The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1752 Monday, 17 October 2005
Date: Friday, 14 Oct 2005 10:06:01 -0400
Subject: Growth of Shakespeare's Imagery
Work I'm currently doing has led me to the following question, which I'd
be interested to hear the members' views on.
It was a commonplace of criticism some fifty years ago and more, growing
out of the creation of a symbolist Shakespeare, to look at patterns of
imagery in Shakespeare's plays (Knight, Spurgeon, Clemen, et al.) and
some notable key critical statements of their time (such as Brooks'
essay on Macbeth) came from that endeavor. Rather fewer years back,
Robert Weimann called for a fresh attempt to study the historical
character of Shakespeare's language use. My question is this:
Shakespeare's work is notable for the way it uses concerted patterns of
imagery to frame certain questions and propel certain developments in
the narrative. Very often imagery speaks the action of a scene in ways
the speakers themselves have little knowledge of and control over, and
the texturing of allusion becomes increasingly a locus of intense poetic
activity in the plays. Images call to one another in complex mutual
figuration between scenes and perform both analysis and synthesis of the
play's action. Learning to read or hear Shakespeare's work is in part
learning to be alive to this aspect of his "coloration" of a dramatic
moment. So here's my question:
"How new is this, and what are its precedents?"
There are certainly verbal patternings in classical poetry. "Furor" and
"pius" in the Aeneid, for instance, in part Virgil's nod to Homer's oral
formalism, are also architectural in the thematics of the poem. But
they're not pervasive or visceral, I think, in the way, say, babies are
in Macbeth. Chaucer (I'm merely sketching some examples here) uses
"parfit" in the GP to the CT as a yardstick of ironies, measuring the
changing resonances of the word against the moral characters of his
pilgrims. And the Miller's Tale, of course, recapitulates aspects of the
Knights Tale, etc. But these aren't anything like what Shakespeare does.
I can't recall anything in Marlowe or Greene or Peele like this, though
I should probably check Lyly again, whose attention to matters of verbal
texture is often more minute. Or should we look somewhere else entirely:
in the intimate texturings of type and antitype of contemporary accounts
of the Bible, and in sermons drawing on it, for instance?
What do people think? Have I failed to read some key text or critic here
(a favorite form of academic anxiety)?
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