Fall Semester, AY2008


"Who's on First?"

What has now become the title of the famous comedic skit by Abbott and Costello (click) will be the overriding theme of this course:  "who's on first?"  All of that skit's remarkable complexities--questions of identity, the function of names, frustrated communications, attempts to define the truth by a certain position, etc.--occur also in Shakespeare's plays, whether it's through disguises, the confusion of the figurative and the literal, the merging of the pretend and the real, the possibility that words say things in excess of the intention launching them, and so on. Let's test the limits of this organizing claim and try to end the semester together at home plate rather than on first with "who."




Primary Texts
(Pelican Editions)


All's Well that Ends Well
A Midsummer Night's Dream

As You Like It

Henry IV, Part 1
King Lear
The Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet

P   O   S   T   I   N   G   S
1.  Link to site focused on life and times of Shakespeare (click)
2.  Notes on Rewrites, Assignments, Routines, Goals, Grading, etc. (click)
3.  Assignment for Paper #1 (click)
4.  Links to quizzes and sample successful answers/responses (click)
5.  Notes on Shakespearean Comedy and Tragedy (click)
6.  To be verb exercise (click)
7.  Assignment for Papers #2 and #3 (click)
8.  The meaning of some names in Othello (click)
9. Sample paper on the child in Macbeth (click)
10. On line concordances (click)

11. Sample Successful Student Papers on Assignment #1 (click)

12.  Sample Successful Student Papers on Assignment #2 (click)

13.  Study Guide for Final Exam (click)

14.  Sample Successful Student Papers on Assignment #3 (click)


WK1 Aug 20 Introduction to Course Procedures and goals
  Aug 22  A Midsummer Night's Dream Sources and form of romantic comedy
  Aug 24 A Midsummer . . . , cont. Old vs. young; men vs. women; etc.  Quiz
WK 2 Aug 27 A Midsummer . . ., cont. Reflexive drama--art and play within play
  Aug 29 Romeo and Juliet, Act1 The Problem?
  Aug 31 Romeo and Juliet, finish Quiz;  comparison with MSND
WK 3 Sep 3 No Class--Labor Day R&R
  Sep 4 Romeo and Juliet Problem characters (comparison of film versions click)
  Sep  5 1 Henry IV, Acts 1&2 Historical drama; political concerns
  Sept 7 1 Henry IV, complete Group Reports ; Falstaff and Hal relationship; familiar themes?
WK 4 Sep 10 1 Henry IV, cont Place of play/plays/Shakespeare in political world?
  Sep 12 Review View Scenes
  Sep14  The Merchant of Venice Strong women, fathers, boys?
WK 5 Sep 16 The Merchant, cont Trials and ceremonies within the play; comedy
  Sep 18 The Merchant, cont Problem characters--Shylock and Antonio (ending?)
  Sep 20 Open Review; discuss papers
WK 6 Paper Due Sep 24 Open In-class editing of paper #1 (click)
  Sep 26 Hamlet, Act 1 Exposition of Themes
  Sep 28 Hamlet, complete Quiz;  Hamlet's delay?  The "father problem"
WK 7 Oct   1 Hamlet, cont. Motivation  Does Hamlet develop? (Group Projects)
  Oct   3 Hamlet, cont Women?  Fortinbras, Horatio and Ophelia--their functions
  Oct   5 Review Review; tragic vs. comic world views (click)
WK 8 Oct   8 No Class--Columbus Day R&R with William and the Prince
  Oct  10 As You Like It, Act 1 Comic exposition; duplication and tone
  Oct  12 As You Like It, complete Love, words and poetry
WK 9 Oct 15 As You Like It (Reviews of HBO Branagh version click) Gender transgression or reinforcement?
  Oct 17 Open View Scenes; review
  Oct 19 All's Well . . ., cont. Acts 1&2 Exposition of themes
WK10 Oct 22 All's Well, complete Quiz; Romance and the "fisher king" theme
  Oct 24 All's Well, cont Female hero; comedy and manipulation
  Oct 26 Open "What's love got to do with it?"; view scenes
WK11 Oct 29 Othello Quiz; Heroic world--self-deception and rhetorical ploy
Paper Due Oct 31 Othello, cont (click to see assignment)
  Nov 19 Othello, cont Women and war; characters' names (click)
WK12 Nov  5 Othello, cont The attractive villain; dirt and water?
  Nov  7 Macbeth, Acts 1 & 2 Ambition and desire
  Nov  9 Macbeth, finish Quiz; man, woman, and fair is foul
WK13 Nov 12 NO CLASS--VETERAN'S DAY R&R with William
  Nov 14 Macbeth, cont. Hands, seeds, and supernatural
  Nov 16 King Lear Quiz; authority without responsibility--the horror!
WK14 Nov 19 King Lear, cont. Main plot and sub-plot--tragedy and romance (Click)
  Nov 21 King Lear, cont Is there Lear in learn?--sinning or sinned against?
  Nov 23 NO CLASS--THANKSGIVING R&R with William
WK15 Nov 26 King Lear, cont View scenes
  Nov 28 Cymbeline Tragic Romance???
  Nov 30 Cymbeline Gender and genre; mercy
WK16 Dec  3 Cymbeline How Shakespearean?
Paper Due Dec  5 Open Review
  Dec 11 Final Exam   (1330 SA002) Excel on exam.  (Click here) for the exam study guide














Notes on Assignments, Routines, and Goals

1.  Goals, Grading Standards, Statement on Plagiarism.  We'll use  Guidelines to HE111 & 112 .

2.  Assignments and Grading.

Activity  % of Final Grade
Three out-of-class papers   about   50%
In-class writings, group projects, and quizzes   about   30%
Final Exam  about   20%
3.  Course Policies.

a) You must do all papers and announced in-class work in order to pass the course.

b) Do not assume that I will be reasonable about late papers; in fact, expect capricious behavior from me if you chose to hand in an essay late.

c) You can rewrite--not superficially revise--one of the first two essays. The grade for the rewritten essay will replace that of the original, provided that it is a better grade. The rewrite is due before the due date of the next assigned paper. However, I encourage you to re-write before you hand in your essays.  To that end, I'm always happy to help you along with your drafts before you turn in a final version.  Stop by my office or get in touch with me via e-mail.

4.  Class Meetings.  Discussion of assigned readings and other projects, punctuated occasionally by short, informal lectures.  A good deal of in-class writing.

5.  Office Hours.  MWF 8:15-8:45; 2-2:30; & 3:30-4:30 and T, 9-11 & 2:00-4:30  I read my e-mail frequently so you won't have any trouble getting hold of me.  My office phone is 36232.


Assignment for Paper #1 (Choose ONE of the following two options).

Due:  24 Sep

Length:  3-4 pages

Format: double spaced, title on first page (no title page)

Audience:  your classmates and instructor

Option (a):  Write a paper in which you examine the intersection of some episode or issue in your life with an aspect of one of the first four plays we have read.  The force of this paper can work in one of two directions: one, you can examine how the play's treatment of an issue, development of a character, etc. causes you to rethink, to reexamine, some element in your life, causes you to see it as more meaningful or to look at it more fully or even to come to terms with it better than you have before; or two you can examine how an experience or predominant feeling that you have about someone or something causes you to understand more fully some aspect of one of the plays--some conflict, discovery, or attitude represented in it.  This kind of paper will likely have to unfold more patiently and thus turn out to be longer than the one you write for Option (b) described below.  For an example of this sort of paper written about a poem, click here

Option (b):  Write a paper which analyzes some feature of one of the four plays we have read.  The idea here is to take something quite limited and show how it is important to an understanding of character, theme, and/or technique in one of the plays.  If you're "into" the experience of reading these wonderful plays, you will likely get interesting in certain matters, problems, patterns, details, etc. that emerge from our class discussions, and your growing interest will likely lead to you pursue ideas that really matter to you. Here are a couple of samples of this sort of analytical paper (click) (click). Still, here are some kinds of approaches you can take:

Imagery.  Shakespeare often builds into his play patterns of imagery.  Sometimes those images are part of characterization, and sometimes they run across character to develop a controlling theme throughout.  Your job is to show your classmates and me how a certain pattern of imagery--at best one we might not easily understand or detect--operates within the play.

Passage or Scene.  Examine how a small section of the play--ranging from a scene to a short passage--is vital to our understanding a theme or creating/solving an interpretive problem in one of the plays.

Word or Phrase.  As with imagery, Shakespeare often dwells on a word or two, sometimes making them, through punning and repetition, central features of his plays.  See the short (requires expansion to meet length requirement of this assignment) sample below for an example of this approach (click).

Motif.  Often Shakespeare repeats a core structural feature as a way of dramatizing events:  surveillance, trial scene, pursuit, play-within-play, writing,  ordeal or test, interrogation, story-telling, etc.  Explore how such a repeated motif crystallizes a play's major theme or its development of character (click).

Conflict or Problem in Characterization.  Isolate the major conflict in a character, particularly one that you think is being ignored by the class, and analyze it.  Or, focus on a problem that the character presents--how this problem unfolds and what it "does" to the play as a whole.  Shylock is an obvious example.

Minor Character.  Shakespeare is fond of inserting a minor character into a play, a seemingly irrelevant figure, and depending on our puzzling over his/her function as a path to enriched meaning.  Often seemingly irrelevant characters reflect in bold, exaggerated, ludicrous ways the real issues going on in the play's main action. 

Problems of staging, omission of scenes, portrayal of a character, etc.  In this approach you will notice something about one of the films I will make available to you and explain to your classmates and me why it is troubling, unsuccessful, and wrongheaded, or you will explain how it works quite well.  In any case, you will explore this feature in terms of characterization, theme and/or dramatic force.

Style.  A particularly meaningful use of rhyme or prose in one of the plays.  The couplets and fragments of sonnets during the scenes in the forest outside Athens in AMSND is an example of such a meaningful feature. 

What follows is a series of specific possibilities for A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and Henry IV, 1--offered so as to provide some specific examples of the general suggestions above.

A Midsummer Night's Dream

1) A Midsummer Night's Dream contains all sorts of threatening, frightening, possibly catastrophic events or outcomes.  How, then, can it be funny?  Deal with this question by focusing on the techniques that prevent you as audience from getting involved in this dark side of the work.  Does Shakespeare somehow build into his play the answer to this question?

2)  Is there any complexity in the way that women are depicted in A Midsummer NIght's Dream?  How does the play represent their condition?  Do they have any power?  To what extent is union with the male in marriage a problem for them?

3)  It seems almost that Shakespeare is making fun of the very thing he does:  create plays.  After all, he displays the silly "rude mechanicals" unconsciously destroying the tragic story of Pyramus and Thisbe.  And he has an apparent authority figure, Theseus, suggesting that plays have little worth, only enough at most to compress the time between his nuptials and the consummation of his marriage.  What is Shakespeare saying about plays?  Is he also suggesting that they have little worth? 

4) This play has no main character(s).  Do you think that statement is right?  If so, what do you make of that fact?  Does this lack of a central character spoil its appeal? 

5)  What is Shakespeare "doing with" Theseus in this play?  How does the play's treatment of him (the lines he speaks, the relation between his self-presentation and the events that encounter him, his power, etc.) suggest what we are to make of him as a character?  Are we to respect him?  Loath him?  Laugh at him in a good natured way?  Some combination of these responses?  Just what?

6)  Explain how a pattern of imagery or motif--sight/blindness, love as violence--or a matter of setting--the woods, for instance--contributes to the play's meaning.

7)  Carefully explain the ways in which the rude mechanicals' play, apart from offering a chance for laughter, works to enrich, complicate and shape the theme(s) of AMND.


Romeo and Juliet

1.  Is there an argument for Romeo and Juliet having the magnitude of tragic figures? Or is there an argument against that?

2.  Analyze the function (how he/she contributes to theme of one of the significant supporting characters in the play--the Nurse, Friar Laurence, Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, for instance.

3.  Deal with the contribution to theme that the "bawdy" has in the play.  It would probably be best to focus on one particularly illustrative episode and generalize from there.

4.  What is involved in the notion that Romeo loves by the book?  Is that bad? 

5.  Is the love of Romeo and Juliet unconvincing because it is so impulsive and immature? Does Shakespeare seem to be working to make it a convincing thing, a merely symbolic thing, or a risible thing?

Henry IV, Part 1

1.  In terms of the language and exchange among characters and in comparison with other realms of the play (the tavern and the rebels), what is the tone, temperament, and "feel" of the court scene?   How is that tone expressive of a major theme in the play?

2.  Is Hotspur really authentic?  Some people, as you might have heard, are praised in the following terms:  "Well, you may not like what he says or agree with him, but at least you know where you stand with him?  Is that true of Hotspur?  Is that a good thing in this play?

3.  Why is that the women in the play mainly inhabit the rebel camp?  What's the meaning of that imbalance in the play?  Or is it an imbalance?

4.  Does Falstaff's speech on honor function to debunk any notion of honor or does it by contrast with actual instances of honor, work to argue for the "existence" or importance of that value.  Is it just air, given the way it's treated in the play?

