Research article
Issue: № 3 (39), 2023


The article looks into one of the modes of speech and thought presentation, particularly free indirect thought representation. Reflection, as one of the pragmatic structure elements of William Shakespeare’s plays, performs the same function as episodes of indirect thought representation in prose. The research studies reflection episodes in Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. It is asserted that according to the author’s pragmatic purpose, the presentation of reflections creates a two-dimensional perception of the plot for the audience – from their own point of view and from the point of view of the characters revealing their inner thoughts and emotional state to them. From the point of view of pragmatics, the content of the characters’ reflections is relevant to the extent that it reveals the conditions for the sincerity of verbal and non-verbal acts of the characters on the stage.

1. Introduction

In this article, we turn to such a concept from the field of pragmatics of a literary text as an indirect representation of thoughts. Information can be presented from different perspectives through different modes of presenting speech and thought

, and one of the modes is indirect speech/thought where a narrator is a third party mediating report of a character’s discourse
. The phenomenon of free indirect thought representation is described by D. Blakemore on the example of fiction. Indirect representation of thoughts is understood by the researcher as those parts of the text where a reader gets an impression that the character is speaking their mind almost despite their own will

Statements, having a propositional form, according to the theory of relevance, are only a representation of the original human thought, i.e. its interpretation

. The addressee has to infer the message from the utterance

2. Research methods and principles

Here we will consider how the principle of pragmatic relevance is reflected in the historical drama, namely in William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure

. The plot of the play, created, presumably, in 1604, was based on Gimbattista Giraldi Cinzio’s Ecatommiti (1565) and George Whetstone’s Promos and Cassandra (1578)
. In the pragmatic structure of Shakespeare’s plays there can be distinguished three types of episodes: reflections, ‘verbal battles’ and the so-called ‘simple interaction’
. Such a division, in our opinion, reflects the author’s hyper-communicative attitude in interaction with the audience. Reflection, or soliloquy, is the character’s inner speech, their ‘thinking out loud’. In reflections, the character, especially the protagonist, finds themselves on the stage at one with the audience, and, in the absence of all other characters, utters a monologue in which reveals their inner spiritual state and true intentions to the audience. The research is carried out using the method of pragmatic analysis and the continuous sampling method.

3. Discussion

We believe reflection in historical dramatic dialogues plays the same role as episodes of indirect thought representation in prose. In both cases, the author gives the character a chance to ‘independently’ communicate with the reader/audience and reveal the course of their thoughts. Reflections serve as an instrument of interaction between the author and the audience, since they allow the author to give some additional characteristics to the character by explicating their true thoughts, feelings, emotions and intentions, i.e. they implement the author’s strategy of a detailed narrative.

From the point of view of the internal pragmatics of the text, i.e. the totality of communicative intentions set into action by the characters of the play, a static state of the plot is observed in reflections. However, reflections are elements of the external pragmatics of the text, since they are aimed at the ‘external addressee’ – the audience in the theatre, and from the perspective of the audience’s perception such monologues are pragmatically relevant as they explicitly represent the thoughts of the character, the reflection of which the audience further seeks in the character’s actions.

Reflection (25 episodes) in Measure for Measure plays a significant role: in five acts of the analysed play, 177 lines are assigned to reflection episodes, the longest of which are monologues of Angelo (26 lines at the end of the second scene of the second act, 17 lines at the beginning of the fourth scene of the second act), Duke Vincentio (22 lines at the end of the first scene of the third act) and Isabella (22 lines at the end of the fourth scene of the second act). For comparison, the longest monologue delivered in the presence of recipients who are the characters of the play is the speech of the Duke (37 lines in the first scene of the third act).

The lengthiest episodes of reflection more often occur at the beginning or the end of the scenes, when one character is still present or already remains on the stage. At the same time, in Measure for Measure there are episodes inscribed in the course of an active dialogue, including a dialogue of the reflecting character with others. For instance, Angelo, the deputy of the Duke, manages to utter twelve lines of a monologue revealing his emotional excitement before Isabella enters, after whom a servant has just been sent. And when Isabella comes in asking if her brother has been pardoned, Angelo, in accordance with the author’s remark aside, in her presence says a remark of one line:

(1) Angelo. <…> O heavens,

Why does my blood thus muster to my heart,

Making both it unable for itself

And dispossessing all my other parts

Of necessary fitness? <…>

Enter Isabella

How now, fair maid? (Act II, scene 2, lines191-193).

