What is Dramatic Irony? Definition and Examples for Screenwriters (2022)

Dramatic irony is one of the three main types of irony. Like verbal and situational irony, dramatic irony is an integral element of storytelling. The power a writer or director can yield with a firm grasp of dramatic irony is huge. But what is dramatic irony and how does it work?

In this article, we’re going to define dramatic irony. We will also discuss the stages of dramatic irony and a subtype called tragic irony. By the end, you’ll know how to implement dramatic irony in your own works.

3 Types of Irony (Overview)

WITH SUBTYPES

  • Dramatic Irony
    • Tragic Irony
    • Stages of Dramatic Irony
  • Verbal Irony
    • Sarcasm
    • Understatement
    • Overstatement
    • Socratic Irony
  • Situational Irony
    • Cosmic Irony
    • Poetic Irony
    • Structural Irony
    • Historical Irony

Let’s Define Dramatic Irony Meaning

Introducing dramatic irony

Let’s begin with a quick definition of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony isn’t exactly a difficult concept to understand, but it is difficult to master. In simplest terms: dramatic irony is whenever we’re “in on the secret” of a story. Let’s listen to educator Christopher Warner explain dramatic irony in his own words.

What is Dramatic Irony? • Dramatic Irony Definition Explained

“Dramatic irony is when the audience seems to know more about an event, a situation, or a conversation than the characters do,” Warner said. Because of this, dramatic irony serves an integral role in engaging storytelling. We’re going to break down some dramatic irony examples in a bit, but first, let’s define dramatic irony.

Dramatic Irony Definition

What is dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony is when the audience understands more about a situation than some of the characters do. Oftentimes, this understanding leads to an element of suspense because we know the character(s) will learn the truth eventually – but we don't know when or how.

Dramatic irony can be deployed in many ways and in many genres. Comedy, horror, suspense, thrillers, and dramas can all benefit from the use of dramatic irony.

What are the stages of dramatic irony?

  • Preparation
  • Suspension
  • Resolution

For a complete guide to irony, download our FREE ebook covering the types of irony, examples, and how writers wield it.

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Irony is an essential literary device that all writers should master.Download our FREE e-book to get in-depth explanations and examples on topics like the major types and sub-types of irony, and the myriad of ways writers can use it to enrich their storytelling.

What is Dramatic Irony? Definition and Examples for Screenwriters (3)

(Video) Irony Explained — 3 Types of Irony Every Storyteller Should Know (Verbal, Situational, and Dramatic)

What is Dramatic Irony Used For?

Conceptual dramatic irony examples

When the audience knows something the characters don’t, tension is created. We lean in closer and our engagement increases. Of course, for dramatic irony to really be effective, we need to build sympathy for the characters and establish stakes that the audience will care about.

Here are some simple examples of dramatic irony:

  1. Two characters kill their former classmate – then hide his body in a wooden chest and host a dinner party. We know the body is in the chest but the partygoers do not.
  2. The cabin in the woods is a staging ground for an ancient ritual. We know the cabin is part of an experiment, but the characters do not.
  3. The protagonist is secretly the star of a show. We know he’s on TV but he does not.

Now let’s look at how these instances of dramatic irony apply to famous movies:

  1. In Rope, Brandon and Phillip murder their former classmate David, then host a dinner party. We know David was strangled to death, but the partygoers – who largely consist of his family – do not.
  2. In The Cabin in the Woods, a group of scientists lure five archetypal teens to an abandoned cabin to stage an ancient ritual. We know the five teens are part of a ritual, but they do not.
  3. In The Truman Show, Truman Burbank is unknowingly the star of a 24/7 TV show. We know that Truman is under constant-watch, but he does not.

In all of these stories, the truth is revealed – but the tension that’s created by concealing the “secret” is what drives the story. Now that we’ve looked at some simple examples of dramatic irony, let’s break down the term in further detail.

Dramatic Irony Literary Definition

Dramatic irony examples in literature

Dramatic irony has played an important role in literature and stage plays for hundreds of years. Take William Shakespeare for example: many of his plays revolved around dramatic irony.

