Dramatic irony depends on the audience s knowing something that a character has not yet realized, or on one character s knowing something that other characters do not know. It is a crucial literary tool used by authors, poets, and playwrights in some of the most famous stories ever told. Dramatic irony can serve many purposes. It can build suspense, excitement, and allows for a crucial climax.
It makes the audience more involved in the story and in touch with the characters. Two examples of dramatic irony can be found in Sophocles Oedipus the King and in Henrik Ibsen A Doll House. These are two drastically different stories, yet both Oedipus the King and A Doll House incorporate dramatic as a significant part of each story. The story of Oedipus is a well-known tale. The protagonist is the famous mythical man who is destined to kill his own father and marry his mother. This is a Greek myth known long before Sophocles dramatized it.
This entails that the audience is already aware of the outcome. However, Oedipus is not. Oedipus does not know that he is the one responsible for the murder of king Laius. Nor does he know that King Laius is his natural father. And he does not know that he has wed his mother. This is common knowledge to the audience, thus the audience knows more than the protagonist does.
J. Michael Walton states in his overview of Oedipus the King that, The unusual structure of Oedipus the King gives one reason for it s abiding popularity. All the significant action has already taken place before the play begins (52). In A Doll House, the dramatic irony takes on a slightly different form. In this story, not only does the audience become aware of something that another character does not know, but other characters are aware of circumstances that another character does not know of. The main character, Nora, borrowed money years ago under false pretences.
Her husband, Torvald was deathly ill and need to be moved to a warmer climate for a time. He was not aware of the severity of his illness. He was also not aware that in order to make the trip, Nora forged her father s signature to take out a loan. Nora is aware of everything; Torvald knows nothing. He does not know that he was on the verge of death.
He does not know that his wife illegally took out a loan. And he is not aware of the influence that Krogstad has over his reputation and his marriage. Torvald is ignorant of all of these circumstances. The most significant case of irony is obvious in Oedipus because everyone but Oedipus is aware that the prophecy came true but there are more subtle hints of irony found in the story, also. One such example is that Oedipus was destined to be the king of Thebes no matter what. Oedipus ironically holds the position of king being that his birth father held the thrown before him.
But Oedipus was given the thrown due to the fact that he killed Laius, the king and solved the oracle. Either way it was Oedipus thrown, but he did not know that (Walton, 54). Another case of irony occurs with the blind profit Teiresias. Teiresias attempted to warn Oedipus of the situation, but Oedipus dismissed him. It is ironic that Oedipus can only see the magnitude of the situation when he blinds himself, just as the profit Teiresias is blind (Walton, 55). In A Doll House there is also different cases of irony within this one tale.
We have already discussed the irony that Torvald is not aware of any of the circumstances that Nora is involved in, but everyone else is. Another case of irony can be found in Nora s actions themselves. Nora forged the signature and took out the illegal loan in order to save the man she loved... [Nora] was living with the belief that an ideal husband like hers would, if the necessity arose, sacrifice his life to save her reputation (Goontelleke, 161). She was wrong and Torvald would not help her in her time of need. Nora was trying to save her marriage.
It is ironic that in turn, it is this attempt to save her marriage that ruins her marriage in the end (Metzger, 60). What impact do these examples of dramatic irony have In Oedipus, the audience knows that the prophecy will come true in the end. The audience knows that the man Oedipus is hunting for is himself. The greatest impact occurs when Oedipus vows to take revenge and exile the man responsible for causing problems in Thebes. Oedipus declares, ...
liberation from the disease would never come unless we learn without a doubt who murdered Laius- put them to death, or sent them to exile (Sophocles, 1296). The audience can see the irony and significance of this statement. This strong statement makes the conflict peak. A similar statement is made in A Doll House.
Torvald states that someone who commits a crime such as fraud is not fit to raise children. He proclaims Forgery... I literally feel physically revolted when I m anywhere near such a person (Ibsen, 990-991). He makes this statement unaware that his wife has committed such a crime. Statements like these make the situations more intense. The audience becomes drawn in and keeps them on the edge of their seat, in anticipation of a conclusion.
These statements intensify conflict. They are necessary for an effective story involving dramatic irony. Oedipus and A Doll House use dramatic irony in similar ways. They both incorporate dramatic irony to build up to the climax. In both of these stories, dramatic irony is used to make the audience more involved with the action of the play. Dramatic irony is a literary tool that is used in stories, plays, and poetry throughout the ages.
Two effective examples of the usage of dramatic irony are evident in Henrik Ibsen s A Doll House and Sophocles Oedipus.