Monthly Archives: July 2014

Mental Disruption

            In “The Lady of Shalott,” we have a hermit who is terrified of leaving her loom because some person said she would be cursed if she ever left. Although she has no idea what the curse is, it has scared her enough to never leave. So here she is, day after day, weaving fabric for a curse that is possibly false. The Lady states, “I am half sick of shadows” (71). She here explains that she is half sick of weaving and watching people walk by. They get to enjoy their lives, while she is forced to make fabric every day. The other half of her is terrified that the curse will come true if she leaves. Therefore, she is torn on which act to follow. Then, alas, one day she hears the lovely song of dashing Lancelot (he sure does cause a lot of problems in English literature). She is instantly mesmerized by his song and is basically hypnotized to walk to the mirror. In this act, the Lady leaves her responsibility for curiosity the possibility of love. Once she gets up from the loom, it is clear that she becomes consumed not only with Lancelot, but also with herself. The repetition of “she” (“she left…she made…she saw…she looked”)(109-113) explains that she no longer cares for her responsibilities because she has become consumed with her own desires. When this happens, the mirror cracks. This is when the Lady realizes she is in BIG trouble. At this point, she assumes the curse has begun. So, she thinks that she might as well go find Lancelot because the curse is coming for her anyway. This increases her curiosity as to what lies outside of the castle. It is clear from the Lady’s repetition of “Camelot” that is in wonder of this city. Therefore, she decided to visit it, as she assumes the curse is coming for her. She then floats down the river to Camelot and dies for a love that she will never get to experience. But hey, at least Lancelot thinks she is pretty and says a prayer for her!

            Switching to Robert Browing, I must say that “Porphyria’s Lover” and “My Last Duchess” are my favorite poems for this week. Apparently I am feeling a little dark this week. During the Victorian era, women were supposed to be subordinate to men. This idea was conflicting with the truth that a woman reined over the country. These two poems exemplify the power struggle between men and women during he Victorian period. Both of these men obviously have some severe mental issues. Their significant other brings these issues forward. Both of the women in the poems are strong females, who the men think to be dominant in the relationship. In “Porphyria’s Lover,” the man becomes angry when she puts his head on her lap. She professes her love for him, and he replies with, “too weak, for all her heart’s endeavor, to set its struggling passion free” (22-23). He is angry that she asserted dominance, so he professes that she is weak. We also see a male dominance struggle in “My Last Duchess.” The Duke states, “She thanked men-good! But thanked somehow-I know not how- as if she thanked my gift of nine-hundred-year-old name with anybody’s gift” (31-34). The Duke presumes that she is promiscuous for being friendly to people. After all, she is only supposed to be friendly with him, or so he thinks. The two men in the poems believe that their women have the power, and this obviously cannot do! Women during this period were supposed to be subordinate to men (even though a woman was reigning). In order to regain that power, the men kill the women. This immediately makes the men more dominate, which ultimately rights the females’ injustices.

Cycle of Despair

           “Chimney Sweepers” focuses the harsh abuse of child labor from the greedy upper class citizens, as well as the parents who sold them to exploit their innocence and loyalty. Blake uses two speakers in this poem to convey this message: a man who finds a boy in the snow, and the boy himself. The first image we see is that of a small child crying for his parents in the snow. The child asks the person where his parents are, and the speaker says his parents are in church, praying. Here, is the first time we see Blake’s criticism of parents. He claims that parents continue with their daily lives while they needlessly send off their children to do intense, demeaning labor. Instead of caring for their children, parents are using them as slaves, forcing them to work for very little money and taking away their innocence. This is reinforced when the child says, “They clothed me in the clothes of death and taught me to sing the notes of woe” (7-8). Blake plays with the image of “clothes of death” to portray a double meaning. People can take this as either the uniform of a chimney sweeper or that the child is laying in a coffin, waiting for death. Personally, I think it is the latter. It is clear that the boy realizes the unfairness of his parents and society, which has taken in goodness to exploit his labor. Blake again plays with imagery in the third stanza. Readers see the child playing, singing, and being a well-rounded, normal child, similarly to how his parents see him. Then we are faced with the stark reality that the child is miserable and falsely portraying happiness. The child again blames his parents for the misery that has become him. Blake here is criticizing parent who claim to be godly people. While they are rejoicing in church, they greedily send their children to make money. In this sense, we can also see that this poem is a personal critique against God. He is supposed to be all-loving, yet he allows innocent children to be used for money and convenience.

