Shakespeare’s Dramatic Language
Rhetoric, Wordplay, Forms
Shakespeare’s Language
Source of pleasure
or
Obstacle to appreciation?
Qualities of Shakespeare’s verse
 Density and richness
 Characters express thoughts through
abundant, powerful images and metaphors
 Figurative language: pleases the mind and
senses - expresses one idea in terms of
another
 Connotative imagery: highly suggestive
network of pictures and ideas resonating
with other images, ideas, themes in play
Macbeth
There’s husbandry in heaven,
Their candles are all out. Take thee that too.
[Gives him his belt and dagger.]
A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep. (2.1.4-7)
A reading
 Banquo speaks to his son Fleance
 Heaven = an economical household in
which all sources of light are extinguished
 Powerful force (like lead) summons Banquo
to sleep - but he cannot
 Lines have resonance: husbandry, candles,
summons, lead
 Dagger appears in next few lines and later
in the play
Foreshadowing
 Banquo foreshadows the hallucinated
dagger that appears in Macbeth’s soliloquy
 Also the actual dagger Macbeth carries
away from the murder
 End of scene - ringing bell summons
Macbeth to commit the murder
 Lead - heaviness, foreboding the shadows
the early scenes
Lady Macbeth
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Goes mad
Fears the dark
Carries a candle
Darkness - moral darkness -evil - principal
theme of the plays
Early Modern English
 Technical difficulties for modern readers
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verbs with inflected endings
hath, doth, goeth
forms were in transition from medieval to
modern
pronoun problem - thee, thou, thy, thine
familiar vs.. formal - thou and you
• Katherine and Petruchio
Vocabulary
 Another stumbling block for modern readers
 Linguistic exuberance of the age

Lyle’s Euphues: The Anatomy of Wit
 Shakespeare’s vocabulary: 29,000 words (twice
that of the average Am.college student)
 Many of his words have since dropped/changed
from common usage: bisson (blind), proper
(handsome), cousin (kinsman), silly (innocent)
Sentences
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Syntax - arrangement of words in sentence
Influence of Latin grammar
Move toward “simplicity” - Bacon > Orwell
Shakespeare created stage pictures out of
poetry - issues of verse and prosody
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iambic pentameter
rhythm, emphasis
characterization
Let’s look at Hamlet
 The Ghost speaks:
Sleeping within my orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon,
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebona in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leprous distillment. (1.5.59-64)
Dangling modifier - or suspension?
 Grammatically, the subject should be “I”
but is in fact “thy uncle”
 Error embodies initial problem: Claudius
replace Old Hamlet
 Suspensions heighten suspense - remember,
young Hamlet is listening intently
 Virtually every scene is enriched by such
manipulations of syntax
Rhetoric
 Renaissance playwrights were committed to
eloquence and grounded in study of rhetoric

Richard Reynolds, humanist educator (1563)
But to whom nature hath given such an ability,
and absolute excellency, as that they can both
copiously dilate any matter or sentence, by
pleasantness or sweetness of their witty and
ingenious oration to draw unto them the hearts
of a multitude, to pluck down and extirpate
affections and perturbations of people, to move
pity and compassion, to speak before princes
and rulers and to persuade them in good causes
and enterprise, to animate and incense them to
Godly affairs and business, to alter the counsel
of kings, by their wisdom and eloquence, to a
better state, is a thing of all most noble and
excellent.
Translating Latin passages
 To English and back to Latin - had a profound
impact on English versification
 George Puttenham, The Art of English Poesy
 Imitation led to creation in poetry of

Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Spenser, John Donne,
Ben Jonson - and of course, Shakespeare
 Shakespearean examples
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Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew: Petruchio will
dazzle Katherina with his verbal skills
Polonius, in Hamlet - vain about his rhetorical skills
- Queen asks him to speak with “More matter and
less art”
Portia’s famous speech in The Merchant of Venice
Mark Antony’s in Julius Caesar
C. S. Lewis
Rhetoric is the greatest barrier between us and our
ancestors . . . . Nearly all our older poetry was
written and read by men to whom the distinction
between poetry and rhetoric, in its modern form,
would have been meaningless. The “beauties”
which they chiefly regarded in every
composition were those which we either dislike
or simply do not notice. This change of taste
makes an invisible wall between us and them.
Wordplay
 Tropes and figures - their names and
functions - were known to the average
Elizabethan playgoer
 Renaissance delight in language
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taste for copiousness or elaboration
pleasure in verbal games
Much Ado About Nothing
 Beatrice enters seeking Benedick - who has
just been tricked into believing she is in
love with him

Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to
dinner
 Benedick returns to the audience

