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Renaissance Literature

Astrophel & Stella VI: A Sonnet Explicated

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Titles are important when considering any text but are of particular importance when considering poetry. Stella is from the Latin word for star and Astrophel is derived from two Greek words: astro which means star and phil which means lover. Astrophel and Stella VI is part of a sequence of sonnets. A typical sonnet sequence has many conventions. Opening and closing sonnets will usually inform the remainder of the sequence. These sonnets tell the story of a developing relationship between two lovers, the sonnets focus on changing emotions of the speaker. The sonnet is fourteen lines long, there are two basic forms eight lines followed by six with a

volta on line nine or, as in the instant case, four quatrains followed by a couplet that contains the twist.

The first sonnet in the sequence describes how the poet is struggling to find words to describe his love, how he cannot study the writing of others to find inspiration in the same way that Shakespeare did. In sonnet VI he returns to this theme and describes why he cannot copy other authors and poets. Iambic hexameter is utilised throughout the sonnet

Sidney was particular in his use of metrics, but the use of rhyme is not conventional. There are no polysyllabic rhymes and each line is end-stopped. The meter and unconventional rhyme scheme emphasize the narrator’s meaning that Astrophel is a unique poet who follows no formal patterns or rules of convention. The language is rich, and full of imagery, held together by the accurate use of the meter. . In lines 1 to 11 he effectively provides a list of various conventions traditionally used when writing sonnets.

In some sonnets the message is that love is a force which can overpower us and will make us suffer. The use of oxymorons (a term that is self-contradictory) is almost obligatory, he points this out vividly, and utilises the convention, when he refers to: “living deaths, dear wounds, fair storms and freezing fires”. The use mythology within sonnets of the period is also discussed in the poem and again the convention is adopted when

Sidney refers to the various disguises used by Jove or Zeus to get to the women he wanted:

“Someone his song in Jove, and Jove’s strange tales, attires, Broidered with bulls and swans, powdered with golden rain;” He refers to how some poets of the time and classical poets would use references to a pastoral tradition, in which ladies and gentlemen masquerade as shepherds:“Another, humbler, wit to shepherd’s pipe retires, Yet hiding royal blood full oft in rural vein”Incorporating the device of the “conceit” or comparisons to describe the act of writing the sonnets is utilised and described when he writes how:“…tears pour out his ink, and sighs breathe out his words:” The twist in the sonnet is contained in the couplet at the end of the sonnet when he describes how he can say what he feels and how he loves as well as any of them without the use of such rigid formulae when he says that all he to do is to softly say in a trembling voice “that I do Stella love”. Structurally, in sonnet VI of Astrophel and Stella, the lines are full of images of opposites, and contrasts such as pastoral imagery being next to images of violence and pain. Astrophel, the narrator, argues that poets, with all of their technical rules for the use of language in a sonnet, are restricted and repressed in the manner in which they are permitted to express themselves because of this strict adherence to a body of rules. Whilst he amply demonstrates his skills in the use of these conventions he is nonetheless being critical of them and essentially saying that he can be poetic with the best of them, but his love is so powerful that words and expressions cannot describe adequately his love for Stella; he is only able to feel, sense and think about it. In the second poem the title provides the reader with a clue that the lover to be discussed is untouchable or unreachable in some way. Shirley strictly adheres to the convention of iambic pentameter in the form of the poem and utilises rhyme throughout it. In the same way that Astrophel, as the narrator in Astrophel and Stella VI is discussing and describing the love he has for a woman, so in this piece the narrator is describing his love for a woman. The difference is that he woman does not appear to exist. The theme is that of the unknown or unknowable mistress. Given the uniqueness of the topic is is a challenging subject for the renaissance poet. The poem opens with moving lines that describe the frustration of the narrator in his desire to love and to speak to his lover. It provides an image of pent up frustration. The poem goes on to describe how much he would be able to love this idealized beauty. (Richmond H. M. 1959). The poem however, in dealing with a non existent lover may be described as dealing with the frustrating evanescence of some idealized sexual fantasy; love is seen as being distinct from a corporeal body and able to exist independently. The use of references to the senses which are themselves intangible lends weight to this image. By its nature, because the poem is dealing in what would be a paradigm of feminine beauty and grace, but which does not exist, it dwells more upon the egocentric, introspective thought processes and emotions of the writer, a man, rather than those of the subject matter, a woman. Utilising this particular lyrical renaissance device and in adhering to strict conventions of rhyme and meter and structure the narrator is reducing women in general to the status of desirable object that will be able to satisfy the sexual frustration of a lonely man. The view that women were mere chattels was reinforced with legal precedent at the time of writing. (Norbrook D., 1984). The strict adherence to rules of writing by Shirley would strongly suggest his belief in that particular rule set. In contrast

Sidney is challenging the standardised format, in his discussion of love, which would tend to suggest that he is challenging the status quo. He uses poetic structure as metaphors for the way in which women must abide by man made rules and is saying that even without these rules, which by implication he disagrees with, he is simply in love.


Richmond H. M. 1959, The Intangible Mistress, Modern Philology, Vol. 56, No. 4. pp. 217-223.Corns T., ed., 1993, The Cambridge Companion to English Poetry, Donne to Marvel, Cambridge,


University Press.

Norbrook D., 1984, Poetry and Politics in the English Renaissance, Croom Helm.Rivers I., 1994, Classical and Christian Ideas in English Renaissance Poetry,

London, Routledge.Wilcox H. ed., Women and Literature in Britain 1500 – 1700, Cambridge,


University Press

Anthony and Cleopatra is a Tragedy? Scene I Analysis

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

This essay will analyse the way in which Act I scene I contributes to the effectiveness of

Antony and Cleopatra as a Tragedy.

