Socratic irony is one of the more manipulative types of irony. It’s a tricky way to get information out of someone that can be used against them later. This type of irony is perfect for courtroom scenes but can applied in any sort of verbal confrontation. Let’s define Socratic irony with examples from both drama and comedy to give you an idea of how it may be used in your own scripts.

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A Brief Overview

Introducing Socratic irony

Ignorance can be a clever trick to get what you want. In certain situations, giving someone the impression that you are not a threat will lower their guard. And that's the time to strike!

This type of irony is all about manipulation, and an effective type of irony. Before we jump into some Socratic irony examples, let's kick things off with a quick definition. 

Socratic Irony DEFINITION

What is Socratic irony?

Socratic irony occurs when you feign ignorance in order to get someone to admit something. In other words, 'playing dumb' to catch someone in a lie or to confess to something they wouldn't otherwise concede. It is a verbal chess match that gives your opponent a false sense of security that lures them into a trap.

Socratic Irony Examples:

  • A lawyer pressing a witness into admitting something that will help their case.
  • Your parents asking you questions about the weekend they were gone, knowing you held a party.

For a complete guide to irony, download our FREE ebook covering the types of irony, examples, and how writers wield it.

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Irony is an essential literary device that all writers should master. Download our FREE e-book to get in-depth explanations and examples on topics like the major types and sub-types of irony, and the myriad of ways writers can use it to enrich their storytelling.

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Catching a Lie

Use Socratic irony in comedy

Of course, this type of irony isn't relegated to the court system, it can be useful in an office setting as well. In this classic moment from The Office, Michael knows that Dwight lied about going to the dentist. When Dwight returns, Michael busts out a rather ineffectual form of Socratic irony to try and catch him in his lie. 

A different kind of interrogation

socratic irony examples

Take Socratic irony to court

Lots of good courtroom dramas use Socratic irony. It’s a great way to get the guilty party to accidentally confess, and it makes for a gripping surprise. Ideally, the audience will fall for the lawyer’s feigned ignorance as well.

The same goes for courtroom comedies, as this scene from Legally Blonde shows us:

Elle wins, using Socratic irony

Throughout Legally Blonde, Elle is discounted because of her looks and extensive knowledge of all things beauty. In the climactic courtroom scene, she uses this perception as well as this knowledge to her advantage.

Everyone in the courtroom thinks she’s asking about the perm because she’s shallow. But Elle has other plans, getting Chutney to incriminate herself.


Dive deeper into irony

We've covered this particular type of irony but there is so much more to learn. If there is a particular form of irony you want to explore further, just follow the navigation below. Each one of these subtypes of irony belongs in every writer's toolkit.

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