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Seeing What Shakespeare Means
Understanding Shakespeare

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Understanding Shakespeare

Visual images can illustrate not merely objects, places, or stories, but also abstract ideas and popular beliefs. The images reproduced here exemplify Shakespeare's creative use of figurative language and, in particular, of three rhetorical devices: personification, proverb, and metaphor. In personification, human attributes are ascribed to non-human creatures or inanimate objects. Proverbs distill common experience into a compact and memorable formula. And metaphor is a comparison that identifies one thing with another, dissimilar thing. All of these help explain the strange by using the familiar, challenging the reader with the power of their resonance.


Look at a few examples from the plays to see what Shakespeare really means:


Antony and Cleopatra 

King Lear 

Loves Labors Lost 

Much Ado About Nothing 




Lykosthenes. Prodigiorum ac ostentorum chronicon. Basel, 1557 (Detail)

Grammaticus Musaeus. Hero and Leander. Paris, 1538.

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