The idea of tragedy, specifically the characteristics that Aristotle defined as aspects of the genre have been popular, even before 400 Bc. For this concept to have lasted so long throughout the ages as well as remain as relevant and impactful as it was so many years ago, it must have something within it that appeals to a large group of people. One overall trait that could possibly hold the answer to this is the catharsis that a well written and orchestrated tragedy is said to give the audience, A catharsis is the release of strong or buried emotions, well made tragic dramas have been proven to give the audience this. There is many aspects to a tragic drama that lead to this catharsis, An aspect that will be explored in this essay is a specific language feature called dramatic irony. This is very important in tragic dramas because what really drives the storyline forward as well as the tragedy is the main character [tragic hero] being blind to their own hand in their fate. The dramatic irony moment is what really highlights this blindness, By showing how obvious this truth is to everyone except the person it matters the most to. The other thing is that if a tragic drama is well written the audience is invested in the out come of the tragic hero and can emphasis with there struggles. Having the dramatic irony naturally ups the tension because the audience can see it all play out in a really disastrous way and they can also see it get resolved quite easily. This moment of dramatic irony is a crossroads between the two potential scenarios, This further helps with the catharsis because in order too feel it, the audience must feel that a great injustice has been done to the main character. The four texts i’ll be exploring are King Lear, Antigone, Gladiator and The great Gatsby, each one of these have very clear moments of dramatic irony.
The first text being explored is the play King Lear by Shakespeare, King Lear is the main character of this play and there is many moments littered throughout it, that display this language technique [dramatic irony]. A good example would be King Lear’s fool, taunting Lear in a joking manner and completely explaining Lear’s circumstance and Lear’s part in it all, what creates the dramatic irony is that it completely goes over Lear’s head. ”That lord that counselled thee, To give away all his land, come place him here by me- do thou for him to stand. The sweet and bitter fool, will presently appear; The one in motley here, The other found out there.” to which Lear replies ”dos thou call me fool boy?” the fool replies to this ”All thy other titles have been given away; that thou was born with” The Author is able to show the dramatic irony through King Lear’s reply. It focuses on the deemed insult in the fools words not the words greater meaning, which he does not get. This intensifies the irony since the point is clear to everyone except the person it is intended for. Also the way it is written the almost taunting way in which the fool replies ”all thy other titles have been given away; that thou was born with” it shows that Lear really has nothing, if someone deemed that far down on the natural order believed in by the characters in the play and the people watching it in the time it was written [Elizabethan times], can speak to him in such a condescending manner. Part of the reason this dramatic irony would’ve hit home so effectively is that first of all everyone watching would’ve been very emotionally involved in the main characters out come. The fact that the main character is himself the cause of his own suffering, if he would’ve figured it out early enough the fate he experienced would not have been at all on the scale that it was [Everyone around him all his family members including himself died]. There would have been this feeling of pity watching this scene because they would’ve realised that if only he could work out that he really didn’t have anything, no power and no one with any power on his side anymore. He could’ve acted more rationally and figured out a normal plan of action. Instead being blind to his true reality he decides to go into a storm and get crazier, From this moment onwards its all downhill. If at this point in the story if the audience were angry at King Lear at all, for not getting it. They would also be slightly angry at themselves, Since the whole concept of being blind to something about yourself, that everyone else can see, or how their own actions are affecting them negatively, is a universal very human thing to do that everyone in the audience would be able to relate to at some extent. This feeling of being angry at themselves funnels itself back into the play since they’d be able to emphasis and understand why he is reacting the way he is.
Antigone has instances where dramatic irony is displayed similar to King Lear, A reason why this could be the case is that Shakespeare studied classics and would’ve followed a similar format of style of tragedy that the writer of Antigone, Sophocles is one of the original creators of. The Dramatic irony is displayed through the main character [also a King] named Crean, who also made a mistake that is affecting his present. All tragic hero’s in tragic dramas make mistakes that drive them towards a less than desirable fate due to a boat load of pride. Crean is confronted many times for doing this, however every time like Lear, he misses the point completely. He is first confronted by his son [Haeman]. When Haeman attempts to say that he thinks his father isn’t acting reasonably and is even abusing his power as king. His father accuses his son of simply being manipulated by Antigone and not thinking normally. Haeman- ”A state for one man is no state at all” Crean- ”The state is his who rules it, tis I” Heaman- ”As monarch of a desert thou wouldst shine” Crean- ”this boy methinks, maintains the woman cause”. It almost seems like Crean isn’t really hearing him or valuing his words at all. He deflects them, and lets them like Lear go over his head, giving childish intended to be cutting responses. Haeman- ”Therefore my father cling not to one mood, And deemed not thou art right, all others wrong. for those whoso think wisdom dwells with him, That he alone can think or speak aright, such oracles are empty breath when tried” Crean- ”What, would you have us at our age be schooled, lessoned in prudence by a beardless boy” In this it is showing Haeman thinking very carefully about what he is saying and trying his best to reason and make his father understand. However Crean pretty much says your to young to have an opinion to give me advice. Which basically means he again missed the point completely. When compared to King Lear and the way he reacted to the fools words its very similar, they both miss the point and react with anger which further deflects the point. The fact that they’re both angry also further emphasises the pride that meant that they made the mistake in the first place. Which is further irony because the mistake they made due to their extreme pride can only be remedied if they no longer have the pride that made them make the mistake in the first place. In short, The same fault is once again coming back to bite them. Sophicle’s when writing this moment between Crean and his son, really wanted too show the turning point between Crean actively being King and enforcing his bad decision, to the point in which he is simply reacting to the after math of this decision and trying his hardest too keep everything together. Further irony in this conversation is when his son threatens to kill himself if Antigone dies and Crean believes the threat to be empty so deflects it with further anger. ”think not that in my sight the maid will die, or by my side; never shalt thou again Behold my face hereafter. Go, consort with friends who like a madman for their mate” Everyone there and those watching know his son is serious except the person that can prevent his death. Even more irony.
