Literary Devices in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

malapropism When the amateur actors agree to meet in the woods the next night to rehearse, Bottom says, “We will meet, and there we may rehearse most obscenely, and courageously” (1.2.97-98). However, he perhaps means “unseen” or obscurely” instead of obscenely. The use of an incorrect word in the place of a word that is similar in pronunciation is used to make characters sound dim-witted and is also used to create humor. What is this literary device called?
allusion Oberon relates that Cupid’s arrow missed its intended target, “a fair vestal [virgin] throned by the west” (2.1.160-1), and instead landed on the flower “love-in-idleness” (2.1.170-1). This is an indirect reference to Queen Elizabeth I, ruler of England at the time Shakespeare wrote this play. What literary device is being used?
external ( human vs. environment) Conflict is defined as a clash of actions, ideas, desires or wills. Every story has conflict. Hermia has conflict with or struggles against the law of Athens and the patriarchal society in which she lives. What type of conflict is this?
personification A figurative device used when you make a thing, idea, or an animal do something only humans can do. For example, Titania gives human characteristics to the moon when she says, ”The moon, methinks, looks with a watery eye,/ And when she weeps, weeps every little flower,/ Lamenting some enforced chastity” (3.1.190-91).
dramatic irony Sometimes the reader/listener knows something that one or more of the characters in the piece do not. For example, we know that Lysander is under the spell of the magic potion; however, Helena does not, and believes that he is mocking her. What literary device is evident?
iambic pentameter Many of the characters, particularly the fairies and those of higher social class, speak with similar rhythm, in metrical lines commonly used in traditional and dramatic verse. The metre consists of five feet of iambs (five feet of unstressed and stressed syllables). What is this meter referred to as?
theme Lysander’s comment to Hermia that “The course of true love never did run smooth” (1.2.136) reflects one of the central or main ideas that Shakespeare explores in this play: the idea that sometimes lovers face considerable challenges. What term is used to describe this universal idea?
pun What is a form of wordplay which suggests two or more meanings, or of similar-sounding words, for an intended humorous or rhetorical effect? For example, when Bottom says, “I see their knavery. This is to make an ass of me” (3.1.111), ass means fool, but also refers to the literal ass (donkey) that he has been turned into.
blank verse The plays opens with a conversation between Theseus and Hippolyta about their upcoming wedding. While their lines are very rhythmical, delivered using iambic pentameter, there is no rhyme scheme. What term is used to describe this type of poetry?
foil Sometimes a character serves to highlight one or more attributes of another character, by providing a contrast. For example, Helena is tall, fair-skinned, and timid, contrasting with Hermia, who is shorter, darker, and has a stronger personality. Helena famously says of her friend, “though she be but little, she is fierce” (3.2.335). What term is used to describe the contrasting function of these characters?
soliloquy At the end of Act 1, Scene I, Helena is left onstage by herself and expresses her thoughts out loud, comparing herself to Hermia and expressing her thoughts on love. However, during this prolonged speech she is not speaking to any other character, only to the audience. Latin for “talking by oneself,” what is the term used when a character does this?
symbol With its magic power to make a person fall in love with another, the love juice represents the play’s vision of love as an irrational, unpredictable, and fickle force that overwhelms and transforms people, whether they want it to or not. The juice is therefore used as a thing which represents something else. What term is reflected here?
verbal irony A type of irony, it is a statement in which the meaning that a speaker states is sharply different from the meaning that is apparently expressed. For example, when Helena says to Demetrius and Lysander, “A trim exploit, a manly enterprise, / To conjure up tears in a poor maid’s eyes” (3.2.157-9), she does not really mean that it is gentlemanly to make women cry.
situational irony This type of irony highlights a difference between what a reader or viewer expects to happen and what happens. For example, Oberon orders Puck to put the love potion into Demetrius’s eyes so that he will fall in love with Helena. The irony here is that Puck accidentally puts the love potion into Lysander’s eyes, therefore making Lysander fall in love with Helena, and not Demetrius as intended. He therefore, ironically, turns a true love false rather than a false love true (Lysander’s true love for Hermia is changed to a false love for Helena). What type of irony is this?
foreshadowing Sometimes a hint or clue early in a narrative helps to indicate an event, usually unpleasant, that will occur later. For example, while the play opens in the day time, there are many references to the moon in Act I, which hints at the significant events that will occur later in the moonlit night. These early references to the moon are an example of which literary device?

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