The duke, dressed as a friar, makes a rather lengthy speech in the presence of the jailer and Angelo’s envoy, in the hope that Angelo in his letter will pardon Claudio for extramarital relationship and conception (Act IV, scene 2, lines 120-126).

Reflexive episodes in the text are used to reflect the internal transformation of the human essence, the metamorphosis of personality: the characters, placed in different situations, experience an internal rebirth. Obviously, the inner speech of the characters, explicated by the author in the episodes of reflection, can be regarded as a special stage device that has a certain pragmatic power: the audience receives a double vision of the situation – from their own point of view and from the point of view of the characters revealing their thoughts to them. Thus, the author more fully depicts the character’s personality, sharper drawing the conflict of the character with the world around him/her. The most serious emotional conflict in the play is experienced by Angelo, who is forced to go against his heart: he orders to behead Claudio and stands his ground despite his love for Isabella, Claudio’s sister. In Angelo’s words, repentance sounds:

(2) Angelo. When I would pray and think, I think and pray

To several subjects. Heaven hath my empty words,

Whilst my invention, hearing not my tongue,

Anchors on Isabel. <…> Yea, my gravity,

Wherein – let no man hear me – I take pride,

Could I with boot change for an idle plume <…> (Act II, scene 4, lines 1-11).

Angelo’s monologue shows that in addition to the ‘external’ addressee (the audience) reflections can be introspective in nature, i.e. they can be addressed to the speaker himself. The monologue contains a description of the state in which the speaker is currently in, with the aim of critical reflection. Angelo himself ‘opens his eyes’ to the insignificance of his former existence. With the help of the metacommunicative remark ‘let no man hear me’, all possible real addressees of the monologue, but the audience, are excluded. The interactive confirmation sign yea in the middle of the utterance conditionally divides it into two lines, giving the utterance the form of a dialogue between the character and himself.

In addition, it can be assumed that such monologues could be an ‘incendiary mixture’ for the audience. It is known that in Shakespeare’s time, the theater was arranged in such a way that the proscenium was not separated from the auditorium by an arch and a curtain – the open stage area was surrounded by spectators from three sides [2]. The Globe Theater could accommodate over three thousand spectators – about eight hundred people stood around and in front of the stage, and more than two thousand viewers sat in the covered galleries. The audience felt like they were witnesses of the action taking place on the stage, as if they were part of the pragmatic coordinates of the play: right there and then, in a given setting, so the audience often allowed themselves to make comments about the words or actions of the characters. Since the audience was presented with the ‘wrong side’ of the characters’ thoughts, they could observe the actions and draw conclusions about the true nature of the characters, aloud expressing disapproval or support.

Through speeches in reflexive episodes, the scale of the character’s personality and the nature of their aspirations are adequately reflected. So, the Duke is concerned about the dissolute morals prevailing in the city, the need for the ruler to be the purest before the law, as well as his, the Duke’s, importance in the fight against vices: He who the sword of heaven will bear / Should be as holy as severe, / Pattern in himself to know, / Grace to stand, and virtue go <…> (Act III, scene 2, lines 261-268), while Mistress Overdone, a bawd, having heard the news about the tougher punishment for fornication, is only worried that she will now have fewer clients (Act I, scene 2, lines 79-81).

4. Conclusion

In general, speaking about the purpose of reflection episodes in the structure of the play, it is important to mention that their presence in Shakespeare’s work matches the general artistic trends of the Renaissance. Artists and poets developed the concept of “perspective” in art, which consisted in the fundamental possibility of depicting the diversity of the world. The perspective was designed to show the dependence of the image on the viewer’s perception. It served as evidence of the relativity of human perception, tolerance for contradictions and paradoxes, and recognition of the relativity of human values


The author’s external pragmatic purpose of presenting reflections in the play is to create a two-dimensional perception of the plot due to the explication (verbalization) of the characters’ thoughts and feelings. Reflections just provide an opportunity for the character to open up. They serve the global goal of the detailed author’s narrative: since the true motives of the characters’ actions are reflected in their reflections. Thus, the audience better understands the causal relationships of events in the course of the plot.

From the point of view of pragmatics, the content of reflections is relevant to the extent that it reveals the conditions for the sincerity of the verbal and non-verbal acts of the characters. Reflective episodes reflect the historical humanistic tradition in art, which makes them the object of historical pragmatics study.

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