The UVic Writer's Guide

Rhetorical Question

A rhetorical question implies that the answer is obvious--the kind of question that does not need actually to be answered. It is used for rhetorically persuading someone of a truth without argument, or to give emphasis to a supposed truth by stating its opposite ironically.

Rhetorical question is often used for comic effect, as in Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1 (1597) when Falstaff lies about fighting off eleven men single-handedly, then responds to the prince's doubts, "Art thou mad? Is not the truth the truth?"

On the other hand, Iago uses rhetorical question for sinister ends, persuading Othello that his loving wife is a whore. Iago hints with questions ("Honest, my lord?" "Is't possible, my lord?"), encouraging Othello to view his own unjustified suspicions as foregone conclusions.

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995