Friday, December 30, 2005

Shakespeare's Tragedy

Shakespeare’s Tragedy

A tragedy is a story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in high estate (A.C. BRADLEY).

Tragedy: The derivation of the word 'tragedy' is uncertain. The word may come from two Greek words tragos (goat) and oide (song).

Shakespeare's plays usually classified as 'tragedies' are:

Titus Andronicus (1592)
Romeo and Juliet (1592)
Julius Caesar (1599)
Hamlet (1600-01)
Othello (1603)
King Lear (1605-06)
Timon of Athens (1605)
Macbeth (1606)
Antony and Cleopatra (1606)
Coriolanus (1608)

All of Shakespeare's tragedies have a tragic hero, or 'protagonist' who is put into a situation of conflict which he must resolve. A combination of bad luck and misjudgement lead to the hero's death. He is often a man of high social standing:

Lear and Macbeth are kings
Hamlet and Othello are princes - Othello is also a military general
Coriolanus and Titus are Roman Generals
Julius Caesar and Antony are rulers of Rome

Timon and Romeo are wealthy citizens

Tragedies are tales of harshness and injustice. They chart the downfall of a hero, whose own death leads to the downfall of others, for example in:

Hamlet Ophelia, Laertes, Polonius, Gertrude, Claudius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also die
Titus Andronicus 13 characters die
King Lear Cordelia, Goneril, Regan, Gloucester, Cornwall and Edmund die
Romeo and Juliet Mercutio, Tybalt, Lady Montague and Paris all die

All of Shakespeare's tragic heroes have a flawed nature or blind spot that leads to their downfall:

for Hamlet it is procrastination
for Macbeth it is ambition
for Coriolanus and Othello it is pride

The decisions made by people in positions of power have tremendous consequences.

Catharsis is a medical term meaning 'purgation'. By means of purgation, an organism rids itself of noxious substances and so is healed. In his Poetics , Aristotle (384-322 BC) writes that tragedy should succeed in 'arousing pity and fear in such a way as to accomplish a catharsis (i.e. purgation) of such emotions.

Thomas Kyd's Spanish Tragedy (c. 1589) was the first play to be called a Revenge Tragedy. The play appears to have developed an appetite amongst theatre-goers for the form for the genre flourished in Elizabethan and Jacobean theatres.

Examples of Revenge Tragedies:

Spanish Tragedy by Thomas Kyd
The Jew of Malta by Christopher Marlowe
The Revenger's Tragedy - an anonymously published play
Titus Andronicus and Hamlet by Shakespeare

Common features of Revenge Tragedies include:

a hero's quest for vengeance
scenes of real or feigned insanity
scenes in graveyards, severed limbs, carnage and mutilation
a corpse-strewn stage
the restoration of order after chaos

In Comedy -
The characters tend to be ordinary people, rather than kings and queens
The emotions and dangers are comparatively mild
The outcome of the action is happy - the plays generally end in marriage
The main thrust of the action is from chaos to resolution

In Tragedy -
The characters are of very high social standing (kings, princes, generals)
The dangers are extreme
The conclusion is sad
The action moves towards a state of chaos

In 2004, the RSC will stage five of Shakespeare's tragedies. Here is a brief synopsis for Hamlet; King Lear; Macbeth; Othello; Romeo and Juliet:

The young prince Hamlet discovers that his father died by foul play, murdered by his brother to gain the throne. He is visited by the restless ghost of the old King Hamlet, who tells him this and asks his son to avenge his death without harming his mother who has since married the new king. Hamlet wavers. He is presumed mad at court because of his erratic behaviour. He traps his uncle into showing his guilt, but then fails to murder him. He is estranged from Ophelia whom he had once loved and she is driven to distraction and then death. Hamlet is sent away and his murder secretly ordered by the King. Though Hamlet evades this and returns to complete his business, he is too late to save anyone from death - not even himself.

The old king Lear sets out to divide his kingdom between his three daughters, according to their love for him. Goneril and Regan profess great love for their father, but Lear's youngest and favourite daughter, Cordelia, says nothing. Enraged, Lear banishes Cordelia and gives away her portion of the kingdom to her sisters. But with nothing left to gain from their father, Goneril and Regan no longer wish to care for him and turn him out to the cold. Meanwhile Edmund, the illegitimate son of the Earl of Gloucester, contrives an estrangement between his father and his half-brother Edgar and declares his love and allegiance to both Goneril and Regan. Cordelia raises an army in France to fight her sisters' powers, while Edgar, disguised, acts as shepherd to his broken Father. Both Lear and Gloucester realise too late that they have put their trust and themselves in the wrong care.

Returning victorious from battle, Macbeth meets three witches who prophesy that he will rise to the throne of Scotland, though its heirs will be the descendants of another general, Banquo. Spurred by this prophecy and the encouragement of Lady Macbeth, he murders the sleeping King Duncan and assumes the throne. Having fulfilled the first part of the prophecy Macbeth then rushes to preempt the rest - setting out to murder Banquo and his son. Meanwhile Duncan's son Malcolm raises an army in England, with the help of Macduff, about whom Macbeth has been warned. Together they fulfill the prophecy for Macbeth's overthrow.

The celebrated general Othello has secretly married Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian senator. But when he is accused of stealing her, Othello explains himself and is given a new commission by the Senate, to lead the Venetian forces in a battle for Cyprus, against the Turks. Othello lands victorious in Cyprus, where he is joined by Desdemona. Their peace is shattered by Iago, a soldier, who manipulates Othello into believing that his wife is unfaithful and in love with Cassio - Othello's trusted lieutenant. Possessed by jealousy, Othello murders his wife.

The houses of Montague and Capulet are sworn enemies. When Romeo, a Montague, and Juliet, a Capulet, fall in love they do not know whom each other is. They marry in secret, while the feud rages. When Romeo's friend Mercutio is killed by Juliet's cousin, Tybalt, Romeo in turn kills Tybalt. He is banished from Verona, while Juliet's family plan to marry her to someone else. Friar Lawrence hatches a plan to reunite the lovers, but messages are crossed and they are driven to their deaths instead.

Analysis: The Fifth Stanza of William Blake's "The Tiger"

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

The lines quoted above are the fifth stanza of William Blake’s poem, The Tiger in the Songs of Experience (1794). The Tiger is the most famous and impressive of Blake’s short poem that is the most frequently and elaborately interpreted. The poem is the product of much thoughtful revision, and is a triumph of conscious artistry. William Blake is a poet who gives spirit and motivation to human life in order to make human life better. Blake, in The Tiger, talks about human beings and the spirit that they have. The Tiger may be regarded as the pure poetry of Blake’s trust in cosmic forces. The tiger is Blake’s symbol for the fierce forces in the soul, which are needed to break the bonds of experience. God has created human beings possessing two powers. One is to act in good manner and another one is to act in evil manner. That is why human beings must be able to stabilize or to control his life. In this poem, Blake asks a series of questions. He himself could have supplied one answer to the questions if he had quoted his own words from his poem, America, A Prophecy (1794): “Everything that lives is holy”—everything including the tiger.

When the stars threw down their spears,
And water’d heaven with their tears;
(The Tiger, lines 17-18)

The two lines quoted above constitute the crux of the poem. “The stars” can be taken as the rebel angels. Therefore lines 17-18 above can be interpreted when the rebel angels in Heaven surrendered to the power of God, which is represented by the tiger in this poem, and when they wept with humiliation (and when God proceeded to create the earth and its inhabitants—among them the tiger). The reference in lines 17-18 is, therefore, to the defeat of the rebel angels led by Lucifer (Satan), after which came the Creation. It is thought that the lines quoted above refer to the fall of the angels as described by John Milton in Paradise Lost:

They, astonished, all resistance lost,
All courage, down their weapons dropt.

In Blake conception, when the fallen angels were driven into hell, they “watered heaven with their tears” leaving them behind as stars. All of this has obvious relationship with the fall of man, and the introduction into the world of death, and such terrors as the tigers. The angels and man have fallen into Experience.

Another interpretation of the lines 17-18 above is the rebel angels are so amazed to see this new creation of God, the tiger, that they threw down their spears and wept because the tiger, which is merciless, strong as well as ferocious, has been created by God.

Did he smile his work to see?
(The Tiger, line 19)

Did the creator, God, smile with satisfaction to see the tiger which had been created? Did his handiwork please the Creator? God was happy because the tiger has made the rebel angels surrender.

Did he who made the Lamb, make thee?
(The Tiger, line 20)

Line 20 of the poem is the climax of the poem. The line is not an exclamation of wonder, but a very real question, whose answer Blake himself was not sure of. It is amazing that the same creator should have created both the lamb and the tiger. The lamb is innocent and mild while the tiger is ferocious and merciless. However the same God has created both of them. The line 20 quoted above links the poem with The Lamb in the Songs of Innocence (1789):

Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?
He is called by thy name
For He call Himself a Lamb.
(The Lamb, lines 9-14)

God has created the lamb and the tiger, ignorance and awareness, so the evil and good always exist in this world. It is on us whether to follow evil or goodness. In other words it is up to man to give shape to the vast potentialities (powers) with which God has endowed man.

Definition of Tragedy

Definition of Tragedy

Tragedie is to seyn a certeyn stories,
As olde bookes maken us memorie,
Of hym that stood in greet prosperitee,
And is yfallen out of heigh degree
Into myserie, and endeth wrecchedly
(Geoffrey Chaucer, The Monk's Tale; late 14th century)

The following definitions of tragedy from early modern dictionaries were included in a lecture given to the 2004 RSC Ensemble by Jonathan Bate, Professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance Literature at the University of Warwick.

Tragoedia, A tragedie, being a loftie kind of poetrie, and representing Personages of great estate, and matter of much trouble, a great broyle or stirre.
THOMAS, Latin dictionary, 1587.

Tragedie: a solemne plaie
COOTE, 'hard word list', 1596.

