Definition and Examples of Anachronism in Literature
Definition of Anachronism
The word anachronism derives from the Greek word anakhronismos, which means something out of harmony with the present. In literature, anachronism occurs when something is placed or presented in inappropriate period of time. For example, it would be anachronism if ever a writer uses the word aircraft while describing the war between two countries in the Middle Ages as the aircraft was an unknown thing at that time. Similarly, it would be anachronism if a dramatist shows us a character using computer in the Middle Ages. The computer didn’t exist at that time. That’s why; it is an anachronism.
Anachronism may occur intentionally or unintentionally. When a writer wants to produce special effects or attract the attention of the reader to a special situation, he intentionally employs anachronism. However, unintentional anachronism occurs due to insufficient knowledge of the writer. The writer is not fully cognizant of the customs, habits, language and events of the time he is writing about. That’s why; he is prone to mistakes in his writing.
Now, let’s discuss some examples of anachronism:
Anachronism in Literature
Example # 1
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare refers to a clock. Though, the clock was present in the time of Shakespeare, yet it had no existence in the time of Julius Caesar. Thus, it is an example of anachronism.
Brutus: Peace! Count the clock.
Cassius: The clock has stricken three.
According to Encarta Dictionary,
"Something from a different period of time, e.g. a modern idea or invention wrongly placed in a historical setting in fiction or drama"
"A person, thing, idea, or custom that seems to belong to a different time in history."
Example # 2
Another anachronism, which occurs in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, is the use of the word doublet. The doublet was not in vogue in the time of Julius Caesar; rather, it was worn in the age of Shakespeare. Thus, it is an anachronism. Look at the following lines taken from Julius Ceasar:
Marry, before he fell down, when he perceived the common herd was glad he refused the crown, he plucked me open his doublet and offered them his throat to cut.
Example # 3
In Shakespeare’s play, Antony and Cleopatra, Cleopatra asks Charmian to play billiards. This is a clear example of anachronism as the game billiard was an unknown game in the age of Cleopatra. It was later on i.e., after the time of Cleopatra that it came into being.
Cleopatra: Let it alone; let's to billiards: come, Charmian.
Charmian: My arm is sore; best play with Mardian.
Example # 4
In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, the use of word dollar is an anachronism as dollar was not the actual currency at that time. This anachronism might have occurred due to lack of knowledge of Shakespeare about the actual currency of the time.
Sweno, the Norways' king, craves composition.
Nor would we deign him burial of his men
Till he disbursed at Saint Colme’s Inch
Ten thousand dollars to our general use.
Anachronism in Painting
Anachronism is also evident in painting. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, a painting, shows us the disciples sitting at a long tables. The table as painted in the painting was an unknown thing at the time of The Last Supper. That’s why; it an anachronism.