            Blake wrote “London” also as a critique against citizens. As opposed to concentrating on a single location and person, this poem concentrates on the surroundings of London. All around, the speaker hears echoes of misery, fear, and blood. Blake again uses imagery to the encompass oppression, depression, and poverty that consumes the city. Blake likewise alludes that the government is also to blame for the mistreatment and misery of the people. He adds this commentary by mentioning the places where gloom is seen, such as blood running down the palace walls. Unlike in “The Chimney Sweeper,” the speaker is not focused on a single person. Instead, he/she sees and hears remnants of the people. Buy doing this, Blake alludes that citizens are to blame for their own despair. The speaker states, “The mind-forg’d manacles I hear:” (8), meaning that minds are more powerful than the physical restrains that people are faced with. The final stanza is critical in expressing the sequence of misery. A prostitute gives birth to a child, thus regenerating despair. The final line, “And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse” (16), indicates that love (the newborn) combines with death to create a never-ending cycle of despair.

Weakness and Race

Although I enjoyed all of the readings for this week, I particularly enjoyed the point of view that we see in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd.” This is the first time that we truly see a woman standing up for herself to a man. As I stated in my previous blog, the nymph represent what I’m sure many women of this time period would have wanted to say to a man but were not able to due to circumstances. Ralegh gives us the impression that women of this time period were strong, autonomous individuals who were capable of making decisions for themselves. The nymph states in lines 19-20, “All these in me no means can move/ To come to thee and by thy love.” We see that they nymph is not moved by the shepherd’s false profession of deceptive gifs. In a way, the shepherd is trying to buy her, just as a prostitute is bought. But the nymph refuses to believe his deceptions.

On the other hand, we see how reliant women are to men in Othello. We see this first when Desdemona pleads her love of Othello to her father and the duke. She states, “ I do perceive here a divided duty,/ To you I am bound for life and education both do lean me/ My life and education both do learn me/ How to respect you; you are the lord of duty;/ I am hitherto your daughter” (lines 170-174). Here we see that women are presumed as property and thus have a duty to the men in their lives- first to the father, then to their husband. We then see multiple examples much later in the play that expresses a woman’s response to how they were treated as property. Emily states, “Let husbands know/ Their wives have sense like them. They see, and smell,/ And have their palates both for sweet and sour,/ As husbands have. What is it that they do/ When they change us for others? Is it sport? I think it is” (lines 92-97). Emily is a similar character to the nymph in that she outspoken and independent, although she is only this way in the presence of women. In the end, Emily’s openness is her demise, as it would have been during the Renaissance period.

We also are introduced to another core issue during this time period: racism. It is stated early in Othello that our main character is black. I think the greatest thing we learn from this play is how simple-minded people can be when it comes to race. A prime example of this is how Iago often describes Othello as Black Othello. Another example is seen as Othello pleads his case to the duke, he explains how Brabantio used to respected him and invite him over so Brabantio could listen to Othello’s stories. Brabantio found Othello to be an honorable and courageous man until he wed Desdemona. From then on, Brabantio expressed that Othello was a dishonorable man full of witchcraft because he is black. After all, how could a woman possibly fall in love with a black man if it were not for witchcraft? Brabantio states, “ A maiden never bold;/ Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion/ Blushed at herself and she- in spite of nature,/ Of years, of country, credit, everything-/ To fall in love with what she feared to look on?” (lines 94-98). Here we see that Brabantio found it inconceivable that his devoted and beautiful daughter could ever fall for such a monster as a black man.

We see more examples of racism throughout the play, although many of them are not as outright as the example just stated. We hear from many characters the qualities of Othello: strength, honor, and devotion. Although these qualities are stated, another statement about his race soon follows them. We see this especially in Iago, who states he hates Othello because it is unimaginable that a black man could be his superior. It is wondrous to the characters that Othello could be all of these qualities because of the hindrance of his race. We see that the racism and deceptiveness eventually becomes too much for Othello, and he succumbs to the monster that the characters, especially Iago and Brabantio, presume that black people are. Similar to what we see today, many people cannot look past a person’s race, no matter how true their character or accomplished their past may be. Unfortunately, this is something that humanity has faced throughout history, and it will likely continue long after we are gone.

Silent Empowerment and Utter Blasphemy

 

We see in “The Passionate Shepard” and “The Nymph’s Reply” images of beautiful landscapes, floral designs, jewels, etc. These are tools used in the pastoral genera, which are appropriate avenues for courtly love. In courtly love, men woo women by idolizing them and placing their beauty above all else. As it has always been, women enjoy looking at pretty things: nature, flowers, pretty baubles, etc. This allows for men to easily flatter women by using these items, either by physically giving them gifts or by praising women through exclaiming their beauty is equivalent to that of… (something pretty). We see this in lines 9-12 of “The Passionate Shepard” when the speaker states, “And I will make thee beds of roses/ And a thousand fragrant poises,/ A cap of flowers, and a kirtle/ Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.” The shepherd tries to gain the love of the Nymph by bestowing her with gifts. And, as any good, courtly woman would, the Nymph is supposed to graciously accept the gifts, although, in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” she refuses, but I will rationalize this in a bit.

