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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
Shakespeare and the Invention of Metaphor and
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The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0109  Thursday, 20 January 2005

From:           John Webb <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Jan 2005 08:54:38 -0000
Subject:        Shakespeare and the Invention of Metaphor and Language (BBC
Horizon)

There was a fascinating program in the BBC science series, Horizon,
which got into the subject of Shakespeare's particular ability to create
resonant metaphors. Tim Carroll, director of The Globe Theatre, was one
of the participants in the program.

The program also touched on a possibly related issue about whether
language is arbitrary, or whether there might be hard-wired connections
in our brains between particular sounds and our visual perception of
objects in the world, and whether some individuals might have a genetic
predisposition for being able to sense the right word for an object.

Just below is a transcript of the part of the progam which mentioned
Shakespeare:

"Professor Ramachandran was particularly interested in one type of
creativity used in everyday speech - metaphors. Ways of speaking which
connect different concepts. He's noticed that these often involve links
to the senses.

PROFESSOR VS RAMACHANDRAN: Our language is replete with what we might
call synaesthetic metaphors, where you are sort of linking different
sensory systems in metaphorical usage. As, for example, you say loud
shirt. My shirt's not making any noise, why do you call it loud shirt,
you instantly understand what I'm talking about. It heightens your
appreciation of its vivid colour. Or when you say cheddar cheese is
sharp. Obviously, cheese isn't sharp, if you rub it on your skin it's
soft but then you say well no no no, I mean it tastes sharp but there's
a circularity and we're using a tactile adjective to describe a taste.

NARRATOR: Ramachandran believes that this ability to see and express one
thing in terms of another is central to the artistic process.

NARRATOR: Take for example Shakespeare. Tim Carroll [Director of The
Globe Theatre] has seen how powerfully Shakespeare's metaphors work on
audiences today.

TIM CARROLL: Take something like my heart has turned to stone, we know
that somehow it isn't really your heart that's doing the feeling and
your heart hasn't really turned to stone but it's so much more immediate
and so much more real to us to hear that your heart has turned to stone
than if you simply said my feelings have become rather cold or hardened.

NARRATOR: Many of Shakespeare's metaphors are synaesthetic, involving a
link to the senses.

TIM CARROLL: When Shakespeare uses the expression bitter cold he's
connecting the feeling of coldness, the taste of bitterness and putting
them together. Now logically that may not make any sense but for all of
us it works, we feel it's right.

NARRATOR: But Tim Carroll believes the genius of Shakespeare comes when
he goes beyond sense metaphors to ones which involve links to more
abstract ideas.

TIM CARROL: One of my favourites is from the Tempest, this music crept
by me upon the waters, which brings together an abstract music with
something so real as to creep. What kind of animal it is that might
creep by Ferdinand upon the waters we don't know but it creates an image
in our minds which is exciting.

PROFESSOR VS RAMACHANDRAN: I think that use of metaphor may rely on
mechanisms similar to those used in synaesthesia. One highly speculative
idea is that maybe the same genes which give rise to synaesthesia, when
expressed more diffusely, may be more prone to make these links across
different conceptual realms, therefore make you more creative, more
imaginative, make you more prone to metaphor in other words."

That was only a small part of quite a long program. There is a full
program transcript here:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/tvradio/programmes/horizon/derek_trans.shtml

Shakespeare's facility with metaphor and language, whatever its origins,
are only one of his abilities, and possibly not the most important one.

John Webb

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