The Use of Language in Shakespearean Tragedies

Categories: LanguageOthello

Shakespeare’s intense style, amplifies the language used in the majority of his tragedies by his use of multiple literary devices. These devices include metaphors, similes, repetition, and alliteration. They can be seen being used throughout The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, in order to give the audience a better understanding of the fatal love shared between the two main characters, Romeo and Juliet. This visibly creates a way for tragedy to take place. His use of language, not only relays unfolding drama and affections, but also acts as a base for transmitting action, which can be seen in The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice, between the villainous Iago when he repeatedly tries to convince Othello into believing his conniving thoughts, as if they were to be true and as if they were his own, in hopes to lead to Othello’s downfall.

In The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, the language is composed up of a vast majority of metaphors retaining to celestial beings, such as “fair sun” or “as daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven” (2.

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These are both examples of poetic amplification’s, which give greater meaning to the language. Here, Romeo is showing Juliet how deeply in love with her he is, therefore it can be perceived as a courtly love by the audience. This leads to the audience into thinking their love is something surreal and foreshadows that tragedy might be taking place. “My bounty is as boundless as the sea my love as deep.

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The more I give to thee the more I have for infinite love”, an efficient simile builds passion as well as tells the audience the value of the love Juliet claims to have for Romeo (2.2.133). Another essential, efficient device used for elevating the use of language is the use of repetition. The use of the word “fair” can be seen in Romeo and Juliet, by Romeo’s character multiple times, by using it to describe how he views Juliet’s beauty, which can show part of the magnitude of love he has for her. “Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie; And young affection gapes to be his heir; That fair for which love groan’d and would die…”, Romeos prologue is written in sonnet form and the first stanza, the “A” and the “O” sound repeat (2.2.133).

By doing so, it creates internal rhyme and adds smoothness to what is being said. With the theme here being the love Romeo has for Juliet, it gives Romeo’s character the ability to prove to the audience that he indeed, does have affection towards her. When Romeo first sees Juliet come out onto the balcony from her bedchamber, in scene two, he uses repetition of the “A” sound in “…Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, who is already sick and pale with grief, that thou her maid art far more fair than she”, to place emphasis on this said affection as well (2.2.4-6). Shakespeare also uses repetition of the first consonant sound in two or more words that follow each other in succession to provide a frame to specific scenes. This can be found in Romeo and Juliet in the prologue “From forth the fatal loins of these two foes; A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” (1.5-6).

This quote has alliteration used on the letters “F” and “I,” and by doing so, it starts the second stanza of the play’s prologue and is used to presents a change from the focus being on the feud between the Montagues and Capulets to the fatal relationship between their children, Juliet and Romeo. “Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds, Towards Phoebus’ lodging!”, spoken by Juliet, illustrates her desperate desire for Romeo to come to her since she is unable to meet with him in private due to the publicly known family feud (3.2.1-2).

These different literary devices can be found throughout multiple scenes in Romeo and Juliet. However, a majority, if not all, of these devices can be seen being used in Juliet’s soliloquy before she drinks the potion in the final act. Juliet describes her worries she has pertaining to the plan proposed Friar Lawrence, after she is left alone by her mother and nurse, the repetition of the “F” and “C” sound can be found in “I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins; That almost freezes up the heat of life. I’ll call them back again to comfort me”. In this soliloquy of Juliet’s, she shares her thoughts and fears of taking the potion with the audience. This allows the audience to understand the intensity of this scene. Juliet’s personality is also shown greatly in this scene; she proves that she is willing to do anything in order to be with who she claims to have this mass amount of affection for at such a young age, which can be deceiving towards the audience but shows the level of dedication she has.