5.  What's going on when Hal and Falstaff take turns playing the King and son?  Is this therapeutic role-playing--the kind of thing ultimately that one might experience in some group therapy session?  Is it bald irreverence and therefore satire of the court and king? What are the issues exactly, as you see them unfolding?


The Merchant of Venice


1.  Explore one of the following patterns of imagery:  language related to containers/containment; that related to penetration; that related to food/eating.  Explain how that functions to enrich the play's meaning.


2.  Carefully explain the unappreciated but important ways in which one of the following minor characters contributes to the play's meaning:  Launcelot, Jessica, Portia's dead and of course absent father.


3.  Analyze why the play seems to cultivate one of the following "problems":  a)  its prejudices ranging from anti-Semitism to "national" stereotypes; b) Bassanio's emptiness as a character; c) Antonio's relation to Bassanio, his "sadness," or both; d) the sympathy that Shakespeare seems to cultivate for Shylock and how that relates to the play's overall thematic thrust.


4.  Examine one of the following motifs"  cross-dressing, male friendships, trial scenes, repeated concern with appearance.


5.  What does the alteration between setting--Belmont and Venice--contribute to the play's meaning?


6.  Examine the way in which a seemingly unnecessary scene or part of one contributes to the play's development of theme and method.  The two scenes on which you wrote paragraph could serve well here:  V,1 (pp. 90-95) or III, 5 (pp. 68-71).


7.  Examine what you think your classmates and I ought to regard as an important word repeated throughout the play--"sad/satisfaction" for instance.


8.  Do you notice all the reverences to mythic, legendary heroes?  Even the clown's name refers to the great figure of Arthurian romance, Lancelot.  What do you make of this curious pattern.  How does it alter the tone, the atmosphere, even the meaning of this comedy? 



Out of Joint

        Miniver Cheevy, in Robinson's poem (click), makes fun of a character who fuels his failure with excuses.  Coming from a family that thrives on laughing at each other and other people for their pretensions, for their false sense of self-importance, I can really "get into this poem." 

        "You're wrong, Richard."  "It's your own fault, not your friends'."  "Look it up and see."  "Is that right; are you sure?" Perhaps these questions circulate through any family, but having married into a family whose members skirt confrontations, avoid debate, and thrive on what remains unsaid, I began to get a different perspective on my bringing-up. The person who made a claim that he couldn't prove or the person who made a mistake and tried to act as though he hadn't--whether father, mother, or son--became the raw meat for a pack of hungry hounds.  The appetite for ridiculing laughter was enormous.  And beyond that, even the hint that one imagined himself as something "superior" to what he in fact was brought the hounds running.  For us this imagining took "manly" shape—pretending to be Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, or imagining ourselves to be combat soldiers or great safari hunters.  Though a normal part of a person's forming identity (at least I think it is), this process had to occur in a carefully guarded form.  Any sign of an attempt to imagine oneself as the great hunter or the all-star basketball player would invite all sorts of bubble-bursting commentary—"How's the great marksman doing?"; "How many rhinoes you killed this afternoon?"; or "Hey, great rebound; I could almost see some air between your toes and the pavement!" 

        We aimed the ridicule outside the family as well, always honing in on vanity or the slightly emerging sense of self-importance.  The President of the obscure Eastern Brewer Little League Association was one of our favorite laughing stocks for his sense of self-importance, his claiming that he "rendered this decision" about the distance to the left field foul pole or "did some soul-searching" about what time to open the snack bar before the Tuesday afternoon games.  We laughed at dinner about his name-dropping, as when he alluded to the time that he and Tony Conigliaro of the Boston Red Socks discussed hitting, for instance.  He never even came within a football field of Tony C!  Even now, when I go home to visit my parents, I reenter this world largely sustained by ridicule.  There's a 5'3" guy across the street who wears a red and black hunting shirt and who's wife bosses him around; my dad calls this guy "Paul Bunyan."  The man who walks a step or two ahead of his wife during their morning "constitutional" has been christened "lead man" as a way to call attention to what seems to be his "taking charge" in a situation where it really doesn't matter.  I could multiply these examples, but I think you get the drift.  My family was irreverent and liked to "lock onto" human vanity. 

        As I think about it more and more, I realize that two perhaps competing things were going on in our family psyche:  one, we pretended that we were the few among humanity who operated according to the unadorned truth and did not pretend to be anymore than we were; and two, we could only recognize so uncannily the vanity in others if we in fact harbored, even cherished, it somewhere in ourselves.  I for one can confess that I lived out my own fantasies, imagining myself having the moves of Julius Erving, the swing of Tom Watson, and the curve ball of Nolan Ryan.  In imagining those things I actually improved as an athlete at least and, often as not, avoided the ridicule of my family.  Nevertheless, I have come to realize how thoroughly I was, and perhaps still am, invested in an imaginary world in which I display more prowess than I actually have.  Because of this I can imagine now what I never recognized:  all the dreams that my parents and brothers must have secretly harbored.   In fact when I think of my father (a lowly plumber who revered Arnold Palmer, Ted Williams, and Rocky Marciano) and his genius for ridiculing others, especially by naming them in a way that absolutely captured their vanity, I think sadly on all the fervid but unfulfilled dreams that must have spawned that genius. 

        This is where "Miniver Cheevy comes into the picture.  The poem captures the immense difference between what Miniver identifies himself with and what he is: an unhealthy drunk (growing lean, he coughs and keeps "on drinking") who has clearly achieved no success. He rails against the times, blaming their degeneracy for his failure.  He sees himself as an ill-fit with the worsening times, imaginatively throwing himself back into the days of Thebes, Troy, Camelot, and Renaissance Italy.  In doing so, however, he doesn't seem to assume that he might be just a pee-on in these ancient and famous places where heroes, knights, and ruthless monarchs ruled.  He somehow imagines himself just those heroes, knights, and tyrants.  It's like the line from the movie Bull Durham, in which Crash Davis asks the "love interest" why it is that everyone who claims to have lived a former life always chooses the famous people--Caesar, King Arthur, Robert L. Lee--rather than a nobody.  Robinson cuts through Miniver's vanity like a knife through butter—the same treatment we would get from each other in my household.  Robinson becomes almost blatantly sarcastic in suggesting that Miniver preferred the "grace" of medieval armor to khaki pants and that he "loved the Medici,/Albeit he had never seen one."  My family, if it had to, would formulate Miniver's problem in this way:  "he can't accept the truth about himself, blames everyone else, and thus lives in an unrealistic world that has no basis in reality; he's a fool!" 

        As a "card-carrying" member of my family, I wasn't surprised that I first reacted to the poem in just that way.  But as one who has survived and through marriage gotten a different perspective, I can feel some kinship with Miniver.  I'm not a drunk; and I grow almost physically ill when I hear people talking, without any sense of historical facts, about the good days when knights were gentlemen (yea, right!).  However, I do feel as though, but for dumb luck or something that I just have not been able to identify, the balance in any of us between our imaginary worlds of accomplishment and our actual worlds of mere survival and competence could be thrown out of balance and become like Miniver's.  We could wake up tomorrow and assume that we're OK and the world's all wrong.  Or is that what we do anyway? 














           A Midsummer Night's Dream Quiz 
(12 pts)

Part 1 (Short Answer--7 points)

1.  In this play Shakespeare weaves together four love-plots at four different levels, and those plots can include more than a pair of lovers.  Name the central figures in those four plots:

a) Theseus and Hippolyta

b)  Oberon and Titania (the young boy kept by Titania & also Bottom)

c)  Lysander, Hermia, Demetrius, and Helena

d)  Pyramus and Thisbe

Bottom and Titania??

2.  What is the reason for the disagreement between Titania and Oberon? 

Titania insists on keeping the changeling boy of her good female friend who died in giving him birth.  Oberon wants the boy to serve in his retinue and hunt with him in the forests.

3.  What is Bottom's transformation?

He takes on the head of an ass.

4.  Is there fundamental change in any character in the play?  Offer a brief defense of your answer.

The general consensus here, with a couple of exceptions, was that no character changes in a fundamental way.  Changes of sentiment, when there are any, result from manipulations from the supernatural realm, rather than from any process of introspection.

Part 2 (Paragraph--5 points)

Why doesn't the play end with Act 4?  Thoughtfully respond in a well-shaped and coherent paragraph.

Here are several sharp responses:

     The play could easily have ended with Act 4 because the play-within-a play presented at the finale of the piece doesn't add any "meat" to the story.  In fact, the final part does feel a bit as though it's been tacked onto the end.  Why do we care about the horrific play by the Athenian working men?  However, though not an essential part of the play, the final Act does serve three important purposes.  First, it tie in the working-class actors who have peppered the previous scenes and wraps up their roles in the play.  Secondly, it provides the kind of bawdy comic relief that Shakespeare's low-educated, Elizabethan patrons craved. And third, it completes the play's light-hearted frame.  If the play ended on the resolution of the crossed love affairs, it would throw too much emphasis on the drama of the middle class.  Instead, the final scene brings the play back out to a wider, safer focus on many happy couples and reminds us that "All's Well That Ends Well." (Katie Sudhoff)

     Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream focuses on the follies of human behavior in regards to relationships and self-awareness.  The play, therefore, cannot end with Act 4, in which all of the relationships are reconciled; instead the play concludes with the performance of the players at Hippolyta and Theseus' wedding.  With this performance the viewers are able to see how foolish humans may act in regards to disguise and illusions, two facets that are important to the make-up of the fundamental relationships presented in the play.  However, while the viewers comment about the play's absurdities they fail to realize their own faults preceding the wedding.  IN this way, Shakespeare exemplifies the general person's inability to understand his own foolishness in regards to relationships and life itself.  (Alexandra Gioiello)

     By adding Act 5 and not ending the play at Act 4, besides sticking to the five act format which he utilizes in his plays, Shakespeare invites the audience to ponder a powerful analogy.  In Act 5 the actors in the play the audience has just viewed, become an audience for a play of their own, while retaining their roles as actors in the overall play.  To an observer in the real-life audience, the comparison between the actors in A Midsummer Night's Dream and those in attendance is striking.  Both go about their lives and for entertainment take in a play, and Shakespeare would argue that both are actors, merely on different levels.  Pucks admonition at the conclusion of Act 5 furthers this impression, for he asks the audience to imagine the play to be a dream, just as the actors in the play believed that their experience was a dream. (Chris Hart)




                                                                    Happy at Last?

     "I am content"--Shylock's last words, words that give an eerie sense of completion to his appearances and also suggest important thematic concerns of the entire play.  The word content is the most important one.  Certainly Shylock is not "content" in the normal sense of the word.  But that he has to say the word when in fact he is the farthest he has been in the whole play from contentment, from fulfillment, or satisfaction calls attention to its root meaning, "contained."  Certainly Shylock has been contained--confined, restrained by the law.  Interestingly, this sense of containment is what several other characters seek to avoid:  Portia, symbolically, is trying to get out of the restraining casket of paternalistic control--remember, her picture is in the lead casket and she tells Bassanio, "I am locked in one of them"; Jessica escapes her father's house; so does Lancelot Gobbo.  Other images of containment also occur frequently throughout the play:  Antonio pictures himself as a kind of chest, his "extremest means [lying] all unlocked" to Bassanio's needs.  The letters and contracts in the play are sealed, their messages contained.  The rings themselves seal a contract, encircling the fingers of Bassanio and Gratiano in a kind of containment.  The immortal soul also, which--according to Lorenzo--can hear celestial harmony, is grossly closed in by the body, "this muddy vesture of decay" (212). 

      What to make of these and other such references in the play?  First, it seems that the play is about desire--the repeated uses of "satisfaction" and "surfeit" call attention to this concern.  This play pictures the dynamics of desire in terms of containment and freedom from it.  Antonio is sad at the beginning; he is satis, or "full"; he is "contained," and therefore unhappy.  Jessica, Portia, Lancelot are all contained, but in a different sense:  they seek to escape containment.  In other words they desire.  Antonio, at the beginning of the play is almost without desire.  Interestingly, however, desire seeks fulfillment and, like a moth with light, pursues that which extinguishes it--containment, satisfaction, surfeit.  That is what happens to Shylock as he seeks the law and Antonio's flesh; that is what has happened to Antonio as a merchant--he's achieved all he can; that is what happens to Portia and Jessica as their desire for freedom puts them into the container of marriage and their husband's control, despite their last fling as males outside patriarchal containment.  This underlying theme in the play thus makes this happy ending a sad one. 





