Examples of Irony in Shakespearean Literature

Examples of irony in Shakespearean literature

irony definition,

William Shakespeare is one of the many authors known for their use of irony in literature. His ways of inserting dramatic, situational and verbal irony into stories are so full of finesse that few other authors have been able to replicate them. These days, you don’t see many people about irony without sparing a mention for Shakespeare. Following are some of the best examples of irony from Shakespearean literature, which will be helpful if you want to understand the irony definition.

Dramatic irony

  • In Romeo and Juliet, the latter is found in a drugged sleep by Romeo. Believing instead that Juliet had died Romeo kills himself. Juliet wakes to find her lover dead beside her, and kills herself out of sadness. Another piece of irony is that many people see this as a romantic story although it is actually a tragedy.
  • In Othello, Desdemona is falsely blamed for infidelity, while the audience knows that she has been truthful to her husband.
  • In Macbeth, the protagonist plans to murder Duncan while at the same time feigning loyalty towards him. The latter is not privy to these plans, but the audience is.
  • Miranda in The Tempest is unaware of having Gonzalo for company on the island, although both her father and the audience know of this.

Verbal Irony

  • Julius Caesar in the namesake play, before being stabbed to death by conspirators including Brutus, acknowledges the latter’s honorable nature. This happens after the audience sees Brutus planning to assassinate Caesar on the Ides of March, and recognizes him as a dishonorable man.
  • Juliet in Romeo and Juliet causes her mother great confusion with her speech. She says she isn’t ready to marry yet, but contradicts that by saying she is preparing to be wed that same night.
  • Hamlet, in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, says, “A little more than kin, and less than kind.” This is ironic, because of the “less than kind” part after more than kin. Hamlet is talking about his uncle, who is both his step-father and the killer of his father.

Situational Irony

  • Romeo and Juliet is a story people expect to be a love story, until they watch the whole play and figure out that it’s actually a tragedy – two teenagers lose their lives in the story.
  • Macbeth kills King Duncan to gain the throne, but then discovers that in order to retain his position, he has to keep murdering people. This soon turns his people against him, preventing him from achieving happiness in his new position.

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