DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Critical Reading – Figurative Language

Figurative Language – the use of language in a non-standard way in order to evoke specific tone, mood, or meaning. There are MANY types of figurative language; the following are some of the more important (some definitions taken from A Glossary of Literary Terms, Sixth Edition).

Assonance – a repetition of a vowel sound in a line or consecutive lines – “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain” (My Fair Lady Lerner & Shaw)

Alliteration – a repetition of a consonant sound, usually at the beginning of words, in a line or consecutive lines – “The tutor who tutors two tooters to toot” (tongue-twister).

Anaphora – the poetic repetition of a sound, word, or phrase at the beginning of a series of lines – “To have bitten off the matter with a smile, / To have squeezed the universe into a ball / To roll it towards some overwhelming question” (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Eliot)

Apostrophe – the address of an absent object or person – “Oh, Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo” (Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare) OR “Go and catch a falling star” (“Song” Donne).

Enjambment – when a line of poetry continues to the next line without a break (period, comma, etc.) – “Of man’s first disobedience and the fruit / Of that forbidden tree” (Paradise Lost Milton).

Image – “a picture made out of words”; “imagery,” specifically, is the sequence of images in a poem that leads to an overall impression – “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes” (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” Eliot).

Hyperbole – a bold overstatement or exaggeration of fact or possibility – “Till thy tears mix'd with mine do overflow / This world” (“A Valediction of Weeping” Donne).

Metaphor – a comparison of two dissimilar objects that relates one directly to the other – “But if this medicine, love, which cures all sorrow” (“Love’s Growth” Donne).

Metonymy – the substitution of one thing for another, or of a part of a thing for another that is NOT a comparison – “by the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:19)

Objective Correlative – the use of words and images to invoke a specific feeling without actually mentioning that feeling“Oh, that this too too solid flesh would melt” (Hamlet Shakespeare).

Onomatopoeia – a word that sounds like the sound it represents – “And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain” (“The Raven” Poe).

Personification – the attribution of human characteristics to a non-human object/animal (aka. Pathetic Fallacy) – “Rosy-fingered dawn” (“The Odyssey” Homer).

Simile – a comparison of two dissimilar objects using “like” or “as” – “My love is like a red, red rose” (“My love is like a red, red rose” Burns).

Symbol – an image that stands in for something: usually an idea or ideology – “Let slip the dogs of war” (Julius Ceasar Shakespeare).

Synecdoche – the address of a part of an object or person for a whole – “Lend me your ears” (Julius Ceasar Shakespeare).

Understatement – a deliberate representation of something as less important than it is, or than it is ordinarily considered to be (aka. meiosis) – “it was just a tree” (“Gardens of Eden” Wandor).

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Metric Feet

We’re not talking about a unit of measure… at least not in the inches sense.

A foot – a poetic metric foot – is a unit of rhythm in verse.


Types of feet:

            Iamb: an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed

To be or not to be that is the question (this line has a feminine ending – an unstressed syllable at the end of the iambs) – Shakespeare, Hamlet

The curfew tolls the knell of parting day (a masculine or strong ending) – Gray, “Elegy written in a Country Churchyard”

            Anapest: two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed

The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold – Byron, “The Destruction of Sennacherib”

            Trochee: a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed

There they are my fifty men and women (regular trochaic meter) – Browning, “One Word More”

Tyger! tyger! burning bright / In the forest of the night (when a trochaic line ends on a stress it’s called cataletic) – Blake, “The Tyger”

           Dactyl: a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed

Eve with her basket, was / Deep in the bells and grass – Hodgson, “Eve”

           Spondee: two stressed syllables in succession that begin a line

Good strong thick stupefying incense smoke (a spondee followed by trochaic meter) – Browning, “The Bishop Orders his Tomb”

            Pyrrhic: two unstressed syllables in succession

My way is to begin with the beginning (pyrrhics interspersed with dactylic meter) – Byron, Don Juan


Meter denotes how many feet are in a line:

            Monometer – one foot

            Dimeter – two feet

            Trimeter – three feet

            Tetrameter – four feet

            Pentameter – five feet

            Hexameter – six feet

            Heptameter – seven feet


Shakespeare usually writes in iambic pentameter – five iambs per line. Homer wrote in dactylic hexameter – six dactyls per line (and he was writing in Greek).

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Shakespearean Insults…

and other grammatical tricks

Words words words

Thee/thou/thy/thine – an informal form of address, typically used when speaking to a friend, a friendly equal, or a vassal.


You/your – a formal form of address, typically used when speaking to an unknown equal, a person whose rank is unknown or unclear (and may be higher than your own), or a superior.


So what happens when they get mixed up? When Bolingbroke addresses Richard using “thee” or “thou,” what are the possible implications? When someone addresses Richard using “you”?



We – when used referring to the first person singular (as when Henry or Richard calls himself “we”), the so-called “royal we” denotes the king, but the king as head of the royal body politic, including the nation in the personal pronoun.


I – when used by a monarch (or former monarch), this indicates the personal self, the body natural.


Again, what are the implications for the use of each? Why might an individual fluctuate between them? Under what circumstances?



And word order

Take a look at the following sentence:

            By being seldom seen, I could not stir

            But like a comet I was wondered at,

            That men would tell their children “This is he.”

What is the actor of this sentence (the thing or things doing the action)?

What is the action of the sentence (what is happening or being done)?

What is the actee (object) of the sentence (what is the thing or things receiving the action)?

How does the sentence structure stress certain words or phrases? Why are those elements stressed?

            Where does Shakespeare use enjambment?

            How does the sentence begin? How does it end?

            Does Shakespeare use assonance or alliteration? What does it do?

            Where are the breaks? Why are they in those particular places?

If you recognize the speaker and circumstances of the passage, who is speaking and to whom? How is this reflected in the language? If not, can you guess the nature of the passage?


How about this one?

            And in that very line, Harry, standest thou,

            For thou hast lost thy princely privilege

            With vile participation. Not an eye

            But is aweary of thy common sight,

            Save mine, which hath desired to see thee more,

            Which now doth that I would not have it do,

            Make blind itself with foolish tenderness.

DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.