Dramatic irony is an important literary tool that makes a reader think, and it’s a concept you can use to improve your writing.

It’s not just used in fiction, though. It’s also used in news articles and even blog posts, as well as being found in the writing of famous people like Winston Churchill or Abraham Lincoln.

Dramatic irony is a literary device in which the audience is made aware of events that are unknown to characters on stage.

It is often used to heighten dramatic tension and suspense.

What Are The stages of dramatic irony

What Are The stages of dramatic irony?

The term is used in classical drama to describe situations where readers know more than the characters.

These are not always happy or upbeat circumstances. They can be, however, neutral or even comical. The death of Hamlet’s father is a good example.

We know from the beginning that he’s dead, yet we read on with stunned disbelief as Hamlet reacts to this knowledge and then continues on with his life as though nothing has changed.

The characters, often, have no idea they’re in a perilous situation. The audience knows what’s coming but the characters don’t.

In Hamlet, the first time we hear of Hamlet’s father’s death, he doesn’t realize it because he doesn’t know what death is. This is a state of ignorance where the characters are unaware that they’re in danger.


What Is Dramatic Irony?

Dramatic irony relies on words or actions that do not seem to fit the situation, yet the audience knows the true meaning of these words. The irony lies in the fact that what is said or done seems very different from what is meant.

Example: In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks Lord Capulet’s permission to marry Romeo, but Lord Capulet refuses because Romeo is a Montague.

He says he would consent if she were only “ten years younger.”

Juliet misinterprets his meaning and thinks she needs to wait ten years before she marries Romeo.

The audience, however, realizes that Lord Capulet does consent because he says he would consent if she were only “ten years younger.”

In this case, dramatic irony affects the plot because it delays the lovers’ union. If Juliet had known her father’s true meaning, she could have married Romeo immediately.

What Are The Stages Of Dramatic Irony?

Dramatic irony is the literary device in which the audience understands something about a character, event, or situation that is not understood by the characters. 

It is also sometimes referred to as “Socratic irony” or “incongruity.” 


The audience looks at things from an objective viewpoint, but the characters are blinded by their own emotions, ignorance, or bias. Dramatic irony makes us feel empathy for both sides in a story and increases our understanding of what really happened.

The dramatic irony is heightened if one of the characters is aware of this situation. If a character can see what others cannot, it is called situational irony. Dramatic irony is not always intentional and can develop naturally out of any situation. 

Here are some examples of dramatic irony:

  • A character assumes something is true which really isn’t true at all. This can be a belief that events will turn out a certain way when they don’t end up that way. The audience may know how things really are but doesn’t let on to the character in order to heighten the dramatic effect.
  • A character makes a decision without knowing all the facts and later discovers that he/she was wrong. A character believes he/she has achieved his/her goal but has really made things worse than they were before trying to achieve it.
  • A character’s actions lead him/her into danger from which he/she cannot escape because he/she does not realize what danger he/she is in.

Dramatic Irony Examples In Cinema

Applying a little dramatic irony can turn a boring scene into a classic. 

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth kills Duncan, King of Scotland, at their castle. 

Lady Macbeth must now convince her husband that everything is “fine” while they wait for the royal blood to dry before they can return to the castle.

Lady Macbeth tells her husband that all is fine, but it has been reported that King Duncan’s servants have seen them leaving his room covered in blood. 

This is dramatic irony because the audience knows what really happened but Macbeth does not.

Dramatic irony uses a situation where a character in a story doesn’t know something that other characters or the audience are aware of. When this type of irony is used effectively, it can be one of the most powerful elements of literature or drama.

Intentional Use Of Dramatic Irony

I’m going to show you how to set up a situation for dramatic irony and how to execute it in a variety of ways, but firstly, I need to explain some terms. The audience knows something that the characters in a story don’t know. That’s the essential definition of dramatic irony, but there are four types of dramatic irony. 

One is called “dramatic foreshadowing”.The audience knows what the character will do before he does it. A skilled writer will employ foreshadowing at times where it can be really useful, but an inexperienced writer will over-use it. And if you over-use foreshadowing, it stops being effective and becomes predictable.

You don’t want predictable writing. Additionally, if the character does not perform as expected by the audience, there is a sense of disappointment because something was spoiled for them. If done well, though, dramatic foreshadowing can effectively enhance any plot.

Dramatic Irony And Its Role In Creating Tension In Hitchcock Films

Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that a character in the movie does not. The audience can see the irony in a situation, but the character cannot.

Dramatic irony as a technique is used to build tension, because the audience can watch what is happening and anticipate the character’s realization of their error. 


Tension and suspense are vital in Hitchcock films because it keeps the viewer interested and on edge. Dramatic irony builds this suspense by allowing us to see what is going on around a character.

Moreover, dramatic irony adds an extra layer to the plot and can help develop characterisation within stories by forcing characters into making decisions based on their false perceptions of circumstances rather than on reality.

