So. Irony. A major literary device that is often misunderstood or just plain missed. Possibly because there are different kinds of irony. The big idea of irony, however, is that the literal/actual meaning and the intended meaning are opposites. (The title of this article, for instance.)
Often confused with sarcasm, verbal irony is when a speaker says the opposite of what he/she means. The most common example that comes to mind is someone cornered into doing something awful for politeness’ sake who says, “I would love to,” while really thinking a string of curse words (That’s what you get for being polite.).
Situational irony is when someone sees something happen to someone else and comments on it, unaware that the same thing is happening to him/her. Say that Milton sees his friend’s wife going into a hotel room with another man and chuckles at his friend’s misfortune. If Milton’s wife is also having an affair, and neither Milton nor the audience/reader knows at that point, that’s situational irony.
On the other hand, if Milton doesn’t know, but the audience does, that’s dramatic irony. Dramatic irony is situational irony that (as you may have guessed) comes from theatre where the characters might do or say something that they do not know is ironic, but the audience does. A great example from Into the Woods is when The Baker tells the disguised Cinderella that the prince is probably off “seducing some young maiden.” The Baker doesn’t know that the prince is at that very moment seducing the Baker’s wife. The audience does and has a good laugh at The Baker’s expense.
Well. There you go. Irony in a nutshell. Now, go forth, spread the word, and make the title for this article far less ironic. I promise I won’t mind at all.