Macbeth may well be the most terrifying play in the English language, but it hasn’t always been seen that way. It has divided critics more deeply than any other Shakespearian tragedy – and the argument, in essence, has been about just how terrifying the play really is and about how we should react, or do react, to Macbeth himself. No Shakespearian tragedy gives as much attention to its hero as Macbeth. With the exception of Lady Macbeth, there is much less emphasis on the figures round the hero than there is in Hamlet or Othello. Unlike King Lear, with its parallel story of Gloucester and his sons, Macbeth has no sub-plot. And its imagery of sharp contrasts – of day and night, light and dark, innocent life and murder – adds to the almost claustrophobic intensity of this most intense of plays. So why are critics so divided about Macbeth? Why is it so disturbing? Why do we feel compelled to admire its hero even as we condemn him? How reassuring is the last scene, when Macbeth is killed and Malcolm becomes king? Do we see this as the intervention of a divine providence, a restoration of goodness after all the evil? Or do we see instead signs that the whole cycle of violence and murder could be about to begin all over again? And what does the play really tell us about good and evil? In this book Graham Bradshaw answers these questions, and shows how it is only in recent years that the extent of Shakespeare’s achievement in Macbeth, and the nature of his vision in the play, has really been grasped.
In his first tetralogy of history plays (Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3, and Richard III), Shakespeare offered the most extensive dramatic sequence since the great days of ancient Greek drama in Athens. Critics have sometimes disparaged this first tetralogy as episodic and amateurish. There are various lively scenes, and some characters radiate vitality – in Richard III, Shakespeare (defying historical fact) created a superbly memorable monster, the grotesque and arrogant villain whom audiences love to hate. But if the Shakespeare of the first tetralogy blithely embarrasses his modern fans by the abundance of jingoistic propaganda, his second tetralogy (Richard II, Henry IV Parts One and Two and Henry V) is much more sophisticated and ambiguous. Indeed, in view of the problems of censorship which he faced, Shakespeare provides remarkably incisive insights into the behaviour of kings and their followers and opponents. The second tetralogy is rich in characterisation, memorable in heroic and plangent rhetoric, crafty in its plotting, and exceptionally intelligent in the way it relates low life to high life, the small to the great, the farcical to the tragic. The vitality of Shakespeare’s second tetralogy has ensured its endurance for more than four centuries. It is not simply a sequence of perennially entertaining plays; it is part of England’s cultural identity, and continues to contribute to the shaping of that identity. The tetralogy dramatises nostalgia poignantly and critically; now it, too, forms part of the nation’s cultural nostalgia. At the same time, it exposes the continuing wiles of politicians, and offers ever-topical warnings about the cost of military ventures overseas.
In the four centuries since Shakespeare’s death in 1616, Hamlet has almost always been regarded as Shakespeare’s greatest play. This is not surprising. As Barbara Everett has observed, Hamlet was not only “the first great tragedy in Europe for two thousand years”; it was, and still is, “the world’s most sheerly entertaining tragedy, the cleverest, perhaps even the funniest”. The character of Hamlet utterly dominates the play he so reluctantly inhabits to a degree that is rivalled only by Prospero in The Tempest. Even when he isn’t on stage, speaking nearly 40% of the play’s text, the other characters are talking and worrying about him. This is the most obvious reason why Hamlet criticism over the years has been so Hamlet-centred: many critics, from Coleridge through to A. C. Bradley and beyond, see the play and its other characters almost entirely through Hamlet’s eyes. In this book Graham Bradshaw sets out to correct this. For in his view the play is no exception to – and indeed can be seen as an extreme example of – Shakespeare’s usual dramatic method, which was never to press or even reveal his own view on controversial issues like the divine right of kings or honour or ghosts and purgatory, but to “frame” these issues by assembling characters who think and feel differently about them. With Shakespeare it is hard, even impossible, to know what he thinks about (say) revenge or incest or suicide – and Hamlet’s view is often strikingly different from the views of those around him. If the doubts about whether the Ghost in Hamlet is the messenger of divine justice or a devilish instrument of damnation were ever finally resolved, the play would be diminished, or shrivel into a museum piece.
Romeo and Juliet is routinely called “the world’s greatest love story”, as though it is all about romance. The play features some of the most lyrical passages in all of drama, and the lovers are young, beautiful, and ardent. But when we look at the play, the lyricism and the romance are not really what drive things along. It is true that Romeo, especially early on in the play, acts like a young man determined to take his place in an immortal tale of love. Everything he says is romantic – but rather like an anniversary card is romantic. His words propel nothing, or nothing but sarcastic admonitions from his friends to forget about love and to treat women as they should be treated, with careless physical appetite. The world we have entered is rapacious more than romantic. Everyone knows something of this, from the film versions of the story if nothing else. Romeo and Juliet must fight for their love inside a culture of stupid hatreds. But it is not a simple case of love versus war, or the city against the couple. If it were, it would nicely reinforce clichés about true love, fighting against the odds. In this book Simon Palfrey suggests that the play Shakespeare actually wrote is more troubling than this. Juliet’s passion – for all her youth, for all its truth – is at the very cusp of murderousness. Juliet is the world’s scourge, in the sense that she will whip and punish and haunt it; she is also its triumph, in the sense of its best and truest thing. The deaths her love leads to are in no way avoidable, and in no way accidental. They are her inheritance, the thing she was born to. Of course she takes Romeo with her. But it is at heart her play.
