The imagistic feast : feeding imagery in selected plays of Shakespeare.

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Little, Nancy
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Middle Tennessee State University
Shakespeare's virtuosity often manifests itself through finely honed imagery--a fact well-documented by scholars. However, my study presents a sustained treatment of one image pattern--feeding imagery--that has received little critical notice. This study explores Shakespeare's comprehensive use of feeding imagery consisting of several complementary imagistic strands: predatory imagery (including beasts of prey, sexual appetite, and malignant disease), garden imagery, earth-mother imagery, and cannibal imagery. In addition, we look at the symbolic significance of banquets eaten and not eaten. Through the pervasive use of feeding imagery, Shakespeare examines the nature of man and the world of which he is a part.
The first chapter sets up the parameters of the study, explaining how eight plays are presented in pairs chosen to show feeding imagery linked to the theme of nurture and the human condition. In Chapter Two, Titus Andronicus and The Merchant of Venice illustrate the consistency of this image pattern in early tragedy and comedy, showing an array of predators in the fictive worlds of Rome and Venice. Chapters Three and Four treat the tragedies of Shakespeare's greatest period: Hamlet and Othello show self-destructive appetite manifested in lust, disease, and poison while King Lear and Macbeth provide a context for discussing the effects of political hunger, with fruition achieved only at the expense of personal sterility. In Chapter Five, we examine how The Tempest, reversing the "feast-won, fast-lost" issue of Timon of Athens, provides a symbolic resolution to the literal feast. Together these last two plays make Shakespeare's most extensive statement on nurture, showing that physical sustenance is not the "bread" by which man ultimately lives.
Chapter Six concludes that feeding imagery comprises an important thematic statement on the nature of man and the nurture required for spiritual fruition and that Shakespeare's artistry progresses significantly from simple figurative language in the earlier plays to complex symbolism in the later works. Feeding imagery, I suggest, provides an important new imagistic perspective through which to view the selected plays and invites application to other plays of the canon.