What literary devices are used in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2.1.238-42 (the lines that begin with "Ay, in a temple" and end with "and were not made to woo")?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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William Shakespeare uses many standard literary devices in his play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a number of them appear in the following brief segment of Act 2, scene 1:

Helena. Ay, in the temple, in the town, the field, 
You do me mischief. Fie, Demetrius! 
Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex:     240
We cannot fight for love, as men may do; 
We should be woo’d and were not made to woo.

  • In line 238, listing or cataloging is used. As Robert Belknap shows in his book The List, this is a technique that can be used by authors in a wide variety of ways. Here it is used to emphasize the comprehensiveness of the mischief that Helena claims Demetrius is capable of doing. His mischief, she asserts, is not confined to a single kind of place; it can appear anywhere and everywhere.
  • In line 238, alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds) is used in the repeated “t” sounds of “temple” and “town.”
  • In line 239, alliteration is used again in the repeated “d” and “m” sounds, while assonance (the repetition of noun sounds) appears in the long “e” sound of “me” and “Demetrius.”
  • In line 239, Shakespeare emphasizes the caesura – the metrical pause in or near the middle of a line – by starting a new, brief sentence (and an exclamation at that) with the word “Fie.” This technique gives this line, in particular, the impression of sounding like real spoken speech rather than sounding like the monotonously regular rhythms that appear in lines lacking rhythmical variety.
  • The rhythm of line 240, in contrast, is a perfect example of iambic pentameter meter, in which odd syllables are unaccented but even syllables are accented in a ten-syllable line: “Your wrongs do set a scandal on my sex.” The very regularity of the rhythm of this line stands out in contrast to the less regular-sounding meter of lines 238-39.  However, the regularity of the meter in line 240 is repeated in the equally regular meter of lines 241-42. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, like many of Shakespeare’s earlier plays, is much more predictable in its use of rhythm than is true of some of his later works.
  • Alliteration and assonance appear again in line 240, and indeed they appear together in the words “set” and “sex.” Both of these words emphasize the “s” sound (alliteration) and both also emphasize the short “e” sound (assonance).
  • Alliteration appears again in the third and fourth words of line 241, as well as in the seventh and eighth words of the same line.
  • In lines 241-42, anaphora is used in the use of the same word – “We” – at the very beginning of each line.
  • More alliteration and assonance appear in line 242, particularly in the repeated “w” sounds and long “e” sound of “We” and “be.”
  • Line 242 also plays with slightly varied repetitions of the verb “to woo,” thus emphasizing a key theme of this entire play: wooing, or courtship.
  • Line 242 also implies another major theme of this play: conventional expectations of the contrasting roles of men and women.



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