EVEN MORE WORDS
Anadiplosis (Devices V)
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Symploce et al.
Legal Words I
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Legal Words III
Bill Long 11/30/04
The word has four syllables, with accent on the antepenult, as follows, hy-PAHL-a-jee. Say it again. It is a transliteration of a Greek work which may be translated as "interchange" or "exchange." Whereas hyperbaton is the shifting of place in a sentence, hypallage is the shifting of the application of words. Quintilian (8.6.23) will even call it metonymy, following Cicero's use of the term in his Orator (ch. 93). As with most rhetorical devices, the meaning will only become clear in examples. It is a most powerful literary device, but one that is very difficult to use. The fact that it might be more deceptively unhelpful than illuminating is seen in George Puttenham's anglicizing word "Changeling" for hypallage. He says,
"I had rather have him called the Changeling....specially for our Ladies and pretie mistresses in Court, for whose learning I write, because it is a term often in their mouthes, and alluding to the opinions of Nurses, who are wont to say, that the Fayries use to steale the fairest children out of their cradles, and put other ill favoured in their places, which they called changelings, or Elfs, so, if ye mark, doeth our Poet, or maker play with his words, using a wrong construction for a right, and an absurd for a sensible, by manner of exchange (Poesie, p. 144)."
The Classic Case
Many of the rhetorical devices have a classic instance in which they are first identified. Here we have a reference to Virgil. In Aeneid 3.61 he uses the phrase "dare classibus austros" (to give the winds to the fleets) which is a hypallage for the more usual construction "dare classes austris" (to give the fleets to the winds). Yet Virgil's imaginative transposition is provocative. As the editors of the Century Dictionary say, "Hypallage is a bold departure from the customary mode of expression, and is almost entirely confined to poetry."
A Funny Use of Hypallage
This "changeling" character of hypallage can be seen in the application of improper words for various human senses. Not unexpectedly, Shakespeare leads the way, with his mocking misquotation of I Cor 2:9.
"The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was (Midsummer's Night Dream 4.1.211-214)."
Thus, a misapplication of the senses can be a hypallage. Puttenham mostly picks up on this kind of misuse to show its absurd character. He contrasts hypallage with enallage (which we have not studied. It refers to a change of cases in the Greek or Latin) and preposterous (i.e., hysteron proteron). Hypallage changes "their true construction and application, whereby the sence is quite perverted and made very absurd: as, he that should say, for tell me troth and lie not, lie me troth and tell not." Or "for come dine with me and stay not, come stay with me and dine not (Poesie, p. 143)." Thus, the application of the wrong verbs to the wrong nouns leads to confusion and absurdity.
But even Puttenham, perhaps unwittingly, gives us an example of hypallage that makes us pause. He says, "A certain pietous lover, to move his mistress to compassion, wrote among other amorous verses, this one. 'Madame, I set your eyes before mine woes.'"*
[*He then goes on to tell a story of a lawyer who misspoke, but since I am an attorney, I won't tell that story!].
A brief consideration of this line, however, will show that hypallage is well-used here. He wants to say, of course, "I set my woes before your eyes." But, by reversing the language and beginning with "your eyes," the poet shows what the real point of the appeal is: that she "see" his condition. He begins with her, her eyes, and leads them gently to his woes. By so doing he draws her eyes away from herself and to him.
An Example from Shakespeare
The most powerful example of the way hypallage can stretch language almost to the bursting point but still be arresting and powerful is in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Cassius is narrating to Brutus the past cowardice and weakness of Caesar as a way of encouraging Brutus to join the conspiracy (I.ii). Cassius narrates two examples of Caesar's weakness: one in swimming the Tiber with Cassius as a youth and one in the Spanish campaign (I.ii.121-133). With images of troops going out to battle with colors flying as part of the mental background of the passage, as well as a feverish Caesar unable to fight, Cassius says:
"His coward lips did from their colour fly (I.ii.124)."
How amazingly suggestive. Shakespeare is, of course, saying that Caesar's lips became pallid because of the fever. The color, as it were, "fled" from his lips. But, because he couldn't go into battle, there was a danger that the Roman "colors" would flee from the battlefield before the Spanish warriors. When the colors fly, defeat is inevitable. Caesar's color "fled" from his lips but, even more powerfully, Caesar's lips fled from their color, as the troops fled from the Spanish attackers. How alert and thoughtful does a poet have to be to come up with something like that?
Shakespeare has other examples of hypallage that can be found cited hither and yon. "Our gayness and our gifts are besmirched/ With rain marching in the painful field," instead of 'with painful marching in the rainy field.' More absurdly, from a contemporary writer, "Once upon a tree, I came upon a time." Hypallage works best, it seems to me, if there is a rather tight connection between the two parts of the sentence, so that the interchange is obvious. But, it is very difficult to make the obvious interchange an arresting one, rather than an annoying or confusing one. As Shakespeare's example in Julius Caesar shows, however, it is well worth the try.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long