Situational, Verbal, and Dramatic Irony in The Godfather
Situational irony occurs in drama when a character behaves with the expectation of a certain outcome, but is met with a different outcome instead. This unexpected result often directly opposes the character’s aims or desires and communicates what is generally thought of as “turnabout. ” And early episode in The Godfather makes use of situational irony to illustrate the methods the Corleone family use to hold power. The Corleone’s lawyer, Tom Hagen, has been sent to the California home of studio executive Jack Woltz to convince Woltz to cast the Godfather’s godson in the lead role of a movie.
Woltz is obstinate in his refusal. During the negotiations, both men take note of Woltz’s beautiful racehorse, Khartoum, an animal said to be worth $600,000. Making the situational irony more palpable, Woltz is rude in his refusal, saying to the German-Irish lawyer, “Okay my Kraut-Mick friend, Johnny will never get that part, because I hate that pinko punk and I’m going to run him out of the movies! ” (Puzo). Woltz stridently and ironically dismisses Hagan, saying, “A man in my position can’t be made to look foolish!
” (Puzo). The scene becomes situationally ironic when Woltz wakes up the next morning with the severed head of his prized racehorse in a pool of blood at the foot of his bed. His impetuous reply to Hagen has turned out to be foolish, and he has ruined not only his stable but also, the audience must assume, his future in Hollywood. Though Woltz thought he was asserting his power in refusing Hagan, he was actually giving it away. This scene shows the reversal of consequences that takes place in situational irony.
Verbal irony occurs when a character says what he or she does not mean. It often occurs when what is said is the exact opposite of what is meant, or it can take the form of hyperbole or understatement. A scene late in The Godfather provides an example of this kind of irony. Michael, the new leader of the Corleone crime family, has decided to kill all the members of the family who were disloyal in the recent war with the Sollozzo family. Tessio is one of those disloyal family members targeted for elimination, though he doesn’t know it.
The scene opens as Tessio cheerfully tells someone on the phone that he’s on his way to Brooklyn with the family lawyer, Hagen. Hagen knows that Tessio’s demise is only moments away. Tessio says, “I hope Michael can get us a good deal tonight,” referring to a scheme he’s planning (Puzo). Hagen replies, “I’m sure he will,” referring to the murder of the traitorous Tessio that takes places momentarily (Puzo). Because the line conceals Hagen’s meaning and understates the significance of the murder by likening it to a “good deal,” Hagen’s words are an example of verbal irony.
Dramatic irony occurs when a character speaks or behaves in a way that the audience knows is not in accordance with the truth. The author of a drama can advocate for a certain position or point of view by making a degenerate or dishonest character advocate for the opposite position. But dramatic irony can also be used to create dramatic tension, to manipulate the audience’s emotions by letting the audience know something the characters do not. Just such an example of dramatic irony occurs in a scene midway through The Godfather.
The audience knows that a corrupt police captain, McCluskey, and a rival mob boss, Sollozzo, have conspired to assassinate the Godfather. The Godfather’s son Michael plans to retaliate, and he sets up a meeting with McClusky and Sollozzo that takes place at a small Brooklyn Italian restaurant. Only moments before they all sit down to dinner, a cohort of Michael’s taped a gun to the underside of a toilet in the bathroom of the restaurant. The police captain and the mob boss have made sure that Michael is unarmed, but they do not know about the gun in the bathroom.
Much of the scene’s dramatic effect comes from the fact that the audience knows about the gun and Michael’s intentions, but the police captain and mob boss do not. The tension peaks when Michael coolly asks the captain, “Is it all right if I go to the bathroom? ” (Puzo). He returns to the dining room and begins to shoot, to the great surprise of both McCluskey and Sollozzo. Work Cited Puzo, Mario. The Godfather. (1972). Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Screenplay available at The Internet Movie Script Database. http://www. imsdb. com/scripts/Godfather. html (accessed 28 April 2010).Sample Essay of EduBirdie.com