Wordplay Functions In Literature And Literary Theory English Language Essay
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Wordplay occupies a significant position in several important conceptions and theories of literature, principally because it has both a performative and a critical function in relation to language and cognition. This article describes the various uses and understandings of wordplay and their origins in its (Whose?) unique flexibility, which involves an interaction between a semiotic deficit and a semantic surplus. Furthermore, the article illustrates different methods of incorporating theories of wordplay into literature and literary theory, and finally, it demonstrates the ways in which the use of wordplay often leads to the use of metaphors and figurative language.
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Puns and wordplay occupy a significant position in literature as well as in various ways of reflecting on and conceptualizing literature. They can be used to produce and perform a poetic function with language and they can be used critically, which entails considering them from a distance(?) as utterances that undermine meaning and sense and that ultimately accomplish a deconstructive performance. A dictionary definition of the word pun illustrates that both homonymy (when two words with unrelated meanings have the same form) and polysemy (when one word form has two or more, related, meanings) can properly be used to form puns: “a play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words” (American Heritage College Dictionary 1997, Third Edition). However, this definition could also be extended to embrace the term wordplay, mainly because pun seems to cover only single words.  So a more precise definition of pun might be “a play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same expression and sometimes on the similar senses or sounds of different words” (This is between inverted commas. Where is the citation?).
The various uses and understandings of wordplay originate from a flexibility which this article attempts to identify and describe from both a historical and a contemporary perspective. Wordplay involves an interaction between a semiotic deficit and a semantic surplus and is therefore primarily understood and used in two different ways in literature and literary theory. Literary scholar Geoffrey Hartman succinctly articulated this interaction in an essay titled “The Voice of the Shuttle: Language from the Point of View of Literature” (1970) I don’t know which system of citation the author is using. If it is APA, this citation is wrong: “You can define a pun as two meanings competing for the same phonemic space or as one sound bringing forth semantic twins, but, however you look at it, it’s a crowded situation” (1970: 347). The semiotic deficit is caused by one sign or expression signifying at least two meanings. The semantic surplus, on the other hand, refers to the cognitive event happening in the individual (in literature, the reader) experiencing the play on words. The article describes these two features of wordplay with the help of a few examples of wordplay in literature and literary theory, and it also demonstrates that the use of puns and wordplay often leads to the use of metaphor and figurative language – or a semantic surplus like Hartman’s “twins”. Furthermore, the article presents an argument for distinguishing between exploring the intention behind the use of wordplay and exploring wordplay itself. In the previous paragraph, the author talked about “an essay” by Hartman. Is he/she still referring to that essay when he/she talks about “the article”?
Paranomasia and traductio
“In the beginning was the pun” (1957: 65), writes Samuel Beckett in his novel Murphy from 1938 The citation is wrong, according to APA standards, but although puns and wordplay as such may have been with us from the very beginning (of what?) Beckett is paraphrasing the Bible), actual descriptions of wordplay do not appear until the rhetorical studies of Cicero and Quintilian. Parts of Plato’s Cratylus do; however, bear a superficial resemblance to wordplay because Socrates makes fun of etymological argumentation, showing the reader how language can lead to sophistic blind alleys and dead ends, which can be deceptive to those who are not familiar with the well-known schism between the world of ideas and the world of phenomena. Moreover, in Phaedrus, Socrates argues that “in the written word there is necessarily much which is not serious” (277E) It wasn’t written by Socrates, but by Plato. It is this argumentation which Jacques Derrida later criticizes in “Plato’s Pharmacy” (1998) the system of citation does not seem to be consistent. Names of books are alternatively written in bold type, without inverted commas, or in normal type, with inverted commas, in which Derrida attempts to demonstrate the erosion of Plato’s argumentation through the two-sidedness and ambiguity of the word pharmakon and through the way Plato plays on the multiple meanings of this word. Writing is both a remedy and a poison, producing both science and magic. Plato’s antidote to sophism is episteme, or, in Derrida’s view, mental or epistemological repression. Derrida’s text demonstrates an interesting and intimate connection between writing, wordplay, oblivion and memory, but since this is a perspective a bit outside the framework of this article I will carry on a more historical view.. 
