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Stylistic analysis

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• Stylistic analysis is a normal part of literary studies. It is practised as a part of understanding the possible meanings in a text.

• It is also generally assumed that the process of analysis will reveal the good qualities of the writing.

• Take for example the opening lines of Shakespeare's Richard III:

Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

• A stylistic analysis might reveal the following points:

- the play is written in poetic blank verse

- that is — unrhymed, iambic pentameters

- the stresses fall as follows

- Now is the winter of our discontent

- [notice that the stress falls on vowel sounds]

- the first line is built on a metaphor

- the condition of England is described in terms of the season 'winter'

- the term 'our' is a form of the royal 'we'

- the seasonal metaphor is extended into the second line ...

- ... where better conditions become 'summer'

- the metaphor is extended even further by the term 'sun'

- it is the sun which appears, 'causing' the summer

- but 'sun' is here also a pun - on the term 'son'...

- ... which refers to the son of the King

- 'York' is a metonymic reference to the Duke of York


• In a complete analysis, the significance of these stylistic details would be related to the events of the play itself, and to Shakespeare's presentation of them.

• In some forms of stylistic analysis, the numerical recurrence of certain stylistic features is used to make judgements about the nature and the quality of the writing.

• However, it is important to recognise that the concept of style is much broader than just the 'good style' of literary prose.

For instance, even casual communication such as a manner of speaking or a personal letter might have an individual style.

• However, to give a detailed account of this style requires the same de­gree of linguistic analysis as literary texts.

• Stylistic analysis of a non-literary text for instance means studying in detail the features of a passage from such genres as:

Instruction   notes for programming your video-recorder
Information   ahistory text book
Persuasion   an advertisement or a holiday brochure


• The method of analysis can be seen as looking at the text in great detail, observing what the parts are, and saying what function they perform in the context of the passage.

• It is rather like taking a car-engine to pieces, looking at each component in detail, then observing its function as the whole engine starts working.

• These are features which are likely to occur in a text whose function is to instruct:

imperative or command 'remove the outer covering'
direct address 'check voltage system before you install the unit'
numbered points [because sequencing is important in carrying out a procedure]
technical terms or jargon 'piston', 'carburettor', 'spark plug'
diagram with call-out labels [an extra level of communication to aid understanding]


• Features are dealt with in three stages, as follows:

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |

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