Dramatic Irony in Shakespeare's Othello

The element of dramatic irony is very striking in the play Othello. There is always a great gap between what many things appear to be and what they really are. There is irony in the gap between the appearance and reality of Iago's personality, and there is also a mind-disturbing irony in the way Othello always believes the false and never believes the true.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

As always, the dramatic irony in the play lies in the action or speech of the characters who speak or act that way because they wrongly understand the reality or situation. Othello, who has so gullibly believed Iago the villain, misunderstands the way his loving wife Desdemona takes his love and her love for granted and talks about Cassio so honestly. Desdemona is too innocent, and she talks in an irritating manner about Cassio's case when the husband is so disturbed; it is so ironical that she tries to please her angry husband with something that adds fuel to the fire of his anger. Cassio is always mistaken in his understanding of the situation; his actions and speech are all ironical as when he requests Iago to help him, when in fact Iago is planning to ruin him.

Roderigo is the fourth gullible fool to become the victim of Iago, but without understanding that he is so systematically ruined by Iago he trusts him more than anyone else. And finally, the 'curse' given to Othello while giving the blessings by Brabantio is one of the most terrible ironies in the drama; the old man tells Othello to be careful because Desdemona may betray her husband as she has betrayed her father! And this comes out 'true', to the mind of the foolish tragic hero. Another unconscious irony is in Othello's speech when he meets Desdemona just after he arrives from the sea. He says that he is so overjoyed by her presence and company that he is afraid that the bliss may end so soon due to some unknown fate. And this is what happens very soon.

Besides the 'dramatic' irony when we are conscious about the reality and the character is acting or speaking on the basis of a misunderstanding, there are also many instances of 'verbal' irony when a character consciously satirizes, insults or teases another character. This is usually done by Iago, who insults and teases Roderigo and Cassio and even Desdemona and Othello. Those poor gullible characters do not understand the actual meaning and the insult but we understand it. For instance, just before Brabantio is brought to the scene by Roderigo, lago seems to be talking in favor of Othello and against Brabantio. He says that he wanted to kill the old man because he talked badly against Othello's honor. But his intention is evil; he wants to ruin Othello by separating his just married wife Desdemona. Similarly, he used ironical and spiteful language when he talks about Desdemona in act 2 scene I. Even his soliloquies are ironical, but at times we are struck by the power of his verbal ironies, as when he teases Othello by saying that "Men must be what they seem to be"!

Like the dramatic and verbal irony, there is also what is called the irony of fate in this play. Othello suffers from that irony of fate because chances lead him to the disaster and he finds out every truth too late. But the other characters are also victims of the irony of fate. Desdemona is innocent, except that she is guilty of being too innocent, and is unaware of the evil traps of her world, but she is victimized by her destiny. Similarly, Cassio also suffers without being evil or doing anything bad, again except being too simple-minded. And Roderigo and Emilia also suffer the same irony of fate.