ESSAY | "Consider the Metaphor"

“Metaphor is inseparable from human language and conceptual thought. The use of metaphor appears in our earliest stories; the first writing about it appears in Aristotle, who wrote, ‘Metaphor consists in giving the thing a name that belongs to something else.”’ The literary device is as at home in Shakespeare (‘All the world’s a stage’) as it is in 80’s pop music (‘Once had love and it was a gas, soon turned out / had a heart of glass’). The singer Blondie did not literally have a heart of glass, but the listener grasps her meaning: her heart was fragile and easily broken. Metaphors transfer and transmit meaning.

‘Heart of Glass’ is straightforward, but the best metaphors are complex. Consider the “extended metaphor,” also called a conceit. Shakespeare’s metaphor from As You Like It, ‘All the world’s a stage,’ extends and deepens in the next line: ‘And all the men and women merely players.’ As the lines continue, each image is layered on to the one before, logically following from idea to idea. If the world is a stage, then people are the players and, as players, ‘they have their exits and their entrances.’ If we understand exits as deaths and entrances as births, simple comparisons transform into a poetic, existential consideration of mortality.

In Craig Lucas’ Prelude to a Kiss, a romantic fairy tale evolves into a powerful and moving metaphor. The play began for Lucas as an attempt to capture how marriage transforms one’s lover, how newlyweds wake up the next day and feel as if they don’t know the person lying next to them. When Lucas found himself confronted by the AIDS Crisis and watching beautiful youths transforming overnight into old men — he echoed the dark transformations in his play.

Prelude has become a modern classic, and what makes the play endure is that Lucas doesn’t simply use language to contain his metaphor; he uses bodies. Metaphor is made flesh in [SPOILER ALERT]… continue reading here.

SOURCE: Huntington Theatre Company


Prelude to a Kiss | June 07-22, 2019