In the play we see from the opening scene that the great soldier Antony has been caught between two godheads: on the one hand his duty, that is, his manly responsibilities as one of the triumvirs of

Rome; on the other his pleasure and all consuming infatuation with the Queen of Egypt. The basic question and premise of the play is posed from the opening lines, when Philo is discussing the infatuation that

Antony has for Cleopatra, with Demetrius, he is criticising the great soldier for becoming so infatuated and neglecting his duties. He has been rendered a “strumpets fool”, the basic question then posed by the play is will the strumpet win out or will Antony choose


The main purpose of the opening scene is to make the point that we are picking up the story of

Antony’s fatal love for Cleopatara half-way through. He has already embarked on the cycle of self destruction that marks out a tragedy before the story begins. To that extent the contribution Philo’s speech, in Act one scene one, makes is to tell the audience that we have a great soldier who has fallen for a beautiful woman. However, this woman is a dark character and temptress who is corrupting the hero’s manliness. This in turn is signalling the tragedy that is to follow.

The play was originally produced without act and scene divisions; however, the play divides logically into five acts. The five basic stages of a tragedy can be divided up as follows:

  1. The anticipation stage, this involves the hero’s feelings of incompleteness being satisfied by an object of desire (usually a woman).
  2. The dream stage, in which the hero becomes committed to a course of action which initially goes well; almost as if the hero is able to deal with the two godheads he is been caught between.
  3. The frustration stage is when things begin to go wrong for the hero; in attempting to reconcile the demands of the two godheads he may commit further foolish acts, usually dark deeds involving killing people.
  4. The nightmare stage sees the hero losing control completely, he becomes increasingly desperate and despairing, and one or both of the godheads will close in on him, isolating him further.
  5. The destruction or death wish stage will see the hero either killed by the opposing forces or, as in the case of Antony and Cleopatra, commit suicide. (Booker, C., 2004)

In terms of the complete five-stage cycle of tragedy the play picks up the plot at the frustration stage. The first two acts show Antony making a final effort to fulfil his manly duties by returning to

Rome to deal with Pompey. He even marries Octavius’s sister to reinforce his efforts to regain his Roman identity. He fails of course, the lure of Cleopatra being to strong for

Antony to resist. (

Baldwin T. W., 1963)

Scene one of the first act is providing back story to the plot. It is providing the audience with background information. A great soldier has been rendered “womanish” by Cleopatra. We are informed of the character of this woman in the opening speech. Furthermore his heart which once would “burst the buckles on his breast” is now nothing more than “the bellows and the fan to cool a gypsy’s lust”. We are immediately informed that

Antony is going to suffer because of his involvement with this dark character of Cleopatra. Female sexual desire is portrayed as being so threatening to a man and so powerful that even a great soldier like Antony is reduced to a fool by it, he is portrayed as having become womanly, a negative state in the play.

As the scene proceeds the two main characters are discussing their love, the opening line from Cleopatra “If it be love indeed, tell me how much”, in other words, prove it. This informs the audience that we are now at the frustration stage.

Antony will now be forced to choose between the two godheads. This is further reinforced when they are interrupted by an attendant advising them that there is news from Rome, Antony cannot be bothered to deal with it, he is absorbed by Cleopatra.: “grates me, the sum”, he is offended and wants the news to be brief. Cleopatra then taunts him by belittling his sense of duty to

Rome as if it is an alternative only for his love for her. The audience are again being told in the dialogue that Antony is dealing with a woman who is going to make him choose between her and


Antony reassures Cleopatra by stating:

“let Rome in

Tiber melt, and the wide arch

Of the rang’d empire fall! Here is my space…..”

This is a clear indication that Antony is not necessarily going to choose

Rome. He then discusses with Cleopatra what they are going to do that night, a clear indication that it will be erotic as it was the previous night: “Come, my queen, last night you did desire it.” Thus the scene is set for the remainder of the tragedy. It is clear that

Antony has become involved with a woman that will cause his downfall. This is achieved in this scene by way of back story. Cleopatra signals her jealousy of Rome when she questions

Antony’s love. We are already aware of the fact that Demetrius and Philo view the relationship negatively from

Antony’s point of view as he has become more womanish. Womanliness is portrayed from the first scene of the play as negative and this reinforced later on in the play when Cleopatra is referred to as a whore; Caesar informs Octavia of the whereabouts of her husband by stating:

”Cleopatra hath nodded him to her.

He hath given his empire up to a whore”.

Antony’s inability to resist the charms, and his love, of a dark temptress, in the guise of Cleopatra, is the essence of the tragedy that unfolds. The unwillingness of

Rome to allow him to succumb to his desires is the other godhead that he is torn between. Scene I of Act I, contributes to the play’s effectiveness as a tragedy by telling the audience immediately that a once great warrior has been virtually emasculated by the affections of a lustful whore (Callaghan D., 2001); furthermore that he is ignoring his duty to

Rome and because of this there will be conflict and tension. The scene allows the play to conform to the five classic stages of tragedy with the use of back story to provide details of the first two stages. This is repeated in the play, for example, when Enobarbus recalls the time when Antony first saw the temptress Cleopatra when he arrived in

Egypt, describing the beauty and desirability of Cleopatra, reinforcing the theme of the play that female sexual desire is potentially a destructive force for men.


Callaghan D., 2001, A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers Ltd.

Booker C., 2004, The Seven Basic Plots, Why we tell stories,

London, Continuum

Ridley M. R., 1954, The Arden Shakespeare Antony and Cleopatra, Ninth Edition,

London, Metheun & Co. Ltd.

Barton A., 1994, Essays Mainly Shakespearean, Cambridge,


University Press

Andrews, J F., ed., 1993, William Shakespeare:

Antony and Cleopatra.

London, J. M. Dent,

Baldwin, T. W., 1963, Shakespeare’s Five–Act Structure, Urbana, Illinois,

University of

Illinois Press.

Charney, M., 1963, Shakespeare’s Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in
the Drama
. Cambridge, USA,


University Press.

