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The meaning and origin of the expression: The Devil incarnate

The Devil incarnate

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'The Devil incarnate'?

The Devil in human form.

What's the origin of the phrase 'The Devil incarnate'?

In 16th century England the devil was considered to be a real living entity that roamed the land and was able to transform itself, or at least inhabit, other living beings. The expression 'the devil in human form' wasn't a metaphor as we might use it now but an actuality. The first reference to it that I know of in print is in the collection of tragic poems The Mirour for Magistrates, 1578:

A wicked wretch, a kinseman most vnkynde [unkind],
A Deuil incarnate, all deuilishly enclynde [inclined]

The meaning and origin of the phrase 'The Devil incarnate'The expression must have been in common usage in the late 16th century as Shakespeare also used it, without any explanation, in King Henry V, 1598, and Titus Andronicus, 1588:

Henry V - Boy: Yes, that a' did; and said they were devils

Titus Andronicus - LUCIUS: O worthy Goth, this is the incarnate devil
That robb'd Andronicus of his good hand.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

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