“He had the island of Cyprus in the tight grasp of his wrist…”

How, oh how, to express the magnificence and power of Othello before Iago undermined it all and brought him low? Obviously one must marshal all the strong images at one’s command.

Or not quite at one’s command.

The sentence begins forcefully enough: “He had the island of Cyprus in the tight grasp…” And then Othello loses a lot of majesty when he wraps that wrist of his around the island. Even as figurative language this is bizarre.

But she goes on:

“He had the island of Cyprus in the tight grasp of his wrist that clenched with strength and fortitude.”

So the wrist is not merely wrapped; it’s clenched. Now, fists can clench; and muscles can clench—a tightening that, in the hand, produces a clenched fist and in the face a clenched jaw. But can wrists actually clench, even if the muscles in the wrist are clenched? Clench: “to clinch [meaning, in one sense, ‘to hold fast or firmly’].” “Clinch” is a transitive verb, which means you have to clinch something, just as in this usage the wrist would have to clench something. “Clench” can also mean “to hold fast, clutch.” Again, the clencher needs an object. And it can mean “to set or hold tightly,” as clenched teeth: the clencher clenched.

Well, of course the verb has an object—or. more correctly, at least something to clench—way back there before the prepositions and relative pronouns: the island of Cyprus. The clenching is what makes the grasp.

But what held the island of Cyprus—what clenched, or clenched on, it? That wrist. I think there are limits to how far closed a wrist can actually bend, but the island of Cyprus is pretty big. On the other hand (sorry!), I doubt someone could securely hold the whole island just by wrapping his wrist around part of it: a rock, for instance, or a sapling.

Even if the wrist is clenching “with strength and fortitude,” it has its limits.

This sentence is definitely one place where less would be more. “The island of Cyprus was firmly in his control.” Why not?

I wept to myself, “She can’t stop!”

Quietly I ran lines through many words and changed one: “He had the island of Cyprus in his grasp.” And in the margin I wrote “overwritten.” She never asked me what I meant. I hope she knew, because this kind of overwrought prose will never impress her readers as she so clearly wants to impress them.

The basic picture is just wrong, comically wrong. Embellish it as she will, it will just make them laugh.

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About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

3 responses to ““He had the island of Cyprus in the tight grasp of his wrist…”

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