Comedy in Twelfth Night

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

Shakespearean comedy is concerned with desire and its satisfaction; characters yearn for something, this leads to frustration but eventually satisfaction achieved and a happy conclusion. Twelfth Night, and Shakespeare’s other comedies, are concerned with love, desire, and overcoming barriers to the fulfilment of these desires and end in physical and emotional union, usually marriage. Shakespeare’s comedies are romantic. They have a certain mood and set of expectations; dealing with society rather than the individual, there does not tend to be a dominant character or Hero/Heroine. The theme is renewal; taken unexpectedly from ordinary life characters are placed in an unusual setting and allowed to escape from the repression within the society that is thwarting, for whatever reason, their desire. Twelfth Night is no exception; but there is an “emphasis on the pains rather than the pleasures of love” (Leggatt, 1974).

Northrop Frye identified three stages of a Shakespearean comedy: the play establishes a rigid rule-bound arbitrary society; this society descends into confusion and suffers a lack of identity. In the third stage, it is reborn as more liberal, issues that caused the loss of identity are welcomed. Marriage typically holds together this “new” society. (Frye, 1983).

The aesthetic philosopher Susan Langer analyses comedy, humour, and laughter. (Langer, 1953, pp. 338-341) “Laughter is physical, it occurs when one is tickled”. Humour merely “one of the causes of laughter” and “humor has its home in comic drama. Laughter springs from its very structure” and

“Humor is not the essence of comedy, but only one of its most useful and natural elements”. (Langer, 1953, p. 346)

Shakespearean comedy has patterns related to the renewal and rhythms of human life. As Langer says, the human race regenerates generation by generation in a rhythm of renewal, comedy celebrates this. Comedy is concerned with desire and fulfilment, tragedy with decline and death. (Langer, 1953)

The plots of Shakespeare’s comedies concern overcoming obstacles to love. In Twelfth Night characters fall in love quickly, Viola falling in love with Orsino at first sight and Olivia with Cesario/Viola. Obstacles are external or internal. External obstacles are usually a disapproving Patriarch, a powerful rival or a law. In A Midsummer Nights Dream, all are present. The plot involves escape from the “old” society that is preventing love: the characters leave Athens and go into the wood outside

Athens. In As You Like It the characters leave for the

Forest of Arden; the characters are closer to nature and resolve their difficulties away from the obstacles. In Twelfth Night obstacles are internal: Orsino’s love for Olivia is unrequited because she has sworn to mourn for seven years, so neither can achieve reciprocal love. Illyria, in a state of melancholy, caused by the characters, requires new characters to free it: Viola and Sebastian, shipwrecked, unexpectedly find themselves within the unusual surroundings of

Illyria. (Saccio, 1999)

Shakespearean love is a paradox: foolish and wonderful. Falling in love is moving and thus wonderful. Juxtaposed against this is the bizarre and artificial

behaviours of the participants in a courtship. The expression of love is something that an audience will find amusing and comic. In As You like It Shakespeare considers such behaviour in the Seven Ages of Man speech by Jaques:

And then the lover,

Sighing like a furnace, with a woeful ballad

Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. (II, vii,146)

Shakespeare illustrates contemporary methods men use to express their love: ballads, poems, sonnets or love letters. Orsino, in Act I Scene I, rebuffed when sending Olivia a love note, dwells on this and in his melancholia says:

The instant was I turned into a hart,

And my desires, like fell and cruel hounds,

E’er since pursue me. (

I. i. ll 22-24)

He refers to Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Greek Myth of Actaeon and Diana, in which Actaeon happens upon the naked and virginal Diana when hunting. Transformed into a hart (deer), by Diana, his own hounds devour Actaeon: if our desires are not satisfied they will devour us. Viola, playing a man, Cesario, is asked by Orsino to deliver a love note to Olivia. She immediately falls in love with Orsino: I’ll do my best To woo your lady – [aside] yet a barful strife –Whoe’er I woo, myself would be his wife. (I, v, ll. 40-41) This love faces a comic internal barrier: Viola is posing, implausibly, as a man. Cesario/Viola visits Olivia, as ambassador for Orsino, attempting to change Olivia’s mind and make her love again Viola mocks the method by which Orsino is stating his love. Viola interrupts herself saying she is not going to waste her time upon it for the wrong woman:I pray you, tell me if this be the lady of the house,for I never saw her: I would be loath to cast awaymy speech, for besides that it is excellently wellpenned, I have taken great pains to con it. (

I. v. ll. 151-155)

He/she is not behaving like the standard lover; this spikes the interest of Olivia. After the ladies in waiting leave Viola as Cesario tries again, this time Olivia mocks the convention:O, I have read it. It is heresy. Have you no more to say? (

I. v. ll.201) The formal convention established by both is mocked. Cesario/Viola during this scene speaks with two voices one a man and the other a woman. When speaking as a man he says:Good Madam let me see your face. (

I. v. 11. 202)
Olivia replies when unveiled:Look you sir, such a one I was this present. Is’t not well done? (

I. v. ll. 206)

Cesario/Viola in a man’s voice replies:Excellently done, if God did all. (

I. v. ll. 207)
This “man’s” voice complements Olivia on her beauty, suggesting that it is God made and not artificial. Later in the scene, Cesario criticises Olivia:I see you what you are, you are too proud,But if you were the devil, you are fair. (

I. v. ll. 219 – 220)
The first line is the female voice, the intuitive observation that Olivia is vain. The second line is a male voice complementing Olivia’s beauty again. The conflicting sexuality and the tension caused by Viola’s cross dressing is effecting Olivia, for by the end of the scene she has fallen in love with Cesario. Viola chides Olivia for locking herself away from love:What is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve (

I. v. ll. 167 – 168)
And later:Lady, you are the cruellest she aliveIf you will lead these graces to the graveAnd leave the world no copy (

