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William Shakespeare and Irony

William Shakespeare was as fond as any great playwright of the power of dramatic irony: His comedies especially are thickly strewn with it as the plots of plays like As You Like It and Twelfth Night depend on silly plot devices that can only be maintained through a heavy reliance on ironic understandings between the dramatist and the audience. Such an understanding in the comedic plays allows us to appreciate the fallibility of humanity. Shakespeare relies less heavily on irony in the tragedies, although in both Macbeth and Hamlet (and especially in the latter) the playwright has relied on the use of dramatic irony both to heighten the sense of suspense in the play and to call into question the fitness of both Hamlet and Claudius to serve as king.

If we are only generally familiar with the play, we are likely to think about Hamlet as being the hero of the play that bears his name. He is, after all, the man who risks his own safety and even sanity to achieve vengeance for his father and even more importantly, he is the figure who serves to bring a sense of both order and justice back to the land of Denmark. And yet, if we read the play more closely, if becomes increasingly clear to us that while there are certainly some heroic qualities about Hamlet, he is also clearly at least partially responsible for a number of the terrible events that occur in the play.

Shakespeare uses dramatic irony in Hamlet in a number of different ways. At the most superficial level, irony is used


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William Shakespeare and Irony. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 22:47, December 19, 2014, from