Verbal Irony in The Lady, or the Tiger?

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 some examples of verbal irony from Frank R. Stockton's ''The Lady or the Tiger?'' This is the story of a king who seeks justice against his daughter's love interest.

Short Story Summary

If you had a choice between sending your love into the arms of another or allowing him to die, what would you choose? This is the premise of the Frank R. Stockton story ''The Lady or the Tiger?''

A man and a woman fall in love, but there is a problem. Her father is a king who believes that justice is best served in an arena. The king allows the accused to choose between two doors. Behind one is a beautiful wife; behind the other is a deadly tiger.

When the king learns of the affair between his daughter and the young man, the man is sentenced to the arena. The princess discovers which door is which and signals to her love which door to open. However, the narrator ends the story without telling the reader if the princess sent him to the door with the woman or the one with the tiger. Instead, he expounds on the princess's mental anguish over the decision she had to make.

Throughout the story, the writer keeps the reader engaged through verbal irony. Verbal irony is when what is said and the intended message are contrary to one another in a sardonic or sarcastic way. Let's look at some examples of verbal irony from this story.

The King

From the very first paragraph, Stockton incorporates verbal irony with his description of the semi-barbaric king. Just by calling him semi-barbaric is verbal irony since his method of justice is in fact barbaric. According to the narrator,

''He was a man of exuberant fancy, and, withal, of an authority so irresistible that, at his will, he turned his varied fancies into facts.''

This is verbal irony because while we would all like the facts to line up with our desires, not even a king can make that happen at will. This contrary statement provides the reader with an impression that the king is an irrational authoritarian.

The Amphitheater

The narrator also uses verbal irony when describing the amphitheater in which the fate of the accused is determined. The narrator writes,

''This vast amphitheater, with its encircling galleries, its mysterious vaults, and its unseen passages, was an agent of poetic justice, in which crime was punished, or virtue rewarded, by the decrees of an impartial and incorruptible chance.''

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