Television dramas about schools and schooling are more than entertainment
The question I am setting out to answer the question of why ‘television dramas about schools and schooling are more than entertainment. Discuss, using examples’ and so this essay will set out to analyze the number of programmes and movies that are shown regularly on TV that depict education, students, teachers, overall learning, achieving and assessment. So, we can use this media perspective on education and the school environment to compare it to the current environment in real schools allowing us to check if the shows we view is purely for entertainment or if the show is a realistic interpretation of school life.
This is because education as a theme and as a department of government is contested as there are a number of different methods and roles involved when providing the youth of the nation with an education and different media sources will focus on the parts of education that they believe will make the most entertaining programmes. This is instead of providing only real-world examples or basing their programmes on the only fact which people may not find as captivating to watch as the programmes they do make which involve real storylines exaggerated for effect.
Typologies of education found in the media
Education its self-has a number of roles in any given society. Introduction to educational studies (2016) states that ‘Meighan and Harber’ (2007:225) outlined 11 significant ‘component theories”. These components are there to outline what they believed to be the purpose of education and I can use this these theory in my comparison to media representations. The component that I feel is the least common in the media are ‘discipline and order’ this is because TV programmes such as ‘Waterloo Road’ chose to portray a classroom as a place of open chaos, a savage land that needs a strong teacher or head to attempt to tame it for learning to take place. This is noticeable in the first season of ‘Waterloo Road’ when they welcome new deputy head played by ‘Jamie Glover’ to help bring order and prevent the school from being closed by the local council.
To elaborate, GOV.UK (2015) The purpose of education speech by the Minister of Education for the United Kingdom states in his speech ‘Education is the engine of our economy, it is the foundation of our culture, and it’s an essential preparation for adult life’. This means that education is there to prepare us for the transition to adult life and to ensure that we continue to build upon the foundation of British culture and work to improve the economy. if we are to believe the behaviour of the media representations then school children in shows like ‘little Britain’ will never be able to cope with the rules and responsibilities involved in the workplace which makes you wonder if they are to be believed what state will the country be in 20 years’ time when the current generation of school children are out into the real world.
Another purpose of education is a social one where children make lifelong friends and learn the social norms they will use for the rest of their life. Social Skills and School | Centre for Development and Learning (2018) states that ‘School is not only a place where children learn reading, writing and math. It is also a place where they learn to get along with other people and develop social skills’.
Norms which are often evolve and schools seem to struggle to keep up the ever-changing times especially when it comes to themes such as gender identity, racism or sexuality which aren’t explored in schools but are often depicted on the TV shows like ‘Waterloo Road’ and the story arc about a character called Josh coming to terms with his homosexuality. ‘Grange Hill’ shows its age with the way the staff and other students react to racist comments made about the character Benny which in a modern school would rightfully be a huge issue that demands attention. The reasons they are shown on TV is because its believed that it will shock the audience not with it occurring because we live in more tolerant and accepting society but with the reactions on this issue from the students and staff are usually non-supportive for the sake of the storyline and to add drama but it does raise a key point about how a school would react in this situation.
How teachers and students are represented in the media
The Independent. (2018) TV shows like Grange Hill and Waterloo Road put would-be teachers off profession, says chief school’s inspector [online] states that ‘TV programmes like ‘Grange Hill’ and ‘Waterloo Road’ have helped create a teacher recruitment crisis by putting would-be recruits off from joining the profession’. This shows that the medias representation of teachers on TV are harming the schools by putting off would be teachers that would work in education teaching children in already understaffed schools. For example, the TV programmes like ‘Grange Hill’ and previously mentioned ‘Waterloo Road’ portraying most students as possibly violent, unwilling or unable to learn and therefore difficult to teach for the struggling staff. This may prevent people from entering the teaching profession as they will compare real-life children to those in TV and not wish to spend their lives in that environment and pursue a different profession. Even the name of the TV show ‘Waterloo Road’ is named after the battle of Waterloo which implies a day in day out the struggle between the teachers and the students for power in the classroom and this is purposely done to leads viewers into a particular way of thinking.
In comparison teachers in these TV, programmes are portrayed with a dominant discourse across media platforms. They are portrayed in 2 particular ways. Firstly, the most common portrayal is as lazy, uncaring and uninterested in their job or the children that they are tasked with looking after and education. And in comparison, they are on occasion shown as caring and loving with great investment in the children but must battle against the status quo and the other teachers in order to fulfill their role. This is shown in the movie ‘Mona Lisa Smile’ where the good teacher played by Julia Roberts is shown as a sort of rebel who comes in and shakes up the norm. She does this by showing a caring and understanding for her students as people and tries to evolve her teaching methods beyond the traditional teacher-focused method of behaviorism where children will learn using lectures and the repeated practice of taught methods for use in tests and other methods of assessment. She instead preferred to use a child-centered approach of connectivism where the children are allowed to be more creative in there learning and direct their own paths. This is also shown in the 1939 movie ‘Goodbye, Mr. Chips’ which shows that in the 60 years between the two movies that the standard media perception of a good teacher hasn’t changed even though the subject of education has evolved many times.
