Oxymoron, hendiadys and co-ordinate structures : Shakespeare from duality to indivision, Mireille Ravassat

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At one point in Cymbeline the character called Iachimo exclaims in highly metaphorical terms:

What! are men mad? Hath nature given them eyes
To see this vaulted arch, and the rich crop
Of sea and land, which can distinguish ’twixt
The fiery orbs above, and the twinn’d stones
Upon the number’d beach, and can we not
Partition make with spectacles so precious
’Twixt fair, and foul? (1.7.32-8)

The irony is that Iachimo is one of Shakespeare’s notorious villains.

Concern with the specular, in both its facets of reflection and diffraction, as we will see notably with Richard II and the Sonnets, is constant in Shakespeare’s production. The interesting point about this quotation from Cymbeline is the double issue of partition, here clearly in the sense of differenciation – to be elsewhere construed paradoxically as distinction in indivision, notably in The Phœnix and Turtle – and of the specular dimension with the word ‘spectacles’ to be understood as ‘instruments of vision, eyes’, explained as such in David Crystal’sShakespeare’s Words. A Glossary and Language Companion (412).

Interestingly enough, Catherine Fromilhague, in Les figures de style (54), interprets oxymoron as

the most condensed way possible of conveying a contrastive piece of information thereby developing a double or ‘binocular’ vision of reality. Grasping almost together the double-faceted aspects of one and the same reality means two things: first, state the heterogeneous character of a reality involving conflicting notions – more often than not of a baroque essence – and, second, show that such conflicting notions can be transcended. This is where oxymoron and antithesis appear as really distinct, the latter bearing the badge of tragedy and the former involving a prelapsarian dimension the function of which is to achieve the concord of opposites.

This study will follow the present twofold pattern: I will first examine oxymoron as a figure allowing the transition from a merely specular to a ‘binocular’ vision of the world; the second part will be devoted to oxymoron and hendiadys and to the issue of the co-ordinator and as a warrant of simultaneity allowing the passage from duality to indivision.


Issues of identity, sameness, and union of separate selves into joint opposites – all truly baroque concerns – are constant preoccupations in Shakespeare’s production. Therefore it is no surprise that oxymoron should be one of Shakespeare’s favourite stylistic tools, being itself an oxymoron en abyme – Greek for ‘sharp-blunt’ – a figure of speech of considerable antiquity, combining within a very condensed syntactic pattern (Mathis No. 10, 33), apparently contradictory words and notions, aiming at ultimate reconcilation, thereby achieving what Coleridge calls, in chapter 14 of his Biographia Literaria, ‘That willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.’

Such a sense of compulsive duplication to express the notion of vacillating identity is more often than not linked to Shakespeare’s concern with the specular. Let us quote Hermia under the spell of a magic atmosphere in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘Methinks I see these thingswith parted eye, /When everything seems double’ (4.1.188-9) – here ‘parted’ means ‘divided’1. Linguistic balancings on the tightrope between duality and indivision occur again and again in Shakespeare. For example, in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare takes up the dramatic and thematic topos of twinship – a favourite in the baroque period he had already resorted to in The Comedy of Errors – and makes it the subject of one of his most brillliant and profound comedies, which, apart from issues of cross-dressing and cross-wooing, deals notably with the oxymoric theme of the miraculous shipwreck which in turn crops up in the late play, Pericles. In the following passage, Duke Orsino, using the pictural analogy of the ‘perspective’ explained by David Crystal as ‘picture in which perspective is altered so as to appear distorted unless seen from a particular angle ‘ (325), explains his mind-boggling experience of recognizing the twins Sebastian and Viola as: ‘One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons! /A natural perspective, that is, and is not! ‘ (5.1.214-5)

This quotation is quite relevant to the present purpose since it combines an oxymoron uniting art and nature – ‘natural perspective’ – a frequent concern in Shakespeare, notably in Antony and Cleopatra or The Winter’s Tale, and a sense of abolished contradiction in the ‘that is, andis not’ segment where the co-ordinator and is an irrefutable warrant of simultaneity. A few lines down, Antonio redoubles the Duke’s sense of astonishment and exclaims:

How have you made division of yourself?
An apple cleft in two is not more twin
Than these two creatures. Which is Sebastian? (220-2)

By the way, in a closely chronologically related play – Troilus and Cressida was written in 1602-3, in other words the year following Twelfth Night – Shakespeare resorts to the phrase ‘bifold authority’ (5.2.143), ‘bifold’ being an equivalent of ‘cleft’, this time to express the eponymous hero’s sense of his beloved’s dislocated identity and of his own ontological vacillation: ‘This is, and is not Cressid’ (5.2.145) itself recalling Orsino’s own sense of wonder and bafflement.

