Hanno H. J.


Representing Macbeth: A Case Study in Visual Rhetoric

1) Quoted in R. Stacey, The Canadian Poster Book(Toronto: Methuen,1979), 58.

Introduction The creative process of finding appropriatedesign solutions to visual problems would become more accessible and more probable, and could be enriched if designers were more conscious of the underlying system of concept formation. Instead, they seem to use it intuitively. In adapting contemporary semiotic and rhetoric theory, the following study of Macbeth posters endeavours to present an operational model of concept formation that is often identified with the creative process. Semiotics, the doctrine of signs, explains the principles that underlie the structure of signs and their utilization within messages, and rhetoric, the art of persuasion, suggests ways to construct appropriate messages. Speaking out on concept formation and the problems involved in designing a poster for a theater play, J. Shadbolt, the designer, remarked: "The psychological problem was what slowed down the process. I would read the actual play, consider carefully its overall impact, and then try to convey with the totality of my design something of that precise import. It's easy to make an elegant decoration, but quite another thing to evoke exact implication."1 Shadbolt's remark addresses some fundamental problems in the design activity, and directs special attention to the following questions: How is meaning created visually in design? What is the routing that leads from the text of a play (or any other statement) to a concept and its visualization in a poster (or a book cover or trademark)? What is the nature of the relationship between the figurative image and the text? These questions are all related to the process of signification, that is, the coding dimension that precedes all message transfer and communicative interaction. To find answers to these questions and to illuminate the process of arriving at a design solution, this article will examine the relevance of rhetoric to design and explore some of its basic principles. The semiotic structure of coding and the rhetorical characteristic that governs the visual appearanceof a poster will also be discussed. In addition, the operational potential of rhetoricalprocedure for design in conjunction with the outcome of a recent case study is demonstrated.



as both pertain to making appropriateselections of means to achieve a desired end. Curtius.rhetoricis concernedwith "discoveringall the availablemeans of persuasionin any givensituation"eitherto instructan audience(rational appeal). to be basedon opinions. is concerned with the functional organizationof verbal discourse or messages. generally speaking. that is. rhetorical principles have been transferredinto various other media. 77-78. Lee. Rhetoric.2 At present. Richardsand C. Bonsiepe. R. Perelman in particularhave been influential in freeing rhetoric from articulated prejudices. in one way or another. design for visual or verbal communication cannot be exempt from that fact.It operateson the in both a rabasisof logicalandestheticmodesto affectinteraction tional and emotionalway. W. Norton.or to move it is eloquence. Bonsiepe demonstrated that visual rhetoric is possible on the basis of verbal rhetoric.2) Edward P. architecture. "Visual/Verbal 6) G. 277. 1976). but rathera socially acceptableform ily an underhanded of reasoning. Ut Pictura Poesis: The Humanistic Theory of Painting (New York: W.whichis de(emotionalappeal). Choice is a key term in rhetoricas well as design. 4) E. R." Ulm 14/15/16 (1965). Accordingto Aristotle.persuasive. J. the new rhetoric considers the persuasive discourse not as a subtle fraudulent procedure but a technique of 'reasonable' human interaction controlled by doubt and explicitly subject to many extralogical conditions. 1971). 5) Renssalaer Wright Lee. infiltrated rhetorically. Krampen remarked that "a careful study of classical rhetoric could 3) Umberto Eco. Design.persuasion not necessardevice. 625-30. Curtius4 and R. the exponents of the "new rhetoric"contend that even the simplestutterances arepragmatic. In this sense.6 Essentially concerned with analyzing advertisements. historical evaluations. functionally determinedand. to pleasean audienceand win it over (ethicalappeal). Inasmuch as the spirit of rhetoric is also pragmatic. Although rhetoric has developed as a method that deals fundamentally with speaking and writing. decisions.Accordingto this school of thought. Design and rhetoricalprinciples Rhetoric. A. 54 . M. Bonsiepe.During the past few decades. "Almost all human reasoning about facts. 1953). as well. therefore. is Despite all the negativeconnotations. 1967). 2nd ed. Corbett. Classical Rhetoric for the Modern Student. who published the article "Visual/Verbal Rhetoric" in 1965. is motivationsand governedby and must pay attentionto pragmatic functional considerations.The objectof rhetoric the attifinedas effectivespeechthatmakesit possibleto determine tude of people in orderto influencetheiractions. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (Princeton: Princeton University Press."3 Because all human communication is. (New York: Oxford University Press. beliefs. A Theory of Semiotics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press.5 both of whom refer to rhetoric and its relationship to painting. andvaluesis no longerconsidered the authorityof AbsoluteReasonbut insteadintertwined with emotional elements. The potential value of the rhetorical system within a semiotic framework was also realized by G. In 1968. this situationgives designa rhetorical dimension. as a communication-oriented discipline. and music.I.The possibilityof influencing and being influenced presupposesthe possibility of choice. and pragmatic motivations. This has been indicated by E.