  • In Twelfth Night, a love triangle is predicated on Viola’s false identity. We know she’s an imposter, but some characters do not.
  • In Romeo and Juliet, the title characters commit suicide because they don’t know about each other’s plans.
  • In Othello, the title character is led to believe his wife cheated on him – but we know she didn’t.

All of these instances of dramatic irony add nuance and drama to their story. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment is a book that revolves around dramatic irony. Take a look at this next video and think about how Dostoevsky plays with what dramatic irony – aka when we know more than some characters do – in order to create a sense of paranoia.

What is Dramatic Irony in Literature? • Crime and Punishment Explained

Dostoevsky was a master of using irony to create psychological terror. Our knowledge of the protagonist’s sinister crime makes us paranoid that he’s going to be caught. The book plays out like a game of cat and mouse between what we know and what they know. All in all, I’d say it’s an essential read for anyone looking to learn more about dramatic irony in literature.

What is Dramatic Irony’s Opposite?

The opposite of dramatic irony

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows more than the characters – but what is the opposite of dramatic irony?

When the character knows more than the audience.

An example might be Sherlock Holmes, who often withholds important information from the audience until the opportune moment. Let’s watch Sherlock showcase the opposite of dramatic irony in this next clip.

Opposite of Dramatic Irony • Sherlock lays it all out

Sherlock is a master at using deductive reasoning to make sense of situations; oftentimes before the audience is able to do so. Now that we have a better understanding of what dramatic irony is and how it works, let's go a little deeper into the subject.

One of the biggest questions involves the difference between dramatic and situational irony. In the next section, we’ll set the record straight.

What Does Dramatic Irony Mean Compared to Situational Irony?

Situational vs. dramatic irony

Dramatic and situational irony both involve circumstances and the difference between expectations and reality. The key difference between these two forms of irony is whether or not this unexpected reality is revealed to the audience along with the character or before.

With situational irony, our discovery that our expectations haven’t been met are aligned with the characters in the story.

With dramatic irony, we know well in advance that what the character expects is not the reality of the situation — and that creates tension.

Now that we have a firm understanding of this concept, let's look at some examples of dramatic irony. As we'll see, it is a very versatile and useful storytelling device — perfect for comedy, drama and suspense.

Comedy Effects of Dramatic Irony

Use dramatic irony for humor

The effects of dramatic irony can be seen in any story. Watching a character operate in circumstances where they don't know the entire truth can be dramatic or suspenseful. But it can also be funny.

Misunderstandings are the bread and butter of comedy, and dramatic irony is a fantastic way to generate misunderstanding.

Our first example is from one of the best 2000s movies, Meet the Parents. In this scene Jack (Robert De Niro) confronts Greg (Ben Stiller) about smoking marijuania. Of course, we know Jack’s been fed false information. We imported the Meet the Parents script into StudioBinder’s screenwriting software to take a closer look at this scene.

What is Dramatic Irony? Definition and Examples for Screenwriters (5)

(Video) How to Use Dramatic Irony in Stories

What is Dramatic Irony? • Meet the Parents Example

This moment of dramatic irony is played up for comedic effect better in the film. Check out the scene below.

What is Dramatic Irony? • Meet the Parents Clip

We see dramatic irony used elsewhere in comedy too. Three Amigos is built upon a premise that is a perfect example of dramatic irony. Steve Martin, Martin Short and Chevy Chase play Hollywood actors who assume they have been called down to Mexico to entertain the locals. Little do they know, the situation is real and the danger is right in front of them.

Dramatic Irony Examples • Three Amigos Clip

If you’re considering using dramatic irony for humor in your script, raise the stakes as high as possible. Just don’t punish the characters we’re rooting for too harshly or else the irony won’t work.

How to Use Dramatic Irony

Add dramatic irony for suspense

There is suspense inside every example of dramatic irony. We know the truth, and it's only a matter of time before the characters learn it too. Horror films and thrillers use this suspense all the time and to significant effect.

The Silence of the Lambs has an incredibly tense ending. Clarice is entirely vulnerable. We watch her fumble in the dark, unaware that Buffalo Bill is standing right in front of her, stalking her and in complete control of the situation. Check out the scene below.

