Why does Snape go CAPS-LOCK in chapter 19 of “Prisoner of Azkaban”?

As a writer, J.K. Rowling was always careful about her use of certain techniques when creating the Harry Potter series. She of course knew that the use of caps-lock in one’s writing had the effect of making the reader think a character was SHOUTING AT THEM!

Sorry to blow up at you like that, but to show the point, Jo used all-caps sparingly to depict moments of extreme anger for her characters. Thing is – she’s brilliant – so often times her characters are angry for more complex reasons than the obvious ones.

Take Severus Snape, arguably one of the most complex characters in the series.

In chapter 19 of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Snape steps forward from the Invisibility Cloak and confronts Sirius Black, Professor Lupin, and the trio in the Shrieking Shack. He then proceeds to freak out about three times.

First, when Hermione ventures a question of the greasy-haired Potions master as she might have done if they were in class…

“Miss Granger, you are already facing suspension from this school,” Snape spat. “You, Potter, and Weasley are out-of-bounds, in the company of a convicted murderer and a werewolf. For once in your life, hold your tongue.”

“But if – if there was a mistake -”

“KEEP QUIET, YOU STUPID GIRL!” Snape shouted, looking suddenly quite deranged. “DON’T TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!” A few sparks shot out of the end of his wand, which was still pointed at Black’s face. Hermione fell silent.

(US Edition p. 359-360)

After this display, Harry’s own frustration begins to build (and he goes caps-lock too!). But once he does, Snape responds right back with an anger we rarely see from him in the series:

“SILENCE! I WILL NOT BE SPOKEN TO LIKE THAT!” Snape shrieked, looking madder than ever. “Like father, like son, Potter! I have just saved your neck; you should be thanking me on bended knee! You would have been well served if he’d killed you! You’d have died like your father, too arrogant to believe you might be mistaken in Black – now get out of the way, or I will make you. GET OUT OF THE WAY, POTTER!”

(US Edition p. 361)

Given Snape’s screaming of the words like “keep quiet” and “silence” maybe Snape just gets very irritated hearing the voices of children! In all seriousness though, what are the main reasons for Snape’s rage in this scene? Is he frightened for Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s lives because he believes they are in the presence of a real killer (Sirius)? Is he disgusted to simply be in the presence of two childhood bullies from the past? Or is he particularly demented in this sequence because he believes he’s finally come head to head with the chief betrayer of Lily Potter?

For more answers to this question, check out the Alohomora! podcast question of the week! And for further reading about Snape’s anger we recommend this essay written by hpboy13.