Reader's Encyclopedia

irony

In rhetoric, a deliberate dissembling for effect or to intensify meaning. In the most general sense, two categories of irony can be identified: verbal irony, in which it is plain that the speaker means the opposite of what he says; and circumstantial, or situational, irony, in which there is a discrepancy between what might reasonably be expected and what actually occurs -- between the appearance of a situation and its reality. One of the most common forms of verbal irony is the use of praise when a slur is intended, as in Julius Caesar when Antony insists in his funeral oration for Caesar that Brutus is "an honorable man." Ironic devices are favorite tools of satirists and dramatists and have been used by writers since before the time of Plato. What is known as Socratic irony takes the form of pretended ignorance as a means of leading on and eventually confounding an opponent. Tragic irony results from a perception of the intensity of human striving and the indifference of the universe. In this sense, irony is related to the concept of the absurd. In dramatic irony, a speaker may utter words that have a hidden meaning intelligible to the audience but of which he himself is unaware, as in Sophocles' drama Oedipus Rex when Oedipus calls down curses on the slayer of Laius, not knowing that he is the guilty party. See romantic irony.

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