Irony

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“The word irony derives from the Greek eironeia, meaning ‘feigned ignorance, dissembling.’ In ancient Greek comedy, one of the stock characters, the eiron (‘a dissembler, one who says less than he thinks’), [-p.93] outwits other characters by deceiving them; he deliberately uses words that convey precisely the opposite meaning of his real thoughts, feelings, or intentions. The term is also commonly employed by critics to describe a situation in which the result of circumstances is the opposite of what might reasonably be expected.” (italics in original, pp.92-93)

“…dramatic irony, in which the reader shares with the narrator (or authorial voice) knowledge of a situation or intention unknown to one or more of the characters.” (emphasis in original, p.93)

“…verbal irony, in which the meaning intended by a speaker differs from the meaning understood by one or more of the other characters.” (emphasis in original, p.93)

“…cosmic irony, in which fate or destiny appears to play a cruel joke on human hopes.” (emphasis in original, p.94)

Tragic irony occurs when a noble character is undone by mistaken judgment, as in the case of Sophocles’s Oedipus the King…, or an innocent character is deceived by a villain who is aware of the irony of the situation, as in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606). In the case of Oedipus, the king attempts to prove his nobel character by seeking out his predecessor’s murderer, only to discover that he is the guilty party. In contrast, works such as Indian writer R. K. Narayan’s ‘Trail of the Green Blazer’ (1972) produce a kind of comic irony. In the case of Narayan’s story, an ignoble character, a pickpocket named Raju, is punished for attempting to do a good deed.” (emphasis in original, p.94)

Ref: Edwin Barton and Glenda Hudson (c1997) A Contemporary Guide to Literary Terms with Strategies for Writing Essays about literature. Houghton Mifflin Company: Boston and New York)

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