Tag Archives: drama

Rhetorical Question

“Rhetorical Question: Basically a question not expecting an answer, or one to which the answer is more or less self-evident. It is used primarily for stylistic effect, and is a very common device in public speaking—especially when the speaker is trying to work up the emotional temperature. For example (a politician on the hustings:

‘Are we going to tolerate this intrusion upon our freedom? Are we going to accept these restrictions? Are we to be intimidated by time-serving bureaucrats? Are we to be suppressed by sycophantic and supine jackals waiting for dead men’s shoes?’

Or the writer may argue with himself (and in a different way work on the emotions of the reader) as Sir Philip Sidney does in the 47th sonnet of the sequence Astrophel and Stella:

‘What, have I thus betrayed my libertie?

Can those blacke beames such burning markes engrave

In my free side? Or am I borne a slave,

Whose necke become such yoke of tyranny?

Or want I sense to feel my miserie?

Or sprite, disdained of such disdaine to have?’

Another fundamental form of rhetorical question (both having something in common with the above) are: (a) a series of questions in quick succession for emphasis (e.g. “Can we make it? If so, will it work? Where can we market it? Can we market it cheaply?” and so on); (b) a question put to another person or oneself which expresses surprise, astonishment, or anger and which is not easily answered. A good example is Bolingbroke’s outburst in Richard II (I, iii, 294) after he has been banished:

‘O, who can hold a fire in his hand,

By thinking of the frosty Caucasus?

Or cloy the hungry edge of appetite

By bare imagination of a feast?

Or wallow naked in December snow,

By thinking on fantastic summer’s heat?'”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Every Good Boy Deserves Favor

Every Good Boy Deserves Favor: A play (1977) by the Czech-born British dramatist Tom Stoppard (b. 1937), with music by the US conductor Andre Previn. The play is about a dissident confined to a Soviet psychiatric hospital, and the ironic title refers to the mnemonic used in music teaching for the notes on the lines of the treble stave: E, G, B, D, F.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Anticlimax

“Anticlimax: 1. In rhetoric, a descent from the elevated and important to the low and trivial: ‘Here thou, Great Anna! whom three realms obey,/Dost sometimes counsel take—and sometimes tea’ (Pope, The Rape of the Lock, (1712). 2. In drama, the lowered state after a climax; in life, an outcome that fails to live up to expectations.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Pulchritude (n)

While it is far from a high-frequency word (which means I almost certainly wrote it during the height of the first wave of the Covid pandemic, when it popped up as the Word of the Day at Merriam-Webster), here is a context clues worksheet on the noun pulchritude. It means “physical comeliness,” i.e. “beauty.” An old friend of mine would refer affectionately to his wife as a “pulchritudinous little plumcake,” which is the first time and place I heard the word.

In any case, the word stems from the Latin root pulcher. As Merriam Webster puts it, Pulcher hasn’t exactly been a wellspring of English terms…”. While I am not a betting man, if I were, I would wager that Pulcinella, a figure from commedia dell’arte (and namesake of the superb ballet by Igor Stravinsky) has a name that originates with pulcher.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Anachronism

“Anachronism: [Stress: “a-NA-kronizm’] In rhetoric, the appearance of a person or thing in the wrong epoch, such as the clock in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Linguistic anachronisms are generally a matter of awareness, context, and expectation: for example, the archaism wight (person, man) may be appropriate at a seminar on the Elizabethan poet Spenser, but is incongruous and probably unintelligible elsewhere. Similarly, a character in a period novel who says OK long before the phrase was current rings false for anyone who knows (or senses) that its time is out of joint.”

Excerpted from: McArthur, Tom. The Oxford Concise Companion to the English Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Dalton Trumbo

“Dalton Trumbo: (1905-1976) American screenwriter and novelist. One of Hollywood’s highest paid writers in the 1930s and 1940s, Trumbo was blacklisted and served a prison term for his refusal—as one of the ‘Hollywood Ten’—to answer questions about Communist affiliations posed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1947. Living in Mexico, he continued to write popular movie scripts, such as Exodus (1960), The Sandpiper (1965), and The Fixer (1968), although some of his work in the 1950s had to be credited to pseudonyms. He published four novels, including Johnny Got His Gun, all of which expressed his populist attitudes.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Marcus Junius Brutus

Here is a reading on Marcus Junius Brutus along with its accompanying vocabulary-building and comprehension worksheet. Yes, this is the Brutus who was in up to his neck on the assassination plot against Julius Caesar, and to whom Caesar said, in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, “Et tu, Brute?

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Leitmotif

“Leitmotif: (German Leitmotiv ‘leading motif’) A term coined by Hans von Wolzugen to designate a musical theme associated throughout a whole work with a particular object, denote a recurrent theme (q.v.) or unit. It is occasionally used as a literary term in the same sense that Mann intended, and also on a broader sense to refer to an author’s favorite themes: for example, the hunted man and betrayal in the novels of Graham Greene.”

Excerpted from: Cuddon, J.A. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. New York: Penguin, 1992.

Two-Bit (adj)

Here is a context clues worksheet on the adjective two-bit. I wonder if anyone knows these days that two bits means twenty-five cents. Two-bit, therefore, means “cheap or trivial of its kind,” “petty, and “small-time”; this document is keyed to those definitions as well.

Unless you plan to teach a reading unit on Damon Runyon, or cast a production of Guys and Dolls, I can’t imagine why any student needs to learn this vanishing adjective. I can, however, imagine, that this was the Word of the Day at Merriam-Webster at a moment in life when I had some time on my hands.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Women Beware Women

“Women Beware Women: A tragedy by Thomas Middleton (1580-1627). It has not been established when he wrote it (some time before 1622), but the works was published posthumously in 1657. The admonitory title primarily refers to the character Livia (although none of the other characters is particularly savoury). In the main plot Livia distracts Leontio’s mother with a game of chess while the duke seduces Leontio’s wife, Bianca. In the subplot Livia persuades her niece Isabella that she is not related to Uncle Hippolito, Livia’s brother, so that mutual lust may be consummated. The corpse count by the end of the play is high. Apparently T.S. Eliot was alluding to the scene featuring the game of chess in the title of Part II of The Waste Land (1922), ‘A Game of Chess’, although the only reference to chess is in the lines:

And we shall play a game of chess,

Pressing lidless eyes and waiting for a knock upon the door.

Middleton’s political satire, A Game at Chess, which he wrote in 1624, was also admired by Eliot.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.