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  • Background to the Study

Shakespeare’s works are timeless, after four(4) Centuries, people still read, study, and perform his plays and poems. Almost everyone can quote from several of his works. Wolvin (2000) believes the reason is that the inclusion of Shakespearean texts in colleges and high schools, have made his works gradually grow to become part of our culture. It had been more than four hundred years since William Shakespeare lived and we are still reading his work in high schools, and colleges. His works have been adopted into countless versions and have been performed by countless theatres and even in movies.

The most common answer you still get in regard to why Shakespeare’s texts are still studied today is that his themes are universal and timeless. Chambers (2013; P.21) opines that “people who read Shakespeare’s plays can identify with the events he describes and the themes with which he deals”. His style is also remarkable; his plays are all written in rhyming verse. An author who writes about such universal themes in such a perfect and advanced style can hardly help but be famous for centuries.

It cannot be overemphasized that William Shakespeare is a prominent writer of English Literature. Almost four centuries have passed since Shakespeare stop working yet his poetry and plays are as they were back then. But with emergence of so many modern writers, should students in secondary school continue to study Shakespeare’s work as prescribed by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO).

In the year 2011, after the harmonization of WAEC and NECO Literature curriculum, the secretary to the council, Prof. Jeremiah Getundung in his address explains that “students can never shy away from Shakespeare because is a world standard”.

Talking about the difficulties of studying Shakespeare’s works many scholars have given their various opinions as regard the difficulty in the study of Shakespeare’s texts. Cook (2009) outlined four reasons why people find it difficult to read Shakespearean texts. The highlighted reasons are as follow: lack of time, the use of classical allusions, combination of Elizabethan English and his (Shakespeare’s) metaphors, Shakespeare’s classical allusions to the ancient myth.

            Downs (2017) explains that his dictions, topics and his sarcastic manner and sober ways of making statements trigger the difficulties of reading Shakespearean texts. Reynolds (2016) and Vadiver (2009) explain how the change in the meaning of words, change in pronunciation, his use of inverted syntax, word play and implied stage actions; get to throw people off the line when studying his plays. Most of his works are coated with figures of speech which make them difficult to interpret.

            Figures of speech, or literary terms, are tools of language used by authors to deliver their message more effectively. These tools also give writing a rich and vivid feeling. This means that instead of delivering plain, boring, tasteless text, authors give us interesting and compelling stories adorned with these tools. Figures of speech can be used for poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfictional work. Figures of speech can be found in novels and poetry. Even movies sometimes make use of some of these elements (in their scripts or the structure of their plots). Too often, educators focus on improving writing through better punctuation and grammar. What they neglect to suggest (and what would improve the writing far more efficiently) is to show aspiring writers how to use literary techniques/elements in the writing they enjoy reading.  These elements help writing spring to life and they include simile, metaphor, hyperbole, personification, alliteration, oxymoron, onomatopoeia, assonance among others. These are elements of excellent writing.

            Figures of speech offer tremendous benefit to both teachers and students in particular. According to Ayanniyi (2009), literature study has the following value: it opens the mind and illuminates it, purging the mind of prejudices as it makes it free and active. Through the study of literature, students learn the humane approach of examining thought and actions. Aluko (2009) opines that the study of literary instruction leads to the development of the cognitive, affective and psychomotor domains of an individual. It plays an important role in the achievement of the goal that education aims at; the complete development of the individual. It is the potential for growth in knowledge and wisdom; the acquisition of a keen understanding of human  nature and relationship, the freedom of choice to enter each character’s heart.

            Figures of speech help to develop the cognitive domains of the individual and also develop the capacity for discrimination, judgment and decision. It helps in language development as it is a tool for understanding language because it is easily learned in real life situation in which language is heard and\ or in use. It helps students to appreciate their culture and those of others and develops reader’s creative ability.

            In the affective domain, Aluko (2009) also opines that figures of speech have the capacity to shape an individual’s taste, develop his sympathy and empathy, the expression of feelings and emotions. It gives pleasure and entertainment. Figures of speech encourage students to develop the desire for achievement, continuous self-education and self-improvement both in school and in later life.

            There are three genres of literature and each of them makes a unique impact on people exposed to them. Poetry, in particular appeals to the feelings and by so doing develops the emotional and imaginative aspects of man. According to William Wordsworth, an 18th century romantic poet, cited by Smith (2010), Poetry is a spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling or thinking recollected in tranquility or an exposition of one’s inner feeling when the mind is at rest. Poetry explores the possibilities of language and uses it to control and clarify emotion, spiritual and sense experience. Smith (2010) also postulate that familiarity with the concept of metre and rhythm can improve students’ own writing and they will be able to appreciate and apply these ideas. Brosna (2008) highlights the features of poetry which include the following:

The language of poetry is concise and condensed.

The words in poetry are carefully chosen in a way to make them sound musical and meaningful.