Such an insistence on multifarious instances of ‘bifold authority’ is to be linked to Shakespeare’s obsession with the very notion of two-in-one, of doubles, to be in turn related to his favourite concern with substance and shadow. The Phœnix and Turtle and Richard IIoffer several paradigms of such a Shakespearean subject par excellence.

The birds are duplicated in ‘a mutual flame’; they form a doublet yet they are transcendently single, simple not compounded. Reflections of such a dichotomy may be found everywhere in Shakespeare, for instance in the mirrors and shadows of Richard II, in the ‘union in partition’ ofA Midsummer Night’s Dream (3.2.210), or in the very texture of Hamlet, Shakespeare’s ‘poem unlimited’, to take up Harold Bloom’s phrase. As Frank Kermode puts it in Shakespeare’s Language (70):

The puzzle of the relation of one to two […] seems to have been a prime concern of Shakespeare’s, and one can understand it as natural enough in a theatre poet: the theatre and the world, the Globe and the globe, the actor as shadow. In its purest form it calls forth a metaphysical lyric; pathologised, it summons Hamlet.

Richard II provides its audience and readers with a great number of clues as to a marked introspective concern with the semantics of identity. Richard’s melancholy pilgrimage, or Passion, ending in death amounts to an existential quest. He, like King Lear, could exclaim: ‘Who is it that can tell me who I am?’ (1.4.227)

Before coming to Richard proper, other characters like Bushy, one of Richard’s favourites, also exhibit a concern with the issue of doubleness. In the course of his most convoluted conceit of 2.2, Bushy means to explain to Queen Isabel the grounds for the grief she feels on her royal spouse’s departure away from her:

Each substance of a grief hath twenty shadows,
Which shows like grief itself, but is not so;
For Sorrow’s eyes, glazed with blinding tears,
Divides one thing entire to many objects,
Like perspectives, which, rightly gazed upon,
Show nothing but confusion; eyed awry
Distinguish form.[…] (2.2.14-20)

The issue at stake, or tenor, is clear enough – the substantial woe is the Queen’s grief at the departure of Richard, and all the others are mere shadows of it – but the vehicle grows more and more intricately formulated as the cue unfolds. Once again is to be found the idea of perspective commented upon in relation to Twelfth Night above and, ut pictura poesis, one is made to think of Holbein’s illustrious picture, The Ambassadors, a masterpiece of anamorphic composition featuring a prismatic representation of a skull calling to mind the pictural tradition of the memento mori, the memento mori trend coupled with the contemptus mundi veininforming the whole diegetic pattern of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

To come back to Bushy, there actually existed codified rhetorical rules for consolation at the time, but he is not using them. Instead his long spun out cue sounds almost like an intrusion in a history play, but this has to be related to the fact that Richard II belongs to Shakespeare’s ‘lyrical period’, with characters incarnating real islands, or rather islets of lyricism, existing as they do in a state of ‘lyrical seclusion’ to paraphrase the gist of Henri Suhamy’s reflection on the subject in Le vers de Shakespeare (424-456).

Now, the same antithesis or opposition not aiming at reconciliation, contrary to oxymoron, is to be found, for instance, in Sonnet 53 where the poet-speaker asks: ‘What is your substance, whereof are you made, That millions of strange shadows on you tend?’ (1-2). In fact, whereas the Dark Lady is openly fallacious, the Fair Youth’s identity is diffracted or kaleidoscopic, thereby offering virtual representations of things good or evil. Earlier in his collection of Sonnets, namely in 46, which is a veiled plea for love, Shakespeare reaffirms the deep-rooted dualism of inner essence and outward show. Again the concern is highly specular, if not ‘binocular’ yet, because we are still in the realm of antithesis, not of oxymoron:

Mine eye and heart are at a mortal war
How to divide the conquest of thy sight.
Mine eye my heart thy picture’s sight would bar;
My heart, mine eye the freedom of that right. (1-4)

Helen Vendler writes in The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets (235):

The aesthetic strategy of 46 might be called ‘dividing up.’ After the declaration of pretty hostilities (Mine eyes and heart are at a mortal war), there come in Q1 two moments of enacted direct clash:

Mine eye my heart

My heart mine eye

(These are the only two possible permutations of head-on clash – ab : ba. The figures represent two separate versions of clash, not primarily, as Booth thinks, chiasmus.)