The next is a film titled The Gladiator directed by Ridley Scott. It’s a modern day version of a tragic drama so the main character doesn’t have the same status as king like Lear and Crean, he instead is a highly valued soldier. This is because in our modern day world we don’t have as much belief in the natural order so being king isn’t enough for modern day audiences to emphasis and feel that someone is wronged just because there not being treated according to their status. Maximus [the main character, tragic hero] can be seen as someone with many admirable traits which makes his fatal flaw forgivable since if he was perfect he could not be seen as relatable or even human. His instance of dramatic irony is much different than the other two texts, its at the very end of the play when Maximus is about to fight the man who was responsible for the death of his entire family, a tyrannical emperor that took the thrown by killing his own father [Commodus]. Right before they go on to the stadium Maximus is stabbed by Commodus however no one knows this in the audience because Maximus’s armour hides the wound. This is dramatic irony because the people watching the movie know that Maximus will die, Commodus and Maximus know he will die. However the audience are not aware of this fact, they instead see a strong gladiator thats going to change everything and get rid of there terrible ruler. Then when he dies and everyone realises that he in fact dies even though he killed Commodus and technically should have won, hits the audience hard. Simply because it was completely unexpected although us watching the movie have known his fate would be this all along so have been gearing up for it. It effectively highlights the irony of his existence throughout the movie since every single tragic event that has befallen him, from the murder of his family, to being brought into slavery. Has been carefully hidden from the general public so he has been suffering alone, them only seeing slithers of his reality. Which is ironic since he has had such a big impact on there worlds as a result of the fact that he could’ve been their emperor and at the end of the day killed their newest emperor.
The last text being explored is the movie The Great Gatsby directed by Baz Luhrmann, It has an entirely different premise than all the previous texts explored. The biggest text it has similarities to is the Gladiator due to the fact that it involves the death of the tragic hero, for the dramatic irony to be properly portrayed. As well as the tragic hero himself is not royalty and came onto his wealth and prestige as a result of his own personal agency rather than anything his family has. The reason its unique is because it has many layers of dramatic irony littered on top of itself in an elaborate web that ties in the whole movies concept in one big heap. To begin with Gatsby’s biggest desire and love has been the character Daisy his entire life he’s been trying to gain her shortly after he does, She hits the woman her husband [Tom] has been having an affair with, with Gatsby’s car. Gatsby takes the blame for her death and the only people that know that it wasn’t really Gatsby are Daisy and Nick another one of the main characters. The woman hit by daisy’s husband [George] is aware his wife has been having an affair. The person she’s been having an affair with is Tom his friend and Daisy’s husband. Him and tom discuss the death of his wife which is ironic because the person she was having an affair with is tom. The irony is that he is talking too the very person that was cheating with his wife about trying to find him. Since it was Gatsby who claims to have hit myrtle , myrtles George believes it was Gatsby who cheated with his wife. So he shoots Gatsby dead, and then himself. This is the second instant of dramatic irony in this movie, this is ironic because its all he’s ever wanted and once he has it he not only dies for it but no one knows that he is dying for it. The third level of irony is the fact that the man who shoots him represents the working class, where Gatsby started from and has been trying to escape his whole life, in a way it also shows that where Gatsby himself originated from he couldn’t escape even in death, which is also ironic. These different tiers of irony in the final ending weave itself to explain one subliminal message and that is the death of the American dream, since Gatsby’s love of Daisy which should have been pure and honest was corrupted by money and dishonesty so much in fact that it ended with the death of Gatsby himself. When related to Gatsby’s life style it holds the same message excess and the mere pursuit of wealth there wasn’t any of the individualism and happiness that the american dream represents and was meant to be believed in through the majority of the movie. This would have left audiences with an overall feeling of disenchantment as well as shock because the death of Gatsby would have been very difficult to foresee, Resulting in Catharsis.
In conclusion at surface level Dramatic irony supplies targets with much needed suspense therefore naturally upping the audiences involvement in the play, or film they are viewing. Dramatic irony at its core also holds important insight into characters as well gives the audience key understanding off the storyline and makes the tragic events all the more painful to watch and experience. Without it tragic dramas wouldst have as much impact because the audience knowing that much more than the characters makes them that much more a part of what they’re watching, it helps bridge the gap between actor and audience.