Irony in Othello: Dramatic & Verbal

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  • 0:02 Dramatic Vs. Verbal Irony
  • 0:38 Dramtic Irony in ''Othello''
  • 2:31 Verbal Irony in ''Othello''
  • 4:08 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.

Shakespeare used many literary techniques in his plays. Irony is one that he is famous for. In this lesson we will examine dramatic and verbal irony in William Shakespeare's Othello.

Dramatic vs. Verbal Irony

Shakespearean plays can be difficult to decipher. The vocabulary is often odd to us, we can have difficulty knowing what is being said, let alone what subtle undertones are being implied. Shakespeare is famous for his use of irony, but that can be hard concept to understand or pick up on.

Dramatic and verbal irony help add suspense and interest to a story, so understanding where it shows up can help us to appreciate the nuances of Shakespeare's plays. In this lesson, we will take a look at a few examples of dramatic and verbal irony in William Shakespeare's Othello.

Dramatic Irony in Othello

Dramatic irony is when the audience knows more about what is happening in the story than the characters. A main example of dramatic irony from Othello is the plot to destroy Othello's life. The only character who knows about this is Iago. The audience knows this because Iago delivers a soliloquy (this is when a characters speaks to themselves so the audience can hear their thoughts) at the beginning of the play that describes his devious plan.

In Act 1, scene 3, Iago is all alone when he says, 'After some time, to abuse Othello's ear / That he is too familiar with his wife. / He hath a person and a smooth dispose.' In other words, Iago plans to convince Othello that he is not keeping track of his wife and that another character is too familiar with her.

Since there is no one else in the room at this time, only Iago and the audience know about the plan. For the rest of play, Iago manipulates the other characters so that he can exact his revenge against Othello. The audience is left wondering if anyone will figure it out before the damage is done. This instance shows how dramatic irony helps build interest.

Iago's plot weaves dramatic irony throughout the play and touches on most events. For example, since we know about Iago's plot, we also know that he wants to convince Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful. When Iago steals her handkerchief and plants it in another man's home, Othello flies into a rage and hits Desdemona.

Afterword, Othello starts planning her murder. Because of the dramatic irony, the audience's emotions are highly invested in the storyline. We know that Desdemona is innocent; we know that she does not deserve the suspicion and we fret to think of her being murdered. We want something to happen to clear her name because we know the truth and Othello does not.

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