Irony in Much Ado About Nothing: Dramatic, Verbal & Situational

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the use of verbal, dramatic, and situational irony in William Shakespeare's comedy 'Much Ado about Nothing' as Claudio's misunderstanding proves destructive in his relationship with Hero.

Background

When the evil queen hands Snow White the poisoned apple, the audience is on the edge of their seats. We want to tell her not to take a bite, but it is inevitable. Snow White does exactly what we have been telling children for generations NOT to do. When she takes food from a stranger, it has dire consequences that she never expected. This is an example of irony. While the irony in Snow White is tragic, irony sometimes can be humorous. William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Nothing is a comedy about love and miscommunication that is filled with irony. Let's discuss the three types of irony from this play: verbal irony, dramatic irony, and situational irony.

Verbal Irony

Verbal irony is when what a character means and what that character says are complete opposites. Typically, it is intended to be somewhat sardonic or teasing. Verbal irony is an effective tool for characterization and it makes the writing more interesting.

Throughout the play, Claudio is madly in love with Hero and wants to marry her. However, before the wedding, Don John tricks him into thinking that Hero was unfaithful. Claudio goes to the church to marry her and says to Leonato, 'And what have I to give you back, whose worth - May counterpoise this rich and precious gift?' While this might seem like a normal thing for a groom to say to his bride's father, Claudio's statement is dripping with sarcasm as he is about to humiliate his bride at the altar.

Dramatic Irony

Dramatic irony is when the character is unaware of some key information that the audience is privy to. Dramatic irony is frequently used to build suspense as the character continues to say and do things out of ignorance. Not only Claudio, but Don Pedro has also been fooled by Don John's plan to make it appear that Hero has been unfaithful.

After Claudio accuses Hero of being unchaste, Don Pedro verifies the terrible things Claudio says about Hero by saying, 'Leonato, I am sorry you must hear: upon mine honour, Myself, my brother and this grieved count - Did see her, hear her, at that hour last night - Talk with a ruffian at her chamber-window - Who hath indeed, most like a liberal villain, Confess'd the vile encounters they have had - A thousand times in secret.' The audience knows that it was not Hero in her room with another man, but that it was Margaret and Borachio. Since the audience knows more than the characters, this is dramatic irony.

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