Hamlet terminology

an intensifying effect where a consonant sound is repeated, usually on a stressed syllable: 'drains his draughts of Rhenish down' (I.4.10)
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a reference, e.g. to other works of art or events. There are references to Shakespeare's earlier tragedy Julius Caesar in Hamlet I.1.113–125 and III.2.91
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the principal opponent of the protagonist
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a collection of poems and/or prose extracts, bringing together the best examples of various styles of writing.
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setting one idea in a logical, balanced way against another: 'with mirth in funeral and with dirge in marriage' (I.2.12)
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a common dramatic convention in which a character speaks in such a way that some of the characters on stage do not hear what is said, while others do. It may also be a direct address to the audience, revealing the character's views, thoughts, motives
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intensification achieved by repeating vowel sounds: 'There is a willow grows aslant a brook / That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.' (IV.7.167–8)
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a sense of closure
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a pause in the middle of a line of verse, usually where a sentence ends: 'Yet here Laertes? Aboard, aboard for shame!' (I.3.55)
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the art of creating sharply differentiated personalities. Shakespeare's major characters have distinctive ways of thinking and speaking. They cannot be mistaken for one another
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everyday, informal chat, such as the gravediggers use in Act V Scene 1
colloquial speech
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a pair of consecutive lines of poetry which rhyme: 'The time is out of joint: O cursèd spite, / That ever I was born to set it right. –' (I.5.189–90)
rhyming couplet
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the art of creating sharply differentiated personalities. Shakespeare's major characters have distinctive ways of thinking and speaking. They cannot be mistaken for one another
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a rigorous appraisal of a work of literature, a literary convention, a political idea or a state of affairs, etc.
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the climax of a story, the moment when the whole plot is finally revealed (from the French for 'untying a knot')
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conversation between characters in a play
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the sorts of words a writer uses in particular situations. In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives Osric and the gravediggers, for example, very different vocabularies
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the role a character performs in a play. Horatio's dramatic function is to provide a touchstone of what the audience/reader should believe. Horatio establishes the 'reality' of the Ghost and provides reliable descriptions of its appearance and behavi
dramatic function
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this occurs when what a character says means much more than he or she realises. Often the audience has information the speaker lacks. The effect is usually to make the speaker seem foolish and/or vulnerable. Polonius talking about being killed when h
dramatic irony
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another word for 'dramatic' when talking about plays
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a mime prefiguring the action of the play
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an end-stopped line of verse is one in which the end of the line coincides with the conclusion of a sentence, or the strongly marked end of a phrase, signalled by punctuation
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where a sentence 'runs on' into a second or even a third line of verse
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originally a long poem featuring larger-than-life, godlike characters.
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verse or prose suitable for inscribing on a person's tomb: 'Good night, sweet prince, / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.' (V.2.338–9)
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dressing up something unpleasant or overtly sexual in an evasive commonplace. Describing sexual intercourse as 'sleeping together' or a lavatory as 'the bathroom' are examples of euphemism
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the opening part of a play in which the main characters and their situation are introduced
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comic action pushed to ludicrous extremes
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critical approaches which focus upon how women are represented in literature and other arts
feminist criticism
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the imaginative, as opposed to the literal, use of language. Claudius is literally a murderer, figuratively a cancer blighting Denmark
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the values and beliefs which shape the way we think
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pictures in words - i.e. Hamlet describes Claudius as a "mildewed ear"
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when Act IV Scene 7 begins, it's as if Claudius and Laertes have been talking for some time. The scene starts 'in the middle of things'
in media res
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an episode which momentarily lowers the dramatic tension, lightens the mood and serves to make the resumption of the tragedy proper feel all the more intense. In Act V Scene 2, lines 80–170, Shakespeare deliberately introduces a scene of high comedy
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where a scene appears to be coming to an end but is unexpectedly extended as in Act III Scene 4 (178)
interrupted cadence
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when what a person says is not necessarily what he or she means.
