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Literary Devices Used in Hamlet

Literary Devices Used in Hamlet
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  • 0:02 What Is a Literary Device?
  • 0:25 Repitition and Metaphor
  • 1:45 Similes and Anadiplosis
  • 3:20 Anaphora and Alliteration
  • 4:10 Allusion and Personification
  • 6:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachel Noorda
This lesson discusses literary devices, or techniques used by William Shakespeare in 'Hamlet.' Using examples from this tragic play, you will learn the definitions for a variety of literary devices.

What is a Literary Device?

A literary device is a technique used by a writer to convey a message. William Shakespeare used many different literary devices in his plays, and this lesson will discuss some examples found in Hamlet. This lesson discusses:

  • Repetition
  • Metaphor
  • Simile
  • Anadiplosis
  • Anaphora
  • Alliteration
  • Allusion
  • Personification

Literary Devices in Hamlet: Repetition and Metaphor

Repetition

In written works, repetition is defined as the repeating of words for emphasis. An example of repetition in Hamlet is found in the following lines, both said by the character Hamlet:

Hamlet: I humbly thank you; well, well, well.

Hamlet: Words, words, words.

These two quotes use a repetition of a single word three times for emphasis.

Metaphor

Another literary device, the metaphor, or a comparison between two things (that does not use 'like' or 'as'), is also found in the play. In Act III Scene I, Hamlet says:

Hamlet: Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?

In this quote, Hamlet compares his troubles to a sea. This tells us that Hamlet sees his troubles as vast, large, and seemingly endless, much like a sea. Another example is found as well:

Hamlet: who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns

In this metaphor, Hamlet compares death to an undiscovered country. This comparison tells us that Hamlet sees death as something unknown or foreign.

Similes and Anadiplosis

Simile

Similes, comparisons using the words 'like' or 'as,' can also be found in Hamlet:

Hamlet: A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she follow'd my poor father's body,
Like Niobe, all tears

This quote compares Queen Gertrude to Niobe, a character from Greek mythology. The gods killed Niobe's children and she wept bitterly, unlike Queen Gertrude who did not seem to show much emotion for the death of her husband, Hamlet's father.

Hamlet is not the only character to speak using similes. At one point, Claudius uses one, saying:

Claudius: His beard was as white as snow

In this quote, Claudius is talking to himself about Hamlet's father, who he murdered. He compares the beard of Hamlet's father to snow because of its white color. Even Gertrude uses them:

Gertrude: These words, like daggers, enter in mine ears

Hamlet's cruel words to his mother are more than she can bear. Gertrude compares the words to daggers because they hurt her feelings like daggers might hurt her body.

Anadiplosis

A less common literary device, the anadiplosis, may also be found. Anadiplosis is when a writer ends a phrase with a word and starts the next phrase with the same word. Hamlet says:

Hamlet: To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream

One phrase ends with 'to sleep,' and the next phrase begins with the same set of words: 'to sleep.' This literary device creates a flow and connection between the two phrases.

Anaphora and Alliteration

Anaphora

Anaphora, repeating the same word at the beginning of each phrase, is present in the play when Polonuis speaks:

Polonius: Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

The word 'doubt' is repeated at the beginning of each phrase, except for the last phrase. The point of this literary device is to repeat the things to doubt to build correlation, and then emphasize in the last line that his love cannot be doubted.

Alliteration

A more common device, alliteration, or the repetition of the same sound or letter in words, is found in too many instances to count throughout the play. Some of these examples include:

  • O, 'tis too true!
  • bare bodkin
  • single spies
  • bad begins

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