Shakespeare's Language

From WikiEducator
Jump to: navigation, search

Panorama of the Globe Theatre reconstruction, London.

The Basics:

Lines which end with punctuation, indicating a pause are called END STOPPED.

eg. "And your large speeches may your deeds approve, That good effects may spring from words of love. Thus Kent, O Princes, bids you all adieu; He’ll shape his old course in a country new." (King Lear, I.i.184)

Lines without punctuation indicating a pause are called RUN-ON LINES. The practice of running on lines is called ENJAMBEMENT.

eg. "…and by the happy hollow of a tree Escaped the hunt. No port is free, no place That guard and most unusual vigilance Does not attend my taking" (King Lear, II.ii.172)


In verse, each line can be broken up into a number of “feet” (or bounces) A foot is a unit of two or three syllables. Most of Shakespeare’s poetry is written using the “Iambic” foot, which is two syllables, one light then one heavy.

eg. "Prithee go in thyself, seek thine own ease."

The number of feet in a line is also important. Different words are used to describe how many feet are in a line.

One foot Monometer “Prithee”
Two feet Dimeter “Prithee go in”
Three feet Trimeter “Prithee go in thyself,”
Four feet Tetrameter “Prithee go in thyself, seek thine”
Five feet Pentameter “Prithee go in thyself, seek thine own ease.”

Almost all of Shakespeare’s writing uses the IAMBIC PENTAMETER. Not only did he write delicately intricate plots and incredible poetry, he also fitted almost every line into this metrical scheme.


Sometimes Shakespeare uses rhyme at the end of his lines.

Unrhymed lines are called BLANK VERSE

eg. "Wisdom and goodness to the vile seem vile; Filths savour but themselves. What have you done? Tigers not daughters, what have you performed?" (King Lear, IV.ii.40)

Two consecutive rhyming lines are called a COUPLET.

eg. "The weight of this sad time we must obey Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say." (King Lear, V.iii.322)

Prose vs. Pentameter

Traditionally, prose is used to indicate the speech of madmen, fools or clowns and people of lower education.


eg. "This is the foul fiend Flibbertigibbet: he begins at curfew and walks to first cock; he gives the web and the pin, squinies the eye and makes the harelip." (King Lear, III.iv.111)

Couplets in Iambic Pentameter:

eg. "When we our betters see bearing our woes, We scarcely think our miseries our foes." (King Lear,