Despite the astringency of her writing, Austen is often thought of as the mother of romance. She has made the Regency period (1811-1820) almost synonymous with modern popular notions of the romantic. Directly or indirectly, she has influenced romantic novels by authors such as Georgette Heyer and Daphne du Maurier and supermarket fodder of the sort published by Mills and Boon. Of all her books, though, it is Pride and Prejudice which comes closest to delivering the fairytale story of the ordinary girl who catches and marries a prince. As Janet Todd shows in this entertaining guide, however, it is not just the most inventive and ebullient of her works, but also the one which closes with the heroine most in the ascendancy and least controlled by either parent or husband. Here, for the only time in Austen’s novels, the romantic dream of bourgeois individualism taming aristocratic authority actually does come true. But if, on one level, Pride and Prejudice is a reworking of the Cinderella story, it is a fiction of much greater depth than Austen’s ironic, self-deprecating description of it as “rather too light & bright & sparkling” would suggest. “Beneath the light, bright and sparkling surface,” says Edward Neill, “it investigates the social heart of darkness.” In Pride and Prejudice, Austen explores not just what it is like to be a girl in search of a suitable husband, but what it is to be human, brilliantly illuminating the difficulties of the individual living within society and the necessity constantly to reconcile personal needs with those of the wider world around one.
Author: Adrian Poole
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Release Date: 2005-08-11
What has tragedy been made to mean by dramatists, story-tellers, critics, philosophers, politicians, and journalists? This work shows the relevance of tragedy to the modern world, and extends beyond drama and literature into visual art and everyday experience.
With the exception of Hamlet, Othello is Shakespeare’s most controversial play. It is also his most shocking. Dr Johnson famously described the ending as “not to be endured”, and H.H. Furness, after editing the Variorum edition of the play, confessed to wishing that “this tragedy had never been written”. No play in performance has prompted more outbursts from onlookers: there are many recorded instances of members of the audience actually trying to intervene to prevent Othello murdering Desdemona. It is a more domestic tragedy than Hamlet, King Lear or Macbeth, and it is the intimacy of its subject matter which gives it its dramatic power. Othello is a faithful portrait of life, wrote one anonymous Romantic critic. “Love and jealousy are passions which all men, with few exceptions, have at some time felt.” Othello has also prompted more critical disputes than any other play except Hamlet. How could the hero possibly believe his wife had been unfaithful within a few days of their marriage? Is the marriage consummated (as it is usually assumed to be)? Is Othello a noble hero or is he really just a self-deluded egotist? And in this play about a disastrous inter-racial marriage, how important is the whole issue of race? Is the play itself racist? This book looks at what Othello is really about and why it has such power to move us. It aims to offer a clear, authoritative and fresh view of Othello, while taking account of the many fascinating insights other critics have had into the play in the four centuries since it was written.
Great Expectations is one of the best-selling Victorian novels of our time. No Dickens work, with the exception of A Christmas Carol, has been adapted more for both film and television. It has been as popular with critics as it has with the public. In 1937, George Bernard Shaw called the novel Dickens’s “most compactly perfect book”. John Lucas describes it as “the most perfect and the most beautiful of all Dickens’s novels”, Angus Wilson as “the most completely unified work of art that Dickens ever produced”. Great Expectations has been so successful partly because it’s an exciting story. Dickens always had a keen eye on the market and subscribed to Wilkie Collins’s advice: “make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, above all make ‘em wait.” From the violent opening scene on the marshes to the climax of Magwitch’s attempted escape on the Thames, the story is full of suspense, mystery and drama. But while these elements of Great Expectations have ensured its popularity, it is also a novel which, as this guide will seek to show, raises profound questions not just about the nature of Victorian society but about the way human relationships work and the extent to which people are shaped by their childhoods and the circumstances in which they grow up.
Jane Eyre, published on 16th October 1847, was an instant popular success. More than 150 years later, it still powerfully affects its readers with all the charge of a new-minted work. It is easy to forget, now, how shocking it was to its mid-19th century readers. Virtually every early reviewer felt obliged either to condemn or defend its impropriety. As Josie Billington reminds us in this compelling guide, the most savage reviews denounced the “coarseness” of language, the “unfeminine” laxity of moral tone, and the “dereliction of decorum” which made its hero cruel, brutal, yet attractively interesting, while permitting its plain, poor, single heroine to live under same roof as the man she loved. What caused most outrage, perhaps, was the demonstrable rebellious anger in the heroine’s “unregenerate and undisciplined spirit”, her being a passionate law unto herself. “Never was there a better hater. Every page burns with moral Jacobinism,” wrote an early critic. As the poet Matthew Arnold was to say of Brontë’s “disagreeable” final novel, Villette, “the writer’s mind contains nothing but hunger, rebellion and rage”. In this book Josie Billington looks at the passion and indeed rage which filled Bronte, and shows us that, though sometimes criticised for melodrama, this is a novel of great intellectual seriousness, moral integrity and depth of feeling. She quotes George Henry Lewis: “It is soul speaking to soul; it is an utterance from the depths of a struggling, suffering, much-enduring spirit.
