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Dramatic Irony in Othello


This is an essay that identifies an example of dramatic irony in the play ‘Othello’ The Moor of Venice, by William Shakespeare.

Example of Dramatic Irony in Shakespeare’s Othello, The Moor of Venice

“Most potent, grave, and reverend signiors,
My very noble and approv’d good masters,
That I have ta’en away this old man’s daughter,
It is most true; true, I have married her:
The very head and front of my offending
Hath this. (Othello ACT I Scene 3 William Shakespeare)


Before we even try to examine the text of William Shakespeare’s play “Othello, The Moor of Venice and look for instances or examples where dramatic irony is being used, it might be a good idea first to define what dramatic irony is. Let us look at one definition from classic Literature, an online website. It defines Dramatic Irony as such:

“Dramatic irony involves the reader (or audience) knowing something about what’s happening in the plot, about which the character(s) have no knowledge. Dramatic irony can be used in comedies and tragedies, and it works to engage the reader, as one is drawn into what is happening. The audience may sympathize with the character, who does not know the true situation. Or, the reader may see the character as blind or ignorant. The clues may be rather obvious, but the character may be unwilling to recognize the truth.” (Lombardi) http://classiclit.about.com/od/literaryterms/g/aa_dramaticiron.htm

From the book ‘A Glossary of Literary Terms’, the authors M.H Abrams and Geofrey Galt Harpham defines dramatic irony as:

“A situation in a play or a narrative in which the audience or readers share with the author knowledge of present or future circumstances of which the character is ignorant; in that situation, the literary character unknowingly acts in a way we recognize to be grossly inappropriate to the actual circumstances, or expects the opposite of what we know that fate holds in store, or says something that anticipates the actual outcome, but not at all in the way that that the character intends.” (Abrams, Harpham 167)

With these definitions, it is clear therefore that Dramatic Irony as a literary device is only present upon recognition by the audience or the reader. It is therefore necessary, for the dramatic irony to work that the audience is aware or that the reader is aware of the circumstance that the character is unaware of, or acts unknowingly upon or expects unwittingly for. The very participation of the reader or the audience’s intellect is one of the factors that make dramatic irony a sought for or effective tool in drama since it involves the readers or the audience and attributes to them higher wits or sharper predisposition while watching the performance or reading the text. Unless this element is clearly impressed upon the audience or the reader, then dramatic irony, in a sense, fails too.

Now let us examine the play “Othello, the Moor of Venice,” by William Shakespeare for this element of dramatic irony. A clear example of dramatic irony in this play is when Othello blames his wife Desdemona. He thinks that Desdemona is unfaithful to him, and thinks she is being treacherous. There is dramatic irony in this since the reader or the audience is already aware that this behavior is uncalled for, since it is known that Desdemona is blameless, and it is through the machinations of Iago that Othello presupposes Desdemona’s treachery. Here, we see the truth clearly that it is Iago’s manipulations that causes Othello to unjustly doubt his wife’s loyalty, and that it is clear to the audience what the real truth of the matter is. We then see Othello acting foolishly due to a false assumption that the readers or the audience know better.

1. Shakespeare, W. 7th Ed., 1966 ‘Othello, the Moor of Venice’, Plain Label Books
ISBN1603033785, 9781603033787
2. About.Com Classic Literature, Dramatic Irony Lombardi, E.
Retrieved March 13, 2010
3. Abrams, M.H, Harpham., G.G, 2009, 9th Ed. A Glossary of Literary Terms’ Cengage
Learning ISBN1413033903, 9781413033908

Contributors Bio

Contributor photo Lona Glenn
Los Angeles
Lona graduated from Los Angeles City College. While being a lecturer in several high school institutions Lona founded an online educational project Tutorsclass.Read more
Contributor photo Maria Castle
Davis, CA
I studied education and currently work as a tutor for school-age children. I've worked as a volunteer in many different international social projects and as a camp counselor every summer.Read more

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