Unlike other forms of repetition, epizeuxis occurs when there are no intervening words. The use of this figure of speech can be quite powerful, ensuring that the reader pays attention to what’s being emphasized. But, at the same time, it can’t be used all the time. This kind of repetition, especially in prose, can become draining and actually take away from the plotline.
Definition of Epizeuxis
Epizeuxis comes from the Greek meaning “fastening together.” It occurs when the writer repeats words in close succession. They should fall one right after another. Sometimes, this device is also known as a diacope. Epizeuxis is one of several literary devices that’s concerned with repetition. Others, such as those listed in the “Related Literary Terms” section, occur when different parts of words appear in different parts of lines or sentences.
This kind of repetition is concerned with the use of the same word or words in the same sentence, one after another. For instance, the classic example from Heart of Darkness “The horror, the horror.” This is a great example of how impactful and chilling this literary device can be. But, it’s also quite easy to overuse it.
Examples of Epizeuxis in Literature
King Lear by William Shakespeare
In this well-loved and very dark play, the poet uses epizeuxis in a particularly famous passage. The following lines come from Act V Scene 3 and are spoken by King Lear.
And my poor fool is hanged.—No, no, no life?
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,
And thou no breath at all? Oh, thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never.—
Pray you, undo this button. Thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her. Look, her lips.
Look there, look there. O, O, O, O
Lear’s speaking about Cordelia, using the word “fool” as a term of endearment rather than an insult. While doing so, Shakespeare repeats words several times. The most prominent is the use of “never” five times in the fourth line of this excerpt. But he also uses “O” four times and “no” three times. These are the last lines he speaks before he dies.
The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ is, without a doubt, Coleridge’s most famous poem. It was published alongside Wordsworth’s poetry in Lyrical Ballads. This collection marks the beginning of English Romanticism. In the third stanza of Part IV, Coleridge uses an example of epizeuxis. The lines read:
Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.
Discover more Samuel Taylor Coleridge poems.
Macbeth by William Shakespeare
One of the most famous speeches from Macbeth is known as the “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” monologue. This soliloquy is delivered by Macbeth in Act V Scene 5 after he learns that his wife, known only as Lady Macbeth, has died. These lines are his response to the news.
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
The repetition of “and tomorrow” in this passages is incredibly effective and is often one of the best parts of the live play. The emotion with which an actor delivers this speech is one of the last things that the audience sees before it ends and Macbeth loses his life. Shortly after he speaks these lines, he learns that Birnam Wood is moving toward Dunsinane Castle, one of the parts of the prophecy.
Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry.
Tennyson wrote this poem in 1835 and published it in 1842. It is often considered to be an elegiac lament for his friend, Arther Hallam. The poem depicts a personal sorrow against the backdrop of a powerful ocean scene. No matter what the speaker sees, he’s continually returned to his sorrow. Here are the first four lines of the poem and the second repetition of “Break, break, break” (including the title).
Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.
Tennyson goes on to use the same refrain again in the last stanza. This is a fairly short poem, meaning that the instances in which he uses epizeuxis are all the more effective.
Read more Alfred Lord Tennyson poems.
Why Do Writers Use Epizeuxis?
Writers use epizeuxis when they want to create a particularly effective section of text. As noted above, it’s a technique that can appear in poetry, prose, or drama. It might also feature in fiction and non-fiction works, as well as speeches, depending on the subject and context. Repetition is one of the most important literary devices that any author can use, no matter their genre or format. Winston Churchill’s “Never give in” speech is a great example.
But, it is also one of the most fickle. It can easily be used to create emphasis and ensure the reader pays attention to a particular passage, but it is also very easy to use it too much. This is even more crucial when it comes to prose. Readers are usually prepared for some repetition in poetry. ‘Break, Break, Break’ is a great example of how a writer can use repetition (but not too much) in their verse.
Related Literary Terms
- Chiasmus: a rhetorical device that occurs when the grammatical structure of a previous phrase or clause is reversed or flipped.
- Anaphora: the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession.
- Epistrophe: the repetition of the same word or a phrase at the end of multiple clauses or sentences.
- Repetition: an important literary technique that sees a writer reuse words or phrases multiple times.