Accordingto Quintilian.Accordingto E. and what is its position within the rhetorical system? The system of classicalrhetoricformulates preceptsfor the production of a messageand traditionally is dividedinto five phases (see Fig. wereselected for thiscasestudy."Styledoes providea vehiclefor thought. 1). 1) Pronunciatio:Delivery of speech Concerned with voice and gestures. ten figures of speech in Graphic ommunicationDesign Quarterly 62 (1968):18. "Signs and Symbols duplication.lead to a catalog of rhetoricaldevices that are capableof visual 7) Martin Krampen.but also with appropriate setting. III Elocutio: Form of expressingideas/arguments or detailedshaping of the organized materiStylistictreatment al in consideration of the followingcriteria: * Aptum: appropriateness with referenceto subjectmatter and context * Puritas:correctness of expression * Perspicuitas: of expression comprehensibility * Ornatus:deliberate adornment of expression IV Memoria:Memorizationof speech V Fig.Thetenthatwerechosen suggest an obvious potential for visual duplication. It should be added that these figures do not refer to rather." He also consideredthe use of these in a new form"to givea mesfiguresas "theartof sayingsomething and The essence of a rhetorical sagegreater vitality impact. II Dispositio: Arrangementof ideas/arguments Concerned with organizing the selectedmaterial into an effective whole (statement of intent). I Inventio: Discovery of ideas/arguments Concernedwith finding and selectingmaterialin supportof the subjectmatterand relevant to the situation. andstyle can be ornamental. figureis an artful departure from the ordinary and simple method of speaking. operational The notion thatstylisticdevicesaresimplythe "dressof thought" needsto be erased."7 In light of these suggestions. terms that can be filled out. It is another of the available meansof perthing DESIGN ISSUES 55 . Corbett.they should be viewed as abstract ready-made expressions. but style is somemore than that.What preciselyconstitutessuch a rhetorical figure.rhetoricalfiguresgeneraterules that can be looked upon as meansof "lendingcredibility to our arguments" and "excitingthe emotions. The thirdphaseis of particular interest.as it coversthe stylistic featuresthat have alreadybeen referredto as figures of speech.

