Symbolism is the use of a person, an object, a place, or an idea to represent it self and something beyond itself at the same time. Two recognizable examples of symbolism are the Stars and Stripes on the flag; this is the symbol for the United States of America. Another well-known symbol is skull and crossbones, which we all know represent something poisonous. Symbolism is often used in all forms of literature and poetry. Many use it because it helps the writer to get their expressions out more clearly (Prentice Hall Literature 619).
Some symbols can be read clearly and understood with ease but there are others, which have private meanings. Symbols with private meanings usually cannot be comprehended at first glance but instead you have to really understand the text in which you are reading. In order to get the exact meaning of a private symbol you must appreciate the literary work in which you are reading (Prentice Hall Literature 619).
More frequently used and most recognizable uses of symbolism in today’s society are youth, which symbolizes springtime, middle age, which is summer, and old age, which is autumn or winter. Also there is death, which is darkness or cold, roses are used for love and beauty, and doves are for peace and owls, which symbolizes wisdom. Two writhers who could be symbolizing by an owl are William Shakespeare and William Blake (Prentice Hall Literature 619).
William Shakespeare and William Blake can both be considered as two of the greatest writhers in their time. Though Shakespeare wrote plays and Blake wrote poems there still remain many similarities between the two. These two writers became familiar with symbolism and decided to take their poems and plays to the extreme. Both figured out ways to maximize the effect of the use of symbolism in their poems and plays.
Their knowledge of literature cannot be questioned because the both soared above the rest. Their ability to use unique symbols makes them nothing short of literary geniuses. They have shown us that the expression of your thought can be obtained in your literary work. (Prentice Hall Literature 619).
William Shakespeare was born on April 13, 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, England to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. Shakespeare began his education at the age of seven where he attended the Stratford grammar school. While at Stratford he studied Latin Rhetoric, Logic, and literature. His knowledge and imagination is said to have come from reading about ancient authors and poetry. Shakespeare received a license to marry Anne Hathaway in November 1582.
Shakespeare was married when he was only 18. His wife was 26 years old. Shakespeare fathered three children: Susanna, and twins Hamneth and Judith. Shakespeare was first recognized as a writher by Robert Green in 1552. Shakespeare became widely known as an actor and a play writer. By 1594 he had written six plays and two poems (Prentice Hall Literature 204).
In 1599 Shakespeare and six other associates became owners of the Globe which was an outdoor theatre. This is where he decided to continue his acting. Shake4speare died April 23, 1616, but before his death he had written thirty-seven plays (Prentice Hall Literature 204).
William Blake was born in 1757. At the age of four he screamed because he was believed to have seen God in his window. At the age of eight, while walking in fields, he saw a tree with angels. To the people Blake’s visions raised great concern, but to his parents his gift was something that should be nurtured. Blake never attended any schools, instead he was self-taught. Although he did not attend any school his father decided when he became old enough he would be sent to an engraver because Blake loved to draw (Prentice Hall Literature 618).
Between the ages of twelve and twenty, Blake wrote a series of poems. Some of his better known poems were Poetical Sketches and Songs of Innocence. Instead of publishing his poetry he engraved them on metal plates with varnish, and then he painted then by hand. Because the process took so much time few of his books were published. Blake lived in a filthy London Studio where he continued to see visions of angels and prophets who instructed him in his work. Once he painted while receiving a vision of Voltaire. He was later asked did Voltaire speak English he replied “to my ears it was English” (Prentice Hall Literature 618).
Blake’s poetry wasn’t recognized until several years after his death on August 13, 1827. This tells me that throughout Blake’s lifetime poets were rarely understood. His poetry was understood to operate on two levels one of them symbolic, the other was literal (Prentice Hall Literature 618).
