Literary Terms and Devices

Kevin Stadtler
Figurative Language
 Figurative language is a word or phrase from
everyday literal language for the sake of comparison,
emphasis, or clarity
 Imagery is the usage of words which cause people to
imagine pictures in their mind of a scene or situation
 In act 1 scene 5 lines 60-65, the Ghost uses imagery when
he says “That swift as quicksilver it courses through The
natural gates and alleys of the body, And with a sudden
vigor doth posset And curd, like eager droppings into
milk, The thin and wholesome blood: so did it mine; And
a most instant tetter bark'd about,”
 In Bob Dylan’s song, Mr. Tambourine Man, he uses
imagery when he describes where he finds peace, “Then
take me disappearin' through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves.”
 A simile is a comparison between objects using like or as
to make a description more vivid.
 In Act 1 scene 5 lines 24-25, the ghost exclaimed “Thy
knotted and combined locks to part And each particular
hair to stand on end, Like quills upon the fretful
 In the song, Lover of the Light by Mumford and Sons, a
simile is used when they sing “With skin too tight and
eyes like marbles.”
 A metaphor is a comparison or assertion of likeness
between two seemingly unlike objects. A metaphor does
not use like or as.
 Hamlet says after meeting the ghosts that he will “Yea,
from the table of my memory I'll wipe away all trivial
fond records, All saws of books, all forms, all pressures
past, That youth and observation copied there”(I. 5. 98101). Hamlet here is basically comparing his head to a
slate that is full of information and he can wipe it all off
with one quick sweep.
 Mother Teresa uses her life as a metaphor when she says
“I'm a little pencil in the hand of a writing God, who is
sending a love letter to the world.”
 Personification is when an inanimate or nonhuman object
is given the characteristics of a human being.
 Claudius says in act 5, "And let the kettle to the trumpet
speak" (V.2.277). Here he is saying that he will drink wine
if Hamlet wins the fencing match with Laertes.
 Ryan Bingham, in his song Hard Times, says “Hard
times, Creepin up on the good folks you know.” Here the
Hard times are given a human persona of creeping up or
being sneaky.
 An apostrophe is when a speaker or writer breaks off from
addressing the audience and speaks to an opponent or to a
third party not involved in the conversation.
 Hamlet says “O God! God!” as an apostrophe in Act 1 after
Claudius and Gertrude beg him to stay in Denmark and not
return to school. (I.2.132- B)
 In the rap, Mercy by Kanye West with Big Sean, Pusha T, and 2
Chainz, there is an apostrophe when a voice comes on saying
“It is a weeping, and a moaning, and a gnashing of teeth
It is a weeping, and a moaning, and a gnashing of teeth
It is - when it comes to my sound which is the champion sound
Believe! Believe!” This voice speaks
 A symbol is something that represents or stands for
something else, while still remaining in its current
 In Act V scene 1, Hamlet ponders upon death with the
skull which he held in his hand. The Skull symbolizes that
we are all dust and our time is winding down. Here he
says “he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and
now, how abhorred in my imagination it is!” (V.i.171-172).
 The stars on our national flag are symbols or
representations for all of the separate states united under
one flag.
 An allegory is a story or a poem that can be interpreted to
have a deeper meaning about morals or life.
 An example of an Allegory is in Act 3 scene 2 when
Hamlet has the Players portrait the murder of Hamlet Sr.
by Claudius. This had a deeper meaning to both Hamlet,
Claudius, and Gertrude , who was also involved in the
story the players preformed.
 Books such as Animal Farm and 1984 have been written
as allegories to current or possible future event that were
to transpire. They contained a deeper meaning then a
group of pigs who take over a farm or a man who reads a
 A paradox is a statement that is contradictory because it
contains two statements that are both generally true
cannot both be true at the same time.
 "You are the queen, your husband's brother's
wife“(III.4.15). Hamlet says the paradox of the situation
that surrounds his mother.
 The Nirvana song, Come As You Are, is a song which
involves paradoxes with lyrics like “As a friend, As an old
enemy, Take your time, Hurry up, The choice is
yours, Don't be late.”
 A hyperbole is a great exaggeration of the truth or
properties of an object.