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setting side by side contrasting characters, episodes or ideas
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song-like, melodious
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a play in which people behave in an intensely emotional way which we feel to be excessive, sensational and unconvincing. Characters are sharply polarised, they are either good or bad, psychologically two-dimensional and without a rich inner life; sur
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this phrase means 'remember you are mortal.' Popular in Shakespeares time, it is usually symbolised with a skull or other mortal motifs. It reminds you that the human life is but a moment in eternity.
momento mori
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a figurative way of comparing something to something else, for example when Hamlet describes Claudius simply as 'a paddock [toad], … a bat, a gib [cat]'
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where the movement of the verse imitates the movement being described: 'heavy-headed revel'' (I.4.17) suggests swaggering, clumsy dancing
mimetic rhythm
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words consisting of single syllables: 'Now might I do it pat'
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in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, many plays were composed and performed which presented the struggle between good and evil, in Christian terms. The play's central character represented humankind whilst other characters represented aspects o
morality play
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a dramatisation of a story from the Old or New Testament. These type of plays evolved steadily from about the tenth century onwards. The verse tends to be rough and vigorous, but the later plays show a strong sense of character and inner-life.
mystery play
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telling a story
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the voice telling the story
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a statement which although true appears to contradict itself: 'O limèd soul that struggling to be free / Art more engaged!' (III.3.68–9)
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an imitation, sometimes comic, of a dramatic or poetic style. The Pyrrhus speech (II.2.426–55) is a parody of the declamatory style of Marlowe
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writing in the style of another author. Whereas parody often makes fun of someone else's way of writing, this is more like a tribute
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writing which idealises and celebrates the virtues of living in the country, free of the vices of the town.
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feelings of sadness, pity and compassion aroused, for example, by Opehlia's madness in Act IV Scene 5
pathos (adj. 'pathetic')
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a line with five stressed syllables
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a trite, commonplace idea, a cliché: 'all that lives must die, / Passing through nature to eternity' (I.2.72–3) trivialises a profound idea by presenting it in a glib rhyming couplet
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the way we usually write and speak: in language which, unlike verse, is not rhythmically organised
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the main character, the hero of a tragedy
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a battle for the soul between good and evil forces. Act III Scene 4 can be seen as a psychodrama in which Hamlet fights to save Gertrude from damnation by forcing her to admit her sins and repent
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simple wordplay, exploiting two different meanings of a word.
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writing which attempts to present the world as it is, with all its blemishes, rather than in a stylised, idealised or sentimentalised way
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in the period during which Shakespeare was writing, education, politics and the creative arts were flourishing, steeped in the Humanism which had 'rediscovered' the sublime classical writings of Ancient Rome and to a lesser extent, Ancient Greece
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the protagonist of a Revenge Tragedy, whose focus is the pursuit of vengeance against those who have done wrong
revenge hero
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patterned, persuasive speech, often using figures such as antithesis and anaphora
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making fun of moral, social or political abuses by exaggerating or ridiculing them. Hamlet mocks Rosencrantz by calling him a 'sponge' (IV.2.12) soaking up the King's bribery. He calls Polonius a 'fishmonger' (pimp, II.2.172) for abusing his daughter
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generating excitement by exaggerating violent, disturbing or surprising incidents whilst suppressing necessary truths such as the human cost of violence or the political agendas of those involved
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a self-contained episode which demonstrates the playwright's skill.
set piece
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hissing syllables: 'speed … dexterity … incestuous sheets'
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a figurative way of comparing something to something else using 'like' or 'as', for example 'like a man to double business bound'
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false reasoning, usually designed to deceive
specious reasoning
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usually rapid, crisply enunciated, clipped speech: 'a little more than kin, and less than kind' (I.2.65
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a passage of verse in which two characters speak alternate lines, usually rapidly and generating excitement: Gertrude: Hamlet, thou hast thy father much offended. Hamlet: Mother, you have my father much offended. Gertrude: Come, come, you answer with
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undermining the authority of a character, an idea or a convention, for example, by making it seem inadequate, absurd or meaningless
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saying the same thing twice, unnecessarily, tediously: 'Thus it remains, and the remainder thus.' (II.2.104). The pompous Polonius tries to create the impression that what he is saying is important by repeating it
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a word of three syllables, e.g. tormenting, distracted, remember
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Shakespeare loves exploring the ambiguity of words and phrases. For example, Hamlet and the gravedigger have fun with puns
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a reference, e.g. to other works of art or events. There are references to Shakespeare's earlier tragedy Julius Caesar in Hamlet I.1.113–125 and III.2.91

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