. "By the time the walletis empty."Thecolorfuldisplaywas a magnetfor anybody in the room. sometimes."The person is not a lion in actuality. Whereasthe formerare definedas departures from the are of in words a sentence ordinarypositioning ("Uncomplicated young people."Robbing a act. DeMille's Elements of Rhetoric9and Corbett's Classical Rhetoric for the ModernStudentservedas guides."as opposedto "Youngpeoplearesometimesuncomplicated"). fromthe the latteraredefinedas departures thirsts for of or idioms words ("Theground ordinarysignification as needs rain. If the studentadopts this functionalnotion of style. example." * Irony:an expression thatconveysa meaning oppositeto its literal of a widow her life savingswas for meaning." * Personification: a comparison whereby human qualities are assignedto inanimateobjects. Rhetoricalfiguresare usuallydividedinto two groups.anotherof the meansof arousing responsein the audience.' "8 9) J.The classification is as follows: Figuresof contrast * Antithesis:the juxtapositionof contrastingideas.life will befull. In adopting a classificationfor this study.The occasionaldeparture involvesa changein meaningbecauseit results in effectsthat aredifferentfrom the ordinarymode of expression. for example."The thatch-roofed cottagesin the valleyseemedto be asleep. 1878).." opposedto "Thegroundis very dry and rain").Classical tended to produce." noble certainly Figuresof resemblance * Metaphor: a impliedcomparisonbetween two things of unlike nature.spatial.or chronological relationship 56 .for example. The Elementsof Rhetoric (New York: Harper and Brothers.In "He was a lion in battle.and anotherof the meansof establishing the properethicalimage. To delineatebuilding blocks of concept formation. DeMille.but only in some transferred sense. 8) Corbett.this article must concentrate on the tropes. The natureof the trope can be exthe plainedby followingexample. he will begin to regardstyle in the way Stendhal conceivedof it: 'Style is this: to add to a given thoughtall the circumstances fittedto producethe whole effectthatthe thoughtis in415 Rhetoric. Althoughthe substituteword appears only rarelyor occasionally.the appropriate emotional suasion. for example. Differentclassifications of figuresof speechhavebeenadoptedby various writers in the past."the term lion is the departedsubstitutereferring to the substitutedex"undaunted pression unconquerable fighter." Figuresof contiguity * Metonymy: the substitution of terms suggesting an actual nature thatcanbe of causal. schemes and tropes.the substituted words represent the ordinaryor habitualmode of expression.

advertisements." * Periphrasis: circumlocution. for example. the indirect reference by means of well-known attributes or characteristics. for example. Thus. for example. However. "to go to a better world" instead of "to die. TV. "Check in here for the rest of your life (Wandlyn Motel). rhetorical procedure is also referredto as constituting a secondary grammar. in using the aforementioned rhetorical figures." Any departure from the ordinary way of expression endows the expression with a strong dynamic tension directed either toward the ordinary (making the hallway terribly dirty) or away from it (tracked a ton of mud through the hallway). The difference is characterized by the word money depicting an image of coins and bills (literal order) as opposed to money being illustrated metonomically by the trademarks of several major Canadian banks (rhetorical order). and produce for producer)." * Hyperbole: the exaggeration of an object beyond its natural and proper dimensions. for example." * Synecdoche: the substitution of a more inclusive term for one that is less inclusive or vice versa.(cause instead of effect. "The White House (President of the United States) reduced her troops in Europe. a lower literal order is transformed into a higher rhetorical order. container for contained. both grammars participate in successive generations of order. posters. for example. It is a necessary condition for all figures of speech that they presuppose a basic understanding of grammatical forms and lexical content from which departure is possible. giving the expression more vitality. "He used all the means at his disposal: radio. DESIGN ISSUES 57 ." or "He had always been a great lover of gold (money). "Jan's friends tracked a ton of mud through the hallway." * Puns: a play on words. for example. using words that sound alike but have different meanings. Furthermore. the effectiveness of a rhetorical figure always depends on the audience's ability to perceive the difference between the substitute and the substituted way of expression." Figuresof gradation * Amplification: the expansion of a topic through the assemblageof relevant particulars. Because the basic understanding is determined by the grammar and rhetoric is build upon its fundamentals. and so forth. the longer the tension span. brochures. instrument for agent. the nature of which is quantitative. Figurativevariations cannot ignore the grammarof the language inasmuch as any change for a greater effect must respect grammaticalpossibilities. The less known the trope. "Canada (Canadian team) won the competition" or "He lived for a week under my roof (house). author for work.