Against my will I am sent to bid you to come in
to dinner--there’s a double-meaning in that.
Much Ado About Nothing
 Benedick is mistaken - Beatrice means what
she says and no more
 But in a larger sense he is right - Beatrice
has yet to acknowledge her attraction to
Benedick - and that she has been sent by the
same pranksters who fooled him
 Double meanings - pranks and wordplay are common in Shakespeare
Other examples of wordplay
 Romeo and Juliet
Hath Romeo slain himself? Say thou but ay,
And that bare vowel I shall poison no more
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 Henry IV, Part 1
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Falstaff’s incessant punning
 Macbeth
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gild/guilt, surcease/success, done/Duncan
None of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth
Forms of dramatic language
 Two primary forms: prose and poetry
 Dominant form of verse: blank verse
 Example of Shakespearean prose

Hamlet’s “What a piece of work is a man”
• rhythmic power from patterns of verbal repetition
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Bottom’s suggesting how to frighten the ladies
in the audience with a lion on stage
• Nay, you must not name his name. . . .
Shakespeare’s prose
 Early in his career Shakespeare rarely wrote
in prose

Richard III - 50 of 3500 lines are prose (2%)
 Later, Shakespeare uses much more prose

Hamlet - 900 lines of prose (30%)
What distinguishes poetry from
prose?
 Music and rhymed music
 Rhymed couplets often end scenes

the play’s the thing,/Wherein I’ll catch the
conscience of the King” -- Hamlet
 Rhyme fills A Midsummer Night’s Dream
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Helena’s first soliloquy (1.1.226-33)
Oberon’s chant as he applies magic lotion to
Titania’s eyes (2.2.27-34)
Blank verse
 Sir Philip Sidney thought it especially
suited to rhythms of English speech
 Titania, speaking in blank verse, refuses to
surrender the Indian boy to Oberon
The fairy land buys not the child of me.
His mother was a vot’ress of my order,
And in the spiced Indian air, by night,
Full often hath she gosipp’d by my side,
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking th’embarked traders on the flood;
When we have laugh’d to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind;
Which she, with pretty and swimming gait,
Following (her womb then rich with my young
squire)
Would imitate, and sail upon the land
To fetch me trifles, and return again,
As from a voyage, rich with merchandise.
But she, being mortal, of that boy did die,
And for her sake do I rear up her boy;
And for her sake I will not part with him.
(2.1.122-37)
Effect of these lines
 Five-beat structure works on the ear
 Smooth musicality of the meter
 Regular repetition of unstressed and
stressed sounds
 Combines with other repetition (words,
phrases, consonants, vowels) to create a
mood of intense emotion - even awe
Bending of the iambic pattern
v
/
v
/ v / v /
 Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me
v /
your ears! [regular]
/
/
v
/ v / / v
 Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me
v /
your ears! [irregular]
Language as theme
 Shakespeare’s early plays - candid look at
how he uses language
 1592 or 1593 - he discovers the power of
language - an epiphany
 Love’s Labor’s Lost and Richard III
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sudden explosion of rhetorical ability
sense of exuberance
Richard III - master of language
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Usurper, hunchback, infanticidal psychopath
He both attracts and repels us
Words speak louder than his actions
Richard gets what he wants with words
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gets others to do his killing for him
heroic villain with an unparalleled gift for
language
 Richard is unforgettable because his words
are unforgettable
Richard’s opening soliloquy
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths,
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments,
Our stern alarums chang’d to merry meetings,
Richard’s opening soliloquy
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visag’d War hath smooth’d his wrinkled
front,
And now, in stead of mounting barbed steeds
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.
Richard’s opening soliloquy
But I, that am not shap’d for sportive tricks,
Nor made to court an amorous looking-glass;
I, that am rudely stamp’d, and want love’s majesty
To strut before a woman ambling nymph;
I, that am curtail’d of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deform’d, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Richard’s opening soliloquy
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt be them-Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time,
Unless to see my shadow in the sun
And descant on my own deformity.
Richard’s opening soliloquy
And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
(1.1.1-31)
Richard’s opening soliloquy
 Rhetorical fireworks - show Richard’s
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self-conscious wit
Pleasure in patterns
taste for performance
 Sweeping contrasts
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war > peace, Lancaster > York, winter > summer
 Stichomythia - he brags to his adversaries
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tells Queen Elizabeth he will marry his daughter,
whose husband he has killed
Richard
 An actor
 Also a kind of artist/playwright who writes
a script to win the crown
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Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous (1.1.33)
 Creature of great yet perverted imagination
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his descendant - Iago in Othello
 We admire his wicked creativity and use of
words - yet condemn his evil deeds
A lesson in Richard
 Rhetoric, wordplay - power used for dangerous
ends
 Theatre creates the opposite - the positive and
living power of language
 Richard is an illusion, created out of historical
material to please and frighten the audience
 Language - beauties, power, weaknesses,
dangers, pleasures - paradox of WS’s thinking
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William Shakespeare drama language