R 2

AP English Literature and Language
The Language of William Shakespeare
Pre-reading Notes
Shakespeare’s Grammar
Usage Shift.
We know what we are, but know not what we may be. - Shakespeare
The arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language.
Syntax Part 1
The most common simple sentence in modern English
follows a familiar pattern: Subject (S), Verb (V), Object
(O). To illustrate this, we'll devise a subject (John), a verb
(caught), and an object (the ball). Thus, we have an
easily understood sentence, "John caught the ball." This
is as perfectly an understood sentence in modern
English as it was in Shakespeare's day. However,
Shakespeare was much more at liberty to switch these
three basic components—and did, quite frequently.
Shakespeare used a great deal of SOV inversion, which
renders the sentence as "John the ball caught." This
order is commonly found in Germanic languages
(moreso in subordinate clauses), from which English
derives much of its syntactical foundation.1
Syntax: Part 2
Another reason for Shakespeare's utilization of this order may be
more practical. The romance languages of Italian and French
introduced rhymed verse; Anglo-Saxon poetry was based on
rhythm, metrical stresses, and alliteration within lines rather than
rhymed couplets. With the introduction of rhymed poetic forms into
English literature (and, since the Norman invasion, an injection of
French to boot), there was a subsequent shift in English poetry. To
quote John Porter Houston, "Verbs in Old French and Italian make
handy rimes, and they make even better ones in English because
so many English verbs are monosyllabic. The verse line or couplet
containing a subject near the beginning and a verb at the end is a
natural development."2
Of course, Shakespeare wrote a great deal of work in blank verse
(unrhymed iambic pentameter); when he wasn't rhyming, what was
he thinking? Frankly, Elizabethans allowed for a lot more leeway in
word order, and Shakespeare not only realized that, he took
advantage of it. By utilizing inverted word orders, Shakespeare
could effectively place the metrical stress wherever he needed it
most—and English is heavily dependent on vocal inflection, which
is not so easily translated into writing, to suggest emphasis and
meaning. In his usage of order inversion, however, Shakespeare
could compensate for this literary shortcoming.
Syntax Part 3
Shakespeare also throws in many examples of OSV
construction ("The ball John caught."). Shakespeare
seems to use this colloquially in many places as a
transitory device, bridging two sentences, to provide
continuity. Shakespeare (and many other writers)
may also have used this as a device to shift end
emphasis to the verb of a clause. Also, another
prevalent usage of inversion was the VS order shift
("caught John" instead of "John caught"), which
seems primarily a stylistic choice that further belies
the Germanic root of modern English.
In the end, Houston points to "the effort to make
language more memorable by deviation from
spoken habits."3 This is the essence of poetry: a
heightening of language (even colloquial) above
that of prose, a heightening that produces an
idealized, imaginative conception of the subject.
Rhetorical Devices
“I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed!” ― William Shakespeare
Rhetorical Device Expectations:
Flashcards you
Rhetorical Devices Page 1
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
"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)
Rhetorical Devices Page 2
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
"Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (Macbeth, I, i)
Rhetorical Devices Page 3
repetition broken up by one or more intervening
"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)
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 moe 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 determinèd to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days." (Richard III, I, i)
Rhetorical Devices Page 5
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)
Usage Shift
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Usage Shifts
In the dark backward and abysm
of time.
Temp., I, ii, 50
That may repeat and history his
2 H 4, IV, i, 203
This day shall gentle his condition. H 5, IV, iii, 63
Grace me no grace, nor uncle me
R 2, II, iii, 87
no uncle.
My death's sad tale may
yet undeaf his ear.
R 2, II, i, 16
§ One part of speech is
often substituted for
another; this is most
frequent with nouns and
verbs. (See also
"anthimeria" in the Rhetoric
§ Adjectives don't always mean what they seem to say; active and passive forms are sometimes
interchangeable, as are those that signify cause or effect.
Wherever in your sightless (=
Macb., I, v, 50
invisible) substances.
There's something in 't
That is deceivable (=
T.N., IV, iii, 21
Oppressed with two weak (=
A.Y.L., II, vii, 132
weakening) evils,
§ Pronouns have
irregular inflections;
often the
nominative case
(he, she, who) is
used instead of the
objective case
(him, her, whom).
And he (= him) my
husband best of all affects.
Yes, you may have seen
Cassio and she together.
Making night hideous,
and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our
Pray you, who does the
wolf love?
M.W.W., IV, iv, 87
Oth., IV, ii, 3
Haml., I, iv, 54
Cor., II, i, 8
§ Verbs don't always agree with their
subjects; most frequently a singular verb
is used with a plural subject.
These high wild hills and rough
uneven ways
Draws out our miles, and makes
them wearisome.
Their encounters, though not
personal, hath been royally
Three parts of him
Is ours already.
More Usage Shifts
R 2, II, iii, 4-5
W.T., I, i, 28
J.C., I, iii, 154-55
§ Omission of the relative pronoun (e.g., "the woman that I love" becomes
"the woman I love") is much more frequent than in modern English, being
applied to the nominative case as well as the objective.
I have a brother is condemn'd
M. for M., II, ii, 34
to die.
Besides, our nearness to the
King in love
R 2, II, ii, 129
Is near the hate of those
love not the King.
But wait…
There Are More!
§ Double-negatives are often used for emphasis of a point.
Nor never could the noble Mortimer
Receive so many, and all willingly.
1 H 4, I, iii, 110
You may deny that you were not the mean
Of my Lord Hastings' late imprisonment
[i.e., deny that you were the mean].
R 3, I, iii, 90
Usage Shift
§ "That" often takes the place of "so that," "in that," "why," or "when" in certain clauses.
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That (= so that) the fix'd sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other's watch.
H 5, IV, Chorus, 6
Albeit I will confess thy father's wealth
Was the first motive that (= why) I woo'd thee, Anne.
M.W.W., III, iv, 14
Is not this the day
That (= when) Hermia should give answer of her choice?
M.N.D., IV, i, 140
Thou art
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