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Thinking about metaphor

Stimulus #1: 
A set of stained glass windows in the Shakespeare Room of the Mitchell Wing, State Library of New South Wales made by Arthur Benfield and representing the Seven Stages of Man from Jaques’ monologue in Act II sc vii of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Student activities

Task no. 1

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Metaphor and Symbol

The Seven Ages of Man speech opens with a metaphor in which Jaques compares the world to a stage in a theatre and men and women to actors playing roles on such a stage.

The idea of comparing the world to a stage was not new when Shakespeare wrote it. In fact he had already used this image in an earlier play. In The Merchant of Venice Antonio compares the world to a stage:

"I hold the world but as the world, Gratiano;

A stage where every man must play a part,

And mine a sad one."

(Act I, Scene I)

Definition and Etymology (the origin and history of words)

Metaphor (noun): from Greek metaphora, "a transfer," especially of the sense of one word to a different word, literally "a carrying over,"

A metaphor is a direct, non-literal comparison made between two dissimilar objects, actions, or traits. It is a type of image that says that one thing is another.

Symbol (noun): from the Greek word sumbaillen, "to throw things together".

A symbol is an object, animate or inanimate, which represents something else through the use of association, intentional analogy or convention. It is the use of an object or action to represent or suggest something else, e.g. a red rose might symbolise romantic love and the colour black might symbolise death in some cultural traditions. A symbol works by comparing or throwing the meaning of two things together.


See downloadable resource.

Task no. 2

Metaphors for learning

Create a metaphor that describes your own experience or style of learning.

Write down your own metaphor, share it with a partner and then be prepared to share it with the class group.


Planting flowers - A seed is planted in my mind which I nurture with water and sun (hard work and discipline) in the faith that it will sprout and grow.
Switching on a light bulb - It's not until the light switches on that I have an insight or an 'ah ha'.
Being a detective - It's all about uncovering the facts, looking for clues and asking the right questions until the whole mystery makes sense
Peeling an onion - I peel off a layer which reveals the next layer to be peeled off. Each time something tells me I get closer to the core of the matter.
A quest - I'm searching for that illusive something and every step I take brings me closer to what I need to know, but I never get there ... it's a continuous journey.
Wrestling - I struggle with the ideas until they're pinned down and I've captured them.

Adapted from Learning Metaphors by James Lawley and Penny Thompson.