Perfect examples of how this greater knowledge can affect the dramatic irony in a literary work are: Shakespeare's Hamlet, Sophocles'' Oedipus the King and Miller's Death of a Salesman. What ties the main characters of these three plays together is that they all know what they need to do in order to fix their problems, but are unable to take action because of their own fears and cowardice. These fears and cowardice are made perfectly clear to the reader, yet the characters are unable to see themselves for who they really are. Irony binds these three plays together through the blindness of the characters and their inability to see their own realities.
Shakespeare's character Hamlet can be extremely frustrating to many readers and audience members. It is perfectly clear from an outside perspective that Hamlet can't make up his mind about anything, but Hamlet himself is blind to the fact that his indecisiveness is making matters worse. Since the knowledge of Hamlet's true reality is hidden from him he becomes more and more indecisive as the play progresses. In his famous soliloquy in Act IV Hamlet asks "To be or not do be," as he tries to decide whether or not to end his life. He cannot decide is it is "nobler in the mind to suffer", questioning if it is more noble to just stick it out and suffer in life saying, "The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." He cannot decide if it is more of a sin to live ones life in pain and suffering, or to end it knowing that what death offers will be better than what life can. His mind has become so confused and clouded that he can only focus on "The heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to".
A similar circumstance can be seen in the character of Oedipus because according to the history books, Sophocles' audience came to his plays already knowing the background of Oedipus and the ironic life that fate has dealt him. This previous knowledge only builds the dramatic irony. Throughout the play Oedipus makes several allusions to sight and blindness only adding to the audience's sense of dramatic irony, making the play into the great tragedy that it is known as today. While Oedipus has no idea about the ironic relationship between his past and present, the audience does. Irony can best be seen is circumstances when Oedipus is most blind to the realities of his life. Fir example Oedipus replies to the Priest who tells him that the people of Thebes are dying by saying, "I could not fail to see this". As Oedipus tries to uncover the truth it is easy for the audience to see that he is simply a victim of fate, but at times it seems as though the irony is strong that Oedipus seems to be trying to bring all the horrendous truths into his life. It is almost as if he does in fact know the truth when he comments about the fact that he is lying in the bed of a dead king saying that a marriage would create "blood bonds" between them.
In Death of a Salesman, the main character Willy is very unhappy with his life and has a hard time appreciating what he has. Here again, dramatic irony comes into play because to the outside audience Willy has a very nice life and it is only Willy's own mind that sees his life as unsuccessful. To anyone else, Willy seems to have a very normal and fulfilling life. He has a family, a job, and a nice home, but the overachieving pull of the American dream causes Willy to become discontent. The climax of the play is when Willy's son Biff says, "Pop, I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you! . . . I am not a