Over time, wordplay has been linked to the rhetorical terms of traductio and adnominatio. The anonymous Rhetoric to Herennius (Rhetorica ad Herennium), written in the period 86-82 BC and ascribed to Cicero until the fifteenth century, states that “[t]ransplacement [traductio] makes it possible for the same word to be frequently reintroduced, not only without offence to good taste, but even so as to render the style more elegant” (1954: 279) The work of Derrida was not cited like this. Traductio is classified below figures of diction and is compared to other figures of repetition. Common to these figures is “an elegance which the ear can distinguish more easily than words can explain.” (1954: 281). Identifying wordplay as traductio, however, may not entirely correspond with the understanding we have of wordplay today, although the lack of explanatory words within this rhetorical figure is comparable to the above-mentioned thesis. Today, we would perhaps rather characterize wordplay as adnominatio [called paranomasia in the English translation]. The Rhetoric to Herennius states that wordplays should be used in moderation because they reveal the speaker’s labour and compromise his ethos:
Such endeavours, indeed, seem more suitable for a speech of entertainment that for use in an actual cause. Hence the speaker’s credibility, impressiveness, and seriousness are lessened by crowding these figures together. Furthermore, apart from destroying the speaker’s authority, such a style gives offence because these figures have grace and elegance, but not impressiveness and beauty. (1954: 309) I have indented this, according to APA norms.
Wordplay must therefore be used economically so as not to seem childish or to monopolize the listener’s attention. In addition, the author of the Rhetoric points to the fact that one very quickly becomes too clever by half?? if the frequency of paronomasia is too high.
In Quintilian’s treatise on rhetoric, The Orator’s Education (Institutio Oratoria), wordplay is reckoned among figures of speech (9.13). Another style of citation. Quintilian divides these into two types, the first of which concerns innovations in language, while the second concerns the arrangement of the words. The first type is, according to Quintilian, more grammatically based, while the latter is more rhetorically based, but with indistinct limits. At the same time, the first one protects the speaker against stereotypical language.
Wordplay belongs to what Quintilian refers to as figures which depend on their sound; other figures depend on alteration, addition, subtraction or succession. Quintilian treats wordplay immediately following the chapter on addition and subtraction, thereby suggesting its status as something which neither subtracts nor adds. Otherwise his conception of wordplay is similar to that of the Rhetorica ad Herennium: wordplay should be used with cautiousness and only if it to some extent strengthens a point, in which case it can have a convincing effect. 
What we can learn by reading these passages on wordplay in Quintillian and the Rhetorica ad Herennium is that ever since the beginning of literary studies our understanding of wordplay has oscillated between at least two different extremes: traductio and adnominatio / paranomasia, or, one could say, between an outer understanding concerned with the context and an inner understanding mostly concerned with language itself. This could also be one of the main reasons why literary theory has tended to describe puns and wordplay in two ways: either as magical (iconic) language use or as critical language use. Magical language use has much in common with wordplay as a rhetorical figure, and thus also with the way wordplay was used in antiquity and in the romantic era, between which periods the literature of Shakespeare creates an important link. For instance, it is quite remarkable that at first Shakespeare was admonished for his plays on words. In Germany, the Enlightenment poet and translator of Shakespeare, C.M. Wieland citation?, also complains about the wisecracks. He calls them albern (silly) and ekelhaft (disgusting). When A.W. Schlegel citation?, on the other hand, gets hold of Shakespeare’s texts, he is much more attentive to and respectful of the latter’s excesses in language. Schlegel is in debt to Herder citation?, who is one of the first in Germany to appreciate the poetry in Shakespeare’s works (their rhythm, melody and other more formal qualities) (cf. Larson (1989)). We can’t carry out this comparison, because the works have not been properly cited.
