Flowers? … Figures!

[A guest post by Theresa Kenney, rhetorician extraordinaire and current #engl410 student.]

I’ve always been a fan of literary devices. I notice them everywhere, even on twitter. But, George Puttenham was a true fanatic. He attempted to define rhetorical figures in Early-Modern English (he may have not had twitter, but he did have a treatise).

Puttenham argues in The Arte of English Poesy that rhetorical figures are the flowers1 to the colours of argument2 as they attract the reader based “on the natural, already existing predilections of the hearer’s ear and mind”3. He also defines poetry as “an art not only of making but also of imitation”4, therefore suggesting that a poet’s art is of imitating rhetorical devices.


Finding the flowers amongst the various colours by various writers (edited from here)

I find Puttenham’s suggestions of rhetorical figures and imitation useful. His suggestions relate to whether or not readers identify, appreciate, and imitate rhetorical figures in their own works.

Now, I assume that most readers can acknowledge flowery language. I know that I recognise how certain combinations of words “modify” my perception of the content and how delightful it can be5. Isn’t that why readers (myself included) appreciate poetry? Because it sounds nice and it makes you think?

From there, it’s understandable of why a reader would imitate another. A reader will write similarly to what he or she likes. This is exemplified in educated Elizabethans who enjoyed recognising figures so much that made it scholarly acclaimed6. And even now, we are educated about devices. I was taught literary figures in elementary and use them now as I incorporate obvious alliterations and purposefully provide parentheses. I imitate because I want to create something just as delightful as what I have read.

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Click for full image.

But, we don’t know who writers imitated. So, how can we identify evident imitation throughout writers in time? Sure, sitting down with five open books, three highlighters, and comparing a certain number of contemporaries to each other would work. But, that’s tedious! We are the modern movers and shakers with an  onomatopoeic social media platform (a ‘tweet‘). We need more.

This is where the Zeugmatic would come in (coming soon). The potential use of the algorithm could create avenues for finding evidence of rhetorical figure imitation. A visualisation could help us analyse a heightened use of rhetorical figures of one writer compared to another throughout time (and much more). With this data we could compare and confirm evidence of imitation.

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Intertwining and imitating. Image from here.

For example, we could select one poet as a fixed variable of comparison for a Zeugmatic visualisation. Then, we could compare their uses of certain figures to their readers (through time). For this example, I’ll choose William Shakespeare as my stable variable of comparison.

Why? Because according to the (heavy) Norton Anthology of Shakespeare, the canonical bard “knew and made use of about two hundred” rhetorical figures7. If his use of figures were as highly noted as his neologisms were, then his readers must have imitated him.

Shakespeare has a fling with repetitive figures in Sonnet 105 (noted below):

“Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,

To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,

Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;

Fair, kind, and true, have often liv’d alone, …”8


Created from here and here.

The Zeugmatic algorithm could produce a visualisation of Shakespeare’s figurative (epanalepsis, ploce, or anaphora) use in Sonnet 105. From that visualisation we could compare the use of epanalepsis with other visualisations (of other authors) before and after the publication of the Shakespearean sonnets. It would display where Shakespeare and other writers intersect, come close, or diverge in their figurative use.

Maybe there would be an influx of a certain figure after the publication of the sonnets.  Or an equal dispersion of certain repetitive figures from before, during, and after publication. Or barely any use before the sonnets.

In finding this kind of data, we could delve in further! We could analyse the most frequently used figures and how they relate to content, theme, diction, or type of literature, refine a treatise of the past (like Puttenham’s), or compare modern poetry’s figurative use with that of traditional poetry. Think of all the new questions that could be asked and the new answers that could be given (ah, the prospects!).

The Zeugmatic algorithm could give evidence to Puttenham’s ideas of how a poet is a “follower or imitator” as it specifies the similar flowers (figures) amongst the various colourful writers9.  Maybe rather than treating themes or defining definitions, our first step should be analysing the delightful flowers associated with the colourful language of a poet.

❧ Works Cited

Alexander, Gavin. “Notes to The Third Book: Of Ornament.” Sidney’s ‘The Defence of Poesy’ and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism. London: Penguin, 2004. 381. Print.

Greenblatt, Stephen. “General Introduction: Shakespeare’s Life and Art.” Introduction.The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets. Ed. Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2009. 64. Print.

Puttenham, George. “The Art Of English Poesy (1589).” Sidney’s ‘The Defence of Poesy’ and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism. Ed. Gavin Alexander. London: Penguin, 2004. 57-148. Print.

Shakespeare, William. “Sonnet 105.” The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2009. 1703. Print.

Wiseman, Rebecca. “A Poetics of the Natural: Sensation, Decorum, and Bodily Appeal in Puttenham’s Art of English Poesy.” Renaissance Studies 28.1 (2013): 39. Wiley Online Library. Web. Mar. 2014.

1. Reference to title of post. Use of colloquial writing as flowers are figures.
2. (381) of Gavin Alexander‘s Anthology (cited above)
3, 5. (39) – Wiseman
4, 9. (57) – Book I from The Arte of English Poesy
6. “Launch” – Dr. Ullyot
7. (64) – Greenblatt
8. (1703) – Sonnet 105 – Norton Anthology of Shakespeare