Allusions and Hamartias: The Literary “Kiss of Death”

Congratulations! We’ve made if back to another post about literary terms. This week’s instalment will be about allusions and hamartias. So, here we go.

Just for kicks, let’s go back to March 23, 1775. Now, you may ask yourself, what was written, spoken, alluded to on this day; well I’ll tell you, Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech. You might think this is a rather random choice for allusions, but this speech is chock full of them. So, here’s just a few.

“listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts”. In this quote Henry is referring to the Odyssey and the sirens who lure ships and sailors to their doom.

“Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation?” (eyes, see not, and, having ears hear not) Mark 8:18

“Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.” This is a reference to the betrayal of Judas.

So, we move on to Hamartia. First, since this term is not well known, I’ll give a definition. Hamartia: a fatal flaw leading to the downfall of a tragic hero or heroine. Now for some examples:

Achilles and his heel. We’ve all probably heard this story somewhere, Achilles was bathed in the river Styx as an infant, but he was held by the heel so, unlike the rest of him, it did not become invulnerable. So what happened? His heel later become his undoing.

“To be, or not to be–that is the question (Hamlet III.i.). Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his indecisiveness. Hamlet wants to kill his father’s murderer, and he has several opportunities to do so, but he keeps finding reasons not to. As the story goes on, Hamlet’s indecision leads to the death 9 people, including himself.

P.S. If you don’t get my title…I’m sorry, I’ll explain it. A “kiss of death” is another way to refer to Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, so it’s an allusion to go along with the post…about allusions.

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