I. v. ll. 211 – 213)

In other words, you should not die without having children (and thus sex – with me perhaps?). Viola would have been played by a teenage boy establishing an androgynous appeal to Orsino and Olivia. Olivia, like Viola and Orsino, faces a barrier to her love: differing social status and Cesario’s gender. Viola causes both Orsino and Olivia to transform themselves: from being melancholy and introspective to generous and kind. By the end of the play, the rebirth of these characters is complete: when both attain, apparently, the reciprocal love they desire. The situation is improbable, comedy allows this suspension of belief. The setting allows the foolishness of love to fully express itself and appear comic to the audience. (Saccio,1999)

Shakespeare uses comedy to make profound points about love and relationships, in this case unrequited homosexual love. The play exhibits many of the characteristics of “Shakespeare’s festive comedies” what Cesar Lombardi Barber sees as the spirit and the tradition of festivals that Shakespeare’s contemporary audience associated with festivals celebrated during their youth and prior to their new urban existence. Barber expounds: “I have been led into an exploration of the way the social form of Elizabethan holidays contributed to the dramatic form of festive comedy [and] we can see here” the way in which “art develops underlying configurations in the social life of a culture” (Barber). Twelfth Night is a celebratory comedy, set during a holiday: The Lords of Misrule traditionally would take charge on this day, the Feast of Fools, involving a reversal of roles; reflected in the gender role reversal of Viola, “For Elizabethans this title [Twelfth Night] would have stirred…associations with…time in which normal rules were suspended” (Barton, 1994, 105).

The characters in Twelfth Night placed in comically preposterous scenarios, the improbability of which we accept, and Shakespeare has freedom to explore issues of sexuality behind this veil.

Illyria, “the society” of the play, is undemanding: time is spent on singing and dancing, leisurely courtship, drunkenness and practical jokes; Malvolio, ridiculed for being out of place, behaves like a puritanical pessimist, intent on ruining the carefree atmosphere. However, Malvolio is just a nuisance not a barrier to love and romance; the victory of love in the play is dependant upon overcoming

other obstacles. Orsino and Olivia create internal obstacles; they assume the mantles of romantic lover and grieving Lady. Viola because of her disguise becomes an obstacle to her own fulfilment. The outwardly comic fool, Feste, displays a degree of tired cynicism on occasion: for example in the final song: a mocking of these artificial marriages: Olivia and Orsino would rather have married each other’s spouses. The humiliation of Malvoli and his subsequent incarceration, as a lunatic, is totally out of proportion to his transgression. This sub text gives the play a darker edge than is outwardly apparent from the frivolity and implausibility of the setting, suggesting darker undercurrents. (Leggatt, 1974, pp. 221 – 254)

The play, as a comedy, conforms to convention and is concerned with marriage in the same way that, conversely, tragedies consider death (Romeo and Juliet

is an exception and considers both death and marriage). Viola, like Rosalind, in As You Like It, dresses as a man. As in The Comedy of Errors there is a shipwreck and mistaken identity of a pair of twins. The Comedy of Errors has same sex twins. By contrast, in Twelfth Night, by utilising different gender twins, Shakespeare is able to subtly consider sexual and gender ambiguity. The title of the play Twelfth Night or As you Will, gives a hint to the homoerotic imagery in the play: anything goes on the Feast of Fools.

Boys played women and girls in Elizabethan times; the introduction of gender ambiguity provides a subtle, homoerotic subtext. Comic effects of role-play are used to explore this. Viola is a boy playing a woman in turn playing a man; Olivia is a boy playing a grieving and cloistered nun and confusion over sexuality is established.

Consequently, closely entwined within the plot are issues of heteroeroticism, Viola courting Olivia on behalf of Orsino, and homoeroticism, Olivia’s love at first site for Cesario. When Orsino is speaking with who he believes to be a man, Cesario, he declares his homosexuality:

Dear lad, believe it;

For they shall yet belie thy happy years,

That say thou art a man: Diana’s lip

Is not more smooth and rubious; thy small pipe

Is as the maiden’s organ, shrill and sound,

And all is semblative a woman’s part. (

I. iv. ll. 29 -33)

Act II scene II considers female homosexuality, and Viola’s subsequent difficulties:

How will this fadge? My master loves her dearly;
And I, poor monster, fond as much on him;
And she, mistaken, seems to dote on me.
What will become of this? As I am man,
My state is desperate for my master’s love;
As I am woman,–now alas the day!–
What thriftless sighs shall poor Olivia breathe!
O time! Thou must untangle this, not I;
It is too hard a knot for me to untie! (II. ii. ll. 31-39)

Furthermore, Antonio appears to have a homosexual attraction to Viola’s male equivalent, Sebastian:

But come what may, I do adore thee so

That danger shall seem sport, and I will go. (II. i. ll. 41-42)

The ambiguity of sexual attraction due to the comic cross dressing of Viola blurs gender boundaries. Allowing consideration of sexual and emotional possibilities normally repressed by strict rules imposed by the “old” society. Shakespeare uses comedy to do this. The imposed barriers, of the “old” society, prevent Orsino and Olivia enjoying full expression of their repressed homosexuality. Biological limitations, and economic necessities, conspire against Orsino and Olivia internally: sexual attraction normally leads to marriage and financial consequences and must, even in the “new” society, be a cross gender union. However, in a romantic comedy, set in the carefree magical region of

Illyria, when it always seems to be a holiday, barriers to these attractions are removed. There is confusion in the “old” society concerning sexuality. The freedom and carefree nature of a festival makes everything seem possible. So, temporarily at least, the audience see sexual love unrestricted by the “old” society rules of gender and status, before heterosexual conformity is re-imposed at the end of the play. Northrop Frye’s three-stage dynamic of comedy is evident here: deadlocked and unproductive social pressures transform to a freedom facilitated by comedy prior to nature and convention returning to an acceptable “normality”. Olivia and Viola attain their desires. Malvolio and Orsino do not. Orsino fails in his courtship of Olivia and his desire for Cesario thwarted by virtue of the fact

that “he” is female. Sebastian, Toby and Orsino “acquiesce to the role of object of female desire” (Dympna, 2001, p. 138). Both Olivia and Orsino do not achieve the original objects of their desire. Olivias marriage to Sebastian and Orsinos to Viola, diverts attention away from the homosexual attraction that both exhibit to their respective partners earlier in the play. (Suzuki, 2001)

Word Count: 2174

Shakespeares’s The Tempest and John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

This essay will consider whether the poetry and drama of the early modern period is more concerned with transgression or with order. In reaching a conclusion Shakespeares’s The Tempest and John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV will be considered, taking into account genre, theme, form and conventions of the period.

