Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shakespeare. Show all posts

Friday, April 20, 2018

Shakespeare’s treatment of Love and Marriage in his Sonnets.

The themes of marriage and love are two leading issues in Shakespeare’s sonnets drama. The 154 sonnets, which are divided into two groups, treat these two themes from various perspectives. In the treatment of marriage and love Shakespeare is both traditional and anti-traditional. He is traditional in the sense that like other Petrarchan sonneteers of his age, Shakespeare also gave emphasis on love theme in his sonnets. Sometimes, he also follows the courtly tradition. But he is also different from the Petrarchan sonneteers in the sense that he openly satirizes the courtly tradition of poetry in his sonnets. Now,let us discuss Shakespeare’s treatment of marriage and love in his sonnets. 

Shakespeare’s opening 17 sonnets, which are known as the procreation sonnets, deal with the theme of marriage. Here in these sonnets Shakespeare is preoccupied with the practical value of marriage. He does not treat marriage from spiritual point of view. Rather he views marriage as a tool to overcome the destruction of Time.In the opening four sonnets, Shakespeare urges his friend to get wed in order to preserve the ’beauty’s rose’ from the hands of destructive Time. The poet calls upon his friend to get married and to produce children in order to be able to perpetuate his name and his memory.

In Sonnet 5, 6 and 7, the poet views marriage as a tool to defy the ravages of Time. Here he gives a picture of the passing of time and the effect of time on beautiful things. When summer ends, all its beauty goes, without leaving any trace behind. Samely people gaze at the sun and worship its glory when it rises in the morning. But nobody bothers about the sun when it is setting. Here the poet encourages his friend to have ten sons if possible because that will mean ten times more happiness for him and for others. 

Shakespeare also considers marriage important for happy conjugal life. In Sonnet 8, the poet employs a new argument that music chides his friend for remaining single instead of getting married. Various musical sounds combine to form one harmonious whole. In the same way a father, a mother, and a child constitute one pleasing whole (i.e, a family).The poet’s feeling behind this sonnet is one of the regret at the failure of his friend to have played that role.
In Sonnet 9, we have a striking example of what is known as ’’hyperbole.” To say  that the world will be widowed if the poet’s friend dies issuless.

In Sonnet 10, the poet accuses his friend because the friend loves nobody and in fact he does not love even himself because he shows no concern for the preservation and perpetuation of his own beauty through marriage and begetting child.

In Sonnet 11 the poet appeals to his friend in the name of sheer commonsense. There is no doubt that, if everybody were to lead a life of celibacy, the world of human beings would come to an end after a certain period of time.

In Sonnet 15 the poet promises immortality to his friend through his poetry. Yet he urges his friend to seek immortality through a more effective way in Sonnet 16 and 17. The poet is trying to preserve an image of the youth and beauty of his friends in his sonnets, but the coming generation will not believe that such a handsome and charming young man as has been described in these poems ever existed.They will think that the poet has given a highly exaggerated account of his friend’s beauty. So, the best way for his friend to attain immortality, therefore, is to get married and beget a child.

Next comes the treatment of love. In his treatment of love Shakespeare is almost autobiographical. He expresses his views on love in relation with his male friend and the young lady. 

The first group of sonnets (1-126) is addressed to a male friend, most probably the Earl of Southampton; while the second group (127-152 with the exception of two) is addressed to Shakespeare’s mistress who has come to be known as the dark lady.  Shakespeare loved both his male friend and his mistress ; and his love for both of them was intense and passionate. But both of them betrayed him by developing a sexual relationship with each other.Inspite of this betrayal, Shakespeare could not help continuing to love both of them

Regarding his relation with his young friend, the poet writes in romantic and loving language, a fact which has led several commentators to suggest a homosexual relationship between them, while others read it as platonic love.
Shakespeare’s love is ideal love, and it almost surpasses the love of Dante for his Beatrice, and the love of Petrarch for his Laura. Nor could Mrs Browning, in her sonnets, written much later and addressed to her husband, equal Shakespeare’s ardour and fervour.

Shakespeare’s treatment of love is also seen in his relation with the Dark lady. Here at first, the poet is anti-petrarchan in his treatment of love. Shakespeare did not follow the Elizabethan courtly tradition.

