Definition of Irony
The word irony came from Greek language and initially meant “eiron” – dissembler. Definition of Irony actually means that in some way the appearance of things is different from what they are in reality in terms of action, situation or meaning.
That is quite unusual when there is a gap between what is said and what is meant, and that would represent verbal irony. Dramatic irony shows the difference between what is thought about a situation and reality.
We can point out verbal irony when some of the words that character says have both implicit and ostensible meanings. Most often the surface meaning is not true and is different from the underlying meaning, which is more important usually. It is up to reader or viewer to take the meanings as real or not judging from the context and environment where they occur, which includes the speaker’s character, the situation, particular word associations, and a common ground of assumptions shared by the speaker and the reader.
Another type if irony is dramatic irony. This is typically a situation where the audience knows more about the events that are going to follow than the main character within them. Characters seem to be ironic because they are very far from what reality is and their intentions do not correspond with what their outcomes are going to be.
Verbal irony in The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
A good example of verbal irony is The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. Most of the verbal irony message is transmitted through Tom, the narrator. Verbal irony is used in Tom’s last speech of the scene. This speech contains elements of humor as well as bitterness.
The organization of the play is quite usual. Tom plays his role as a narrator, stage director and character at the same time. The screen that is used shows some strange pictures. However, it does serve the purpose well as the pictures set the mood, and Tom acting as a character and narrator allows us to enter into Tom’s mind and his inner world and thoughts.
The idea of the play is the irony itself – image of reality vs. reality. Amanda has some picture of gentlemen and the world, which does not go well together with ghetto of St. Louis. Another idea promoted, is the idea of escape. Toms does everything he can to escape and finally repeats the footsteps of his father. Laura does not try hard to escape, but she should. She comes close with Jim, but is devastated and regresses back into her world, probably deeper than she was before.
Some of the irony can be found in the following quotes of Tom: “On those occasions they call me – Ell Diablo! Oh, I could tell you things to make you sleepless! My enemies plan to dynamite this place. They’re going to blow us all sky-high some night! I’ll be glad, very happy, and so will you! You’ll go up, up on a broomstick, overBlue Mountain with seventeen gentlemen callers!” Tom says this to Amanda in a fit of rage.
“But the most wonderful trick of all was the coffin trick…. There is a trick that would come in handy for me-get me out of this 2 by 4 situation.” Tom says this to Laura after coming back drunk from the movies and magic show.
Dramatic irony in Oedipus the King by Sophocles
Sophocles conveys a good example of dramatic irony in Oedipus the King. Here are some places where audience knows better the full story than the main character and this shows us dramatic irony. The main character Oedipus states that he understands and applies the facts in a particular manner, but the audience understands that it applies as well, or instead, to facts the character is ignorant of, and that, when eventually brought to light for them, will radically change their circumstances. Surely dramatic irony is not tragic in this particular setting. However it serves to emphasize the fact that human understanding is very limited even if it most plausible, and how painful the misunderstanding can be.
Dramatic irony mostly shown in first three scenes of Oedipus the King, because in the scene four, he learn the truth about the situation already. The ironic part comes when he says; “I must see my origins face-to-face” (line 1185) Next, Oedipus goes on to say, She perhaps, she with her woman’s pride may well be mortified by my birth, but I, I count myself the son of Chance, the great goddess, giver of all good things— I’ll never see myself disgraced. She is my mother!” (lines 1186 – 1190).