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How to Analyze Shakespeare's Diction in "Hamlet"


Diction is a term to describe the words an author chooses to use in his work. Shakespearean diction, such as that found in "Hamlet," can be confusing for a contemporary reader. However, developing the skill to analyze the diction in this play can help you relate to it in a meaningful way and give you tools to understand the interaction of characters, setting and plot.

Choose an element of the play to analyze. You could choose to analyze the language that Ophelia uses throughout the play, for instance, or you might focus on the language used in Act 1, Scene 1 -- and analyze the impact it has on the next scene. You might also choose a single monologue to analyze.

Record your answers to inquiries about word and sentence structure. Note whether the sentence structure most frequently used is simple, complex, compound or compound-complex. Write down what effect this has. Know if there are few or many syllables in the words -- and if the amount of syllables changes at any point. List reasons why it might change.

Make a list of adjectives and adverbs that appear. Write down the effects that these words have on the mood or atmosphere of the play. Note whether there is a lot of tension or if all the characters are happy. Understand if there is a sense of dread or fear -- or a sense of security among the characters.

Make a list of words that tell you what each character is feeling. Be sure to place the name of each character next to the word that belongs to them if you are analyzing more than one character's diction.

Write down any metaphors, similes, personification or other figures of speech -- and take note what is communicated through these. The characters might say one thing while meaning another, so have an understanding as to why they speak this way. You might also be aware that these figures of speech are repeated by the same character or different characters -- if so, write it down in your notebook.

Draw conclusions about the information you have written down. Examine what the language reveals about each character or scene. Investigate whether any secret hatred or desire is revealed through the language. Also, note any inconsistencies in the language. When you have these elements in your notebook, think about how the information helps you understand the action in the play.

Items you will need
"Hamlet" by William Shakespeare
Pencil
Paper
About the Author

Jacqueline Harbaugh has been a professional writer since 2004. She has edited material for "NATA" magazine and the "Journal of Athletic Training." She has an educational background that includes training in journalism, creative writing, ad writing, technical and scientific writing, as well as theories of rhetoric. She holds a Master of Education in secondary English education from Columbus State University.

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