Hyperbole | Exaggeration | Definition, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Hyperbole | Exaggeration | Definition, Characteristics, Examples in Literature

Hyperbole or Exaggeration


There is a passion in man to exaggerate a thing or idea in order to impress others . Thus, when he admires a thing, he often crosses the limit of reality and pays a glowing tribute to the same. Similarly, when he criticizes or condemns a thing, he becomes extremely bitter, pungent, or even violent, thus made use hyperbole.

This habit of exaggeration is a rhetorical device, used for an effect in style. This is the Hyperbole, a figure founded on imagination.

Hyperbole Definition

Hyperbole is a figure of speech in which a deliberate overstatement is made for emphasis. It is also known as Exaggeration.

In this figure always something more, whether in favour of or against a person or thing, is said. In it the exaggeration is made for emphasis, not for deception.

What is Hyperbole?

This Hyperbole consists in magnifying a thing or idea beyond its natural bound. In this figure, the only feature is that things or ideas are represented in an exaggerated way, and that is why, this is known as the Exaggeration, too.

There is a tendency in us to exaggerate things. We are not satisfied simply by describing things as they are. When we like a thing, we praise it too high, and if we dislike it, we paint it most unfavourably. This results in the use of hyperboles which are, truly speaking, nothing but exaggerated Statements.

Thus, in the sentence ‘He offers you a thousand regrets’, we set an example of hyperbole, for here only a regret is meant, though a thousand regrets are told.

Different Purpose of Exaggeration

This figure is used for various purposes.

For a serious purpose

Not poppy nor mandragora,

Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world,

Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep

Which thou ow’dst yesterday. (Shakespeare)

For a comic purpose

The English gain two hours a day by clipping their words. (Voltaire)

For the expression of a strong passion

To see her is but to love her, And love but her forever. (Burns)

For vivid description

Ten thousand saw I at a glance. (Wordsworth)

It should be noted that its contrary figure is Meiosis which consists in deliberate understatement.

Characteristics of Hyperbole

The chief characteristics of Hyperbole are given below:

(i) A thing or a person is not presented in the normal state.

(ii) Such things are magnified beyond their natural bounds.

(iii) The exaggeration occurs under the influence of some overpowering feeling.

(iv) Despite overstatement of expression, it is not to be taken too literally.

Hyperbole Examples with Illustrations

(a) This my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine

Making the green one red. (Shakespeare)

This is a hyperbole.

In this figure a deliberate overstatement is made for the sake of emphasis.

Here exaggeration occurs when an assertion is made that single hand can turn a green sea red.

(b) Here is the smell of blood still;

All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. (Shakespeare)

This is a hyperbole.

This figure contains an exaggeration for emphasis.

Here an exaggeration is expressed because it is made to appear that not even all the perfumes of Arabia possess the capacity of sweetening one single hand.

(c) Put a longue

In every wound of Caesar that should move

The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.  (Shakespeare)

This is a hyperbole. In a hyperbole, an exaggerated statement is made.

Here an exaggerated statement is made, for it is too much to say that ‘a tongue’ can be put to wounds, and that the stones of Rome can be made to rise and mutiny’.

(d) I loved Ophelia ; forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love

Make up the sum. (Shakespeare)

This is a case of the figure of speech hyperbole or exaggeration.

This figure consists in an exaggerated statement made, about some person or thing.

The above example contains an exaggerated statement, for it is too much to say that forty thousand brothers could not make up the sum of the speaker’s (i.e. Hamlet’s) love for Ophelia.

Examples of Hyperbole in Literature

  1. Strains that might create a soul

Under the ribs of death. (Milton)

  1. I am tired to death.
  2. The house-roofs seemed to heave and sway. (Browning)
  3. The lover, all as fanatic,

Sees Helen’s beauty in a brow of Egypt. (Shakespeare)

  1. Like the leaves of the forest when summer is green,

That host with their banners at sunset were seen. (Byron)

  1. My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires, and more slow. (Marvell)

  1. Never I ween

Was a prouder seen,

Read of in books, or dreamt of in dreams. (Barham)

  1. For rhetoric, he could not ope

His mouth, but out there flew a trope. (Butler)

  1. Drink to me only with thine eyes. (Jonson)
  2. In mathematics he was greater

Than Tycho Brahe or Erra Pater. (Butler)

  1. Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships

And burnt the topless towers of Ilium? (Marlowe)

  1. I thought ten thousand swords must have leapt from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. (Burke)
  2. Put a tongue

In every wound of Caesar that should move

The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny. (Shakespeare)

  1. I loved Ophelia : forty thousand brothers

Could not with all their quantity of love

Make up the sum. (Shakespeare)

  1. But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees,

And leave them honeyless. (Shakespeare)

  1. There all around the gentlest breezes stray,

There gentle music melts on every spray. (Goldsmith)

  1. Not in the legions

Of horrid hell can come a devil more damned

In evils to top Macbeth. (Shakespeare)

  1. To see her is to love her.

And love but her forever. (Burns)

  1. Steel could the labour of the Gods destroy. (Pope)
  2. And this our life, exempt from public haunt.

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks.

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.  (Shakespeare)

  1. His tale would cure deafness. (It is too much to say that a tale ‘would cure deafness.)
  2. Eternity will not efface

Those records dear of transports past.

-Burns (The statement, it is obvious, is an exaggerated one.)

Hyperbole in Poetry

#1 In order to convey strong emotion Andrew Marvell describes a forlorn lover:

“The sea him lent those bitter tears
Which at his eyes he always wears;
And from the winds the sighs he bore,
Which through his surging breast do roar.
No day he saw but that which breaks
Through frighted clouds in forkèd streaks,
While round the rattling thunder hurled,
As at the funeral of the world.”

#2 In a great carpe-diem poem, To His Coy Mistress, Marvell again praises the beauty of his ladylove in an exaggerated manner.

“A hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast;
But thirty thousand to the rest.”

#3 In “A Red, Red, Rose” by Robert Burns, the narrator says he’ll love his bonnie lass:

“Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.”

#4 In the poem, “As I Walked Out One Evening,” W. H. Auden expresses his eternal in the exaggeration way:

“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street.”

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