Shakespeare’s ridicule of the courtly tradition is best illustrated in his sonnet 130. This sonnet plays an elaborate joke on the conventions of love poetry common to Shakespeare's day.

In the sonnets, Petrarch praises her beauty, her worth, and her perfection using an extraordinary variety of metaphors based largely on natural beauties. In Shakespeare's day, these metaphors had already become cliche (as, indeed, they still are today), but they were still the accepted technique for writing love poetry. The result was that poems tended to make highly idealizing comparisons between nature and the poets' lover that were, if taken literally, completely ridiculous. My mistress' eyes are like the sun; her lips are red as coral; her cheeks are like roses, her breasts are white as snow, her voice is like music, she is a goddess.

In many ways, Shakespeare's sonnets subvert and reverse the conventions of the Petrarchan love sequence: the idealizing love poems, for instance, are written not to a perfect woman but to an admittedly imperfect man, and the love poems to the dark lady are anything but idealizing ("My love is as a fever, longing still / For that which longer nurseth the disease" is hardly a Petrarchan conceit.) Sonnet 130 mocks the typical Petrarchan metaphors by presenting a speaker who seems to take them at face value, and somewhat bemusedly, decides to tell the truth. Your mistress' eyes are like the sun? That's strange--my mistress' eyes aren't at all like the sun. Your mistress' breath smells like perfume? My mistress' breath reeks compared to perfume. In the couplet, then, the speaker shows his full intent, which is to insist that love does not need these conceits in order to be real; and women do not need to look like flowers or the sun in order to be beautiful.

In the case of the mistress, Shakespeare’s attitude is vastly different. Shakespeare’s love for his mistress is wholly sensual. He finds his mistress far more guilty than his male friend. He certainly recognises the physical charms of the woman even though she has a dark complexion. A dark complexion is far from being regarded by most people as beautiful; but there is something irresistible about this woman whose charms reside in her shape, figure, and features. Her dark complexion is, therefore, no obstacle in the way of Shakespeare’s infatuation with her.

But Shakespeare’s love in this case can only be described as an infatuation which he cannot overcome. Shakespeare does not find in her those virtues which the traditional heroine of the Elizabethan and pre-Elizabethan sonneteers possessed. On the contrary, Shakespeare finds this woman as being a nymphomaniac who would be ready to sleep with other men, besides Shakespeare’s male friend. Black from the outside, this woman is black inside too. In her case outward appearance and inner reality coincide  and, though a symbol of irresistible physical charms, she also becomes a symbol of treachery, foulness, and sensuality. While Shakespeare’s love for his male friend possesses the quality of loftiness, his love for the dark  lady shows the degradation of love.

Thus, the themes of marriage and love are central to Shakespearean sonnets. Like the Elizabethan sonneteers he used these two themes in his sonnets. But his treatment is different from other sonneteers. He views marriage as an important element to perpetuate beauty. And he expresses love not only in his relation with a lady, but also in his relation with his male friend.

To what extent is Iago responsible for the tragic happenings in Shakespeare's Othello?

Iago is the smartest villain among all the villains. Though Iago is mostly responsible for the tragic happenings in the lives of most of the leading characters in Othello, he proves himself as an ambidextrous manipulator.  As a villain Iago has almost supernatural ability to manipulate the other characters of the play. He manipulates the other characters into following their own agendas and all the while coming closer to his goal of bringing Othello to his downfall. 

The villainy of Iago is great in the sense that he had an elaborate plan, using every character in the story and manipulating their minds to the point where everyone was believing lies. He did all of this so that he could get what he wanted-the destruction of Othello. Through Iago’s subtle manipulation each event moves along the plot and has a direct effect on the emotional responses of the characters. The decisions that are made prepare the dramatic conditions for the next tragic event.   Right from the beginning of the play, Iago’s involvement in the play is evident.