Trag├ędia, a tragedie or moornefull play being a loftie kinde of poetrie, and representing personages of great state and matter of much trouble, a great broile or stirre: it beginneth prosperously and endeth vnfortunatelie or sometimes doubtfullie, and is contrarie to a comedie.
FLORIO, English-Italian dictionary, 1598

tragedie, a solemne play, describing cruel murders and sorrowes
CAWDREY, 'hard word list', 1604

Tragedie. A play or Historie ending with great sorrow and bloodshed.
Tragedian. A Player or Writer of Tragedies.
Tragicall. Mournefull, lamentable, deadly, which endeth like a Tragedy.
BULLOKAR, earliest English dictionary, 1616.

Tragedie [tragoedia] is a lofty kind of poetry, so called from [Greek tragos], a goat; because the actors thereof had a goat given them as a reward. The differences between a Tragedy and a Comedy are these; First, in respect of the matter, because a Tragedy treats of exilements, murders, matters of grief, &c. a Comedy of loves toyes, merry fictions and petty matters; in a Tragedy the greatest part of the actors are Kings and Noble persons…
BLOUNT, English dictionary, 1656.

In the first week of rehearsal for the RSC 2004 Tragedies Season, the acting company were divided into four groups asked to define tragedy. Here are their definitions:

A story in which a noble protagonist's actions have disastrous consequences, for which they are not entirely to blame.
Tragedy is the change from high to low state.

Tragedy is about the punishment of tyrants, the turn of fortune's wheel.
Tragedies act as a warning to people in positions of power not to abuse their power.

Michael Boyd, Artistic Director of the RSC, talks about TRAGEDY:

Tragedy, to begin with, was a form of theatre. Now we use the word to describe all manner of sad events that happen in our world - events we hear about, read about, watch on television. But is tragedy something that happens to other people or is it an experience we go through? And if so, are we changed by it?

Shakespeare's Tragedies take us on a journey:

They confront our greatest hopes and fears, our best and worst of actions.
They probe the extremities of what it means to be human.
They expose the suffering we inflict and the suffering we bear.

Despite being written hundreds of years ago, the dilemmas of Shakespeare's tragedies are dilemmas that still rule our public arena and our private lives; family relations, power struggles, obsessions and betrayals.

What can we learn from seeing terrible events played and replayed? How can we uplifted by seeing tragedies on stage? Tragedy explores the human capacity for cruelty but also for endurance. Tragedy heals by showing us what we are capable of.

Whilst Comedies are about ordinary people, Tragedies are about kings, gods and demi-gods. Comedy is the oldest form of theatre; it goes back to the dawn of time. Tragedy only emerged when we a got hierarchical structure. When people began to raise themselves up and gain power and positions of greatness, we began to judge their rights and wrongs.

There are four parts to the tragedy (theorists argue the same structure applies to comedy too):

Part one - protasis, the setting up the situation
Part two - epitasis, the complication of the action
Part three - catastasis, the main body of the action
Part four - catastrophe, the ending or unwinding

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What's Tragedy

What is tragedy

We say that things are tragic all the time, but mostly to mean they are just sad. With images of conflict, terror and strife all over our TV screens and newspapers, have our ideas of tragedy today been pigeonholed and detached from our own experience?

The following topic explores the meaning of tragedy and how Shakespeare represents society's deepest fears on stage.
"The tragic events of September 11": it has become a formula that rolls off every politician's tongue. Meanwhile, almost every day you will find some lesser "tragedy" described in the pages of your newspaper: a child drowns, a car crashes, someone is murdered. The word is used so frequently and sometimes with regard to misfortunes that in the overall scale of things are so commonplace that it has been emptied of its primal force. If the word had been treated with the respect it deserves, kept ready for the truly awesome and the world-historical horrors, then its application to 9/11 would have had more meaning.
"Is this the promised end?" asks Albany at the end of King Lear. "Or image of that horror?" replies Kent. Every human death is, for those who witness it, an image of our own promised end, but until relatively recently the word tragedy has not been applied to the mundane cycle of death, the expirations and silencings that occur every hour, every minute, every second. In Shakespeare's world the term was reserved for two exceptional kinds of disaster. One was the catastrophe that seemed cosmic in its scale and horrific in its particulars, so genuinely seeming to be an image of the apocalypse, the promised end of all things. When Caxton wrote of "tragicall tidings" the sort of thing he had in mind was the fall of Troy-the end of a whole civilization, a turning-point in history.
The second traditional sense of tragedy was shaped less by scale than by structure. "Tragedie," wrote Chaucer, "is to seyn a certeyn storie, / As olde bookes maken us memorie, / Of hym that stood in greet prosperitee, / And is yfallen out of heigh degree / Into myserie, and endeth wrecchedly." The higher they climb, the harder they fall: tragedy is traditionally about heroes and kings, larger than life figures who climb to the top of fortune's wheel and are then toppled off. It is a structure saturated with irony: the very quality that is the source of a character's greatness is also the cause of his downfall.
This is why talk of a tragic flaw is misleading. The theory of the flaw arises from a misunderstanding of Aristotle's influential account of ancient Greek tragedy. For Aristotle, hamartia, the thing that precipitates tragedy, is not a psychological predisposition but an event-not a character trait but a fatal action. In several famous cases in Greek tragedy, the particular mistake is to kill a blood-relation in ignorance of their identity. So too in Shakespeare, it is action (or in Hamlet's case inaction) that determines character and not vice-versa.
Here's a variant on the critic John Bayley's helpful way of looking at it. Imagine Hamlet in Othello's situation and Macbeth in Hamlet's. Would Hamlet be duped by Iago's story about the handkerchief? Of course not. He would endlessly speculate on every possibility and devise a scheme to test the evidence-perhaps he'd put on a play about adultery and watch for Desdemona's reaction. He'd soon discover that Iago is not to be trusted, and there would be no tragedy. Now imagine Macbeth commissioned with Hamlet's task. Would he hesitate and agonise? No, he'd go straight to Claudius and unseam him from the nave to the chops before you could say Danish bacon. Again, there would be no tragedy. The tragedy comes from the mismatch of person and situation, not a pre-programmed psychological cause.
Lear cannot let go of the past, Macbeth cannot wait for the future, Hamlet cannot stop worrying about the future: none of them is content to live in the moment. This is not so much an individual tragic flaw as a universal human failing. We are creatures bound by time but always longing for another time.
In the face of this dilemma, Shakespearean tragedy pulls in two different directions. There is a movement towards acceptance of the moment, which means acceptance of death. Thus Hamlet: "If it be now, 'tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all." And Macbeth: "She should have died hereafter. / There would have been a time for such a word." And Edgar in King Lear: "Men must endure / Their going hence, even as their coming hither; / Ripeness is all." This is a kind of tragic knowledge that derives from the classical philosophy of Stoicism. Stoicism meant resignation, fortitude, suppression of emotion.
But Shakespeare was also sceptical about Stoicism. It is the Stoic philosophy that he mocks when a grieving father refuses comfort in Much Ado about Nothing: "I will be flesh and blood," says Leanato, "For there was never yet philosopher / That could endure the toothache patiently, / However they have writ the style of gods, / And made a pish at chance and sufferance." The trouble with Stoicism is that it neglects the capacity to feel, something which makes us human just as much as the capacity to reason. The counter-movement in Shakespearean tragedy is towards an acknowledgement of the emotions, as they express themselves in the body. Gloucester has no eyes and yet he sees how the world goes: he sees it feelingly. Before Macduff can act like a man in taking revenge against Macbeth for the murder of his family he must first feel his grief as a man-he must let himself be a weeping human before turning himself into an alpha male.

"A play read", mused Dr Johnson, "affects the mind like a play acted." It doesn't: what you have with a play acted is the actor's body. Shakespeare was not a Stoic because he was a player. A player works with his body as much as with his words. In the theatre, the body is a supremely expressive instrument of feeling.
While Shakespeare was writing King Lear, he was reading John Florio's English translation of the essays of Michel de Montaigne, a writer whose temper of mind was uncannily like Shakespeare's own. At the heart of Montaigne's book was a long philosophical essay that attacked the comfortable "natural theology" of one Raymond Sebond. In that essay, Montaigne exposes the body in shame:
'Truly, when I consider man all naked (yea be it in that sex, which seemeth to have and challenge the greatest share of eye-pleasing beauty) and view his defects, his natural subjection, and manifold imperfections; I find we have had much more reason to hide and cover our nakedness, than any creature else. We may be excused for borrowing those which nature had therein favoured more than us, with their beauties to adorn us, and under their spoils of wool, of hair, of feathers, and of silk to shroud us.'

We think of the nakedness of the central scenes in Lear.
Montaigne also exposes the insignificance of human life within the universal scale of things: Is it possible to imagine any thing so ridiculous, as this miserable and wretched creature, which is not so much as master of himself, exposed and subject to the offences of all things, and yet dareth call himself Master and Emperor of this Universe? In whose power it is not to know the least part of it, much less to command the same. We think of Lear's inability to command the storm. And yet Montaigne's essay also celebrates the astonishing expressive resourcefulness of the human body. Even the eyebrows and the shoulders can express emotion, he says. And as for the hands: What do we with our hands? Do we not sue and entreat, promise and perform, call men unto us, and discharge them, bid them farewell and be gone, threaten, pray, beseech, deny, refuse, demand, admire, number, confess, repent, fear, be ashamed, doubt, instruct, command, incite, encourage, swear, witness, accuse, condemn, absolve, injure, despise, defy, despite, flatter, applaud, bless, humble, mock, reconcile, recommend, exalt, show gladness, rejoice, complain, wail, sorrow, discomfort, despair, cry out, forbid, declare silence and astonishment? This is a list that could be a template for the bodily actions of the tragic actor."Words, words, mere words," says Hamlet-like Troilus in Shakespeare's acrid Trojan tragedy, "No matter from the heart". In the end, what matters about Shakespearean tragedy are not the fine words of resignation and Stoic comfort, but the raw matter of the heart and the solid presence of the body. The body in pain. The body emptied of life but still available for a farewell kiss or blessing. The bodies of Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Desdemona, come to rest in an embrace. Horatio, best of friends, is there to bid Hamlet's body goodnight. Lear is allowed to mourn over Cordelia; when he has said goodbye he is ready for his own heart to break. Macbeth is the bleakest of the tragedies because the Macbeths, having begun the play as one of the few happily married couples anywhere in Shakespeare, drift apart-embittered by their childlessness?-and each dies profoundly alone. There is no Horatio or Kent to give sorrow words on behalf of the audience. Only in this play could Shakespeare have described life as a walking shadow, a poor player, a tale "Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing."