The way that teaching is portrayed is very rigid and authoritarian when in reality you can be a caring teacher and follow the rules and the current school curriculum and there’s never a need to fight the system as much or at all because it is obviously enhanced for dramatic effect. Furthermore, this shows how much these movies will and ignore realistic teaching methods and the good teachers for entertainment purposes and a funnier comedy or more story for their dramatic piece. To summarise it depends on the school that the child attends which section of the learning theory they will use to educate as it depends on factors like the local council, if it’s a private school or state school and if it’s a faith school but I find that teachers no matter the school or as inept or as unprofessional as those found on your Television.
Also, a typology of education involving teachers is that some if not most are portrayed as unprofessional and it is clear to see teaching was not their first-choice career-wise. I find a good example of a teacher with unprofessional behavior to be from the BBC show ‘Bad Education’. In this show secondary school history teacher played by comedian Jack Whitehall plays a character who does care for his students however his antics are there for comedic effect and used specifically for the entertainment of the viewer, For another point he is lazy has behaviour worse than that of his students which would not be tolerated in a real work environment and flat out refuses to take his role as an educator seriously.
Equality, important is the way that the Heads of schools are represented in the media with shows preferring to choose between a spineless or well-meaning head that is fighting a futile battle for power against the students at the school. Such as ‘Jack Rimmer’ played by Jason Merrells fighting to keep his school opening. Or they are shown as neoconservative and traditional ruling over the students as the undisputed ruler of the microcosm of the school awaiting a challenge from a new teacher. An example of this would be Mrs. Appleyard in the movie ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ who Den of Geek (2018)
13 most fearsome movie teachers [online] in their review of media representations of teachers described the character as ‘hardcore headmistresses who leaves students shivering in her wake’. We know from the movie that her behavior leads a student taking their own life which should never occur in a real-life school and this kind of behavior would only exist in the media because of the ever-increasing amount of actions set to support students who may suffer from depression.
Students in the media are portrayed in a number of ways. It will usually depend on the school where the programme/movie is set. Such as inner-city state school’s children are usually portrayed as uninterested, uncaring, hostile and rowdy requiring a teacher who is usually the traditional story hero in these stories to come in and bring order and restore or instill a love of learning to the children. Alternatively, the students will reside in a traditional environment where Victorian-era teaching is still being used where the children will regurgitate information with no creativity or independent though where passing exams in the only thing that matters. This is where they will wait for a new teacher to join and shake up the system teaching free and independent thought to unlock their hidden potential with a constructivism theoretical approach to teaching students and allowing them to learn from each other and discover new things through self-guided learning where they are free to express themselves.
However, across all these different contexts there are dominant discourses that are associated and applied to students across different TV programmes in different countries. For instance, there is the bully and the victim and in some cases, the roles are not portrayed by the students as a teacher or member of staff could also be a bully or a victim. this discourse is often shown in media and all have similarities which are the bully is usually larger than their victim and will often be shown to enjoy taking part in the verbal or physical abuse of the victim who tends to be smaller, weaker and often with more academic ability then the bully. On a rare occasion the student bully will be helped out by a teacher or encouraged by the member of staff; an example of this would be professor Snape and Malfoy and while the circumstances may be wildly unrealistic students in schools this does occur. An example of this occurring is in the Daily Mail (2015) Teacher who encouraged pupils to bully a 13-year-old girl by writing ‘ugly’, ‘annoying’ and ‘phony’ on a board until she cried wants to go back into the classroom [online] discusses a situation where a teacher in America lost her job after encouraging students to single out a girl in her class.
Referring to the question I find that while exaggerated for the entertainment value I found that the representation of students and teachers to be more than entertainment as it singles out people in the crowd to focus in the story of an individual. This in my opinion allows a more direct look at the issues that school children face and what can be done differently by staff at the schools and those that set policy for the schools to improve conditions for both staff and students which intern should help remove some of the aforementioned stereotypes in schools that the media will focus on.
What the media portrayal of education says about society
BERA (2017) states ‘Social theory here refers to the use of theoretical frameworks to explain and analyze social action, social meanings, and large-scale social structures’. This is clearly prevalent in the media representation of school society as every student will belong to a specific clique or group and each of these groups will place differently on the social pyramid based on their apparent ‘coolness’ or popularity. So, because in TV shows and movies the groups are layered out like a pyramid with your popular ‘jocks’ at the top who are the sporty type and your smaller ‘nerds’ on the bottom with the lowest social status. In addition, the schools will be a microcosm of society as a whole. It shows that in reality the groups and social cliques aren’t as obvious are there and that the nation isn’t equal in terms of chance and ability. However, in my experience, I didn’t find these groups in school as clear-cut and obvious as they are an exaggeration in school and lack the fluidity of real school children’s groups.