The play begins with a conversation between Iago and Roderigo. From their conversation it appears that Iago has been overlooked by Othello for a promotion. This makes him vengeful and his first action is to tell Brabantio that Othello has eloped with his daughter, Desdemona.   Iago’s behaviour and method of disclosure is designed to deliberately alarm Brabantio and give him a dreadful shock. Iago wants to poison Brabantio’s mind against Othello. Here Iago appears as a racist. Iago uses racism as a spark to inflame Desdemona’s father, Senator Brabantio, against Othello..After Iago and Roderigo raise a clamor outside Brabantio’s house late one evening, the senator awakens and comes to a window. Iago then uses vulgar animal imagery to slur Othello, telling Brabantio that the black Moor has seized his greatest treasure, his daughter, and at that very moment is defiling her. 

Iago shouts to  Brabantio

... now, very now, an old black ram 
Is tupping5 your white ewe6. Arise, arise! 

There is an obvious racism in this quote. When Brabantio reacts with incredulity, Iago replies with a metaphor that this time compares Othello to a horse: you’ll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse.’

But here Iago fails to achieve his end namely the fall of Othello. The court declares Othello innocent and consents to the marriage between Othello and Desdemona. But Iago is not the man to give up. Iago follows Othello like a shadow. And it is Iago who plants the seeds of suspicion and jealousy in Othello’s mind and brings down the ultimate tragedy in the play. 

Iago goes to Cyprus and his next concern at Cyprus is to bring Cassio into disrepute which he proposes to effect by making Cassio drunk. Iago gives to Montano the impression that Cassio is a habitual drunkard and therefore unfit to be Othello’s lieutenant. Asked if Cassio often gets drunk, Iago replies that Cassio cannot sleep without heavy drinking. He here tells a brazen lie but in such a possible manner that Montano, he prepares that man to fight with Cassio, just as he has already  prepared Roderigo, also by telling him lies, to provoke Cassio into a quarrel. After having suggested to Cassio to seek Desdemona’s help, Iago sets forth his strategy in a soliloquy. He will draw the Moor apart for a while and then bring him precisely when he can see Cassio “soliciting” Desdemona at a distance.

Iago has an amazing genius for plotting and for manipulation. Apart from the credulity of his victims, he succeeds because of his fertility of mind in inventing lies and falsehoods and in lending plausibility to whatever he says or invents. He drives Othello desperate and almost mad with jealousy. Iago’s whole manner of talking to Othello in the great “temptation scene” is so plausible, so persuasive, and so skillful that Othello easily falls into the trap. The Act 3,Scene 3; often called the "temptation scene," is the most important scene in the entire play and one of the most well-known scenes in all drama. In it, Iago speaks carefully and at length with Othello and plants the seeds of suspicion and jealousy which eventually bring about the tragic events of the play.

Iago arranges to be walking with Othello when they just "happen" to see Desdemona and Cassio talking quietly. Iago causes Othello to see the infidelity of his young and beautiful wife, Desdemona, with his favorite lieutenant, Michael Cassio. Indeed, Othello does not see the gap between appearance and reality. His "Ha! I like not that!" (35) is a blatant lie; this fraudulent tsk-tsking hides Iago's true delight; nothing could satisfy his perversity more. But because Othello sees nothing amiss, Iago must make a show of not wanting to speak of it, or of Cassio, while all the time insinuating that Cassio was not just leaving, but that he was "steal[ing] away so guilty-like" (39). Iago's words here are filled with forceful innuendo, and as he pretends to be a man who cannot believe what he sees, he reintroduces jealousy into Othello's subconscious.

Iago makes suggestive comments to Othello about Cassio's way with the women and his relationship with Desdemona. When Iago is alone with Othello, he resumes his attack on his general's soul. Out of seemingly idle curiosity, he asks if Desdemona was correct when she referred to the days when Othello was courting her; did Cassio indeed "know of your love?" (95). Here he prods Othello's memory to recall that Desdemona and Cassio have known each other for some time. Then again playing the reluctant confidant, he begs, as it were, not to be pressed about certain of his dark thoughts. One can see how skillfully Iago makes use of his public reputation for honesty.

Iago is a misogynist, who warns Othello to watch his wife closely (so that he will notice all the ways in which Iago plans to frame Desdemona and Cassio). He reminds Othello that Desdemona is a Venetian lady and "in Venice they [wives] do not let [even God] see the pranks / They dare not show their husbands" (202–203). In other words, the faithless wife is a well-known member of Venetian society. Iago also attempts to frame Emilia as a duplicitous woman, indeed all women, as one who would "rise to play and go to bed to work"(113).