 Laertes says, when Ophelia is buried, "Now pile
your dust upon the quick and dead, Till of this flat a
mountain you have made, To overtop old
 In Bruno Mars’ song, Grenade, he uses an uses an
hyperbole when he sings “I’d catch a grenade for
ya.” I seriously doubt he would actually do that…
 An understatement is when somebody makes out an
occurrence or object to be less than what it really was. It is
the opposite of a hyperbole.
 Claudius uses understatement when he describes the
situation with young Fortinbras of Norway. He makes it
out to be not a big deal at all; but in fact, Fortinbras is
ready to attack the castle at any moment.
 Understatements are commonly used by some parents in
dangerous situation towards young children in an
attempt to shield them from some of the cruelties of
 An Irony is a situation that is strange or funny because it
turns out in a way that you wouldn’t expect it to or want
it to.
 When Hamlet is with his mom, he killed an intruder, who
he believes to be Claudius. “Ay, lady, 'twas my word.
Lifts up the array and discovers POLONIUS Thou wretched,
rash, intruding fool, farewell!” (III.3.30-31).
 The song, Ironic by Alanis Morissette, sings extensively
about irony. With lines like “It's like rain on your
wedding day, It's a free ride when you've already paid,
It's the good advice that you just didn't take”, she sings
about the simple ironies of everyday life.
 Chiasmus is when terms are used in one order and then
subsequently repeated in another order repeated in
reverse order
 Claudius and Gertrude say a chiasmus, feeding off of
each other. Claudius leads by saying “Thanks,
Rosencrantz and gentle Guildenstern.” Followed by
Gertrude saying, “Thanks, Guildenstern and gentle
 John F. Kennedy used this tool in one of his most famous
lines of all time, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not
what your country can do for you; ask what you can do
for your country."
 Metonymy is when a person is referred to by the
name of the greater entity he or she represents.
 Claudius refers to the King of Norway, Fortinbras’
uncle, as Norway when he says “For bearers of this
greeting to old Norway” (I.2.35).
 Whenever people today refer to the President, the
Whitehouse is often used as a metonymy.
 A synecdoche is when a part is made to represent the
whole or the whole can represent a part.
 The Ghost refers to the monarchy by as a whole by
only using the royal beds they sleep on, when he
says "Let not the royal bed of Denmark be A couch
for luxury and damned incest.“(I.5.89-90).
 People often refer to a car as a set of wheels, today.
People also can refer to a group of cattle as a head.
 A repartee is a conversation which occurs with the
initial exchange of witty remarks.
 In Act II, scene2, lines 371-405, Hamlet take part in a
Repartee, which he rules the entire time. Claudius
can not ever openly respond to his witty remarks of
crazed and improper courtesy because of his much
inferior status compared to Hamlet.
 An example or repartee in todays world is a rap
battle between rappers. Here they give each other
witty and amusing insults until one side falters.
 Stichomythia is an exchange of dramatic words
between people in which a single line of meter is
 A perfect example of stichomythia is Claudius’ and
Gertrude’s exchange with Laertes shortly after he
and peasants storm the castle. “L. Where is my
father? C. Dead. G. But not by him.” (IV.5.126-128)
 Many soap operas use stichomythia to convey the
drama transpiring in the scenes they are in.
Stock Characters
 A stock character is a person who is quickly entered
into a scene and easily recognized as a common
 An example of a stock character is Osric. He enters
into the story as a one dimensional man. He serves
no real purpose in the story other than as a comic
relief point before the epic battle.
 A stock character is commonly used in comedy
television shows such as South Park, Family Guy,
and many more.
Musical Devices
 Alliteration is the use of words with the same
starting letter and close proximity to each other.
 The ghost uses alliteration while revelating to
Hamlet “With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous
gifts, O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power “
 An example of alliteration today is The Beach Boy’s
song, Little Saint Nick. They alliterate in the song
when they sing “Run run reindeer Run run reindeer”
 Assonance is the repetition of the sound of a vowel in
stressed syllables, which are not rhyming, close enough to
be recognized together.
 Along with being Alliteration, “With witchcraft of his wit,
with traitorous gifts, O wicked wit and gifts, that have the
power “ (I.5.43-44) is also assonance because it repeats the
 Diddy’s song coming home use assonance with the “o”
and “ai” when they sing “I'm coming home I'm coming
home tell the World I'm coming home Let the rain wash
away all the pain of yesterday.”
