-Dramatic Irony is when the words and actions of the characters in a work of literature are known to the audience or reader, but they are not known to certain characters in the story. The reader or audience has a greater knowledge of many of the characters themselves. -Shakespeare employs dramatic irony in many of his tragedies, so that the audience is engaged, and so they are able to witness characters errors in their action, predict the fate of the characters, and experience feelings of tragedy and grief.
Examples of Dramatic Irony in Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5 Ghost of Old Hamlet talks to Hamlet and explains to him how his death occurred.
• Ghost reveals that he was not actually killed by snakebite, as Claudius announced to the people of Denmark. • Ghost tells of how Claudius snuck into his garden while he was taking a nap. • Claudius poured poison in Old Hamlet`s ear, killing him, and sending his soul, unpurified, into the afterlife.
• The audience knows the truth about Old Hamlet`s death, however, all of the characters in the play, apart from Hamlet, believe that Old Hamlet`s death was a tragic accident. The reason that Claudius killed his brother is so that he could marry and sleep with Old Hamlet`s wife, who is Queen Gertrude. Importance • The dramatic irony of this scene is effective because it allows the audience to feel sympathetic for Hamlet because he is faced with the impossible decision of whether or not to kill his uncle who is King Claudius. • This scene of dramatic irony creates the main plot of the play which is the attempt at revenge. • It creates the moral struggle that Hamlet is faced with throughout the play, whether he should murder the king for revenge or not.
Act 3, Scene 3 • King Claudius feels guilty for murdering his brother in order to marry Gertrude and become king of Denmark. • However, Claudius cannot play because his offence is so horrible that he knows that God cannot forgive him for his foul act. • The audience is aware that the king cannot play, but none of the other characters know this information- this is the first example of dramatic irony in the scene. • Hamlet comes up from beyond the king and has a perfect opportunity to kill Claudius and gain revenge for him father. The audience is aware that Hamlet is behind Claudius; however Claudius thinks he is alone. • Hamlet does not murder Claudius because he thinks that he is praying, and that Claudius would go to heaven if he died while he was praying. Importance • This example of dramatic irony is important because if Hamlet had killed Claudius in this scene, that Hamlet would have achieved hos ultimate goal much more quickly, and the play would have been finished. • Hamlet did not murder the king in this scene, which allowed Claudius to have time to form a plan to kill Hamlet. Hamlets foolish decision to not kill Claudius while he had the chance led to his ultimate demise.
• This scene of dramatic irony showcases Hamlet`s hatred for Claudius. He does not kill Claudius when he is praying because he doesn’t want him to go to heaven. Hamlet wants to wait until Claudius commits a sin to kill him, so that he will go to hell. Act 3, Scene 4 • Queen asks Hamlet to talk to her in private. • Queen has allowed Polonius to hide behind the arras in the Queen`s bedroom and listen while she talks to Hamlet. • Hamlet does not know that Polonius is listening in to their conversation. Queen is making an attempt to reveal what is making Hamlet act crazy. • Hamlet argues with his mother over her marriage to his uncle Claudius. • Hamlet insults his mother and displays emotions of hate towards Claudius. • Hamlet has control over his mother, pressuring her to admit her guilt. • Queen feels threatened by hamlet`s action, and she calls for help. • Hamlet, who does not know that Polonius is behind the arras, stabs that curtain, killing Polonius. • Hamlet acted out of impulse, and he stabbed the curtain, hoping it was Claudius.
Importance • The dramatic irony of this scene is effective because it allow the audience to be able to predict the tragic gate of Polonius. It adds a feeling of suspense for the audience, as they wonder whether or not Hamlet will discover that Polonius is listening to their conversation. • This dramatic irony leads Claudius to believe Hamlet I dangerous on the loose. • Claudius knows he cannot be mean to hamlet though because he is loved and he sees him as a threat to the throne, so he orders “the present death of Hamlet“ (IV . iii . 9) • Polonius’ death is also the breaking point for Ophelia, because it is too much for her, she is “divided from herself“ (IV . V . 86) And she supposedly commits suicide. Polonius’ mischief helped lead to Ophelia`s fate.
• Hamlet who was trying to revenge his father`s death, acted on impulse which led to his own fate because he accidently committed the same act that he was trying to punish Claudius for. Hamlet murdered the father of a son and daughter, just as his father was murdered. This leads to his fate because Laertes must revenge his father’s murder by killing Hamlet. Act 5, Scene 2 Hamlet and Laertes are playing (sword fighting) • King and Laertes have plotted a plan to kill Hamlet. • They have sharpened the tip of Laertes sword, and dipper it in poison. • The king has killed a cup with poison as a backup plan to kill Hamlet. • Apart from the king and Laertes, the other characters are unaware of their plan to kill Hamlet. • King presents Hamlet with a beverage, which he claims is a reward for his excellent fencing skills against Laertes. • Hamlet does not drink from the cup. • Consequently, Queen takes a drink from the cup on Hamlets behalf, not knowing that the cup is filled with poison.
Importance • The dramatic irony of this scene is very effective because it causes the most tragic scene in the play to occur. • Laertes gets his revenge on Hamlet by murdering him with his poisoned sword. • Before his death, Hamlet avenges his father’s death by killing Claudius. ( V . ii . 340-342) • The dramatic irony leads to the Queens tragic death, when she drinks the poisoned drink. • Laertes is also killed by his own plan, when Hamlet and Laertes scuffle and switch rapiers. Hamlet then stabs Laertes with the poison sword. The dramatic irony in this scene held the fate of these four characters. • Dishonestly prevails from this use of dramatic irony. • The dishonesty of »Laertes is proved through his dishonest means with the duel against Hamlet, with the sharpened and poisoned sword. • Claudius` dishonestly is proved after the Queen drinks the poison from the cup. Claudius know he has mistakenly killed his wife, but he lies and says that the Queen has fallen because “she swoons to see them bleed. “ (V . ii . 328) He does not admit that he has accidently poisoned his wife.
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