Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Sibilant sound is characterised by a hissing sound, and sibilance is a literary device used to convey a mood or situation using the hissing sound where the 's' sound is repeated in succession within a line.
According to some scholars, sounds 'f', 'sh', 'th' (both voiced and unvoiced [th]), 'z' and 'v' are also sounds employed to create sibilance. This is arguable because according to linguists sibilant sound is produced by pushing air through closed teeth but parted lips.
Shakespeare has used sibilance in his plays to call audiences attention to a particular mood, which the sibilant sounds can create rather well. Here are some examples:
In Titus Andronicus when Tamora says: They told me, here, at dead time of the night, A thousand fiends, a thousand hissing snakes, Ten thousand swelling toads, as many urchins, Would make such fearful and confused cries (II.ii.99-102) Or In 2 Henry VI when Suffolk says: Their music frightful as the serpent's hiss (III.ii.326) Or In The Tempest when Caliban says: […] sometime am I All wound with adders who with cloven tongues Do hiss me into madness. (II.ii.12-14)