By using the rather odd term magical language, this article aims to carry on colloquial a German tradition of treating wordplay as Sprachmagie. Walter Benjamin, for instance, construes language as magical or self-endorsing citation?.  Critical language use, however, is more comparable to the use of wordplay and the discussion of wit in the Age of Enlightenment, and thus more generally to humour, including, for instance, the joke and the anecdote (whereas in relation to magical language use, wordplay should be regarded as akin to the riddle, the rebus and the mystery). Much literary theory may therefore have adopted these two ways of dealing with and understanding wordplay: it is treated as exceptionally poetic and almost magical precisely because it is untranslatable, or as something which can be used in a general critique of language in which this “untranslatableness” is used as an argument for the arbitrariness of the relationship between signifié and signifiant .citation?The words were not coined by the author of this paper.
Wordplay as part of language criticism
The work of the linguist Ferdinand de Saussure citation may be seen as a prism for the two understandings of wordplay throughout the twentieth century. On the one hand, there is the scholar Saussure, who later became famous for his hypothesis of the arbitrary relationship between signifié and signifiant and for his statement that language only contains differences without positive terms. On the other hand, there is the “other” Saussure, who, besides his more official scholarship, occupies himself with anagrams in Latin texts (cf. Starobinski 1979). In his private scholarship Saussure considers the sign highly motivated, which stands in contrast to his thesis of the arbitrariness of the sign in his official scholarship. Saussure’s remarkable occupation with language alternates between an almost desperate confidence in language and a growing distrust of its epistemological value. The discussion in the last part of this article will be based on this distrust, orienting it toward Nietzsche and Freud, since they represent two of the most predominant views on language and thus wordplay in several important literary theories of the twentieth century, not least Russian Formalism and deconstruction.
Franz Fürst (1979) wrongly cited, according to APA norms mentions that wordplay changes character during the nineteenth century. First, the romantic age idealizes it, changing its characteristics. Wordplay is not only connected to wit, but also to – in my free translation from Bernhardi’s Sprachlehre (1801-1803) citation – the eternal consonance of the universe through its heterogeneous homogeneity.  The coherence between sound and meaning was therefore at first considered deeper than might be expected, but the coherence, as the future would show, also had another side displaying a quite different function of wordplay. Fürst explains:
Aus einer ähnlichen Bemühung um die Wiederherstellung der engen Wort-Ding-Beziehung, jedoch mit karikaturistischer Absicht, entstand eine neue Technik des Wortspiels, die von Brentano und ihm folgend von Heine und Nietzsche verwendet wurde. Diese Technik verzichtet auf das Urwort und begnügt sich mit der Wortentstellung, der Karikatur eines ehemals organisch-sinnvollen Wortes zur Bezeichnung einer entstellten Wirklichkeit. (1979: 49)
We need a translation of this.
In Fürst’s view, from pointing out a deeper coherence, wordplay now stands at the service of a distorted reality. It becomes an example of the play of falseness and designates a disfigured reality, especially concerning epistemological questions. The connection with this deeper coherence is therefore eliminated from language and discarded. For example, wordplay and other rhetorical figures which build upon likeness, like the metaphor, are denigrated in Nietzsche’s work from 1873, “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” citation , when he proclaims that the truth is only “[a] mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms – in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically” (1982: 46-47). Martin Stingelin points out that Nietzsche’s wordplay “gewinnt (â€¦) seine reflexive Qualität gerade durch Entstellung” (1988: 348) Translation, citation. Precisely because everything is rhetoric anyway, we must turn the sting of language against itself. In this connection, wordplay is the least convincing example of false resemblances made by language and can therefore participate reflectively and ironically in such an Enstellung (distortion). The failure to convince should indicate, and thereby ironically convince us, that there is something inherently wrong with language and the epistemological cognition it attends to for us.
Besides Nietzsche’s critique, we also find Freud’s general distrust of language in the beginning of the twentieth century. Most relevant to wordplay is his work The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious. Date, citation.With this as a starting point, it is possible to make some more general remarks about the fundamental importance of the relationship between wordplay and metaphor in the different ways in which wordplay is understood and used in twentieth-century literary theory.