To come back to Richard, the ‘poet-king’ as Walter Pater calls him, he holds in common with the poet-speaker of the Sonnets a combined intense sense of interiority and heightened lyricism, and has a specific way of talking about himself – his own person being an endless source of inspiration – which makes him stand out among Shakespeare’s kings. Indeed Richard alone has a habit of studying himself from the outside. Such a narcissistic custom finds itself emblematised in the deposition scene in the course of which he sends for a looking-glass, smashing his reflection, his shadow, as if destroying his substance. Earlier on in the same scene, Richard develops conceits based on polarities like the allegory of the two buckets (4.1.184-9) thereby ‘holding up the mirror’ to his own melancholy descent opposed to the self-confident usurper’s irresistible ascent.

The long soliloquy of the King in his cell of Pomfret castle, which George Wilson Knight most aptly terms his ‘thought-voyage’ (The Imperial Theme: 361), is both a lament, which is to be expected on the part of a king prone to weeping, but also a real metastylistic and metaphysical exploration, figures being not crafted in advance but hammered out in ‘the quick forge and working-house of thought’2:

I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world;
And, for because the world is populous
And here is not a creature but myself,
I cannot do it. Yet I’ll hammer’t out.
My brain I’ll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father, and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts;
And these same thoughts people this little world,
In humours like the people of this world,
For no thought is contented. The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermixed
With scruples and do set the word itself
Against the word, as thus: ‘Come, little ones’;
And then again:
‘It is as hard to come as for a camel
To thread the postern of a small needle’s eye.’ (5.5.1-17)

This text gives us ample evidence that Richard’s ontological pilgrimage is a failure – he probes into the Logos with the eyes, or “spectacles”, of the earth-bound stylistician but fails to have the right “binocular” vision of the true penitent or saint. The Scriptures remain riddles to him and he does not grasp the oxymoric essence of reconciliation contained within the words.

Next we come, not so much to Richard’s anagnorisis, which does not really take place because he is too much bogged down in quandaries of selfhood, but rather to his poetic testament. But that testament is grim because at last Richard understands, and acknowledges, that for a king to be unkinged amounts, not only to losing his name and title, but above all to being stripped of his very identity, hence his death-wish emblematised in the “worms”, “graves” and “epitaphs” trilogy of act 3 scene 2 (line 145). In the deposition scene, Richard hears the bell toll and acknowledges he ‘must nothing be’ (4.1.201). The King who, in Gaunt’s words, used to be ‘unstaid’ (2.1.2) and skittish, ‘not himself’ in very much a baroque fashion, as Northumberland said (2.1.241), can now only be ‘pleas’d’ with ‘being nothing’:

Nor I nor any man that but man is
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing. (5.5.39-41)

The oxymoric ‘nothing-gift3 of annihilation is the one and only tribute the once King but yet protean actor is in a position to accept. His discontent is so deeply rooted that nothing can ease it but the nothing that is death. In that the fate of Richard differs greatly from that of a character like Timon of Athens who, despite his misanthropic ending, finds that ‘nothing brings [him] all things’ (5.1.187). The two respective passages give us perfect illustration of, on the one hand, oxymoron in Richard II and paradox in Timon. Here Roy Sorensen’s definition of paradox fits in nicely. In A Brief History of the Paradox and the Labyrinths of the Mind (xi), he writes: ‘I regard paradoxes as the atoms of philosophy because they constitute the basic points of departure for disciplined speculation.


Following this evocation of Richard II, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida allows a perfect transition between parts one and two of the present exploration because, on the one hand, Troilus, the amorous soldier and ratiocinator, has striking insights into the metaphysics of love and, on the other hand, makes intense use of both oxymoron and the co-ordinator and.

