The Yorker
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: stichomythia \stik-uh-MITH-ee-uh\ noun

: dialogue especially of altercation or dispute delivered by two actors in alternating lines (as in classical Greek drama)


To heighten the emotional intensity between the characters, the playwright employed stichomythia.

“‘Oh, you did?’ ‘Mm-hmm.’ ‘Well, what am I expected to do? Leap for joy?’ ‘Well, I kind of half expected you to thank me.’ ‘Your ego is absolutely colossal.’ … This stichomythia … came from applying the hard-boiled style of crime stories to the softhearted subject matter of a couple falling in love.” — From an article by Caleb Crain in The New Yorker, September 21, 2009

Did you know?

In stichomythia terse, contentious, and often biting lines are bandied back and forth. Characters engaged in stichomythia may alternately voice antithetical positions, or they may play on one another’s words, each repartee twisting or punning on words just spoken to make a new point. Classical Greek dramatists, such as Aeschylus and Sophocles (who wrote Agamemnon and Oedipus the King, respectively), used this device in some of their dialogues. Shakespeare also used it in exchanges in his plays. For instance, in the Closet scene in Hamlet (Act III, scene iv), the Queen tells Hamlet “Come, come, you answer with an idle tongue” to which Hamlet retorts “Go, go, you question with a wicked tongue.” Not to be idle with the origin of “stichomythia”: the word is from Greek “stichos” (meaning “row,” “line,” or “verse”) and “mythos” (“speech” or “myth”).




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