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Origins of Tragedy

Origins of Tragedy

'Tragedy is the imitation of an action that is serious, and also, as having magnitude, complete in itself ... with incidents arousing pity and terror, with which to accomplish its purgation of these emotions.' Aristotle, Poetics, 6.

Between 600 and 400 BC, poetry and drama flourished in Greece. The chief playwrights of this era were: Aeschylus (525-456 BC), Sophocles (496-406 BC), Aristophanes (c.448-c.380 BC) and Euripides (484-406 BC).

The origins of drama lie in the songs and dances of ancient rites and religious festivals connected to the seasons. Tragedy was born in ancient Athens and has its roots in choral poetry. Dionysius was the nature god who died and was reborn every year. A chorus 50-strong would perform a hymn in his honour, called a dithyramb. According to Aristotle, tragedy grew out of the dithyramb when a solo actor - Thespis - stepped forward and began a dialogue with the dithyramb. The word tragedy means literally "goat - song". Quite what this means is uncertain, but the goat was perhaps the prize for a song.

The playwright Aeschylus was the first to develop tragedy into a great art form and is regarded as the real founder of European drama. His dramas concerned general moral judgements, man's relationship with the gods and his place in the universe. He is thought to have written 90 plays, of which 79 titles are known but only 7 are extant, the most famous being Prometheus Bound and the trilogy known as the Oresteia. Aeschylus introduced a second actor to the drama and reduced the size of the chorus.

Sophocles is said to have written over 100 plays, of which seven survive, including: Ajax (c.450 BC), Antigone (c. 442 BC), Oedipus Rex (?c. 425 BC) and Electra (409 BC). According to the Oxford Companion to the Theatre (ed. Phyllis Hartnoll, OUP 1967), Aeschylus represents the heroic period of Athenian democracy and Sophocles its triumphant maturity. "Through his tragedies, Sophocles brings to his audience the dual experience of weeping over man's downfall yet at the same time rejoicing over the renewal of his spirit." (Ronald Harwood, All The World's A Stage, 1984)

The youngest of the three tragic poets of Greek theatre, Euripides, had an extraordinary ability to represent ordinary human beings (and in particular, women), with impassioned sympathy. Euripides wrote both tragedies and plays that have been variously called tragic-comedies, romantic drama, melodrama and high comedy. His best known plays include Medea, Bacchae, The Trojan Women, Hecuba, Ion, Iphigenia in Tauris, The Phoenician Women, Andromache and two powerful studies in morbidity and insanity: Electra and Orestes.

For the most part, Roman tragedy means works written by Lucius Annaeus Seneca (c.4 BC - AD 65), whose plays were dramas of blood and horror intended to be read rather than performed for they contain seemingly unstageable elements, such as the piecing together of Hippolytus' dismembered body by his father and Medea killing her son and flinging down his corpse from the palace roof to his father below.

Seneca was a Roman Stoic, playwright, philosopher, satirist, tragic poet, rhetorician and statesman. He was exiled by the emperor Claudius in AD 41, allegedly for adultery with the emperor's niece. He went on to tutor the young Nero and became an advisor to him when Nero was made emperor. For a while he is said to have held the emperor's excessive behaviour in check, but later found his position untenable and retired from court in AD 62. Later Nero accused him of involvement in a plot to assassinate him and ordered Seneca to commit suicide.

Seneca's plays aimed to teach stoicism, a system of thought which originated in Athens during the 3rd century BC and flourished in Rome (c. 100 BC - c. AD 200). Stoicism greatly influenced Christian thinking. Seneca's plays were often re-workings of the Greek dramas of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and include:
The Trojan Women
The Phoenician Women

All nine of Seneca's plays were translated into English between the years 1559 and 1581 and Shakespeare would no doubt have been familiar with his work. For an account of Seneca's influence, see T.S. Eliot's essays Seneca in Elizabethan Translation and Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca (both published in 1927).

Seneca's tragedies were divided into 5 acts
Seneca's tragic heroes develop courage and dignity as they face death
Typically in a Senecan tragedy, a Cloud of Evil is followed by the defeat of Reason by Evil which in turn gives way to the Triumph of Evil (as in The Trojan Women).
The stage is often corpse-strewn at the end

Seneca's plays have greatly influenced the development of drama in the modern era, in particular the work of Renaissance playwrights such as Thomas Kyd (The Spanish Tragedy) and Christopher Marlowe (The Jew of Malta).

Coleridge as the Poet of the Supernatural Depicted in "The Ancient Mariner"

The Ancient Mariner is a tale of a curse which the narrator, the Mariner himself, brings upon himself and his companions by killing an Albatross without reason. Coleridge’s power of handling the supernatural is like the pure music of his verse. The moral of the poem is one of all-embracing love. This poem is full of moral teachings for human beings. Humphry House expresses his agreement with three great critics, Dr. Tillyard, Dr. Bowra, and Robert Penn Warren, that the poem has a very serious moral and spiritual on human life. The moral of the ancient Mariner’s story is that one should love all God’s creatures.

Coleridge is regarded as the greatest poet of the supernatural in English literature and The Ancient Mariner is regarded as a masterpiece of supernatural poetry. His supernatural is controlled by thought and study. Cazamian says, ”The very center of Coleridge art lies in his faculty of evoking the mystery of things, and making it actual, widespread, and obsessing. Even better than Wordsworth, he knows how to handle that species of the supernatural whose essence (spirit) is entirely psychological…. The supernatural element in The Ancient Mariner is a hallucination, the outcome of remorse; by the most sober of method.” His skill in dealing with the supernatural in this poem is two-fold: first, he has fully achieved his aim of making the supernatural appear to be natural; and, second, he has employed suggestive, psychological, and refined (sophisticated) methods of producing the feelings of mystery and horror in the poem, not crude and sensational like that of the writers before him, i.e. Horace, Walpole, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Monk Lewis.
The greatness of The Ancient Mariner lies chiefly in the technique by which the supernatural has been made believable and convincing. There are, no doubt, a number of impossible, incredible, and fantastic situation in the poem, such as: the mesmeric (magnetic) power in the mariner’s gaze, the sudden appearance of the mysterious skeleton ship, the spectre woman and her mate, the coming back to life of the dead crew, the seraph-band making signals to the land, the sudden sinking of the ship, and the polar spirit commenting on or influencing the course of events. But this supernatural phenomena are so skillfully blended with the perfectly believable and natural phenomena that the whole looks real. The sun shinning brightly at the outset, the mist and snow, the freezing cold of the polar regions, the floating ice bergs floating in the water, the torrid (very hot) fierceness of stagnant water, the slimy things crawling on the sea, the moon going up the sky, the roaring wind, the rainfall—such are the natural phenomena in the poem. The realistic effect is enhanced by a description of the state of mind of the ancient mariner; that is how he tried to pray but he could not, how lonely he felt on a wide, wide sea, how he wanted to die but in vain (useless), how he suffered mental and spiritual anguish (torture). This psychological study of the mariner adds to the realistic effect because we are made to feel that any man would suffer in the same way under similar circumstances.. Again, the details of the ship’s voyage have such a diary-like air that we accept them as a faithful recording of facts. There is, too, the logic of cause and effect in the poem. The punishment and torture have a convincing cause behind them. The realistic effect achieved by Coleridge in The Ancient Mariner is one his great achievements which makes the poem not only convincing and exciting but also in some sense a criticism of life.

There are a large number of situations and episodes in The Ancient Mariner, which fill us either with a sense of mystery of a feeling of horror of with both. The first situation that strikes terror in the heart of the Mariner (and also the reader) is the appearance of the skeleton-ship. When this skeleton-ship is sighted in the distance, the sailors feel happy to think that they will now get water to quench their burning thirst. But in a few moment they discover the reality of this ship. The description of the ship with its “ribs” and its “gossamere-like sails” fill us with terror. It is a strange mystery that this ship should sail on the sea without wind and without a tide, while the Mariner’s ship stands still “like a painted shop upon a painted ocean”. Obviously it is a supernatural force, which drives the ship, and the crew also consists of supernatural characters.
The feeling of terror is heightened when a reference is made to the crew of this ship. The crew consists of Death and Life-in-Death. But Coleridge creates the sense of horror in this poem not by describing a direct and crude description but by employing suggestive and psychological methods. For instance, he does not describe the physical features of the spectre woman and her death mate or other external phenomena at length, but he simply portrays the effect of those external things on the mariner’s mind. The appearance of Life-in-Death is described in the following three lines:

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold:
Her skin was as white as leprosy.
(Lines 190-92)

These three lines are followed by these two:

The night-mare Life-in-Death was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.
(lines 193-94)

Coleridge, after giving us only three lines of description, conveys the horror by saying that the sight of her would have the effect of freezing a man’s blood. In other words, he leaves it to us to imagine for ourselves the horrible appearance of Life-in-Death that personifies the unspeakable torture of a man who cannot die. Coleridge merely offers a few suggestions to be developed by the reader himself. The effect of the skeleton-ship with Death and Life-in-Death on board again conveyed to as by the following two lines:

Fear at my heart, as at a cup,
My life-blood seemed to sip!
(lines 204-5).

That is, instead of giving us a detailed description of the whole horrible sight, Coleridge refers to the effect of that horrible sight upon the mind of the Mariner and says that fear sipped his life-blood. Another situation that produces horror in the poem is the death of the two hundred sailors who dropped down one by one, and each of them looked at the ancient Mariner with a curse in his eyes:

One after one, by the star-dogged Moon,
Too quick for groan or sigh,
Each turned his face with a ghastly pang,
And cursed me with his eye.
(lines 212-15)

The ancient Mariner heard a whiz-like sound every time a soul left its body:

The souls did from their bodies fly,—
They fled to bliss or woe!
And every soul, it passed me by,
Like the whizz of my cross-bow!
(lines 220-23)

What a horrible experience it must have been for the ancient Mariner and how horrible for the reader too. The agony and spiritual torture of the lonely ancient Mariner on a wide wide sea when he could not pray or die are, perhaps, the most terrifying and horrifying elements in the poem. The following stanzas convey some of the horror of the Mariner’s state:

I looked upon the rotting sea,
And drew my eyes away;
I looked upon the rooting deck,
And there the dead men lay.