Equally important is the fact that if some shows like ‘Waterloo Road’ are to be taken literally the state of the national youth provides a grim prediction of the future. What it conveys is the next generation of workers, police, and politicians as violent, ignorant and lazy as it shows that society is too soft on allowing children to grow up too soon and shown by the increase in teenage pregnancy, gang activities and drug use in some schools around the country.
So, I found TV shows in this context to be more than entertainment but an important look into the issues in this country that needed to bring to light and dealt with instead of pushed under the carpet in the name of better results and higher league table places. It shows us the parts of school life that we may not have noticed or experienced and allows parents and other watchers to understand the new pressures that school children face and is key to understand the best way to help children fulfill their full potential.
How the media portrayal of education will affect public perspective
The media such as TV shows, movies, and news segments will often prefer to investigate and portray what they find in schools to be the most entertaining or get the most people watching. Unfortunately, this tends to be the more negative aspects and behaviors found in school that grabs the attention of the general public that tunes in the week in week out to watch the TV programmes that are aired by the networks.
Ultimately, this will and does affect the opinion of the education department that the general public who will be more likely to hear about drugs found in the possession students than an exceptional group of students accomplishing something great. Which I suppose says more about society and the way we are entertained then it changes our opinions.
It’s also possible that there are just more negative events occurring in schools then are positive moments to highlight and so they should be presented not to shame and stir up public outcry but to inspire people to come up with creative solutions to these ever-present problems. British Politics and Policy at LSE. 2018. Why do we pay more attention to negative news than to positive news? | British Politics and Policy at LSE. [ONLINE] states that ‘ humans may neurologically or physiologically predispose towards focusing on negative information because the potential costs of negative information far outweigh the potential benefits of positive information’ this may be why the media will choose to focus more on the negative aspects of schooling than the existing positives.
Additionally, the media’s relentlessly negative coverage on schools and the people who work in/for and attend them will also reinforce the negative view that some people already held about the school system in this country. The negative media coverage could also have an adverse effect on a child’s perspective when it comes to school or for the next stage in their school journey which would add unneeded stress and affect their school attendance which could affect their development. The catch on the effect of this may cause more behavior issues that the media could pick up upon and proceed to use in their media adaptations of school’s life and how they represent children’s behavior.
In terms of their effect on the public, I believe that TV programmes offer more than just entertainment. These TV dramas will affect anyone who watches it and the effect will vary depending on their connection to education as some people view for the sole purpose of entertainment and others will connect it to their own experience in education. Amazingly it has the additional purpose of a platform to conduct critical analysis as Mitchell & Weber (Reinventing Ourselves as Teachers, 1999, p171) states: Studying texts can make us more critically aware of popular stereotypes of teachers’ work and roles, and expose underlying socio-political agendas and tacit messages which these images support, critique or reproduce. This implies that using the media we can evaluate the work that teachers complete and the role they fulfill in schools to gain a better understanding of what they come into contact with during their job. This illustrates that the use of the media as a tool for critical analysis to allow the department of education or parents to take a more active role to understand and have an effect on the way that local schools are run and the best way to reach and educate the children.
To summarise throughout the points I have discussed in this essay I have noted that TV dramas, news shows and movies about schools, schooling, staff, and students offer more to those who view them than just entertainment. I find this to be for a number of reasons I find them useful as an insight into what the men and women who produce media perceive as troubling issues inside of schools such as drugs, violence or teenage pregnancies and the new pressures that students find them self under.
Moreover, how it affects the public perception of the nation’s youth with their behavior in schools and the actions of the teachers. Essentially, the way they educate the young lives that they are responsible for and how they work to help shape them into the people they wish to be. So because of the previously stated reasons I find the media devices to be more than entertainment they are an excellent analytical tool that can be used to take a deeper look at the way schooling is thought of by the general public and while parts may be exaggerated they will be based on fact, real issues that exist in our schools and can help us use creative reasoning to find solutions to these issues to improve the experience of schooling for everyone involved in the processes.
The Main Problems Arising In 21st-Century Society In The Movie Sing Street
This film is a story about a Dublin little love story of a Conor and Raphina, a teenage schoolboy and a teenage girl who is lost in a country which has nothing to offer for them. Conor is from a family who is in the purge of a crumbling marriage and was sent to Christian Brother school at Synge Street where he was bullied in the rough and hectic school after his father hit a brick wall in the family income. One day he saw this beautiful girl outside his school and try to get her number but he lied about having a band and need her for the music video to get her number. That is where is started, a quest in finding people to form a band which eventually called “Sing Street”. With the influence of Conor big brother who has acknowledged in the popular music, Conor set out to make music and music videos based on Raphina with his lads to just impress Raphina and fight for Raphina love. Over time, making the song influence them in the pop culture and find their true self. The band eventually performs for the first time with exceptional reception. Conor and Raphina took a leap of faith to follow their dreams and set out to leave the country to Britain and leaving everything behind together.
