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Metaphors and allegories in the works of Shakespeare. Summary
This monograph has grown out of the course of lectures delivered at the philological faculty of the Leningrad state university in 1979—1981. However, it is not a textbook but a kind of theoretical and historical investigation. Among the scholars who influenced my studies in the field of Shakespeare's imagery are Mikhail Morozov, Wolfgang Clemen, Kenneth Muir, Caroline Spurgeon, Miriam Joseph Rauh, Muriel Bradbrook, Frank P. Wilson, Maurice Charney and others mentioned in the introduction and notes. I fully agree with the opinion of Wolfgang Clemen that isolating Shakespeare's imagery from such elements as characters, dramatic conflicts and the author's train of thought inevitably leads to errors, that "every metaphor gains full life and significance only from its context". I agree with those Soviet and foreign scholars who emphasize the realistic nature of Shakespeare's imagery.
The Renaissance theory of poetics was realistic — the best example is "The Arte of English poesie" by George Puttenham who asserts that the "ornaments" of speech must be "evidently yet not absurdly estranged from the ordinary habit and manner", they must have their source in reality.
The true nature of Shakespeare's metaphoric thinking can be conceived only if we link tropes to the situation at every moment of dramatic action, to the emotional state of the hero, to the play as an organic whole. The metaphor in Shakespeare's works is both concrete and universal: the garden, the sea-storm, the building, the beehive, the cosmic order, — in all these examples the allegory is born out of the concrete situations in the play, it is given in the vivid and precise descriptions that are poetically transformed in such a way as to reflect some universal truths. This organic unity of the concrete and the universal is typical to Shakespeare more than to any other author of the Renaissance.
The metaphors in the early plays usually illustrate the motives of the hero's action and the political situation of the moment. The function of the tropes in the great tragedies is more complex: we can feel both the emotional state of the hero and his former experience, the deeper traits of his character, the ethical and intellectual views and his mode of thinking. The changes in the hero's imagery are due to the changes in his attitude to life, when the new situations and conflicts bring forth the violent strain of emotion.
It is also important to stress that the figures of speech and especially the complex allegories become the means of presenting the deepest social and philosophical conceptions. The ambiguous meaning of some images can be partly explained by the dialectical nature of Shakespeare's world outlook.
In Shakespeare's mature works the metaphor often helps to understand the author's attitude towards his hero. This fusion of the concrete aim —to individualize the character, and of the deeper purpose — to reveal the author's ethical or philosophical position — is most difficult to grasp in many allegorical pictures.
The first chapter deals with the sonnets, two poems and some comedies, but only one aspect is discussed: the metaphorical language of love, the emotional and ethical aspects of this passion. The metaphors create the atmosphere of sensuous love but Shakespeare by means of imagery adds to this atmosphere some very deep notions of Beauty, Truth, Time, Nature, Society. The theme of love is correlative to the general human laws, it is associated with all aspects of life, and the metaphorical images retain the qualities of real things.
The function of imagery in the early histories ("King Henry VI", "Richard III") is to reveal the motives of the heroes and the causes of the political conflicts. Some metaphors help to see the more general collision between human virtues and state politics. The metaphorical language in the scenes depicting the fate of the good duke Humphrey of Glocester illustrates the typical methods of political casuistry that serves as a veil for inhuman actions and secret crimes.
The metaphors in the speech of King Henry VI show his utter helplessness in the world of politics: while he quotes the Bible his enemies gain power. The language of the pirates' captain reveals not only his indignation but also Shakespeare's judgement on Suffolk.
The imagery in "Richard III", as it was excellently shown by W. Clemen, is realistic, closely linked with the psychology of the heroes. It also serves to create the political and ethical atmosphere of the play, the power of conscience and the inevitable punishment.
The new stage in the development of Shakespeare's metaphorical thinking is seen in the two plays written at one period — "King John" and "King Richard II" — they mark the appearance of the complex political, psychological and philosophical allegories. Most of them are polysemantic. The language of many personages in "King John" is full of metaphors revealing the general laws of history, but at the same time the validity of the hero's maxims can be called in question. For instance, the famous monologue on Commodity contains some allegories that can be conceived in different ways: the most plausible explanation can be achieved by differentiating the motives of the hero, his individual aims and the historical conceptions of Shakespeare. The allegorical pictures in the mature histories "King Richard II" and "King Henry IV" generate from this double intention to unite the concrete and the universal in the speech of the heroes.
