R.O.A.D.S. to Rhetoric
While you are working on your audition monologue and on your plays, notice the following rhetorical devices: Repetition, Omission, Addition, Direction, and Substitution. These devices can provide you with character clues, telling you more about the speaker, and they can provide acting cues, indicating how to behave physically or vocally when delivering the lines.
Rhetoric is the art of using language effectively. Shakespeare uses the tools of rhetoric to shape his characters’ thoughts and actions. Some characters are eloquent speakers and can easily win arguments or display their dexterity with words, like King Henry V. Other characters mix up their words or use words inappropriately, such as Dogberry, the clown in Much Ado About Nothing. Shakespeare intentionally uses rhetoric to create characters’ unique ways of speaking.
Repetition gives speech a cadence, a rhythm to follow. Our brains, which are tuned to appreciate harmony, naturally pick up on these patterns, assisting us in synthesizing ideas. Shakespeare frequently uses devices of repetition within the structure of iambic pentameter, which already has a distinct rhythm; layering the rhetorical device on top of the scansion augments the brain’s ability to hear patterns.
Omission interrupts the normal flow of speech or ideas in some way, by leaving out a component of a sentence or a layer of meaning. This omission requires the brain to try to fill in the gap. You should also consider what omission implies about the listener. Either Shakespeare or the character thinks that his audience (within the play or in the theatre) can fill in the blanks, crediting them with enough intelligence and reasoning to follow along – or, if the gaps are not easily filled, that may be significant; a character may be counting on poor comprehension.
These rhetorical devices focus on words which are either extraneous or explanatory – they either elaborate unnecessarily on something which is already clear, or they make clear what was previously vague. Many of these devices slow down a speech, drawing out the tempo. They may overlap with devices of repetition.
Devices of direction change the order in which the words come; they are devices of arrangement and rearrangement, and they can either illuminate or confuse meaning. A device which arranges words more neatly, by highlighting contrast or building to a climactic point, illuminates meaning. A device which rearranges words into a less sensible order, altering normal English syntax, may obfuscate meaning. These devices may also more literally change the direction of the speech – that is, change to whom a character directs a speech.
Devices of substitution are when, in one way or another, one word or phrase stands in for something else. This may be purely grammatical, or it may be more conceptual and abstract. Metaphors, malapropisms, and puns all fall into this category.
Notice that these five types of forms are not mutually exclusive. They may overlap and intertwine. A figure of direction may also have repetition within it. You may find omission nested within addition. Some devices straddle the line between one type and another, and there isn’t always a “right answer.” Look to rhetoric for suggestions and clues as a way of opening up the text, not to try and pin it down to any one interpretation or another.
When examining rhetoric within a character’s speech, it’s important to consider both what the author (Shakespeare) is doing and what the character is doing. Examining Shakespeare’s craft is important for appreciation of his skill as a writer, and examining the character is important for performance purposes.
How to find R.O.A.D.S in your monologue:
Look for Repetition, Omission, Addition, Direction, and Substitution in the text of your monologue. Circle, underline, and highlight your findings.
- Notice when your character repeats words or sentence structures. What point are they trying to get across?
- Notice when your character leaves out words or important information. Is the character trying to hide something? Are they forgetful?
- Notice when your character adds extra words to their message. Why are they using flowery language? Who are they trying to impress?
- Notice when your character alters or rearranges the order of their words. Does this arrangement make their speech more clear or muddy? Why might this character re-arrange their word order?
- Notice when your character replaces simple words for complex words, metaphors, or puns. What about this character and their situation might explain their choice to replace simple words for more complex or abstract phrases?