Dramatic Irony in Julius Caesar: Example & Analysis

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  • 0:02 What Is Dramatic Irony?
  • 0:51 The Plot Against Caesar
  • 1:22 Calpurnia's Dream
  • 2:07 The Warning Letter
  • 2:59 Mark Antony's Speech
  • 3:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Ever wonder why writers let the audience know more than the characters in their stories? In ''Julius Caesar'', William Shakespeare uses the technique of dramatic irony to add suspense for a doomed character.

What Is Dramatic Irony?

Shakespeare was not very creative. This is a bold statement to make, but the truth is that his plays were often based on historical events. Because of this, members of the audiences knew the outcome of his plays before they saw them. When the audience knows something that a character does not, it is called dramatic irony.

For example, imagine you are watching an action movie. You know the bad guy is waiting around the corner, but the main character does not, so he walks into an ambush. That is dramatic irony. Shakespeare uses the technique to build suspense and interest throughout Julius Caesar, his tragedy based on the real-life assassination of the Roman dictator -- a historical death audiences already knew about.

The Plot Against Caesar

The entire plot to kill Caesar is an overarching element of dramatic irony rather than a single event. The audience is allowed to see the conspirators' plot, but Caesar himself is not aware of the peril he is in. Despite multiple attempts to inform him, he remains unaware, and crushes every chance he is given to discover it himself. Throughout the play, the audience waits to see if Caesar will have even the slightest suspicion about the plot to kill him.

Calpurnia's Dream

In Act 2 Scene 2, Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, has a dream in which Caesar is killed and spouts blood like a fountain. She tells Caesar not to leave the house because her dream could be a bad sign. The audience knows that there is truth to Calpurnia's dream: a group of conspirators is planning Caesar's assassination.

However, one of the conspirators convinces Caesar that Calpurnia's dream is not a sign of danger. Decius explains to Caesar that the image of him spouting blood actually means that his life force will be like water, pouring life into all corners of Rome. Caesar believes Decius rather than his wife, and continues to his meeting.

The Warning Letter

In Act 3 Scene 1, a character named Artemidorus tries to deliver a letter of warning to Caesar. Artemidorus had read the letter aloud previously, so the audience knows that the contents could save Caesar's life. As Artemidorus tries to get Caesar to read his letter, Decius interrupts and hands Caesar a different letter.

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