"King Richard II" is saturated with tropes of all kinds which have been analysed in a great number of special studies and commentaries. The aim of the present study is to add a few observations illustrating the realistic nature of some allegories.
The "garden-scene" is taken to be the main "clue" of the author's political conceptions concerning the best policy in the state. It is shown here that the main idea in this elaborate allegory is suggested by the metaphoric advice of John Ball as it is given in Holinshed's "Chronicles".
The flow of metaphors in the speeches of Richard II makes this hero the type of man who became a poet and a philosopher after he had lost the status of the king. The tropes in his language concern the general themes: the substance of human existence, the relations of a ruler to the necessities of time, the real value of a person in human society. The symbolic image of Time as the destroying and the creative force is embodied in many metaphors. One of the most complex in Richard's speech, that of the musical harmony, leads to the main idea of the play. The ruler, if he is unable to maintain the harmony in the state, becomes the victim of time.
Another artificial allegory, that of the clock and the man, is full of the tragical irony and serves as a warning to rulers and men: the harmony is necessary both in society and in the life of a private man, for discord is full of woe and dangerous to life itself. Thanks to the metaphorical language, the unity of history and fate of humanity is shown in the fate of the hero.
In "King Henry IV" and "King Henry V" the metaphors and allegories help to emphasize the problem of the better government, the victory of the king who is able to "construe the time to their necessities" and to see which way "the stream of time" runs. This idea is also expressed by some important allegories — by the allegorical picture of the beehive in the monologue of the archbishop of Canterbury who tries to save the existing order in the state by cunning and artful allegorical pictures. His own aim is to save the wealth of the clergy, yet his picture has a more general content: the defense of concord, stability, order and harmony in human society as the only basis for its very existence. Yet Shakespeare is too realistic in his historical conceptions: this appeal to order is expressed by the person urging the young king to begin war with France under any colour of justice.
The images of order and peace are contrasted by those of discord and ruin — and this tragical collision of metaphors reflects the real conflicts in history.
The latest historical play "King Henry VIII" is in many aspects polemical against some plays of his contemporaries. The allegories in the language of Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey, Queen Catherine reveal the psychological truth as it was conceived by Shakespeare.
The allegory of the tree of commonwealth helps to understand the trends in the policy of the Tudors and the main social conflicts of the period previous to the English Reformation. The so called "ambiguity" of many metaphors is brought forth by the acute controversial conflicts and by Shakespeare's aim to throw a veil over his own political attitude while treating the most dangerous subjects.
The early tragedy of "Julius Caesar" is controversial in all aspects. One of the most widely spread interpretations — the idea of the historical necessity of "Caesarism" — was long ago critisized by the author of the present study. Some additional arguments are drawn from the metaphors in Brutus' monologue "It must be by his death". Shakespeare expressed in a metaphorical way some ideas that could not be uttered openly in a lucid political language. The serpent's egg, that is Ceasar's ambitious desire to be king, is the cause of the danger. He would "as his kind" become mischievous, — this metaphor implies that monarchy is the egg from which tyranny "may" grow, therefore it must be "killed in the shell".
The storm scene in this tragedy is usually interpreted as a kind of political allegory, revealing Shakespeare's aversion to conspiracy. But the meaning is different: the natural events are interpreted by the personages according to their position and aims in the political struggles. The symbolic significance lies in the atmosphere of the impending danger when the events in nature are taken as the ominous prognostications.
The imagery in "Coriolanus" is one of the most effective weapons in the social struggles depicted in this historical tragedy. The fable of the belly and of the mutinous members of human body was well-known to the educated men among the audience, and Shakespeare used for this scene several sources, but added a few important ideas and changed the reaction of the plebeians to this fable. These changes show the hidden irony of Shakespeare in his attitude to those cunning methods to palliate the irreconcilable social conflicts.