Dramatic Irony Examples • The Silence of the Lambs Clip

Director Jonathan Demme puts us into a dramatically ironic vantage by showing us Clarice from Buffalo Bill’s point of view.

In our next example Michael Corleone kills two men at a restaurant. Let’s break down The Godfather script to see how Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo used dramatic irony to add tension to this classic scene. Here, we are shown how Clemenza sets Michael up to kill Solozzo and McCluskey.

What is Dramatic Irony? Definition and Examples for Screenwriters (6)

Dramatic Irony Examples • Laying the Groundwork in The Godfather

Now, we’re effectively “in on the secret.” We know Michael is going to kill Solozzo and McCluskey and we know how he’s going to do it. Sollozzo is (rightfully) suspicious of Michael and pats him down before he goes to the bathroom to retrieve the gun, but there is still a mountain of tension in the scene. Let’s see how that tension is released.

(Video) SCREENWRITING: Using Dramatic Irony to Create Suspense in Your Scenes.

Dramatic Irony Examples • Execution in The Godfather

We really feel the effects of dramatic irony here because we know Michael had the gun planted. All in all, it’s a perfect example of how to use dramatic irony from laying the groundwork to execution.

We've reviewed some classic dramatic irony examples; now it's time to explore some variations. In the next section, we’ll list and define the various types of dramatic irony so you can see how intricate and nuanced this concept is.

Whats Dramatic Irony’s Subtype?

What is tragic irony?

Tragic irony is simply defined as dramatic irony with tragic consequences. It takes the same basic situation in which the audience knows more about the situation than the character. But in this type of dramatic irony, the character’s ignorance has dire repercussions.

Oftentimes, the audience will know about the tragedy in advance – sometimes even at the very beginning of the story. Then, we watch as they helplessly struggle to avoid it.

Dramatic Irony Subsets • Tragic irony defined

There is a lot more to explore with tragic irony, including more examples from movies and TV. Check out the article below to learn more about tragic irony.

Learn more about tragic irony →

What are the Stages of Dramatic Irony?

Stages of dramatic irony explained

Dramatic irony functions just like suspense: both take time and both need to result in the release of tension. The longer we let the tension boil, the greater the explosive reveal will be.

Deploying dramatic irony has a structure all its own. It is, in fact, very similar to a traditional three-act structure. The three stages include Preparation, Suspension, and Resolution.

If you want to learn more about the stages of dramatic irony, check out the article below in which we explain them with examples from movies and TV.

Learn more about the stages of dramatic irony →

UP NEXT

Dive deeper into irony

We've covered the basics of dramatic irony but there is so much more to learn. If there is a particular form of irony you want to explore further, just follow the navigation below. Each one of these subtypes of irony belongs in every writer's toolkit.

3 Types of Irony (Overview)

WITH SUBTYPES

  • Dramatic Irony
    • Tragic Irony
    • Stages of Dramatic Irony
  • Verbal Irony
    • Sarcasm
    • Understatement
    • Overstatement
    • Socratic Irony

FAQs

What is dramatic irony in screenwriting? ›

dramatic irony, a literary device by which the audience's or reader's understanding of events or individuals in a work surpasses that of its characters.

What is dramatic irony and examples? ›

dramatic irony Add to list Share. If you're watching a movie about the Titanic and a character leaning on the balcony right before the ship hits the iceberg says, "It's so beautiful I could just die," that's an example of dramatic irony. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters don't.

Why do screenwriters use dramatic irony? ›

Dramatic irony engrosses the audience into the story. This is because it causes them to feel a certain responsibility for the characters' future as they think they know what's going to happen. Dramatic irony often lends itself well to tragedy for this reason.

What are 3 dramatic irony examples? ›

Dramatic irony examples in literature

We know she's an imposter, but some characters do not. In Romeo and Juliet, the title characters commit suicide because they don't know about each other's plans. In Othello, the title character is led to believe his wife cheated on him – but we know she didn't.

What is the best example of dramatic irony? ›

Dramatic irony

One famous example of dramatic irony is in Shakespeare's smash hit, Othello. The audience knows that Othello's BFF Iago is a bad guy who wants to ruin Othello. The audience also knows that Desdemona has been faithful. Othello doesn't know either of these things.

