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Praise for Metaphor and Shakespearean Drama: Unchaste Signification



Maria Fahey’s provocative study of key metaphoric systems in six Shakespeare plays brilliantly demonstrates the embeddedness of metaphor in cultural, pragmatic, and historical circuits of meaning while suggesting how metaphors in performance can themselves motivate these very circuits.  Grounded in a deep understanding of the theory of metaphor from Aristotle on, Fahey’s exciting interpretations invert assumptions about what is literal and what figurative, what is native and what transported, by showing how words connected to a tissue of social discourses and performances become aware (even if their speaker is not) of the larger network of complicity within which the metaphor stands to account.  This work is a rich resource for anyone interested in a discursive analysis of how Shakespeare’s metaphors can become both figurative and performative at the same time.

Susanne Wofford, New York University



Maria Fahey’s Unchaste Signification, the first full-length study of Shakespeare and “metaphor” in nearly a quarter-century, is a remarkable achievement.  Although Fahey acknowledges that each of the six (illuminating) chapters devoted to individual plays “may be read on its own,” she (rightly) urges that they “will make more sense in conjunction” with the general discussion of metaphor that opens the book. This tenaciously-argued discussion is indeed central to everything that follows and is in itself an important contribution to scholarship: not only does it demonstrate how Ricoeur and other modern theorists have misunderstood the nature and function of metaphor in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but also it shows, to use Fahey’s words, “how the plays reveal metaphor’s power to transform the speech communities they bring to life.”  Fahey, fully in command of the secondary and primary sources, writes with insight, clarity, and grace about very complicated matters. This impressive book will be of interest to scholars in general, not just to those who specialize in Shakespeare.

Edward Tayler, Columbia University



This intelligent and penetrating book revisits the study of metaphor in Shakespeare, reading metaphor in the plays neither as imagery or ornament but instead as an unpredictable form of social action, powerful but not always positive, that can infiltrate speech communities by stealth and authorize unpredictable or irrational action. Bringing to light this performative dimension of metaphor, Fahey offers fresh readings of Shakespeare’s plays.

Lynne Magnusson, University of Toronto



Fahey’s Metaphor and Shakespearean Drama does not use either of the terms “new aestheticism” or “new formalism”, but it does suggest one possibility of what such a critical movement might look like. . . . [R]ather than representing a return to pre-historicist formalism, or a reactionary anti-historicism, Fahey’s subtle and sophisticated work in fact should be seen as continuing the broadly social and political enquiries of recent criticism, while reminding us that Renaissance literary texts explore such questions primarily through a self-consciously erudite deployment of literary devices.

David Coleman, Nottingham Trent University, Cahiers Élisabéthains



In her brief preface, Fahey says that her book explores “the transformative, fruitful, and potentially unruly nature of metaphorical utterances as revealed in Shakespearean drama” (xiv). Indeed it does. . . . Those interested in theories of metaphor will doubtless find Fahey’s twenty-one-page first chapter useful in and of itself. . . . [P]rovocative . . . another addition to the growing scholarship on the subject of metaphor.

Jay Halio, University of Delaware, Comparative Drama



[C]hapters . . . , such as Fahey’s account of how the language of falconry haunts and undoes the marriage between Othello and Desdemona, are splendidly fresh and ingenious.

Michael Dobson, University of Birmingham, Around the Globe



There would seem to be something ambitious—or foolhardy—about proposing to treat the most exhaustively discussed poet in the English language alongside the most ubiquitous rhetorical figure in literature.  Yet this new study by Maria Fahey performs the Herculean task of bringing Shakespearean drama together with theories of metaphor and allowing them to comment on one another with remarkable clarity.  Shakespeare, Fahey suggests, investigates how metaphors not only express local relationships between terms, but also how figurative language itself frames relationships between people and organizes their communities. . . . Taken separately or together, Fahey shows, the well-trodden topics of Shakespeare and metaphor can still yield complex insights about the way figurative language inflects and structures a speech community.

Drew J. Scheler, University of Virginia, Sixteenth Century Journal


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