Dramatic irony  

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"Little did he know, that this simple, seemingly innocuous act, would result in his imminent death." --Stranger than Fiction (2006)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Tragic (or dramatic) irony occurs when a fictional character is ignorant, but the audience watching knows his or her eventual fate, as in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet.

In drama, the device of giving the spectator an item of information that at least one of the characters in the narrative is unaware of (at least consciously), thus of placing the spectator a step ahead of at least one of the characters. Dramatic irony involves three stages: installation, exploitation and resolution.

For example:

  • In City Lights, we know that Charles Chaplin's character is not a millionaire, but the blind flower girl (Virginia Cherill) does not.
  • In Cyrano de Bergerac, we know that Cyrano loves Roxane and that he is the real author of the letters that Christian is writing to the young woman; Roxane is unaware of this.
  • In North by Northwest, we know that Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is not Kaplan; Vandamm (James Mason) and his acolytes do not. We also know that Kaplan is a fictitious agent invented by the CIA; Roger and Vandamm do not.
  • In Oedipus the King, we know that Oedipus himself is the murderer that he is seeking; Oedipus, Creon and Jocasta do not.
  • In Othello, we know that Desdemona has been faithful to Othello, but he doesn't. We also know that Iago is pulling the strings, a fact hidden from Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and Roderigo.
  • In Pygmalion, we know that Eliza is a woman of the street; Higgins's family does not.
  • In Titanic, we know that the ocean liner is going to hit an iceberg and sink, but the passengers and crew cannot know this.

See also

See irony




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Dramatic irony" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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