I looked to heaven, and tried to pray;
But or ever a prayer had gusht,
A wicked whisper came, and made
My heart as dry as dust.

I closed my lids, and kept them close,
And the balls like pulses beat;
For the sky and the sea, and the sea and the sky
Lay like a load on my weary eye,
And the dead were at my feet.
(Lines 240-52)

What makes the situation still more horrifying is that the curse in dead men’s eyes had never passed away:

The look with which they looked on me
Had never passed away.
(Lines 255-56)

Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.
(Lines 261-62)

Here, again, no ugly details are provided. We are to imagine the horror of the situation ourselves. We shudder (tremble) with fear to think of the Mariner who is left alone after seeing “four times fifty living men” dropping down one by one, “with heavy thump, a lifeless lump.” It is at this stage that the Weeding-Guest begins to experience a sensation of fear because he thinks that the Marines himself must also have dropped down dead and that it is the Mariner’s ghost who is now speaking to him and so he says:

‘I fear thee, ancient Mariner!
I fear thy skinny hand!
I fear thee and thy glittering eye,
And thy skinny hand, so brown.’—
(lines 224-29)

Next, the groaning, stirring, and coming back to life of the dead crew must have been a terrifying experience for the ancient Mariner till he discovered that the bodies were inspired not by their original souls but by a troop of angelic spirit. We are certainly terrified when we read:

The dead men gave groan,
They groaned, they stirred, they all uprose,
Nor spake, nor moved their eyes;
(lines 330-33)

They raised their limbs like lifeless tools
We were a ghastly crew.
(lines 339-40)

In real life, if a dead man happens to open his eyes (because he has not really died), all the mourners get terribly frightened and run away helter-skelter. In this case two hundred dead men got up on their feet and started working at the oars. The horror of the situation can well be imagined.

Again, towards the close of the poem, the poet wishes to tell us how horrifying the Mariner’s face appeared after he had undergone his strange adventures. The poet does not describe the features the face; he simply describes the effect of the face upon the Pilot’s mind:

I moved my lips—the Pilot shrieked
And fell down in a fit;
(lines 560-61)

In other words, the Mariner’s face was ghastly like the face of a dead man, and it struck so much terror in the Pilot’s heart that the Pilot fainted. The Pilot must have thought that the Mariner was not a human being but some horrible spectre. The effect on the Pilot’s boy was that he went crazy with fear:

I took the oars: the Pilot’s boy,
Who now doth crazy go,
Laughed loud and long, and all the while
His eyes went to and fro.
(lines 564-67)

As for the Hermit, he too was terrified but, being a holy man, he sought courage from God:

The holy Hermit raised his eyes,
And prayed where he did sit.
(lines 562-563)

The Hermit is, indeed, badly shaken and, on stepping forth from the boat, could scarcely stand because of fear:

The Hermit stepped forth from the boat,
And scarcely he could stand.
(lines 572-73)

In a nervous state of mind, the Hermit asks the Mariner to tell him immediately what manner of man he is. In short, the horror of the Mariner’s face is conveyed to us through the reactions of the Pilot, the Pilot’s boy, and the Hermit.

Coleridge’s treatment of the supernatural is quite different from that of such writers as Horace, Walpole, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Monk Lewis. The difference between Coleridge and the others is the difference between the maker of horror and the maker of horrors. Coleridge creates the atmosphere of mystery and fear by indefiniteness and by subtle suggestion, while the others employ crude description and they pile horrors in order to send a cold shiver down the reader’s spine and to curdle the reader’s blood.

The theme of this poem is crime, punishment and reconciliation. In this poem the Mariner did not act but was only acted upon and he was the recipient rather than the doer. He is the recipient of the odd and of the fate. There is a tragic flaw for the Mariner as the killing of the bird starts his suffering. The suffering endured by the Mariner is due to killing the bird that represents imagination, and by killing the bird the Mariner kills the imagination and the loss of the imagination is a kind of death. The Mariner suffers mentally and spiritually, and he is isolated. Then in his suffering, he sees water snakes and blesses them, which eventually releases his suffering.

Chaucer's Canterbury Tales" as a Picture of Contemporary Society


by Purwarno
Fakultas Sastra
Universitas Islam Sumatera Utara, Medan

Artikel ini membahas tentang kehidupan sosial dan politik nasional di Inggris pada abad pertengahan yang digambarkan dalam karya terbesar Geoffrey Chaucer, “Prologue to Cantgerbury Tales”. Chaucer yang juga dikenal sebagai bapak puisi Inggris menggambarkan secara detail berbagai aspek sosial, budaya dan politik nasional pada masanya. Gambaran kehidupan masyarakat pada masa itu diramu dengan baik oleh Chaucer melalui presentasi tokoh-tokoh yang ditampilkan dalam karyanya tersebut sehingga dengan membaca artikel ini pembaca akan mendapat gambaran yang baik dan jelas tentang kehidupan dan situasi sebenarnya pada masa itu.

Keywords: contemporary society, Middle Age, ecclesiastical characters, chronicler, medieval chivalry.

Literature reflects the tendencies of the age in which it is produced and there is always a supreme literary artist who becomes the mouthpiece of his age and gives expression to its hopes and aspirations, its fads and fetishes, its fears and doubts, its prosperity or poverty and its enterprise in his works. Chaucer symbolizes the Middle Age. He stands in much the same relation to the life of his time as Pope does to the earlier phases of the eighteenth century, the Age of Neoclassicism, and Tennyson to the Victorian era in the later nineteenth century; and his place in English Literature is even more important than theirs.
So far as religious belief is concerned, Pope was not a representative of his age. He was a Roman Catholic whereas the majority of Englishmen in his age were Protestants, with a fair sprinkling of Puritans among them. However, Pope never asserts his religion anywhere in his work. He faithfully represents his Age, its social, intellectual life and literary tendencies in the poems such as “The Rape of the Lock”, “Dunciad”, “Essay on Man”, and “Essay on Criticism”. In “The Rape of the Lock”, Pope satirically portrays the frivolous pursuits and affected life of the upper-class ladies of his age in the person and activities of Belinda. “The Essay on Man” is, likewise, an attempt to present the philosophical and intellectual principles of his Age. In the “Dunciad”, Pope lets loose the floodgates of scurrilous satire attacking the political strife of the age and the low moral standards to which the wits had fallen in those days. Like Pope, Tennyson was equally the mouthpiece of the Victorian society, and represented the ideas, traditions, hopes and aspirations of the people. He reflected the fancies and sentiments of the Victorian England. In the “Princes”, Tennyson associates himself with the suffragist movement of his time and makes a plea for the education and better placement of woman in society. In “Locksley Hall of 1842”, he effectively presents the restless spirit of ‘young England’ and the optimistic belief of the age in science, commerce and the progress of mankind; while its sequel “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After” (1886) shows the revulsion of new things which had occurred in many minds when the rapid development of science seemed to threaten the very foundation of religion, and commerce was filling the world with the sordid greed of gain. In the “Palace of Art”, he describes and condemns the spirit of aestheticism and Pre-Raphaeliticism, whose sole religion was the worship of beauty and knowledge for its own sake. “Maud” gives a dramatic rendering of the revolt of a cultured mind against the hypocrisy and corruptions of a society degraded by the worship of Mammon. In his “Idylls of the King”, he has reduced the plan of the Arthurian stories to the necessities of Victorian morality. In “Memoriam”, he traces the triumph of Faith and Love over Death and Skepticism. In all these ways, Tennyson represents the Victorian Age.
Like Pope and Tennyson, Chaucer represents his own Age. He is as truly the social chronicler of England in the late fourteenth century as Froissart is the political and military chronicler of France during the same period. His poetry reflects the fourteenth century not in fragments but as a complete whole. Other poets of his Age direct their gaze and attention to only a certain limited aspects of the age. For example Wyclif (1330-1408) reflects the fear produced in the wealthier class by the Peasant Rising; Barbour mirrors the break between the literature of Scotland and of England and the advent of patriotic Scottish poetry; and Langland (1330-1400) presents a picture of the corruption in the Church and the religious order. Each of these authors throws light only on one aspect of fourteenth century life. It is Chaucer’s greatness that he directs his comprehensive gaze not on one aspect only of his Age but on all its wide and variegated life. He is the wide and capacious soul, and takes a fuller view of his times more than anyone else could have taken in those days. Chaucer gives us a direct transcription of reality and a true picture of daily life as it actually lives in most familiar aspects. Chaucer represents all this fully nowhere but in “Prologue to Canterbury Tales” in which through the presentation of the characters, Chaucer represents the wide sweep of English life by gathering a motley company together and making each class of society tell its own typical story.

At the outset, it must be made clear that Chaucer at heart was a realist, and he revealed the truth about life as he saw it. Chaucer’s realism primarily comes out in the setting of “The Canterbury Tales” which is not only his masterpiece among the poet’s own works but also the high point of all English medieval literature. The pilgrimage belonging to all classes of society journeying from London to the holy shrine of St. Thomas at Canterbury provides Chaucer a fitting opportunity to present realistically the picture of the real world of fourteenth century life. Chaucer imparts the solid touch of realism in the portrayal of his characters. Each character with the dress, manner and behavior is highly conducive to realism. Chaucer presents the variegated life of his age faithfully and realistically.

a. Medieval Chivalry
Chaucer’s England was predominantly medieval in spirit, and the most outstanding feature of the middle Age was chivalry and knighthood. It is in “The Prologue to Canterbury Tales” that Chaucer reflects very clearly the chivalric spirit of the medieval times. Chaucer reflects the fading chivalry of the middle Age represented in the character of the Knight, and the rising chivalry of his own times reflected in his young son, the Squire.
The Knight is a true representative of the spirit of medieval chivalry which was a blend of love, religion, and bravery. He has been a champion of not fewer than fifteen mortal battles in the defence of religion.

