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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Shakespeare is richest in the material of simile


after all, the best interpretation of a drama or any poem is to be gained first hand, nothing being clearer than that every poem challenges individual interpretation, as if saying, "What do you think I mean?" There is too much knowing productions by proxy, of being conversant with what every sort of body thinks about Hamlet, but ourselves being a void so far as distinctively individual opinion goes. A poem, like the Scriptures, is its own best interpreter; and there is always scope for the personal equation in judging literature, because criticism is empiricism in any case, being opinion set against opinion. Different people think different things, and that is the end. Literary criticism can never be an exact science, and everybody may have and should have an opinion. Great productions have never had their meaning exhausted, since meanings are an infinite series. So, to get an interpretation of Cymbeline, say, get into the midst of the drama, as if it were a stream and you a boatman in your boat. Commit you to the drama's flood, omitting for a time what others have thought, and read as if the poem were a fresh manuscript found by you, and read with such avidity as scholars of the Renaissance knew when a palimpsest of Tacitus or Theocritus was found. Let your imagination, as well as the poet's, spread wings. Become creative yourself; for this is true: No one can rightly conceive any work of imagination and be himself unimaginative. Read and re-read, and at length, like
the cliffs of shore rising out of ocean mists, dim, but stable and increasingly palpable, will come a scheme of meaning. Miss nothing. Let no beauty elude you. Odors must not waste; we, in a spirit of lofty economy, must inhale them. Watch the drift of verbal trifles; for Shakespeare uses no superfluities. His meaning dominates his method; his modulations are prophetic. See, therefore, that he does not elude you, escaping at some path or shadow, but cling to his garments, however swiftly he runs. Such study will bear fruit of sure triumph in your conceiving a hidden import of a great drama. This method of self-assertiveness in reading is logical and invigorating. Think as well as be thought for.

Of all poets, Shakespeare is richest in the material of simile. He thought in pictures, which is another way of saying he wooed comparatives. Thought is inert; and he is greatest in expression who can supply his thinking with ruddy blood, flush the pallid cheek, make the dull eye bright, and make laughter run across the face like ripples of sunshine across water touched by the wind. In Shakespeare's turn of phrase and use of figure is a fertility of suggestion such as even Dante can not approximate. He is unusual, which is a merit; for thus is mind kept on the alert, like a sentinel fearing surprise. Of this an essay might be filled with illustrations. He does not try to use figures, but can not keep from using them. As stars flash into light, so he flashes into metaphor, metonymy, trope, personification, or simile. Because he sees everything, is he fertile in suggestion, and his comparisons are numerous as his thoughts. See how his figures multiply as you have seen foam-caps multiply on waves when the wind rises on the sea!

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