The Three Kinds of Irony

Irony, which dates back to the ancient works of Plato, is often used as a comedic, rhetorical, or literary device. It refers to words being used to convey something different from their literal meaning or an event’s outcome being different from the expected results. It is a common literary technique that is frequently used in theatre and books. Some of Shakespeare’s works also feature irony. In order to understand irony as it is used in speech and writing, it is important to know the incongruity between actions and their meaning and words and their meaning. The three kinds of irony most commonly used are: dramatic irony, situational irony, and verbal irony. Writers and readers who understand these different types of irony are able to identify them and use them easily.

Dramatic Irony

This type of irony, also called tragic irony, is very common in plays. It is also frequently used by writers to keep readers captivated by creating incongruity between the action that will unfold and the character’s present situation. In dramatic irony, a character in a play doesn’t know that his words or actions reveal the play’s real situation. Often, the spectators know more than the characters in the play. When used as a literary tool, it gives the reader a superior position and encourages his hopes, fears, and curiosity regarding when and if the characters will discover the truth about the situations and events in the story. Dramatic irony is best portrayed in “Oedipus Rex” where the audience already knows that Oedipus has murdered his father and married his mother. Oedipus, unaware of this, condemns himself to death without knowing that he is the main cause of the problems in his kingdom. He confidently tells his brother-in-law that someone who has committed such gravely sins and still expects mercy from the gods is simply foolish. Both the audience and reader understand the entire situation better than he does. Another example of dramatic irony is displayed in Shakespeare’s play “Merchant of Venice” where the audience is aware that Lancelot is deceiving his father, that Nerissa and Portia are actually Balthazar and his clerk, and that Jessica dresses as a boy.

Situational Irony

In situational irony, events come together in a surprising and unexpected way. In this case, the outcome is inconsistent with what is expected. Situational irony is also called irony of events and is generally viewed as a situation with sharp contrasts and contradictions. In literature, situational irony builds up tension in a story. Writers frequently use it in literature as it is subtle and builds upon a story’s events as compared to a single ironic sentence. An example of situational irony is a man who steps away from a water hose because he doesn’t want to get wet then ends up falling in a swimming pool. Another example is that of a traffic policeman who gets his license suspended because of unpaid parking tickets.

Verbal Irony

This type of irony is closely connected to sarcasm. It is the most widely used form of irony. In its simplest form, it involves two people having a conversation unlike other forms of irony which require a “third” party to interpret the ironic situations. In verbal irony, a person speaks words meant to express the opposite of what he’s saying. Verbal irony is very easy to incorporate into different forms of writing. For it to be most effective, timing is everything. If it comes too late or too early in a conversation, is spoken in an inappropriate circumstance, or is not accompanied by the correct tone, it can be considered offensive or confusing. An example of verbal irony is a person who mistakenly steps in a big puddle of water while walking with his friend. His friend seeing this, smiles and helps him out saying, “You must be the luckiest person in the world.” This comment will be seen as ironic and funny by both people and the two friends will probably laugh the mishap off. Verbal irony requires an understanding of timing, attitude, and circumstance.

Irony, in its many forms, is commonly used in literature, science, history, nature, and life. It helps audiences to recognize meanings without simply making assumptions. The three kinds of irony are excellent tools for illustrating points better. They give readers the ability to think and help audiences in a play to understand the deeper meaning of the play. And contrary to what some song writers might have you believe, rain on your wedding day is in no way ironic.

This post was written by a guy who is obsessed with irony. So obsessed, in fact, that he’s started a few websites about it including the website linked to above.

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