This film intrigued me as the character reflected the problem that is in the society whereby most students are not archiving their dreams that they always wanted. Most Singaporean, including myself, are too concentrate on having a good future for ourselves that we have forgotten about our true dreams like Conor sister, Ann Lawlor. His sister loves to paint and draw but stop because she went to law school so that she will have a better future. Like her, we are afraid of not having a good income to support ourselves in the future and forget to follow more on the artistic and athletic dreams which can be reflected by Conor brother, Brendon Lawlor who planned to follow his dream to be an artist but did nothing about it and now with no job. In the society now, the word “dream” that being implemented in students is to have a job with a high paying salary. But for those with dreams that are more artistic and athletic, their development in that area is lacking by the school and government who do not really support in them with better resources which cause student to change their dream to the typical “dream jobs” which result in Vast Majority of Singaporean not happy in their jobs. This is because Singapore is growing and everything getting more expensive resulting then future generation to risk everything to follow their artistic or athletic dream for more supportable jobs for them and their families. Like Conor and Raphina, there are a few people who risk everything actually follow their dreams that they are happy even though they don’t have a high wage as they know one day they will make it. They rick it so that they would actually be doing something the love for the rest of their life. The problem arising in the society can be reflected by the characters in the film.
The film is based on the theme of risk which is shown a lot in the film. To me, the risk is about doing things that lead to or have a high percentage for failure, but it will also lead to happiness, success or open an opportunity. Conor making the choice of making a band is a risk that he will take with no knowledge of anything is like doing an exam with a blindfold. All that risk opens an opportunity, friendships and being happy for Conor because best things in life are behind fear and taking the risk is basically taking that fear of failure out of the head and know that you will get rewarded one way or another. That why the Conor little decisions in the movie revolve around the theme Risk.
The film relates to me in a way as it shows I should be confident and take opportunities in life instead of staying in my little bubble. Conor took a risk of confronting the bully and risking of getting beaten up or asked for Raphina number. This can be reflected by how I feel when I took up an opportunity even though it makes me feel uncomfortable. For example, I had joined in helping the freshie in the regatta and also represent Engine School in the cheering. Like Conor, I manage to overcome my fears and pulled through and won a trophy during the regatta. This makes me feel that I should live my life to the fullest and take risks and opportunity when is given to me like how Conor took many opportunities and being confident throughout the movie. Therefore, I feel that I relate to the movie on a personal level.
The director’s intention of having a big brother in the movie is not unintentional. The character of the big brother reflected in his own life of having a big brother who influences him in the music taste he has that is clearly reflected in the entire movie which bands such as Duran Duran, The Cure and many more. The perspective of having a sibling in the movie is that the see you differently whereby they try and make you happy so that you be happy in life, but parents tend to make you into the best person you can. This intention of the director was not thought of during the movie. As people nowadays tend to neglect their siblings and that makes me realize how we should appreciate our siblings and treasure them as they just want to see you happy no matter what you do or what is happening in your life. That is why the director places the character as a form of unconventional love by a figure in your life that guides you and make sure you are happy.
The mis-en-scene that’s used a lot is sound like non- diegetic, background music and background sound. This is to give the vibes of certain feeling the director what to implement during that scene. For example, of the element of sound, during the school scene at 3.40 minutes, when the Conor is going to school, the non-diegetic music is fast pace, loud, busy and a have the hectic type of atmosphere. This can be implied by the type of students in the school who is very mischievous and disobedience. The music sounds like a rock and roll to give the audience the vibes of being rebellious. The sound of head-butting and the shouting of the students set the atmosphere of the school and how the reputation of the school is very bad with kids smoking and fighting each other. The constant comments that being yelled and the rat that is being thrown at him and the costume being used by him which neat and tidy while the rest was messy suggest he is the outcast of the school. The feeling of being the “good kid” in a school of rebellious kids can feel in this scene. The behavior and body language of his character that shows he is afraid and vulnerable in the school. The music placed can change the atmosphere to how the director wants it that why I feel that the most significant and most important aspect of mis-en-scene is sound.
In my opinion, I strongly feel that the movie “Sing Street” can be related to the arising problem in the 21 centuries of Singaporean society even though the setting of the film is totally different and was during the 80’s. The film has made me have realized the true importance of being happy with your life and taking opportunities in life to pursue my dreams or goals. In conclusion, the movie gives everyone the will to follow our dreams even if sacrifices must be mad because “you can never do anything by half”.
Delusion and Demise: The Obsessions of Moliere’s Alceste and Monsieur Jourdain
Moliere, who built his reputation writing plays that satirize late 17th French society, develops two title characters in his dramas “The Would-Be Gentleman” and “The Misanthrope,” the former, Monsieur Jourdain who attempts to recreate his self image in order to be accepted into high society, and the latter, Alceste, who tries desperately and single mindedly to destroy such artificial constructs that bind society. The efforts of these two men quickly become obsessions, which inevitably replace any authentic response to life, thus causing delusion. One can easiliy see that delusion, in any form, prevents truth, and thus such efforts, be they foolish and satirical, or deliberate and, one could even say, more noble and goal worthy, are doomed to end in defeat for they continually prove to be unreasonable and unreal.