The Tempest is probably Shakespeare’s last play, King Lear was his longest; the two plays both deal with family relationships, power, transgression and order. King Lear longs to be reunited with his daughter Cordelia even if in a prison cell, having lost everything because of the treachery of his two other daughters. The Tempest sees father and daughter marooned and exiled on an island, alone apart from beasts (which would include Caliban). It is the transgression of his brother that is the cause of his predicament. The storm that sees King Lear thrust into the darkness as an old and powerless man is echoed in The Tempest. The power of nature, to destroy the ordered world of man, is amply demonstrated in both plays. In The Tempest the storm is caused by the old man, who in adversity has acquired power, that of a sorcerer, from books, King Lear lost all power. The theme of fragility, inherent in human order when confronted by the power of nature, and thus god, is made clear by the Boatswain when he shouts “What cares these roarers for the name of king?” (1.1.16-17) The theme of fraternal envy is also repeated in The Tempest, Antonio has betrayed and usurped his brother Prospero. In King Lear Edmund, the bastard child of

Gloucester, betrays his father and brother. He and his father are punished by blinding and death. The transgression of infidelity punished to enforce the order of legitimacy.

The Tempest belongs to the class of plays commonly grouped as Shakespeare’s Late Romances: Pericles, Cymberline and The Winters Tale making up the quartet. In these plays, Shakespeare considers family relationships and reconciliation in a mythical and fantasy setting, elements of magic, mystery and nature are theatrical devices. The modern interpretation of “romance” refers to those with comic and tragic elements, developed and popularized by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher between 1607 and 1613. Philaster combines the tragic with the comic to deal with redemption and transgressions, it is a collaborative work, and Francis Beaumont’s Knight of the Burning Pestle is an example of farcical comedy. Comedies, like Twelfth Night and Knight of The Burning Pestle focus on youth and happy endings. Romance, like The Tempest often has middle-aged and older protagonists in central roles, Prospero, Antonio and Gonzalo. Ferdinand and Miranda are completely controlled by Prospero, like pawns, underlined by the game of chess they play, showing the audience that beneficent wielding of power is a prerequisite of order. The Tempest highlights community, using Kings, Princes and Nobles as characters inherently powerful and show order can be restored even in the midst of a tempest, albeit completely controlled and manipulated by Prospero. Romance emphasises the role and power of nature rather than human nature, the storm at the beginning of the play shows how fragile order imposed by men can be. In The Tempest characters experience events with a symbolic effect beyond rational understanding, requiring a suspension of belief and acceptance of the existence of magic, magical figures together with the ability of Prospero to create a storm, as a Sorcerer. Themes of order, transgression, atonement and subsequent redemption rather than punishment are constant throughout, symbolic of the forgiving nature of God rather than that of vengeance.

Knight of the Burning Pestle pokes fun at contemporary theatre, involving the audience to question clichéd literary devices in a farcical way. A precursor to what is now satire. The play shows us we all have idiosyncrasies, bad habits and our own perspectives, that may not reflect reality and our values could be of exaggerated importance. The message of the play is to ask us to reconsider the status quo, to reflect on order and how our sense of order is moulded by those around us and accepted conventions of behaviour. It actually transgresses the conventions of contemporary theatre and by implication criticises Shakespeare’s work as too fantastical and ordered.

Power, betrayal and treachery are recurring themes in The Tempest: Antonio betrays Prospero; Caliban accuses Prospero of betraying him, by gaining his trust and then taking the island; Sebastian conspires with Antonio to kill Alonso; Stephano and Caliban plot to kill Prospero and become “king o’the isle.” These themes of betrayal are portrayed as negative and as undermining order, Prospero was a good Duke but his brother by implication bad. Treachery is thus portrayed as sinful and to result in punishment, Judas betraying Jesus is an obvious example. Donne betraying Catholicism is another example, which he explores in Holy Sonnet XIV.

The Tempest presupposes that kingship is required, even a commonwealth, as Gonzalo describes it, needed a King[quote]. The play shows that hierarchical political superstructures ruled by a King, and Aristocracy, are a paradigm of social existence. We must not consider changing the order; merely consider that which makes a good King better. All of the characters are subject to beneficent control by Prospero. Power and order in all forms is considered. Prospero is symbolic of Statehood and the Divinity of Kings, exemplified by his mastery of Arts and his use of magical books and words to control and scrutinise events. Prospero’s manipulation of the other human characters and Caliban with the magical sprite Aerial, together with his power to control the weather with Art, symbolises political control and manipulation of people, facilitated by a superior knowledge, gained from magic books. The mystery encompassed in books Prospero “valued above my Dukedom” is central in The Tempest. The power of knowledge, gained from reading, is portrayed as magical, this knowledge is used by Prospero to wield power and manipulate events to restore power to himself and order in the aftermath of the storm. Superficially he uses power for benevolent purposes eventually reconciling his differences with old adversaries and restoring the status quo. His apparent benevolence is questioned in his treatment of Caliban. However Caliban is portrayed as a stupid drunk, casting doubt on his version of events that is also contradicted by Prospero. In Caliban the morality of colonialism and the imposition of order upon the savage native is explored, alternative views of the

New World are put forward Gonzalo’s Utopian vision of social order contrasted with Prospero’s tricking, enslavement and violence towards Caliban, who is symbolic of natives oppressed by Imperialism. Caliban tells Trinculo that Prospero he will be tortured if he does not comply with Prospero’s wishes. Thus are we shown that pain, and the fear of it is the controlling force behind social order and colonisation. The disposability of an artisan’s life is exposed at the beginning of the play when the Boatswain is threatened with death for being rude. Caliban’s hatred of Prospero symbolises the effect of attempting to impose order on an indigenous population by fear and torture. Caliban as a native is shown to empathise and appreciate nature more than the other characters

“… the isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.”