Unlike The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, in The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice, language not only relays the unfolding drama, but it also implies and causes action between the characters. Ultimately, Othello’s downfall is caused by Iago. During the duration of the play, Othello is constantly being deceived by his words. There are multiple instances throughout the play were Iago uses the power of language to corrupt Othello into thinking that his beloved Desdemona is committing adultery with his own lieutenant, Cassio. Iago slowly presents accusations of Cassio having an affair with Desdemona. He easily corrupts the scene where they are merely found having a conversation with one another. As Othello is viewing this scene, Iago engraves points of doubt in his head. When Othello questions Iago after he says “Ha! I don’t like that”, implying that he does not like or think that they should be directly talking to one another, he pretends to be hesitant in his accusations after Othello asks what his remark was by him responding with “Nothing, my lord” (3.3.34-36).

Later on, when Cassio realizes Othello is approaching his conversation with Desdemona, Iago uses this moment to make Othello think that Cassio is rushing away due to his feelings of guilt for what he has done, or that Cassio is worried that he has been caught and his hurrying away from the scene, Iago comments “I cannot believe that he would steal away so guilty-like, seeing you coming” (3.3.39-40). Before Iago starts to corrupt the mind and actions of Othello, he is introduced as a character that speaks with power. This power is shown when Othello uses his words to defend his marriage with Desdemona when there is questioning from Brabantio, her father, and when he is forced to present reason on why he should be allowed to continue to be with her, saying that if he does not speak with truth the “bloody book of law” may take away Desdemona (1.3.68).

Desdemona recognizes her husband’s literary power when she enters the scene. By sharing speech patterns, Desdemona and Othello create a bond with their language and provide the audience with confirmation that they do share affection between one another and that they love isn’t a one sided relationship. “That I love the Moor to live with him, my down right violence, and storm of fortunes, may trumpet to the world. My heart’s subdued even to the very quality of my lord”, spoken by Desdemona regarding her fatefulness towards Othello, and “Let her have your voice. Vouch with me, heaven, I, therefore, beg it not to please the palate of my appetite…”, spoken in respond by Othello (1.3.243-255).

Each of Othello’s soliloquies in this scene prove to the audience and the other characters at the beginning of the play that there love is something that is true, and they should deserve to be/stay together. Later on in the play, when Othello begins to see his relationship with Desdemona through Iago’s thoughts and accusations, he is corrupted by the words that Iago is pushing upon him to accept Desdemona’s so called unfaithfulness. His pervious powerful language style starts to crumble. During his breaking point, his words translate his confused, yet anger filled emotions towards the situation, Lie with her, lie on her? We say lie on her when they belie her! Lie with her, zounds! that’s fulsome! Handkerchief! Confessions! Handkerchief! – to confess, and be hanged for this labor first, to be hanged, and then to confess: I tremble at it. Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion without some instruction. It is not words that shakes me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips. Is’t possible? Confess? handkerchief! O devil! (4.1.36)

His level of language constancy conveys his frustration. By referring to himself as this other being, he gives off the assumption that he no longer feels proud of who he is. Secondly, the idea of the Othello that everyone has known to love as this noble hero becomes threatened in his own mind by his feelings towards his wife, that he feels like he no longer knows. Eventually, unable to believe in his wife’s honesty over Iago’s manipulation, Othello smothers Desdemona alone upon their bed and suffocates her, resulting in her tragic death. When the truth has been revealed, he then returns to the heroism of his earlier personality and announces that he sees himself no longer worthy of being a hero. “Blow me about in the winds! Roast me in sulfur! Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire”, Othello is now suggesting that the demons that have taken over him, should or need to punish him for what he has done for he is not worthy of living the life he has previously been granted (5.2.276).

Here, his arrangement of words brings back the former glories of the most beloved point in his life and point towards the “bloody period” of his tragic death. In conclusion, Shakespeare has developed a unique form of writing that can be displayed through his well-known works, such as The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, as well as The Tragedy of Othello, The Moor of Venice. He not only exploits simple methods of literary devices; he also uses them to heighten the meaning of the language displayed. He has played a significant role in shaping the English language and the way we perceive these common literary deceives, whether it be through the medium by which the drama is conveyed or by the action it transforms itself into.

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The Use of Language in Shakespearean Tragedies. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from

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