Notes on Shakespearean Comedy and Tragedy

                                                               Comedy                                                                   Tragedy

Wheel of Fortune--the ride is up  Wheel of Fortune--the ride is down
Opening--begins with a problem, disruption of order Opening--begins in harmony, however fragile
Ending--problem solved, social harmony restored, individual need and community's merge ("self love and social are the same"); no death needed to get to this state of harmony, though there might be an exclusion of a character--a blocking figure, usually old and/or rigid, though in some cases hypocritical and manipulative, but ultimately found out.  In Shakespeare marriage usually marks the restoration of order Ending--catastrophe, profound disruption of social order, the individual (tragic figure) not able to survive as a result of extreme vision of self and world.  Profound questioning, not just playful satire, of social, cultural and/or religious order.  Social institutions such as marriage, family, and kingship rendered temporarily useless, irrelevant
Characters--no better than they need to be.  Usually flat and undeveloped, though in Shakespeare some get a fuller treatment, Shylock and Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, for instance, becoming intriguing, troubling figures.  Hardly any change in characters Characters--tragic figures have a magnitude that makes their cultures' order and harmony dependent upon their characters and subject to their character flaws (so-called tragic flaw, which can also be interpreted as tragic mistake or decision).  Magnitude does not always mean nobility, though in Shakespeare it does.  Tragic character usually is required by the events to journey inward toward self- exploration
Plots--Redundancy in characters and plot, as if to make the action seem a type of event common to all.  Two gentleman of Verona, fourpairs of lovers in AMSND, three in MV, for instance.  This redundancy, repetition, is a primary comic element--it tends to "encrust the human with the mechanical," to use Bergson's metaphor, and to keep the audience at some remove from the characters Plots--subplot, or concerns of "lower" characters, mirroring the issues in the upper plot, though largely to emphasize the horror, the magnitude rather than to reduce the event to a kind of mechanical, occurrence.  As in comedy, though, the various levels of action reflect on each other
Setting--often an opposition of settings, a wilderness or isolated spot contrasting with the court or urban area, that isolated setting representing the place (symbolically the mindset, perhaps) where matters can get resolved because refocused Setting--the force of the tragic character is usually to alter the feeling of the existing world, which almost becomes the expression of the central character's turmoil.  The tragic figure, in a sense, then, is the setting.  Even the heath in King Lear represents the turmoil of Lear's psyche
Tone--Shakespearean comedy is not necessarily funny. It will end happily. The problems are usually human foibles and vices rather than evil, though Shakespeare often takes his comedies to the brink of evil Tone--some of Shakespeare's tragedies are funnier than his comedies, but finally laughter and good nature cannot dismiss the horror of the events nor stop the slide toward catastrophe.


To be or not to be--An Exercise on Identifying Weak Verbs

Steps to take with any paper, late in the drafting process:

1.  Circle all occurrences of to be verbs, except those in quotes.

to be


's, 're (in contractions)

2.  Count all the to be verbs you have circled.

3.  Count your sentences, excluding quotations.

4.  Divide the number of to be verbs by the number of sentences.

40% and below suggests that you have probably taken the time actually to think about and choose the verbs in your sentences.  You have avoided the following structures:

                         the passive voice
                          the "it is . . . . that" 
                          the "There is" 
                          noun formations--"he is supportive of me" (as opposed 
                          to "he supports me")

Click here for some examples of how to turn to be sentences into active ones.  Read about the passive voice and active verbs in your Handbook, as well.


Controlling Ideas for Essays--Fuzzy to Sharp
1.  Hippolyta, Theseus' soon-to-be bride, does not seem to have a place in this play; but upon investigation, the play will solve the enigma that is Hippolyta.

Revised:  An easily ignored character in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hippolyta in fact plays an important, unsettling role.  Like the other female characters, she does represent female subservience to males.  But her exchanges with Theseus establish a haunting tone of maturity and respect for mystery that undercuts male certainty in the play, especially as represented in Theseus' confident authority.

2.  Having been in a similar relationship, Romeo and Juliet's love caused me to re-evaluate the genuineness of an earlier relationship's love, and to ask the question, "Is Romeo and Juliet's love authentic?"

Revised:  I've thought myself just as much in love as Romeo and Juliet, so I have no right to criticize their youthful, exuberant, but silly love.  Even more specifically I have no right to criticize Romeo for his "bookish" love, because--as the play helped me recall --my love for Carmen went just as much by the book as does Romeo's.  In fact, I'm not sure I'll ever know how to love outside the conventions we have for that feeling.  Maybe the conventional gestures are all we have.  At least for me, the only way I knew I was in love was if the gestures seemed right and natural; as soon as I started seeing them as conventions the love broke.  It's all a matter of mystification--and that's why I wonder why Juliet would even make Romeo aware of his making love by the book.

3.  As Portia seeks her own assurance that Bassanio has his priorities in order, so every woman involved in a serious relationship seeks the same assurance in her own way.  Portia's methods and use of the law and legal terminology are not only entertaining to an audience, but also give the guidance on what they should expect form their partners.

4.  The ruling men of the kingdom that put such emphasis on acting out of honor are actually the most hypocritical of them all, as they fail to admit their contradictions. Falstaff's presence provides social commentary on society's denial of issues with the idea of honor being infallible; presenting the idea that honor does not really exist.

Revised:  I see 1 Henry 4 as a dramatic definition of honor.  By dramatic, I mean a combination of forces in tension with each other.  Just as action can move through conflict and then resolution, so does the definition of honor in the play move through that same conflict and resolution.  Hotspur and Falstaff represent those conflicting elements, and Hal almost becomes the product of the conflict of between these two extremes of honor.  Thus when Falstaff carries Hotspur off the stage we have a provisional, perhaps even perverse, synthesis in the conflict.  The honor that can abide in the world of the play, then, must be able to survive what it is that Falstaff represents.

5.  In Henry IV, 1 Shakespeare uses the fiery character of Harry Percy to be Prince Hal's Achilles heel; this character trait is not only authentic; it survives as one of the most important elements in the play.

6.  I believe that Shakespeare wants to bring his readers to a clearly defined conclusion using the trial scene of this play, though the road may not be easy.  In reaching such a conclusion we must examine closely both Shylock and the Christians.  The trial scene places each under a certain stress which serves to reveal their true hearts.  In the process, the standpoint of Shakespeare on the trial scene is also made clear.


Imagery Patterns and Motifs in Hamlet--Group Work
The "looking for something" motif 
Delay Motif
Inside/outside Motif
Imagery of Appetite
Motif of "Watch"
Growth and Decay Motif 



Assignment for Papers #2 & #3 (As with Paper #1, you can choose from the options below, though you are limited to one paper during the term on option "a.")

Due dates:  31 Oct for #2 and 5 Dec for #3

Length:  3-4 pages

Format:  double spaced, title on first page (no title page)

Audience:  your classmates and instructor

Option (a):  Write a paper in which you examine the intersection of some episode or issue in your life with an aspect of one of the first four plays we have read.  The force of this paper can work in one of two directions: one, you can examine how the play's treatment of an issue, development of a character, etc. causes you to rethink, to reexamine, some element in your life, causes you to see it as more meaningful or to look at it more fully or even to come to terms with it better than you have before; or two you can examine how an experience or predominant feeling that you have about someone or something causes you to understand more fully some aspect of one of the plays--some conflict, discovery, or attitude represented in it.  This kind of paper will likely have to unfold more patiently and thus turn out to be longer than the one you write for Option (b) described below.  For an example of this sort of paper written about a poem, click here

Option (b):  Write a paper which analyzes some feature of one of the plays we have read since the beginning of October.  The idea here is to take something quite limited and show how it is important to an understanding of character, theme, and/or technique in one of the plays.  If you're "into" the experience of reading these wonderful plays, you will likely get interesting in certain matters, problems, patterns, details, etc. that emerge from our class discussions, and your growing interest will likely lead to you pursue ideas that really matter to you.  Here's an example of this sort of essay (click). The following is a list of possible approaches:

Imagery.  Shakespeare often builds into his play patterns of imagery.  Sometimes those images are part of characterization, and sometimes they run across character to develop a controlling theme throughout.  Your job is to show your classmates and me how a certain pattern of imagery--at best one we might not easily understand or detect--operates within the play.

Passage or Scene.  Examine how a small section of the play--ranging from a scene to a short passage--is vital to our understanding a theme or creating/solving an interpretive problem in one of the plays.

Word or Phrase.  As with imagery, Shakespeare often dwells on a word or two, sometimes making them, through punning and repetition, central features of his plays.  See the short (requires expansion to meet length requirement of this assignment) sample below for an example of this approach (click).

Motif.  Often Shakespeare repeats a core structural feature as a way of dramatizing events:  surveillance, trial scene, pursuit, play-within-play, writing, ordeal or test, interrogation, story-telling, etc.  Explore how such a repeated motif crystallizes a play's major theme or its development of character.

Conflict or Problem in Characterization.  Isolate the major conflict in a character, particularly one that you think is being ignored by the class, and analyze it.  Or, focus on a problem that the character presents--how this problem unfolds and what it "does" to the play as a whole. 

Minor Character.  Shakespeare is fond of inserting a minor character into a play, a seemingly irrelevant figure, and depending on our puzzling over his/her function as a path to enriched meaning.  Often seemingly irrelevant characters reflect in bold, exaggerated, ludicrous ways the real issues going on in the play's main action.

Problems of staging, omission of scenes, portrayal of a character, etc.  In this approach you will notice something about one of the films I will make available to you and explain to your classmates and me why it is troubling, unsuccessful, and wrongheaded, or you will explain how it works quite well.  In any case, you will explore this feature in terms of characterization, theme and/or dramatic force.

Style.  A particularly meaningful use of rhyme or prose in one of the plays. 

What follows is a series of possibilities for some of the plays--offered so as to particularize the general suggestions above.

1.  In all four of "the great tragedies," Hamlet, Othello, Lear, and Macbeth, the tragic character has "a problem with women."  Can you narrow this issue down to an irreducible level?  Why are women a problem for these, Shakespeare's greatest and most interesting tragic figures?  You can focus on one of these characters; or you might while focusing on one, use one or two of the others to help in you in explaining your point about the one upon which you focus.

2.  Tragedy involves a number of things:  the tragic flaw, the metaphysical battle between the hero and fate, the pity and horror that we feel, and of course the fall from the top of fortune's wheel.  One of the aspects of tragedy that we have not examined very carefully is that fact that in most plays the values of social consensus, the "givens" of a society, no longer have the power to support that society and/or to make sense of the experience through which the tragic action takes the hero and the other characters.  Is this the case in any of the tragedies we've studied this term?

3.  Carefully examine one of the following passages, or one like them that you think is more decisive in Shakespeare's development of character.  Consider not only how the passage is, in its details, characteristic of its speaker but also how it is decisive in terms of Shakespeare's development of the speaker's character:

   Othello, 5.2, ll. 347-65
   Hamlet, 5.2, ll. 217-22
   Lear, 4.6, ll. 157-73
   Macbeth, 5.3, ll. 1-12

4.  Explain the significance of Hamlet's killing Polonius.  Why does Shakespeare write that scene into the play?  Is it necessary?

5.  Analyze the theme of equivocation in Macbeth, especially with respect to "man," but also perhaps in terms of the "door knocking" scene with the guard.

6.  Is it true that the end of Act3.3 in Othello resembles a marriage.  If so, why did Shakespeare design it in this way?

7.  Look up the meanings of the names of the characters in King Lear.  Do those names tell us much about the thematic framework of the play. Do the same with Othello, as another alternative to this sort of approach.

8.  Take a particular structural device that typifies Shakespeare's works--systematic alternation of settings, repetition of scenes in which characters impersonate others, the debate, the trial, the test, or some such thing.  Explain how that structural feature works in one of the plays.

9.  Formulate a problem inherent in one of the plays and offer a solution--or perhaps in impossibility of any apparent solution finally working.  An obvious example emerges from All's Well, in the compelled love.  Is there an explanation for this compelled love being seen as valuable, and is that explanation convincing and would it come across as so on stage?

10.  Focus on a minor character--Lafew, the witches, Osric, Lancelot, Jessica, Ophelia, for instance--and explain his/her significance in advancing theme and/or character.

11.  Zero in on a pattern of imagery in one of the plays--carpentry imagery, or one of the other patterns we've identified in Hamlet, military language applied to love in All's Well, etc.--and explain how it enriches and highlights a major theme in the play.

12.  Analyze the beginning of a play--the setting up of patterns, the exposition of issues, and means of gaining attention, etc.

13.  Explore the curious sense of time that Shakespeare builds into Macbeth.

14.  Analyze any of the patterns/motifs in Macbeth listed in the group projects table.



The Meaning of Some Names in Othello

     1.  Iago.  This is a composite of the English "I" and the Latin verb ago, the entry for which in a Latin dictionary follows:

ago, agare, egi, actum vt. to drive, lead, conduct; to chase, hunt; to drive away, steal; to spend (time); to do, act, perform; \ to manage, to administer, carry on; to plead, transact, discuss, propose; to play, act the part of; to accuse, mpeach; to exercise, practice, perform, deliver, pronounce; to treat.

     2.  Othello.  This name contains the Latin word tellus, which means "the earth; ground, earth; land, country."

     3.  Cassio.  This name appears to come from the Latin casses, "hunting net, snare, or spider web."

     4.  Roderigo.  It contains two Latin words:  roder, "to gnaw at, to rust, to corrode, to slander"; and rigo, "to wet, moisten (water)."

     5.  Desdemona.  Interestingly enough, this name combines des, "from the," with demona, "demons."  In what way is Desdemona "of/from the demons?"