The importance of conformity is underlined when Prospero orders Ferdinand and Miranda to be temperate in their love, and for Ferdinand, unlike Adam to avoid temptation, warning him harshly :

“If thou dost break her virgin knot before

All sanctimonious ceremonies may

With full and holy rite be minister’d

Sour-ey’d disdain, and discord, shall bestrew

The union of your bed”.

The theme of chastity is continued at the masque, which features Juno, who is the Greek goddess of marriage and home; Prospero specifically excludes Venus and Cupid, goddesses of beauty and love. The need to follow rules and the perils of transgressions are replete throughout the play. Stephano and Trinculo, portrayed as hopeless drunks are brought to justice and Caliban tortured for attempting to rape Miranda. Prospero is himself intemperate “with anger so distemper’d”, but eventually controls it, clearing the sky of the tempest and forgiving his adversaries, for the sake of future order. The themes of transgression and redemption are powerfully explored in Holy Sonnet XIV.

The Petrarchan sonnet form, that Donne utilised, consists of an octet, which puts forward an idea, obstacle or scenario, followed by a sestet that provides a solution or commentary. Iambic pentameter is required to adhere to the form and the rhyme scheme should be abbaabba or abbacddc followed by xyzxyz or other variations using two or three rhyme sounds.

While Donne utilised the form in Holy Sonnet XIV he incorporated enjambment, running one line into another and half rhyme in lines 10 and 12. Taking the half rhyme into account the rhyme order is abbacddc efefgg, on the face of it conforming to the rhyme order. Poetic form and the strictures imposed thereby inform the poem, the structure becomes part of the language, the pattern of which may influence the meaning. The half rhyme highlights the words “enemie” and “I”, this emphasises that the narrator is a sinner and also counteracts the use of “you” in the poem to focus the reader’s attention on the narrator. These transgressions of form thus convey meaning and shift emphasis. He also transgresses acceptable norms in his vivid depiction of sexuality within a religious sonnet. But for the fact hat the poem is included within the Holy Sonnets it would be possible to interpret it as an erotic poem with subtle references to Christianity, the title Holy Sonnet XIV reverses this conception. Petrarchan sonnets were usually concerned with love of a man for a woman. The use of this form in the genre with such sexually charged language transgresses the accepted rules of form and convention to produce a powerful effect. Freeing the poem from the meditative form of traditional religious poetry of the time is the use of irregular metre and random caesuras,

The opening line utilises enjambment and is a mixture of trochees and iambs. “Batter my heat” can be read as two spondees or a trochee and iamb. The provocative nature of the poem is enhanced by the use of the word heart, which was common slang for vagina. The congruence of rape and Godly redemption within an explicitly violent sexual poem would trouble many Christian readers. Donne converted to Anglicanism, betraying his Catholic faith. The anger at this transgression is vividly portrayed metaphorically as a bereft lover who craves his lover’s touch even if this is forced masculine sexual violence.

The Tempest in form is written in lyrical iambic pentameter, utilising rhyme and blank verse. It is a romance consisting of five Acts. The themes running though the play deal with chaos and order, power and pain, transgression and redemption. The structure does not transgress conventions of form; the substance shows us that transgression will always be countered by the power of order. Transgressions in this setting are both punished and forgiven and occur in equal measure. The play is not more interested in order or transgression but shows us one cannot exist without the other. Holy Sonnet XIV challenges the conventions of the sonnet form and makes the reader consider God in an erotic context. This deviation from accepted form and convention of the time deals with Donne’s conversion and is symbolic of the chaos caused in his psyche because of it. It invites the reader to experience a questioning of religious belief and the conception of it in a raw and powerful appeal to base emotions. It is the transgressive form that makes the poem so powerful. To that extent the poem is concerned with transgressing order. The poetry and drama of the early modern period is equally concerned is equally concerned with transgression and order

Donne, John. “Batter my heart, three personed God…” The Norton Introduction to Poetry.

Ed. J. Paul Hunter.

New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1996. 154-155.

Guibbory, Achsah. The

Cambridge Companion to English Poetry Donne to Marvell.

Ed. Thomas N. Corns. Cambridge:


University Press, 1993.

Kerrigan, William. “The Fearful Accommodations of John Donne.” English Literary Renaissance.

4(1974): 337-363.

Marotti, Arthur F. Critical Essays on John Donne.

New York: Macmillan

Publishing Co, 1994.

Payne, Craig. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator. v54 (1996) 209-213

Steig, Michael. “Donne’s Divine Rapist: Unconscious Fantasy in Holy Sonnet XIV.”

University of


Studies in Literature: A Journal of Interdisciplinary
Criticism. 491972):52-58. Wanninger, Mary Tenney. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator 28(1969): Item 37.


Jung, C. G. Man and His Symbols (also von Franz, Henderson, Jacobi, Jaffe London: Picador, 1964.

Memories, Dreams, Reflections

Glasgow: William Collins & Sons, 1963.

Synchronicity – An Acausal Connecting



University Press, 1973.

Palmer, D. J. (Editor) The Tempest – A Selection of Critical Essays

London: MacMillan Press Ltd., 1977.

Shakespeare, The Tempest (the play with textual notes and commentaries)

New York: Signet Classics, 1964.

Tillyard, E. M. Shakespeare’s Last Plays

London: Chatto and Windus, 1938.

Traversi, Derek Shakespeare: The Last Phase

London: Hollis and Carter, 1979.

Also: John Wilders’ lecture on The Tempest given at


University -


College – August 4th, 1993.

