What’s comic irony?

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Comic irony is a literary technique that uses irony to create humor. It can come from wry statements by characters or situations presented in a work. Irony is divided into several categories, including verbal, dramatic, and situational, each of which can be used for comic effect. Examples include Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Cymbeline. Situational irony is often used in television comedies like I Love Lucy and The Simpsons.

Comic irony is a literary technique or rhetorical device in which irony creates a humorous effect. Comic irony comes in many forms and can arise from wry statements by characters or narrators in a work of fiction. It can also arise from the situation presented in the work.
Rhetoric students divide irony into several categories. Each of these categories can play the role of comic irony. Verbal irony, for example, is a form of irony that arises from the difference between what a speaker says and what he or she means. A classic example of verbal irony used to comic effect is found in the opening lines of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice. The novel opens with the observation that “it is a universally acknowledged truth that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in search of a wife.” In reality, however, this statement is meant ironically: the female characters in the novel are primarily concerned with finding single men of good fortune to marry.

Verbal irony arises from a contrast in words; on the contrary, dramatic irony arises from the contrast between what the reader or observer knows and what the character knows. A classic example of dramatic irony, used here to tragic effect, is found in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in which the audience watches characters act as if Juliet is dead, despite the audience knowing that she is alive. Dramatic irony can also be used for comic effect. A similar example of dramatic irony, this time used for black comic effect, occurs in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, in which Imogen discovers a headless body which she mistakes for that of her lover, Postumus. The comic irony arises from the fact that Imogen makes several claims about how she could never switch Postumus’ body, despite the fact that the audience knows that she is actually wrong.

A third type of irony, situational irony, arises from events in a work of fiction. In situational irony, irony develops from the difference between a character’s intentions and the outcome of his or her actions. This type of comic irony usually highlights the vanity or ambition of the characters. Situational irony underlies the plot of many television comedies. Classic examples include I Love Lucy or The Simpsons, whose storylines generally center around characters concocting elaborate schemes that backfire to humorous effect.

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