Scheme (Rhetoric): Definition and Examples

Scheme is a term in classical rhetoric for any one of the figures of speech: a deviation from conventional word order. Here are examples of scheme in use by famous authors, as well as definitions from other texts:

Examples and Observations

Tom McArthur: Schemes include such devices as alliteration and assonance (that purposefully arrange sounds, as in The Leith police dismisseth us) and antithesis, chiasmus, climax, and anticlimax (that arrange words for effect, as in the cross-over phrasing One for all and all for one).

Wolfgang G. Müller: There is a theory dating back to classical times that rhetorical figures or schemes originated as forms of expression 'used naturally by people in states of extreme emotion' (Brinton 1988:163), that they are, in fact, imitative of emotional states. . . . Thus, rhetorical figures of omission, unusual word order or repetition are held to be imitative of actual disturbances of language in emotional contexts, which, in turn, reflect feelings and emotional states such as anger, grief, indignation or consternation... Now while it is undoubtedly true that such schemes as aposiopesis (breaking off an utterance before it is completed), hyperbaton or repetition are frequently related to emotional states, it must also be realised that the whole reservoir of rhetorical schemes represents a system which provides a multitude of possibilities of expressing meanings, among which emotions form only one variety.

Functions of Schemes

Chris Holcomb and M. Jimmie Killingsworth: In addition to structuring reality, the schemes help writers organize and orchestrate their relationships with readers. As vehicles for social interaction, they can:

  • Signal the level of formality (high, middle, low) as well [as] local shifts across these levels;
  • Control the emotional intensity of prose--cranking it up here, ratcheting it down there;
  • Showcase the writer's wit and command over his or her medium;
  • Enlist readers into collaborative relationships, inviting them to desire the completion of a pattern once they get its gist (Burke, Rhetoric of Motives 58-59).

Tropes and Schemes in The Garden of Eloquence

Grant M. Boswell: [Henry] Peacham [in The Garden of Eloquence, 1577] divides his treatment of figurative language into tropes and schemes, the difference being that 'in the Trope there is a chaunge of signifycation, but not in the Scheme' (sig. E1v). Tropes are further divided into tropes of words and sentences, and schemes are also divided into grammatical and rhetorical schemes. Grammatical schemes deviate from customs of speaking and writing and are subdivided into orthographical and syntactical schemes. Rhetorical schemes add distinction and 'doe take away the wearinesse of our common and dayly speach, and doe fashion a pleasant, sharpe, evident and gallant kinde of speaking, giving unto matters great strength, perspecuitie and grace' (sig. H4v). Rhetorical schemes apply to words, sentences and amplification.

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Nordquist, Richard. "Scheme (Rhetoric): Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, February 16). Scheme (Rhetoric): Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Scheme (Rhetoric): Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).