Irony in Hamlet

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that the characters do not. In Hamlet, one of the major examples of dramatic irony is the fact that Hamlet, the Ghost, and the audience all know the truth about his father’s death, but the other characters do not. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony numerous times throughout the play in order to underscore motifs of mischief, deception, and distrust.

Irony Examples in Hamlet:

"Lay her i' the earth; And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring! I tell thee, churlish priest,(235) A ministering angel shall my sister be When thou liest howling...."   (Act V - Scene I)

While the Priest refuses to say Christian burial rites for Ophelia because she appears to have committed suicide, Laertes is indignant, insisting that his sister's purity will turn her into an angel. A "ministering angel" is one thought to help individuals find salvation. With this rhetoric, Laertes swaps Ophelia and the Priest's roles: Ophelia will become an angel and save souls while the Priest howls in hell as punishment for his sins on earth. Ironically, this outburst of emotion calls attention to the reality that Ophelia would be the one "howling" in hell because of her suicide.