Rhetorical Question Definition
A rhetorical question is asked just for effect or to lay emphasis on some point discussed when no real answer is expected. A rhetorical question may have an obvious answer but the questioner asks rhetorical questions to lay emphasis to the point. In literature, a rhetorical question is self-evident and used for style as an impressive persuasive device.
Broadly speaking, a rhetorical question is asked when the questioner himself knows the answer already or an answer is not actually demanded. So, an answer is not expected from the audience. Such a question is used to emphasize a point or draw the audience’s attention.
Common Rhetorical Question Examples
Rhetorical questions, though almost needless or meaningless, seem a basic need of daily language. Some common examples of rhetorical questions from daily life are as follows.
- “Who knows?”
- “Are you stupid?”
- “Did you hear me?”
- “Why not?”
Mostly, it is easy to spot a rhetorical question because of its position in the sentence. It occurs immediately after the comment made and states the opposite of it. The idea again is to make a point more prominent. Some rhetorical question examples are as follows. Keep in mind that they are also called tag questions if used in everyday conversation.
- “It’s too hot today. Isn’t it?”
- “The actors played the roles well. Didn’t they?”
Examples of Rhetorical Questions in Literature
Rhetorical questions in literature are as important as they are in daily language or perhaps even more. The reason is that the significant change a rhetorical question can bring about. The absence or presence of a rhetorical question in some of the most famous lines in literature would change the impact altogether. Some examples of rhetorical questions in literature show that writers sometimes ask such type of question and then goes on to answer it to produce a desired effects.
A very good example of rhetorical questions in literature is from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Have a look and feel the difference the absence of the two rhetorical questions could have made.
JULIET: “Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley ends his masterpiece Ode to the West Wind with a rhetorical question.
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
The poet achieves the desired effect by asking this rhetorical question instead of making a statement. The answer to this question is not sought; rather, an effect is successfully created giving a fine finishing touch to the ode.
Mrs. Hladia Porter Stewart in her poem Creation employs rhetorical questions to create effect and achieve the desired appeal of the poem.
“What made you think of love and tears
And birth and death and pain?”
Without rhetorical questions in the poem, it could have been impossible for the poetess to express herself as impressively as she does using rhetorical questions.
The clarifying aspect of the poem The Solitary Reaper by William Wordsworth is enhanced with the use of a rhetorical question.
“Will no one tell me what she sings?”
Notice, an answer is not expected to this question. The poet prefers a rhetorical question to a plain statement to emphasize his feelings of pleasant surprise.
The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare also has the effective use of rhetorical questions. Following are some of the most famous rhetorical questions by Shylock in the play.
Shylock: “If you prick us, do we not bleed?
If you tickle us, do we not laugh?
If you poison us, do we not die?
And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”
The questions don’t necessarily need an answer. They are neither questions nor plain statements rather something in between the two.
Function of a Rhetorical Question
Writers employ rhetorical questions for rhetorical effects and we cannot easily quantify the impact rendered by a rhetorical question. The idea becomes all the more powerful, and our interest is aroused to continue to read and enjoy the technical and aesthetic beauty that a rhetorical question generates. Moreover, it is a requirement in persuasive speeches.