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There are plenty of ways that writers, both of books and of plays, can keep their audience engaged and interested as the plot develops and the story moves forward. One of the most commonly used techniques is dramatic irony. We’re here to answer the question “what is dramatic irony?” and to share a few dramatic irony examples from literature and film to inspire your next creative project.

Definitions: What Is Dramatic Irony?

Let’s start with a quick dramatic irony definition. The best way to describe dramatic irony is that it’s a plot device where the audience knows crucial information that the character doesn’t. Thanks to this extra knowledge, everything the character says or does means something completely different to the audience. It’s the perfect way for a writer to build suspense or add some humor to the story.

The dramatic irony definition in literature is really no different to that of movies, but it’s often harder to write this into a story that the audience isn’t visually seeing. For example, in a horror movie, we may see the killer going into the bedroom mere seconds before the main character runs in there, thinking they’re safe. Yet we as the audience know something they don’t: That the killer is already inside.

That type of suspense is often used in both plays and films, as characters are constantly entering and exiting while the audience stays in one place. It can be difficult to convey in written form, but it’s definitely possible. 

Not only was he the world’s best-known playwright, Shakespeare was also the king of dramatic irony. In Othello, Iago’s deception of Othello is incredibly clear just from reading the story. The audience sees Iago for who he really is, while Othello continues to trust him completely (he even refers to him as “honest Iago”). It’s one of the best examples of dramatic irony in literature.

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Examples of Dramatic Irony

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

When Snow White eats the apple handed to her by the witch, we as the audience know that it has been cursed and is poisoned. We can only sit by and helplessly watch her take a bite, sending her into an unending sleep.

Jaws

Arguably one of the most famous dramatic irony examples in movies that there’s ever been, Jaws is a never-ending ride of suspense and anticipation. There are several moments throughout the film in which the audience is aware of the shark, while the protagonists have no clue what’s ahead. It’s enough to make you grasp the edge of your seat for a good few hours!

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

When it comes to dramatic irony examples in literature, Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is full of it. Quasimodo’s attempts to protect Esmerelda from the gypsies—thinking that they’re coming to hurt her rather than save her—is one of the tensest moments in the story.

Other Types of Irony

You probably feel that you have a good understanding from those examples of irony, but there are a couple of other types of irony that you might want to keep in mind as you start writing.

Situational irony happens when there is a difference between what the characters expect to happen in a specific situation and what actually happens. Plot twists and unexpected character revelations are good examples of this type of irony.

Verbal irony, on the other hand, is when a speaker says something that’s the opposite to the truth, whether a real truth or of how they’re feeling. It’s the one that most audiences are familiar with, since we come across this type of irony much more often in our real lives. Sarcasm and overstatements or understatements are usually how this plays out in literature and film.

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