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English 11-12

Literary Techniques: Foreshadowing

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:

  • What does it mean to foreshadow?
  • How do I identify foreshadowing?
  • How do I discuss foreshadowing in an essay?

Okay, so let’s answer these!

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Table of contents:

  1. Literary technique: foreshadowing.
  2. What is foreshadowing?
  3. How does foreshadowing work?
  4. How to analyse foreshadowing?
  5. Foreshadowing example


Literary technique: foreshadowing

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.


What is foreshadowing?

Foreshadowing is a literary technique where the composer hints at a future plot event.

It can be created through:

  • Narrative: This is when the composer drops a hint in their story. It can be in found in their descriptions, character’s actions or even the plot. For example, John and Max watched a move about a pirate finding treasure. Later on in the novel, they come across a treasure chest in the junkyard.
  • Setting: Composers can create a certain atmosphere to hint at future events. For example, a spooky and foreboding atmosphere can foreshadow negative events.
  • Dialogue: This is when a character says something that hints to the audience about future events. The witches’ prophecy in Macbeth is an example of this. They said, “All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor”. Soon after, he becomes Thane of Cawdor.


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:

  • Subtle foreshadows: Composers can drop hints about future events without us knowing about it until it has happened.
  • Explicit foreshadows: This is when the composer directly hints at something occurring in the future. We know that the event will occur. However, they might not give you all the information to create a sense of mystery.
  • Misleading foreshadows: This is when the composer hints at a future event, but it never happens. This is also known as a plot twist.



Good things will clearly happen in this house, right?


How does foreshadowing work?

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:

  • Give insight into the plot without explicitly mentioning it
  • Create suspense, mystery and dramatic tension
  • Make events not seem random. If you are reading a novel, and a complication just jumped out of nowhere… the progression of the plot wouldn’t make sense.
  • Highlight the text’s themes. When you use foreshadowing, you are making an event seem important because you’re giving it more attention. And most often, these events illustrate or explore certain themes.
  • Link the main themes at different parts of the text
  • Symbolise something that aids the composer’s message


The effects on the audience include:

  • Becoming interested in the text because they want to know what happens next
  • Anticipating future events. Composers can either satisfy this anticipation or give a plot twist
  • Becoming surprised when an event occurs and they realise that it was subtly hinted at earlier
  • Engaging them by compelling them to piece together the plot
  • Preparing them for the event, so it doesn’t seem random. This helps them better understand what is happening
  • Focusing their attention on certain events… and subsequently, the themes and messages involved


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.


How to analyse foreshadowing?

Foreshadowing can sometimes be a little difficult to identify. Don’t worry! We will go through the steps needed to identify and analyse foreshadowing.

  1. Read the whole text once and identify any obvious examples of foreshadowing. 
  2. Go over the text again and identify any subtle hints about future events.
    1. Are there any unusual parts that could be hinting at the future?
    2. Are there hints about any possible future tension between characters? 
    3. Are there any plot, setting or narrative changes?
    4. Is a certain atmosphere created? Does this provide insight about the future?
    5. Pay attention to the composer’s word choices. Is it unusual? Does it hint at something?
  3. What is the wider significance of foreshadowing?
    1. Does it put emphasis on a specific theme?  
    2. Does it symbolise something?
    3. Why does the composer want the audience to react a certain way to foreshadowing? 
    4. How does foreshadowing help develop the composer’s message?
  4.  Discuss your insights in a TEEL paragraph. 


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.


Step 1: Read the whole text and identify obvious foreshadowing examples

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.



Shylock is driven by greed and jealousy!



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.


Step 2: Skim over the text and look for details of subtle foreshadowing

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:

  • Are there any unusual parts that could be hinting at the future?
  • Are there hints about any possible future tension between characters? 
  • Are there any plot, setting or narrative changes?
  • Is a certain atmosphere created? Does this provide insight about the future?
  • Pay attention to the composer’s word choices. Is it unusual? Does it hint at something?


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.

Then meet me forthwith at the notary’s.
Give him direction for this merry bond, 
And I will go and purse the ducats straight,
See to my house left in fearful guard
Of an unthrifty knave and presently
I will be with you.

Hie thee, gentle Jew


The Hebrew will turn Christian. He grows kind. 

I like not fair terms and a villain’s mind

Come on. In this there can be no dismay. 
My ships come home a month before the day. 


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.


Step 3: Find the significance of foreshadowing in the text.

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.

  • Does it put emphasis on a specific theme?
    We know that racial prejudice is a theme that Shakespeare explores in the play. It is evident that the foreshadowing of Shylock’s conversion emphasises this theme.
  • Does it symbolise something? If so, what?
    Shylock converting to Christianity symbolises society’s desire to suppress the other and force conformity.
  • Why does the composer want the audience to react a certain way to foreshadowing?
    Elizabethan audiences will react positively when they know that there is a possibility of Shylock becoming Christian. This is because they live in a Christian dominated society that discriminates against Jews.
    However, modern audiences will be shocked at that possibility because they will view it as a suppression of identity that results from racist attitudes.
  • How does foreshadowing help develop the composer’s message?
    Shakespeare uses foreshadowing here to highlight the existing societal prejudice and make his audience aware of the need to break it.


Step 4: Discuss insights in TEEL paragraph

Now, we have all the necessary ingredients to put together a T.E.E.L paragraph.

T.E.E.L stands for:

  • Technique: The technique used in the example
  • Example: The example
  • Effect: Your explanation of the effect of this technique and how it develops meaning
  • Link: An explanation of how this example supports your argument.


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.

  • The technique being used is foreshadowing.
  • The example of “Hie thee, gentle Jew. / The Hebrew will turn Christian. He grows kind.”
  • The effect of this technique is that Shakespeare represents the consequences of racial prejudice as it suppresses one’s true identity
  • The link to our argument is that Shakespeare confronts his audience with the detriment of social prejudices in suppressing one’s identity, thus highlighting the need for the acceptance of differences within society.


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.


Foreshadowing examples

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.



Gloucester shows the audience his strategies ahead of time. Why?


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.


What next?

Learn how to utilise and discuss foreshadowing in your English responses!

Written by Tammy Dang

Tammy is a former student of Matrix and is now studying Law / Media (Screen and Sound Production) at UNSW. She is a Digital Content Writer for the Matrix Education blog. Tammy aspires to become a lawyer in the future while continuing to run her art business.


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