385. Irony (See also Last Laugh.)
- Alvaro attempt to disarm accidentally causes opponent’s death. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, La Forza del Destino, Westerman, 316]
- Arrigo fight for freedom means opposing new found father. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, Sicilian Vespers, Westerman, 308–309]
- Artemidorus presents Caesar with scroll outlining conspiracy; it remains unopened. [Br. Lit.: Julius Caesar ]
- Barabas perishes in trap he set for Turks. [Br. Lit.: The Jew of Malta ]
- Barnaby Rudge Dennis, the public hangman, is sentenced to be hanged on his own scaffold. [Br. Lit.: Dickens Barnaby Rudge ]
- Bazaroff reformed radical; dies accidentally. [Russ. Lit.: Fathers and Sons ]
- Bel-Ami subtitled: “The History of a Scoundrel.” [Fr. Lit.: Bel-Ami ]
- Bigger Thomas finds freedom through killing and life’s meaning through death. [Am. Lit.: Native Son, Magill I, 643–645]
- Bishop, the dying in a delirium, he speaks of pomp and luxury rather than salvation. [Br. Poetry: Browning “The Bishop Orders His Tomb”]
- Carlos, Don loves bride he procured for his father. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, Don Carlos, Westerman, 319]
- Cassandra true prophet, doomed to go unbelieved. [Gk. Myth.: Espy, 40]
- Catch-22 pleading insanity to leave army indicates sanity. [Am. Lit.: Catch-22 ]
- Claudius emperor-scholar in soldier-worshiping nation. [Br. Lit.: I, Claudius ]
- Così fan tutte illustrates comically some shortcomings of feminine fidelity. [Ger. Opera: Mozart, Cosi fan tutte, Westerman, 97–98]
- Creon victim of his own harsh tyranny. [Gk. Lit.: Antigone ]
- Defender of the Faith Henry VIII’s pre-Reformation title, conferred by Leo X. [Br. Hist.: Benét, 258]
- Gaigern, Baron attempts to rob ballerina; becomes her lover. [Ger. Lit.: Grand Hotel ]
- Gift of the Magi, The young couple sell their dearest possessions to buy Christmas gifts for one another, discover that the sacrifice made the gifts unusable. [Am. Lit.: O. Henry The Gift of the Magi in Benét, 395]
- Harmony Society embraced communism and celibacy; the latter caused their extinction. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 349]
- John of Balue imprisoned in an iron cage he invented. [Br. Lit.: Quentin Durward ]
- Magic Mountain, The sanatorium as escape from “insane world.” [Ger. Lit.: The Magic Mountain, Magill I, 545–547]
- Mayor of Casterbridge, The Henchard dies in care of man he tyrannized. [Br. Lit.: The Mayor of Casterbridge, Magill I, 571–573]
- Modest Proposal, A essay in which Swift advises the Irish to eat their babies or sell them in order to relieve famine and reduce overpopulation. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 677]
- Otternschlag, Dr. attempting suicide, discovers will to live. [Ger. Lit.: Grand Hotel ]
- Pagliaccio clown forced to be funny despite breaking heart. [Ital. Opera: Leoncavallo, Pagliacci, Espy, 339]
- Patterne, Sir Willoughby egoist’s actions lead to self-defeat. [Br. Lit.: The Egoist, Magill I, 241–242]
- Point, Jack jester who must be funny even when events break his heart. [Br. Opera: Gilbert & Sullivan The Yeomen of the Guard ]
- Polycrates tyrant of Athens who, renowned for his continual good fortune, is ignominiously trapped and crucified by an envious ruler. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 801]
- Popeye murderer; hanged for murder he did not commit. [Am. Lit.: Sanctuary ]
- R. U.R . robots, manufactured for man’s ease, revolt. [Czech. Lit.: R. U.R.]