We see in the two poems examples of courtly love. As readers, we want to believe that the shepherd in “The Passionate Shepherd” is being a complete gentleman and wooing a woman, but the Nymph and we are being misled. Lets be honest, the Shepherd just wants to get laid. The speaker begins by requesting the Nymph to be his love. He exclaims that he will bestow upon her many floral and jeweled gifts, as previously detailed and explained. This sounds wonderful, but the speaker has an underlying sexual tone and desire. Likewise, the speaker is flattering the woman and placing her beauty on a pedestal, just as true courtly gentlemen do. In this, we see that women during the Renaissance period were viewed as unintelligent and jaded, although this woman surely is not. Then final lines of this poem read, “If these delights thy mind may move,/ Then live with me and be my love” (lines 23-24). We see that the speaker is not simply asking the Nymph to live with him, he is telling her. This is strikingly similar to how men of the Renaissance would have treated women. At the time, women were viewed as property- something pretty to look at and play with, but nothing more than that. The shepherd sounds as if he is asking the woman to love him, but we see that the shepherd is exclaiming that he already owns her (or so she thinks), so she must comply.

In “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” we are given an unrealistic response to an exclamation of courtly love. The Nymph states, “If all the world and love were young/ And truth in every shepherd’s tongue,/ These pretty pleasure might me move/ To live with thee and by thy love” (lines 104). The Nymph is expressing her understanding of the courtly love tradition of placing women on pedestals in order to gain their affection, thus exclaiming that his deceitfulness and false flattery does not fool her. This entire poem is devoted to the nymph breaking apart his compliments and belittling his wit. Women during this time period would have wanted to give a response such as this, but reality was that they could not. As property, women had to do as their father or husband told her to. Again, this is expressed when the shepherd tells the Nymph to live with him. So, as faithful and devoted daughters and wives, they would comply, although this woman refuses. To women, this poem would have been silent empowerment. To men, on the other hand, it would have been blasphemy.

Those Darn Women!

From both Morte Darthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, it is clear that Sir Gawain is the epitome of a chivalrous knight. One scene in particular exemplifies this to me. As Bertilak’s wife enters Sir Gawain’s chambers, it appears as if she is trying to advance on him in a romantic manner. He tries to fend off her advances in a kind way by explaining that they would both feel more comfortable if he would put clothes on, yet she expresses that she would prefer him naked. She states, “ All right here you lie. And we are left all alone, with my husband and his huntsmen away in the hills and the servants snoring and my maids asleep and the door to this bedroom barred with a bolt. I have in my house an honored guest so I’ll make the most of my time and stay talking” (Line 1230-1235). To me, this is clear that Lady Bertilak’s is a mischievous, conniving woman, yet Sir Gawain continues to fend off her advances, as he does for every encounter they have.

            Although Sir Gawain in chivalrous in most aspects, his desire to serve is ultimately his downfall in both Morte Darthur and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. In Morte Darthur, Sir Gawain’s need to serve leads him to war, which ultimately leads to his death. In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Sir Gawain is primarily concerned with keeping his honor to Bertilak’s wife and himself that he ultimately breaks the chivalric code. The Green Knight states,’ it was loyalty that you lacked; not because you’re wicked, or a womanizer, or worse, but you loved your own life” (Lines 2636-2369). This gives us a lot of detail about him as a character. He has a strong loyalty to honor and duty, yet, as most people are, Sir Gawain is primarily loyal to himself.

            As for King Bertilak, he holds many of the chivalric qualities that kings are supposed to be accountable for, yet he is conniving and deceitful, as Morgal La Fay has made him. King Bertilak welcomes Sir Gawain into his castle with great hospitality, yet he is part of a plot with his wife to destroy Camelot. At the same time, he holds qualities of God. He states, “By confessing your failings you are free from fault and have openly paid penance at the point of my axe. I declare you purged, as polished and as pure as the day you were born, without blemish or blame” (Lives 2391-2394). This is identical to the Catholic sacrament of Reconciliation, where a person is to confess his or her sins to the Father in order to be “forgiven” of all sins. Likewise, King Bertilak tells Sir Gawain to wear the girdle as a form of penance, just as a person is given penance at the end of Confession. We then lean that King Bertilak is under the power of Morgan La Fay (plot twist!), thus alluding that King Bertilak truly has no control. Therefore, it is actually Morgan La Fay who is creating the ideal form of chivalry and honor as well as the seducement from Lady Bertilak. She is the true seductress and manipulator of the story.

            To conclude this post, I must say that, as a woman, I am sick of men blaming women for their own weaknesses. Sir Girwain blames his failures on Lady Bertilak’s, yet he is the one who made the decision to lie to the king. Yes, he was trying to keep her honor, but he ultimately made his own decisions in being false with the king. Similarly in Morte Darthur, Guinevere leads to the demise of several of the knights by asking Sir Lancelot to save her. Guinevere is portrayed as the manipulator, just as women of this time period were viewed. Seeing as women were considered as nothing more than property and play toys to be wowed (mostly because men could not keep it in their pants), they had to place women as the underlying antagonists of stories.