Middle English Dictionary Entry

figūre n.
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Entry Info

Definitions (Senses and Subsenses)

Shape, form, appearance: (a) visible or tangible shape or form; general appearance; bodili ~, ~ of this world; of the face: expression; (b) of a living being: bodily form, appearance (often including stature and bearing); (c) an embodied living form; a human being, a personage, a person; ~ of flesh, ~ of mankind; of Christ: incarnation.
Representation, image, likeness: (a) image or likeness; (b) the concrete representation of something abstract, embodiment; (c) the representation of the form of a living creature, usually a human being, in sculpture or in painting; a statue, image, effigy; (d) a phantasm, apparition, vision.
(a) Something having symbolic significance, symbol; significant sign or example; example; (b) prefiguration; a foreshadowing or foreboding; in figure.
(a) A parable, a comparison or metaphor; (b) a stylistic device or ornament; (c) a poetic composition, a poem.
(a) A design, drawing, diagram, or illustration; the markings (on an astrolabe); also, an example, a tabulation (of names); (b) geom. a form or figure enclosed by a line or lines, or by a surface or series of surfaces.
A written character: (a) a numerical symbol, especially one of the ten Arabic numerals; (b) a letter of an alphabet, a character; (c) a mathematical symbol.
Astrol. (a) A configuration of heavenly bodies, a constellation; a diagram of such a configuration, a horoscope; geomancy: a configuration used in divination [quot. (c1385) Chaucer CT.Kn. A.2043]; (b) hevenes figure, the sky; hevenli ~, heavenly bodies, i.e. the sun and the moon.
Gram. (a) Formation or structure (of a word), type of formation; (b) a structural device or feature (of a sentence).
(a) Phil. Form as opposed to matter; abstract form, concept; (b) logic one of the forms of a syllogism with respect to the position of the middle member.
Mus.?A melodic succession of notes, a phrase.
Law ~ of jugement, formal trial.
Alch. Essential nature or constitution.

Supplemental Materials (draft)

  • a1450(c1410) Lovel.Grail (Corp-C 80)14.440 : Eualach..Caste his Eyen vppon his Scheld, and the vigowr Of the Cros þere he beheld.
  • Note: Looking so long on Josephes's Red Cross that he sees in it the form of a man crucified, would appear to belong at least to sense 2.(a), but probably with overtones of 3.(a).
  • a1500 Rolle Mend.L.(Wor F.172)55 : Biholdyng in to hevenly thingis bi figure and speculatief.
  • Note: We appear not to have a gloss that covers this quot. precisely--per MJW
  • (a1382) WBible(1) (Bod 959)2 Kings 14.20 : Forsothe thi seruaunt Joab he comaundide to me, and he putte in the mouth of thin hoond womman alle thes wordis; that I turne the figure of this word [L ut verterem figuram sermonis huius] forsothe thi seruaunt Joab comaundide this.
  • Note: A literal rendering of a Latin rendering of a Hebrew idiom. As Bishop Patrick explains it, "Ver. 20. 'To fetch about this form of speech, hath thy servant Joab done this thing.' The meaning is, 'Joab instructed her, that having obtained pardon for her Son, she should "turn about the Face of her Speech" (as the words are in the Hebrew) another way; and transfer it to Absalom, as a parallel case with her own." --Simon Patrick [Bp. of Ely], A Commentary upon the Two Books of Samuel (London: Chiswell, 1703), p. 476. 'Figure' therefore means something like 'referent, surface meaning' or even 'application,' of a speech understood to have layers of meaning, therefore of a metaphor, parable, etc. Modern translations struggle between literal rendering and paraphrase. Hence Knox, "Joab..bade me use this parable"; JB/NJB: "Joab acted in this way to disguise the matter". Most readily placed under sense 4.(a), perhaps by adding: "also, the referent or surface meaning of parabolic speech."
Note: Senses 4.(b) and 8.(b), to the extent that they include rhetorical figures of speech such as synecdoche, appear partly or wholly to overlap.