How does Dryden use imagery and language in All for Love?

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In All for Love, John Dryden incorporates a wealth of imagery that allows the audience to view common things with new perspectives. Dryden also writes in a simple and direct yet vivid style of language that allows his audience to easily follow his thoughts while still being enriched.

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John Dryden's play All for Love retells the story of Antony and Cleopatra but with a few twists that help make the play very much Dryden's own creation. Two of these twists are the imagery and language that Dryden uses. Let's look at each of these.

In terms of imagery, Dryden distributes it thickly throughout the play. Already in the prologue, for instance, we read about half-wits being like fleas. They are “so little and so light” that no one pays much attention to them until “they bite.” These people of small wit must find fault “to show that they can think at all.”

Also, Dryden compares errors to straws; they float to the surface and are easy to find. But if someone wants pearls, or truths, they have to “dive below” and search deeply for them. Images like this stimulate the audience’s imagination and help them see common things in new and creative ways.

Larger images also extend throughout the play. The imagery of omens and prophecies, for instance, takes center stage, especially at the beginning of the play. Whirlwinds, sea creatures, and floods are described in detail, and they point forward to the fall of Antony and Cleopatra. Further, Cleopatra's method of suicide is filled with imagery. Her maids bring her poisonous snakes as the instrument of her death, and she dresses in her royal finery and sits upon her throne with the dead Antony propped up beside her. This presents a dramatic picture indeed, and it indicates Cleopatra's pride and tendency toward passion and theatrics. Strong imagery also occurs as Cleopatra and Octavia literally face off over the man they both claim to love.

Now let’s talk about Dryden’s language. As filled with imagery and deep meaning as it is, Dryden actually writes in a fairly simply, clear style that is easily accessible to his audience. This is largely in response to the ornate and difficult language choices of Dryden’s literary ancestors. For example, Serapion is describing the portent he has witnessed, and while his language is vividly descriptive, it is also clear and not overly ornate: “A whirlwind rose, that, with a violent blast / Shook all the dome: the doors around me clapt.” We can easily picture the scene. The language allows us to do that through its directness and flowing simplicity.

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