Guide to Literary Terms

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What is the definition of rhetorical question?

The definition of rhetorical question is a question posed for poetic or argumentative effect, rather than to elicit an answer.

Rhetorical question

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Last Updated on December 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 155

Rhetorical question - one asked solely to produce an effect or to make a statement, but not expected to receive an answer. The purpose to such a question, whose answer is obvious, is usually to make a deeper impression upon the hearer or reader than a direct statement would.

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The etymology of rhetorical is the same as that of rhetoric, as discussed above. The second word of the term, “question,” is from the Latin quaestio derived from quarere, meaning “to seek or ask.”

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In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Shylock uses rhetorical questions in his famous speech:

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Latest answer posted October 3, 2020, 12:07 pm (UTC)

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Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? . . . If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

Act III, scene i : lines 55 – 63

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