Also: Paul Rickard’s Thinking Points and other handouts and class discussions.

Donne, John. “Batter my heart, three personed God…” The Norton Introduction to Poetry.

Ed. J. Paul Hunter.

New York: W.W. Norton & Co, 1996. 154-155.

Guibbory, Achsah. The

Cambridge Companion to English Poetry Donne to Marvell.

Ed. Thomas N. Corns. Cambridge:


University Press, 1993.

Kerrigan, William. “The Fearful Accommodations of John Donne.” English Literary Renaissance.

4(1974): 337-363.

Marotti, Arthur F. Critical Essays on John Donne.

New York: Macmillan

Publishing Co, 1994.

Payne, Craig. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator. v54 (1996) 209-213

Steig, Michael. “Donne’s Divine Rapist: Unconscious Fantasy in Holy Sonnet XIV.”

University of


Studies in Literature: A Journal of Interdisciplinary
Criticism. 491972):52-58. Wanninger, Mary Tenney. “Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV.” Explicator 28(1969): Item 37.

Waterland by Graham Swift: Analysis of Chapter Fourteen

Wednesday, August 29th, 2007

This essay will critically analyse chapter fourteen of Waterland by Graham Swift and establish that it is in the style of a self-conscious lesson in history directed at the reader. In its form it will be shown to be metafiction linking history telling and story telling (Hutcheon 1989). That as a chapter it is a lesson about history and post modernist literary theory. Form, content and literary devices, used by the text, will be considered in making this argument, and establish that the key preoccupations of the whole text are encapsulated within it. These are metaphoric devices of the river representing the circularity of history; silt as representative of progress and history; the French Revolution, grand narratives and the destructive nature of society are also considered in the text.

The title of the chapter “De la Revolution”, French for revolution refers to the French Revolution which is linked to the age of enlightenment and Jean-Jacques Rousseau who considers the nature of man and his environment in the eighteenth century. He argues that it is not natural for humans to live in society. Rousseau considered a division between society, which he sees as negative, and human nature. He considers human nature fundamentally good but corrupted by society. He considered humans living in a natural environment, free from the trappings and rules of civilization as independent, self-sufficient and good, in his essay, Discourse on the Arts and Sciences written in 1750. The text refers to it as “Rousseau’s cry of back to nature” (Swift 1983 p.137). All the major characters in the text are in some way corrupted by civilization’s touch. For Rousseau society is artificial, like the land reclamation in the text, and social interdependence, which he considered destructive of humanity, is symbolized by Mary’s abortion. The power of the Atkinsons and Tom Crick’s lack of it is symbolic of the inequalities of society first exposed by Rousseau. This is referenced in chapter fourteen when Crick is telling the reader in the form of a lesson, that

“So-called forward movements of civilization, whether moral or technological, have invariably brought with them an accompanying regression.” (Swift 1983 p. 135).

Crick explains how printing presses led to propaganda, steam engines to “ten year olds working sixteen hours a day in coal mines” (Swift 1983 p.136) and airplanes to the destruction of European cities. He refers to the splitting of the atom: “And as for the splitting of the atom—” (Swift 1983 p.136). The text in this phrase is in its own paragraph, an encapsulation of the grammatical and punctuation devices used throughout the text. This phrase shows the metafictional nature of the text, self-consciously narrating history as a series of stories; Linda Hutcheon calls it “historiographic metafiction”.

“And” beginning a sentence is generally considered bad grammar, but it is a device used throughout the text. Deviations from accepted rules of textual structure are typical of postmodern metafiction questioning established norms. Patricia Waugh defines metafiction as:

“fictional writing that draws attention to itself as an artefact” (Waugh 1984 p.2)

Metafiction self-consciously and regularly draws attention to itself as a book in order to examine the interface and dynamic between fiction and reality. This definition assists in understanding Chapter fourteen. It is written in the form of a lesson, addresses both readers and students in the class, it switches points of view and from addressing the reader to the scene in the class. This exploration of the narrative structure and consideration of the nature of the world outside the text as potentially fictional or misrepresented is typical of metafiction as defined, written in a postmodern style. It helps in understanding that issues are explored in the text by using “the metaphor of the book as world” (Waugh 1984 p.3) environment or grand narrative and then reshapes it in terms of contemporary thought in fields of philosophy, literature and language. It aids our understanding of the impication implied in postmodern metafiction like Waterland that says people have roles rather than self will and the consequences of other’s actions are a predominant feature of their lives (Rousseau refers to self will as self-sufficiency). This leads the reader to the logical conclusion that worlds and environments formed entirely from words are legitimate models for the examination of reality as a construct. This is what Waterland does in this chapter and is what Crick is teaching us, and does throughout the text as a whole, in terms of structure, content, style and grammatical devices – especially unexpected uses of grammar and punctuation – which draw attention to the metafictional voice of the text.

