Analysis of the Usage of Symbolism in the Works of William Shakespeare

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The works by William Shakespeare are still among the most remarkable literature works, years after the death of this outstanding author. His works continue to present materials for arguments and debates, even in the contemporary world, because of the rich literary devices and figurative expressions that he employed in this works to effective deliver the intended themes, and at the same time ensured that the reader had an in-depth understanding of these intended themes. In this paper, therefore, I will analyze various Shakespeare’s works to show use of recurring themes, tragic heroes, and how he employed various stylistic devices such as metaphors, symbols, allegory and allusions, to make his works outstanding and source of arguments and debates even in the modern day world.

The first major similarity observed in Shakespeare’s works is the use of recurring themes of betrayal, corruption of power, revenge, free will and betrayal. Shakespeare’s works focused on issues that were common in the human nature, and by continuously repeating these themes, it was argued that he intended the audience to fully contempt these human nature issues so that they can make rational decisions (Tucker, 3). For example, in the plays “Macbeth,” “Hamlet”, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Julius Caesar”, William Shakespeare use recurring theme of free will or fate, and by doing so, prompts the reader to consider whether it was the free will practiced by the characters or the fate, that was to blame for poor decisions made by these characters which eventually resulted in unfortunate outcomes and death. Recurring themes are also evident in the works “King Lear” and “Anthony and Cleopatra”, where Shakespeare conveyed the theme of betrayal in the society (Tucker, 4). In these works, he prompted the reader to contempt on how aggressive and ruthless pursuit for political power can result in betrayals, and often leading to serious consequences of murder, serious and madness.

Shakespeare’s works also shows the use of metaphor as a stylistic device. For instances, in sonnet 65: “Since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea”, the reader first has to understand that the phrases in the sonnet are used figuratively. The line, “since brass, nor stone, nor earth, nor boundless sea” (Shakespeare, 1), is used metaphorically to mean that even the toughest, hardest and biggest elements around cannot defeat the destruction element of time. These objects are used to illustrate the mighty strength of time, which the author has described as having destroyed the lofty towers. In line 3 he asks, “how with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,' the word “plea” represents beauty as the plaintiff in a court proceeding. By having shown time as a powerful destroying agent, this line represents metaphor used by Shakespeare to present beauty as a weak plaintiff against a powerful and unfair tyrant (Gradesaver, 4). Under these circumstances the beauty cannot overcome destructive power of time, and will therefore be destroyed.

Lines 6-8 further represent the use of metaphors used by Shakespeare to mean the triumphant of the time in destroying nature. These lines represent the metaphor of seizure of a city according to how they are written and linked to each other. In line 6, “the wreckful siege of battering days,” is used metaphorically to mean ruin and destruction, while line 7, “rock’s impregnable” mean the strong walls that surround the city while “gates of steel” as mentioned in line 8 refer to the strong gates of the city (Shakespeare, 6-7).

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William Shakespeare also employed used of symbols and allusions in his plays to give the reader in-depth understanding of his works. For example in “Macbeth,” symbolism is presented by the repetitive use of blood, which appears more than 40 times. The repetitive use of blood by the author is a metaphor for the guilt that runs through the play and is used repetitively to remind the reader of the direct consequences of the Macbeth’s actions. The repetitive nature of blood in this play makes the reader to understand the horror of what is happening in the play, as well as helps to identify the main theme of the play. The term “night” is also continuously used in the play “Macbeth”. Traditionally, night time was most feared time and was therefore associated with evil. For this reason, Shakespeare used the “night” to suggest an evil act. Convincingly, most of the horrifying scenes in the play are seen to take place at night, because there is a cover of darkness. The mention of night in the play by the character showed the darkness of their feelings and the evil that they were planning to do.