In achieving his goal namely the fall of Othello, Iago employs various devices. He later drops Desdemona’s handkerchief in Cassio’s apartment and then tells Othello that he saw Cassio wiping his beard with it. He invents a dream in which Cassio is supposed to have made love to Desdemona and to have cursed the Moor. He questions Cassio about Bianca and makes Othello believe that he is talking to Cassio about Desdemona. And he arranges matter in such a way that Cassio should not meet Othello face to face because a meeting between them is likely to lead to an exposure of Iago’s falsehoods. His designs against Cassio and Roderigo are also well-executed. His last move against Cassio and Roderigo is one of the masterpieces of his devilry, though unhappily for him, it miscarries. Here he literally wanted to kill two birds with one stone.  Besides he remains perfectly cool and composed throughout. Except once and then also for a few moments, he does not lose his nerve at any stage throughout the play. In having brought about the destruction of Othello and Desdemona he does not feel the least regret or remorse. He is a totally unrepentant evil-doer. His cruelty is remarkable. He feels not the least pity for the innocent and trustful Desdemona; nor does he shrink from stabbing to death his own wife or Roderigo.

No doubt Iago is the most contemptuous character in the play Othello. But as a character he has some remarkable qualities. Iago possesses a vast knowledge of human nature and human dealings; otherwise he could not have been such an effective schemer and manipulator. He gives us, in the course of play, several generalizations which, if read apart from the context, would seem to be unquestionable truths. His remarks about how promotions are granted on the basis of the personal preferences of the employer, his comments on virtue and on reputation, his references to false appearances which people put on and to the foul thoughts which enter even the noblest minds-all these carry conviction.

If one looks in modern day cinema, one will see the trite villain, evil to the core. Shakespeare took his villains to a higher level. He did not make them transparent like the villains of modern cinema. He gave his villains depth and spirit. Iago is a perfect example of "Shakespeare's villain." His amorality and cynicism give, what would be a very dull character, life. the villainy of Iago did cause a lot of despair and cost many characters their lives in Othello.

Monday, April 28, 2014

William Shakespeare's The Tempest as a Romance

"Romance" was not a generic classification in Shakespeare's time.  The modern term "romance" refers to a new kind of play, a hybrid of comic and tragic elements, developed and popularized by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher between 1607 and 1613. Their Philaster, 1609, is typical of the genre.  At the end of his theatrical career, Shakespeare wrote four such plays which are now commonly grouped together as the Romances: Pericles (1607-1608); Cymbeline (1609-1610); The Winter's Tale (1610-1611);and The Tempest (1611).

A romance is unrealistic. A romance usually has an improbable plot; rapid action; surprises; extraordinary occurrences such as shipwrecks; disguises; riddles; children or parents lost and found; supernatural events or beings etc. The Tempest, as a romance, has almost all these characteristics.

The plot of The Tempest includes improbable happenings. The setting of the play is in a remote island. We find ourselves on a remote, enchanted island which is full of `noises, sounds and sweet airs that give delight and hurt not.” It has a romantic glow, a rainbow world that has been created entirely out of the imagination. The entire atmosphere is surcharged with magic and enchantment.  There are strange events and shows. The play begins with a shipwreck. The passengers on board the ship are cast ashore. On a previous occasion, twelve years ago, Prospero and Miranda had themselves been cast ashore on the same island after having been exposed to all the dangers from the sea and the sky. Now, although all the passengers have been saved from death, King Alonso is separated from his son Ferdinand and believes him dead.

An air of unreality pervades the play because of the striking role of the supernatural. Supernatural elements abound in romances and characters often seem "larger than life".

In the play, Prospero with his magical power emerges as a typical romance character with larger than life stature. He has absolute control over human affairs, over the forces of nature, and even over the spirits of the air.The whole action of the story is governed by the supernatural powers of Prospero operating through Ariel, a spirit of the air who is ever ready to carry out Prospero’s commands. Ariel is himself a supernatural being with supernatural powers. Ariel can assume any shape he likes, and he is invisible to human eyes except to the eyes of Prospero. Prospero commands the services not only of Ariel but also of a horde of many other spirits, goblins and fairies. A large number of the spirits of earth, water, fire, and air do service to Prospero.