Here's a sample paper on a motif and pattern of imagery in Macbeth.  What I've tried to do, besides writing a paper that illustrates an analytical approach (one organized around a controlling idea rather than chronology or summary), is to use quotations in all sorts of ways so as to illustrate the different ways of handling them.

   Killing the Child, or How the Macbeth's Get to the Top


       It's easy to get caught up in Macbeth's focus on what it means to be a man, especially with Lady Mcbeth's request for sex changes and the witches' bearded faces.  Lost beneath the curiosity of that theme, however, is the play's equally important and intriguing concern with childhood--with children as dramatis personae and with images of childhood.  This pattern fleshes out the play's secondary display of an emerging system of primogeniture; and it contributes also to the related but more central theme of evil, which for the Macbeth's amounts to the act of jettisoning childhood from their nature to become as ruthless in their actions as they are in their desires.

       The issue of primogenture simmers just beneath the surface of the play's action and many of Macbeth's musings and speeches.  Primogeniture privileges family and royal seed and devalues individual prowess.  In other words, birth and childhood as lineage figure more prominantly than action in achieving legitimate power.  Early in the play Duncan tells his thanes that he has instituted this practice:  "We establish our estate upon / Our eldest, Malcolm" (15).  And of course the play ends with Malcolm completing the transformation of Scottish war band into the English blood-line system by announcing that "thanes and kinsmen" will "be earls" (98).  Macbeth's climb to power stands against this system.  The emphasis falls more on his and Lady Macbeth's isolation from and antipathy toward offspring, toward children generally.  Look at some of the evidence.  He and Lady Macbeth don't have children, while Duncan, Banquo, and Macduff do.  Macbeth's cruel reign destroys, or attempts to destroy, offspring and the ties between parents and children: "Each new morn / New widows howl, new orphans cry . . ." (73).  Macbeth also encourages the rumored notion that Fleance, Macolm and Donaldwald are patricides, a rumor that suggests children are not acting as children should.  He has ravaged the Scottish society making it unsafe for women and children; and specifically he has Macduff's "wife and babes / Savagly slaughtered" (81), after creating a situation in which Macduff flees to save his own life, leaving the weak and unprotected behind.  When talking with Macduff in Act 4, Malcolm even assumes that his countryman has approached him in England, after unnaturally leaving his wife and children behind, in order "To offer up a weak, poor, innocent lamb / T' appease an angry god."  Here Malcolm stylizes himself as the child after whom Macbeth has sent Macduff (73).  Appropriately then the second of two apparitions that appear to Macbeth in the first scene of Act 4 take the form of a "Bloody Child" (65) and "a Child Crowned" (66).  The first image reinforces the destruction Macbeth has brought to the children of Scotland, while the second emphasizes his isolation from power through the emerging system of primogeniture.  As reminders of this system, the children in the play isolate Macbeth's power grab as individualistic, retrograde and, as I hope to explain a bit more, doomed to failure.

       The children and imagery of childhood in the play also define Macbeth's power as unnatural and divorced from the human emotions and connections that childhood represents.  I have already suggested how Macbeth's actions separate children from parents:  he has left orphans throughout Scotland and caused the alarming separation of Macduff from his dependants.  Macbeth has made the motherland of Scotland strange even to its own children as Ross remarks in Act 4:  "It cannot be called our mother but our grave" (79).  Other details in the play's language build the sense that Macbeth's grab for power equates to cruelty to, and even elimination of, children or the spirit of the child in all humans.  In the opening scenes of the play, his problem, at least according to Lady Macbeth, is that like a new born infant, he "is too full o' the' milk of human kindness" (16).  In her famous request to be possessed by evil spirits, the "unsex me" speech, Lady Macbeth asks that the milk in her designed to nourish children be exchanged with gall (16). The key to Macbeth and Lady Macbeths' crime, in fact, is for them to cut themselves off from the children within themselves.  That's why two other vivid images from Lady's Macbeth's speeches are important.  In one she dramatizes her willingness to eliminate the impediment of the child:

                                                               I have given suck, and know
                                            How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
                                            I would, while it was smiling in my face,
                                            Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums
                                            And dashed the brains out . . . (22)

In the other she betrays how she is weakened by the very child in her that she wants to discard: she remarks to Macbeth that she would have killed Duncan herself if "he had not resembled / [Her] father as he slept" (27).  Even her prodding Macbeth to be "a man" (22) supports what I am claiming about this imagery of childhood.  Though she challenges his manhood, she also challenges him to grow up, to become a man--a person less childishly dependent on that milk of human kindness that so retards his willingness to act ruthlessly.  Lady Macbeth uses similar imagery when she scolds Macbeth for being too afraid of the scene of carnage to return the bloody daggers.  Her logic of ruthlessness runs in this way:  "The sleeping and the dead / Are but as pictures. 'Tis the eye of childhood / That fears a painted devil" (29).  Again, the child's outlook impedes their actions.  Macbeth himself learns to see it that way: when facing Banquo's ghost during the dinner scene, he asserts his mainly courage by saying that if he makes a habit of trembling as he does before the ghost, others ought to "protest [him] / The baby of a girl" (54, emphasis added).  And when imagining earlier how murdering Duncan will ultimately create a tide of pity against the murderer, Macbeth, in a soliloquy, describes that pity as "a naked newborn babe / . . . blowing the horrid deed in every eye [so] / That tears shall drown the wind" (21).  Macbeth's words to his wife after the appearance of Banquo's ghost describe perfectly his growing sense of their "careers" as murderers:  "We are yet but young in deed (56).  Only the little that remains of youth in them makes them tremble at their acts.  When childhood departs, they will be free from fear--or so they think.

        This line of imagery configuring cruelty as the elimination of the child links quite nicely with the primogeniture theme.  In fact the exchange early in the play between Macbeth and Banquo sets up the connection, as Macbeth reminds Banquo, "Your children shall be kings"; and Banquo responds, "You shall be king" (10).  Macbeth will become king singly, without any connection to offspring or parent, "as a man" as opposed to "as a child."  Banquo, the decent, sensible thane who feels, but resists, the ambition inspired by the witches' prophecy, will not be king.  However, he will achieve a vicarious, lasting power through his connection with his child and, by implication, with the child he leaves in place within his own nature.  In short, the metaphorical, emotional, and even actual willingness to slaughter children is antithetical to the momentum the play depicts in Scottish culture toward primogeniture.  The language that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use to support their remarkably individualistic cruelty shows them working against the tide of a large cultural and even natural force, which finally amounts to a kind of destiny of the child in the play, in spite of their attempts to orphan it away.  In contrast to Macbeth and his spouse, Malcolm discovers Macduff's noble motive--to help him rather than to harm him--when Macduff expresses an authentic love of his country.  Malcolm recognizes that "noble passion" as a "Child of integrity" (76).  The child is authentic.  Moreover, that Malcolm is essentially a child--"yet / Unknown to women" (76)-- makes him the obvious inheritor of the throne not just because of primogeniture but also because he remains a child at heart.

       One complication to this imagery remains, however.  Macbeth uses the image of childhood, oddly enough, to capture the very position of power that he imagines for himself.  He depicts the attitude of cruelty unmitigated by a sense of horror as a kind of childhood.  It is as if he takes Lady Macbeth's prized rhetoric of becoming a man and turns it on its head.  In planning murders and carrying them out, Macbeth comes to a point where he declares, "From this moment / The very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand" (68).  "Firstlings," according to the American Heritage Dictionary, means first born offspring, children, in other words.  His cruel acts are his only offspring.  Moreover, his vision of the perfect mental state amounts to a place where children do not grow older, a place where initial desires never have the chance to get modified by doubt.  Macbeth imagines this psychic nursery of cruelty, horribly enough, as he plans to surprise Macduff's castle and "give to th' edge o' th' sword / His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line" (68, emphasis added).  Perhaps Lady Macbeth's lingering fear about Macbeth wanting to remain a child was right, only the child he wants to turn into amounts to a grotesque reversal of the child in us all that develops within a setting of dependency, nuture, and attachment.  Macbeth wants to stand alone, unconnected to anything else on his "bank and shoal of time" (20), a place where he can remain a self-centered infant of malice, a place where there's no troubling delay between desire and fulfillment, a self-constructed Eden of evil.




                            Links to Quizzes and In-class Writings and Projects





      Group Projects on Henry IV, 1.

1.  II.4, ll. 1-106 (Hal reflecting on his situation and “playing” Francis)

2.  Henry IV’s opening speech of the play

3.  The end of Act II, specifically the papers found in Falstaff’s pockets

4.  Act V. 4, ll. 73-162 (The fight between Hal and Hotspur and Falstaff’s actions during it and immediately after, including the “counterfeit” speech)

5.  Act V.1, ll. 120-40 (Falstaff’s speech on “honor”)

6.  Act III, 2. ll. 129-59 (Hal’s speech to his father)



             Links to online concordances of Shakespeare's works
1.  (click)
2.  (click)
3.  (click)


            Group Project Topics on Hamlet

        Group                                Topic                                            Observations

1 Mirroring & Parallels
2 Alex and Mike "Watch"

Scenes Where “Watch/ Watching” are important:


  1. Act I Scene 1(pp 3,  4, 5, 8, 8, 10)

    1. A watch is set to look out for Fortinbras

                                                               i.      This is done to protect the nation from an attack

    1. A watch is also set to look for the ghost of Hamlet’s father

                                                               i.      This is done to gain information; the watcher’s feel like it is a bad omen (as if there is something bad going on in Denmark)

  1. Act I Scene 2 (pp 18, 19, 20):

    1. Horatio tells Hamlet about the “watch” Hamlet joins in

                                                               i.      Hamlet wants to find answers and solve his inner turmoil; maybe the ghost can give him answers

  1. Act I Scene 3 (pp 22)

    1. Polonius tells Ophelia to “watch” her heart and defend herself from Hamlet

                                                               i.      Polonius wants to protect his daughter from getting hurt

  1. Act II Scene 1

    1. Polonius has Reynaldo spy on his son

                                                               i.      Polonius wants to protect his son by bringing him back to Denmark. He does this by setting him up

  1. Act III Scene 1 (pp 69)

    1. King orders Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to “watch”/ spy on Hamlet says madness must not go unwatched

    2. Polonius and King spy on Hamlet during his speech, “To be or not to be” and while he talks to Ophelia

                                                               i.      King wants to know what Hamlet is thinking and doing at all times in case he is plotting against him; he watches Hamlet because he fears him it is a matter of self-preservation and keeping power/the thrown. Polonius Spies on Hamlet so that he can protect his daughter from Hamlet’s schemes.

  1. Act III Scene 2

    1. Hamlet and Horatio observe the King’s reaction while he watches the play

                                                               i.      By watching the King, Hamlet can gain proof of his uncle’s guilt.  It helps him to resolve some of his conflict concerning revenge.

  1. Act III Scene 4

    1. Polonius spies on Hamlet and the Queen

    2. The Queen cannot see the ghost of the King.

  2. Act IV Scene 5 (pp 108)

    1. King asks Horatio to “watch” Ophelia

  3. Fortinbras’ Uncle watches over him


3 Delay
Drew, Katie, and Steve Cuevas Inside vs. Outside



1.2 p 15-17


1.3 p 20-21


II.2 p 60


III.i p64 (the king’s aside about himself…does multiple times, Admits to errors/ sins yet does nothing about them)


V.ii. p 143 bottom (see above, now with own queen)



“O my prophetic soul” I.v. 40 Hamlets’ soul is definitely a representation of his inner workings.  Pain, anguish, love, or any type of emotion he encounters.


Laretes I.iii. 5-10: compares Hamlets’ love for Ophelia to a violet, something natural, and something from outside. Something that he isn’t particularly concerned about of thinks about often. 


Looking at his next speech He compares Hamlets’ love to nature and speaks of soils on his soul. 


“To be or not to be” III.i.58

Again, same as above, Shakespeare does this great thing that makes Hamlet seem like he is more than a one dimensional character. Here Hamlet combats with the issue of Outside and inside within himself.


Hamlet is an Inside character. He thinks a thing through too much and over analyses things to the point of over rationalization.


Laretes, Hamlets’ dramatic foil, is an Outside character.  He is a wild man and doesn’t think anything through.  He just does them with out thinking of the consequences, and has no quarrels about it.


I.iv Horatio uses a lot of natural imagery in his speech at the top of the page, when he tries to talk Hamlet out of going after the ghost of his father because he believes Hamlet is not thinking his actions through. Ah ha!


“Cast thy nighted color off” I.ii. 66 it is an outside representation of what is going on inside of Hamlet. He is morning the death of his father, but the black my represent something that the audience is yet to see.

5 Women
6 Tragedy
7 Oedipal Stuff



Hamlet Quiz (10 pts)


Part 1.  Matching (5 pts)  Put the letter next to the number to create the best match.

