Explain why you consider "the serpent that did sting thy father's life, now wears his crown" a metonymy or an implied metaphor? My concern is understanding the difference between metonymy and...

Explain why you consider "the serpent that did sting thy father's life, now wears his crown" a metonymy or an implied metaphor?

My concern is understanding the difference between metonymy and implied metaphor.  They seem very similar to me.  This is not necessarily a Hamlet question, but more of a figurative language question.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The statement above from Hamlet contains both an implied metaphor and a metonymy.

A metaphor is a comparison that does not use the words "like" or "as." For example, "Juliet is the sun," is a metaphor: Juliet is being compared to sun. We know it is Juliet who Romeo is speaking of because he tells us her name (I am paraphrasing, not quoting from the play). In an implied metaphor, the identity of one of the items being compared is unstated or assumed to be understood. For example, were Romeo, a few minutes later, to say "the sun has disappeared from the balcony," this would be an implied metaphor: we would know Romeo was talking about Juliet even though he hasn't said her name.

Therefore, when Hamlet learns of the "serpent that did sting," we know this is an implied metaphor comparing Claudius to a serpent without using the name Claudius. We know this "serpent" is Claudius because we also learn that this serpent wears the crown, and only one person wears the crown in Denmark.

A metonymy is when a part stands in for or represents a whole. A crown is a part of what makes a king a king—in fact, it is the identifying feature by which we know who the king is—so it is often used to symbolize a king. Obviously, crowns are not just floating around running countries but are a part of the kingly apparel. The crown (the part) is used to represent the monarch (the whole). Therefore, "now wears his crown" is a metonymy for Claudius being king.

"King Claudius murdered your father" means the same thing as the statement above, but it is a far less dramatic or nuanced way of speaking. We love—and are sometimes vexed with—Shakespeare because he was such a vivid wordsmith.

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lmetcalf eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are actually two figures of speech in this quote. The first is a metaphor: Claudius is a serpent who stung (killed) King Hamlet. The fact that he "now wears his crown" is a metonymy. The crown is a thing associated with kings and therefore represents not just the literal crown but the position, role, and duties of the King. 

By defintion, a metaphor is an implied comparison of one thing to another, in the this case, Claudius to a serpent. This is an interesting metaphor because sperents have an infamous reputation for representing evil ever since the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. In Hamletthe Garden of Eden is the kingdom of Denmark under King Hamlet's excellent rule. Claudius's murder of the king threatens that paradise with such obvious corruption. It is kind of a "fun" metaphor too because the Ghost reveals that he was poisoned while taking nap in his orchard (garden) and that the "story" of his death was an actual snake bite. It is a story that everyone believed because that was a plausible cause of death, and there was no evidence to the contrary. The stereotype of snakes is that they are sneaky and deadly. That certainly applies to Claudius!

As for the metonymy of "crown" it is actually an example that is frequently used to teach the concept of metonymy. A king's crown is a symbol of his power or a "thing closely associated with" the king himself. It is at the top of his physical self just as the king is the top of his kingdom. That Claudius becomes King after the the murder connects him to the former King and his position.

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