Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something the characters do not. Because of this understanding, the words of the characters take on a different meaning. This can create intense suspense or humor.
Examples of Dramatic Irony
- Two people are engaged to be married but the audience knows that the man is planning to run away with another woman.
- In a scary movie, the character walks into a house and the audience knows the killer is in the house.
- Sometimes a person is in disguise and the other character talks with him as if he is someone else. Since this is known by the audience, it adds to the humor of the dialogue.
- In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo thinks Juliet is dead and the audience knows she is not.
- In A Doll’s House, the audience knows Nora borrowed money forging her father’s signature and her husband is unaware. We also know Nora’s husband thinks of her as a doll and Nora is unaware.
- In Hamlet, we are aware that Hamlet knows the truth about his father’s murder and that Hamlet is not mad.
- In King Lear, we know that Lear’s most loyal daughter is Corelia and he can’t see it.
- In Star Wars, Luke does not know Darth Vader is his father until Episode V, but the audience knows sooner.
- In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the audience knows that Macbeth acts loyal to Duncan while planning his murder.
- In Smallville, Clark comments that in the future he does not want to put on a suit and fly around and the audience knows he will.
- In There's Something About Mary, the audience knows that Ted is being interrogated about a murder and Ted thinks he is being arrested for picking up a hitchhiker. His words are funny because of his misunderstanding.
- In the Doctor Who 2012 Christmas Special, the audience immediately recognizes Clara but the Doctor does not.
- In Toy Story, the toys move when the people are not there. Also, Buzz thinks he is a real space ranger.
- InGroundhog Day, the audience and Phil know that Groundhog Day is repeating but the other people do not know this.
- Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad is a DEA agent looking for crystal-meth producer "Heisenberg”. We know that "Heisenberg" is Schrader’s brother-in-law, Walter White.
Dramatic Irony in Hitchcock Films
Alfred Hitchcock said of dramatic irony:
“The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'You shouldn’t be talking about such trivial matters. There’s a bomb beneath you and it’s about to explode!'"
- The shower scene in Psycho starts out with the character not hearing the killer because the water is running, but the audience knows he is there.
- In The Birds, Melanie is smoking and children are singing, but soon the number of birds increases dramatically.
- In Rebbecca, the character felt everyone was comparing her to her husband’s first wife, Rebbecca. The husband’s actions came from self-hatred because he killed her and not because he loved Rebbecca.
- In Rope, the audience sees the murder at the beginning of the movie. This fact adds to the humor in this movie in an ironic way.
For more examples of irony, check out Examples of Irony.