___1.  Mouse trap

a.  Where Ophelia ends up

___2.  England

b.  Controlled by his uncle

___3.  Yorick's "enclosure"

c.  Hamlet 

___4.  A "grave" man 

d.  Laertes

___5.  Fortinbras 

e.  Polonius

___6.  Spied on in France

f.   The thing to catch the king

___7.  A pearl 

g.  Site of Rosencrantz and 
      Guildenstern's demise

___8.  Prowls at night

h.  Poisonous "union"

___9.  Remains in order
            to tell Hamlet's story

i.   Hamlet's father

___10.  Heir to the throne

j.   Horatio


k.  Reynaldo




Part 2.  Paragraph (5 pts) Write a coherent paragraph offering an interesting and penetrating response to this question: What is Hamlet's problem?




 “The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet”: Imagination versus Reality

                                                                                                       Alexandra Gioiello


In William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare posits the need for a balance between fantasy and reality.  Shakespeare conveys this message through the character Theseus, the Duke of Athens.  Though Theseus appears only at the beginning and end of the play, his figure brings a certain complexity to the play the other characters do not.  Initially, Theseus’ authority seems to instill order and a sense of reality to the otherwise whimsical and imbalanced plot because of his separation from the action. However, upon a closer examination of his character, the audience can perceive Theseus to be just as irresponsible and disconnected from reality as the rest of the characters.  Because of this, his seemingly rational character proves to represent a certain tension between the reality he deems prudent and the imagination he scorns.  Shakespeare invites the audience to recognize Theseus’ own lack of reality in the final act of the play in which Theseus proves incapable of self reflection while viewing the production of Pyramus and Thisbee. Shakespeare utilizes Theseus’ character as an example of what audience members may become should they fail to recognize their own foolishness while criticizing the faults of others.

At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare presents Theseus as an authoritative figure capable of bringing order to Athens.  Regarded highly by his subjects, Theseus serves as a voice of law, reason, and logic.  Shakespeare highlights this when Egeus implores his help in the matter of marrying his daughter to Demetrius. In dealing with the problem, Theseus counsels Hermia in the law in a tone exemplifying a seemed wisdom and power rooted in reason. He confronts the young woman’s disagreement with her father by telling her to put aside her woes and look through her father’s eyes.  Though Hermia does not readily accept his advice, Theseus still represents a sense of order Athens seeks; his word is law. Furthermore, unlike the other characters in the play, he separates himself from the temptations of love.  In the opening lines of the play, the audience learns Theseus and Hippolyta are to be wed in a few short days.  Theseus, the typical excited lover, expresses his anxiousness in the upcoming event, “O, methinks, how slow/ This old moon wanes! She lingers my desires,/ Like to a stepdame or a dowager/ Long withering out a young man’s revenue” (1.1: 3-6).  While love causes the younger characters in the play to act irrationally and run away from the responsibilities and consequences of the “rational world”, Theseus has full control over his emotional state. He restrains himself from acting contrary to royal decorum and patiently awaits his wedding day before taking any action with Hippolyta.  He gives reason for this at the end of the play claiming “Lovers and madmen have such seething brains,/ Such shaping fantasies, that apprehend/ More than cool reason ever comprehends”  (5.1: 4-6). He sees love and imagination as fleeting emotions with no grounding except to distract people from using reason or logic.  Thus Theseus’ cool approach to life saves him from the confines of love and distinguishes him from the other characters that let love blind them from the reason which Theseus so ardently upholds.

Although Theseus seems to exemplify reason over emotion, he is far from acknowledging any true sense of self; Theseus, however, fails to notice this weakness.  As a kind of spectator to the follies of the young lovers, he has an advantage in determining where they let their love for one another lead them into foolish situations.  He also has the advantage of identifying his own mistakes through them; unfortunately, he only does the former, leaving no room for self reflection.  Because of his lack of reflection, one can say he lives in a fantasy world all of his own.  He holds himself up to be a perfect man, commanding respect even when nobody is really giving it.  For example, when going for a walk through the forest, Theseus comes upon the young lovers after their night in the fairy world and assumes that they “No doubt… rose up early to observe/ The rite of May, and hearing our [Theseus and Hippolyta] intent,/ Came here [the forest] in grace of our solemnity” (4.1: 131-133).  Theseus wrongly assumes that Demetrius, Hermia, Helena, and Lysander have come to greet him.  This is due to his own active imagination—the very thing that Theseus criticizes the young lovers for having.  The audience easily deciphers this but Theseus is dumb to his own mistake, much like the lovers early on.

The final Act of the play culminates in Shakespeare’s overall mockery of Theseus.  To pass the time Theseus chooses to view a play with his wedding party.  Ironically, he criticized the art of playwriting a little while before saying, “As imagination bodies forth/ The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen/ Turns them to shapes, and gives to airy nothing/ A local habitation and a name” (5.1: 14-17).  While he does not claim to believe in “antique fables” (5.1: 3) spun from “airy nothing” such as the one presented in the play, he nevertheless takes part in the tricks of the imagination by viewing it.  Another irony in his statement is that Theseus himself is from a Greek myth—the character of an “antique fable” he does not believe.  Shakespeare further capitalizes on Theseus’ hypocrisy when Theseus notes his motivation for picking the play of the “rude mechanicals”.  He says, “Our sport shall be to take what they mistake” (5.1: 90).  Meanwhile, the audience of A Midsummer Night’s Dream notices Theseus’ mistakes in his overall character.  Theseus, though not obviously lampooned like the other characters in the play, represents another disorder resulting from a lack of acknowledging the value of imagination as well as his unwillingness to see his own manipulations of reality.  In his own words, “nothing” in his character is “impaired, but all disordered” (5.1: 124-125).  He constantly references reason and makes note of the errors throughout the play until its end.  He never admits his own follies or mistakes that he makes (such as his early attempt to pair Demetrius and Hermia together though they were obviously not meant for one another; ironically his decision could have resulted in a scene similar to the one presented in the play—which again he fails to notice). He does not even allow his imagination to take hold when Pyramus kills himself as he says, “This passion, and death of a dear friend,/ would go near to make a man look sad” (5.1: 283-284).  In his unfeeling ways the audience may lose respect for Theseus.  Though respected in the beginning of the play for being untouched by the follies of emotions, his hypocritical stance against feeling and imagination make him a lesser person.  So while the audience first admires him for his strong will and cool reason, at the end of the play he degenerates into a person one would criticize as he does of the young lovers.  Although he has emotion he feigns it and cannot connect himself to the other characters.  He exemplifies no capacity for growth and is therefore not respected in the end.  Thus Shakespeare utilizes his character to posit the need for a balance of reason and emotion in order to become a dynamic character.

William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a seemingly comedic production but underlying the humor is a focus on the need for a balance of reality and fantasy.  The characters in the play have a difficult time distinguishing between the imagination and the true nature of their experiences, however, Shakespeare posits the need for distinction through a means of reflection.  While Theseus represents a character with the most rational he, like the rest of the characters, does not reflect on his mistakes because of his refusal to take seriously the enlightenment of the imagination and emotion.  Shakespeare utilizes the final act as a culmination of this observation and invites audience members to learn from Theseus’ mistake by utilizing the “play within a play” as a mirror.  Just as Theseus views the play of Pyramus and Thisbee and has a chance to see his own errors, the audience is given a chance to see its own errors through the characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  They have a chance to be better if they choose to do so.  Thus A Midsummer Night’s Dream is not only a source of entertainment, but an opportunity for members of the audience to reflect on their own shortcomings in balancing imagination and reality.








            The Significance of Othello as a Moor

                                                                                Chris Hart


            The follies of unfounded jealousies can lead to tragedy, as seen in Shakespeare’s “Tragedy of Othello the Moor of Venice,” a profoundly unsettling play which indicates the potential hazards of unjustified suspicions.  Few have loved who have not known jealousy and doubt, and so this theme touches the conscience of the audience closely, causing an inward examination of one’s own inclinations to worry and distrust.  This theme of jealousy and its dangers runs throughout the play, which as a whole serves as a warning to lovers to be wary of their anxieties.  Shakespeare could have written this play and effectively conveyed this message by having Othello be white, for at first glance nothing in the plot of the play necessitates Othello’s being black.  Jealousy, as evidenced by Iago’s suspicions of his wife, is a malady of all races, and so having a white Othello would not grossly affect the main message or outcome of the play.  With this in mind, Shakespeare’s decision to make Othello black is significant and deliberate, and provides an additional layer of symbolism in Shakespeare’s commentary on jealousy by highlighting the extraordinary character of Desdemona’s love. 

            Othello’s race first and foremost provides a contrast to Desdemona’s fairness, her purity.  Desdemona is white and seems to be the ideal wife, pure and faithful.  She is “a maid that paragons description and wild fame,”and who throughout the play appears nothing but loving and virtuous.  Even as Othello makes it clear that he intends to kill her, she does not defend herself as one would expect, and her final words are a lie to protect Othello, claiming to have murdered herself.  With this lie she damns herself, dying with a sin yet on her soul, as Othello points out almost immediately, lamenting that “She’s like a liar gone to burning hell!” She does not struggle to survive, and with her final words sends herself to hell in order to pardon the very man who killed her.  Her love and faithfulness, proven throughout the play yet slandered by Iago, reach their pinnacle with this final act of devotion.  Desdemona was indeed fair; which in this play takes on a double meaning, referring both to her virtue and to her white skin color.

            Othello’s race also casts him as an outcast in a white society, despite the regard the Venetians have for his military prowess.  Characters throughout the play demeaningly refer to him as “his Moorship”or “the Moor” in his absence.  The use of this term serves to dehumanize Othello, for he is not so much Othello or even a man as he is “the Moor,”a term found even in the title of the play, reinforcing this as a defining aspect of Othello.  Racial slurs appear through the entirety of the play to describe and discuss him, such as in the first scene when Iago and Roderigo inform Brabantio of his daughter’s absence and Iago warns that an “old black ram is tupping your white ewe. . . the devil will make a grandsire of you.”  Later in that same scene, Iago again provides imagery of Othello with Desdemona, saying to Brabantio “You’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse; you’ll have your nephews neigh to you; you’ll have coursers for cousins, and jennets for germans.” Here Othello is not even human; he becomes a “Barbary horse,” a black beast, imagery which will reoccur throughout the play in various forms.

            Upon discovering what Desdemona had done, Brabantio seems more thrown off by his daughter’s choice of husband than by her decision to secretly wed, and appears legitimately convinced that Othello must have used magic to enchant her, asking pitifully why “a maid so tender, fair, and happy. . . [would] run from her guardage to the sooty bosom of such a thing as though—to fear, not to delight.”  Here, Brabantio degrades Othello to a “thing,” symbolic of fear, the opposite of delight.  This very alienation of Othello from society highlights even further the nobleness and purity of Desdemona’s love.  Desdemona, who could have had her pick of the “wealthy curled darlings of our nation”found love in the black Othello.  Shunning accepted conventions, Desdemona followed her heart and embraced what society would have had her shun.

            The uniqueness and unconventionality of the marriage adds a layer of complexity beyond what would exist with a white Othello.  The existence of the complexity in the play further highlights Desdemona’s devotion and willingness to follow her heart.  Interestingly, in highlighting the devotion and purity of Desdemona, Othello’s blackness, both in his race and in his murder of Desdemona, also highlights his own good character, which by all accounts is virtuous despite his inclination to jealousy and his rash actions.  Othello is not the beast which he is labeled, and his soul is not tainted with evil, until jealousy takes hold of him and leads him to destroy that which he loves, the white Desdemona.  Before Iago begins planting his malicious seeds in Othello’s mind, he praises Othello to the audience, remarking that “The Moor is of a free and open nature that thinks men honest that but seem to be so.”This trust, a virtue worthy of admiration, misleads him into being manipulated by Iago, so that it is not any evil within him that causes his jealousy, but his trust and love.  Iago even praises Othello as a husband, stating that “The Moor, howbeit that I endure him not, is of a constant, loving, noble nature, and I dare think he’ll prove to Desdemona a most dear husband”This praise from the very man who wishes to destroy him gains validity from Othello’s own actions, and his love for Desdemona resonates throughout the play.  Othello is a man of virtue, and the contradiction to this virtue which his black color and impassioned murder provides makes Othello’s otherwise genuine character even more noticeable. 

            Othello’s race serves as an important symbolic element within the play.  Shakespeare uses the color of Othello’s skin to alienate Othello from society, thereby making the match between him and Desdemona unique.  Othello’s race also highlights Desdemona’s fairness in skin and virtue, in much the same way that the blackness of Othello’s skin and the blackness or evil of the murder of Desdemona contrast with Othello’s actions and words in the rest of the play, which portray him as a good man who suffers from a fatal tragic flaw.  Shakespeare’s decision to make Othello black instead of white enhances the scope and message of the play by adding the element of societal alienation and highlighting the fairness of Desdemona and goodness of Othello, thus reinforcing the idea that the monster jealousy can destroy even the most virtuous.


[1] Shakespeare, William.  Othello, ed. Russ McDonald (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 34.

[2] Shakespeare, 134.

[3] Ibid., 4.

[4] Ibid., 4.

[5] Ibid., 7.

[6] Ibid., 8.

[7] Shakespeare, 14.

[8] Ibid., 14

[9] Ibid., 31.

