stichomythia

Definition

Theater

  • A type of dialogue in which actors exchange short remarks;it is usually characterized by repetition and antithesis and deliveredat speed. It has also been called cat-and-mouse dialogueand cut-and-thrust dialogue. The device was first used inthe ancient Greek theater to intensify the drama of an exchange. Itis now mainly used for comic effect or to create tension. NoĆ«lCoward was a master of comic stichomythia, especially in hisearly plays, and the technique was also used to great effect in Beckett'sWaiting for Godot (1955). Perhaps the most famous example ofstichomythia in English literature is the tense exchange betweenMacbeth and his wife immediately after the murder of Duncan:
    LADY MACBETH My husband!
    MACBETH I have done the deed. Didst thou nothear a noise?
    LADY MACBETH I heard the owl scream and thecrickets cry.
    Did not you speak?
    MACBETH When?
    LADY MACBETH Now.
    MACBETH AsI descended?
    LADY MACBETH Ay.
    MACBETH Hark!
    Who lies i' the second chamber?
    LADY MACBETH Donalbain.
    MACBETH This is a sorry sight. [Lookingon his hands.]
    LADY MACBETH A foolish thought, to say a sorrysight.
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