Dramatic Irony

As we read further into King Lear, the class has been presented with multiple instances of dramatic irony.

So tomorrow, we are pausing our reading of King Lear and explore dramatic irony through the short story The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry.

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For the purpose of everyone being on the same page, dramatic irony is a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions is clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.

Dramatic irony is a form of irony that is expressed through a work’s structure: an audience’s awareness of the situation in which a work’s characters exist differs substantially from that of the characters’, and the words and actions of the characters therefore take on a different—often contradictory—meaning for the audience than they have for the work’s characters. You can read more here.


For a simple overview of dramatic irony, check out the video below.



On Thursday, we discussed the Greek tragedy of Oedipus. We talked about the plot of the first play (you can read about that here if you missed it).

Sophocles uses dramatic irony in Oedipus. Right from the beginning, the audience knows more about Oedipus than he does himself. We know that he was adopted by a family in a town that is situated away from where he was born. So, when he hears the prophecy and leaves his “family” behind, we immediately feel tense as we know he has done the exact thing that will likely allow him to fulfill the prophecy. This feeling of tension builds as we follow his story and watch his fate unfold throughout the play.

As we are now in Act 1 Scene 4, students will look back at the last 4 scenes and determine three instances where Shakespeare has used dramatic irony. They should explain how the situation is ironic and identify how this irony has been expressed (any interesting choices of vocabulary or language devices). To take it a step further, students could look for examples of verbal irony within scene 4 (hint: check out the fool!)





Posted by Renee Plunkett

Teacher of English at Mount Aspiring College, Wanaka, New Zealand.

  1. […] As per the last blog post, complete the task of describing at least 3 instances of dramatic irony in the first act. You can refresh your knowledge here. […]


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