The story of Monsieur Jourdain is the classic story of a man who wants to rise above his station in life. He is merely a merchant – a member of the middle class, and his family neither dresses in the manner, nor partakes in the activities, of the higher social class. Nor are they interested in studying dance, fencing, music, or philosophy. Monsieur Jourdain, however, has his mind set on higher social standing. He wishes to surround himself with people who have already achieved that status, such as the count, Dorante, and goes so far as to model their behavior. It soon becomes apparent that Monsieur Jourdain’s efforts to do so are nothing short of foolish, and in the end produce foolish results. While working with his music master, he finds the songs too dismal, and decides to make a suggestion of his own: “Jenny was methought / As sweet as she was fair / Jenny was methought / as gentle as a lamb” (189).
Needless to say, this is a song that the higher social class would laugh at. While the music and dancing masters continue to school Monsieur Jourdain for the money, they would greatly appreciate it if he had “a little more understanding of what [they] lay on him” (186). His inability to understand crosses over to his fencing lessons, when after being taught, he still does not understand how one “can be sure of killing his man and not being killed himself” (195). Also, Monsieur Jourdain’s education is so incredibly lacking that his philosophy master, instead of teaching his philosophy, ends up teaching him the letters of the alphabet and the sounds that each one makes.
It soon becomes obvious that not only are Monsieur Jourdain’s efforts foolish, but they are also false. He not only is unable to understand what is being taught to him, but he has no interest in understanding it. He is merely seeking to have the appearance of one of high social standing. As long as he appears to do what the “qualilty” do, then there is nothing else of importance. For example, his dancing master and music master are preparing a ballet for him, and he reminds them that this ballet is “for when the lady I’m going to all this bother for will be doing me the honour of dining here” (193). He is even prepared to employ the music master for more hours because, in the words of the music master himself, “a gentleman such as [himself], living in style, with a taste for fine things, ought really to be holding musical at-homes every Wednesday or Thursday” (193). The only reassurance he needs before consenting is to know that this is “what the quality do” (193).
Monsieur Jourdain’s obsession quickly progresses from the trivial matters of dress and entertainment, to the more serious matter of money lending. When his wife questions his relationship with Dorante, Monsieur Jourdain replies: “If I hob-nob with the gentry, at least I show good taste. It’s better than hanging around with your middle class crowd” (210). He is so wrapped in raising his social status that he is unable to see the true character of Dorante, which those around him easily discover. Madame Jourdain admits to her husband that Dorante is indeed good to him and shows him “such kindness,” yet she is quick to add that he also “borrows [her husbands’s] money,” and that his kindness is simply Dorante’s “way of getting around her husband” (211). However, Monsieur Jourdain’s obsession with his social status leaves him unable to respond to life in an authentic manner; he is too delusional to see what is quite obvious to others – that Dorante is “milking [him] like a cow” and will not “be satisfied until he’s ruined” him (213).
Not only has Dorante tricked Monsieur Jourdain into “lending” him money, but he has also tricked him into believing that he is helping him to win the affections of Dorimene, when in fact he is after her himself. The “diamond ring that [he] entrusted to [Dorante] to give her as a present from [him]” is indeed given to her, but as a gift from Dorante himself (215). At this point, due to his obsession, Monsieur Jourdain is so completely deluded that he will believe anything, no matter how outrageous or obviously deceitful, as long as it is promised to lead to the elevation of his social status.
Monsieur Jourdain reaches the very bottom when he allows his obsession with social status to compromise his daughter Lucile’s happiness. When Cleonte asks for Lucile’s hand in marriage, Monsieur Jourdain does not ask him to say that he loves his daughter and will care for her now and always, but rather states: “Before I give you my answer sir, I ask you to tell me if you are of noble birth” (225). Not only does Cleonte honestly tell him that he “is not nobly born,” but he states that “it is an act of cowardice to conceal the estate to which it has pleased heaven too call [one], to appear in the eyes of the world decked out in a borrowed title and pretend to be what [one is] not,” which is exactly what Monsieur Jourdain has been doing (225). When his wife mentions the fact that his father was merely in business, he brushes her comment aside, going on to vow that his daughter will be a marquise “even if the whole world turns against [him]” (227). He is willing to sacrifice all of his relationships, even his relationship with his daughter; he is willing to sacrifice his daughter’s happiness for the sake of a noble title.
It is at this point, when Monsieur Jourdain has gone beyond simply embarrassing his family, that Cleonte and his servant, Covielle, decide to take matters into their own hands. Their plan is to convince Monsieur Jourdain that the son of a Grand Turk, who in actuality is Cleonte himself, wishes to marry his daughter. Given his current state of delusion, Monsieur Jourdain goes along with the charade without even the slightest bit of persuasion being necessary. It is because of this delusion caused by his obsession with social status that Covielle remarks, “if there’s a bigger fool than him anywhere on earth, I’ll shout it from the rooftops!” (252).
