Tragic Irony: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Irony?
  • 1:18 Tragic Irony
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

In this lesson, you will discover the importance of irony in literature. Then, you will look closer at a specific type of irony, tragic irony, and analyze examples.

What Is Irony?

Imagine reading a novel where everything is predictable. You know exactly what characters are up to, the characters know exactly what each is doing or trying to do, and you can accurately guess what will happen next. To most people, this sounds like the most boring book ever written.

Literature needs the unexpected. Without it, the plot lacks excitement or interest. The reader will get bored and move onto something else. Think about the best book you've ever read. The one you literally couldn't put down. You carried it with you all around the house. You thought about it while you were at work or at school. What made that book impossible to leave behind? Most likely it was because you just had to know what was going to happen. Would the book have been so interesting if you could predict the plot? Probably not.

Irony is the device authors use to create that excitement and interest. Irony is showing a discrepancy between the reality and what appears to be true. Using irony allows authors to create more lifelike situations within their written works, situations that can surprise and can show the complexity that exists in the real world. There are several different types of irony, but this lesson will focus on tragic irony.

Tragic Irony

Tragic irony is also known as dramatic irony. This irony can be seen in almost all of the classic dramas classified as tragedies. In those dramas, the author often allows the reader, or audience, to know more about a situation than the characters. Thus, tragic irony creates incongruity between what a character does or says and what the reader knows to be true. Often this occurrence is very tragic, leading to the downfall of the character, while the audience helplessly looks on.

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