The ethical issue of the present play amounts to an ontological dilemma between imagination and rational opinion resulting in a real tug of war in the eponymous character’s soul. In fact the unfaithful Cressida’s attitude has created a cleft identity in Troilus’s mind between the Cressid of yesterday and the Cressid of today. ‘Injurious time’ has brought about such an unbridgeable gap in the romantic Troilus’s consciousness that there is no ‘rule in unity itself’ anymore, in other words unity has become divided whereas it is, by definition, indivisible.

 […]If there be rule in unity itself,
This is not she. O madness of discourse,
That cause sets up with and against itself!
Bifold authority! where reason can revolt
Without perdition, and loss assume all reason
Without revolt. This is, and is not, Cressid.
Within my soul there doth conduce a fight
Of this strange nature, that a thing inseparate
Divides more wider than the sky and earth;
And yet the spacious breadth of this division
Admits no orifex for a point as subtle
As Ariachne’s broken woof to enter. (5.2.140-51)

Troilus’s existential malaise stems from the fact that an infinite distance separates the two persons of Cressida (whose being admits no division), yet the two halves of Cressida, so distinct, cannot be separated by the finest of points. The difficulty of the speech lies in the fact that paradoxically so, Troilus engages in a logical train of thought to express a totally irrational issue. Impossibilities are simultaneously reconciled by means of a radical oxymoric structure: ‘a thing inseparate Divides more wider than the sky and earth’. By the way, the oxymoric fusion of epithet and verb is fairly rare in Shakespeare’s production – I found only two of them (Ravassat: 45/320-1).

John Kerrigan, in Motives of Woe (37-38), comments upon the mythological reference to Ariachne thereby relying on a gender-oriented interpretation:

Troilus acknowledges that this division is inward as well as perceived, registering the reflective self-recognition that

Within my soule, there doth conduce a fight
Of this strange nature, that a thing inseperate,
Diuides more wider then the skie and earth:
And yet the spacious bredth of this diuision,
Admits no Orifex for a point as subtle
As Ariachnes broken woofe to enter . .(55.2.146-51)

Applying a feminine image to himself, Troilus conflates Arachne with Ariadne. One school of theory, tangled in his eyestrings (theoria, ‘looking at … speculation’), takes this crux’s ‘mind-twisting reversal of the sexes’ as saying more about tropes than gender, construes ‘Ariachnes … woofe’ as an ‘aporetical figure in Shakespeare’s tapestry of citations … merging an image of the clue to the pattern with an image of the breaking and loss of the pattern’.4 This risks overlooking the perplexity of who has abandoned whom. Left in that isolation […], Troilus finds a thread of mythically ‘female’ experience in his hand. However ‘feminized’, though, he remains male, and the man of legend tied to Arachne/Ariadne is the Theseus who, with the latter’s thread in his hand, got in and out of the labyrinth and, eventually, abandoned her.

Dividing by means of antithesis, or still more radically simultaneously dividing and reuniting by means of oxymoric alchemy, otherwise irreconciliable notions or issues, is part and parcel of the idiolect of Shakespeare’s characters. Polarities are constant in his production and to be appraised by means of a ‘binocular’ vision that still strikes surprise in us, 21th century readers and critics of his work. Interestingly enough, in Troilus and Cressida, the scurrilous and cynical, but otherwise exact, Thersites says of opinion that it may be worn ‘on both sides, like a leather jerkin’ (3.3.264-5) and, by the way, the whole play shares this ambivalence.

Ambivalence, or still more accurately amphibology, turns out to be the hallmark of the Weird Sisters’ mode of discourse plaguing Macbeth’s soul and conscience alike. The three mythical sisters prove mistresses in the art of juggling with words and blurring ethical distinctions as their well-known catchphrase in the form of euphuistic combination of paradox and antimetabole amply demonstrates: ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ they say (1.1.11) and thereupon, two scenes later, the eponymous hero, harping on the same theme, readily echoes the creatures from hell: ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ (1.3.38). Such a co-ordinating trend culminates in the famous, and by now long lexicalised, ‘be-all’ and ‘end-all’ (1.7.5) thus commented upon by Jonathan Hope in his Shakespeare’s Grammar (15):

The […] two noun phrases, the ‘be-all’ and the ‘end-all’, consist of simple enough words, but their structure is highly unusual: their heads seem to be made up ofverb+determiner compounds (be+all and end+all). They are very familiar to us, but would have jolted Macbeth’s early audiences: we know them because they have passed into the language from this first usage; would we have been able to understand them if we had first come across them spoken in the open air of the Globe?