Freud believes that “play on words is nothing but condensation without substitute-formation; condensation is still the overriding category. A tendency to parsimony predominates in all these techniques. Everything seems to be a matter of economy, as Hamlet says (‘Thrift, thrift, Horatio!)” Speech marks (2003: 32). Freud’s interest in wordplay therefore goes by way of the joke, which is primarily characterized by economization and condensation.  A substitution is omitted; in other words, wordplay is not a translation of something unconscious, but a translation which more precisely takes place in language. This is also one of the definitions that Walter Redfern arrives at (1997: 265). Redfern’s study of wordplay is without doubt the most comprehensive yet in a literary context, but the many metaphorical classifications – for instance, ubiquity, equality, fissiparity, double-talk, intoxication (2000: 4) or “bastard, a melting-pot, a hotchpotch, a potlatch, potluck” (2000: 217) – are characteristic of the relationship between wordplay and metaphor. Wordplay therefore has to do with something fundamentally poetic in language, or as Roman Jakobson puts it, poetry is precisely characterized by being untranslatable:
In poetry, verbal equations become a constructive principle of the text. Syntactic and morphological categories, roots, and affixes, phonemes and their components (distinctive features) – in short, any constituents of the verbal code – are confronted, juxtaposed, brought into contiguous relation according to the principle of similarity and contrast and carry their own autonomous signification. Phonemic similarity is sensed as semantic relationship. The pun, or to use a more erudite and perhaps more precise term – paronomasia, reigns over poetic art, and whether its rule is absolute or limited, poetry by definition is untranslatable. (1987: 434)
If wordplay may be characterized as a translation in language, metaphor may be considered a translation with language, and each time this “inner” translation or untranslatability of a pun or wordplay is translated, words for this translation are lacking.
Arguably, this is exactly where metaphor helps, like a Band-Aid for a small wound. For this lack or deficit of words produces a poetic surplus which is precisely able to express itself in metaphors and figurative language in general. The latter is an attempt to explain the translation or translate it to something more comprehensible. Whereas the metaphor gives the sense of an effective blend between two semantic fields which together create a third one, wordplay gives a very different impression. The “third place” which the wordplay creates in its expression is not intellectually comprehensible, but rather inscribed in the form of its own manifestation, a distinctive blend of sound and sense. The incomprehensibleness is an argument for both of its general understandings, partly according to a view which considers language something which can reveal the nonsense of a truth (language criticism) and partly according to a certain kind of nonsensical truth, the idea that language contains more than we are aware of (magical language use). Consequently, it is not so odd that metaphor is useful for describing wordplay: metaphor creates a convergence between several semantic fields by covering up the differences between them and in so doing often makes poetry happen. Wordplay, on the other hand, fixes the difference in the mind, thus maintaining the convergence in its very expression. Take, for instance, the literary example of Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXXXII:
THINE eyes I love, and they, as pitying me,
Knowing thy heart torment me with disdain,
Have put on black and loving mourners be,
Looking with pretty ruth upon my pain.
And truly not the morning sun of heaven
Better becomes the grey cheeks of the east,
Nor that full star that ushers in the even,
Doth half that glory to the sober west,
As those two mourning eyes become thy face:
O! let it then as well beseem thy heart
To mourn for me since mourning doth thee grace,
And suit thy pity like in every part.
Then will I swear beauty herself is black,
And all they foul that thy complexion lack.
The sonnet is replete with wordplay and puns, especially on the words “I” and “eye”, and morning and mourning no inverted commas here?, but also and perhaps less importantly on the words “ruth” and “truth”. Appropriately, the sonnet contains two instances of the word “I”, punningly mirroring the two eyes. But an expression and a metaphor like “the grey cheeks of the east” would simply not emerge without the existence of the pun between morning and mourning. The poem develops and invents a vocabulary and uses expressions which would simply not exist or appear without the puns and plays on words. It actually manages to connect blackness with beauty because of the pun between mourning and morning – which also connects the sun with the “full star” and in this manner with the night. Hence, everything that the “I” in the sonnet lays eyes on is “polluted” by a look of mourning and pity.