Author: Alasdair D. F. Macrae
Publisher: Pearson Education
Release Date: 2012
Genre: A-level examinations
From Thomas Jefferson to John Rawls, justice has been at the center of America's self-image and national creed. At the same time, for many of its peoples-from African slaves and European immigrants to women and the poor-the American experience has been defined by injustice: oppression, disenfranchisement, violence, and prejudice. In Identity and the Failure of America, "John Michael explores the contradictions between a mythic national identity promising justice to all and the realities of a divided, hierarchical, and frequently iniquitous history and social order. Through a series of insightful readings, Michael analyzes such cultural moments as the epic dramatization of the tension between individual ambition and communal complicity in Moby-Dick, "attempts to effect social change through sympathy in the novels of Lydia Marie Child and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Ralph Waldo Emerson's antislavery activism and Frederick Douglass's long fight for racial equity, and the divisive figures of John Brown and Nat Turner in American letters and memory. Focusing on exemplary instances when the nature of the United States as an essentially conflicted nation turned to force, Michael ultimately posits the development of a more cosmopolitan American identity, one that is more fully and justly imagined in response to the nation's ethical failings at home and abroad. John Michael is professor of English and of visual and cultural studies at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Anxious Intellects: Academic Professionals, Public Intellectuals, and Enlightenment Values and Emerson "and Skepticism: The Cipher of the World."
This is a famous and popular novel that has been reprinted many times. It has also been made into two feature length movies, the first in 1963 and the next in 1990 and there is another movie in production. It has also been made into at least six short episodes for TV. A British plane crashes on or near an isolated island in a remote region of the Pacific Ocean. The only survivors are boys in their middle childhood or preadolescence. Now they must work together to survive, or they will fight each other.
Author: Frank O'Connor
Publisher: Open Road Media
Release Date: 2014-08-12
The definitive collection from an Irish literary icon, “one of the masters of the short story” (Newsweek). In the words of W. B. Yeats, Frank O’Connor “did for Ireland what Chekhov did for Russia.” Anne Tyler, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, described his tales as “encapsulated universes.” This indispensable volume contains the best of his short fiction, from “Guests of the Nation” (adapted into an Obie Award–winning play) to “The Mad Lomasneys” to “First Confession” to “My Oedipus Complex.” Dublin schoolteacher Ned Keating waves good-bye to a charming girl and to any thoughts of returning to his village home in the lyrical and melancholy “Uprooted.” A boy on an important mission is waylaid by a green-eyed temptress and seeks forgiveness in his mother’s loving arms in “The Man of the House,” a tale that draws on O’Connor’s own difficult childhood. A series of awkward encounters and humorous misunderstandings perfectly encapsulates the complicated legacy of Irish immigration in “Ghosts,” the bittersweet account of an American family’s pilgrimage to the land of their forefathers. In these and dozens of other stories, O’Connor accomplishes the miraculous, laying bare entire lives and histories in the space of a few pages. As a writer, critic, and teacher, O’Connor elevated the short story to astonishing new heights. This career-spanning anthology, epic in scope yet brimming with small moments and intimate details, is a true pleasure to read from first page to last.
When The Great Gatsby was first published, in 1925, reviews were mixed. H.L. Mencken called it “no more than a glorified anecdote”. L.P. Hartley, author of The Go-Between, thought Fitzgerald deserved “a good shaking”: “The Great Gatsby is evidently not a satire; but one would like to think that Mr Fitzgerald’s heart is not in it, that it is a piece of mere naughtiness.” Yet, gradually the book came to be seen as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – of American novels. Why? What is it that makes this story of a petty hoodlum so compelling? Why has a novel so intimately rooted in its own time “lasted” into ours? What is it that posterity, eight decades later, finds so fascinating in this chronicle of the long-gone “Jazz Age”, flappers, speakeasies and wild parties? It is, after all, scarcely a novel at all, more a long short story. But it has a power out of all proportion to its length. It is beautifully written, making it feel even shorter than it is, and is full of haunting imagery. It is also, perhaps, the most vivid literary evocation of the “Great American Dream”, about which it is profoundly sceptical, as it is about dreams generally. In the end, however, as D.H. Lawrence would put it, it is “on the side of life”. Gatsby’s dream may be impossible, so much so that the book can end in no other way than with his death, but up to a point he is redeemed by it and by the tenacity with which he clings to it. It is this that makes the novel so moving and so haunting.
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