At mortal batailles hadde he been fiftene,
And foughten for oure feith …
(Prologue: 61 – 62)

However, it is in the Age of Chaucer that the spirit of true chivalry was breathing its last. The Knight was the true symbol of the old world of knighthood that was losing its ground giving place to a new conception of chivalry represented by the Squire, who, in spite of his military exploit, was a man of happy-go-lucky nature. He has as much taste for revelry as for chivalry. He is “a lover and a lusty bachelor”. He is singing and fluting all the day.

Syngynge he was, or floytynge, al the day
He koude songes make and wel endite
(Prologue: 91 – 95)

b. Political Conditions
In the “Prologue to Canterbury Tales”, Chaucer realistically presents the political conditions o his times. He refers to the “Peasant’s Revolt” of 1381 in the Clerk’s Tale and in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale. In the Clerk’s Tale, he refers to the ‘stormy people’, their levity, their untruthfulness, their indiscretion and fickleness, their garrulity and their foolishness. In the Nun’s Tale, Chaucer says:

So hideous was the noise, ah, Bendicte,
Certes, he Jacke Straw, and his meinee
Ne made never shoutes half so shrille
Whan that they wolden any leming kille,
(The Nun’s Priest’s Tale: 573 – 576)

The very reason why there is only few references to the movement of the people out for grabbing power from nobility in “The Canterbury Tales” is that Chaucer had no love and liking for the rabblement. Another important national event taking place in the Age is the “The Black Death” or the terrible plague of 1384 – 89. The allusion to this event comes in Chaucer’s character-sketch of the Doctor of Physic: “He kepte that wan in pestilence”.
There is then a latent reference to Lollardism,--The Lollard’s Movement started by John Wyclif in 1377 for the reformation of the church, in the delineation o the “Poor Parson”, who like a Lollard, (one of Wyclif’s disciplines) believed in simple living and high thinking.

c. Rise of the Merchant Class
For the first time in history, the trading and artisan section of society were coming to their own in the age of Chaucer. The fourteenth century in England witnesses the rise of the rich and prosperous merchants and tradesman. They carried profitable business with European countries and were laying the foundation of England’s industrial prosperity. Small traders and handicraftsmen grew into power and began to behave like aldermen and well-to-do citizens. The importance and self-consciousness of the smaller tradesmen and handicraftsmen increased with that of the great merchants. The middle class people contested seats for Parliament. Chaucer makes reference to the rise of trades and merchants during his times, and his Merchant is the type o the merchants who were gradually coming into prominence. The picture of the average merchants has a familiar ring about in:

A merchant was there with forked beard,
In motteleye and hye on horse he sat
Upon hid head a Flaudryssh bevere hat:
His bootes clasped faire and fetisly.
(Prologue: 270 – 273)

With the fast expansion in trade and commerce, merchants had become prosperous and so had the craftsmen whose goods they traded in. We are told by Chaucer that the Haberdasher, the Carpenter, the Weaver, the Dyer, and the Tapicer were well clothed and equipped. Their weapons were not cheaply trimmed with brass, but all with silver. They were so respectable-looking. They were no longer despised by the nobility.

A Haberdasher, and a Carpenter,
A Webbe, a Dyere, and a Tapycer,
And they were clothed alle in olyveree
Of a solempne and greet fraternitee;
Ful fresh and newe hir geere apiked was;
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras,
But al with silver, wrought ful clene and weel,
Hire girdles and his pouches everydeel.
Wel semed each of them a fair burgeous
To sitten in a yeldhalle, on a days.
(Prologue: 361 – 370)

d. Medical Profession
Chaucer’s portrait of the Doctor of Physic is fairly representative of the theory and practice of medicine in his age. The knowledge of astronomy or what we should call astrology was a must or a physician as all the physical ailments were supposed to be the consequences of the peculiar configurations of stars and planets. That is why the Doctor of Physic too was “grounded in astronomy”. However, as a type character of the physicians of the day, he had no time for reading the Bible; “His study was but little on the Bible”. Most probably, it is because he had not much time to spare from his professional studies. He had amassed a fortune in the year of the great plague and was keen to keep it with him. It also gives a sly dig at him for his gold-loving nature.

He kepte that he wan in pestilence.
For gold in physic is a cordial
Therefore he lovede gold in special
(Prologue: 442 – 444)

e. Religious Condition of the Age
Through the ecclesiastical characters in “The Canterbury Tales”, Chaucer constructs a representative picture of the condition of the church and its ministers in his age. He does not strike pointedly at the corruption among the clergymen of the times but he certainly presents realistically the fatty degeneration that had set in religious life of his age. The clergymen instead of devoting their time and energy to religious meditation have given themselves up to profligacy, and Epicureanism. Chaucer does not attack like Wyclif or Lollard any principle or dogma o Christian Catholicism, but certainly he cannot tolerate the growing corruption, laxity of discipline and love o luxury prevailing among the clergy. He, therefore, satirises these depraved and fallen ecclesiastics of his times. There are seven ecclesiastical characters dealt with by Chaucer in “The Canterbury Tales”, not counting the nun and the chaplain in attendance upon the Prioress. The seven ecclesiastical characters are the Prioress, the Monk, the Friar, the Clerk of Oxford, the Parson, the Summoner, and the Pardoner. It may be pointed out, at the very outset, that Chaucer presents the clergymen of his times in a most unfavourable light. The only ecclesiastical characters whom Chaucer admires and whom the readers admire also are the Clerk and the Parson for whom Chaucer has nothing but praise. The other characters belonging to the church are ridiculed and satirized. Chaucer exposes the follies, the absurdities, the monetary greed, the hypocrisy, and, on the whole, the irreligious nature of these men of religion. These clergymen are not only most worldly-minded but also dishonest, immoral, and corrupt.
The Prioress comes first. A study of the conditions prevailing in Chaucer’s time would show that Chaucer creates this Prioress straight from his own world. The Prioress bothers more about modish etiquette than austerity. This Prioress is essentially well-bred but she is also individualized. She has a romantic name, Eglantine. She indulges in certain vanities which belonged, either wholly or partly, to many nuns of Chaucer’s time. A Prioress was not expected to swear at all, but Eglantine swears by Saint Loy, the seventh-century courtier-turned saint.

There was also a Nonne, a Prioress,
That of hir smyling was ful simple and coy;
Hire gretteste oath was but by saint Loy,
And she was cleped madame Eglentyne.
(Prologue: 118 – 121)

Besides, Nuns were also forbidden to keep pets of any kind but Eglantine possesses little dogs upon which she lavishes affection and care, even feeding them with meat and expensive white bread.

Of smale houndes hadde she that she fedde
With rosted flesh or milk and wastel breed;
(Prologue: 146 – 147)

She cannot hide her love of jewellery. Her rosary is too elaborate or a nun, and the brooch she wears, bearing an ambiguous motto, should not be worn by a nun.

And ther-on heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which ther was first write a crowned A,
And after Amor vincit omnia.
(Prologue: 160 – 162)

The Prioress indeed corresponds to the character of prioress as they were in the fourteenth century.
The Friar is a jolly beggar who employs his tongue to carve out his living. He is a representative of his class. He is a “limiter”, that is, a friar who has secured the begging rights in a specified area. He knows how to induce all the women in that area to give him money or food in response to his “dalliance”. He has a way with him. He knows all the latest songs, with which he entertains the fair wives with presents of ornamental knives and pins, and his initial blessing of each house he visits is pleasantly satisfying. When he visits richer or more important people, his manner changes; he becomes courteous and humble. He is only ready to hear confessions, and to sell absolution for money, which is, of course, his greatest sin. He will have nothing to do with lepers or with the poor. He will deal only with those who can be a source of profit to him.

For unto swich a worthy man as he
Acorded nat, as by his facultee,
To have with sike lazars aqueyntaunce;
It is nat honeste, it may nat avaunce,
For to deelen with no swich poraille;
But all with riche and sellers of vitaille.
And over al, ther as profit sholde arise,
Curteis he was and lowely of servyse:
(Prologue: 243 – 250)

The Monk is also satirically portrayed. The Monk is a fat well-fed individual who is more interested in hunting than in the performance of his religious duties. He neither labours with his hands nor pores over a book in the cloister. The Monk does not fast or deny himself costly garments; instead he loves a fat swan the best of any roast; he wears the finest gray for in the land, an elaborate gold pin in the shape of a love-knot, and costly supple boots. He owns greyhounds which are swift as birds, and in his stables are many valuable horses. Thus, Chaucer’s Monk is a lively representative of his class.

A Monk ther was, a fair for the maistrie.
An outridere, that lovede venaire
Ful many a deyntee hors hadde he instable;
(Prologue: 118 – 121).

The Summoner is basically wicked. He teaches a sinner not to feel afraid of the archdeacon’s curse because money, he says, will set everything right. The Summoner has all the young people of the parish under his thumb as he knows their secret and acts as their advisor. The Summoner will readily excuse a fellow or keeping a mistress for a year, if he is given only a quart of wine. He is sexually immoral himself, because he can take advantage of a girl, that is he will seduce a girl, if he gets the opportunity.

As hoot he was, and lecherous, as sparwe,
(Prologue: 626)

A better felawe sholde men noght fynde.
He wolde suffree, for a quart of wyn,
A good felawe to have his concubyn
A twelf monthe, and excuse hym atte fulle;
And prively a finch eek koude he pulle.
(Prologue: 648 – 652)

It is clearly noticed that the Summoner is a depraved fellow. He will excuse a fellow fully for the sin of keeping a mistress for a year only for a quart of wine. It also fully signifies that he loves to drink wine.
The Pardoner, who is the Summoner’s friend and comrade, is a despicable parasite trading in letters of pardon with the sinners who could ensure a seat in heaven by paying hard cash. The Pardoner, we are told, has come straight from the papal court at Rome, and he bears a bag full of pardons. The Pardoner carries with him, as relics, a pillow case which he claims to be part of the Virgin Mary’s veil, and a piece of cloth which he claims to be part of the sail of St. Peter’s boat. He also has a cross made of brass but studded with gems, and some pig’s bones which he claims to be a saint’s relics. He well knew how he must preach and speak in a biting tone in order to obtain money from the congregation.