[10] Shakespeare, 44.


 ‘Twas His Madness

                                                            Phillip Ball


Shakespeare waits until the last scene of Hamlet to pose a question fundamental to the play’s meaning and analysis: if Hamlet’s madness, rather than Hamlet himself, acted when he performed awful deeds, can others fairly blame him for his actions? Instead of a lapse in judgment, Hamlet suggests in Act V, scene ii that another character altogether, whom he calls his madness, deserves the blame for wronging Laertes. Hamlet effectively pleads insanity, claiming that the circumstances caused his madness to surface and behave as he did. Based on Hamlet’s actions, though, he consciously recognizes his state at many points in the play and justly warrants any fault he gathers from Laertes.

Although Hamlet asserts he had gone mad, he does not have an indisputable case considering the trail of evidence he leaves throughout the play. After the ghost of his father instructs him to avenge his death by killing Claudius, Hamlet tells his friends that he will feign madness as part of his plan. From that point, the audience may have difficulty distinguishing Hamlet’s performance from any actual insanity. Additionally, in his mother’s bedroom, Hamlet provides indications of both his madness and his connection to reality. On one hand, he stabs Polonius because he hears someone eavesdropping behind a curtain. He does not know who stands behind the curtain, yet he thrusts his dagger like a crazed lunatic. He could have killed a completely innocent character like Ophelia with such a hasty reaction. On the other hand, he has enough awareness to explain to the queen that the ghost he sees is King Hamlet and he is not talking into thin air. He states, “My pulse as yours doth temperately keep time/ And makes as healthful music. It is not madness/ That I have uttered” (III.iv.140-2). Thus, his words demonstrate that he has some grasp of his situation, but his actions indicate the contrary. Another example occurs during Act II, scene ii in which Polonius attempts to have a logical conversation with Hamlet. Hamlet gives responses that communicate apparent madness while still taking shots at Polonius. Eventually Polonius realizes that Hamlet’s complex answers contain more than one meaning when he says: “How/ pregnant sometimes his replies are” (II.ii.207-8). Shakespeare clearly conveys to the audience Hamlet’s recognition of his faking madness as he carries out revenge on Claudius. However, soliloquies such as the one in which Hamlet debates suicide illustrate his mental instability as well. Therefore, Shakespeare ultimately leaves the audience to assess Hamlet’s true state.

Given that Hamlet pleads insanity for any transgressions committed against Laertes, does unknowingly sinning deserve a punishment? The United States’ court holds that convictions for insanity receive different sentences than straight-forward, mindful violations. Punishment for insanity often intends to keep criminals away from society instead of directly penalizing them as  ordinary criminals. Nevertheless, Hamlet asks for a solution not available in today’s courts. First, he declares: “This presence knows, and you must needs have heard,/ How I am punished with a sore distraction” (V.ii.206-7). Then he entreats them: “Free me so far in your most generous thoughts” (V.ii.220). He begins his request claiming that they all know why he suffers, which explains why he was driven to madness.  He follows asking for a full pardon, hoping that they will understand that a separate entity carried out the deeds he now regrets. Even with the lenient justice system the U.S. has, Hamlet would never get off the hook so easily. Besides, he does not deserve the pardon he requests as he would not grant one to Claudius if Claudius claimed greed and lust for power overcame him when he killed King Hamlet. In Act III, scene iii, Claudius expresses remorse for killing, saying that guilt now strongly haunts him. However, Claudius realizes that he should try to ignore the guilt because it serves no benefit: “My fault is past, but, O, what form of prayer/ Can serve my turn? ‘Forgive me my foul murder?’” (III.iii.51-2). He continues to say that he still feels the effects of the urges that caused him to murder. The same situation applies to Hamlet because he still has in mind the plan to kill Claudius and anyone who tries to stop him. Hamlet also feels guilty for killing a relatively innocent character. Instead of suppressing his guilt as Claudius does, Hamlet hides behind the character of his madness. Had Claudius confessed that he went mad, admitted murdering King Hamlet, and then asked for mercy, Prince Hamlet would not grant it to him because Hamlet believes he must avenge his father’s death. Therefore, Hamlet does not deserve the clemency for which he petitions.

Not only does Hamlet say that he and his madness are separate factions, but he includes, “His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy” (III.iii.217). In part, he speaks the truth. The madness from which he suffers causes him to ruin his relationship with Ophelia whom he used to love dearly. Moreover, ending the relationship leads to her deterioration and may contribute to her suicide. Additionally, the madness provokes his impulsive response to stab behind the curtain and kill Polonius, which undeniably plays a role in her suicide. So, indeed, his madness causes him grief. At the same time, his madness offers a solution. In the beginning of the play, Hamlet mopes about, looking glum even months after his father’s sudden death. When he receives the revelation and orders from his father’s ghost, he then at least has a small purpose in life. Granted he certainly is not happy, but he now has a mission, which improves his life from sulking aimlessly. Furthermore, his madness provides him the means to perform the act of actually killing another human being. So while Hamlet claims madness is his enemy, in reality, his madness serves as an enemy and a friend.

Hamlet needs to reexamine his speech in Act III, scene iii if he wants the king to know the truth regarding his actions throughout the play. If the king had the knowledge the audience has, he must question whether Hamlet truly ever goes mad. Then he has to decide if Hamlet’s madness causes his erratic behavior or if Hamlet uses that excuse to accomplish the mission of seeking revenge. In today’s court, a good lawyer probably could win Hamlet an insanity verdict.   


 Indecision or Extreme Action: the Character of Shakespeare’s Hamlet

                                                                                                        Katie Sudhoff

The raging passions, family drama, madness, and quest for revenge which run throughout the plot of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet all contribute to the play’s strong impact and enduring popularity. Indeed, the tragic tale of royalty and scandal in Denmark has been performed and analyzed more than any of Shakespeare’s other plays. The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare goes so far as to suggest that “…the history of writing about Hamlet is practically the history of literary criticism itself.”[1] Prince Hamlet has served as the subject of much examination. While many critics state that Hamlet suffers from a crippling indecisiveness, the tragic prince actually jumps recklessly into extreme action. The prince’s tragic flaw is not his apparent hesitancy, but rather an intense, often unthinking devotion to his conflicting passions, which often leads to rash behavior.

            In “Dramatis Personae: Sounding Through Their Masks,” Bernard Grebanier points out Hamlet’s active personality and dispels the traditional image of Hamlet as a wispy, effeminate character. He cites many instances throughout the play where the prince jumps to immediate action, and notes Hamlet’s status as a scholar, courtier, soldier, and excellent fencer. Grebanier states that “The depth and the breadth of Hamlet’s character make him, far from the melancholic or the neurotic, almost the most magnificent embodiment in literature of the Renaissance ideal.”[2]

            The audience first witnesses this great energy and intellectual curiosity marred by recklessness when Hamlet encounters his father’s ghost in Act I, scenes 4 and 5. Heedless of Horatio and Marcellus’ warnings, Hamlet follows his father’s ghost without so much as a thought to the possible consequences. After hearing of the king’s cruel murder, Hamlet swears to think of nothing else, the first vestige of his single-minded nature: “And thy commandment all alone shall live / Within the book and volume of my brain, / Unmixed with baser matter. Yes, by heaven!”[3]  However, Hamlet does not utter empty words. Upon returning to Horatio and Marcellus, he swears them to silence, then hints that he might behave in a way that will make them want to spill their secrets, saying “How strange or odd some’er I bear myself / (As I perchance hereafter shall think meet / To put an antic disposition on).”[4] For possessing such a supposedly indecisive character, the prince formulated his plan to feign madness—a daring course of action with potentially disastrous implications—with astonishing speed and resolve.

            Once committed to this idea of avenging his father, Hamlet focuses solely on exacting his revenge. All other former passions disappear in the tragic prince’s blood-lust, as evidenced in his encounter with Ophelia in Act 3, scene 1. Though the prince once expressed love for the maligned woman, he can no longer think of Ophelia after discovering the truth of his father’s death and formulating his plot for revenge. In line 119, he denies ever loving Ophelia. He then proceeds to insult her, repeatedly crying “Get thee to a nunnery!”[5], which carries implications of prostitution, then slandering the entire female sex with the following suggestion: “Or if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool, for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them.”[6]

            Hamlet’s single-minded nature emerges again when he confronts his mother, Queen Gertrude, following the performance of his treasonous play. Hamlet approaches his mother menacingly, and Gertrude cries for help, drawing Polonius from his hiding spot. Driven to quick, unthinking action by his singular goal, Hamlet stabs Polonius, killing the innocent man—a “rash and bloody deed,”[7] according to the fearful queen. He then continues to verbally assault his mother for her part in the king’s murder. When her protestations seem to reach Hamlet a bit, and he begins to show the slightest signs of weakness, the Ghost re-appears to remind the prince of his purpose. A physical manifestation of Hamlet’s strength of resolve, the Ghost admonishes his son, saying: “Do not forget. This visitation / Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.”[8] Even his mother’s protestations cannot soften Hamlet or make his forget his father’s words and the vow he made to the vaporous king.

            In Act IV, scene 1 however, Hamlet’s single-minded nature works against his goal of revenge. Standing in a graveyard, the prince spies a funeral procession winding towards him. Upon learning that the corpse belongs to his own Ophelia, Hamlet immediately forgets his formerly all-consuming thirst for vengeance. Though the tragic Dane earlier denied loving Ophelia for the purpose of avenging his father, the knowledge of her death banishes all else from his mind. He openly declares his former passion, then grapples with Laertes in Ophelia’s grave, exposing himself to men who want him for the murder of Polonius and endangering his carefully laid plans for revenge.

            As we can see from this scene, Hamlet’s troubles stem not from his indecisiveness: he takes plenty of swift, even heedless actions. Grebanier suggests that something a little closer to the mark when he says: “In terms of his situation how are we then to describe his tragic flaw, the hamartia which will hurl him to destruction? We have already identified it as a species of rashness…”[9] However, I maintain that Hamlet’s tragic flaw manifests itself in a broader sense than just his quick temper: we can identify the source of his suffering as his complete and excessive focus on a particular desire, which often leads to rash behavior. His emotions blind him, and he cannot see the larger consequences of his actions or the way that they will affect the other aspects of his life. Hamlet’s quest for revenge indirectly kills Ophelia, then sadness at that loss distracts him from the original goal of vengeance. Rather than being torn by indecision, Hamlet is torn by the conflicting, all-consuming passions which divide his soul.


[1]“Hamlet.” in the Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, ed. Michael Dobson (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 181.

[2] Grebanier, Bernard, “Dramatis Personae: Sounding Through Their Masks,” in Shakespearean Criticism, Vol. 35., ed. Dana Ramel Barnes and Michelle Lee (Detroit: Gale, 1997), 183. 

[3] Shakespeare, William, The Tragical History of Hamlet Prince of Denmark. The Pelican Shakespeare, ed. A. R. Braunmiller (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), Act I.5, lines 102-4, 33.

[4] Ibid., lines 173-175, 36-7.

[5]Ibid., Act III.1, 67.

[6] Ibid., lines 138-140, 67.

[7]Ibid., Act III.4, line 27, 88.

[8]Ibid., lines 110 and 111, 92.

[9] Grebanier, “Dramatis Personae: Sounding Through Their Masks,” 187.



























Review Guide for Final Exam--HE333

Overview of the aims of the Final Exam.  Basically what we've done during this term is to try to read enough of Shakespeare's important plays to get a good sense of what marks them as Shakespearean--their copiousness, the multiplicity and density of their imagery, language, event, characterization and meaning--and that meaning is always subject to rich, active interpretation.  We have also worked on skills of reading--recognizing patterns of language and motifs that dominate each play, identifying problems in plotting and closure, not to mention those of genre (Is a play a tragedy or a comedy or a tragic-comedy, and is it that in terms of characterization, action, or even perhaps theme, as might be argued in the case of Romeo and Juliet, whose plot is tragic but whose theme is almost Comic in that the lovers are symbolically joined at the end of the play for ever).  We have often noticed, also, the intriguing relationship between genre and gender.  We've worked on the skill of writing about the plays without giving in to redescription/plot-summary, forming papers and paragraphs, for that matter, out of a strong, interesting, challenging thesis that goes beyond retelling and obvious, textbook observations.  In the quizzes, we've worked on recognizing why a passage is identifiable as belonging to a specific character; and we've worked on trying to be able to explain how a part of a play (the very opening scene of 'watch" in Hamlet, for example) contributes to the thematic whole. 

The final exam will not surprise you, then, in asking you to do several things that build upon those we've emphasized during the term.  It will have four parts:  1) identification of passages and explanation of the relation of those passages to the play as a whole; 2) focus on a thematic concern that runs across several of the plays; 3) analysis of a problem of genre; 4) the applicability of the "Who's on First" theme to the body of plays we have read.

