What is Dramatic Irony? Definition, Examples of Literary Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony definition: Dramatic irony is a type of irony that exists when the audience knows something regarding the plot that the characters do not know.

What is Dramatic Irony?

What does dramatic irony mean? Dramatic irony is a type of irony.

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters do not.

Consider a horror film: The audience might know that the “killer” is in the room, but the character does not know. Consequently, the character enters the room with the killer.

This is dramatic irony. If the character knew of the killer’s presence, he would not enter the room. The dramatic irony creates suspense for the audience.

Dramatic Irony vs. Situational and Verbal Irony

Dramatic irony literary definition Dramatic irony exists when the audience knows something the characters do not. Situational irony and verbal irony are also types of irony. However, they differ from dramatic irony.

What is Situational Irony?

Situational irony exists when there is a contradiction between what is expected and what actually occurs.

Example of Situational Irony:

  • The firehouse burns down.

This is situational irony because one would not expect the firehouse to ever burn down. In fact, that is perhaps the opposite of the expectation. Therefore, there is a contradiction between what is expected (firehouse to remain standing and well-protected) and what actually occurs (firehouse burns down).

Please note, situational irony and coincidence are not the same thing. Coincidence is a completely accidental event and does not require an expectation. For situational irony to exist, there must be an expectation that is contradicted.

What is Verbal Irony?

Dramatic irony examples Verbal irony exists when there is a contradiction between what someone says and what someone actually means. There is a contrast between the literal and the figurative meaning. Sarcasm, overstatement, and understatement are types of verbal irony.

Example of Verbal Irony:

  • I was thrilled when my date spilled his wine on my dress.

This is verbal irony because the meaning (or intention) of this statement is actually the opposite. Clearly, the speaker is not thrilled that this occurred.

Sometimes, verbal irony is written in italics to demonstrate an emphasis in speech, denoting the figurative intent.

The Function of Dramatic Irony

What is a dramatic irony Dramatic irony serves to add suspense and interest to a text. When the audience knows something the characters do not, interest is piqued. The audience does not know how its insight will affect the course of the text.

Dramatic irony offers a “window” to the plot that makes the audience members feel connected to the text.

Knowing information that characters do not does not mean the plot is a giveaway. On the contrary—knowing additional information usually encourages the audience to be more involved in a text instead of turned away.

Examples of Dramatic Irony in Literature

Dramatic irony meaning Dramatic irony does not only occur in plays (dramas), but it functions very well in plays. This is because there is a live audience who can react to the particular insight that dramatic irony provides.

Example of Dramatic Irony:

Act 2 of Hamlet offers dramatic irony.

Hamlet concocts an idea to see if his uncle murdered his father. This involves a “play within a play” where the players will act out the murder as Hamlet believe it occurred.

Hamlet states, “The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.”

King Claudius (Hamlet’s uncle) is not privy to this plot, whereas the audience is. The audience waits in suspense to see how Hamlet’s plan will play out.

This does not mean that the audience knows the course of the plot. In other words, the audience is not aware of how their additional information (provided by dramatic irony) will affect the rest of the text. Rather, dramatic irony creates intrigue.


Define dramatic irony: the definition of dramatic irony is a type of irony that occurs the reader or audience know something that the characters in the story do not know.

In summary, dramatic irony:

  • is a type of irony
  • occurs when the audience knows something that a character or characters do not
  • creates suspense and interest in a text