For wel he wiste, whan that song was songe,
He moste preche, and wel affile his tonge
To wynne silver, as he full wel koude,
(Prologue: 711 – 713)

The Clerk and the Parson, as has already been said above, are worthy of respect and admiration. The Clerk is a devoted student of logic, and he would rather have twenty volumes of Aristotle than rich robes or a fiddle. His outer coat is threadbare for he is poor, even his horse is as lean as a rake. What money he receives from his benefactors, he spends on books and learning, and he repays the benefactors by heartfelt prayers for their souls.

But al that he myghte of his freendes hente
On bookes and his lernynge he it spente,
And bisily gan for the soule preye
Of hem that yaf hym wher-with to scoleye,
(Prologue: 299 – 302)

He never displays unseemly levity in behaviour. He does not speak one word more than is necessary; when he does speak, he is brief, to the point, and always noble in his meaning. He is glad to learn and glad to teach.
Noght o word spak he moore than was neede,
And that was seyd in forme and reverence
And short and quyk and ful of hy sentence
Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche
And gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.
(Prologue: 304 – 308)

The Parson is apparently a follower of Wyclif who revolted against the corruption of the church. He is a learned man faithfully preaching Christ’s gospel and devoutly instructing his parishioners. He emphasizes two facts: if gold rusts, iron will do far worse; and if the shepherd is foul, the sheep cannot be clean.

That If gold ruste what shal iron do?
For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
And shame it is, if a prest take keepe,
A shiten shepherde and a clene sheepe.
(Prologue: 497 – 451)

He is holy and virtuous, meek and polite. He is no hireling but a worthy shepherd to his flock. The Parson will not leave his parishioners “to sink in the mire”, in order that he may make more money by running off to London to become a chantry priest or to seek a position in some guild: “he was a shepherd and noght a mercenaire”. Although he is good, he does not hesitate to reprimand anyone who shows no repentance. He treats those of high or low position in exactly the same way.

But if were any persone obstinate,
What so he were, of high of lough estat
Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.
(Prologue: 521 – 523)

f. Condition of Lower Class
Chaucer represents faithfully the rise of the low classes and the voice that they made for better conditions of life. In the Clerk’s Tale, Chaucer refers to the “stormy people”, their levity, untruthfulness, indiscretion, fickleness, and garrulity. The labourers clamoured for their rights and defied the authority of the landlords. However, there were in the midst of this upsurge among the servants and labourers, a class of conservative workmen who were still devoted to their old ways of living, and paid respect to the higher authorities. Chaucer’s Ploughman faithfully represents the class of conservative labourers who were devoted to the masters and were faithfully performing the normal course of activities.

g. Condition of the Inns and Table Manners
Chaucer also portrays the conditions of the inns of his times and the table manners of the pilgrims. In the Prologue, we can see that inns were situated at some distances, and beer was also served in places other than these inns. There is also a disquisition on table manners of the age in the Prologue. Each guest brought his own knife, but for common use there were no forks. At the beginning and end of dinner everyone washed his hands.

h. Love of Display and Extravagance
Chaucer represents faithfully love for display and extravagance both in the upper and the lower classes of the fourteenth century England. This love for display is shown in several characters of the Prologue. The young Squire’s garments were embroidered like a meadow all full of fresh flowers, white and red.

Embrouded was he, as it were a meede
Al ful of fresshe floures whyte and reede;
(Prologue: 89 – 90)

The prioress carries a coral rosary with large dividing beads of green, and on it there hangs a brooch of the brightest gold on which there is first written a crowned “A” and then the words “Love conquers all”.

Of small coral aboute hire arm she bar
A peire of bedes, gauded all with grene,
And there-on heng a brooch of gold ful sheene,
On which there was first write a crowned A,
And after Amor vincit omnia
(Prologue: 158 – 162)

A Haberdasher, a Carpenter, a Weaver, a Dyer, and a Tapestry-maker are all clothed in one kind of livery prescribed by a distinguished and great organization. The clothes of all these persons are freshly and newly trimmed. Their knives are mounted, not with brass, but with silver which has been rubbed perfectly clean.

And they were clothed alle in o lyveree
Of a solempne and great fraternitee;
Ful fressh and newe hir geere apiked was;
Hir knyves were chaped noght with bras,
But al with silver, wroght ful clene and weel.
(Prologue: 363 - 367)

The Wife of Bath decks herself with “kerchiefs” and finery. Her kerchiefs are finely woven, and the kerchiefs she wears on her head on a Sunday must have been ten pounds in weight.

Hir coverchiefs ful fyne weren of ground
I dorste swere they weyeden ten pound;
That on a Sunday weren upon hir head
(Prologue: 453 - 455)

i. Revival of the Classical Learning
Through the character of the Clerks of the Oxford, Chaucer has presented the interest that people of this age started taking in the classical writers. The New learning began to be popular at the time, as can be seen in the case of the Clerk of Oxford. He is an austere scholar who prefers twenty books of Aristotle’s philosophy on his bed’s head to gay clothes and musical instruments.

For him was levere at his beddes head
Twenty books’ clad in black or reed
Of Aristotle and his philosophie
(Prologue: 293 - 295)

“The Canterbury Tales” gives us a fairly authentic and equally extensive picture of the socio-political conditions prevailing in England in the Age of Chaucer. Each of the pilgrims hails from a different walk of life, and among themselves they build up an epitome of their age. Each of them is a representative of a section of society as well as an individual. Chaucer was a delineator of reality. In all these ways, it can be said that Chaucer is the chronicler of his age and reflects his century not in fragments but almost completely. He heralds the birth of the new humanism and the dawn of the Renaissance, and at the same time he vividly brings before us the traditions and conventions which his age had inherited from the Middle Ages.


Monday, December 26, 2005

Ted Hughes' "Hawk Roosting"


Throughout the poem the Hawk sits at the top of a tall tree, where he either sleeps or ponders on his power. He is self-obsessed, as all his thoughts relate to his own circumstances and the fact that he holds the power of death in his talons.

With that in mind, we can read each stanza to see what aspect of his own power (and of course the power of Nature through him) he is thinking about.

The Voice:
The voice is that of the Hawk himself, and through him, Nature. The voice is a 'thinking' voice; there is no action in the poem. As Hughes has intimated to us that the Hawk is a metaphor for Nature, we can also take it that Nature is thinking these thoughts.

We need to note that Nature with a capital letter means a force or a being, rather than just 'the things you get in the countryside.'

Throughout the poem the Hawk sits at the top of a tall tree, where he either sleeps or ponders on his power. He is self-obsessed, as all his thoughts relate to his own circumstances and the fact that he holds the power of death in his talons.

With that in mind, we can read each stanza to see what aspect of his own power (and of course the power of Nature through him) he is thinking about.

We have seen previously that Hughes tends to use the language and expression of ordinary speech, but in this poem he does something slightly different. In order to suit the character of the Hawk, Hughes has used rather more sophisticated or elegant expressions. If the Hawk represents Nature with all that power, then he is a kingly creature, the height of Creation. He expresses himself carefully and in rather a formal way.

For instance, in the first stanza the Hawk boasts that he is not bothered by the "falsifying dream" of ordinary creatures. When awake and in sleep he likes to

"rehearse" perfect kills. These expressions are formal in character and imply a high degree of control on the Hawk's part. We see other examples of this kind of language and attitude throughout the poem.

In the second stanza, the Hawk sees the height of trees, the air's buoyancy and the sun's heat as things arranged especially for his convenience. In fact he sees the whole of the earth as his own.
And the earth's face upward for my inspection.

This personification of the earth shows the Hawk in control over it, like a king or governor. In this line the Hawk is presenting himself as the representative of Nature. It is Nature that controls the earth.
As we approach the central section of the poem, we hear the voice of Nature more and more clearly. While the Hawk speaks of his own feathers and feet, it must be Nature who says:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly -
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
The Hawk can do these things to a certain extent, but the arrogance and pride, as well as the performance of these feats, must be those of Nature.

In Stanza 4, the Hawk speaks of his own straight flight "through the bones of the living" as though he would be intact and alive at the end of it. However, Hughes himself once pointed out that this is not possible, because the Hawk, like every other creature in nature (note the small 'n') has to fight against the enemies that are placed in his way. He will also die one day, so it is Nature who has the power to allot death, not the Hawk.

We would call that an example of irony, as the Hawk is deceived as to his own power.

Hughes stated on one occasion that the last three lines of the poem are Nature speaking. It is Nature who makes the decisions as to whether things will remain the same, not the Hawk.

The tone is hard and brutal. The Hawk says in line 16:
My manners are tearing off heads
The expression is unadorned, while the lines are made up of statements that are brief, terse and always to the point. The hard tone is derived partly from the fact that the Hawk (and therefore Nature) speaks logically and with a certain intellectual pride.
The Hawk speaks emphatically and is confident that we will find him as fascinating as he does himself:
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather
Now I hold Creation in my foot
The alliteration in these lines is there to hold them together but it is also produced by the fact that the Hawk is so arrogant and sure of itself that once it uses a word, that is the right one. You cannot imagine the Hawk searching for synonyms.

The Portrait:
Hughes's portrait of the Hawk is an attempt to convey the power and arrogance of such creatures. He finds this power in what could be described as their singleness of purpose.
Ordinary mortals are distracted from their tasks by all sorts of hopes, fears and opinions. The Hawk is free from such "falsifying dreams" and because he considers no one but himself, he acts exactly as he likes.
There is no sophistry in my body
He says, meaning that he is what he is and nothing else. His flight has only "one path" because whatever decision he makes must be the right one.

The poem makes the statement that Nature has power over the earth and also has the power to allot death. Nature will survive, unlike creatures like the hawk, ensuring that her domain will remain unchanged.

