In Our Time

BBC Radio 4

Society & Culture, History

Chart Positions

Society & Culture 65
History 16

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of ideas


History of Metaphor

November 25th, 2010

Episode 111 of 515 episodes

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the history of metaphor. In Shakespeare's As You Like It, the melancholy Jaques declares: "All the world's a stage/And all the men and women merely players." This is a celebrated use of metaphor, a figure of speech in which one thing is used to describe another. Metaphor is a technique apparently as old as language itself; it is present in the earliest surviving work of literature, the Epic of Gilgamesh. Homer developed it into an art form, and his invention of the epic simile was picked up by later writers including Milton. In the Middle Ages the device of allegory underpinned much of French and English writing, while the Metaphysical poets employed increasingly elaborate metaphorical conceits in the sixteenth century. In the age of the novel the metaphor once again evolved, while the Modernist writers used it to subvert their readers' expectations. But how does metaphor work, and what does this device tell us about the way our minds function?With:Steven ConnorProfessor of Modern Literature and Theory at Birkbeck, University of LondonTom HealyProfessor of Renaissance Studies at the University of SussexJulie SandersProfessor of English Literature and Drama at the University of NottinghamProducer: Thomas Morris.