Dramatic Irony in Hamlet Essay

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Dramatic irony in the Shakespearean tragedy Hamlet has long been the subject matter of literary critical reviews. This essay will exemplify and elaborate on the irony in the play.

David Bevington in the Introduction to Twentieth Century Interpretations of Hamlet identifies one of the “richest sources of dramatic irony” in Hamlet:

Well may the dying Hamlet urge his friend Horatio to “report me and my cause aright To the unsatisfied,” for no one save Horatio has caught more than a glimpse of Hamlet’s true situation. We as omniscient audience, hearing the inner thoughts of Claudius as well as of Hamlet and learning of Polonius’ or Laertes’ secret plottings with the king, should remember that we know vastly more than the play’s
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George Lyman Kittredge, in his book, Five Plays of Shakespeare, describes the Bard’s excellent characterization of Claudius:

King Claudius is a superb figure – almost as great a dramatic creation as Hamlet himself. His intellectual powers are of the highest order. He is eloquent – formal when formality is appropriate (as in the speech from the throne), graciously familiar when familiarity is in place (as is his treatment of the family of Polonius), persuasive to an almost superhuman degree (as in his manipulation of the insurgent Laertes) – always and everywhere a model of royal dignity. His courage is manifested, under the most terrifying circumstances, when the mob breaks into the palace. His self-control when the dumb show enacts his secret crime before his eyes is nothing less than marvelous. (xviii)

The irony found in the characterization of the antagonist is balanced by an equal irony in the presentation of the protagonist. Hamlet is present at the court gathering -- dressed in black, the color of mourning, for his deceased father. He is not a man of the world, but rather demurring and thoughtful and by himself. His first words say that Claudius is "A little more than kin and less than kind," indicating a dissimilarity in values

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