(a) Summary of content
Many of Hughes's poems deal with the animal world. In this poem he describes the hawk as the epitome of self- reliance and self- assurance. It has the ability to kill fearlessly. The hawk claims that the high trees have been created especially for its convenience and it boasts that the buoyancy (the ability to keep afloat) of the air and the sun's rays are to its advantage.
The sun rays help the hawk in the sense that the prey is blinded by them when the hawk swoops down to make a kill with the sun above and behind it. The hawk sees itself as master of the whole creation. It can kill where it pleases on earth because it is the master of it all. Its methods are simple and direct- it tears off the heads of its victims. The hawk does not have to justify its right to kill. It is a natural and primeval right. That is how it has always been since the hawk has first been created and that is how it will always be.

(b) Stanza analysis

Stanza 1
In this stanza the hawk is asleep. Unlike other birds it can close its eyes without feeling threatened. The poet is personifying the hawk, giving it human characteristics. It is the speaker in the poem and we see its world through its eyes. In line 4 the hawk refers to " perfect kills" which already underlines its arrogance about its bodily perfection and perfected actions.

Stanza 2
In this stanza the hawk's arrogance is even more accentuated. It views the earth, the trees, the air and the sunrays as being submissive to it. It is as if the high trees were created especially for its convenience; the air is buoyant especially to keep it afloat; the sunrays especially assist it when making a kill by shining in the eyes of its prey. Line 8 is particularly patronizing: the eagle has to inspect the earth' s face every day as if it were a child.

Stanza 3
In this stanza the hawk shows signs of playing God:
" Now I hold Creation in my foot."
Its creation is seen as a very challenging and tedious process:
"It took the whole of Creation/ To produce my foot, my each feather."

Stanza 4
In the fourth stanza the hawk appears to be very possessive: " I kill where I please because it is all mine". It claims that there is no dishonesty ("sophistry")
In its body: it is straightforward in its manner of killing.

Stanza 5
In line 17 the word " allotment" implies an ordered pattern from which there is no escape. Once again it boastfully sees itself as the crown of the creation:
"No arguments assert my right."
Nothing can counter its right to kill and reign over the universe.

Stanza 6
Line 21:
"The sun is behind me", apart from the more physical meaning, also implies that the sun offers moral support to the hawk's actions and, therefore, the hawk has no need to justify its actions by sophisticated arguments. The sun is the source of life on earth while the hawk is the symbolic instrument of death on earth. Once again the hawk displays extreme arrogance by stating that:
"My eye has permitted no change./ I am going to keep it like this."
It is going to see to it that the pattern of death and life will remain changeless and eternal.

Summary and Analysis of John Milton's "Paradise Lost Book I"

Book I of Paradise Lost begins with Milton describing what he intends to undertake with his epic: the story of Man's first disobedience and the "loss of Eden," subjects which have been "unattempted yet in prose or rhyme." His main objective, however, is to "justify the ways of God to men."
The poem then shifts to focus on the character of Satan who has just fallen from heaven. The scene opens in a fiery, yet dark, lake of hell. Satan, dazed, seems to be coming to consciousness after his fall and finds himself chained to the lake.
He lifts his head to see his second in command, Beelzebub,
the Lord of the Flies, who has been transformed from a beautiful archangel into a horrid fallen angel. Satan gets his bearings and, in a speech to Beelzebub, realizes what has just happened: Satan, presuming that he was equal to God, had declared war on the creator. Many angels had joined Satan, and the cosmic battle had shaken God's throne.
Satan and his cohorts had lost and been cast "nine times the space that measures day and night" to hell. Still, Satan tells Beelzebub that all is not lost. He will never bow down to God and now, knowing more of the extent of God's might, the rebel angels might better know how to continue to fight him in an eternal war.
Beelzebub questions why they themselves still exist. What plan did God have for them since he did not kill them completely, but left them their souls and spirits intact to feel pain in hell?
Satan replies that God indeed wanted to punish them by forcing them to languish in hell for eternity. But, he says, that means that they don't ever have to obey God again. In fact, Satan says, they must work to instill evil in all good things so as to always anger God.
Satan and Beelzebub gather their strength and fly off the fiery lake to firmer, though still fiery, ground. They look around at the dark wasteland that is hell, but Satan remains proud. "Better to reign in hell, then serve in heaven."
They see their army lying confused and vanquished in the fiery lake. Satan calls to them and they respond immediately. Satan gathers his closest twelve around him .
Music plays and banners fly as the army of rebel angels comes to attention, tormented and defeated but faithful to their general
They could not have known the extent of God's might, Satan tells them, but now they do know and can now examine how best to beat him. Satan has heard of a new kind of creation that God intends on making, called man. They will continue the war against heaven, but the battlefield will be within the world of mankind.
The army bangs their shields with their swords in loud agreement. The rebel angels then construct a Temple, a throne room, for their general and for their government, greater in grandeur than the pyramids or the Tower of Babylon.
All the millions of rebel angels then gather in the Temple for a great council, shrinking themselves and become dwarves in order to fit.


Milton tells us that he is tackling the story told in Genesis of the Fall of Adam and the loss of the Garden of Eden. With it, Milton will also be exploring a cosmic battle in heaven between good and evil. Supernatural creatures, including Satan and the Judeo Christian God himself, will be mixing with humans and acting and reacting with humanlike feelings and emotions. As in other poetic epics such as Homer's Iliad and Ulysses, the Popul Vuh, and Gilgamesh, Milton is actually attempting to describe the nature of man by reflecting on who his gods are and what his origins are. By demonstrating the nature of the beings who created mankind, Milton is presenting his, or his culture's , views on what good and evil mean, what mankind's relationship is with the Absolute, what man's destiny is as an individual and as a species. The story, therefore, can be read as a simple narrative, with characters interacting with each other along a plot and various subplots. It can also, however, be extrapolated out to hold theological and religious messages, as well as political and social themes.
Milton introduces Book I with a simple summary of what his epic poem is about: the Fall of Adam and the loss of the Garden of Eden. He tells us that his heavenly muse is the same as that of Moses, that is, the spirit that combines the absolute with the literary. The voice is of a self-conscious narrator explaining his position. There is some background in the past tense, then suddenly the reader finds himself in the present tense on a fiery lake in hell. The quiet introduction, the backing into the story, then the verb change and plunge into the middle of the action, in medias res, creates a cinematic and exciting beginning.
On this lake we meet Satan, general and king of the fallen rebel angels.
Milton's portrait of Satan has fascinated critics since Paradise Lost's publication, leading some in the Romantic period to claim that Satan is, in fact, the heroic protagonist of the whole work. Certainly Milton's depiction of Satan has greatly influenced the devil's image in Western art and literature since the book's publication.
The reader first meets a stunned Satan chained down to a fiery lake of hell, surrounded by his coconspirators. In this first chapter, the reason for his downfall is that he thought himself equal to God. Hell, however, has not taught him humility, and, in fact, strengthens his revolve to never bow to the Almighty (Interestingly, the word "God" is not used in the chapters dealing with Hell and Satan).
Satan is often called a sympathetic character in Paradise Lost, despite being the source of all evil, and in the first chapter the reader is presented with some of Satan's frustration. Satan tells his army that they were tricked, that it wasn't until they were at battle that God showed the true extent of his almightiness. If they had been shown this force previously, not only would the rebel angels not have declared war on heaven, but Satan, also, would never have presumed that he himself was better than God. Now they have been irreversibly punished for all eternity, but, rather than feel sorry for themselves or repent, Satan pushes his army to be strong, to make "a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."
Hell reflecting heaven and, later, earth reflecting both, will be a common theme throughout the work. Satan chooses twelve close friends: all of them drawn from pagan mythology or from foreign kings in the Hebrew Bible: to echo and mimic Christ's twelve apostles. Satan's angels build a large a glorious temple and call a council, both of which will be echoed in heaven. In fact, Satan uses the same architect as heaven, now called Mammon in hell.
Many of the structures and symbols are similar. In heaven and hell there is a king and a military hierarchy of angels. In most cases, however, they the reverse of each other. In Book I, we are shown that the most prominent thing about hell is its darkness, whereas heaven is full of luminous light. As well, the fallen angels, previously glorious and beautiful, are now ugly and disfigured.
These mirror, and therefore reverse, images of heaven and hell also work on a theological level. The darkness of hell symbolizes the distance Satan and his army are from the luminous light and grace of God. Simultaneously, the rebel angels pulled away from God by their actions and are forced away by God himself, outside of all the blessings and glory that come with God's light and into the pain and suffering that comes with distance away from him. The physical corruption and disfigurement that occurs to all the fallen angels is symbolic of the corruption which has occurred in their souls.
Hell itself is described as a belching unhealthy body, whose "womb" will be torn open to expose the "ribs" of metal ore that are necessary to build Satan's temple. Natural occurrences in hell, such as the metaphor of the eclipsed sun, are symbols of natural, and therefore spiritual, decay.
Psychological motivations also work in reverse in hell. Hell is punishment for turning away from the Good, but instead of learning his lesson, Satan becomes more stubborn and more proud. While heaven is a place where all are turned toward the good and toward pleasing and obeying God, Satan makes hell a place turned away from God and turned deliberately toward displeasing him. Whereas before falling from heaven, Satan was only guilty of presuming to be greater than God (pride), now Satan has, in fact, become a creator himself. He has created evil: the direction away from God.
Other critics have examined the political implications of Milton's hell. Like Dante's hell, the characters and institutions in Milton's hell are often subtle references to political issues in Milton's day. The Temple of Satan, for example, has been thought to symbolize St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome, the "capitol" of Roman Catholicism and home of the Pope. The comparison of the glory of hell to the light of an eclipsed sun was thought to be a veiled critique of the Sun King, King Charles, who reigned during Milton's time.
A full understanding of the metaphors and images that Milton uses, however, would take more than a knowledge of his contemporary history or religious background. Describing Satan's kingdom, Milton takes from a myriad of sources, including Greek mythology and epic poetry, Egyptian and Canaanite religious traditions, the Hebrew Bible and Mishnaic texts, the New Testament and apocryphal texts, the Church Fathers, popular legends, and other theological texts.
It should be noted that, in the epic tradition, Milton is using poetry to tell his story, following most prominently the style of Homer. The work, therefore, can also be examined through the lens of poetry with an eye toward rhythm and sound. In the first sentence, Milton uses an alliteration to conduct what is referred to as a double discourse: "Of man's first disobedience, and the fruit of that forbidden tree..." Not only does the repeated "f" sound add to the aesthetic of the sentence, it connects the "f" words to present a different idea than the sentence itself is presenting. In this case, "first... fruits" are "forbidden." This double discourse, literally two sentences spoken at the same time, is repeated throughout Milton.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

