In this post, we explain what repetition is, how to analyse it, and how to discuss it in your essays.
Welcome to our glossary of Literary Techniques REPETITION post. This post explores repetition in detail, one of the many techniques from our Literary Techniques Toolkit.
Some common student questions about repetition are:
Here, we will define repetition, discuss the purpose of using repetition in texts, and take you through a step-by-step process – using examples – for writing about them in your responses.
Table of Contents
Although repetition is important, it is a very easy technique to identify.
This means that you should always further analyse and think critically about the deeper meanings it can represent. Never state that repetition emphasises the subject it is talking about. That is not a strong enough analysis!
Repetition is when a word, phrase or statement is repeated several times to emphasise and develop a certain idea.
For example, “That is a very, very, very big balloon!”
There are many different types of repetition. For example:
When a word, phrase or statement is repeated several times, we often find it hammered into our brains.
Knowing this, composers are able to emphasise and then explore further certain subjects by repeating specific words or phrases that relate to it. However, that is not all.
Repetition can create a rhythm or break it. This will ultimately affect the mood or atmosphere of the text. It is up to you to think critically about these changes and figure out its significance.
Most of the time, the subject highlighted holds a deeper meaning, like symbolism. The thing repeated often represents another idea or concept that can further support the text’s themes and messages. So, when we identify the subject and its symbolic meaning, we can link the two together to figure out the purpose of the repetition.
Repetition is very easy to identify, but may be more difficult to analyse. Here are some methodical steps that will help you analyse and discuss it.
Now that we have an overview of how to analyse repetition, let’s do it together using examples.
It is very easy to notice repetition. It can include words, phrases, clauses or statements.
Let’s have a look at an extract from the Year 12 Common Module text: The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1
I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew
Hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections,
Passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the
Same weapons, subject to the same diseases,
Healed by the same means, warmed and
Cooled by the same winter and summer as a
Christian is? If you prick us do we not bleed? If
You tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us
Do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not
Revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
Resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
What is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian
Wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by
Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy
You teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard
But I will better the instruction.
Here, we see that Shylock’s monologue is about his mistreatment by the Venetians for being a Jew. He tells them that he is also a human with “hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections” and that he can feel pain and joy like they do.
However, it takes a dark turn when he begins to talk about revenge.
He questions the hypocrisy of the Christians; how the Jews are punished for hurting Christians but not the other way around. Shylock also confronts them about their undeserving noble attitudes.
Then, he vows to hurt them like they have hurt him.
So now that you have a better understanding of the plot, what repeated words or phrases do you notice in this extract?
“Jew“, “the same“, “If you…“, “Christian”
Now, we need to think about how the repeated words or phrases impact the audience by highlighting important aspects of the text.
These are the repeated words and phrases:
“I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes. Hath not a Jew hands organs, dimensions, sense, affections”
“Hurt with the same weapons… Healed by the same means… Cooled by the same winter and summer”
“If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”
“If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufference be by Christian example?
Let’s ask ourselves a few questions to figure out the effect of repetition.
1. Does it put emphasis on a subject or idea? Why?
Looking at the repetition of words and phrases in these lines, we can see a common theme running through this extract… PREJUDICE.
This extract talks about how both Christians and Jews are human and should be treated in the same way.
Shakespeare’s repetition of ‘Jews‘ and ‘Christians‘ highlights the two religions. The word ‘same‘ emphasises the commonality between the religions and the anaphora of ‘if you‘ challenges the existing prejudice against the Jews.
2. Does it change the mood? If so, what?
What do you feel when you read this extract? Does repetition help build the atmosphere?
We can see that this monologue is quite dark and disturbing. And the repetition of words and phrases definitely add to this atmosphere.
Shakespeare chose these specific specific words and phrases like, “Same weapons… same means… same winter and summer” to create an ominous mood. We become anxious and almost terrified of Shylock’s promise of revenge.
3. Does it change the rhythm? How do audiences react/feel about this?
The repetition here creates a rhythmic beat that slowly builds up.
