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Home :: Archive :: 2005 :: October ::
Growth of Shakespeare's Imagery
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 16.1752  Monday, 17 October 2005

From: 		Tom Bishop <
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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)?

Tom

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