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The connection mentioned above causes most scholars to describe wordplay as a potential metaphor; even Freud (especially read in the perspective of Jacques Lacan citation  ) indicates that we should understand wordplay this way. However, no one has shown that metaphor is a potential wordplay. The question must be whether the connection goes both ways or if wordplay simply is a “more initial” metaphor? In any case, following Lakoff and Johnson’s now classic theory (1980), it is easy to suspect that so-called dead metaphors can be played on more easily than other words – for example, the word “leg”, which is used in connection with chairs, tables and human beings, or words like “root” or “rose”, which function in countless contexts. The ambiguity is most severe in connection with some of the key examples provided by Lakoff and Johnson, such as our value-laden and metaphorical organization of space in up and down, in and out, and so forth. The reason for this is probably not that these expressions are metaphorical, but rather that they belong to the trite vocabulary which often activates wordplay – makes it alert, as Redfern citation writes.
In other words, a revitalizing process in language takes place between wordplay and metaphor. Wordplay is not more original than metaphor, nor is the reverse true, for that matter. Experience has shown that wordplay has a tendency to generate metaphors when we attempt describe what they exactly mean and that dead metaphors have a tendency to generate wordplay. Regarding the latter, the same applies to dead language in general, such as hackneyed proverbs, phrases and clichés. Along with the dead metaphors, these expressions make up an un-sensed language which often activates wordplay.
The more remarkable of these two relations is without doubt the first one, which I will therefore focus on. The relation between wordplay and metaphor outlined above corresponds with the one that Maureen Quilligan (1992) identifies between wordplay and allegory. Below, we will examine Quilligan’s understanding of their connection.
Wordplay and allegory
Quilligan tries to redefine allegory as a genre in which wordplay plays a central part due to its ambiguousness, or as Quilligan writes, “[a] sensitivity to the polysemy in words is the basic component of the genre of allegory” (1992: 33). Quilligan sees wordplay as initiating the unfolding of the relationship of the text to itself. The text comments on itself, not discursively, but narratively. In this way an author does the same thing with allegory as the literary critic, but the difference is that the author makes commentary on – that is, enacts an allegoresis of – his own text, which is due to the fact that language is self-reflexive. But this self-reflexivity is only brought about through the reader, who therefore constantly plays an important role in Quilligan’s reading and re-evaluation of allegory. Self-reflexivity is, however, potentially inscribed in the text through certain traces, especially through polysemy, which expresses itself on the most fundamental literal level – specifically, in the sounds of the words – and it is in this respect that wordplay enters the picture alongside allegory.
Quilligan uses Quintilian to differentiate between allegory and allegoresis. Allegoresis is literary interpretation or critique of a text, and it was this concept that Quintilian was referring to when he wrote that allegory means one thing at the linguistic level and another at the semantic level; in other words, as a figure, allegory could retain a separation between several semantic levels for a long time – for example, between a literal and a figurative level. However, the “other” which the word allegory points towards with its allos is not someone floating somewhere above the text, but the possibility of an otherness, a polysemy, says Quilligan, on the page and in the text. The allegory designates the fact that language can mean numerous things at once. This very redefinition causes Quilligan to turn towards wordplay. Besides, Quilligan wants to escape from a vertical understanding of allegory such as it has been inherited from Dante, who organized his Divine Comedy according to the Bible, which he believed had four layers of meaning. Quilligan suggests that allegory works horizontally, so that the meaning is increased serially by connecting the verbal surface before moving to another level – for example, beyond or above the literal level. And this other level which she refers to has to be located in the reader, who will gradually become aware of the way he or she creates the meaning of the text. Out of this awareness comes a consciousness, not just of how the text is read, but also of the human response to the narrative. Self-reflexivity occurs, and, finally, out of this a relation is established to the other (allos) towards which the allegory leads its reader through the allegoresis. This sensation of the real meaning can be called sacred. Quilligan aims to grasp allegory in its pure form before it becomes allegoresis. Through her readings, she tries to identify a more undetermined conception of allegory on a linguistic level before it gets determined by and in the reader. Quilligan could have used Quintilian’s definition of allegory as a continued metaphor (III, 2001, 8:6: 44) to establish a relation between allegory, metaphor and wordplay. In my view she thus misses something essential in the contiguous relationship between wordplay, allegory and allegoresis, and this is the making of metaphors. The relation between wordplay and metaphor constitutes a more intimate bond than that between wordplay and allegory, or, as James Brown puts it: “The pun is the first step away from the transparent word, the first step towards the achievement of symbolic metaphor” (1956:18). But this does not mean that wordplay is some sort of metaphor, as Brown seems to suggest. More accurately, it would be reasonable to suggest that wordplay gives rise to creative language usage, including metaphors and figurative language use in general. This very use is an attempt to translate the relative untranslatability of wordplay, and thereby to satisfy a natural human desire for understanding.