One of the functions of the metaphoric language in this tragedy is to elucidate the character of the main hero, who is "too absolute", unable to change his attitude to the people and convinced in his right to revenge "the cancered country". The metaphors in the speech of Coriolanus reflect his spontaneous reaction to the tragical political events, — it was hardly possible for Shakespeare to present the ideas of Coriolanus in ordinary political language.
One chapter of the book is devoted to the imagery in "Hamlet", the main task being to present additional support to my interpretation of some problems which was given in my book "Shakespeare and Montaigne" (1983). The metaphorical mode of thinking is the leading feature of Hamlet's personality, the quality that helps Shakespeare to express the deepest social and philosophical ideas. The analysis of the inner structure of some metaphors in Hamlet's monologues argues the value of the First Folio text: "solid flesh", "the poor man's contumely", "enterprises of great pith and moment".
One of the themes of Hamlet's thinking is expressed in the famous metaphor: "The time is out of joint. О cursed spite that ever I was bom to set it right". This maxim serves as a clue to many other ideas presented in metaphorical forms. Such enterprises must be deeply considered before they turn to actions: they must be approved by "conscience"— that is by moral judgement, and by "thought" — that is foreknowledge of the consequences, — only then the deeds can be called "enterprises of great pith and moment".
The deepest dialectical nature of this dilemma is also presented in metaphorical maxim: "the native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought"— the double nature of this maxim is more evident when we come to Hamlet's forth monologue and the metaphor of "craven scruple", — thus we can conceive the evolution in Hamlet's trend of arguments regarding the main duty of man.
Shakespeare often conceals some dangerous political maxims in the meta-phoric language. This feature of his metaphors can be fully realized only if we bear in mind the political atmosphere in London at the time when this or that play was written and performed. Thus we can better understand Hamlet's maxim "Denmark is a prison" if we recollect that the tragedy was written at the moment when some of Shakespeare's friends or at least good acquaintances who had taken part in Essex' conspiracy were executed or sent to prison.
This audacious quality of metaphorical language can be traced in the speeches of King Lear and his fool — if their thoughts were expressed in plain phrases they would sound like blasphemy and rebellion. The storm scene is real and symbolic, for the outbreak in nature is associated with the unnatural breaking of all bonds in human society. Lear is great in his rebellion against the heavens, in his noble anger when he appeals to the elements; he is wise in madness in the scene of symbolic trial. The images of illness in his violent curses express the extreme measure of pain, suffering, indignation, but they also symbolize the ethical judgement which the audience is expected to share.
The imagery in "Macbeth" helps to express the strongest pangs of conscience in the soul of Macbeth. This nature of metaphors is seen in the monologues of the hero. The words "rebellious dead" of the folio text are now changed for "rebellion's head" in modern editions. However, the metaphor in the folio seems to be the true text, it coincides with the situation and the state of the mind of Macbeth at the time when he asks of the future.
The hero's meeting with the witches enhances the atmosphere of supernatural evil in the world and his intense psychological shock. The witches symbolize the mysterious powers in the outward world that bring forth crimes and cruelty in the life of men. This mysterious bond between the soul and the powers of nature is emphasized by many metaphors in "Macbeth".
It was often noticed by the scholars that the style of Othello's speeches is changed in the course of the tragedy. Among the controversial cases is Othello's famous "farewell to the plumed troop". Some commentators are inclined to see in this monologue the hero's intent to commit suicide. However, this farewell to life affords another interpretation: Othello means that all his valiant deeds, his former "dangers" that had won him the highest reward — the love of Desdemona — now lost their value when it appeared that he had been cunningly deceived; her treachery nullified the integrity and value of his life and personality; his life is turned to chaos, it lost the goal and sense. Therefore in the end of the plav when he came to know of her innocence he is struck by deep grief and remorse but yet feels a sort of relief — this state of Othello, a moment before he stabs himself, is expressed in a metaphor: his "subdued eyes" "drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees their med'cinable gum".
Another interesting extract is the comparison of his state of mind to the icy current of the Pontic sea, the current which could not change its course. His thoughts of killing Desdemona must be swallowed by "a capable and wide revenge" — they are conceived in his imagination as powerful and inevitable as the forces of great nature.
