Allusion in Shakespeare

Allusions are a specific kind of reference: to well-known characters, events, or themes that come from classical works of literature, such as Greek and Roman mythology or the Bible. Here are some allusions from the text of The Taming of the Shrew.

“Hear Minerva speak.”
—Lucentio (1.1.84)

Minerva is the Roman equivalent to Athena of Greek mythology. She is the goddess of wisdom.

“Leave that labor to great Hercules.”
—Gremio (1.2.255)

Hercules, or Heracles, is a hero of incredible strength from Greek mythology. He was assigned twelve impossible labors by the goddess Hera.

“Hic ibat Simois, hic est Sigeia tellus.”
—Lucentio (2.1.28-29

These lines come from the Greek poet Ovid’s book Heroides. They speak of the location of the river Simios and the palace of the Trojan king Priam. This basic Latin text would have been used in many schools, and could be considered the equivalent of “See spot run” in a modern English lesson.

 

Other Literary Devices Used in The Taming of the Shrew

Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of a starting sound in two or more words.
“Katherine the Curst.”
—Hortensio (1.2.128)

Pun

A pun is a play on words used to suggest the different meanings of alike or similar words. “I did but tell her she mistook her frets.” (He means the frets on a guitar.)

“Frets, call you these? . . . I’ll fume.” (She means “to annoy,” as in “to fret and fume.”)
—Hortensio (2.1.149-152)

Extended Metaphor

Also called a conceit, an extended metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that continues throughout a series of sentences. For example, in the following speech, Petruchio compares his treatment of Kate to the practice of falconry, or training wild falcons for hunting. The wild and stubborn birds, who were the strongest and most valued, would be kept from food and rest until they were willing to follow the commands of their keeper.

My falcon now is sharp and passing empty;
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorged,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come and know her keeper’s call,
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat and will not be obedient.
—Petruchio (4.1.190-196)

A number of these words, such as those in the following list, may be unfamiliar to modern audiences.

Sharp: hungry, alert, aware of its captor.

Stoop: to follow the lure put out by the trainer, to swoop when called.

Full-gorged: fully fed, no longer hungry.

To man: to train, tame, overcome

Haggard: female hawk

To watch: to keep awake

Kites: a bird of prey, such as a falcon, that soars on updrafts of air

Bate and beat: flutter and flap about