Signification operates on the basis of denotative as well as connotative codes. with lesser those standards of a novel andatypicalapproach by way as relationto existingexpectations. This situationmay be described a state of mutual equilibrium between both preservative and changeable forces. an act whose product is a sign. 10) Quoted in Eco. Thus." "curse of evil actions. Whereas denotation is referential and direct and tends toward monofunctionality (a theater poster as a vehicle whose sole function is to announce the play). a design proin additionto a ducesa challenge (a pleasantor unpleasant surprise) renewedand extendedperspective." "scene from an actual theatre production. which also impliesreferenceto pre-existingculturalknowledgethat predates a design. they are connotatively quite different. both of which draw upon different experiences. Anything derived from the visual perception of a literal reading of a theater poster is denotative. while the posters shown at the end of this article refer to the play Macbeth and are denotatively interchangeablein announcing the play. A sign according to C. The connection between both orders is one of balancing two oppositional forces. 15. conveying certain meanings that are interpretable on the basis of either those same codes or different ones. Concept formation coincides with the process of coding insofar as the designer assumes and activates codes by correlating selected graphic devices with selected culturally sanctioned meanings. the obvious and the new. Peirce is "something that stands to somebody for something [else] in some respect or capacity." and many more. 58 . thus binding something present with something absent. for example. connotation is suggestive and indirect and tends toward polyfunctionality (a theater poster suggests a whole host of shared assumptions and possible functions). S. In responding to existing expectations and supplying somethingunexpectedat the same time. Theoryof Semiotics. A theater poster is seen as a message representing a complex of signs built on the basis of codes." "sinister king. then."10Thus. between a poster titled "Macbeth" and an actual play by Shakespeare. Whereas the obvious tends toward satisfying expectations by the new moves towardupsetting respondingto existingstandards. The process of coupling these two opposed units is called signification. Codes can stimulate a variety of interpretations by allowing the designer to draw relationships between the play Macbeth itself and concepts such as "crowned beast.Whetherthe literal or rhetoricalorder is used dependson the numberof structuredrelationshipsthat have materialized. From concept formation to visual form Visual communication takes place on the basis of more or less conventionalized signs belonging to many kinds of codes of disparate languages. the possession of codes allows readers to draw relationships. It follows. while anything derived from additional experiences and associations or symbolic readings is connotative.

the signifiedsof the messagecorrespond in butes or associations of the play that are graphically transmitted the clearestway.11 expression. An inquiry into concept formationand rhetorical coding must a modelthat from toward backward the result hypothetical proceed is the result of the a theater the To this end.sinceeachof the two formsinvolvedcontainsinformation over andabovethatpertaining to its own set.Thisis possiblein theater the of the imageis assumedto be inbecause posters signification to certainattritentional. Accordingto a schemeproall graphicforms correspondto level of posed by L.all plays to level of content. The next step of analysismust be to identifythe plot or chosen visualconceptthat is equivalent to the meaningnucleusof a given In the image. On both levels. poster interplayof two sign systems title of play and graphicimagethatelucidate andcomplement eachother. Theory of Semiotics. a summarizing manbeast"(see Fig. The structure itself becomes semiotic. 3). It represents a conceptanalogous to a writtenprecis. decoding meaningof the Macbeth posterin graphic termsof ideas conveyedor suggested. This graphically encodedstatement should 59 DESIGN ISSUES .a hunoted. Hjelmslev. The additional charge of information is obtainedthroughthe correlation of the signified the deliberately image. Therefore.the graphicimageis seen as a seriesof a statement aboutthe play or abouta specifictheatsignsreplacing ricalinterpretation of the play. 2) or discourse)is distinguished from a (play/graphic representation substance(text characteristics/graphic means). the next step involves which conditionsof graphicsignification. 2). outliningthe elementary also includesa wider application than that of the designof theater posters.feelingsexpressedand constatementcould read"KingMacbeth.11) See Eco. . Having a more focused object of study. a form encoding Graphic formation Concept Rhetorical pattern: Metaphor = result of Macbeth King beast Content Play Macbeth Content as human = result of Macbeth as Expression? Expression? (King (graphic image) human beast) Fig.thusdetermining play andsignifyinggraphic fixed signification of a poster.The couplingof the two oppositionally sets of formsdetermines the semiotic structured structure of the visual system. explains process. 51-57.in additionto conventionalized dethat any act of signification notations.must consciously take into account the breadthand complexityof connotations.A visualsystem such as that of theaterpostersis the result formsandthe set of two coordinated sets:the set of possiblegraphic of plays to be announced(see Fig.