"Heart of Darkness" as Conrad's Journey to the Self or Autobiographical Elements in the "Heart of Darkness"

"Heart of Darkness" as Conrad’s journey to the Self
Autobiographical elements in the "Heart of Darkness"

Heart of Darkness is the most famous of Joseph Conrad’s personal novels: a pilgrim’s progress for a pessimistic and psychological age. After having finished the main draft of the novel, Conrad had remarked, “Before the Congo, I was just a mere animal”. The living nightmare of 1890 seems to have affected Conrad quite as importantly as the Andre Gide’s Congo experience 36 years later. The autobiographical basis of the narrative is well known and its introspective bias obvious. This is Conrad’s longest journey into self. But it would do well to remember that Heart of Darkness is also a sensitive vivid travelogue and a comment on “the vilest scramble for lost that ever disfigured the history of human conscience and geographical exploration”. (Albert Gerard).
The novel thus has its important public side as an angry document on absurd and brutal exploitation. In the characters of Marlowe and Kurtz, we see one of the greatest of Conrad’s many moments of compassionate rendering. Significantly, all that narrated has been gathered from the hinterland of Conrad’s own experiences during his Congo exploration.
Heart of Darkness is a record of things seen and done. But also Conrad was reacting to the humanitarian pretences of some of the looters precisely as the novelist today reacts to the moralism of cold propaganda. Then it was ivory poured down from the heart of darkness, now it is uranium. Conrad shrewdly recognized an institution amply developed in Nostromo – that deception is most sinister when it becomes self-deception and the propagandist takes seriously his own fictions. The conservative Conrad speaks through the journalist who says that Kurtz’s proper sphere ought to have been politics on the popular side. But the book as we all know has been almost a fictionalized real life experience of the novelist with a strong didactic note imbibed rather positively in it.
Conrad, like many other novelists today, was both drawn to idealism and repelled by its hypocritical abuse. He shows Marlow committing himself to the yet unseen agent partly because Kurtz had come out equipped with moral ideas of some sort. Later, when he discovers what has happened to Kurtz’s moral ideas, he remains faithful to the “nightmare of my choice”. In Under Western Eyes, Sophia makes a distinction between those who burn and those who not and remarks that it is sometimes better to burn. Kurtz who had made himself literally one of the devils of the land and who in solitude had kept himself loose of the earth, burns while the others not. This clearly indicates that ‘Heart of Darkness’ combines a Victorian ethic and late Victorian fear of the white men’s deterioration with a distinctly catholic psychology. Marlow believes that we are protected from ourselves by society with its loves and watchful neighbours and in their different degrees. The pilgrims and Kurtz share this hollowness.
In any event, one has to recognize that the story is not primarily about Kurtz or about the brutality of Belgian officials but about Marlow and its narrator. To what extent it also expresses that Joseph Conrad, the biographer, might considerably recover; it is doubtless and insoluble question. However, the autobiographical slant is clear from the fact that Conrad did visit Congo in 1890 and this belated enactment was itself profoundly disapproved by his own uncle and guardian. Yet Conrad hoped to attain command of the expedition ship even after he had returned from the invigilatory voyage dramatized in the novel. Thus the adventurous Conrad and Conrad the moralist may have experienced collision. Substantially and in its central emphasis, ‘Heart of Darkness’ concerns Marlow and his journey towards and through certain facets of the self. Marlow, the Conrad surrogately reiterates often enough that he is recounting a spiritual voyage of self discovery. He remarks casually but crucially that he did not know himself before setting out and that he likes to work for the chance it provides to: “find yourself … what one other man can ever know”.
At the material and superficial level, the journey is through the temptation of atavism – a remote kinship with the “wild and passionate uproar” of a trace of response to it, of a final rejection of the “fascination of the abomination”. Marlow’s temptation is made concrete through his exposure to Kurtz, an idealist who has fully responded to the wilderness: a potential and fallen self. At the climax, Marlow follows Kurtz ashore, confounds the beat of the drum with the beating of his heart and goes through the ordeal of looking into Kurtz’s ‘mad soul’. The late Victorian reader and possibly Conrad himself who take this more seriously, than we could literally believe at merely in Kurtz’s deterioration and also in the sudden subversion of the heart of materialistic fiction. Certain circumstances of Marlow’s voyage, looking through these terms resemblances Conrad’s maritime experiences. Here, we have presumably entered an era of unconscious creation, the dream is true but the tiller may have no idea why it is so. Possibly a psychic need as well as literary tact compelled Conrad to defer the meeting between Marlow and Kurtz for some three thousand words after announcing that it took place.
The incorporation and the alliance between Marlow and Kurtz became material in the end as the identification of the self. Hence, the shocks Marlow experiences when he finds Kurtz’s cabin empty, his secret sharer gone a part of himself, had vanished, “what made this emotion so overpowering was – how shall I define it…”He follows the crawling Kurtz through the grass, comes upon him – “long, pale, indistinct like a vapour exhaled by the earth”. When Marlow finds it hard to define the moral shock he received on seeing the empty cabin or when he says he does not know why he was jealous of sharing his experience we can take him literally, and in a sense be thankful for his uncertainty. ‘Heart of Darkness’ takes us into a deeper region of the mind, quite similar to the psychic union between Legatt and his secret sharer in Conrad’s short story, “The Secret Sharer”. We ought to share F.R. Leavis, who emphasizes the fact that Conrad was probably staring at the devil when he transmuted his experiences into fictionalized form.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Essay on Mary Wollstonecraft's "Vindication of The Rights of Woman"

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
by Sarah Kearney

During the early years of the French Revolution, England became a place of new beginnings, where the idea of the individual emerged, the world of literature was reborn and authority was thoroughly questioned and often uprooted. Great poets and philosophers were awakened, and the 'war of pamphlets' began, proclaiming revolutionary theories, arguing social and political change, and urging self-examination. Mary Wollstonecraft, "pioneer of feminist thought" (Jane Moore, 1999) in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was the first to bring the subordinate attitude that society had towards women into the open, arguing that women were men's intellectual equals and therefore affirming a woman's right to a full education. "A profound conviction that the neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore." (Page166) Continuing on from this radical observation, Wollstonecraft states, that through the education of women, relationships between husbands and wives will be better and the children, future of society will receive a better education. By including the children into these benefits, Wollstonecraft appeals to the men, who at that time considered "females rather as women than human creature; have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers." Wollstonecraft continues to say that women are elevated, acknowledging the "homage" that men pay to women, yet this "homage" is purely directed towards purile qualities rather than noble. She argues that this elevation does nothing but weaken the women. Wollstonecraft's preferable woman figure is a rational and useful citizen.
It is not only the attitude of men towards women that Wollstonecraft directed her arguments against. Much of her criticism was aimed at the women's perception of themselves and their own abilities. Wollstonecraft claims in chapter two, page 170, that the only education women receive is that which is taught by their mothers, "softness of temper, outward obedience and a scrupulous attention to a purile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man..." Who, "...try to secure the good conduct of women by attempting to keep them always in a state of childhood." (Page 170-171) Wollstonecraft continues throughout her book to refer to the "wife" as being an "overgrown child." In connecting the way women are treated to how children are treated, emphasis is placed on the fact that as children are dependant on adults, (men), for intellectual guidance, so to do women rely on men, rather than becoming responsible for their own intellectual growth.
Keeping these views of women in mind, Wollstonecraft's ideas were revolutionary. They were the beginnings of emancipation for women.
Wollstonecraft argues that men may well be more virtuous in their bodies, yet when it comes to the virtue of one's nature, she defies any idea of virtue being different for men or women; "in fact how can they, if virtue has only one eternal standard?" (Page 176) This is one of her main objectives that woman's physical inferiority has led to false assumptions about her intellectual ability. By including God in the argument, Wollstonecraft dares to confront the church, a leader power of the time, and its opinion that it is only men who have certain Godly qualities.
She alludes once again to the Christian teachings, yet this time backing up her point by using the Old Testament. In this case she is against Dr Gregory in his "Legacy to his daughters," that girls should "give lie to her feelings, and not dance with her spirit..."continuing to advise the restraint of speech lest it make her seem immodest. Wollstonecraft fights back by quoting "the wiser Solomon" saying that the heart should be pure, abundant and natural, out of this state the mouth would speak true knowledge. Thus the heart is more important than trivial ceremonies placed on women and children, because even people with vice in their heart can perform such actions. This is a very confrontational approach, as both men and women partook of church ceremonies for no other reason than to heighten people's opinion of themselves.
Throughout the Vindication, Wollstonecraft makes clear her position that to be a good mother and responsible citizen the woman must be equal with her husband, "and not the humble dependant" (page 178) the only way to achieve this is through friendship, and a natural understanding that both are "creatures of reason." Wollstonecraft does not however deny the passion that is felt in a marriage, she says that when this passion should subside, there should be a friendship in which to educate children and form strong morals on which society can move forward. To have a strong friendship with one's wife would be an absurd idea to many men at that time, but because of the revolutionary awakening occurring, Wollstonecraft was able to try and change this constraining idea which men had.
Rousseau is another poet that she fights against to prove her point. While he is concerned about power plays and feeling lacking in some way, Wollstonecraft states "I do not wish them to have power over men; but over themselves." (Chap 4, page 187) This is her main point, equality, and understanding of ones self. She is encouraging women to educate themselves, push past the false limitations which society has placed on women and begin to cultivate rationality, understanding and peace of mind. (Page 181) None of her arguments seek to make women higher than men, they are rather encouraging woman to embrace this time of new beginnings.

Moore, J Mary Wollstonecraft UK (1999)
Wollstonecraft, M A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, (1792) in Norton Anthology of English LiteratureNew York (2000)