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Re-introduction to AO2!
Metre, Language and Imagery in The
• Shakespeare writes either in blank verse, in
rhymed verse or in prose.
• Blank verse = unrhymed but uses a regular
pattern of rhythm or metre. In the English
language, blank verse is iambic pentameter.
• Pentameter means there are five poetic feet.
In iambic pentameter each of these five feet is
composed of two syllables: the first
unstressed; the second stressed. :
The sky, it seems, would pour down stinking pitch
Can you scan it?
• Shakespeare often deviates from the perfect
iambic line (especially in this play!)
• When he does, it can be a clue to a change in
the character's feelings or thoughts, or a
change in situation, or both. When the rhythm
is changed, the energy and dynamic of the
language have been changed.
Examples of ‘dropped’ iambic
Be not afeard. The isle is full of noises,
Sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book. (Prospero)
• While blank verse forms the basis of
Shakespeare's writing, he often uses rhyme.
• Frequently in Shakespeare a rhymed couplet
(a pair of lines whose end words rhyme) closes
the scene and sometimes suggests what will
The play's the thing
Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King
Rhyme and farewells
The weight of this sad time we must obey,
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most; we that are young
Shall never see so much,
Nor live so young. (King Lear)
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.
Why does Shakespeare often use rhyme for goodbyes?
• The convention in Shakespeare's time was to
write plays in verse. His extensive use of prose
is yet another sign of his inventiveness and
capacity to break with custom when it served
• Why make the change from verse to prose?
• Often lower class or comic characters speak prose
while the more socially or morally elevated
characters speak in verse
• Not always, though- Some of Hamlet's most
important speeches, such as his advice to the
players, are in prose.
• In Julius Caesar, Brutus chooses prose over verse
when he sets out to convince the citizens that the
conspirators were right to murder Caesar.
• In The Tempest, Trinculo, Stephano and the
sailors in the opening scene speak in prose
Language: Things to look out for …
• Go into the dark backward and abysm of time
when you last did AO2 language work
(especially on Shakespeare…)
• What are you looking for?
Things to look out for …
• Compression and omitted words
• Language used for characterisation (e.g.
imagery or semantic fields associated with a
• Theme and ideas of the play supported by
imagery and language echoes
• Form and structure reflecting meaning
Prospero: music, natural imagery,
Read the first extract (Prospero telling Miranda
the story of Antonio’s treachery) and discuss:
• The effect of the compression and omission
here (what structural purpose is this extract
serving in the play?)
• The effect of the colloquialism ‘I say’
• How the word ‘key’ is used…
• The ivy/tree trunk metaphor
Ariel: movement, supernatural power
Read Ariel’s account of creating the storm at the
beginning of the play and discuss:
• How Ariel’s speed is emphasised by the language
• The effect of verbs not usually used for human
• The effect of the missing words in “I flamed
• The effect of the unusual word order in the line
“more momentary and sight-outrunning were
Caliban: dream and enchantment
Look again at the gorgeous “Be not afear’d”
• What is the effect of the extra syllables at the
end of lines?
• What is the effect of the mingled verb tenses?
• Look for ‘sound effects’: how do they support
the idea of magic and music here, and
Caliban’s connection to the island?
Antonio’s figurative language
Gonzalo is “an ancient morsel”
Courtiers are easily manipulated “They’ll take
suggestion as a cat laps milk”
His conscience is as untroubling as a blister: “If
’twere a kibe/’Twould put me to my slipper.”
• Is it significant that Antonio has such frequency of
• What is different about his metaphors and
similes, compared to Prospero, Ariel and Caliban?
Some language echoes to look out for
in the play
• “wonder” (also Miranda)
• “sleep”, “dream”
• “freedom”/ “service”
•The Actor & the Text by Cicely Berry, Virgin Publishing,
• Shakespeare's Advice to the Players by Peter Hall.
Oberon Books, 2003
• Shakespeare's Language by Frank Kermode, Penguin
• Shakespeare's Wordcraft by Scott Kaiser, Limelight
• Glossary of Literary Terms - University of Cambridge
A handy, clearly written all-on-one-page glossary: