Wednesday, October 3, 2012

ITERATIVE IMAGERY: Shakespeare Trick #3 I Will Be Stealing during NaNoWriMo

Iterative imagery is a fancy label that just means important imagery that appears throughout a piece of writing. 

I have been longing to steal this trick for years, ever since I read Caroline Spurgeon's book SHAKESPEARE'S IMAGERY. Once you realize what imagery Shakespeare has decided to repeat prominently through the course of a play, you get a better sense of what his thematic intentions are, how he is using imagery to link related events, and which stage actions he is using to drive the story forward. 

For instance, there are repeated references to blood and bleeding in MACBETH. It's no accident that the play includes as many direct and indirect references to blood as it does. Shakespeare's insistence that the audience picture blood, violence, and bleeding over and over again helps to intensify the atmosphere of tension, fear, and guilt. These references also prepare the audience for critical events, such as Macbeth's murder of Duncan, the king.

Before embarking on that crime, Macbeth has a waking hallucination about a dagger floating in midair, a dagger that unexpectedly spouts "gouts of blood" -- or does it? Macbeth decides there is no such dagger, that it is the "bloody business" he is considering that makes him think so.

The sin of regicide that he is preparing himself to commit in this speech is so horrific that it takes place out of our sight. Interestingly, there is a pause in the violent imagery as the actual violence takes place offstage. 

Once Duncan is murdered, the visual and auditory references to blood resume and intensify: both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth appear onstage with hands coated in his blood. Macbeth asks: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?"

And after that sequence, there is a great silence ... broken, eventually, by the sound of someone knocking.

Notice that the whole terrifying assault follows the anticipation/conflict/aftermath fight-scene template discussed expertly by Melanie Rio ... with the intriguing change that the central act of violence occurs only in our minds! The murder is unseen, but it is also impossible not to picture.

Duncan's murder stops the world of the play, and when it is restarted with the sound of knocking, something amazing happens. The references to blood, wounding, and mutilation intensify, accumulate, and become much more frequent. It's almost as though the blood of the king (of which we saw and heard so much in Act II) had unleashed a rising stream of blood, a tide that drives the play itself forward ... toward Macbeth's beheading.

There are other such image patterns in Shakespeare (there are other such patterns in MACBETH!) -- vision and blindness in KING LEAR, disease and decay in HAMLET -- but this will give you an idea of the kind of pattern that I am trying to establish in JIHAD COMIX, my NaNoWriMo 2012 novel.

If you would like to subscribe to the page where I will be posting excerpts from the novel, and perhaps give feedback about the imagery I'm repeating, click here.