In this post, we define dramatic irony and suggest when and why you should use it in your stories.
What Is Dramatic Irony?
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica 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.’
The readers or viewers are aware of events and facts that differ substantially from that of the characters’ in a work of fiction. Audiences know secrets that are hidden from one or more of the characters.
The characters are obviously at a disadvantage because of this. Sometimes, the suspense created is so intense that audience members want to cry out to warn the characters of the dangers they are facing.
Dramatic irony was mostly used in the theatre, but it has become more common in all fictional works. It can be used in most genres, but is most often used in suspense.
Why Should I Use It?
Dramatic irony is a fabulous device if you want to involve your audience in the story.
When the audience knows more than the characters, it forces them to anticipate and fear the moment, and to hope that the character might find out the truth sooner. It creates an intense empathy with the character’s situation.
Dramatic irony makes the audience part of the story.
Examples Of Dramatic Irony
- In Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows Juliet is in a drugged sleep, but Romeo thinks she is dead and kills himself.
- In King Lear, we know that Lear’s most loyal daughter is Cordelia, but he can’t see it and trusts his other daughters instead.
- In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear thinks he is a real space ranger but the other toys and the audience knows that he is just a toy.
- In Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Birds, Melanie walks up to the closed-off attic. She is unaware that it is filled with the birds, but the audience knows they’re there.
- In Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope, the audience watches David being killed and his body hidden in a chest that is being used as a table. Then the other characters wait for him to arrive, but we know he will not be arriving.
- In Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo tries to protect Esmeralda from the gypsies. In reality, the audience understands that they are coming to save her.
- In Titanic, the audience knows that the boat will sink. This creates humour when characters remark on the safety of the ship.
Click here for more examples.
- Write a scene from the antagonist‘s viewpoint. Show that the antagonist knows much more than the protagonist, but only reveals it at the end of the scene.
- Write a scene where a character pretends to be somebody of the opposite sex.
You should use dramatic irony when you want to create suspense and increase audience participation in the story.
© Amanda Patterson
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