 Consonance is the repetition of the same consonant
in near consecutive uses.
 Consonance is used by hamlet when he says “Thou
wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell.” (III.4.38).
The “r” is the consonant that is focused upon.
 In Eminem’s song, The Real Slim Shady, he uses
assonance with the “s” sound. He says, "Will the real
Slim Shady please stand up I repeat, will the real
Slim Shady please stand up.”
 A rhyme is when two or more words sound the same
when spoken in a repeating manner.
 Shakespeare ends scene 2 in Act I with a concluding
couplet which rhymes. Hamlet says “Till then sit still, my
soul: foul deeds will rise, Though all the earth o'erwhelm
them, to men's eyes.”(I.2.259)
 Bob Dylan sings with rhymes in his song, Shelter from the
Storm. He sings “Suddenly I turned around and she was
standin’ there With silver bracelets on her wrists and
flowers in her hair She walked up to me so gracefully and
took my crown of thorns ‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you
shelter from the storm’”
 Rhythm is the pace at which a poem or other writing
goes at throughout a section of it.
 The rhythm of Hamlet is a series of stressed and
unstressed sounds like a heartbeat. For example, “To
be, or not to be: that is the question:” (III.1.56).
 Rhythm is one of the keystones of Rap music. It is
the rhythm that keeps the flow of word on track. It is
the rhythm that can determine the direction that a
rap goes.
 Meter is the pace or rhythm of poetry determined by
the number and length of feet in a line.
 In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses a meter of 5 feet in his
work. “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”
 A decrepit old gas man named Peter
While hunting around for the meter
His torch he did light
He arose out of sight
And, of course, as a result, he totally, completely and
utterly destroyed the meter!
End-stopped line
 An end-stop occurs when a line of poetry ends with
a period or definite punctuation mark.
 “Nay, answer me: stand, and unfold yourself.”(I.1.2)
The end-stop line here is the period at the end of this
 End-stop lines are used today in songs to signify
where the artist takes a breath or pause for the
instruments to play.
Run-on line
 A run-on line is a line that does not include a
punctuation mark, designating the end of a line; but
rather continues on.
 An example of a Run-on line is “And will not let
belief take hold of him Touching this dreaded sight,
twice seen of us:”(I.1.24-25)
 A run-on line is common in music because it’s a
place where the singer continues to sing without the
need to take a breath.
 A caesura is a pause that occurs in the middle of a
line of verse in poetry.
 Here, a caesura is used when Francisco says “I think
I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?”(I.1.13)
 Caesuras are used today in comedy to give a pause
for effect on the audience.
Free verse
 Free verse is a poetic style that lacks a regular,
systematic meter or rhyme scheme throughout the
 Shakespeare chooses not to use free verse in Hamlet.
 Many poets today utilize free verse in their poems.
Walt Whitman uses free verse in his poem, After the
Sea-Ship. He said “After the Sea-Ship—after the
whistling winds; After the white-gray sails, taut to
their spars and ropes, Below, a myriad, myriad
waves, hastening, lifting up their necks, Tending in
ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship:”
Iambic pentameter
 Iambic Pentameter is a series of 5 iambs in a line of
poetry. Of which, an Iamb contains a high and a low
 Shakespeare uses this meter all throughout his
Hamlet. He uses it in his most famous line in the
poem, “To be, or not to be: that is the question:”
 John Wesley Harding by Bob Dylan is a song written
in perfect Iambic Pentameter. He sings “John Wesley
Harding Was a friend to the poor He traveled with a
gun In every hand.”
Grammatical Pauses
 A grammatical pause is a pause introduced into the
reading of a line by a mark of punctuation.
 Grammatical pause occurred here in the middle of
the line as both a period and an exclamation mark. “I
think I hear them. Stand, ho! Who's there?”(I.1.13)
 In Bob Dylan’s song, A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, he
uses a grammatical pause in the middle of a line to
introduce a new idea. Dylan sings, “Where hunger is
ugly, where souls are forgotten.”
Concluding Couplet
 A concluding couplet is the final two lines, which
rhyme, at the end of a speech or poem.
 “More relative than this: the play 's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the king.”
 Bob Dylan uses a concluding couplet in his song,
Forever Young. He ends it by saying, “And may
your song always be sung May you stay forever