On the contrary, an Elizabethan audience would have been perfectly acquainted, in As You Like It, with Oliver’s use of oppositional terms in an instance of the rehash of the expression of the ‘Elizabethan malady’ (see Lawrence Babb) mostly designating the jilted lover’s melancholy. Thus Oliver tells Celia that he saw Orlando ‘pacing through the forest, Chewing the food ofsweet and bitter fancy’ (4.3.100-1).

Three elements have to be underscored here: 1/ the Shakespearean use of ‘fancy’ as love, specifically love-thoughts 2/ the synaesthetic combination of taste and human passion, love and lust being commonly featured in Shakespeare in terms of food and eating 3/ The use of the co-ordinator and as an irrefutable warrant of simultaneity (Mathis No. 12, 42). In the same province of love-thoughts, Antony’s cue to Cleopatra should be quoted as emblematic of Shakespeare’s most compact oxymoric discourse:

Our separation so abides and flies,
That thou, residing here, goes yet with me;
And I, hence fleeting, here remain with thee.
Away! (1.3.102-5)

The mythical lovers’ separation is said to abide since Cleopatra’s own abode is in Egypt, and to fly, as resulting from Antony’s fleeting thence. The densification of the expression revivifies the topos, elsewhere the subject of Shakespeare’s own Sonnets 44 and 45 or of Donne’s ‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning.’

In Shakespeare’s Language, Frank Kermode devotes his reflection on Hamlet to the Prince of Denmark’s duplicative way of speaking, a notion he most adequately extends to the other characters, the verbose Polonius being a case in point. Now, it could be argued that duplications and antinomies make up the staple of Shakespeare’s dramatic production. Here the most famous lark/nightingale opposition in the parting scene of Romeo and Juliet, the juvenile counterparts of the mature Antony and Cleopatra, comes in aptly. In act 3 scene 5, Romeo expresses his dilemma in polar opposites, taken up by Juliet who comments on her lover’s words: ‘I must be gone and live, or stay and die’ (11) exclaims Romeo, and being a warrant of undisputed opposition. Juliet comments on his words, some lines later: ‘Some say the lark makes sweet division. This doth not so, for she divideth us’ (29-30). There is a quibble on the sense of the word ‘division’ meaning separation, but also in music designating the execution of a rapid melodic passage. But only the first level of meaning is oxymoric.


To come to the issue of hendiadys proper, the very etymology of the term is most relevant to the present discussion, being Greek for ‘one through two’, in other words achieving unity through duplication. Also interestingly enough, in The Arte of English Poesie, George Puttenham refers to hendiadys as ‘the figure of Twynnes’ (177). The rhetorical figure hendiadys splits an idea into a co-ordinator and and two substantives which are grammatically parallel, as in Macbeth’s famous ‘sound and the fury’ to be ordinarily rendered as furious sound.

Norman F. Blake, in A Grammar of Shakespeare’s Language (166), points out that “Althoughand is technically a co-ordinating conjunction, it frequently joins together two nouns or adjectives, one of which is really subordinate to the other as part of the rhetorical figure ‘hendiadys’. ”

Such an idiosyncratic splitting of the meaning of a phrase notably mirrors the author’s intented effects of structural or thematic duplication. Baltasar Gracián (154) thus explains that a superior intelligence has the ability to grasp and hold two opposed ideas at the same time. In his influential article on the subject ‘Hendiadys in Hamlet’ (179), George T. Wright’s main argument is that the verbal linking of co-ordinated words within a co-ordinate structure resonates further in doublings of characters, of plots, themes, and of ‘all relationships, familial, political, cosmic and even artistic.’ In the end, more than a simple duplication, the doubleness of Hamlet evinces more disjunction than joining, an appearance of harmony masking disunion. When Rosencrantz, in act 3 scene 3, speaks of ‘the strength and armour of the mind’ (12), to be glossed in plainer English as ‘the strong armour of the mind’, he comes back to the Virgilian origin of the figure. And when, in the same act, scene 4, the Prince of Denmark, ‘speaking daggers’ at his mother, having just used one against Polonius, declares:

[…] Peace, sit you down,
And let me wring your heart; for so I shall
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damned custom have not braz’d it so,
That it be proof and bulwark against sense. (34-8)

this phrase is a typical hendiadys but the vaguely adjectival sense of the word ‘proof’ has to be underlined. The splitting of the phrase into two separate elements is thereby made still more obvious – the meaning is ‘a bulwark of proof’, in other words strongly armoured against attackers. Hendiadys is a kind of grammatical trope in which the usual function of words is slightly altered, hence the process of transference involved, which is characteristic of a trope. For instance, when the imprisoned Richard II says:

How sour sweet music is
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men’s lives.
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To check time broke in a disordered string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke. (5.5.42-8)

he first of all resorts to a paradox line 42 to indicate how far his mind is plagued by a jarring musical discord emblematic of his mismanagement of the kingdom. Second, line 47, ‘the concord of my state and time’, a hendiadys can be detected, the idea being, in plainer English, my temporal realm and reign. This means that Richard, on the way to unfulfilled anagnorisis, acknowledges his discriminating sensitivity to music to reflect his lack of both political and ethical insight. The authors of The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (516) emphasise the fact that: ‘Shakespeare, taking advantage of the figure’s mysterious and anti-logical overtones, uses h. far more than any other Eng. writer, often in conjunction with other kinds of doublets and social unions […] to provide a ling. mirror for the internal agitation and ambivalence of troubled characters and plays.’5


The Phœnix and Turtle, a poem throughout devoted to the mysteries of identity, sameness and indivision, provides a fitting conclusion:

So they loved as love in twain,
Had the essence but in one,
Two distincts, division none:
Number there in love was slain.

Hearts remote, yet not asunder;
Distance and no space was seen
‘Twixt this turtle and his queen;
But in them it were a wonder.

So between them love did shine,
That the Turtle saw his right
Flaming in the Phoenix’ sight;
Either was the other’s mine.

Property was thus appalled
That the self was not the same;
Single natures, double name,
Neither two nor one was called.

Reason in itself confounded
Saw division grow together;
To themselves yet either neither,
Simple were so well compounded,

That it cried, ‘How true a twain
Seemeth this concordant one:
Love hath reason, Reason none,
If what parts can so remain.’ (25-48)

These six stanzas express the quintessence of the poem and, interestingly enough for the present purpose, provide a perfect definition of oxymoron: ‘Number there in love was slain’ (28). Elsewhere, namely in Coriolanus, Shakespeare speaks of ‘Murd’ring impossibility, to make What cannot be, slight work!’ (5.3.61).

Such is the magic of stylistic alchemy and such wonder is what tantalisingly eludes the ‘poet-king’ Richard. Shakespeare is definitely the poet of duality transcended and abolished. For George Wilson Knight in The Mutual Flame (200), what is at stake in The Phoenix and Turtleis actually ‘the duality-unity dualism […] itself transcended.’

The very notion of distinction without difference was inspired to Shakespeare by the theology of the Trinity. ‘Number [is] slain’ indeed because, as philosophers and mathematicians often remarked, one is no number, or rather one is the divine number par excellence and two is the number of man fallen and redeemed. Speaking of this ‘conundrum presented by distinct yet undivided persons’, Frank Kermode (70) writes that: ‘[…] Reason is confounded because it works only by division, and here there is no division. ‘Either neither’ is a wonderful enactment of this perplexing relation between the persons. They are neither divided nor the same, and so Reason confesses itself defeated by love.’

Finally the following passage from Henri Suhamy’s opus (684), Le vers de Shakespeare, gives us a most adequate definition of the mysteries of the ‘union in partition’ and ‘concord of this discord (A Midsummer Night’s Dream 3.2.210 and 5.1.60), or of Ariel’s insubstantial magic ability – like poetry itself – to ‘divide and ‘Then meet and join.’ (The Tempest 1.2.198/201):

Poetry does not merely aim at making expression more intense and more coloured than in ordinary language, it lies above all in the ability to impart to it both a heightened and unifying sense, a semantic chiaroscuro unveiling at once the mystery of things and the very key to this mystery.



All quotations from Shakespeare’s text, except King Richard II, the Sonnets and The Phœnix and Turtle come from The Arden Shakespeare edited by James Nosworthy et al. London: Methuen, 1969-86.