Because of this, the text becomes chant-like, and we find ourselves unable to stop reading the monologue. This also adds to the ominous and dark atmosphere of the monologue.
4. Put the findings from above together. What does it ultimately represent?
From this, we can see that Shakespeare has used repetition in Shylock’s monologue to confront his audience with the existing prejudice in society and its consequences – the persecuted seeks revenge.
So, the repetition here is emphasises the cycle of hatred and anger that results from the existing societal prejudice.
We see this through the ominous atmosphere created through the repetition of “Christians“, “Jews” and “Same weapons… same means… same winter and summer” that builds an enchanting rhythm.
NOTE: it is not enough to just say that repetition emphasises Christians or Jews or the similarities between them.
Now, we need to think about Shakespeare’s MESSAGE. This links to wider society and the human experience.
The theme explored in Shylock’s monologue is prejudice.
So, ask yourself, has Shakespeare has managed to confirm or change your perspective about this issue? And why?
We can see that Shakespeare is trying to warn his audiences of the negative consequences of prejudice within society. He horrifies us with the hatred and extreme desire for revenge that results from religious prejudices. Shakespeare tries to motivate us to try to remove prejudice society so that it can be more harmonious and equitable.
Step 4: Discuss insights in a T.E.E.L paragraph
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 imagery.
Let’s put this in a complete analysis of repetition.
Shakespeare highlights the need for acceptance in society by exploring the negative consequences of religious prejudices as it harvests a place of hatred and hostility. The repetition of ‘the same’ in ‘Hurt with the same weapons… Healed by the same means… Cooled by the same winter and summer‘ and ‘Christians‘ and ‘Jews‘ in Shylock’s monologue, draws attention to and mocks the religious prejudice that exists as Shakespeare highlights that all humans are essentially the same and should not be judged by their religion. Further, the increasingly suspenseful rhythm created through the use of repetition, especially with the anaphora of ‘If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?’, illustrates the cycle of hatred and revenge that society will be unable to escape if societal prejudices still exist. As such, Shakespeare motivates his audience to become accepting of differences, as continued prejudices will breed a climate of hostility and anger.
As repetition is very easy to identify in texts, you need to bring your analysis to the next level. Now that we know how to analyse repetition step-by-step, let’s take another look at an example to make sure that you fully understand what repetition is and how to use it in your writing.
Let’s take a look at how to analyse repetition in a pair of texts for Year 12 Module A.
Here, Plath is on a journey to purify herself from her trauma and sins.
As you can see, she uses repetition quite frequently. However, we will only focus on one example.
“The tongues of hell / are dull, dull as the triple / tongues of dull, fat Cerberus”
The repetition of ‘dull‘ ‘tongue‘ of fat Cerberus twists the myth of the frightening three-headed Hell-hound. He is known to be terrifyingly powerful, being the guard at the entrance to hell; preventing anyone from leaving.
However, by emphasising the dullness of his tongues, Plath decreases his power in an attempt to change our perception on the level of purity to enter hell.
By decreasing the level of purity to enter hell, she is then able to feel ‘purified’ and subsequently liberate herself from her domestic suppression, even with her numerous sins.
Now that we have analysed the evidence, let’s put it into a paragraph:
Sylvia Plath, in her confessional poem Fever 103, explores how individual’s can become desperate in their quest to liberate themselves from their trauma and guilt. Here, Plath attempts to decrease the level of purity to enter hell by emphasising the dullness of the Hell-hound’s tongue through the repetition in “The tongues of hell / are dull, dull as the triple / tongues of dull, fat Cerberus”. Because the Hell-hound guards the entrance to hell, their tongues must be strong enough to keep the condemned in. So, by twisting of the Cerberus myth allusion, Plath highlights her intense desperation to purify herself from her sins as she is willing to manipulate reality to suit her situation; a dull tongue means that more people can escape, including Plath. Through this, we can see that individuals can intensely desire liberation, to the point where are willing to create another reality for themselves.
Now that you have a solid understanding of repetition and how to use it, you want to ensure you start practising identifying, analysing and writing about it yourself.