Language Structure

Verse – rhythm and rhyme used to help actors remember their lines, based on Greek tradition.

Prose – ordinary form of written language, all language not in verse.

Iamb – one unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. (i.e. aLIKE)

Iambic Pentameter – A line of verse that consists of ten syllables with five stresses.  The regular rhythm of a heartbeat; da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM, da-DUM

Blank Verse – unrhymed verse written in iambic pentameter.

Couplet – 2 rhyming lines that signify the end of a scene or thought with dramatic finality.

Caesura – a brief organic pause that exists within a line of verse.

Soliloquy – an actor’s speech which occurs when s/he is alone on the stage and which reveals his/her innermost thoughts.

Aside – an actor’s words which are not intended to be heard by the others actors present.


Semi colons (;) – an emotional jump or pouring out of emotion.

Colons (:) – a mental jump or demand to clarify the argument.

Periods (.) – full stop to the thought.

Literary Devices

Alliteration – the repetition of initial consonant sounds, i.e. “beautiful baby boy”

Comic Relief – the interruption of a serious work, especially a tragedy, by a short humourous episode.

Dramatic Irony – the audience knows more about a character’s situation than the character does, foreseeing an outcome contrary to the character’s expectations.

Euphemism – substitution of a mild or vague term for a harsh or blunt one, i.e. “passed away” for “dead”

Foreshadowing – a hint or clue of things to come.

Imagery – illustrative language that conjures vivid mental pictures.

Malapropism – inappropriate, muddled or mistaken use of words.

Metaphor – a comparison that suggests 2 dissimilar things are actually the same, i.e. “an icy stare”, “nerves of steel”

Oxymoron – association of 2 words or phrases which apparently contradict each other, i.e. “I need to be cruel only to be kind.”

Paradox – an opponent contradiction in a statement which on closer examination is the truth.

Pathetic fallacy – the forces of nature react in revolt against actions of man.  Most often pathetic fallacy takes the form of severe thunderstorms.

Pathos – the quality in something which arouses pity, sorrow or sympathy.

Personification – a comparison in which personality or human attributes are given to lifeless things or abstractions, i.e. “The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night.”

Pun – wordplay, when a word has 2 or more different meanings, ambiguity can be used for comic or serious effect.

Simile – a direct comparison of two things, introduced by like or as, i.e. “Mary’s face is as white as snow.”

Symbol – something that conventionally represents something else.


Antagonist – a character who opposes the protagonist in the play, i.e. Tybalt in R&J

Catastrophe – final event of a tragedy in which the hero meets his/her death.

Conflict – relationship between the antagonist and protagonist (man vs. man – external), man vs. nature (external) and man vs. self (internal).  “Man” in this sense is gender neutral – referring to “human.”

Fate – the intervention of some force over which human beings have no control.

Protagonist – the hero in a tragedy or the central character in any drama, i.e. Romeo in R&J

Tragedy – drama in which the tragic hero, through a tragic flaw in his character is brought to his destruction.

Cultural Influence

Boys in women’s roles – Elizabethan actors were equal to prostitutes in their time.  Women were morally banned from acting, so boys played the female roles in Shakespeare’s plays.

Aristotle’s Poetics – Shakespeare uses only one of Aristotle’s laws; Unity of Action (everything in the play must have a distinct bearing on the central theme) in Romeo & Juliet.  The three unities are:

  1. Unity of Action: a play should have one main action that it follows, with no or few subplots.
  2. Unity of Place: a play should cover a single physical space and should not attempt to compress geography, nor should the stage represent more than one place.
  3. Unity of Time: a play should represent an action that takes approximately the same amount of time as the play; years should not pass during the hours a play takes.

According to Aristotle, a tragedy requires a tragic hero of high standing (Romeo), opposing some conflicting force, either external or internal.  He should be dominated by a hamartia (tragic flaw – an excess of some character trait, i.e. pride) that leads to his downfall and, because of his status, to the downfall of others (Juliet, the Capulet and Montague families, etc.).

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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