Part 1-- Analysis of passages.  One of the tasks on the exam is to identify and then analyze the importance of passages we have looked at or referred to during the term.  You will need to explain how the passage represents some major theme(s), how it raises a problem, how it picks up on a motif or line of imagery within the work, and/or how it reveals character.  You might also be asked/invited to say how one of these passages captures a theme that runs across much of the literature in the course. 
Sample passage: 

In Act 3, iii Iago continues his "work" on Othello's mind, saying this about Desdemona: 

                       She that, so young, could give out such a seeming 
                       To seal her father's eyes up close as oak-- 
                       He thought 'twas witchcraft--but I am much to blame. 
                       I humbly do beseech you of your pardon 
                       For too much loving you. (209-13) 

Sample Successful Response: 

     This passage develops almost all the themes in the play:  the conflict between generations, the difference between appearance and reality; metaphorical blindness; magic; and the rivalry between male brotherhood and heterosexual love.  In a nutshell, though, the passage builds upon what I think is the central concern of the play: the haunting fear of always being an outsider. Iago's speech plays on this concern by bringing up many of those other themes.  For instance, by emphasizing Desdemona's youth, Iago reminds Othello of the difference between Othello's and Desdemona's generations, and thereby suggests Othello's inevitable distance and difference from his own wife.  By bringing up the issue of blindness--and perhaps recalling Brabantio's parting words to Othello ("Look to her, Moor, if thou has eyes to see:/She has deceived her father, and may thee")--Iago further emphasizes this sense in Othello of alienation from what's commonly known, this sense of being the outsider, who can't see through a different culture's codes.  After all, if you can't see what's going on under your nose and everyone else can, you remain on the outside.  Interestingly, the allusion to Brabantio's words also suggestively lodges Othello even more completely in the generation older than Desdemona's.  Even Iago's allusion to witchcraft echoes the speech in which Brabantio depicted Othello as an outsider because of his skin color, an outsider only capable of gaining his daughter's affections in an unnatural way, through witchcraft or sorcery.  Finally, Iago's backing off from the accusations against Desdemona on the basis of his love for Othello subtly establishes a kind of "us against them" attitude, the males bonded in their soldierly love vs.those -- Desdemona and perhaps the civilian Venetians generally -- who aren't part of that brotherhood.  The more Othello feels alienated from the world around him, the more he depends on "the world according to Iago."  This dependency is central to the plot.  But the feeling of alienation also remains the most important, the most essential theme in the play, and this passage does much to sustain that theme in all its variations. 



Passages that you will be asked to write on:

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
  This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
  To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
   Which mannerly devotion shows in this,
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
   And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
   Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do.
   They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take. 

2.                                   Infirm of purpose!
Give me the daggers.  The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures. 'Tis the eye of childhood 
That fears a painted devil.  If he do bleed,
I'll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
For it must seem their guilt.
Being thus benetted round with villainies,
Or I could make a prologue to my brains,
They had begun the play.  I sat me down,
Devised a new commission, wrote it fair.
I once did hold it, as our statists do,
A baseness to write fair, and labored much
How to forget that learning, but, sir, now 
It did me yeoman's service.  Wilt thou know
Th' effect of what I wrote?
But were the day come, I should wish it dark
Till I were couching with the doctor's clerk.
Well, while I live I'll fear no other thing
So sore as keeping safe Nerissa's ring.
Thou art so fat-witted with drinking of old sack and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldest truly know.  What a devil hast thou to do with the time of day? Unless hours were cups of sack, and minutes capons, and clocks the tongues of bawds, and dials the signs of leaping houses, and the blessed sun himself a fair hot wench in flame-colored taffeta, I see no reason why thou shouldst be so superfluous to demand the time of the day.
6.  My way is to conjure you, and I'll begin with the women.  I charge you, O Women, for the love you bear to men, to like as much of this play as please you; and I charge you, O men, for the love you bear to women (a I perceive by your simpering none of you hates them), that between you and the women the play may please.  If I were a woman, I would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased me, complexions that liked me, and breaths that I defied not; and I am sure, as many as have good beards, or good faces, or sweet breaths, will, for my kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.
  Set you down this.
And say besides that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th' throat the circumcised dog
And smote him--thus.
Thou, nature art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound.  Wherefore should I 
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? 


You know the law, you exposition
Hath been most sound.  I charge you by the law,
Whereof you are a well-deserving pillar,
Proceed to judgment.  By my soul I swear
There is no power in the tongue of man
To alter me.  I stay here on my bond.
You were to blame--I must be plain with you--
To part so slightly with your wife's first gift,
A thing struck on with oaths upon your finger
And so riveted with faith unto your flesh.
I gave my love a ring, and made him swear
Never to part with it; and here he stands.
I dare be sworn for him he would not leave it
Nor pluck it from his finger for the wealth
That the world masters.

Hath Romeo slain himself?  Say thou but "Ay,"
And that bare vowel "I" shall poison more
Than the death-darting eye of cockatrice.
I am no I, if there by such an "Ay"
Or those eyes shut that makes thee answer "Ay."
If he be slain, say "Ay"; or if not, "No."
Brief sounds determine of my well or woe.

Ha! Here's three on's are sophisticated. Thou are the thing itself; unaccommodated man is no more but such a  poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.  Off, off, you lendings!  Come, un button here.

GREGORY To move is to stir, and to be valiant is to stand.  Therefore, if thou art mov'd thou runn'st away.

SAMSON  A dog of that house shall move me to stand. I will take the wall of any man or maid of           Montague's.

GREGORY  That shows thee a weak slave, for the
weakest goes to the wall.

SAMSON 'Tis true;and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall.  Therefore
I will push Montague's men from the wall, and         thrust his maids to the wall. 

. . . frailty, thy name is woman--
A little month, or ere those shoes were old
With which she followed my poor father's body
Like Niobe, all tears, why she--
O God, a beast that wants discourse of reason
Would have mourned longer--married with my uncle,
My father's brother, but no more like my father
Than I to Hercules.  Within a month,
Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears
Had left the flushing in her galled eyes,
She married.  O, most wicked speed, to post
With such dexterity to incestuous sheets!
It is not nor it cannot come to good.
But break my heart, for I must hold my tongue.

15. He on the ground, my speech of insultment ended on his dead body, and when my lust hath dined -- which, as I say, to vex her I will execute in the clothes that she so praised -- to the court I'll knock her back, foot her home again.  She hath despised me rejoicingly, and I'll be merry in my revenge.

                Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them.  They see, and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have.  What is it that they do
When they change us for others?  Is it sport?
Not a whit, we defy augury.  There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow.  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.  Since no man of aught he leaves knows, what is't to leave betimes?  Let be.
So, when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promised,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And, like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glitt'ring o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend to make offense a skill,
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes; it provokes the
desire but it takes away the performance.  Therefore much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery: it makes him and it mars him; it sets him on and it takes him off; it persuades him and disheartens him, makes him stand to and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep and, giving him the lie, leaves him.

Why dost thou lash that whore?  Strip thine own back;
Thou hotly lusts to use her in that kind
For which thou whipp'st her. The usurer hangs the cozener.
Through tattered clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furred gowns hide all.  Pate sin with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pygmy's straw does pierce it.
None does offend, none, I say, none.  I'll able'em.
Take that o me, my friend, who have the power 
To seal th' accuser's lips.  Get thee glass eyes,
And like a scurvy politician seem 
To see things thou dost not.  Now, now, now, now!
Pull off my boots.  Harder, harder!  So. 

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe'er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop'd and window'd raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these?  O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this!  Take physic, pomp;
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just.
No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve.  Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.  I am pepper'd, I warrant, for this world.  A plague o' both your houses!  'Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse, a cat, to scratch a man to death!  A braggart, a rogue, a villain,  that fights by the book of arithmetic! Why the dev'l came you between us?  I was hurt under your arm. 
Be not so holy-cruel; love is holy,
And my integrity ne'er knew the crafts
That you do charge men with. Stand no more off,
But give thyself unto my sick desires,
Who then recovers.  Say thou art mine, and ever
My love, as it begins, shall so persever.
I have had a most rare vision.  I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was.  Man is but an ass if he go about to expound this dream.  Methought I was--there is no man can tell what.  Methought I was, and methought I had--But man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had.  The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was.  I will get Peter Quince to write a ballet of this dream.  It whall be called "Bottom's Dream," because it hath not bottom; and I will sing it in the latter end of our play, before the Duke.  Peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.


Part 2 -- Connections among Plays--Theme and/or Technique.  This second part of the exam will ask you to discuss a theme or technique as it unfolds in at least three plays.  Below I've listed some topics from which you will be asked to choose one or two as the basis for essays.  Don't make the mistake of simply trying to "cover" the topic; instead treat each one of the items as a prompt that you need to turn into a thesis, a sharply focused idea.

1.  Shakespeare's use of setting, symbolic sites within the plays.

2.  Human sexuality.  Arguably Shakespeare explores this important element of human nature more thoroughly than any other subject, and he does so with incredible sensitivity and complexity. Examine.

3.  We have noticed how Shakespeare likes to work with the motif of "doubling."  Discuss.

4.  Examine Shakespeare's interest in names.  How does that interest manifest itself in the plays?

5.  We've noticed often how Shakespeare writes his own profession into the plays, making them reflexive and in the process even breaking down the willing suspension of disbelief that we would think he's trying to promote in the dramatic experiences he offers.  Investigate.

6.  Shakespeare's play take a penetrating and complex look at the military/heroic world view.  Analyze.

7.  Is there a way of understanding how Shakespeare uses the supernatural in his plays, or is his use of such elements just too various to nail down?

8.  It's easy to forget that Shakespeare's greatest subject is language itself.  Can you see your way through all the speech acts in his plays to get at any patterns related to language, its power, its function in revealing or disguising the truth about oneself and others?

9.  What's at stake with all the instances in Shakespeare's play of disguise.  What are the implications of this interesting and lively dramatic device?

10.  On the basis of the plays we've read during this term, would you say Shakeseare favors the extrovert or introvert, the communal spirit or the tendencies of the loner?  Is belonging or alienation more important in his plays?

11.  Shakespeare loves to play with the "cheap device" of the feigned death.  It comes up in various ways even in the plays we've read.  What are the thematic and dramatic implications in his use of this device?

12.  So many of Shakespeare's plays contain misogyny.  Add all this hatred of women up and you get a negative view of women.  Is it fair to say that one of Shakespeare's pet themes is misogyny? 



Part 3 -- Genre Issues.  In this section I will ask you to write an essay that examines the applicability to Shakespeare's plays of some particular point Arthur Miller makes in his short essay, "Tragedy and the Common Man" (click).

A)  As a general rule, to which there may be exceptions unknown to me, I think the tragic feeling is evoked in us when we are in the presence of a character who is ready to lay down his life, if need be, to secure one thing--his sense of personal dignity.  From Orestes to Hamlet, Medea to Macbeth, the underlying struggle is that of the individual attempting to gain his "rightful" position in his society.
     Sometimes he is one who has been displaced from it, sometimes one who seeks to attain it for the first time, but the fateful wound from which the inevitable events spiral is the wound of indignity, and its dominant force is indignation.  Tragedy, then, is the consequence of a man' total compulsion to evaluate himself justly.
     In the sense of having been initiated by the hero himself, the tale always reveals what has been called his "tragic flaw," a failing that is not peculiar to grand or elevated characters. Nor is it necessarily a weakness.  The flaw, or crack in the character, is really nothing--and need be nothing--but his inherent unwillingness to remain passive in the face of what he conceives to be a challenge to his dignity, his image of his rightful status.  Only the passive, only those who accept their lot without active retaliation, are "flawless."  Most of us are in that category. 

B)  There is a misconception of tragedy with which I have been struck in review after review, and in many conversations with writers and readers alike.  It is the idea that tragedy is of necessity allied to pessimism. Even the dictionary says nothing more about the word than that it means a story with a sad or unhappy ending. This impression is so firmly fixed that I almost hesitate to claim that in truth tragedy implies more optimism in its author than does comedy, and that its final result ought to be the reinforcement of the onlooker's brightest opinions of the human animal. 
     For, if it is true to say that in essence the tragic hero is intent upon claiming his whole due as a personality, and if this struggle must be total and without reservation, then it automatically demonstrates the indestructable will of man to achieve his humanity.

C)  Now, if it is true that tragedy is the consequence of a man's total compulsion to evaluate himself justly, his destruction in the attempt posits a wrong or an evil in his environment.  And this is precisely the morality of tragedy and its lesson.  The discovery of the moral law, which is what the enlightenment of tragedy conists of, is not the discovery of some abstract or metaphysical quantity.
    The tragic right is a condition of life, a condition in which the human personality is able to flower and realize itself.  The wrong is the condition which supresses man, perverts the flowing out of his love and creative instinct.  Tragedy enlightens--and it must, in that it points the heroic finger at the enemy of man's freedom.  The thrust for freedom is the quality in tragedy which exalts.  The revolutionary questioning of the stable environment is what terrifies.  In no way is the common man debarred from such thoughts or such actions.



