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Dramatic Irony Definition: when the audience is aware of a situation in the plot, but the characters are not

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is used to enhance hidden meanings in dialogue or actions by characters, since the audience understands there is more going on than the characters themselves do. This knowledge can create an atmosphere of suspense, or even comedy. The characters who are unaware of the underlying truth of a situation will seemingly act inappropriately or even stupidly, because they do not know the true intentions of other characters, or the real events that have occurred in the plot. Their misunderstandings can lead to more conflict and a sense of tragedy for the audience or reader. For example, when Brutus is trying to decide whether or not to join the conspiracy against Caesar in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, he receives several letters seemingly written by citizens of Rome, begging him to subvert Caesar’s power. This ultimately is what pushes Brutus to finally join the conspiracy, but the audience knows that those letters were written by Cassius, a greedy senator who wants to destroy Caesar and gain some of his power.

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Notable Dramatic Irony Examples in Literature

Be sure to check out our article, Three Types of Irony!

Learn more about various devices in literature in our Picture Encyclopedia of Literary Elements!
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