Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is one of three types of irony used by writers. It is probably one of the most powerful types of irony because it allows the reader to create suspense, anticipation, or humor. How does it do this? Dramatic irony lets the reader or audience in on “secrets,” things that only they know about a character or a story, information the characters do not know about a situation or outcome.

A classic example of dramatic irony occurs in the opening scene of Jaws when the film scans the underwater landscape while playing suspenseful music a few minutes before the unsuspecting woman is devoured by something unseen. Want to learn more about dramatic irony? Keep reading.

What is Dramatic Irony?

Dramatic irony is one of three types of irony along with verbal and situational. Dramatic occurs when the audience or reader is aware of a situation, outcome, or character’s motivation while the characters involved are unaware. Dramatic irony is used to add humor, create suspense, or add tension in a story.

A great example of dramatic irony occurs in the first Scream movie  when Jamie Bell’s character is lying on the sofa yelling at the character on tv to look behind him to avoid being killed. The irony in this scene is that while we know there is also a killer lurking behind him and he should turn around, he is completely oblivious. The scene is an example of dramatic irony for a couple reasons. First, it adds humor to the situation. And second, there is an element of suspense and anticipation because the audience knows what is about to happen, but the character is clueless.

How to pronounce Dramatic Irony?

Dramatic Irony is pronounced “druh·ma·tuhk ai·ruh·nee.”

When do writers use Dramatic Irony?

Writers use dramatic irony when they want to create suspense, surprise, anticipation, or add humor to a scene or narrative. Dramatic irony is most commonly found in literature, plays, novels, films, and TV shows. Examples of dramatic irony are:  In a play, the audience knows when a character is in danger, but the character does not. In a novel, the reader may know the true identity of a character while the characters in the story remain in the dark. In film and TV, like the Scream example above, dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows the outcome of a situation, but the characters do not.

Useful Tips for Using Dramatic Irony in Your Writing

Irony is an incredibly useful literary device for writers to use. As with any useful tool, practice makes perfect. When working with dramatic irony, keep these useful in mind.

  • Decide what information you want your readers to know and what you wish to keep your character(s) from knowing. Then create a complex, multi-level story or narrative by letting different characters know different bits and pieces of information.
  • Generate interest by letting the reader in on things. Let the reader know more than the hero or protagonist.
  • Consider telling the story from a different point-of-view. If you would normally have your main character or hero tell the story, let your antagonist tell it instead.
  • Use ironic statements as turning points in the story that emphasize the dramatic irony.
  • Stage your ending. Decide how you want the story or narrative to end. Do you want a humorous ending or a tragic one? Make sure your ending reflects the type of ending you want and makes the dramatic irony apparent.

Dramatic Irony in Literature 📚

In literature, dramatic irony is quite common and a powerful tool for writers. Shakespeare knew this and so do other prominent writers, past and present.

One of the most classic examples of dramatic irony in literature occurs in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. By the tragic end, the reader both of the young lovers are alive, but Romeo does not. As a result, he poisons himself before Juliet wakes leading to her real death as well.

True to his craft, and ever the master, in MacBeth, Shakespeare makes the reader aware that MacBeth is planning to murder Duncan, who believes MacBeth is his friend.

Even the ancient Greeks had a flair for dramatic irony. In The Odyssey, Homer makes the reader aware that Odysseus has disguised himself to test his wife’s faith. However, Penelope and those around her are not.

Another great example occurs in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights when Heathcliff overhears Cathy say it would be degrading to marry him. The irony is that he leaves before she says that he is her soulmate so while the reader is aware that Cathy believes them to be soulmates, Heathcliff is not. This tragic misconception results in the anger and bitterness that grows to consume Heathcliff.

Dramatic Irony in Film and Pop Culture 🎥

Dramatic irony occurs when the reader or audience knows more. In film, dramatic irony is often used to create humor, tension, and suspense. Some of the most notable examples of dramatic irony in film and pop culture are in TV shows such as Friends and movies like Jaws and the Scream franchise.

Check out this great compilation of dramatic irony over the years.

See Also . . . 👥

Irony the incongruity between how things appear on the surface and what is true in reality. An example of irony is when someone asks a person with a bad case of food poisoning how they feel and that person replies, “Wow, I feel great.” The response is ironic because we know anyone suffering from a bad case of food poisoning is not going to feel great. Rather, they would most likely feel terrible.

There are three distinct types of irony: Verbal (like the example above) situational, and dramatic.