Shakespeare, one who is known for his extremely dramatic plays, was considered one of the greatest writers of all time. Some of his more famous plays are Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, and King Lear. In these plays Shakespeare shows a variety of symbolism. Some of his symbolism can be recognized at first glance, but there are others that have to be carefully read and studied to truly understand their meaning. In his pays happiness, times of hardship, love and times of joy are all represented by symbolism. His plays are truly nothing short of a work of art (The Complete Works of William Shakespeare 118).
One play that Shakespeare displays his knowledge of symbolism is Julius Caesar. This is a tragic play based on the lives of ancient Greek biographer Plutarch. Writer Sir Thomas North translated the content. It was first performed in 1599 and published in 1623. The play takes place in ancient Rome, it tells the Roman events before and after the assassination of the Roman ruler Julius Caesar. Ironically in the play Julius Caesar is not the main character: the character within the main focus was Brutus. He is a Roman general and Caesar’s best friend. Brutus soon turns against Caesar and joins a plot to murder him. After the death of Caesar he joins an army and soon kills himself (Julius Caesar38).
Some symbolism in this play are the omens of Caesar’s death, the warnings of the augur and of artemidorus, and the absence of the heart in the animal sacrificed all symbolizes the unity of an army which was destroyed. The river in the pay is said to have symbolized the faminality of the Heavens. A red stain of the left leg and foot of the statue of Brutus is said to symbolize the blood of the great Caesar. More examples of symbolism can be found within this play. Explore it and notice the extreme use of symbolism (Julius Caesar 54).
Another play where Shakespeare shows his knowledge of symbolism is Macbeth. Macbeth is also one of Shakespeare’s tragic plays. It is based on the Chronicles by the English historian Raphael Holinshed. It was first performed in 1623. This was a tale about how Macbeth captures the throne by murdering King Duncan. After killing King Duncan he becomes more and more of a man without feelings. After the death of his wife he feels nothing so he goes into battle. He is then killed and Duncan’s son, Malcolm, takes over the throne (Macbeth).
Something special about this play is that the whole play symbolizes a mixture of history and legends. Another form of symbolism in this play is when the witches promise Banquo that his children would inherit the throne. In the end it was not his children who inherited the throne; children symbolized grandchildren or descendants (Shakespeare 30). This play also symbolizes a compliment to the king. It was suppose to flatter the king because it was written about his ancestor, Banquo. This is one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in his time and in the present (Macbeth).
Unlike William Shakespeare, William Blake does not show his knowledge of symbolism in plays. Blake uses his method of expressing himself through symbolism in poetry instead of in plays. He feels as though symbolism helps him to express himself through his poetry. Blake’s poetry raised many eyebrows in time, mainly because the people did not understand the greatness of his poems. Throughout his lifetime he went everyday with no one really noticing him for the great poet that he is known as today. Two poems that stand out among the rest of Blake’s poems are “The Lamb” and “The Tiger”. These are two poems where Blake actually had a chance to show ho much he loved to use symbolism (Prentice Hall Literature 618).
In William Blake’s “The Lamb”, the lamb has two symbolic meanings. One meaning I have interpreted as the lamb being the people of the world. Blake appears to have had problems with the people of the world. Another being that the lamb symbolizes is a child, a child that is more than a child, a child that seems to have a relationship with God (Prentice Hall Literature 620).
In his poem “The Tiger”, Blake truly expresses his feelings toward the world. He uses the jungle cat as a symbol for the savage and unnamed forces in the world that prompts human beings to perform evil actions. William Blake’s relationship with the outside world is unknown, but he was greatly mistreated by everyone. He lived a life of poverty so that may have been more than enough to push him over the edge. Also in Blake’s poems he tries to show a contrast between good and evil. Blake believed symbolism makes literature a wonderful thing (Prentice Hall Literature 622).
Symbolism is a brilliant way to express your thoughts and emotions in your writing. The creator of symbolism was nothing short of a genius. Those who understand and use symbolism know that it works wonders for you literary work. If symbolism is used correctly it can stimulate the minds of your readers. Using symbolism allows you to lose control of your feelings in your writing. This is why it is used so often (Prentice Hall Literature 721).