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  • “The rack dislimns”: Schema and Metaphorical Pattern in Antony and Cleopatra
  • Donald C. Freeman (bio)

Virtually all previous commentary on the figurative language of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra has been rather general, and has provided, at best, a disconnected account of the play’s rich figuration. The theory of cognitive metaphor, which constructs metaphor as mental projection from a schematized representation of bodily or enculturated experience into abstractions, provides a principled basis for a unified account of the play’s imagery, major plot devices, and much of its stage (and offstage) business. This analysis characterizes within a single analytical framework Antony’s oft-remarked dissolution, Cleopatra’s transcendence, and the sharp outline that is the play’s idea of Rome. This theory leads us to read the play as a richly blended amalgam of the container, links, and path image schemas. Projection from these schemas into Antony and Cleopatra’s imagery, plot, and other elements structures the play’s progress from Antony’s distinctly profiled Roman and military persona through the shapeless liquid of the lovers’ passion through evanescent cloud formations to Cleopatra’s final sublimation from her physical body into the ether of her nobler elements.

Any approach to metaphor hoping to enhance centuries of scholarship on Shakespeare’s dramatic language faces an onerous burden of proof, the more so when the play under discussion is Antony and Cleopatra. The play’s lushness of figurative language has attracted hosts of both New Critics and traditional philologists. Many have commented on the play’s vast compass— [End Page 443] one made possible in large part by the cosmic imagery that Shakespeare so frequently employs.

The great German Shakespearean Wolfgang Clemen (1962 [1951]: 160), for example, remarked more than sixty years ago that Antony and Cleopatra summons “to our minds again and again the image of the wide ocean and of the immeasurably vast world.” At about the same time, Caroline Spurgeon (1935: 352) pointed out how the play “fills the imagination with the conception of beings so great that physical size is annihilated and the whole habitable globe shrinks in comparison with them.”

This commentary anticipated much of what has followed. Many of Clemen’s and Spurgeon’s successors have remarked on the relationship of Antony and Cleopatra’s imagery to its grand physical, political, and spiritual landscapes, but only in the most general terms. Seeking to refocus our attention from the play’s “verbal figure” to what he called “dramatic metaphor,” Maurice Charney (1961: 7) fails to specify what aspect of the play’s figuration is thus constitutive of its form. T. A. McAlindon (1973: 187) describes the play’s language as a “grandiose blend of mythology and hyperbole,” without explaining the components or consequences of that blend. G. Wilson Knight (1951: 289) notices Antony and Cleopatra’s “massively spatialized technique” without the kind of detailed analysis that would show how the play’s nonspatial entities come to be perceived in spatial terms.

Although readings of this sort can be incomplete or imprecise, I find them in many respects intuitively satisfying. In what follows, I start from these intuitions, seeking to articulate and ground them in a theory of metaphor that depends on a theory of mind. I shall argue that the cognitive approach to metaphor1 provides analyses of figurative language that are sufficiently detailed and coherent so that the interpretations they yield can be assessed against competing interpretations. Further, I claim, motivated cognitive analyses of one skein of a literary artwork’s figurative language generalize perspicuously to analyses of other figurative patterns in the same artwork or in other works by the same poet. Finally, following the argument sketched out in D. Freeman 1995, I will seek to demonstrate that the notion of metaphorical projection as a property of mind logically prior to properties of language enables the critic of poetic language to characterize within the cognitive framework not only figurative patterns in literary language, but analogous figurative patterns in other elements of the artwork as well.

This interrelatedness of metaphorical patterning in Antony and Cleopatra [End Page 444] emerges when we examine the processes of metaphorical projection that constitute the play’s figurative language...

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pp. 443-460
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Archived 2005
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