What are the Three Types of Irony in Literature

What are the Three Types of Irony in Literature

Before discussing the three types of irony, let us first look at the meaning of the term irony. Irony is a literary device where the intended meaning of words is different from the actual meaning of the words. It is the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant, what is expected and what happens, what is meant and what is understood, and what is said and what is done. The term Irony comes from the Greek eirōneia meaning simulated ignorance.

As explained by the above definition, irony can be applied to many situations and, therefore, irony can be sorted into several categories based on its function. Verbal irony, dramatic irony, situational irony, cosmic irony, Socratic irony are some of these categories. Out of these categories, three types are considered to be more important than others; they are,

  1. Verbal Irony
  2. Dramatic Irony
  3. Situational Irony

Let us now look at these three types of irony in detail.

What is Situational Irony

Situational irony refers to the discrepancy between the expected result and actual results in a certain situation. This is a situation where the expected result does not happen. In fact, this is a situation where the exact opposite of the expected happens.  For example, imagine a situation where a traffic police officer gets his license suspended for unpaid parking tickets or a situation where a marriage counselor files for divorce. In both these scenarios, there is a difference between the expectation and the reality. We expect that a marriage counselor would have a good marriage, and a traffic officer would uphold traffic laws, but what has happened is quite contrary to our expectations.

Examples of Situational Irony in Literature

The Gift of the Magi by O.Henri – The husband sells his watch to buy his wife a hair accessory. She cuts her long hair and sells it to buy him a pocket watch chain.

Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare –  Hoping to be reunited with Romeo, Juliet drinks the sleeping draught and falls into sleep. But this results in both their deaths.

The Necklace by Guy de MaupassantMathilda and her husband work for ten years to pay off the money they borrowed to replace the lost necklace. In the end, they find out that it was a fake.What are the Three Types of Irony in Literature

What is Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is a statement or a comment in which the expressed meaning is greatly different from the intended meaning. Here, the character intentionally says the opposite of what he means or feels.

Examples of Verbal Irony in Literature

Julius Caeser by Shakespeare – Mark Anthony’s speech “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honorable man.”

Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare – Juliet says to her mother “I will not marry yet; and, when I do, I swear it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, rather than Paris.”

What is Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is a situation where the audience knows more about the situation than characters. Therefore, the implication of a character’s words or actions is clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character. This is mostly used in theater and movies. For example, imagine in a situation where a person is entering his house and the killer is inside, waiting for him. We know that the killer is inside the house, but the owner of the house doesn’t.

Examples of Dramatic Irony in Literature

Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare – Romeo assumes that Juliet is dead, but the audience is aware that she has taken a sleep portion.

Macbeth by Shakespeare – King Duncan believes Macbeth to be a loyal subject, but the audience knows that he is plotting to kill the king.

Othello by Shakespeare – The audience knows that Desdemona is faithful to Othello, but Othello doesn’t.

 Image Courtesy:

“Beach of Irony” by David Goehring (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

About the Author: admin