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Antilabe (from the Greek: ἀντι "mutually" or "corresponding", λαβή, "grip" or "handle") is a rhetorical technique in verse drama or closet drama, in which a single verse line of dialogue is distributed on two or more characters, voices, or entities. The verse usually maintains its metric integrity, while the line fragments spoken by the characters may or may not be complete sentences. In the layout of the text the line fragments following the first one are often indented ("dropped line") to show the unity of the verse line.


Peace then. No words.


I'll rather kill myself.

These are three sentences spoken by two persons. But it is only one single line in blank verse:

Peace then. No words. I'll rather kill myself.

In Ancient Greek drama

"The device originated in classical tragedy as a means of heightening dramatic tension."[1] "It figures in almost all the plays of Sophocles and Euripides. It renders dialogue less stately and more agitated: the technique is well suited to scenes of excitement, in which one speaker is repeatedly capping, countering or following up the ideas of another."[2] In Sophokles’ Oedipus, for example, "as Kreon seizes Antigone (832), they break into an excited lyrical strophe, full of antilabe in which Oedipus, Kreon, and the chorus participate."[3] "In Electra (1502-3), antilabe occurs as Orestes tries to induce Aegisthys to enter the house so that Orestes can kill him."[4] "[Antilabe is] used with particular freedom in late Euripides."[5] "In the plays of Aeschylus, with the possible exception of Prometheus Bound (line 980), this phenomenon does not occur." [6]

In Seneca drama

"Dialogic exchanges using both stichomythia and antilabe are common in Seneca. They occur in all the tragedies except Phoenissiae."[7]

In Renaissance drama

"[The device] was frequently utilized by Renaissance dramatists."[8]

An extreme example from Shakespeare is:


My lord?
A grave.
He shall not live.
— King John, 3.3


  1. Eggenberger, David. McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama. Volume 1. 1972, p. 219.
  2. Rutherford, R. B. Greek Tragic Style: Form, Language and Interpretation. Cambridge University Press, 2012, p. 42.
  3. Edmunds, Lowell. Theatrical Space and Historical Place in Sophocles' Oedipus at Colonus. Maryland, Rowman & Littlefield, 1996, p. 61.
  4. Thorburn, John E. Jr. The Facts on File Companion to Classical Drama. Facts on File (Library of World Literature) 2005, p. 56.
  5. Rutherford, p. 42.
  6. Thorburn, p. 56.
  7. Boyle, A. J. ed. Seneca: Medea: Edited with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Oxford University Press, 2014, p. 166.
  8. Eggenberger, p. 219.


  • Bonaria, Mario. "Lantilabé nella tragedia antica." In Studi di filologica in onore di Giusto Monaco. I, Letteratura greca. Palermo: University di Palermo Fac. di Lettere e Filosofia, 1991, pp. 173–188.
  • McDevitt, A. S. "Antilabe in Sophoclean Kommoi," In Rheinisches Museum 124 (1981), pp. 19–28.
  • Gildersleeve, Basil Lanneau, Miller, Charles William Emil and Meritt, Benjamin Dean Meritt . American Journal of Philology. Volumes 41-60. 1939, p. 183.
  • Hogan, Robert. The Dramatic Function of Antilabe in Greek Tragedy. Trinity College, 1998.