The metaficional lesson of this chapter and the text as a whole concens the negative impact of progress, supported by referring to the French Revolution, demonstrating the nature of history to distort the past, showing it to Modernists at least as a golden age: leading to a natural desire to revert to it. The title of the chapter refers to revolution, which also means circular and recursive, the lesson about history, Crick teaches his readers and pupils, is that a revolution involves going backwards in history to something better that exists, for post modern texts only in stories, no more reliable than the text that is speaking to the reader. The River Ouse is recursive potentially able to spread causing destruction unless contained by humans, like history and progress. The French Revolution is a symbol of attempts by society to retreat back into history and the destructive consequences of that. The theme of the text as a lesson continues in lessons, elsewhere in the text, about eels, land reclamation, the Ouse and silt. The message that the historical metaphor silt, inevitably returns to change the course of progress or the river, causing causes recursion or changes in direction, is constant throughout the text and present in this chapter. It describes history as an “Impedimenta” (Swift 1983 p.136) an “ever-frustrating weight”(Swift 1983 p.136), furthermore that it “…accumulates, because it gets always heavier…” (Swift 1983 p.136) this is also a description of silt; silt that “potato-heads”, like Dick, dredge up but becomes harder and harder to bring to the surface as it becomes ever larger and unmanageable, like history. Dick is the metaphorical hapless historian, dredging, the consequences “become more violent and drastic” (Swift 1983 p.137) the more dredging is done: Dick dies on the dredger. This is how Crick explains the “periodic convulsions” (Swift 1983 p. 137) of history. He refers to it as Natural History that seeks to take humanity back to “where we were” (Swift 1983 p.137), a reference to Rousseau’s view that humans are happiest living naturally. Crick considers the French revolution in some detail. The chapter, up to this point is delivered in third person limited to the perception of Crick. When the text begins to be more specific and consider the French Revolution the narrative voice becomes first person, as Crick, and is addressing the reader, the narrative is extremely self conscious at this point and addressed directly to the reader as a pupil. These shifts reflect the river, perception and reality as chaotic. At the end of this passage is another long dash which then leads into a first person narrative that utilizes mainly dialogue between Crick, now teaching in the classroom, and Price. Price is questioning the relevance or use of history. This is a metafictional device used by the text to consider post modernist theories of history and the importance of grand narratives. The voice of the chapter and the text is male, history and its relevance is considered from a male perspective, it is implicit from this that history itself is a male construct. The main characters in the French revolution were male. The lone female voice in this chapter is that of Judy Dobson who is described as a “perky answerer” (Swift 1983 p.139) she says “the voice of the people is the voice of God”(p.). A phrase used in the media to describe the opinions of “the man on the street”, quotes of which are usually edited. This girl in the book is portrayed then as an untrustworthy commentator, symbolic of the distain with which historical grand narratives consider female opinion and experience. Crick considers the meaning of “the people” by completely ignoring the girl’s opinion. Crick explains the pliable nature of history and its unreliability. The lesson directed at Price, emphasizes that history is for men. Crick says

“Price…the more you try to dissect events, the more you lose hold of them – the more they seem to have occurred largely in people’s imagination…” (Swift 1983 p. 140)

The theme, that history is male and both men and women suffered because of progress, is underlined by the fate of the female characters in the text: Mary losing a child, becoming infertile and then being committed, her mother’s and grandmother’s suffering. The text tells us that Dick is the product of a powerful, perverted and controlling man – a symbol of the corrupting nature of society. Dick’s father is a symbol of the futility of progress as he oversees the decline in his family fortunes and the beginning of the demise of the lock, control of the

Fens, the Ouse and Silt, ultimately arriving at Tom Crick, the narrator. The major premise of Post Modern metafiction is skepticism at the representation of history in grand narratives.

Enlightenment philosophers, like Rousseau, argued scientific thinking could examine all human activity and question everything – religion and authority especially. Prior to The Age of Enlightenment it was forbidden to challenge dogmatic, usually religious, theories. The Age of Enlightenment advanced ideas that reason and logic are able to establish an objective understanding of the universe.

Modernist writers have a mournful view of history as fragmenting and mourn its passing and do not question the validity of history and progress. Modernist literature considers that there is an overall purpose to human existence and views history and the loss of old values as a critical. The text obliquely criticises this view: “History is the record of decline. What we wish upon the future is very often the image of some lost, imagined past.” (Swift 1983 p.141)Price is mocking of the post modern approach to Crick taught in the lesson, he argues that to want a future does not equate to a yearning for paradise lost:“Never said anything about paradise. But – I want a future.”Price completely misunderstands Crick’s critique of Modernism. Modernists utilize narratives with multiple narrators, for example William Faulkners As I Lay Dying, showing an event from multiple perspectives as subjective and fragmentary and so history as fragmented and presenting this as a loss. Post Modernism celebrates this fragmentation. Crick is an example of it when narration changes from first to third person. Linda Hutcheon explains that Post Modernism is “not so much a concept as a problematic: a complex of heterogeneous but interrelated questions which will not be silenced by any spuriously unitary answer” (Hutcheon 2002)Jean-François Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, explains the grand narrative. Stories are the original historical narratives. History once consisted of them leanding credibility to “facts” recorded, establishing social norms of behavior to protect existing power structures. Grand Narratives refer to the Koran and Bible. In his view these books confer credibility to the opinions and rules expressed. “Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives”. (Lytotard, 1984)Post Modernism rejects the mourning of a lost past. Chapter fourteen demonstrates that progress is inevitably damaging:“Why is it that every so often history demands a bloodbath, a holocaust, an Armageddon? And why is it that every time the time before has taught us nothing?” (Swift 1983 p.141)Post modernism accepts natural chaos and disorder as inevitable symbolized in the text by the bloodbath that is Mary’s abortion and in this chapter by referring to the Reign of Terror orchestrated by Robespierre. The idea that grand narratives can organize humanity socially is discredited in this text and reality. The collapse of communism in Russia and the secular nature of the

United Kingdom are examples of rejection. Changes in

China consequent to Mao’s death and the Polish shipyard strikes were the first signs of these changes that were contemporary to Waterland. The chapter concludes as the narrator, in first person poses a series of questions. Then says the French Revolution resulted in Napoleon, ironically referring to Rousseau’s Golden Age. The circularity of history is once again explained by Crick who ends by running straight into the next chapter, like water, into the Ouse, a vast expanse of history that will swallow this story with all the others.

This chapter highlights the mythological and potentially fictional nature of the past as a golden age; it questions the reliability of history, as recorded in grand narratives, in the post-modern tradition, utilising the device of metafictional narration. The chapter and text argues and demonstrates that preoccupation with the past can be damaging, and that one can never fully know what the past is because it is a collection of stories surrounding events, like the text. The end of the chapter leads straight into a chapter about the Ouse, emphasising the unending, but all consuming power of an unreliable history to shape the future. This failure to end the chapter occurs in the whole text as there is no final resolution to narrative.

Word Count 2100


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