Dramatic Irony

Pride and Prejudice

by

Jane Austen

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Pride and Prejudice: Dramatic Irony 3 key examples

Definition of Dramatic Irony
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given situation, and that of the... read full definition
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a character's understanding of a given... read full definition
Dramatic irony is a plot device often used in theater, literature, film, and television to highlight the difference between a... read full definition
Chapter 31
Explanation and Analysis—Elizabeth's Denial:

Because the narration of Pride and Prejudice is third-person omniscient, readers learn that Darcy has feelings for Elizabeth long before she does. This leads to moments of dramatic irony, such as when Darcy comes close to Elizabeth while she plays piano and she assumes he seeks to intimidate her:

“You mean to frighten me, Mr. Darcy, by coming in all this state to hear me? I will not be alarmed though your sister does play so well. There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.”

This is an example of dramatic irony because readers learned immediately before this paragraph that Darcy moves closer to Elizabeth “so as to command a full view of the fair performer’s countenance.” In other words, rather than seek to intimidate her, he wants to be close to her because he loves her and wants to take in as much of her as he can before asking for her hand in marriage. This moment shows how Elizabeth’s prejudice toward Darcy keeps her from being able to see his caring—rather than intimidating or prideful—intentions.

Chapter 51
Explanation and Analysis—Lydia's Marriage:

In a moment of dramatic irony, Lydia returns home from her elopement with Wickham and flaunts her haphazard marriage as if it's something to be celebrated, telling her mother:

“Oh! mamma, do the people hereabouts know I am married to-day? I was afraid they might not; and we overtook William Goulding in his curricle, so I was determined he should know it, and so I let down the side-glass next to him, and took off my glove, and let my hand just rest upon the window frame, so that he might see the ring, and then I bowed and smiled like anything.”

This is an example of dramatic irony because, unlike Lydia, readers know that she has nothing to be proud of—Wickham was uninterested in marrying her until he was offered money to do so. He married her as a form of manipulation, not because he loved her. The quote shows how, as a 15-year-old, Lydia doesn’t understand the threat that she posed to her family (i.e., her sisters’ reputations would have been ruined had she run away with Wickham without getting married) or the fact that the man she is celebrating being married to was actively using her to make money.

This moment also highlights how much clout being married gives women in this society. Lydia wants her neighbors to see the ring because it means that she has earned something important—a romantic partner along with financial security.

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Chapter 57
Explanation and Analysis—Delightfully Absurd:

In a moment of dramatic irony near the end of the novel, Mr. Bennett reads a letter Collins has sent him about the impending nuptials of Elizabeth and Darcy and, telling Elizabeth about it, says the following:

“[T]hat is what makes it amusing. Had they fixed on any other man it would have been nothing; but his perfect indifference, and your pointed dislike, make it so delightfully absurd!”

This is an example of dramatic irony because readers know the truth—that this is not as impossible as Mr. Bennet thinks it is, given that Darcy has already once requested Elizabeth’s hand in marriage and proven that he is not “perfectly indifferent” to her. Not only that, but Elizabeth has already let go of her prejudiced judgments about him and no longer feels “pointed dislike” for him; she has, in fact, come to love him. Mr. Bennet thinks this rumor is “absurd” when, in fact, it is based in truth.

This ironic moment highlights Elizabeth’s inner conflict about revealing that she was wrong about Darcy’s extreme pride and that she rashly declined his proposal. Rather than facing her father’s shock and her mother’s disappointment about the truth, she ends up staying silent in this scene, only to reveal the truth later on. And, when she does, Mr. Bennet’s response affirms the irony and humor of the situation, “laughing at her some time” as he “recollect[s] her embarrassment a few days before, on his reading Mr. Collins’s letter.”

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