Examples of Dramatic Irony In Two Hitchcock Films

  1. Hitchcock uses dramatic irony at the beginning of Strangers on a Train

At first, we are viewing Bruno as he sees himself; as an innocent man who has been accused of murder and wants nothing more than to get back to his life. However, at this time, we know that Bruno has murdered Robert Walker’s father and that he plans to kill Walker’s character once he has a chance to get away with it. By allowing us to see through Bruno’s eyes, Hitchcock creates suspense for us until Bruno finally realizes his true intentions. 

  1. Dramatic irony is incorporated into several scenes throughout the film, The Birds

One example of this is when Melanie walks into her bedroom and finds her mother dead on the floor.

What Are The Stages Of Dramatic Irony In Screenwriting?

The first stage of dramatic irony in screenwriting involves setting up the situation where your character will be unaware of what’s going on. This can be done in the following ways:

  • The character is unaware – The character might simply be unaware, but this is often difficult to sustain over a long period of time. Consider using another method, such as the next one.
  • The character knows something, but not everything – The character will have some information that he or she believes to be true, but it will turn out to be incomplete or wrong. This allows you to build tension since you don’t need to explain why they aren’t aware of everything going on.

Using The Stages Of Dramatic Irony In Screenwriting

Screenwriting is a complex art form that requires you to be concise and precise. There are many different formulas for structuring scripts and creating compelling characters, but the stages of dramatic irony is one of the most important.

A good example of dramatic irony occurs in the movie, The Usual Suspects. At the beginning of the movie, the main character, Verbal Kint (played by Kevin Spacey), tells a story about how he was able to outsmart a police officer and get away with murder.

The story itself is not particularly important; what’s significant here is that the audience knows that this story is actually true – at least, it’s true as far as they know. Verbal Kint is a criminal who just manages to avoid capture by fooling an officer into thinking he’s harmless.

He continues to narrate throughout much of the movie, leaving clues for the audience while never giving anything away to his fellow criminals. In essence, Verbal Kint is telling a lie – but since we already know the truth, it’s actually more of a dramatic irony. 

While he relates his false story, we’re actually watching him commit other crimes without realizing it. This example illustrates how useful dramatic irony can be when writing scripts.

Examples Of Dramatic Irony In Horror Films

Irony is a literary device that consists of saying the opposite of what you mean. It is very common in horror films and can be used to add depth to a film. 

The irony can be quite subtle, so you will have to pay close attention to the words and actions of the characters if you want to catch it. Here are some examples of dramatic irony in horror films:

When young Megan tells her mother she is going out with her friend, but really going with her boyfriend. Her mother tells her not to go out late, which is ironic because she is killed that night.

At the end of The Shining, Jack Torrance has finally killed his wife and child but is so delusional he doesn’t realize it. 

He then sees a picture on the wall of him as a boy with his father at the Overlook Hotel where he works as caretaker for the winter. 

This is ironic because Jack’s son Danny has been having visions about the hotelforetelling their fate, so Jack should have realized his destiny when he sawthe picture.

Examples Of Dramatic Irony In Television

Irony is an important literary device that is often used in literature,film, and TV shows to create a deeper message in the work. The following are examples of dramatic irony from some iconic television shows.

The X-Files

In Season 3: Episode 2, Mulder is told by a doctor that he needs to have surgery on his arm in order to regain full use of it after he is attacked by a monster during a case. However, Mulder refuses because he thinksthe doctor is trying to kill him.

The doctor then says, “I’m just going to leave this here,” while reaching down under the table next to him. There is a pile of surgical tools under this table, which is revealed after Mulder asks the doctor what he isleaving under the table and he then looks under it himself.

The Simpsons

In “Treehouse Of Horror IV”, Homer Simpson goes on a killing spree and kills several co-workers at the nuclear power plant where he worked with an axe. He does this because they are trying to kill him.

Examples Of Dramatic Irony In Comedy Films

Comedy is a genre which is known for its use of irony. It can be hard to define, but we all know it when we see it. 

Tropic Thunder is a 2008 action comedy film written by Ben Stiller (who also directed the film) and Justin Theroux. The movie stars Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Robert Downey, Jr. The plot focuses on a group of prima donna actors who are making a film about war in the jungle.

However, when the director decides to drop them into the middle of a real life conflict zone, they have trouble trading their fake weapons for real ones! In this example of dramatic irony in comedy films, we are made aware that the actors are not equipped to handle a real war, while they have no idea that they are in one.

The Stages Of Dramatic Irony – Wrapping Up

I have to say, I’m not a huge fan of Donnie Darko. Sure, it’s different from the majority of films out there and has a great concept, but I just didn’t like the way it was executed. 

I can see why others would adore it though, so don’t let my opinion deter you from taking a look at this film if you’re interested. It’s also a great big ball of dramatic irony.

I know that’s a bit of an oxymoron in itself, but bear with me as I try to explain what I mean. With dramatic irony, the audience is aware of certain truths about the characters that they are not. 

It’s fun to watch them make mistakes or do things we know will end up badly for them – and usually does!

With Donnie Darko, we (the audience) know that Donnie is going to die in 28 days time in order to prevent the world from being invaded by evil aliens. We see him sleepwalk through his daily routine, knowing full well that he can’t escape his fate.

The best thing he can do is try to get others to change something that he set into motion before it’stoo late – but how? That’s the question.