Shakespeare's Grammar

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Rhetorical Devices

Intertwined with syntax, rhetoric exerts another powerful influence on Elizabethan writing. Rhetoric in its original sense means "the art or study of using language effectively and persuasively." While I won't be getting into some of the more obscure terms (is there anyone who isn't frightened by a mouthful of syllables like "paraprosdokian"?), a healthy understanding of poetry's debt to rhetoric is in order. Below is a table of some of the more common devices employed for emphasis in Shakespeare:


repetition of the same initial consonant sound throughout a line of verse

"When to the sessions of sweet silent thought...." (Sonnet XXX)


the repetition of a word that ends one clause at the beginning of the next

"My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain."1 (Richard III, V, iii)


repetition of a word or phrase as the beginning of successive clauses

"Mad world! Mad kings! Mad composition!" (King John, II, i)


substitution of one part of speech for another

"I'll unhair thy head." (Antony and Cleoptra, II, v)


juxtaposition, or contrast of ideas or words in a balanced or parallel construction

"Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more." (Julius Caesar, III, ii)


repetition or similarity of the same internal vowel sound in words of close proximity

"Is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks." (Romeo and Juliet, V, iii)


omission of conjunctions between coordinate phrases, clauses, or words

"Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils,
Shrunk to this little measure?" (Julius Caesar, III, i)


two corresponding pairs arranged in a parallel inverse order

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (Macbeth, I, i)


repetition broken up by one or more intervening words

"Put out the light, and then put out the light." (Othello, V, ii)


omission of one or more words, which are assumed by the listener or reader

"And he to England shall along with you." (Hamlet, III, iii)


repetition at the end of a clause of the word that occurred at the beginning of the clause

"Blood hath bought blood, and blows have answer'd blows." (King John, II, i)


frequent repetition of a phrase or question; dwelling on a point

"Who is here so base that would be a bondman? If any, speak; for him I have offended. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If any speak; for him have I offended." (Julius Caesar, III,ii)


repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses2

"I'll have my bond!
Speak not against my bond!
I have sworn an oath that I will have my bond." (Merchant of Venice, III, iii)


altering word order, or separation of words that belong together, for emphasis

"Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall." (Measure for Measure, II, i)


a confused use of words in which an appropriate word is replaced by one with similar sound but (often ludicrously) inappropriate meaning

"I do lean upon justice, sir, and do bring in here before your good honor two notorious benefactors."
"Are they not malefactors?" (Measure for Measure, II, i)


implied comparison between two unlike things achieved through the figurative use of words

"Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York." (Richard III, I, i)


substitution of some attributive or suggestive word for what is meant (e.g., "crown" for royalty)

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears." (Julius Caesar, III, ii)


use of words to imitate natural sounds

"There be more wasps that buzz about his nose." (Henry VIII, III, ii)


emphasizing a point by seeming to pass over it

"Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it.
It is not meet you know how Caesar lov'd you." (Julius Caesar, III, ii)


similarity of structure in a pair or series of related words, phrases, or clauses3

"And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determin├Ęd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days." (Richard III, I, i)


insertion of some word or clause in a position that interrupts the normal syntactic flow of the sentence (asides are rather emphatic examples of this)

"...Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words—
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester—
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered." (Henry V, IV, iii)


the repetition of conjunctions in a series of coordinate words, phrases, or clauses4

"If there be cords, or knives,
Poison, or fire, or suffocating streams,
I'll not endure it." (Othello, III, iii)


an explicit comparison between two things using "like" or "as"

"My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease" (Sonnet CXLVII)


the use of a part for the whole, or the whole for the part5

"Take thy face hence." (Macbeth, V, iii)

1 According to literal interpretation, this example is itself a form of anadiplosis termed "gradatio," in which the anadiplosis is extended in a series of three or more clauses that repeat upon one another.

2 Also termed "antistrophe" or "epiphora," evidently depending upon one's source. The three forms seem to be utterly interchangeable.

3 When the parallelism involves the same length within the structure (same number of words and/or syllables), this is a device known as "isocolon".

4 The opposite of asyndeton.

5 This makes it a specific form of metonymy.