Irony in Julius Caesar: Examples & Analysis

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  • 0:00 Why Use Irony?
  • 0:30 Verbal Irony
  • 1:55 Situational Irony
  • 3:07 Dramatic Irony
  • 4:07 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.

Irony is when something happens that is the opposite of what we expect. There are three types of irony: verbal irony, situational irony and dramatic irony. William Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, contains important examples of each.

Why Use Irony?

Irony helps a reader or viewer stay engaged. Dramatic, verbal and situational irony surprise readers or allow the audience to feel they are one step ahead of the characters. In Julius Caesar, each type of irony plays an important role in keeping the audience interested and entertained. Using irony helps reveal a character's true motives. Shakespeare used irony to help reveal a character's feelings and also to give the audience knowledge.

Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is when a character says something that we know means the opposite. One of the first examples of verbal irony in Julius Caesar is when Cassius is speaking to Brutus in Act I scene ii. Cassius tries to convince Brutus that Caesar is not worthy to be the leader of Rome. He describes three times when Caesar was weak. One of those times was in Spain during a battle. Caesar came down with a fever and was so sick that he was shaking. Cassius calls Caesar a god while describing how weak he was. Since we know that Caesar is not a god and that Cassius does not see Caesar as a god, it is a prime example of verbal irony. Cassius says one thing while we know something else to be true.

Cassius's irony emphasizes the fact that Cesar was not a god. After describing his physical weaknesses, Cassius knows that Brutus cannot possibly see Caesar as a god. However, if Cassius had blatantly stated that Caesar was simply another human, Brutus's reaction, as a loyal friend to Caesar, may have been to defend him. When Cassius ironically uses the word 'god' to describe Caesar, Brutus can only have one train of thought; Caesar is not a god. Cassius's ironic statement is a tool for manipulating Brutus into joining the conspiracy to kill Caesar. The effect of this irony is that it reveals Cassius's motives.

Situational Irony

Situational irony is when we expect one thing to happen, but the opposite happens instead. After the conspirators kill Julius Caesar, his friend, Mark Antony, asks to speak at his funeral. The conspirators discuss it and agree that Mark Antony speaking at the funeral will make them look good and help the people understand their motives for murder. Since Mark Antony was Caesar's friend, having his support could only benefit them. The conspirators expect his speech to garner support from the public. Instead, Mark Antony arouses the public into anger against the conspirators. Since the conspirators expected Antony's action to help, but it actually hurt them, Mark Antony's speech is a good example of situational irony in Julius Caesar.

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