Russian formalism vs. deconstruction
By treating the text as described above, Quilligan can read several texts in a new and constructive manner inspired by the way that early literary works such as The Faerie Queene way of writing titles deal with language. But it is principally Quilligan’s starting point and to a lesser degree her treatment of the text that I aim to pinpoint with my focus on wordplay. This article does not claim that the twentieth century should only be understood in the light of wordplay, but rather that in some periods wordplay was used with very specific intentions, and that it offers an understanding of language which several literary theories benefit from.
Wordplay stands out particularly in two twentieth-century literary theories – namely, Russian formalism and literary deconstruction in the wake of Jacques Derrida citation – but it is used in very different ways in these theories. In Russian formalism, wordplay involves a revitalization of language,  parallel to the concept of skaz,  which refers to an illusion of a kind of orality or even realism in literary language. In contrast, in deconstruction, wordplay is often tied to writing’s influence on language in general – to a grammatology, to borrow Derrida’s term. From a deconstructive perspective, wordplay deals with the inadvertent or unintended in the intended (cf. Gordon C.F. Bearn 1995a: 2), or with absence in presence; the exact opposite is true in Russian formalism, which deals with puns and wordplay as a form of oral presence in writing, likening this to a kind of absence. Here, as in other cases, wordplay is involved in a fundamental shift in perspective between a semiotic deficit and a semantic surplus in what may be called a constructive and deconstructive construction of meaning.
An example of this problematic is a book by Howard Felperin citation problems with the symptomatic title Beyond Deconstruction. The Uses and Abuses of Literary Theory. In this book, Felperin differentiates between what he calls the enactment and counter-enactment of wordplay, emphasizing counter-enactment at the expense of enactment:
If the figures of enactment, of “speaking in effect” in Shakespeare’s phrase, work cumulatively to integrate the jigsaw puzzle of language into concrete replica of the sensory world, the pun is precisely that piece of language which will fit into several positions in the puzzle and thereby confound attempts to reconstruct the puzzle into a map or picture with any unique or privileged reliability or fidelity of reference. Whereas metaphor and onamatopeia attempt to bridge the precipitate fissures between signs and their meaning, paronomasia [or wordplay; Felperin does not make a distinction] effectively destabilizes further whatever conventional stability the relation between sign and meaning may be thought to possess. (1985: 185) (My addition)
In Felperin’s view, wordplay turns our understanding of things upside down in respect to both language in general and certain overall views of life and so forth. This is the reason why wordplay has been disliked for so many years. Felperin analyses Shakespeare and finds that wordplay is at the disposal of language in various ways in Shakespeare’s work, precisely in the form of a counter-enactment. However, what he seems to forget is that not only does wordplay oppose similarities, but it also conveys likeness – for instance, in the wordplay between “eye” and “I”, which may underlie a much deeper understanding of the sonnets and of subjectivity in Shakespeare’s works in general (cf. Fineman 1988).
Arguing against the theory of enactment, Felperin criticizes, among other things, Russian formalism as a theory founded on metaphor (which from Felperin’s deconstructive perspective is the wrong foundation when it comes to an ontology of language): “The Russian formalists, for example, like the Elizabethans, see language as aboriginally poetic, and similarly identify its performative potential in the storehouse of metaphor that lies buried within it” (1985: 180). Only Shakespeare escapes this sort of criticism, which appears typical of the period and untenable. Metaphor almost seems like a dark, anthropomorphic enemy in such a deconstructive point of view. Furthermore, Felperin of course makes considerable efforts to define wordplay as a matter
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