Unlike the Alceste’s efforts, which can be labeled as more noble, Monsieur Jourdain is satirical to the core. What else can one make the man whose efforts, prior discussed, are nothing short of foolish? Monsieur Jourdain becomes so obsessed with achieving higher social standing that he becomes deluded and is unable to see the truth of what it would actually require for him to raise his social status. As a result, he goes about it the wrong way, and his foolish efforts fail him miserably in the end, as he is tricked into condoning a marriage that he truly condemns. His efforts reflect on the society that has created such a man, as well as the individual who recreated his life based on such artificial principles.
It is because of this that Monsieur Jourdain is precisely the type of man that Alceste would be disgusted by, as we can see from the very beginning of Moliere’s “The Misanthrope” when he is speaking to his friend, Philante:
You should be mortally ashamed of yourself. What you did was absolutely inexcusable, and utterly shocking to any honourable man. I see you loading a man with every mark of affection, professing every concern for his welfare… And then when he’s gone… Your enthusiasm dies with your parting and to me you speak of him as though he mattered nothing to you… If ever I had had the misfortune to do such a thing I’d go and hang myself on the spot out of sheer disgust… I expect you to be sincere and as an honourable man never to utter a single word that you don’t really mean. (95)
Alceste is shocked that his own friend would participate in the upholding of “the foolish manners of the age,” which Alceste is so adamant of ridding from society (96). He is obsessed with truth, and the artificial constructs present in society cannot support truth, and thus he cannot support society. He refuses to listen to Philante, who insists that “the world [will not] change its ways on account of anything” Alceste does (99). He simply brushes him aside when Philante explains these defects that Alceste finds in society as “inseparable from human nature,” and likens the idea to “vultures ravenous for carrion” (99).
However, Alceste is soon to become an example supporting this very idea. Philante points out that the woman Alceste loves, Celimene, embodies the very characteristics that he loathes; “her coquettishness and love of scandal seem to chime so well with the manners of the age” (100). Yet, he loves her in spite of her faults. He supposedly has no control over whether or not he loves her; he “sees her faults, but it makes no difference” (100). However, later on in his conversation with Philante, he admits that he would not love her if he did not believe that she loved him as well. With this statement Alceste is claiming that human nature does not have a hold on him, and he can love whom he pleases. If so, why does he love someone who possesses the very characteristics that he vows to spend his life fighting against? Alceste is fighting against the hypocrites of society while he himself is one.
Alceste’s obsession with correcting the “flaws” of society only deepens as time goes on. He progresses from mere hypocrisy regarding his love for Celimene, to risking his own well being for the sake of his beliefs. After making demeaning comments regarding a sonnet of Oronte’s, who pleaded for his opinion, Alceste has been criminally charged and faces arrest. Even then, Alceste states that “nothing will make [him] go back on what [he has] said” (133). He goes so far as to say that he “will have nothing to do with mankind,” for “justice was on [his] side but he lost his case” (133-134). Yet instead of fighting the wrong that he believes has been done to him, he wishes to let the verdict stand as “a notorious instance, a notable testimony, of the wickedness of [his] generation” (135). One moment he wants to change society and the next he simply wants to point out its wrongdoing so that he will have the “right to denounce the iniquity of human nature and cherish an undying hatred of it” (135). Due to his obsession, Alceste no longer cares to do the noble thing and attempt to right society. Rather, he wishes to withdraw from society. Alceste is disgusted with human nature, and wishes to “never [be] included among [its] number as long as [he] live[s]” (134). What he fails to realize in his state of delusion is that he himself remains human, and thus is subject to the very human nature which he abhors.
Thus, while Alceste begins by fighting for a noble principle, his obsession with overcoming the artificial constructs of the hypocritical society in which he lives leads to the same delusional demise that Monsieur Jourdain falls victim to. Alceste’s goal, and even Monsieur Jourdain’s goal of raising his social status, while far-fetched, seem somewhat noble. However, their efforts to reach their goals quickly become obsessions, which replace any authentic response to life that they might have, causing them to become delusional. This leads to both men making decisions that prevent them from reaching their goals.
Moliere. “The Misanthrope.” The Misanthrope and Other Plays. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. pp 95-142.
Moliere. “The Would-Be Gentleman.” The Misanthrope and Other Plays. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. pp 186-252.
The Travel Log and Its Depiction of the ‘other’
There is something inherently cathartic, inherently exciting about the ‘travel literature’ genre that emerged in the later 17th and early 18 th centuries. The lands viewed were never accurately depicted; instead, the author would embellish local details and cultures to bring the reader into unexplored territories. This allowed for the audience to safely read the material – their own moral guidelines would be imbued into the story to place itself in the cultural spectrum, and would therefore make the lands stimulating, but not too foreign. Literary scholar Dianna Tillotson claims there is something essentially human about the genre, saying “Ultimately, [the readers] may also be seeking [their] own origins and trying to tie [their] culture and customs into a sense of place” (Tillotson). Therefore, it only makes sense that the author’s own cultural bias translates so vividly to a text that tries to be different. As seen in “The Masque of Blackness,” “Oroonoko, The Royal Slave,” and “Gulliver’s Travels,” local cultures are both examined with wonder and condemned for their cultural differences.