Like a perfect romance, the play abounds in supernatural happenings. The storm on the sea, the shipwreck, the preservation of the lives of the passengers and the crew aswell as of the ship itself,the laying down of the banquet by the strange shapes, the denunciation of the three sinners by a harpy; the presentation of a masque for the entertainment of Ferdinand and Miranda-all these events, which are crucial to the development of the plot and which also have an interest of their own for the reader as well as the spectator in a theatre are brought about by supernatural means. These supernatural events and situations lend to the island an atmosphere of enchancement.

In a romance plot is not logical, because in a romance cause and effect are often ignored.  The action, serious in theme, subject matter and tone, seems to be leading to a tragic catastrophe until unexpected trick brings the conflict to harmonious resolution. Reason can find no explanation for strange happenings on island. They are incidents such as happen in a fairy tale or in a dream world. In The Tempest the plot is also going to end tragically, if Prospero does not twist it into a comedy.

Another common feature of romances is the love of a virtuous hero and heroine.Miranda and Ferdinand are the beautiful and virtuous heroine and the brave and handsome hero typical of romance. Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda as soon as he sees her, and she too falls in love with him at first sight. Their love for each other is intense and ardent. Ferdinand willingly undergoes the labour of pilling up logs in order to be near Miranda and she tells him that she would become his wife and his life-long servant. A love affair becomes even more romantic when there is an obstacle or hurdle to be overcome, and in the present case, the initial severity and harshness of Prospero towards Ferdinand is the inpediment which is, however, soon overcome.

Because romances combine both tragic and comic elements, Fletcher called them "tragi-comedies".According to Fletcher, a tragi-comedy "wants deaths, which is enough to make it no tragedy, yet brings some near it, which is enough to make it no comedy."  Like comedy, romance includes a love-intrigue and culminates in a happy ending. Like tragedy, romance has a serious plot-line that includes betrayals, tyrants, usurpers of thrones etc and treats serious themes. A romance is darker in tone (more serious) than comedy.  While tragedy emphasizes evil, and comedy minimizes it, romance acknowledges evil -- the reality of human suffering.

Tragedy depicts alienation and destruction, Romance, reconciliation and restoration.  In tragedies, characters are destroyed as a result of their own actions and choices; in Romance, characters respond to situations and events rather than provoking them.  Tragedy tends to be concerned with revenge, Romance with forgiveness.  The Tempest also ends with reconciliation and restoration, not with destruction and isolation. At the end of The Tempest also a full reconcilation takes place between Prospero and his enemies after he has made a long speech reminding Alonso and the others of their crime and then pronouncing his forgiveness upon them.

Another feature in which a romance differs from a comedy is the "happy ending". Both comedy and romance end with a happy ending. But while the tone of comedy is genial and exuberant, Romance has a muted tone of happiness -- joy mixed with sorrow.  Like comedies, Romances tend to end with weddings, but the focus is less on the personal happiness of bride and groom  than on the healing of rifts within the total human community.  Thus, whereas comedy focusses on youth, Romance often has middle-aged and older protagonists in pivotal roles.  Similarly, while tragedy deals with events leading up to individual deaths, Romance emphasizes the cycle of life and death.

Moreover, in a romance the "happy ending" may seem unmotivated or contrived, not unlike the deus ex machina endings of classical comedy where a God appears at the end of the play to "fix" everything.  Realism is not the point.  Romance requires us to suspend disbelief in the "unrealistic" nature of the plot and experience it on its own terms.

While tragedy explores characters in depth means emphasizing on individual psychology, Romance focuses instead on archetypes, the collective and symbolic patterns of human experience.  Compared to characters in a Shakespearean tragedy (or comedy), romance characters may seem shallow or one-dimensional.  But Romance characters are not meant to be psychologically credible; their experiences have symbolic significance extending beyond the limits of their own lives and beyond rational comprehension.  In Romance, the emphasis shifts from individual human nature to Nature. In the play we also find Prospero and Caliban representing two types of human Nature. It can be easily said in The Play Prospero represents the colonialists and Caliban represents the colonized.

Thus, in every way The Tempest comes out to be a romance. Here the setting, plot structure, the characters and the supernatural happenings make The Tempest a perfect romance.