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Shakespeare’s metaphors and similes

Oct 24, 2018 | 0 comments

Oct 24, 2018 | Essays | 0 comments

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Shakespeare’s metaphors and similes
Our first writing assignment asked you to look at one word from Shakespeare’s plays. This assignment asks you to write about one figure of speech, specifically a metaphor or simile. Metaphors and similes are figures that compare one thing to another either implicitly or explicitly. Select a single metaphor or simile from Twelfth Night and write a three-page (double-spaced, regular font and margins, approximately 900 words) account of the impact of Shakespeare’s appeal to the figure you choose.
Goal: This assignment invites careful attention to the richness of Shakespeare’s use of figurative language. The exercise asks you to become familiar with a basic tool of literary analysis, and to further develop your ability to pay attention to the complex nuances and layers of meaning in literary speech.
Details:

  • Before you begin, visit the following web pages, which provide more elaborate definitions of the terms “metaphor” and “simile.” Make sure you understand what each word means.
  • Next, as you read Twelfth Night, keep an eye out for metaphors or similes that strike you as especially complex, rich, puzzling, or surprising. Select the metaphor or simile about which you wish to write.
  • Your paper should address how the figure of speech you choose impacts our understanding of the character who utters it, or about whom it is uttered, the circumstance, and/or the plot as a whole. You will want to pay careful attention to how the comparison nuances, enriches, or complicates what we think about the play.
  • Here’s an example from a play we will read later in the semester: Hamlet. Near the beginning of the play, Horatio describes the actions of a minor but important character, Fortinbras:

Now, sir, young Fortinbras,
Of unimproved mettle hot and full,
Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there
Shark’d up a list of lawless resolutes,
For food and diet, to some enterprise
That hath a stomach in’t . . . . (Hamlet, 1.1.95-100)
If I were to write this assignment, though there are a whole bunch of good metaphors here, I would pick out the metaphor that compares Fortinbras to a shark. I might even look up in the OED what the term “shark” might have meant in addition to a sea creature. (Note the term also means “artful swindler” in Shakespeare’s day, or a “scoundrel or villain.” As a verb, “to shark” could mean “to live by one’s wits.”) And I would focus my analysis on how the characterization of Hamlet’s rival and double as a shark enhances our understanding of Fortinbras as a character, how it impacts what we think about what he is up to, and how this bears upon the plot, since he shows up at the very end of the play. We might even speculate about Horatio: What does it say about Horatio that he understands Fortinbras as a predator?
[assignment continued on next page]

  • Your paper should include the following components:
    • A short discussion of the figure of speech you choose. Quote it, and provide a very brief account of what’s going on in the play at the moment the figure is used.
    • An account of the basic terms of the comparison.
    • A strong thesis, that is, a clear statement up front of your basic claim about how the metaphor or simile works in the play.
    • To develop your paper, you should focus on the implication of the metaphor or simile for the character that uses it, the character or situation about which it is used, the circumstances surrounding the figure of speech’s use, and/or the plot in general.
    • You may also wish to discuss other places where the metaphor or simile is reused or echoed in the play.
  • Your paper should not include the following components:
  • A long preamble attesting to Shakespeare’s greatness, or to the beauty of his language, and so forth. Such introductions add nothing to the argument.
  • Errors of spelling or grammar.
  • Lengthy plot summaries. (You may assume your reader knows the story.)

Your TA or I will be happy to talk over your ideas or respond to drafts. See one of us if you run into difficulties developing a three-page paper out of the figure of speech you choose. In my experience, the more you think about the comparison, the more you press on the implications and look for echoes elsewhere in the text, then the more about which you will have to write.
Due: Please submit your essay via the D2L dropbox by noon on Wednesday, September 23rd.
 

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