Referring back to the process that led to the concept. It should be pointed out that the identified visual concept is not only the result of a literal reading of the perceptible units (crown. In the example. the concern of the latter is in the visual 60 .be seen as the designer's chosen visual concept that was skillfully and clearly encoded. it is necessary to look at the relationship "title of play = Macbeth" and the concept "King Macbeth. the relation follows a metaphorical structure. there is no direct reference to King Macbeth as a human beast. fangs). which in this case is Macbeth being implicitly compared to a beast. But there are enough indications to constitute an image of Macbeth as a despot. Fig. A metaphor is defined as an implied comparison between two things of unlike nature. and so forth. but also the result of denotative and connotative reading which. cause-effect relations. The text of the play itself contains a large stock of suitable material for conceptualization. main characters. However. the central problem of design involves finding an idea that expresses the play in some respect or capacity. in turn. 4) Fig. in the text a "Design for poster theplay Macbeth" Text Substance: characteristics and associations Content Expression Form: Macbeth Play Form: discourse Graphic Substance: means and Graphic associations k II Fig. such as references to certain locations and events. face. Although in the former. The remaining question concerns the designer's method of arriving at such a concept. is influenced by a familiarity with this particular play and by a certain visual literacy. relation of the form of expression to the form of content is ^The regulated by specific figures of speech. the full extent of which can only be discerned by the attentive reader. the designer went one step further in reaching a solution that clearly mirrors the dialectic of comprehensibility and attractiveness to stimulate interest and to represent a high degree of information. 4 indicates that the signification process in visual design involves two major operations: formation of the visual concept. the initial interpretation of Macbeth as a despot has been replaced and dramatized by a visual concept that displays King Macbeth as a human beast. as well as its graphic encoding." In this particularposter. 3) __1^H/ _ (c ' ) q _l $cff fj_ of the play. To reveal the rhetorical figure that governs the concept formation. key objects and scenes. a human beast.

Macbethas a huthemselves manbeast.Froma logicalviewpoint.for example. for example."12 Thus.whereasthese terms are abstract.particular.However.spatial. Finally. This graphic manipulation.1953).and universal. second-yeargraphicdesignstudents at the Nova ScotiaCollege of Art and Design were introducedto 61 DESIGN ISSUES . Burke. How then can they be useful for the study of design? Their usefulness.general. is an individuation. it is the yoking of the facial features of a human being with those of an animal. it is likewise governed by rhetorical figures.a metaphor ized in numerous ways. To conductthe case study.or chronological A commoncriticismthat ariseswhen dealingwith rhetorical figuresis thatdiscoursemanifests itselfas concrete. but a specific metaphor. the departure from a common face-human or animal.143. causal. defined as the yoking of two terms that are ordinarily contradictory. To express the concept of the human beast graphically. andindividual. Both operations are equally important. As figure Burkeexplainsit: "A metaphor is a concept.accordingto K. the designer produced a startling effect. Instead. which is similar to the use of adjectives to modify nouns or adverbs to modify verbs in a sentence. the designer's command of different media and techniques of visual treatment also allows for modification of the degree of human beastness. in addition to a clear expression of the concept.rhetorichas classifiednumerous patterns of signification. Counter-Statement (Los Altos. Transferred to this example. rhetoricdoes not say metonymyexists when a kingis represented a kind by a crown. the designer omitted certain features of a human face and replaced them with features of a particular predatory animal. This point can be illustrated by looking at the visual treatment of the poster previously discussed.thatis. Although graphic encoding is beyond this study.adds considerably to the graphic interpretation of beastness. 12) KennethBurke.translation of this concept.residesin the fact that they can be re-individuated into differentsubjectmatter. The underlying rhetorical figure at work here is called oxymoron. Visual duplicationof rhetoricalfigures Froma designviewpoint.it formulates of equationby saying that metonymyis a substitution for one another of terms suggesting an actual relationshipthat can be of nature.they represent only differentabstract thatcanbe revitalterms. CA: Hermes Publications.Its appealas form residesin the fact that its particular subjectmatterenablesthe mindto follow a metaphor-process.however. By combining contradictory elements. Rhetorical figuresshouldbe viewedas construction in theirsearchfor visual thatcanassistdesigners principles concepts. a particular can be filled out with a completely different subject. rhetoricalfigures manifest in vividly concreteways. especially as the figure is used in such an obviously fresh and apt way. exemplified by specific images. an abstraction. from a pragmaticviewpoint.

