Antanaclasis: Playing with Words and Meanings

Antanaclasis is a rhetorical device that involves the repetition of a word or phrase within a sentence or passage, with each repetition having a different meaning. It creates an intriguing contrast by using the same word in multiple senses or with varying interpretations.

Difference Between Epizeuxis and Antanaclasis

While both epizeuxis and antanaclasis involve word repetition, they differ in their usage. Epizeuxis repeats words or phrases successively within the same sentence or line, while antanaclasis repeats a word with different meanings in a sentence or passage.

Examples of Antanaclasis in Literature

Example #1: Twelfth Night (By William Shakespeare)

Viola: “Save thee, friend, and thy music! Dost thou live by thy tabour?”

Clown: “No, sir, I live by the church.”

Viola: “Art thou a churchman?”

Clown: “No such matter, sir: I do live by the church; for I do live at my house, and my house doth stand by the church.”

In this witty exchange from Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," the word "live" is repeated, each time with a different meaning. Viola is disguised as Cesario and conversing with Feste, the Clown. The word "live" first refers to making a living by playing the drum, and later, it means residing near the church.

Example #2: Walter Savage Landor (By Walter Savage Landor)

“Death, tho I see him not, is near
And grudges me my eightieth year.
Now I would give him all these last
For one that fifty have run past.
Ah! He strikes all things, all alike,
But bargains: those he will not strike…”

In this poem by Walter Savage Landor, the word "strike" is used with contrasting meanings. In the first instance, it signifies taking the lives of all, while in the second reference, it means sparing certain individuals. This use of antanaclasis creates a thought-provoking contrast.

Example #3: Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening (By Robert Frost)

“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”

Robert Frost's famous poem "Stopping By Woods on Snowy Evening" employs antanaclasis in the last two lines. The word "sleep" initially denotes nocturnal rest, and in the final line, it takes on the meaning of death. This repetition adds depth and emphasis to the poem.

Example #4: Henry V (By William Shakespeare)

King Henry:

“And tell the pleasant prince this mock of his
Hath turned his balls to gun-stones, and his soul
Shall stand sore chargèd for the wasteful vengeance
That shall fly with them; for many a thousand widows
Shall this his mock out of their dear husbands,
Mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down,
And some are yet ungotten and unborn
That shall have cause to curse the Dauphin’s scorn…”

William Shakespeare's "Henry V" showcases antanaclasis in this excerpt. The word "mock" is repeated, with the first use meaning "to cheat" and the subsequent uses conveying "to taunt" or "ridicule." This device adds rhetorical power to the passage.

Function of Antanaclasis

Antanaclasis serves to create a captivating contrast by repeating a word with varying meanings. It enhances the dramatic and persuasive impact of written or spoken language. This rhetorical device can generate humor, especially through irony and puns. Additionally, the repetition of words makes the text memorable and draws the reader's or listener's attention.

Antanaclasis finds application in poetry, prose, and political speeches. Political leaders use it to persuade and engage their audiences effectively.

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