Bill Long 12/03/04
"What is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonymns, anthropomorphisms."--Friedrich Nietzsche
Puttenham provides several other examples of metaphor or transport in 3.17. His point is that even though we know that things insensable cannot properly be the subject of action verbs, "yet they approch so neere, and so conveniently, as the speech is thereby made more commendable (Poesie, p. 149)." Yet metaphor also applies to living (human) beings, as in the lines that say: "I burne in love, I freese in deadly hate/ I swimme in hope, and sinke in deepe dispaire." All of these choices of words are "most commendable (Id. at 150).
But then if there is a "lacke of naturall and proper terme or words" it becomes not metaphor but "plaine abuse, as he that bad his man go into his library and set him his bow and arrowes..." But we should pause here for a moment. What is to determine whether or not there is a "naturall" connection between words? I think Puttenham is trying to get at the issue of more express or explicit connections between words and less explicit connections. But take the following example, not from Puttenham: "The ship plowed the sea." Is this a "naturall" connection or not? On the one hand, there is little connection between the lifestyles of agriculture and seafaring. Yet, there is a lot of visual similarity between a boat slicing through waves and a sickle or plow slicing through a "sea" of grain. Who is to determine what is natural and unnatural, what is "adjacent" and "far off?"
The Mystery Thickens
To make matters worse, what Puttenham calls here a "naturall" connection between words and words (metaphor) seems to be what Ramus and the more modern critics call metonomy. But then Puttenham proceeds to introduce his understanding of metonomy. He gives the following example: "Thy hands they made thee rich, thy pallet made thee poore." He comments, "It is ment, his travaile and arte made him wealthie, his riotous life had made him a beggar." He gives another example, every month he drank "four tonnes of beere, & one hogshead of wine," meaning "not the caskes or vessels, but that quantitie which they conteyned." He goes on,
"These and such other speaches, where ye take the name of the Author for the thing it selfe, or the thing conteining, for that which is contained, & in many other cases do as it were wrong name the person or thing. So neverthelesse as it may be understood, it is by the figure metonymia, or misnamer (Id. at 151)."
He gives yet one more example. "I lent my love to losse, and gaged my life in vaine," even though "lent is properly of money or some such other thing." Yet this is "very commendably spoken by vertue of this figure."
Let's pause for a minute. Puttenham has introduced us to a second term, metonym, which appears to be a word that is less connected with the sense of the original word than is metaphor, but a metonym may still be undestandable. Or, to put it differently, you may have to work a little harder to try to understand a metonym, but it it still can be "commendable." Yet for Puttenham, a metonym "misnames" a word--thus it requires a further or more dramatic "transport" than metaphor does.
A Third Term--Metalepsis
Puttenham closes 3.17 by introducing yet a third term: metalepsis. "But the sense is much altered & the hearers conceit strangely entangled by the figure Metalepsis, which I call the farfet, as when we had rather fetch a word a great way off then to use one nerer hand to expresse the manner aswel & plainer." Yet, and Puttenham always seems to be concerned with this, the ladies like this better. By using metalepsis we, as it were, are "leaping over the heads of a great many words," and "we take one that is furdest off, to utter our matter."
In an example I have cited in a previous mini-essay, Puttenham cites Medea, after being dumped by Jason, cursing her first acquaintance with him:
"Woe worth the mountaine that the maste bare/ Which was the first causer of ally my care."
Here, she doesn't curse Jason directly, nor the ship that bore him to her at first, but she curses the "far off" cause of their falling out: the mountain, on which the tree was grown, which was cut down, planed into a mast, stuck on a ship that was used by Jason and his men, which was the ship on which Medea embarked. The author has gathered something from a far-off place for his purposes.
He gives another example from Virgil: "After many a stubble shall I come/ And wonder at the sight of my kingdome." He comments: "By stubble the Poet understoode yeares, for harvests come but once every yeare, at least wayes with us in Europe. This is spoken by the figure of farre-set, metalepsis."
Instead of the threefold designation of metonomy (farthest away), metaphor (adjunct) and synecdoche (contained in), each of which expressing greater "nearness" or proximity between the terms, Puttenham has the threefold designation of metalepsis (farthest away), metonym (closer) and metaphor (closest). Confused yet? If not, we can turn to synecdoche, which ought to make murky things even murkier.
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long