What is the dramatic irony in "The Crucible?"

Answer

"The Crucible" has several instances of dramatic irony, the most important of which occurs when Elizabeth Proctor perjures herself before Judge Danforth in an attempt to save her husband. She is known for her honesty, so her attempt to cover for her husband's lie backfires. All along, the audience has knowledge that Elizabeth lacks, so it is clear her lie is going to backfire against her.

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience has access to important information that a character lacks. Access to this information, as well as knowledge of the character's ignorance of the information, puts the audience in a position of a superior perspective. This enables the audience to anticipate future events better than the character, which creates either humor or tension over consequences that the character may not expect.

In "The Crucible," John Proctor confesses his adultery to Judge Danforth in an attempt to expose the motivation Abigail Williams would have for accusing others of witchcraft. He then tells the Judge to confirm his story with Elizabeth, his wife, who is known for her honesty. When the Judge calls Elizabeth forward to testify, she fears that telling the truth may condemn her husband as a sinner, so she decides to break with her typically honest nature and lie in order to protect John. The audience is aware that John has already confessed, so contradicting his story is actually far worse than confirming his sin. Because the audience understands that Elizabeth needs to acknowledge John's sin in order to save his life, and Elizabeth lacks this understanding, this pivotal scene creates dramatic irony as the audience can recognize her tragic error before she can.

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