Which situation is the best example of a dramatic irony? ›

Dramatic Irony Examples
  • Girl in a horror film hides in a closet where the killer just went (the audience knows the killer is there, but she does not).
  • In Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows that Juliet is only asleep-not dead-but Romeo does not, and he kills himself.

How do you use dramatic irony in a sentence? ›

As if this collection wasn't thick with dramatic irony already. I think there's some dramatic irony there. Yes, we have the dramatic irony of a man who is brilliant at work but hopeless at home. When the war does intervene, it serves as a source of dramatic irony.

What is irony explain with two examples? ›

Irony is a literary technique in which what is written or stated is different from or the opposite of what is expected. ... For example, verbal irony is when a person says the opposite of what they mean, often to sarcastic effect, such as when a customer says "Good job," to a waiter who has dropped his tray.

What is an example of dramatic? ›

Examples of dramatic in a Sentence

She made a dramatic entrance wearing a bright red dress. There was a dramatic pause before his big announcement. The painter used dramatic colors. They are members of the local dramatic society.

How do you write a dramatic irony? ›

The Ironic Statement

When using dramatic irony, it should tie in with your theme. The characters must make a statement in the story, through dialogue or action, which throws the absurdity, danger, or emotion of the scene into relief. The dialogue will usually have a changed or opposite meaning.

How does dramatic irony create suspense? ›

Writers use dramatic irony as a plot device to create conflict, suspense, empathy, and humour. When the audience knows more than the characters, it forces them to anticipate and fear the moment, and to hope that the character might find out the truth sooner. It creates an intense empathy with the character's situation.

Why is irony used in movies? ›

Irony in film is a technique that writers of all kinds use, sometimes for laughs, to create an outcome that is contrary to what was, or might have been, expected. In movies and TV, these are lines given that directly contradict what we see on screen.

What is an example of irony in a sentence? ›

Examples of irony in a Sentence

She described her vacation with heavy irony as “an educational experience.” It was a tragic irony that he made himself sick by worrying so much about his health. That's just one of life's little ironies. The irony of the situation was apparent to everyone. He has a strong sense of irony.

Why is this an example of dramatic irony quizlet? ›

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. 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.

What is dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet? ›

Dramatic irony: the audience knows the real reason why Juliet is crying: Romeo has been banished. Romeo returns to Verona. He find Juliet drugged, in a death-like sleep. He assumes she is dead and kills himself.

What is an example of dramatic irony from Act II? ›

List the examples of dramatic irony in Act 2, scene 2. Juliet addresses "Romeo, Romeo..." since the audience knows he's nearby. Another example is the fact that we know the two will fall in love but that this also leads to their death.

Can dramatic irony be used in real life? ›

Dramatic irony occurs in everyday life when a situation is happening and yet the person within the situation is unaware of what is occurring. For example, if a person were to be mocking a friend for losing his wallet, but did not realize that he had also lost his own wallet, this would be dramatic irony.

What part of speech is dramatic irony? ›

A theatrical effect in which the meaning of a situation, or some incongruity in the plot, is understood by the audience, but not by the characters in the play.

What is the synonym of dramatic irony? ›

What is another word for dramatic irony?
ironysatire
sarcasmdryness
contrarietycontrariness
double meaningunderstatement
underestimationwryness
1 more row

What is the difference between irony and dramatic irony? ›

Verbal irony (i.e., using words in a non-literal way) Situational irony (i.e., a difference between the expected and actual outcomes of a situation or action) Dramatic irony (i.e., an audience knowing something the characters don't)

What is irony in figure of speech with example? ›

The verbal irony is a contrast between what is said and what is meant. It shows the contradiction between words and expressions. For example: #. After looking at a student's poor test score, the teacher says, “You will surely finish the year with the highest honours”.

What is an example of a literary irony? ›

For example, in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, we the readers know that Juliet has taken a sleeping potion to fake her death, but this is unbeknownst to Romeo, who believes she is really dead and proceeds to actually kill himself.

What are 5 examples of drama? ›

Here are some examples of drama in these different forms of entertainment: Drama Films: Citizen Kane. The Godfather.
...
Television dramas:
  • The Sopranos.
  • Mad Men.
  • Lost.
  • The Wire.
  • The West Wing.
  • The Walking Dead.
  • Breaking Bad.