One of the most subtle psychological trend of thought is expressed in a very complex allegorical revelation of the deepest causes of Othello's suffering. "Why do you weep? Am I the motive of these tears, my lord?" — asks Desdemona. Othello's answer is given in a violent burst of metaphoric imagery: he could bear any affliction, even if he becomes "a fixed figure for the time of scorn", — that is the object of universal and permanent scorn as a deceived husband. These are not the main causes of his suffering. Shakespeare adds two important metaphors: Othello "garner'd up his heart" in the love of Desdemona, her love is the only fountain giving him life, if this fountain dries up, there is no life for Othello. But there exists another possibility: he may choose to continue living, yet then this fountain will be turned into "a cistern for foul toads to knot and gender in" — this allegory is difficult to transform into logical thinking. The suggested explanation consists in the following: Othello rejects the possibility of patient bearing of Desdemona's treachery — it would make his life loathsome. The foulness of the deed is stressed by the flood of images: flies in the shambles, "heaven stops the nose, at it" — this violent feeling of extreme disgust prevails in the soul of Othello. These metaphors help to understand the deepest ethical nature of Othello's jealousy.
The tragedy of "Anthony and Cleopatra" shows the conflict between love and politics. Shakespeare follows Plutarch in delineating the characters and in some descriptions, yet he adds the original poetic imagery while treating the subject of love. The metaphors are often analytical, they contain different comments on the passion of both main heroes, but the most truthful things about Cleopatra are told by Enobarbus. The tragical death of Anthony is lamented by Cleopatra in cosmic and hyperbolic style enhancing the greatness of her love and woe.
The last period in Shakespeare's life is marked by the creation of some plays in which the fantastical element is used to bring the happy end. The imagery in "Measure for measure", "The Winter's tale, "Cymbeline" has no organic relation to the characters, it is often artificial, generating from the rational aim to reveal ethical and philosophical conceptions of the author. Some metaphors are didactic, interwoven among the observations and maxims of the universal quality. The plays of the latest period have two denouements: one is tragical as in real life, the other is happy, as it is usually shown in a fairy tale. In "Measure for measure" the "real" ending is presented in the scene where the duke in the disguise of a friar utters some bold maxims: "O, poor souls! Come you to seek the lamb here of the fox?" — he addresses the two women and speaks of the general state of things: "I have seen corruption boil and bubble J Ti 11 it overrun the stew: laws for all faults / But faults so countenanced, that the strong statutes] Stand like the forfeits in a barber's shop, / As much in mock as mark" (V, 1, 316—320). This metaphorical picture brought forth the punishment: "Slander to the state!" "To the rack with him!" — such is the reaction of Escal. Such is the real state of things if we exclude the fanciful elements from the action. Similar examples can be found in the final scenes of "All is well that ends well", "The Winter's tale" and "Cymbeline". In all. these plays there exists a dual atmosphere that is also seen in the language: the real and the fanciful are mixed in such a way that the audience is able to suspect the tragedy of the situations and the fate of the heroes in real life.
The peculiar feature of the so called "problem plays" consists in the important role of the universal ethical and political problems often emphasized by means of metaphors. These plays are full of dramatic interest and dynamic action, the allegories being present in realistic forms.
The most striking instance of the double atmosphere is the first scene of "The Tempest": the sea-storm is vivid in all the details as well as the behaviour of the mariners. But if we know the play we can easily see the symbolic and allegorical nature of this scene which was most convincingly analysed by Anseln Schlösser. The poetical fancy of Shakespeare in his latest plays turns a new way: to express the wonders of the exotic worlds and old epochs in psychologically real characters and situations. The realism of Shakespeare is seen even in his most fantastical allegories — they reveal some vital truths in human relations, in the psychology of the characters. The metaphors in the language of his heroes are born at the moments of emotional stress and reflect their deepest motives and the essential trends in their characters. This quality is typical for the plays of mature period in Shakespeare's art while the metaphors in early plays are more illustrative and simple. The tropes in the latest plays are more independent of the characters, they reflect the author's designs and views. This evolution does not mean the change in Shakespeare's metaphoric thinking, which retains the synthetic realistic nature of the Renaissance art.
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