It is clear that Ben Johnson’s “The Masque of Blackness” would have been performed for white audiences, even though its main subjects are black. The Jacobean-era masque was based around the idea of ladies of other cultures traveling to the English Court to be “cleansed” of their blackness by King James (McDermont). Written at the request of Queen Anne, who acted in the play in blackface, the clear disparity between the two cultures in the masque show a classic portrayal of the “others” as they were often seen in travel literature – exotic, but still subject to the same ideals and morals as Europe.
The description is never overtly racist or negative; rather, it is almost condescendingly complimentary from the opening lines. When describing the daughters of Niger, Jonson writes, “Since the fixed color of their curled hair/(which is the highest grace of dames most fair)/no cares, no age can change, or there display/Since death herself…/Can never alter their most faithful hue” (1329, 45-50). Here, Jonson is describing the daughters as exotic, beautiful beings that are beautiful because their skin color never fades or becomes pale, even in death. However, the opening song, lines earlier, seems to almost completely contradict any sort of false positivity this sentiment holds. It reads: “With all [of Niger’s] beauticious race/Who though but black in face/Yet they are bright/And full of life and light/to prove that beauty best/which is not the color, but the feature…” (1328 6-13). Here, Jonson is saying that the daughters are beautiful in spite of their skin color, not because of it. The juxtaposition of placing “but black in face/Yet they are bright” not only implies this idea, but ultimately implies a white supremacy or ideal of sorts because their ultimate beauty is still described as bright. The second half of the quote furthers this notion. Once again the daughters are beautiful because of certain physical attributes, in spite of their blackness. Their skin tone cannot be seen as a positive aspect of beauty; instead, their skin tone is the part of their physical features that should be overlooked ( “not the color, but the feature… ” ). As the masque progresses, their skin tone is the only thing that hinders their overall beauty and in making this the conflict of the masque. Jonson writes, “…the Ethiops…were now black with black despair…and believing [the poets] they wept… [and] it hath thus far overflowed his shore” (1330 63-71). The British influence and their introduction of Petrarchan poetry into the Ethiopian culture, while tragic for the daughters of Niger, is still ultimately seen as a very positive thing. The daughters are recognized as having nice physical attributes, and even though earlier – while Jonson specifically said that the tone of their skin did not hinder their beauty – fair skin ends up being the social ideal. Jonson’s work ultimately serves as an excellent reference point for the conventions in travel literature. Surely the audience enjoys exploring foreign lands, and in some cases the author can be complimentary towards the natural cultures of the region, but ultimately, other cultures are still held to the same ideals and standards as Europe’s. This pattern sustains a harmful ‘us versus them’ mentality.
Before ever discussing Oroonoko himself, Aphra Behn conforms to classic travel literature constructs by going in great detail about the colony and lands from which the former prince had come. Listing species after species, from exotic birds to exotic fauna, the first paragraphs serve as a springboard that transports the reader to a glamorized, unscientific, but highly adventurous land. The inhabitants of this settlement are seen already embodying many of the European ideals – modesty, classic romantic relations, and Christian virtuousness. “
[T]hese people represented to me,” says the narrator, “an absolute idea of the first state of innocence, before man knew how to sin, ” an obvious reference to both the Garden of Eden and Adam and Eve – which, considering the description of the surroundings and its inhabitants in general, comes as little surprise (2184). The description of some of the garb the natives traded as having a likeness to how “Adam and Eve [wore a similar style of clothing] with fig leaves,” once again returns to biblical allusion (2184). Furthermore, when discussing their affinity for nudity, the narrator says, “There is not to be seen an indecent action or glance; and being continually used to see one another so unadorned, so like our first parents before the fall” (2184). This statement goes beyond the same reference towards Adam and Eve – at the end of this statement there’s a larger human statement, that these foreigners, for all of their different habits and customs, are still sons and daughters of the same Christian father. It’s the perfect example of the ‘travel log’ genre because it notes the exotic nature of the world and portrays the natives in a somewhat positive light, but at the same time applies to another culture the same standards and ideals of its own.
This pattern is also evident in the narrator’s portrayal of Oroonoko himself. The narrator says that the prince has “so much humanity…refined notions of true honor…absolute generosity…real greatness and soul… [and] was capable of the highest passions” (2186). Clearly, Oroonoko is being painted as a pinnacle of human ideals, a man that embodies many of the principles toward which many Europeans strive. The following line, however, is quite telling: “…we may attribute [part of it] to the care of a Frenchman…the royal tutor to this young black…and perceiving him ready to teach him morals, language, and science” (2186). The success of Oroonoko, then, has effectively been debauched. He isn’t responsible for his outstanding moral character or his substantial intelligence – a French tutor ‘perceived him ready’, meaning that Oroonoko wasn’t even the one to initiate his studies. He embodies the European ideals because he was taught them, not because of any sort of natural capacity for learning or from natural goodness. It took a kind, outstanding European citizen to transform Oroonoko into a kind, outstanding black citizen, suggesting that the “other” group had little merit on its own.