- Rachel executed as Jewess; revealed to be Christian clergy-man’s daughter. [Fr. Opera: Halevy, The Jewess, Westerman, 168]
- Rigoletto arranges murder of daughter’s seducer; she dies instead. [Ital. Opera: Verdi, Rigoletto, Westerman, 299–300]
- Sitzkrieg “phony war”; lull between Polish conquest and invasion of France. [Eur. Hist.: Hitler, 815–819]
- Sohrab unaware, engages in single combat with Rustum, the father he had been seeking, and is slain. [Br. Poetry: Sohrab and Rustum in Benét, 943]
- War of 1812 Jackson’s New Orleans victory occurred after treaty was signed. [Am. Hist.: Hart, 893]
1. In RHETORIC, words with an implication opposite to their usual meaning. Ironic comment may be humorous or mildly sarcastic, as for example when, at a difficult moment, an act of kindness makes things worse, and someone says, ‘Well, that's a lot better, isn't it?’ Expressions heavy with irony are often used to drive a point home: ‘I'm really looking forward to seeing him, I don't think’; ‘You're pleased to see me? Pull the other leg/one (it's got bells on).’ In such usages, irony slides into sarcasm.
2. In general usage, incongruity between what is expected and what happens, and an outcome that displays such incongruity. The sentence adverb ironically is often used to draw attention to it: ‘Ironically, his kindness only made things worse.’ In many instances, ironically serves virtually as a synonym of paradoxically.
3. Wry awareness of life's incongruity and irrationality.
Three kinds of irony have been recognized since antiquity: (1) Socratic irony, a mask of innocence and ignorance adopted to win an argument. Among the stock characters in early Greek comedy were two deceivers, the eírṓn, a weak but wily underdog, who usually tricked the alazṓn, a bombastic and stupid vagabond. In Plato's dialogues, Socrates often plays the eírōn, pretending ignorance and asking seemingly foolish questions so as to move a debate in the direction he wants. (2) Dramatic or tragic irony, a double vision of what is happening in a play or a real-life situation. In Greek tragedy, the characters were blind to fateful circumstances of which the audience was all too well aware, producing a privileged and often poignant appreciation of the plot. (3) Linguistic irony, a duality of meaning, now the classic form of irony. Building on the idea of dramatic irony, the Romans concluded that language often carries a double message, a second often mocking or sardonic meaning running contrary to the first.
In modern times, two further conceptions have been added: (1) Structural irony, a quality that is built into texts, in which the observations of a naïve narrator point up the deeper implications of a situation. In the stories of the English humorist P. G. Wodehouse (1917 onward), Bertie Wooster reports verbatim the smooth, deflating comments of his butler Jeeves without any indication that he has understood or even noticed what Jeeves ‘really’ says. (2) Romantic irony, in which writers conspire with readers to share the double vision of what is happening in the plot of a novel, film, etc. By the 17c and 18c, a refined ironic style was established in European writing, as when Henry Fielding interrupted the action in his novels to address his readers directly and comment on events. When engaging in this game, writers combine creative egotism with a suave and knowing self-mockery. By the 19c, critics had become adept at detecting and dissecting irony in literature and in life. The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard raised irony to the cosmic level when he proposed in 1841 that it was a way of viewing all existence, and some writers and critics have since implied that God is the greatest ironist of all. The phrase irony of fate suggests that, like drama, life treats people as if wryly mocking them, delivering at a strategic moment the opposite to what is deserved or at first seemed likely. See FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE.
i·ro·ny1 / ˈīrənē; ˈiərnē/ • n. (pl. -nies) the expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect: “Don't go overboard with the gratitude,” he rejoined with heavy irony. ∎ a state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result: the irony is that I thought he could help me. ∎ (also dra·mat·ic or trag·ic i·ro·ny) a literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character's words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character. i·ro·ny2 / ˈīərnē/ • adj. of or like iron: an irony gray color.
So ironic XVII. — F. ironique or late L. īrōnicus — Gr. eirōnikós; preceded by ironical, ironically XVI.