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What are Examples of Dramatic Irony in Hamlet?

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In Hamlet, dramatic irony is created when only Hamlet and the readers learn the truth about the King’s death. His pretense of being mad also results in this type of irony. He fakes it for everyone, and other characters believe in his insanity.

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One of the elements representing dramatic irony is the rumor about the King’s death caused by the snake’s bite. Claudius spreads the lie that Hamlet’s father died because of the snake’s poison, and Denmark people believe him. In Act 1, the Ghost of the King, however, reveals the truth to Hamlet that it was Claudius who poisoned him. There is dramatic irony because only the readers and Hamlet know this truth. It also turns out that only Hamlet can talk to the Ghost while Gertrude does not see him.

Another example of dramatic irony is connected with Hamlet pretending to be mad. To hide his plan for revenge, he makes Claudius believe that he is insane. His friends, Marcellus and Horatio, and the readers know he is pretending, which creates an irony.

In Act 2, Ophelia tells her father Polonius that Hamlet behaves strangely. Polonius finds the reason for his madness in the “ecstasy of love.” As her father asked, Ophelia rejected Hamlet’s love, and Polonius concluded that it “made him mad.” In this situation, again, only readers know that this madness is a pretense.

The usage of dramatic irony helps to evoke strong emotions in the readers. For instance, one may sympathize with Hamlet because of his father’s death and his uncle’s betrayal. Dramatic irony also creates suspense and makes the readers more engaged in the play.

In general, the usage of irony makes the play more distant from the pure tragedy genre. Hamlet is often subcategorized as a revenge tragedy, as the main character seeks revenge. However, Shakespeare uses satire even regarding Hamlet’s desire for justice. Several times Hamlet misses his chance to kill Claudius. One of these scenes turns out to be incredibly ironic. In Act 3, Claudius is praying, and Hamlet gets a good chance for revenge. Nevertheless, he decides to do it later. He fears that he would send Claudius to heaven by killing him during his prayer.

In the play, humor and sarcasm are often used. Hamlet frequently says dark satirical remarks, such as:

The funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.
(Act 1, Scene 2).

Humor interconnects with tragic events and feelings. When Claudius asks:

How is it that the clouds still hang on you?

Hamlet replies:

Not so, my lord. I am too much in the sun.
(Act 1, Scene 2)

According to the article Hamlet’s Humor, he toys with grief in his line. In this pun, the word “sun” implies “son.”

As Britannica states, dramatic and verbal types of irony are usually contrasted. Dramatic irony is included in the structure of the play. Verbal one is represented with the help of words that have a different meaning when interpreted literally. Thus, in Hamlet, the irony is defined on various levels.

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IvyPanda. "What are Examples of Dramatic Irony in Hamlet?" November 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/q/what-are-examples-of-dramatic-irony-in-hamlet/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "What are Examples of Dramatic Irony in Hamlet?" November 26, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/q/what-are-examples-of-dramatic-irony-in-hamlet/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'What are Examples of Dramatic Irony in Hamlet'. 26 November.

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