The Concept of “Irony”

What is irony?

Irony can be defined as the use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. In a simpler explanation, irony is the opposite of what is expected.

There are three types of irony:

  1. Verbal/rhetorical irony: the character/author says something which is opposite to what they mean
  2. Situational irony: what happens in a situation is opposite to what is expected
  3. Dramatic irony: when the audience knows something more about what is happening in the story than the character

Examples of irony:

Verbal/rhetorical irony

  • I’m so poor! My family only has 3 televisions in our house!
  • The water in the building will be turned off for the next six hours. How wonderful!

Situational irony

  • Bill Gates uses an Apple PC.
  • The rulers of two nations, Britain and Germany, that waged a bitter war from 1914-1918 were actually cousins.

Dramatic irony

  • In Romeo and Juliet, the audience knows that Juliet is not really dead, but has taken a drug to imitate death. Unfortunately, Romeo does not know this and drinks poison.
  • In Othello, Othello calls Iago “honest Iago”, even though the audience knows that Iago is the villain in the play and is deceiving Othello.

Exercises:

Exercise 1: Identify types of irony

Complete worksheets to identify irony:

Exercise 2: Explain the use of irony

Read the following excerpt from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.

Caesar has just been betrayed and assassinated by Brutus and other conspirators. Anthony has been allowed to speak at Caesar’s funeral, but only if he does not make any derogatory remarks about Brutus.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,

(For Brutus is an honourable man;

So are they all; all honourable men)

Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral …

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man….

He hath brought many captives home to Rome,

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And, sure, he is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

But here I am to speak what I do know.

Explain how Anthony has used irony in his speech to criticise Brutus and the conspirators.

Exercise 3: Comprehension questions in Oliver Twist

Read Chapter 2 of Oliver Twist, starting with the paragraph “The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men…”

Answer the following questions (suggested answers are at the end of this post):

  1. In the first sentences, which words are used ironically in “praising” the members of the board?
  2. In the second sentence, the author ironically details the advantages of the workhouse. What are these advantages?
  3. What is implied in the brackets “(for they would compel nobody, not they)”?
  4. How does the author imply that the gruel was thin?
  5. Quote another example of irony in the second half of the first paragraph.
  6. Quote an example of sardonic humour in the second paragraph.
  7. Which is NOT true of the language in the third paragraph:
    1. Long and short sentences are used to give variety.
    2. The style is very verbose.
    3. Dickens shows a liking for parenthetical comments.
    4. The pace quickens towards the end of the paragraph.
  8. What words are balanced against each other in the second sentence of the fourth paragraph?
  9. Why was the master’s voice faint?
  10. Why did Mr Limbkins ask Mr Bumble to repeat what he had said?
    1. He had not understood it the first time.
    2. He was slightly hard of hearing.
    3. He was taken by surprise.
    4. He could not believe it.
  11. In what way or ways are the following sentences similar in effect?
    1. “Horror was depicted on every countenance”
    2. “Nobody controverted the prophetic gentleman’s opinion”

Exercise 4: Visual ironies

View the 10 images here: http://listverse.com/2007/09/23/10-images-of-irony/

Briefly explain how each image is ironic.

Exercise 4: Find examples/quotes of irony in Romeo & Juliet

If your student has studied Romeo & Juliet, here is a worksheet relating to irony in

Suggested Answers

Answers to Exercise 3:

  1. “sage, deep, philosophical men”
  2. The advantages are public entertainment, and free public breakfast, dinner, tea and supper all year around.
  3. It implies that the board forced to either leave and or to stay and be starved slowly.
  4. Dickens implies that the gruel was thin when he describe how it was made with unlimited water and only small amounts of oatmeal.
  5. “They made a great many other wise and humane regulations.”
  6. “increase in the undertaker’s bill”
  7. FOUR
  8. “long grace” and “short commons”
  9. The master’s voice was faint, because he was in disbelief as to what was happening.
  10. FOUR
  11. Both lines create an intense atmosphere, through the words “every” and “nobody”.

1 comment for “The Concept of “Irony”

  1. KK
    May 31, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    Hey TT,
    I was hoping if you can write an article on “How to write speeches?”
    Just basic outlines.
    I have to write a speech on Hamlet for school.
    Was wondering if you can provide any tips on general speech writing and speaking techniques.
    Thanks
    :)

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