What is Socratic Irony - A Few Good Men - Featured - StudioBinder

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.

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!

Socratic 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.

A Game of Cat and Mouse

Take Socratic irony to court

Socratic irony is ideal for courtroom dramas. For lawyers, using rhetorical tricks like Socratic irony are part and parcel of the job. And in one of the most memorable results of this type of questioning comes from A Few Good Men. ​

“You can’t handle the truth” instantly became a classic and quotable line but pay attention to the questions leading up to that moment. Lt. Kaffee is using Socratic irony to get Col. Jessep riled up to a point where he will finally confess.

Socratic irony, a nasty lawyer trick

Catching a Lie

Use Socratic irony in comedy

Of course, Socratic 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

UP NEXT

Dive deeper into irony

We've covered Socratic 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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