Shakespeare also utilized the stylistic device of symbolism in the “The Winter” play. According to John Henry and Pyle Pafford, the play is symbolic in terms of religious elements used by Shakespeare (Henry and Pafford 13). The play contains allusions to notions of sin and forgiveness, as well as points to the ancient Greece rituals. In the play, the author mentions “bear” many times. However, according to the pagan tradition, a man was usually sacrificed to the bear to ensure the coming of spring. Therefore, by mentioning bear many times in the play, the image of the animal is therefore considered to be symbolic of revenge, but only in ancient ritual contexts.

Shakespeare also consistently mentions storm in the play, which he used to symbolize human bad nature and the evil conduct of Leontes and Antigonous (Coleridge 177). These two symbols are important in the play because they help create a strong impression to the readers. Additionally, the use of twinned lams in the line, “twinn’d lambs that did frisk i’ the sun,” (Shakespeare 13: I, II, 83), is symbolic of children’s innocence and devoted friendships, that according to the play existed between Polixenes and Leontes. The remark by Polixenes that at that time the children did not have any relation to an “original sin” presents allusions to the Christian religion and beliefs. Lastly, the last evidence of symbolism is presented when Paulina invited people to come and see the statue of the woman who had been considered dead for 16 years, by claiming that she could make the statue become a real person. The statue moves forward where it embraces Leontes, symbolizing fate and karma, that no deed should remain unpunished. This scene is also an allusion of the Greece gods and Christian Christ who was able to rise from the dead.

William Shakespeare also employs the use of supernatural elements or mystical elements including elements of witchcraft and Greek mythology to help the readers get an in-depth understanding of the play, while at the same time creates suspense in the play, which keeps the reader interested. In the play, “A Midsummer Night’s dream,” the author makes Theseus and Hippolyta-- (a Greek god and goddess) -- the king and queen of Athens. By doing this, Shakespeare makes the reader to consider their understanding of Greek mythology in order to decipher the meaning in the play. Use of supernatural elements is also evident in the play “Macbeth.” In this play, the three witches, who are helped by the Greek goddess Hecate, are able, with the help of witchcraft, to convince Macbeth that he had was chosen to become the king of Scotland. This gives Macbeth greed for power and compels him to do horrible things. Use of these supernatural elements in the play makes it intriguing, but also makes the reader to understand the consequences of involving such elements, which are obviously tragic as seen in the play “Macbeth.”

Shakespeare’s also makes use of tragic heroes or anti-heroes in his plays in order to convey the themes of revenge, free will, morality and justice. However, these heroes do not seem to be aware of their flaws until when it is very late in the play when something horrible has happened. For example, in the play For example, in the play 'Macbeth,' Macbeth doesn't recognize that the three witches had used the witchcraft to convince that he could rise to the position of the king of Scotland. This promise by the three witches had created in him unwavering trust in their promise, while blinding him to the reality of matter. He develops insatiable lust for power which drives him to do horrible things, and finally makes him to commits suicide.

Similarly, in the play 'Hamlet,' the prince Hamlet devotes himself to avenging his father’s murder, which was killed by his uncle, Claudius. In the quest for revenge, many of prince hamlet friends and mother are killed, but Hamlet does not give up on the revenge quest. Finally, he is tricked into a fight to the death with Laertes brother of Ophelia. Hamlet is stabbed with a poisonous blade and he dies after avenging his father’s murder by killing Laertes, as well as his uncle Claudius. In general therefore, Shakespeare’s works convey different elements of tragic hero, tragic waste, elements of fate or fortune, corruption or greed, a dichotomy of what is good and evil, the paradox of life, foul revenge and supernatural elements. These varying elements keeps the reader interested in his works, and also touches on many issues pertaining to human nature. The different elements presented in William Shakespeare’s works also make it difficult to classify his works.

William Shakespeare works therefore contain recurring themes, use of tragic heroes and use of stylistic devices such as metaphors, symbols, allegory and allusions, which are crucial in ensuring that the reader get an in-depth understanding of the plays.

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