Irony is a rhetorical device in which the surface message is often diametrically opposite to the intended meaning. One classic definition of irony includes the sentiment that it is stating that it which is contrary to what is meant. There are three types of irony:
- Verbal Irony
- Dramatic Irony
- Situational Irony
All of these forms of irony are employed to emphasize the hidden meaning of the message.
Verbal irony is intentionally produced through speech. For example, if one were to claim that they were at a certain moment, panicking, when they were clearly calm, that would be verbal irony. Often, when using verbal irony, sarcasm is employed. However, verbal irony need not be sarcastic, and sarcasm does not always indicate irony. Many forms of verbal irony employ similes, such as "clear as mud," in order to fully convey the irony of a situation. Exaggeration and overstatement (or understatement) are forms of verbal irony as well.
Since it is spoken, verbal irony must rely upon timing in order to deliver its fullest effect. Incorrect timing, or incorrect inflection, can often lead the listener to miss the irony in a given statement. Examples of verbal irony can be found throughout literature, especially in plays. Two of the most notable examples of drama that rely heavily on verbal irony are Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, and Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare. Both of these authors were masters at verbal delivery, letting the audience in on the irony.