Fib.Nq. 5-14). Juxtaposition with Macbeth.! . they felt as if they had produced something that deserved to be labeled The posters show the visualduplicationof one specific "creative. %. =.%.:. a themewas selectedand visuallyexecuted.*ina 62 .t. itui MACBETH . Rhetorical specificrecipes..Finally. giving designersthe awarenessof possibilities to make the best choice. incomparable Fig.e. and.it would be worthwhile to considerconsciouslyonce againthe surprising adaptability of rhetoric.rhetoricalmethodology.because each concrete task requires a different solution.especiallyin light of the new rhetoricmovementand in the contextof contemporary society. Concerningdesign curricula.a greaterrangeof originalposter designs. the creativeprocess will not become mechanized. It was anticipated would help to shed more light on the processof concept approach formation.The feedbackfrom the students was enthusiastic. for the firsttime." rhetorical figure together with the concept statement(see Figs.With the constructionprincipleof a specificrhetoricalfigureas a guideline.. They were encouragedto adopt and test rhetoricalfigures in conjunctionwith the designingof a Macbeth that this poster for the local theatercompany. the vitciously general. viewed the movie Macbethdirectedby RomanPolanski.i . 1 . However. evilking (oseph McDonald). 6) Irony: e Theamiable couple. . sparking a greater diversity of interpretations.: E> -.They readthe play. therefore. eachgrouplooked for potentialthemesthatfit the termandhadvisual potential. for this society is informedby visual discourse through a wide variety of media to a degree with any other time.5) Antithesis: the loyal of Macbeth.. The real problem continues to be that of bringing together the abstract constructionprincipleswith original ideas within the confines of a specific task.Her Highness andHis HighnessKing LadyMacbeth Macbeth (Marilyn Dyke). the results then were compared.and formedstudy groups aroundten listed rhetorical figures. figuresdo not by any meansrepresent are They exploration tools that can spur lateralthinking. severalmentionedthat.

bleeding armour (Ian Mason). Fig. DESIGN ISSUES 63 . 12) Pun: A play on the three witches. 13) Amplification: Selection of key elements of the play to enhance its nature (Dave Roe). a portrayal of Macbeth's sinister character through concentration on the eyes (Cynthia Henry). . . Fig. ? nK 1 m55 0. .. .. in a newspaper (Nat Connacher).. I I e. 11) Periphrases: Macbeth's fatal strategy to attain power and crown is indirectly referred to by a "baited trap" (Siuw Ying Soo). ll.ED. O f worexplode elon9 Ni*rtague-l Oin north border D. wi.r?ll.. . 8) Personification: Human qualities are assigned to animate and inanimate objects bearing historical significance. h.... for example. Fig. . Fig.. and the crown itself (Steve Durning).. Fig. Fig... who spur Macbeth's ambition to attain the crown.. .. Fig. which turns out to be an unbearable burden for Macbeth (ohn Murphy). . 14) Hyperbole: Exaggerationof the crown. _~ . 9) Metonymy: The crown and the blood suggest an actual relationship with the tragic theme of the play (Julien LeBlanc). 7) Metaphor: Comparison between events in the play Macbeth and contemporary events of a similar nature portrayed as we would learn of them today. 10) Synecdoche: Substitution of a part for the whole.l ? )ENr Tli MACBETH LIVES.. . _R_a I Fig.~il -: :L:l ...

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