Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of foreshadowing?

The definition of foreshadowing is the process of hinting at later events in the narrative through subtle suggestions.


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Foreshadowing is a literary device used to hint at later events in the story and often used to create suspense. It is achieved through clues and suggestions. Foreshadowing can be quite subtle and often only fully appreciated through a second reading of the work. It is important to note that foreshadowing occurs when there has been a significant interval of time between the clue and the event it foreshadows. 

Emily Dickinson offers a clever definition and illustration of foreshadowing in the following four-line poem:

Presentiment is that long shadow on the lawn

Indicative that suns go down;

The notice to the startled grass

That darkness is about to pass.

An example of foreshadowing can be found in this excerpt from Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo’s feelings of trepidation foreshadow his eventual demise:

I fear too early, for my mind misgives

Some consequence yet hanging in the stars

Shall bitterly begin his fearful date

With this night’s revels, and expire the term

Of a despisèd life closed in my breast

By some vile forfeit of untimely death.

But he that hath the steerage of my course,

Direct my sail. On, lusty gentlemen (act 1, scene 4).

By contrast, the Prologue that opens Romeo and Juliet does not, strictly speaking, constitute foreshadowing, because it tells audiences explicitly what will happen at the end of the play.

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