Style and language in Shakespeare’s Plays

Shakespeare wrote his plays in Early Modern English - the daily language as was spoken at his time. He uses many many different styles of language in his plays, depending on the character and the circumstances - some educated, some rustic, some dialetical, sometimes serious, and sometimes comical.
Typically, Shakesepare would have his educated or noble characters use blank verse (free verse without rhymes) in their speech plus heroic couplets (two lines that rhymes). Servants and other lower-class people typically spoke in blank verse without anything rhyming. It was important that the parts, which the viewer had to remember, rhymed. Shakespeare is considered a master of iambic pentameter (blank verse), but he didn't invent it. It was around long before Shakespeare arrived on the scene, and it remains a popular form of verse today. Iambic pentameter requires that each line has 10 syllables. The syllables are five pairs of alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. This is exemplified underneath:

My ear
should catch
your voice,
my eye
your eye

Shakespeare is often considered one of the world’s greatest playwrights, and has a style to back it up. He writes with poetic diction using eloquent words and phrases. He uses irony and drama to create and sustain suspense through the play. Shakespeare uses much figurative language and imagery.

Shakespeare uses a lot of imagery in this play to develop atmosphere, mood, and characters. The images are clearly thought out and give and make a certain impression in the mind of the audience. Often, the images foreshadow something in the future. For example, the image of the bloody knife before Macbeth in the second passage foreshadows the brutal cold hearted murder that immediately follows. Blood is a recurring image in this play to denote guilt. Lady Macbeth frets in her sleep of not being able to wash the blood off of her hands since she feels so guilty about the murder. The images of the bleak sky continue through the play displaying the lack of order and peace within the kingdom.

There are many different types of figurative language. For example:

  • Simile: A simile is a comparison that often uses the words like or as. One example of a simile would be to say, “Shakespeare runs as fast as the wind.”
  • Metaphor: A metaphor is a comparison made between things which are essentially not alike. It is similar to a simile, but does not use like or as. One example of a metaphor would be to say, “Nobody invites Shakespeare to parties because he is a wet blanket.”
  • Personifictation: When something that is not human is given human-like qualities, this is known as personification. An example of personification would be to say, “The leaves danced in the wind on the cold October afternoon.”
  • Hyberbole: Exaggerating, often in a humorous way, to make a particular point is known as hyperbole. One of example of hyperbole would be to say, “My eyes widened at the sight of the mile-high ice cream cones we were having for dessert.”
  • Onomatopoeia: When you name an action by imitating the sound associated with it, this is known as onomatopoeia. One example of onomatopoeia would be to say, “The bees buzz angrily when their hive is disturbed.”
  • Idiom: An idiom is an expression used by a particular group of people with a meaning that is only known through common use. One example of an idiom would be to say, “I’m just waiting for him to kick the bucket.” Many idioms that are frequently used are also considered clichés.m
  • Symbolism: Symbolism occurs when a noun which has meaning in itself is used to represent something entirely different. One example of symbolism would be to use an image of the American flag to represent patriotism and a love for one’s country.

Anon: “at once”
Ay: “yes”
E’er: “ever”
Ere: “before”
‘gins: “begins”

Hence: “from this place”
Hither: “to this place”
Methinks: “it seems to me”
Morrow: “tomorrow”
Ne’er: “never”
Owe (sometimes): “own”
Presently: “at once”
Pr’ythee: “please” (short for “I pray thee”)
Quoth: “said”
Sooth: “truth”
‘t: “it”
Th’: “the”
Thee: “you” (singular)
Thence: “from that place”
Thereafter: “after that”
Thither: “to that place”
Thou: “you” (singular) – this is the word often used as the second person singular subject; the verb associated with it ends in –est or –st, e.g: “And that which rather thou dost fear to do…”
We, us, our: “I, me, my” – often used by kings.
Whence: “from which place”
Wherefore: “for which reason”
Whiles: “whilst”
Whither: “to which place”
Ye: “you” (plural)
“Of” is sometimes shortened to o’, and “is”, “was to ‘s.