My object, in this paper, is to consider the attitude, during the last three centuries, to Shakespeare’s use of imagery. There is no evidence that any of his contemporaries were aware of what Caroline Spurgeon was to call ‘iterative imagery’; and, although Beaumont, Fletcher and Massinger sometimes echoed Shakespeare’s plays, they made no attempt to imitate his characteristic use of metaphor. Ben Jonson is reported by Dryden to have said, in reference to some obscure speeches in Macbeth, that ‘it was horror’. We do not know to which speeches he was referring, but there are many in which one metaphor evolves from another in a way which would offend a purist:
And Pity, like a naked, new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubins, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,
That tears shall drown the wind.
The image of the new-born babe bestriding the storm, and of the cherubim riding upon the wings of the wind, leads on to that of the wind itself followed by rain which is compared with tears, tears which are also caused by the wind. Although modern readers regard the lines as superbly characteristic of Shakespeare, one can imagine that Jonson would not approve of them.
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