Edition consulted for King Richard II: The Arden Shakespeare. London: Thomson, 2002.

Edition consulted for the Sonnets and ‘Let the bird of loudest lay’ (The Phœnix and Turtle): The Oxford Shakespeare Complete Sonnets and Poems, edited by Colin Burrow New York:Oxford University Press, 2002.

BABB, Lawrence. The Elizabethan Malady. A Study of Melancholia in English Literature from 1580 to 1642. East Lansing: Michigan State College Press, 1951.

BLAKE, Norman Francis. A Grammar of Shakespeare’s Language. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

BLOOM, Harold. Hamlet Poem Unlimited. Edinburgh: Canongate, 2003.

COLERIDGE, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria, RA Kessinger Publishing Co, 2004.

CRYSTAL, David & Crystal Ben. Shakespeare’s Words. A Glossary and Language Companion.London: Penguin Books, (2002) 2004.

FROMILHAGUE, Catherine. Les figures de style. Paris: Nathan Université, (1995) 2003.

GRACIAN, Baltasar. Art et figures de l’esprit, Agudeza y arte del ingenio, 1647. Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1983.

HOPE, Jonathan. Shakespeare’s Grammar. London: The Arden Shakespeare, 2003.

KERMODE, Frank. Shakespeare’s Language. (USA:2000), London: Penguin Books, 2001.

KERRIGAN, John (ed.). Motives of Woe. Shakespeare & ‘Female Complaint’. A Critical Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press, (1991) 2002.

KNIGHT, George Wilson. The Mutual Flame. On Shakespeare’s Sonnets and The Phoenix and the Turtle. London: Methuen, 1955.
––– The Imperial Theme. Further Interpretations of Shakespeare’s Tragedies Including the Roman Plays. New York: Methuen, 1985. Originally published by Oxford University Press in October 1931.

MATHIS, Gilles. « L’oxymore: essai d’analyse ». Paris X – Nanterre: Bulletin de la Société de Stylistique Anglaise No. 10, 1988, 27-56.
––– « Oxymore et expansion » (Oxymore II). Paris X – Nanterre : Bulletin de la Société de Stylistique Anglaise No. 12, 1990-91, 33-68.

PREMINGER, Alex (ed.) et al. The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1993.

PUTTENHAM, George. The Arte of English Poesie (1589). Gladys Doidge Willcock and Alice Walker (eds.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1936.

RAVASSAT, Mireille. Shakespeare et l’oxymore ou « Comment trouver l’accord de ce désaccord ? ». Phd. Thesis, University of Nanterre (Paris X), 1993.

SORENSEN, Roy. A Brief History of the Paradox and the Labyrinths of the Mind. New York: Oxford University Press, (2003), 2005.

SUHAMY, Henri. Le vers de Shakespeare. Paris: Didier-Érudition, 1984.

VENDLER, Helen. The Art of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, (1997), 1999.

WRIGHT, George T. ‘Hendiadys in Hamlet’. P.M.L.A., 96.

NB. I translated the excerpts from Catherine Fromilhague and Henri Suhamy. I also emphasised some Shakespearean segments for purposes of demonstration.

Documents annexes

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  • BSSA28-RAVASSAT.pdf 


Notes de base de page numériques:

1  Harold F. Brooks, editor of the play, adds: ‘(OED’s earliest instance): with the eyes not in focus with each other.’
2  From the Chorus’s words in King Henry V act 5, line 23.
3  Oxymoron from Cymbeline where Imogen speaks of ‘That nothing-gift of differing multitudes’ (3.7.58).
4  J. Hillis Miller, ‘Ariachne’s Broken Woof’, Georgia Review, 31 (1977), 44-60, at p. 57; Elizabeth Freund, “‘Ariachne’s Broken Woof’: The Rhetoric of Citation in Troilus and Cressida”, in Patricia Parker and Geoffrey Hartman (eds.), Shakespeare and the Question of Theory (London, 1985), 19-36, at p. 20.
5  Abbreviations are due to the authors.


Pour citer cet article :

Mireille Ravassat. «Oxymoron, hendiadys and co-ordinate structures : Shakespeare from duality to indivision». Bulletin de la Société de Stylistique Anglaise , 28 (2006), p. 95-110.

URL: http://stylistique-anglaise.org/document.php?id=548

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