common in works of tragedy. In the movie “Lion King”, we all know that Scar is responsible for Mufasa’s death but Simba believes it was his fault. With that, he ran away and carried the burden ‘til he grows up.
Western writers whose works are traditionally cited for their use of dramatic irony include William Shakespeare, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding, Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy, and Henry James, and a lot more. Dramatic irony can also be found in such works as O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi” and Anton Chekhov’s story “Lady with the Dog.”
Dramatic irony can serve a wide variety of purposes. First of all, it is an excellent tool in both tragedy and comedy because it can create suspense or sharpen a story’s emotional appeal, but it can also lead to a series of comical misunderstandings. It can make the audience feel as though they are in a privileged position of knowledge or understanding, compared to the ignorance of the characters. But it can also make them feel helpless as they watch events roll to their inevitable and tragic conclusion. More generally, dramatic irony shows that all perspectives are partial and limited and that nothing is ever as it seems.
- The audience knows that a killer is hiding in the closet, but the girl in the horror movie does not.
- The reader knows that a storm is coming, but the children playing on the playground do not.
Examples in Literature:
– Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
One of the earliest and most famous examples of dramatic irony takes place in Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. The play describes King Oedipus’s attempts to find and punish the man who murdered the former King Laius. Oedipus often speaks out vehemently against the murderer, as, for example, when he says:
Now my curse on the murderer. Whoever he is,
a lone man unknown in his crime
or one among many, let that man drag out
his life in agony, step by painful step—
What Oedipus doesn’t know is that he himself murdered King Laius, and that he is inadvertently cursing himself. Although this revelation is hinted at here and throughout the play, it isn’t made explicit until much later. However, because ancient Greek plays often told mythological stories whose plots were already well-known to all theatre-goers, the audience would certainly have known the secret of Oedipus’s identity, and his words would have rung with a double meaning informed by dramatic irony.
-Macbeth by William Shakespeare
“There’s no art
To find the mind’s construction in the face:
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.”
This is one of the best examples of dramatic irony. In this case, Duncan says that he trusts Macbeth, not knowing about the prophecy of witches that Macbeth is going to be the king, and that he would kill him. The audience, on the other hand, knows about the prophecy.
The Horror Film Halloween
In this movie, a killer hides in the Wallace house and murders every teenager that enters, one by one. The audience quickly realizes that anyone who enters the house is doomed, but the kids themselves suspect nothing and walk naïvely into the trap. Their ignorance, coupled with the audience’s knowledge of their certain deaths, creates an extended, nail-biting sense of dramatic irony.
Dramatic Irony Worksheets
This bundle contains 10 ready-to-use Dramatic Irony worksheets that are perfect to test student knowledge and understanding of Dramatic irony which occurs when the audience or readers know more about a situation than the character does.
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