Spotted an example of foreshadowing but aren't sure if it's worth talking about? In this post, we explain what FORESHADOWING is and what it is really doing in your texts.
Welcome to our glossary of Literary Techniques FORESHADOWING post. This article is part of the English Literary Techniques Toolkit series for the HSC. We will help you understand foreshadowing, show you what it does, provide examples, and walk you through the steps to analyse them.
Some common questions that students ask are:
Okay, so let’s answer these!
Want to know the key to sophisticated analysis?
Download your free English Textual Analysis Planner
Learn how to analyse texts and produce insightful notes!
Foreshadowing is a powerful and common technique used by composers to hint at future events.
It not only creates suspense and tension but can also hold symbolic value, too.
For example, when looking at Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth’s death is foreshadowed in the witches’ prophecy. This is symbolic of the Elizabethan belief of fate and divine rights and, also, how Macbeth’s downfall is unavoidable because of his Machiavelli nature.
It is important that you don’t simply discuss the narrative functions of foreshadowing in your analysis. You should dig deeper and explore its thematic values and messages.
Foreshadowing is a literary technique where the composer hints at a future plot event.
It can be created through:
Composers can make foreshadowing really subtle or extremely obvious. It is up to you to figure out which ones are used.
Let’s take a close look at different ways foreshadowing can be used:
We’ve seen the different types of foreshadowing that can be used in texts. Let’s see how it works.
Foreshadowing can be used to:
The effects on the audience include:
As you see, foreshadowing plays a large role in the text’s narrative!
You need to be able to identify foreshadowing in texts and analyse examples of it.
Let’s see how we can do this.
Foreshadowing can sometimes be a little difficult to identify. Don’t worry! We will go through the steps needed to identify and analyse foreshadowing.
Now that we have an overview of how to identify and analyse foreshadowing, let’s go through it together. We will be looking at a Common Module text, Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice.
This is your chance to read the whole text and get a good grasp of the plot and themes.
Use this chance to identify obvious examples of foreshadowing. Usually, these are created through the plot, setting or dialogue.
Let’s take a look.
The Merchant of Venice follows the story of a Venetian merchant, who is unable to lend his friend, Bassanio, money because he invested the whole sum into trade ships.
So, they resorted to asking Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, for a loan. Despite Antonio and Shylock’s hostile history, Shylock agrees to lend him money on the condition that he will receive a pound of Antonio’s flesh if they can’t repay him.
As the play goes on, it reveals that Antonio’s ships are lost at sea. Hearing this, Shylock attempts to take his share of the deal – Antonio’s pound of flesh – despite Antonio protests and offer of money.
However, when the case is brought to court… Shylock is found guilty of attempted murder of a Venetian man. As such, he is either forced to give up his property to Antonio or become Christian. He chooses the latter.
Once we know the whole plot, we can easily identify foreshadowing because we know what happens in the end.
Here, we can see that the conflict created in the opening of the play between Antonio and Shylock, foreshadows Shylock’s forced conversion to Christianity.
Well, we that Antonio had a history of mistreating Shylock, purely because he is a Jew.
So we can see that there is tension between the two religions, Christianity and Judaism.
Now that you know the plot of your text and have identified an example of obvious foreshadowing, it will be a lot easier to identify examples of subtle foreshadowing.
You need to pay special attention to the narrative, setting, dialogue and the composer’s word choices.
Here are some questions to help you identify foreshadowing:
Keep these in mind. Now, let’s continue expanding on the conflict between Antonio and Shylock.
This is an extract at Act 1, Scene 3, where Antonio makes a bond with Shylock; he agrees to give the Jew a pound of his flesh if he cannot repay his debt.
Yes, Shylock, I will seal unto this bond.
The Hebrew will turn Christian. He grows kind.
Here, we can identify an example of foreshadowing.
Antonio states, “Hie thee, gentle Jew. / The Hebrew will turn Christian. He grows kind.”
We know that Shylock becomes a Christian at the end of the play. However, if we didn’t read the whole text, we would have never realised that this is foreshadowing. That’s why it’s important that you know the whole plot before you look for specific details.
However, this line is much more complex. Here, Shakespeare’s word choice of “gentle” is important.
We know that gentle is used to describe someone who is kind, tender and good-natured.
However, gentile also means not Jewish.
Therefore, this pun foreshadows Shylock’s conversion to Christianity.
It is important that you always look for deeper meanings behind techniques when you analyse them.
Basically you are seeing how the technique develops the composer’s message.
Here are some questions that you can answer to try to find the significance of foreshadowing.
Now, we have all the necessary ingredients to put together a T.E.E.L paragraph.
T.E.E.L stands for:
You can find a more detailed explanation of using T.E.E.L in our post on paragraph structure (this post is part of our series on Essay Writing and shows you the methods Matrix English Students learn to write Band 6 essays in the Matrix Holiday and Term courses). Let’s use this T.E.E.L to write about this example of foreshadowing.
|Shakespeare highlights the need for society to be accepting of differences through his exploration of the negative effects of racial prejudice in The Merchant of Venice. From the outset, Shakespeare foreshadows Shylock’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity in Antonio’s dialogue, “Hie thee, gentle Jew [Shylock]. / The Hebrew will turn Christian. He grows kind.” Here, modern audiences are confronted at the effects of racism as they realise society is attempting to suppress Antonio’s personal identity. The word “gentle” acts as a pun. Gentle means kind, tender and good-natured, and “gentile” means not Jewish. Through this, Shakespeare symbolises how Christians – note Jews – are kind, tender, and good-nature, highlighting the existence of racial stereotypes in society. As such, audiences realise the need for an accepting society as the racial prejudice suppresses the other’s identities.|
Now that you know how to analyse foreshadowing, step-by-step, let’s take a look at another text; Shakespeare’s King Richard III.
This play uses a lot of foreshadowing.
In the opening soliloquy, Richard portrays himself as the villain in, “I am determined to prove myself a villain“, thus foreshadowing the future troubles.
So, when Clarence retells his dream to Richard, using words like “dreadful“, “pain“, “dead man” and “drown“, we begin to feel afraid of Clarence’s death. The foreboding and ominous atmosphere hints at his impending demise.
This is further exemplified with Richard’s dialogue to Clarence, “Well your imprisonment shall not be long”, indicating that he will not stay in prison for a long time because he will be dead.
As such, we can determine that Richard kills Clarence as a part of his scheme to become king.
Let’s put our findings into a paragraph.
|Shakespeare highlights the detrimental impacts of an individual’s pursuit of power in King Richard III. In the opening, Richard’s villainous character is made obvious with his line, “I am determined to prove myself a villain”, foreshadowing the future troubles. This is reflected when Clarence recounts his dream. Here, the foreboding and ominous atmosphere created by words like “dreadful“, “pain“, “dead man” and “drown” foreshadows his eventual death, further emphasised with Richard’s double entendre, “Well your imprisonment shall not be long”. This line indicates that Clarence will not be in prison for long, because he will be murdered by Richard. As such, Shakespeare confronts audiences of the detriment of one’s pursuit of power, because they can resort to drastic measures which hurt others.|
Learn how to utilise and discuss foreshadowing in your English responses!