Linguistic and literary features of shakespeare plays

Context of shakespeare's plays

  • Histories- reign of Elizabeth I, support the orthodox views of the time (they explore the ruthlessness and self interest involved in achieving and retaining political power)
  • Comedies- create a make believe world where mistaken identities and improbable disguises are common (love relationships are beset by difficulties which are overcome by the end of the play)
  • Tragedies- tragic hero reaches a pinnacle of happiness/ worldly success, hero falls from his height and dies- this is due to an inner weakness or fate, qualities are admired by the audience and his downfall leaves us with a sense of loss
  • Romances- less realistic than earlier plays, fairy tale quality and are threatened by tragedy
  • Historical context- tension between parliament and the crown in james I era, political turbulence and unrest is mirrored in shakespeare's plays (order is repeatedly under threat) shakespeare exposes the weaknesses of kings by giving them flaws
  • Renaissance- dynamic change in the power shifted from the church to the state (14th- 17th centuries)
  • Social context- Shakespeare's plays focus on the portrayal of women characters who had limited status and power (male dominated society) evoke sympathy for women
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Shakespeare's language

  • Blank verse- unrhymed lines of poetry with stressed and unstressed syllables
  • iambic pentameter five pairs of syllables- second syllable in each pair stressed
  • Metre- patterns of stressed and unstressed syllables reversed, alter number of syllables, dividing a single line between two or more speakers( 2nd speaker immediately responds to the 1st)
  • Prose-lower class characters are more likely to speak in prose (used for comic scenes and informal conversations)
  • Verse-used for dramatic and serious scenes
  • Imagery- characters associated with images, recurring images can reflect themes of the play
  • Repetition of key words can have a link to the central themes of the play
  • Rhetoric- parallelism (repetition of grammatical structures)
  • Anthesis (contrasting of direct opposites)
  • wordplay (playing around with meanings of words) hyperbole
  • Rhetoric devices represent the qualities of shakespeare's characters
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  • Syntax- sentences long and complex in shakespeare's plays, syntax is compressed
  •  word order used as a result of the syllables in iambic pentameter
  • Adjectives placed after nouns
  • Thou- intimate and informal term of you (used towards characters of a lower status)
  • You- more formal and respectful (used towards characters of a higher status)
  • Phonology- written language in shakespeare's plays to be heard by and audience, alliteration, assonance, sibilance and onomatopeia (stress and intonation create rhythmic effects)
  • Rhyme used in formal speeches (rhyming couplet creates a concluding sense to an action)
  • Characters given distinctive indvidual voices (shown through lanuage)
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Dialogue in shakespeare

Shakespeare's plays contain blank verse for speeches, used the conventions of his day to produce dialogue with tremenduous dramatic power

Passages in shakespeare's plays that capture the rhythms and vocabulary of natural speech (spontaneous features of speech shown in his plays)

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