Deixis in drama

Exploring how deixis works in dramatic texts

Deixis is a word of Greek origin meaning 'pointing'. Thus, words which are deictic 'point' to different times, spaces and people. The meaning of these words is dependent upon the context in which they are used. 

For example: if a teacher stands at the front of a room, at 9.13am on Wednesday 28 June and says to a student 'I want you to come here now', then the following deictic words mean:

  • I = the teacher
  • you = the student
  • here = the front of the room
  • now = 9.13am on Wednesday 28 June

If we change the context of speaking but keep the clause the same, then the same words mean something completely different. For example, if a parent shouts upstairs to their child at 10.56pm on Tuesday 12 February then the deictic words mean:

  • I = the parent
  • you = the child
  • here = downstairs
  • now = 10.56pm on Tuesday 12 February

Deixis types

There are three types of deixis:

person deixis, e.g. you, I, they, those students, France's fastest marathon runner, the shopkeeper

time deixis, e.g. now, in ten thousand years, later, this morning, last week

place deixis, e.g. this, that, over there, the other side of the world

Each deixis type can be further categorised according to whether it is proximal or distal to the deictic centre. The deictic centre is the 'reference point' that we use in order to make sense of the deictic expression. So, for example, the 'zero' reference-point is I (person), here (place), now (time).

Proximal deictic expressions (i.e. one close to the deictic centre) are highlighted in this sentence: In a minute we need to go next door.

And distal deictic expressions (i.e. one far away from the deictic centre) are shown here: This time next year they will be on the other side of the world.

Deixis in drama

Deictic expressions are a typical feature of dramatic discourse (as indeed they are for everyday discourse!), and can offer a nice way of thinking about power relationships between characters, amongst other things.

Here we have some short extracts from various Shakespeare plays. For each one, ask your students to:

1. Find examples of deixis and categorise each one according to it's type (person, place, time) and whether it is distal or proximal.

2. Examine the deictic expressions in terms of how and why they might be used. 

3. Act out the extracts and examine the kind of body language that accompanies each deictic expression.

If you prefer, you can download the extracts from below.


Macbeth, Act I Sc. V



Great Glamis! worthy Cawdor!

Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!

Thy letters have transported me beyond

This ignorant present, and I feel now

The future in the instant.


My dearest love,

Duncan comes here to-night.


And when goes hence?


To-morrow, as he purposes.

Romeo & Juliet, Act I, Sc. III


Nurse, where's my daughter? call her forth to me.


Now, by my maidenhead, at twelve year old,

I bade her come. What, lamb! what, ladybird!

God forbid! Where's this girl? What, Juliet!



How now! who calls?


Your mother.


Madam, I am here.

What is your will?


This is the matter:--Nurse, give leave awhile,

We must talk in secret:--nurse, come back again;

I have remember'd me, thou's hear our counsel.

Thou know'st my daughter's of a pretty age.

King Lear, Act V, Sc. 2


Away, old man; give me thy hand; away!

King Lear hath lost, he and his daughter ta'en:

Give me thy hand; come on.


No farther, sir; a man may rot even here.


What, in ill thoughts again? Men must endure

Their going hence, even as their coming hither;

Ripeness is all: come on.



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