Hypophora is a figure of speech that occurs when writing asks a question and then immediately follows that question up with an answer. It is often related to a rhetorical question but the two are not the same.
Hypophora is also known as “antipophora” and “anthypophora”. It could include one question that is then answered with a single sentence or that is answered with an entire paragraph or more. Hypophora is also used to refer to a series of questions that are answered in the following paragraphs.
History of Hypophora
The word anthypophora comes from the Ancient Greek and was used by Quintilian in his book Institutio Oratoria. It is identified in that volume as a device used to “verify the truth of something”. The term is described by another even earlier work as a device that’s used to present an argument and then refute it. The second definition is much closer to that which is used today.
Purpose of Hypophora
Hypophora is used to engage a reader with the text. They might be stimulated to answer the question themselves before discovering the answer later on in the work. It helps to create interest and make the reader want to find out more about the topic. An unanswered question is often impossible to resist.
The figure of speech is also used as a transitional element, to help a writer take one subject to the next and/or connect two together. If a writer changes the topic with a question, it is easier for the reader to accept that change.
Hypophora or a Rhetorical Question?
These two devices are often confused but the two are quite easily distinguishable. With a rhetorical question, the writer does not provide the answer. It is implied that they are not actually looking for an answer as it is already known. Hypophora is used when a writer wants to or needs to follow the question up with an answer. It is used less for its philosophical impact and more as a rhetorically useful way to convey information or change topics.
Examples of Hypophora in Literature
Example #1: Henry IV, Part 1 by William Shakespeare
Unsurprisingly Shakespeare provides the curious reader with several examples of hypophora. In Henry IV, Part 1 There is an interesting speech in which Falstaff, one of the best-known Shakespearean characters, asks questions about honor. The lines are comedic and are as follows:
What is honor? A word. What is in that word ‘honor’? What is that ‘honor’? Air. A trim reckoning! Who hath it? He that died o’ Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible, then? Yea, to the dead. But will it not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore, I’ll none of it. Honor is a mere scutcheon
This passage is a joy to read. The questions come one after another in short burst and delivered correctly on stage, convey Falstaff’s almost continual state of drunkenness. The questions he poses about honor are serious ones, but he is unable to follow them up with serious answers. His character lightens the mood of the entire storyline.
Example #2: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
There is a wonderful example of this technique in White’s best-known work, Charlotte’s Web. The lines are spoken by Charlotte, the spider, about life.
After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.
These lines come in response to Wilbur, who had asked Charlotte why she took the time to help him when he’d need “done anything” for her. She replies simply, making the thematic point that you only have one life, and in it one should do the best they can for others.
Example #3 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In ‘The Great Gatsby’ a reader can find several different examples of literary devices centered in Daisy’s speech and mannerisms.
“Why candles?” objected Daisy, frowning. […] “In two weeks it’ll be the longest day in the year.” […]
“Do you always watch for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always watch for the longest day in the year and then miss it.
This example of hypophora is an interesting one, In it, Daisy muses about time, light, and her own habits. The lines appear trivial at the outset but help to craft her character and encourage the reader to dig deeper into the kind of person that she is.