Description of Enargia

UK - The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of William Shakespeare's Othello
IAGO'S ENARGIA IN SHAKESPEARE'S OTHELLO. Robbie Jack - Corbis/Getty Images

An enargia is a rhetorical term for a visually powerful description that vividly recreates something or someone in words.

According to Richard Lanham, the broader term energia (energetic expression) "came early to overlap with enargia. . . . Perhaps it would make sense to use enargia as the basic umbrella term for the various special terms for vigorous ocular demonstration, and energia as a more general term for vigor and verve, of whatever sort, in expression." (A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 1991).

Example from The Building in the Text

  • "George Puttenham [in The Arte of English Poesie] explains enargia as the 'glorious lustre and light' uniting the 'outward shew' and the 'inward working' of figurative language . . ., whereas Torquanto Tasso [in Discourses on the Art of Poetry] emphasizes the visibility implied by enargia."
    (Roy T. Eriksen, The Building in the Text. Penn State Press, 2001)

Iago's Enargia in Shakespeare's Othello

What shall I say? Where's satisfaction?
It is impossible you should see this,
Were they as prime as goats, as hot as monkeys,
As salt as wolves in pride, and fools as gross
As ignorance made drunk. But yet, I say,
If imputation and strong circumstances,
Which lead directly to the door of truth,
Will give you satisfaction, you may have't. . . .

I do not like the office:
But, sith I am enter'd in this cause so far,
Prick'd to't by foolish honesty and love,
I will go on. I lay with Cassio lately;
And, being troubled with a raging tooth,
I could not sleep.


There are a kind of men so loose of soul,
That in their sleeps will mutter their affairs:
One of this kind is Cassio:
In sleep I heard him say "Sweet Desdemona,
Let us be wary, let us hide our loves";
And then, sir, would he gripe and wring my hand,
Cry "O sweet creature!" and then kiss me hard,
As if he pluck'd up kisses by the roots
That grew upon my lips: then laid his leg
Over my thigh, and sigh'd, and kiss'd; and then
Cried "Cursed fate that gave thee to the Moor!"
(Iago in Act 3, scene 3 of Othello by William Shakespeare)

"When [Othello] threatens to turn his fury against Iago, as he spasmodically doubts his own torrents of doubt, Iago now lets loose upon the audience Shakespeare's best rhetoric of enargia, in bringing the particulars of infidelity before Othello's, and thus the audience's, very eyes, first obliquely, then finally by his lie that implicates Desdemona in the lascivious movements and treacherous mutterings attributed to Cassio in his sleep."
(Kenneth Burke, "Othello: An Essay to Illustrate a Method." Essays Toward a Symbolic of Motives, 1950-1955, ed.

by William H. Rueckert. Parlor Press, 2007)

John Updike's Description

"In our kitchen, he would bolt his orange juice (squeezed on one of those ribbed glass sombreros and then poured off through a strainer) and grab a bite of toast (the toaster a simple tin box, a kind of little hut with slit and slanted sides, that rested over a gas burner and browned one side of the bread, in stripes, at a time), and then he would dash, so hurriedly that his necktie flew back over his shoulder, down through our yard, past the grapevines hung with buzzing Japanese-beetle traps, to the yellow brick building, with its tall smokestack and wide playing fields, where he taught."
(John Updike, "My Father on the Verge of Disgrace." Licks of Love: Short Stories and a Sequel, 2000)

Gretel Ehrlich's Description

"Mornings, a transparent pane of ice lies over the meltwater. I peer through and see some kind of waterbug-perhaps a leech-paddling like a sea turtle between green ladders of lakeweed. Cattails and sweetgrass from the previous summer are bone dry, marked with black mold spots, and bend like elbows into the ice. They are swords that cut away the hard tenancy of winter. At the wide end a mat of dead waterplants has rolled back into a thick, impregnable breakwater.

Near it, bubbles trapped under the ice are lenses focused straight up to catch the coming season."
(Gretel Ehrlich, "Spring." Antaeus, 1986)

Etymology:
From the Greek, "visible, palpable, manifest"

Pronunciation: en-AR-gee-a

Also Known As: enargeia, evidentia, hypotyposis, diatyposis

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Nordquist, Richard. "Description of Enargia." ThoughtCo, Apr. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/enargia-description-term-1690648. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, April 2). Description of Enargia. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/enargia-description-term-1690648 Nordquist, Richard. "Description of Enargia." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/enargia-description-term-1690648 (accessed January 24, 2018).