The Shakespearean Imagination
- the connection between the Elizabethan World Picture and the Shakespearean Imagery:

“Love is blind”, but before Shakespeare, you wouldn't know. Shakespeare has enriched the English language by coining idioms and imagery, which we still use today - without (us) being aware of it.

Language and thought are interrelated. When writing, in any time, the language must correspond with the general perception of the world. Only then, will the reader feel the strength of the imagery.
Shakespeare used imagery, that the common Englishman could understand and relate to. Imagery which referred to the Elizabethan World Picture. This is the reason why his imagery is so related to the common world-view.
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Through our knowledge of the Elizabethan Age, we can interpret what thought lies within the imagery of Shakespeare.

When Romeo compares Juliet to a rose, we must understand the values of a rose, according to the Chain of Being.

The Chain of Being in the Elizabethan World Picture
There is a specific order, a hierachy, in the world, of created things and beings. Whatever doesn't obey the order, is wrong. The ideal is, that everyone must keep his place, and honour those who are above him.
The image of the rose, used in "Romeo and Juliet" should be perceived in accordance with the position of the rose in the Chain of Being, as the flower above all flowers.

In the Elizabethan World Picture, there is no distinguishing between value and fact, as the values have become fact, since there is a general perception, and these values are unchangeable.
E.g. A lion will have a greater value than a bird, but will always remain below mankind.

As well as using the Chain of Being in imagery, it can be used to compare images to each other through analogical patterns and figures of speech.
E.g. The father is the head of the family and the top of the hierarchy within the home. He can be compared to the top of the political order, the king, or even, to the top of the planetary order, the sun.

For more details on the Chain of Being, read the article "Elizabethan World Picture 1".

Imagery of Shakespeare
In Macbeth, imagery in the form of clothing, darkness and blood dominates the play.
Each detail in the play is a part of Shakespeare's imagery. The reader must understand these symbols if he is to interpret either the passage or the play as a whole.

The clothing is a central image in Macbeth. Macbeth's clothing conceals the real person underneath. Through his clothes, he deceives his fellowmen, since his clothes portray him as better than he is, and hides his viciousness. In the following passage it is pointed out that his clothes do not fit his honour:

"New honours come upon him, Like our strange garments, cleave not to their mould, But with the aid of use." (Act I, iii: 144) p. 25 in our version.

Darkness is present in symbols like the night and witches, which are well-known today. Shakespeare uses darkness to portray evil deeds and the dark sides of human nature.

Blood is the symbol of life, death and injury. Therefore, Shakespeare uses blood as different symbols of murder, treason, guilt and death.
The image changes from a symbol of honour and braveness to a symbol of treachery, guilt and murder. In the end, Macbeth is killed. His murderer is praised and blood is once again a symbol of honour and braveness.

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Shakespeare in our time
The world picture has turned away from the belief in the Chain of Being, which could mean, that Shakespeare's images has no significance to the modern audience, but, as a matter of fact, surprisingly many images and figures of speech have been inherited in modern language:

We still understand the rose and sun as valued images, and have no problem understanding Romeo's romantic comparison of Juliet to a rose.

Idioms coined by Shakespeare in modern language
  • “Vanish into thin air”
  • “We have seen better days”
  • “As cold as stone”
  • “As merry as the day is long”
  • “As dead as a doornail”
  • “Come what come may”
  • “Eaten out of house and home”
  • “For ever and a day”
  • “Fight fire with fire”
  • “Break the ice”
  • “A heart of gold”
  • “Love is blind”
  • “Make a virtue of necessity”
  • “Naked truth”
  • “What’s done is done”

Did you ever think that Shakespeare would have a direct influence on your language?

Emma and Laura 3.b