Irony is a dramatic or literary technique in which words convey a meaning contrary to the meaning of the situation. Irony may also result from actions that have consequences contrary to what was intended. There are a wide range of different types of irony, which are used for a variety of dramatic, comic and educational purposes.
Dramatic irony is a form of irony that derives from the differing knowledge of a character and the audience. It can be used for comic effect or to create tension. For instance, near the end of the play "Romeo and Juliet," the audience knows that Juliet has taken a potion that makes her appear to be dead. Dramatic irony takes hold because Romeo, unlike the audience members, does not know this fact.
Situational irony is a form of irony in which the expected and actual results of an action are not the same. Not all differences between anticipated and actual outcomes, however, are dramatic irony. In order to be truly ironic, the difference must somehow be perversely appropriate. For instance, in the film "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy undertakes a long journey in order to find the means to get home, only to discover that she has been able to return home all along.
The key difference between situational irony and dramatic irony is the role of the audience. In dramatic irony, the tension is created by the difference between what the audience knows and what the character knows. In situational irony, the knowledge of the audience develops along with the character. Situational irony develops not from the contrast between their levels of knowledge (dramatic irony), but from the contrast between the assumptions both made to begin with and the situation that emerges.
Other Forms of Irony
In addition to dramatic and situational irony, there are a number of other forms of irony. Verbal irony is the form of speech in which the speaker says one thing while meaning another. For instance, the speaker might describe a person as being "as popular as a bill collector," implying that the person is not, in fact, popular at all. Socratic irony is an educational technique in which one speaker feigns ignorance in order to reveal the views of another.
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