What are the example of dramatic literary elements? ›

Elements of Drama: Characters, Plot, Setting & Symbolism.

What is the dramatic irony of Beauty and the Beast? ›

Beauty and the Beast, has examples of dramatic irony. The audience knows from the beginning of the movie that the beast is a prince, but Belle does not. In Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, we know that the old woman bringing the apple is the wicked queen who wants to kill Snow White, but she does not.

How do you write a dramatic irony? ›

The Ironic Statement

When using dramatic irony, it should tie in with your theme. The characters must make a statement in the story, through dialogue or action, which throws the absurdity, danger, or emotion of the scene into relief. The dialogue will usually have a changed or opposite meaning.

How does dramatic irony create suspense? ›

Writers use dramatic irony as a plot device to create conflict, suspense, empathy, and humour. When the audience knows more than the characters, it forces them to anticipate and fear the moment, and to hope that the character might find out the truth sooner. It creates an intense empathy with the character's situation.

How do you use dramatic irony in a story? ›

How to Write Dramatic Irony
  1. Decide what information you want the audience to have. ...
  2. For inside information, show; don't tell. ...
  3. Craft some dialogue that reveals the characters' ignorance of what's really going on.

What is dramatic irony give examples of it from Twelfth Night indicating the purpose which it serves? ›

Dramatic irony encompasses the love triangle between Cesario (Viola), Orsino and Olivia to involve the audience and create humor. After Orsino sees how young and attractive Cesario is, he sends her to win over Olivia without knowing the reality of the situation.

How do you use dramatic irony in a sentence? ›

As if this collection wasn't thick with dramatic irony already. I think there's some dramatic irony there. Yes, we have the dramatic irony of a man who is brilliant at work but hopeless at home. When the war does intervene, it serves as a source of dramatic irony.

Why do writers use irony? ›

In literature, irony is used to bring complexity in the narrative structure, create suspense, and contrast knowledge and ignorance, expectation and reality. The purpose of irony in creative writing is to twist words, scene, and expected outcome to fit the writer's message.

What is dramatic irony in Romeo and Juliet? ›

Dramatic irony: the audience knows the real reason why Juliet is crying: Romeo has been banished. Romeo returns to Verona. He find Juliet drugged, in a death-like sleep. He assumes she is dead and kills himself.

What is the synonym of dramatic irony? ›

What is another word for dramatic irony?
ironysatire
sarcasmdryness
contrarietycontrariness
double meaningunderstatement
underestimationwryness
1 more row

Why is irony used in movies? ›

Irony in film is a technique that writers of all kinds use, sometimes for laughs, to create an outcome that is contrary to what was, or might have been, expected. In movies and TV, these are lines given that directly contradict what we see on screen.

When an author employs dramatic irony the audience has? ›

When an author employs dramatic irony, the audience is no longer wondering what will happen. Instead their focus shifts to when and how something will be revealed. The horror genre is known for its use of dramatic irony to build suspense.

What is irony explain with two examples? ›

Irony is a literary technique in which what is written or stated is different from or the opposite of what is expected. ... For example, verbal irony is when a person says the opposite of what they mean, often to sarcastic effect, such as when a customer says "Good job," to a waiter who has dropped his tray.

What are examples of irony? ›

Common Examples of Irony
  • Telling a quiet group, “don't speak all at once”
  • Coming home to a big mess and saying, “it's great to be back”
  • Telling a rude customer to “have a nice day”
  • Walking into an empty theater and asking, “it's too crowded”
  • Stating during a thunderstorm, “beautiful weather we're having”

What is dramatic irony quizlet? ›

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. 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.

What is the dramatic irony in Act 1 of Twelfth Night? ›

Part of the comic situation here involves the dramatic irony that Viola (in disguise) is forced to try to win Olivia for Duke Orsino when in reality, she would like to shed her disguise and be his wife herself.

What are some dramatic techniques in Twelfth Night? ›

Shakespeare uses this play to employ dramatic techniques such as dialogue, soliloquy and dramatic irony to depict human desire – desires that include ambition, identity and relationships.

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