Part 4--Global Issue.  "Who's on First"???????????? (click)





Sample Successful Papers on Assignment 3


Cymbeline Act III, scene iii

                                           Phillip Ball 


            The interaction between Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus in Act III, scene iii of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline illuminates several of the play’s themes while also mimicking important action found throughout the play. Shakespeare often includes seemingly irrelevant scenes or characters in his plays that appear to have little connection to the central plot. However, upon closer assessment, the characters, scenes, or speeches further develop thematic material prevalent in all acts. In a short speech from Belarius, Shakespeare encompasses the notions of justice, loyalty, and the significance of setting in Cymbeline.

            In Act III, scene iii, Guiderius and Arviragus express to Belarius how they wish to see the world outside the forest. They want to travel somewhere far from the cave because they “have seen nothing” (III.iii.39). Belarius scolds them because they have no idea of “the city’s usuries” (III.iii.45). He continues to tell the story of his banishment from Cymbeline’s court and his life with them thereafter. The injustice in Belarius’ life immediately becomes apparent as he now suffers due to two soldiers’ deceit. Belarius tells Guiderius and Arviragus, “many times/ Doth ill deserve by doing well” (III.iii.53-54). Fortunately for Belarius, the best is still to come because Shakespeare will demonstrate the full cycle of justice. He shows the complete process in Act V where he resolves over a dozen conflicts left for the final act. In one of his most chaotic endings, he manages to work out multiple problems in each scene so rapidly that the audience must be confused afterwards. All the while, though, Shakespeare designs a finale that supports the notion of justice considering the outcomes; all the characters receive what they deserve. Instead of a sense of tragedy and helplessness as Romeo and Juliet creates, Shakespeare produces satisfaction among the audience because the justice restores order in the world. The evil queen dies, Britain wins the war, Cymbeline finds his sons, Imogen and Posthumus reunite, and the list continues. Obviously a central theme in the play, Shakespeare uses justice as the foundation of Belarius’ tirade. His entire situation at the time stems from the unjust decision to exile him from the court of Britain.

                        Shakespeare explores loyalty in this play in a complex manner because both guilt and forgiveness have strong ties to loyalty that additionally complicate it. As the action revolves around Imogen, her loyalty to Posthumus and, likewise, his loyalty to her come into question. Belarius relates to Guiderius and Arviragus that the king never questioned his loyalty because of his deeds as a soldier. However, once two villains provided false witness against Belarius, Cymbeline no longer trusted him and exiled him from the court. Similarly, Iachimo falsely testifies against Imogen’s faithfulness, which leads to Posthumus’ offense against her and women in general. Yet all is not lost because neither Imogen nor Belarius curse those responsible for giving the order. Belarius never hints that he despises Cymbeline for imposing the punishment, but he does speak maliciously about the two villains. Imogen takes a similar approach in that, surprisingly, she does not curse Posthumus for his orders to have Pisanio murder her. In both cases, an external force initiated the break in loyalty, which allows the characters to avoid developing hatred toward those administering the penalty. Furthermore, while criminal behavior explains the reason for the collapse of loyalty, forgiveness once again restores order by excusing the actions of Cymbeline and Posthumus. In Act V, Belarius returns to a position in the court and Posthumus forgives Iachimo for deceiving him. Without mercy in the final act, the play would take a dark turn as Belarius, Guiderius, Arviragus, and Iachimo could all face death. Shakespeare underlines the notion of loyalty when Cymbeline detects the genuine good will in Belarius, Guiderius, and Arviragus and decides to grant clemency.

            The interaction in Act III, scene iii reveals the impact of setting in the advancement of the play. Guiderius and Arviragus wonder about the excitement of court life to which Belarius replies, “the art o’ th’ court,/ As hard to leave as keep, whose top to climb/ Is certain falling, or so slipp’ry that/ The fear’s as bad as falling” (III.iii.46-49). Belarius represents the traditional perspective that country life provides a moral, honest background while city life corrupts its inhabitants. Country folk are more innocent and less connected to material possessions because they “have never winged from view o’ th’ nest” (III.iii.28). The imagery suggests purity in Guiderius and Arviragus by comparing their youth and inexperience to that of a baby bird. Shakespeare supports Belarius’ view based on the action of the play as Belarius, Guiderius, Imogen, and Arviragus fix in the wilderness the mess created in King Cymbeline’s court. The wilderness also acts a haven in which good resides. When Cloten tries to enter the realm of which he has no part, Guiderius kills him and restores the natural order. The natural order fails in the court because there Cloten has a royal status even though he is weak and foolish, as evident by the lords laughing at him when he claims that he will kill Posthumus in a duel. Moreover, Cymbeline falls prey to the corruption in the court setting by marrying an evil woman who seeks only power for her son. He becomes blind to the fact that Cloten cannot match his daughter’s worth when he shouts at her and banishes Posthumus for her disobedience. The court opposes the model of simple, innocent life in the wilderness that eludes the complication of human depravity.

Just as Shakespeare touches on many principal themes in Act III, scene iii, he also chooses specific words that emphasize the significance of those themes in a short passage without much plot development. Guiderius describes life in the woods as “a cell of ignorance, traveling abed,/ A prison” (III.iii.33-34). His description could not be further from the truth considering he and Arviragus do not know their real identities. The ignorance signifies their belief that they are Polydore and Cadwal and that Belarius is their father. They do not realize that Belarius holds them somewhat as prisoners because they belong to Cymbeline. After Guiderius’ speech, Arviragus speaks about the same subject: “Our cage/ We make a choir, as doth the prisoned bird,/ And sing our bondage freely” (III.iii.42-44). Belarius soon reveals to the audience the irony of Arviragus’ words when he gives the account of how he stole them in their baby years. As Belarius recounts the tale of how the villains turned on him, he makes a connection that links him to Imogen’s situation involving Iachimo. Belarius portrays himself as a tree full of fruit to describe how he was as a soldier. The situation changed, however, when, “in one night/ A storm or robbery, call it what you will, Shook down my mellow hangings, nay, my leaves,/ And left me bare to weather” (III.iii.61-64). Belarius’ robbery corresponds to Iachimo robbing Imogen of her bracelet one night. Shakespeare forms another parallel between the relationships of Cymbeline and Belarius; Posthumus and Imogen simply by having Belarius say that Cymbeline “loved” (III.iii.58) him. The diction clearly indicates how Posthumus’ and Imogen’s relationship imitate the rapport Belarius had with Cymbeline before his banishment.

            Shakespeare crafts a dense passage loaded with thematic substance in an apparently inconsequential section of the play during Act III, scene iii. Belarius’ speech not only allows the audience a view into his world, but also illustrates how his issues affect the other characters as well. It takes a brilliant mind to make every passage meaningful, but somehow Shakespeare manages to subtly insert significance throughout the duration of his plays. 



“Like Monsters of the Deep”: A Rejection of Natural Roles in Shakespeare’s King Lear

                                                                                              Alexandra Gioiello

            William Shakespeare’s King Lear examines the consequences of defying nature, positing that mankind’s rejection of its natural roles leads to chaos.  Throughout the play, Shakespeare concentrates on the varying distortions of nature in the relationships between the characters.  The most notable distortion of natural roles in the play is that of the relationship between parents and children. By examining these various perversions of his characters’ natural roles, readers can clearly see where the play’s conflict develops and ends in tragedy.

            One of the most pervasive commentaries in King Lear concerns the natural relationship between parents and children.  In the beginning of the play King Lear challenges his daughters to prove their natural affection to him, offering more land and riches to the daughter who can best proclaim her love.  However, in doing this, King Lear prompts his daughters to claim a love for him that goes beyond the natural father and daughter relationship.  Cordelia, the only daughter who does not fall prey to the proclamation of unnatural love says, “I love your majesty/ According to my bond, no more nor less” (Act 1.1:91-93).  In her devotion to her natural role, King Lear becomes angry.  He requires more from her but she disappoints him; thus he abandons his role as her father.  His abandonment of Cordelia instigates the initial conflict of the play, and as Kent foreshadows, “I’ll tell thee thou dost evil” (Act 1.1: 171).  The abandonment of Cordelia and the ill-founded trust Lear entrusts to his unnatural and lying daughters begins because of this rejection of the natural role between fathers and daughters.  These actions of Lear drive the later actions of the play, in which the older daughters take advantage of his failing mind, overtake the kingdom, and subsequently throw the kingdom into chaos in the form of war.  Thus, the overall conflict can be attributed to this initial rejection of roles.

            Another instance of the rejection of the parent and child relationship occurs between Edmund and Gloucester. Edmund, the bastard son of Gloucester, feels shorthanded because of his illegitimate birth despite his father’s love for him.  Because of these ill feelings he formulates a plan to usurp power from his brother, Edgar, by deceiving his father into believing Edgar plans to overthrow him.  Edmund partakes in breaking his filial bond with his father by lying to him in this way.  Gloucester, when he learns about Edgar’s supposed conspiracy against himself says, “O villain, villain! His very opinion in the letter.  Abhorred villain, unnatural, detested, brutish villain…” (Act 1.2: 77-78).  While Gloucester curses Edgar, the audience knows this actually applies to Edmund as he has conspired the plan to turn his father against his brother—an unnatural and complete rejection of the natural loving relationship that is usually shared between family members.  Edmund’s rejection of his natural role causes strife within his family and the banishment of his brother and later the abuse of his father.  Ultimately, Edgar must assume the unnatural persona of a beggar, and Gloucester succumbs to the unnatural condition of blindness as a result of Edmund’s failure to embrace his role as a son and brother and his willingness to inflict evil in order to achieve power.  Eventually, his search for power only leads to his own tragic end in which he dies from a sword fight—an unnatural death.

            While Cordelia seeks to uphold the natural father-daughter relationship, her sisters, Regan and Goneril, do not hesitate to defy their natural roles in order to attain power.  Regan and Goneril defy their human roles on a number of levels: in their father and daughter relationship, in their duties to their husbands, and as women. Eventually, their desire for authority results in their evolution into truly evil beings.  Albany, the husband of Goneril, attributes his wife’s evil transformation to her rejection as a daughter, wife, and a woman. He says, “That nature which condemns its origin/ Cannot be bordered certain in itself./ She that herself will sliver and disbranch/ From her material sap, perforce must wither/ And come to deadly use” (Act 4.2: 33-37).  He says those who reject their natural roles have no use in the world, therefore, they turn to evil deeds in order to find fulfillment.

The two women first defy their roles by claiming to give all of their love to their father, thus forsaking the love due to their husbands (this also means that they reject their roles as wives).  Cordelia recognizes this discrepancy when she discusses how they should live their roles as daughters and as wives: “Why have my sisters husbands if they say/ They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,/ That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry/ Half my love with him, half my care and duty” (Act 1.1: 98-102).  Despite what Cordelia says, the two older sisters do not care about these roles as daughters and wives long as they can achieve their goals. Later, when the two sisters should be comforts to their father in his old age he is “false persuaded” (Act1.4: 227) by of them.  Lear, though vaguely aware of their conspiracy, realizes their rejection of their filial role towards him and that they serve as “disnatured torment[s]” to him as they are thankless in all he does for them (Act 1.4:  279, 284).  Lear later associates their lack of filial respect for him with their lack of humanity, thus highlighting the unnaturalness of their rejection of their roles. He says, “Down from the waist they are centaurs,/ Though women all above” (Act 4.6: 124-125). Albany also describes the unnaturelness of their ways in terms of them being inhuman.  He goes so far to say that Goneril’s rejection of her role as a woman, which entails only positive qualities such as compassion, fidelity, trust, and love, results in her assuming the role of the devil.  He says, “See thyself, devil:/ Proper deformity seems not in the fiend/ So horrid as in woman” (Act 4.2: 61-63).  In saying this, Albany makes the assertion that women, in their natural role, are the perfect creatures. Therefore, when they fail to live up to such a role they become the most unnatural and evil being possible—the devil (since they have the most to lose).  This claim also symbolizes Shakespeare’s argument that the rejection of one’s nature results in one transforming into something unnatural.  Because of the sisters’ assumption of new roles and their rejection of their traditional roles, the play ends in tragedy.  Their preying on their father’s weak mind accelerates his decline into old age, while their greed seals their sister’s banishment and later her death.  Eventually, their jealousy and greed for one another forces them to prey on each other, resulting in their unnatural ends—deaths by poison and suicide.  Neither they, nor the rest of their family can survive the hostile and unnatural environment that they create for themselves since nothing is according to the will of nature, rather the whims and evil desires of humanity.

            With the differing rejections of natural roles, Shakespeare shows humanity’s culpability for the discordance in the world.  While mankind may blame nature for disaster, the true fault belongs to those who do not accept their roles in life.  Edmund observes this truth saying, “This is the excellent foppery of the world, that/ when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeits of our own/ behavior, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars” (Act 1.2: 119-122) when it is in fact their own fault for committing evil deeds.  Consequently, the action of the play ends in tragedy because of human choice.  Shakespeare thus, depicts a bleak perspective of human nature with this ending claiming that until mankind can learn to accept its natural roles on earth “Humanity must perforce prey on itself,/ Like monsters of the deep” (Act 4.2: 50-51).  Thus, as humans, all people must take care to assume their natural roles lest they become the monsters of this play and end their own lives by consuming each other in a never ending tragedy.