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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: January ::
Shakespeare and the Invention of Metaphor and
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.0122  Friday, 21 January 2005

From:           Pamela Richards <
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Date:           Thursday, 20 Jan 2005 06:37:29 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 16.0109 Shakespeare and the Invention of Metaphor and
Comment:        Re: SHK 16.0109 Shakespeare and the Invention of Metaphor and
Language

Hi, John

Yes, there are so many fascinating metaphors in Shakespeare.  And so
many that suggest an origin in, or affinity to, the concepts of the four
humours and references to astrology which may not be apparent unless we
know their source.

For example, linking the words "bitter" to "cold" might actually derive
from an expression commonly used in medical astrology to indicate the
attributes of phlegmatic (cold) and astringent (bitter) urine.  Perhaps
the person remarking on the bitter cold is on some level hoping he won't
become sick, or perhaps Shakespeare is foreshadowing a bout of illness
on the part of this character.

When viewed in light of the four humours, the line "Be bloody" in
Macbeth makes reference, beyond the pun associating blood with gore-to
blood as the humour of mirth, cheerfulness, and vigor.  Read with this
meaning, the entire line makes a good deal more sense.  "Be bloody",
used in a general sense of the four humours, meant "Cheer up".

The music which crept by upon the waters suggests a reference to the
astrological sign of Cancer, a water sign represented by the creeping
crab.  As Cancer is a mute sign, this also suggests to those with
knowledge of astrology that Ferdinand remarks that he heard music
without distinguishing words or lyrics.

So although today we may find these metaphors intriguing, they may have
been even more evocative to Shakespeare's audience, conveying more
significant specific layers of meaning in addition to the visceral
feelings they evoke.

Warmest regards,
Pamela Richards

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