In Philip Massinger’s The Maid of Honour, Adorni momentarily considers suicide; but then rejects the idea, commenting:
This life’s a fort committed to my trust,
Which I must not yield up till it be forced:
Adorni did not simply say “It is wrong to kill oneself.” Instead, he used a metaphor, a comparison, connecting his life to a fort which he must save at all cost.
Metaphors do more than make one’s writing more interesting; as the scholar and translator of Homer Richmond Lattimore wrote in his introduction to The Iliad, a metaphor “concentrates attention on what is distinctive about the main action on which it dwells.” By comparing his life to a fort, Adorni dramatizes the moment and focuses our imagination on how important the protection of one’s life must be, and to what extents one must go to preserve it.
Elizabethan authors frequently use multiple words and phrases with double-meanings to intensify their metaphors. For example, when, in The Duke of Milan (also Massinger), Francisco interrupts the duke because he has something important to bring to his attention, he says of the matter,
It is of weight, sir, that makes me thus press
Upon your privacies.
Francisco plays on the double meanings of both weight and press to make his point.
Such multi-image usage lends itself to letting a metaphor play itself out over many lines. In John Ford’s Perkin Warbeck, Warbeck pontificates about his courage in facing death, and then dares to describe to King Henry how Henry himself dared once to usurp against a king; as you read this speech, notice the extensive and extended “sun” imagery:
…if the sun
Of majesty be darkened, let the sun
Of life be hid from me in an eclipse
Lasting and universal. Sir, remember
There was a shooting-in of light when Richmond,
Not aiming at a crown, retired, and gladly,
For comfort to the Duke of Bretaine’s court.
Richard, who swayed the sceptre, was reputed
A tyrant then; yet then a dawning glimmered
To some few wandering remnants, promising day
When first they ventured on a frightful shore
At Milford Haven; −
It is quite fun to piece together such metaphors.
There is another way to think about metaphors, one that is extra-dramatic – that is, it takes the reader out of the play for a moment. A metaphor can also suggest the kinds of experiences and knowledge that the author of the play brings with him to the writing table. Shakespeare extensively used gardening and botany imagery, suggesting his expertise in this area. Christopher Marlowe frequently used the imagery of the cosmos, with numerous references to the universe and its entities. Massinger included a great deal of ancient mythological allusions in his plays, and Thomas Dekker loved military metaphors, suggesting his possible background as a soldier. A writer with little knowledge of and no experience in military life would likely tend to shy away from using military metaphors, or, if he does use one, it may be obvious and superficial.
In summary, if, as you read these plays, you wish to focus your attention on the metaphors, you can do so in a number of ways. You can focus on:
1. simply understanding the metaphors;
2. making sure to capture metaphors that continue over multiple lines;
3. identifying and feeling the intensity of the specific characteristic or feature that the metaphor seeks to bring out;
4. considering how each metaphor suggests expertise or an experience of the author.