Richard III Irony, as defined by Perrine?s Literature, is ?a situation or a use of language involving some kind of incongruity or discrepancy? (1709). Irony can be broken down to three types; verbal, dramatic, and situational. In Shakespeare?s Richard III, all types of irony are found throughout the play. Irony can be humorous, sarcastic, and sometimes quite complicated as it is used to ?convey a truth about human experience by exposing some incongruity of a character?s behavior or a society?s traditions? (337).
Verbal irony is often the easiest to see and understand as it is ?a figure of speech in which the speaker says the opposite of what he or she intends to say? (337). Verbal irony is often seen as sarcasm. In Richard III, verbal irony is quite abundant in Act Three with Lord Hastings. In Act Three, Scene Two, Lord Hastings is approached by a messenger or Lord Stanley, who has been sent to warn Hastings of a dream in which a boar (Richard) ?had razed off his helm? (147) or, cut off his head.
Hastings, still believing Richard is his friend and ally, disregards the message and even laughs at how Lord Stanley reacted to a dream. Later, in this same scene, Hastings is told of Richards intent to bid for the crown by Sir Catesby. Hastings, not wanting to see Richard crowned king, unknowingly seals his own fate by saying ?I?ll have this crown of mine cut from my shoulders/ Before I?ll see the crown so foul misplaced? (149).
Shortly after this, Lord Stanley himself appears after he is told of Hastings disregard of his warnings. As Hastings is celebrating with Catesby the knowledge that the Queens brother Rivers and her son Lord Grey are being taken to the Tower of London for their beheading, Stanley again warns Hastings that this may soon be his fate as well. Of course Hastings will not hear of this and tries to comfort Lord Stanley by telling him ?My lord, I hold my life as dear as you do yours,/And never in my days, I do protest,/ Was it so precious to me as ?tis now./ Think you but that I know our state secure,/ I would be so triumphant as I am?? (151).
The second form of irony, dramatic irony, is defined as ?the contrast between what a character says or thinks and what the reader knows to be true? (338). Act Three also shows a lot of this type of irony with Lord Hastings as well. Rejoicing in the fate of the Queens family, Hastings says how this could never be his fate because Buckingham and Richard hold him dear and would keep him safe. Of course, the reader knows this isn?t true, and that neither of these characters have any concern for anyone but themselves.
Later in Scene Four, a council is being held to decide when young Edward should be crowned. At this time, Richard finds out that Hastings will not support him becoming King. At the same time Richard is plotting against him, Hastings is singing Richard?s praises. ?His Grace looks cheerfully and smooth this/ morning./ There?s some conceit or other likes him well/ When that he bids good morrow with such spirit./ I think there?s never a man in Christendom/ Can lesser hide his love or hate than he,/ For by his face straight shall you know his heart? (163). This of course could not be further from the truth about Richard, as the reader knows, Richard is a man of lies and deceit.
Finally Richard returns to the council, making claims of witchcraft against him. No sooner does Hastings condemn whoever is at fault for the spells against Richard to death, Richard accuses Lord Hastings mistress of being behind it. Of course, there are no spells cast on Richard, this is his way of turning people against Lord Hastings and ordering that he be taken away and beheaded. At the end of Scene Four, Hastings remembers all the warnings that were given to him and regrets that he didn?t pay attention to them. Hastings also recalls Queen Margaret?s curse, which he had also disregarded. Lord Hastings now sees Richard for what he is, and asks that Queen Margaret?s curse on him comes true as well. ?O blood Richard! Miserable England,/ I prophesy the fearfull?st time to thee/ That ever wretched age hath looked upon.-/ Come, lead me to the block. Bear him my head./ They smile at me who shortly shall be dead? (167).
Finally there is irony of situation, in which ?the discrepancy is between appearance and reality, or between expectation and fulfillment, or between what is and what would seem appropriate? (339). In Richard III the irony of situation is Richard. Most people, at least at first, support Richard and think he is on their side. He?s the loving brother, the loving uncle and the loving friend. The reality is that Richard is none of these things to anyone but himself.