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Shakespeare Lesson Plan: Teaching Irony in Romeo and Juliet

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/20/2012

I love irony. I once stayed awake all night thinking about how ironic things were. I finally concluded that everything was ironic, which in itself was ironic because not everything is ironic.

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    Important Definitions

    First things first: get to know these basic definitions of irony so to properly explain it to your students.

    • Irony - The difference between what someone would reasonably expect to happen and what actually does.
    • Situational Irony - When one's efforts produces the opposite results of what was expected
      • Romeo and Juliet Example: Romeo's attempt to establish peace between Mercutio and Tybalt leads to Mercutio's death and an escalation of the family war.
      • Historical Example: Surrendering guards at the Bastille still managed to kill 98 citizens.
    • Verbal Irony - A contrast between what is said and what is actually meant
      • Romeo and Juliet Example: After Romeo kills Tybalt and is banished, Juliet tells her mother how she wishes she could go to Romeo that evening. Her mom thinks Juliet wants to find Romeo and kill him. What she really means is she wants to go to him and enjoy intimate marital relations.
      • Literary Example: Prometheus says to Zeus, "You are as kind as you are wise." Zeus thinks it's a compliment. Because Prometheus doesn't think Zeus is wise, it's actually an insult.
    • Dramatic Irony - When the audience knows things the characters do not
      • Romeo and Juliet Example: We know Juliet has taken a sleeping potion. Everyone else, except Friar Lawrence, thinks she is dead.
      • Romeo and Juliet Example: We know Juliet has married Romeo. The Capulets and Paris do not.
      • Literature Example: In Horton Hears a Who, we know that Horton really is talking to little people on a bubble, but everyone else thinks he's crazy.
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    Lesson Plan

    Romeo & Juliet The following lesson plan can be used at any point in the play:

    Warm up: Have students copy a chart.

    The chart should include four columns. Each column should contain the following titles:

    1. Specific Example of Irony (Act, scene, lines)

    2. Verbal Irony

    3. Situational Irony

    4. Dramatic Irony

    Include as many rows as you think necessary. I recommend at least five.

    • Instruct students to copy the definitions of irony on the back of their chart. Discuss irony and provide examples. Persuade students to provide examples.
    • Instruct students to find five examples of irony from the play, a particular act, scene, or lines. Have them identify the type of irony and explain how it's ironic. The explanation should be written in the appropriate column in the chart.
    • After the chart is filled out, assign an essay analyzing irony.

    Sample Questions

    Feel free to use these sample questions:

    • How does dramatic irony build suspense in Romeo and Juliet?
    • What effect does verbal irony have on the play? Does it create humor? suspense? foreshadowing?
    • Why do you think Shakespeare uses situational irony in Romeo and Juliet? What is he saying about fate?
    • How does Shakespeare's use of irony contribute to your enjoyment of the play?
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