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Strategies for Analyzing Shakespeare's Literary Devices

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/10/2013

Remember when you first started teaching and dreamed of admiring students gobbling your cornucopia of literary knowledge? It took about .000000000000000017 seconds for a reality slap. Then I created this lesson plan on strategies for analyzing Shakespeare.

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    Soliloquies, Asides, and Monologues

    Portrait of Shakespeare in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Shakespearean drama consists of devices that the audience expects even though they are not used in real life. Students, however, don't know this unless you tell them. Furthermore, they won't recognize them when they occur. You must introduce, therefore, dramatic devices when teaching Shakespeare.

    1. A soliloquy is a long speech given by a character that is alone on stage in order to reveal his or her thoughts. Soliloquies contain some of Shakespeare's most famous lines and are excellent candidates for analysis. Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy is the most famous example. Ask students these questions when reading soliloquies:
      • Why does Shakespeare use soliloquies to reveal characters' thoughts?
      • Why is it important that the character is alone on stage during the soliloquy?
    2. A monologue is a long speech given by a character to another character. It is similar to a soliloquy, insomuch that it reveals a character's thoughts. Some of Shakespeare's more famous monologues occur in Romeo woos Juliet.Ask students these questions when reading monologues:
      • How would this monologue be different if it were a soliloquy?
      • What effect, if any, does this monologue have on other characters?
    3. An aside is a comment made by a character to the audience or another character that no one else can hear. Trebonius' aside in Julius Caesar reveals to the audience that he plans on killing the Roman ruler.
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    Rhetorical Devices

    Shakespearean drama consists of speeches containing rhetorical devices that use sound and language to appeal to the audience's emotions. Shakespeare's rhetorical devices make the speeches more memorable and convincing.

    1. The repetition of words and sounds highlight important themes. Marc Antony's ironic repetition of "And Brutus is an honorable man" inflamed the crowd at Caesar's funeral and caused them to riot.
      • When reading examples of repetition, ask what Shakespeare's purpose is in repeating the same phrase or sound.
    2. Shakespeare's use of parallelism, repeated grammatical structure, emphasizes important ideas.
      • As you come across parallel structure, rewrite the line with a subordinating clause.
    3. Shakespeare uses rhetorical questions, questions not intended to be answered, to create dramatic tension. Who can forget "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"
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    Dramatic Irony

    Irony is a contrast between appearance and reality.

    Shakespearean drama consists of dramatic irony, when the audience knows something that at least one character does not. Dramatic irony increases suspense, gives the audience the big picture, and helps make the audience feel superior. Here are some of the more famous examples:

    1. In Romeo and Juliet, we know that Juliet has taken a potion to simulate death. Everyone else thinks she is dead.
    2. In Julius Caesar, we know that Brutus wants to kill Caesar. Caesar thinks Brutus is his best friend.


  • Image of Shakespeare Portrait in the Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons