Irony in Romeo & Juliet: Dramatic, Verbal & Situational

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  • 0:03 Irony in 'Romeo & Juliet'
  • 0:48 Situational Irony
  • 1:54 Verbal Irony
  • 2:54 Dramatic Irony
  • 4:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Monica Sedore

Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

Expert Contributor
Kaitlyn Danahy

Kate has a bachelor's degree in literature & creative writing from Gordon College. She taught high school literature in India and tutored in the US.

''Romeo and Juliet'' is the classic tale of two young lovers whose families' ancient feud leads to the couples' untimely deaths. Check out this lesson to find out more about the uses of irony in this play.

Irony in Romeo & Juliet

Irony, in its most basic sense, involves an outcome that is the opposite of what you expect. Finding a lost sock the day after throwing away its mate is ironic. At its core, the tale of Romeo and Juliet is irony at its finest: 'From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life; / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Do with their death bury their parents' strife.' It is the death of their youngest children that eventually convinces the Montagues and Capulets to make peace with one another.

Situational Irony

Situational irony is perhaps the most basic and easiest type of irony to understand. It occurs when a situation unfolds in an unexpected way. In Act IV, on the day that Juliet is to marry her suitor, Paris, her mother goes to her room to wake her and finds her daughter to be dead (or so she believes, thanks to Friar Laurence's potion). Unbeknownst to him, Capulet demands that her mother 'bring Juliet forth. Her lord is come.' Juliet's nurse replies, 'She's dead, deceased. She's dead, alack the day!' Lady Capulet confirms this, saying, 'Alack the day, she's dead, she's dead, she's dead.' In this situation, Capulet expects his daughter to marry Paris, the man he has deemed worthy of her hand. However, Juliet appears to be dead on her wedding day. For the family, it is tragically sad and ironic that Juliet would die on this, of all days.

Verbal Irony

Similar to situational irony, verbal irony occurs when a verbal response is different than what is expected. During the party at Capulet's mansion, Tybalt spies Romeo and his men. Enraged, Tybalt declares that he will not stand for 'when such a villain is a guest. / I'll not endure him.' Capulet responds quickly in a way that neither Tybalt nor the audience expects, considering the feud between Capulets and Montagues. He says, 'He shall be endured. / What, goodman boy? I say, he shall. Go to. / Am I the master here or you? Go to. / You'll not endure him! God shall mend my soul, / You'll make a mutiny among my guests.' In this exchange, Capulet's reply is both surprising and ironic. It would have been more expected that Capulet would throw all of the Montagues out of his party.

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Additional Activities

Which Type of Irony Is This?

Look at the below examples and identify which types of irony they illustrate. Each example has a line and a brief description of the context in which the line is spoken; the irony could be in the description or in the line, or in both. An answer key is available, and be careful, as some lines might fit more than one type of irony!

  1. Tybalt tries to challenge Romeo to a fight. Romeo replies: "I do protest I never injured thee/But love thee better than thou canst devise..." (III.i.39-40).
  2. Romeo sneaks into the Capulet ball with his friends to get a glimpse of Rosaline; he meets Juliet and proclaims: "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!/For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night" (I.v.50-51).
  3. Mercutio and Benvolio gripe about Romeo ditching them at the ball the night before. They attribute it to his love for Rosaline, with Mercutio proclaiming: "...Laura to his lady was but/A kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love to/Berhyme her; Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen/And Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a grey eye or so..." (II.iv.37-40).
  4. Romeo and Juliet are dead, and the Friar has just told their parents everything. The Prince of Verona, exhausted, tells their fathers: "...Capulet! Montague!/See what a scourge is laid upon your hate/That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love" (V.iii.312-14).
  5. Juliet's mother has informed her of her engagement to Paris following Tybalt's death at Romeo's hand; Juliet is not pleased and answers: "I pray you, tell my lord and father, madam/I will not marry yet. And when I do, I swear/It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate/Rather than Paris" (III.v.120-124).

Answer Key:

  1. Verbal irony: Tybalt (as well as Benvolio and Mercutio) surely did not expect to hear Romeo say that he loves Tybalt!
  2. Situational irony: Romeo attended the ball to see Rosaline, whom he thought himself in love with, only to realize that whatever he felt for Rosaline was not love when he falls for Juliet.
  3. Dramatic irony: Mercutio is mocking Romeo for being so in love with Rosaline; however, the audience knows that Romeo has fallen in love with Juliet.
  4. Situational irony: Instead of love bringing joy, as you would expect, it brought tragedy to two families who lived in hatred of each other.
  5. Verbal irony: Juliet proclaims she would rather marry Romeo than Paris, which is surely not what her mother expected to hear. However, it is also dramatic irony: while Juliet's statement is undoubtedly taken as exaggeration in her mother's eyes, the audience knows that Juliet has indeed married Romeo.

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