Poetry is written in verse and can only be best realized when it is recited or sung. This is because every good poem is first and foremost meant to be sung.

Poetry is not easily understood when reading (Ayanniyi, 2009).

Research has shown that among the three genres of literature, poetry seems the most difficult because of its ambiguity, obscurity, unfamiliarity of words and its elliptical nature. Literature as a subject that features prominently in the school curriculum, the failure rate in it at the school certificate level, in spite of all the good efforts of researchers, is a phenomenon that is giving students, teachers and school authorities a big concern. This is because, the low performance in this subject has shattered the dreams of students of getting admission into many lucrative courses such as law, mass communication, language arts, communication arts, theatre arts and a host of others in our tertiary institutions. As stipulated in JAMB Brochure (2010), at least a credit pass is a requirement before any candidate is eligible for admission to any of the aforementioned courses. In the light of the above, this study was prompted to investigate the performance of students in figures of speech in Othello from selected secondary schools in Mangu Local Government Area.

  • Statement of the Problem

            This work seeks to examine the performance of students in figures of speech from Shakespeare’s Othello. Alabi (2007) opines that figures of speech are the tools and techniques of language that authors use to convey meaning. Skilled use of figures of speech brings richness and clarity to a text. These devices apply to both fiction and nonfiction, figures of speech refer to the typical structures used by writers in their works to convey his or her messages in a simple manner to the readers. When employed properly, the different figures of speech help readers to appreciate, interpret and analyze a literary work. When an author sits to write a story, he doesn’t simply write what happened. Instead, he uses what are called figures of speech which are narrative techniques that add texture, energy, and excitement to the narrative, grip the reader’s imagination, and convey information. Students often perform woefully in external examinations of Literature in English especially in Shakespearian works (Jide, 2014). Shakespeare’s plays are written in verse rather than prose. This is probably the reason why students find it difficult to evaluate the figures of speech. It is on the basis of this problem that this study was premised to investigate performance of students in figures of speech in Othello from selected secondary schools in Mangu Local Government Area.

  • Purpose of the Study

            The main purpose of this study is to investigate the performance of students in figures of speech in Othello from selected secondary schools in Mangu Local Government Area. The specific objectives of the study include:

  1. To determine the performance of students who were taught without figures of speech.
  2. To evaluate the performance of students who were exposed to figures of speech.
  3. To find out the differences in the performances of both groups in the selected schools.
    • Research Questions

The following research questions were formulated to facilitate the findings of this study:

  1. To what extent would students perform in literature without instruction in figures of speech?
  2. To what extent would students perform in literature with instruction in figures of speech?
  3. What are the differences between- the performance of both groups?
    • Significance of the Study

            This study when completed will be of great benefit to students, teachers, researchers and the curriculum planners.

The research will reveal to students the need to learn the basic figures of speech and apply it into their learning of poetry. The study will also reveal the factors militating against students’ achievement in literature such as: lack of literature books, poorly trained and unqualified teachers, poor attitude of students to learning poetry, overpopulation of students in the classrooms, etc and how their performance can be improved. Therefore, the students shall benefit from this study as they will come to see the importance of using figures of speech in poetry. This will enable them to pay attention when taught figures of speech. They could even go on their own to study these devices. The recommendations of this research shall also be in favour of the students since they are at the centre of the study.

The teachers on the other hand will benefit from this study as they will know the importance of teaching figures of speech to secondary schools II students which is concomitant with their good performance in poetry. Therefore they will teach these devices as frequent as possible so that the students can familiarize themselves with these devices and appreciate poetry better. To the curriculum planners, they will structure learning experience to include the teaching figures of speech for the enhancement of students’ performance in poetry.

Furthermore, this research when completed will serve as general source of reference materials to future researchers and other scholars in the field of literature.

  • Delimitations of the Study

This research study investigates the effects of instruction in figures of speech on students’ achievement in literature. The study is limited to students in senior secondary II section and will focus on figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, hyperbole, oxymoron, personification among others. The study will be carried out in two(2) secondary schools in Mangu Local Government Area of Plateau State. However, despite the fact that the study is limited to the selected local government, its findings will be generalized to other parts of the country as well.

  • Operational Definition of Terms

            The following terms are defined based on the context in which they are used in this research:

Literature: literature refers to a field in academics which has to do with poetry, prose and drama.

Figures of speech: These are tools of writing used to deliver a message more effectively. These tools also give writing rich and vivid feeling. 

Poetry: Poetry is a genre of literature which has grand language or grand style. In other words, the language of poetry is difficult.

Teaching: This is the act of impacting knowledge to students by the teacher.

Problems: impediments that stands in the progress of something. In this study, these impediments stand in the progression of the students’ academic performance in poetry.

Education: This is the process of impacting knowledge, skills, norms and value in a person in order to make him/her literate and useful to the society.

Learning: This is the process of acquiring literature knowledge and skills through design set of instructions in a school setting.


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