Jonathan Swift’s satire in “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” is so apt and poignant because it captures perfectly the ideas of both the colonized and the colonizers. Swift sets up Gulliver as a very standard man, and in doing so, allows him to not only embody British culture but also sets up a travel log situation where the exotic lands and the change in culture is delivered with a knowing wink. The social divide between the Houyhnhnms – horses, wild animals with only a demeanor of civility, morality, and pride – and the Yahoos, humans that act as the foreign culture in the tale. The Houyhnhnms are almost impossible to take seriously. Their lack of any sort of regard for humanity seems absurd, which completes Swift’s purpose perfectly. When the Houyhnhnms ask Gulliver why men go to war, he responds, “Neither are any wars so furious and bloody, or of so long continuance, as those occasioned by a difference in opinion, especially if it be in things indifferent” (2432). Here, Swift is satirizing his own culture by discussing both the absurdity and the mindlessness of war. Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms get along so well because neither of them have any regard for humanity (during the general assembly, their justifications for destroying the Yahoos were just as absurd as Gulliver’s list of reasons why humans fight). Clearly, then, the Houyhnhnms embody the colonizing mindset – a complete disregard for humankind, and a lack of respect for any sort of culture that differentiates in mindset.
When Gulliver goes home, he does so because he is forced to, and because he cannot imagine living with such “ vile as well as miserable creature [s]… ” as the Yahoos (2451). This is humorous for a multitude of reasons, mainly because Gulliver is unaware that they are human beings like him. He knows little about the Yahoos and is ignorant of their culture, yet he is still shocked and disgusted by them. The Houyhnhnms, on the other hand, are completely willing to destroy any culture they encounter for any inane reason they can justify. The story works so well because Swift so marvelously satirizes the ‘travel log’ literary subgenre as a whole. Gulliver, though technically a Yahoo, is accepted by the Houyhnhnms because he believes what they believe and he is willing to be trained by them. They only accept Gulliver because he is a stupid, culture-less person who is willing to take on their culture. Swift delivers a message of humanity on the inane nature of war and how despite the tolerant, exotic and forward-thinking appearance of the travel log genre, it actually embodies the height of intolerance.
In “The Masque of Blackness,” the daughters of Niger are seen as pretty in their own right, but they don’t become truly beautiful until they discover the supposed pinnacle of human achievement (British culture) and their poetry, realizing that fair skin is perfection. In “Oroonoko, The Royal Slave,” the piece is a little more daring – a member of the ‘other’ embodies European ideals and is the protagonist of the tale – but the book remains unthreatening to Europeans because all of these attributes were taught to him by a Frenchman. Swift’s book differentiates itself by delivering a truly apt satire, noting the faults of the travel literature genre and the adversarial “colonizer versus colonized” mindset as a whole.
McDermont, Kristen. “Performers in the Masque of Blackness.” English Literature Guides. 10 Dec. 2007 < http://www. chsbs. cmich. edu/Kristen _ McDermott/ENG235/blackness. guide. html> .
Tillotson, Dianne. “The Travel Log.” Medieval Writings. 9 Dec. 2007 < http://medievalwriting. 50megs. com/word/travel. htm> .
Samson as a Heroic Figure
In Milton’s drama, Samson Agonistes, the reader is shown the Biblical figure of Samson portrayed as a martyr of sorts. In the beginning of his life, though he was a great warrior, who fought not only against his enemies but those of God, he was also a promiscuous and arrogant person. By the end of his life, though, he has been humbled through the treachery of a woman, and in an effort to take revenge on his oppressors, commits an act of self-sacrifice that ends not only the lives of his enemies but also his own. Samson’s heroic actions appealed to Milton because of their similarities with those of the Christian martyrs of Roman times. Samson not only suffered for his people, but was also given the chance of redemption through the grace of God, and through his final act of heroism, sacrifices himself for the betterment of his people. These correlation’s between Samson and the saintly figures of Christianity, are the most likely reason as to why Milton decided to portray Samson as a heroic figure in his work. Though Samson had his faults in the beginning, by the end he has recognized his mistakes and repents, proving him to be the hero that he is.
At the beginning of the work, the reader is shown Samson giving a monologue in which he laments his error. In his speech, Samson questions his destiny of being the one to save his people: Why was my breeding ordered and prescribed…designed for great exploits if I must die betrayed, captived, with both my eyes put out? (1614 lines 30-33). Samson is questioning his gift, wondering why he was destined to be a savior of sorts, yet is put into a seemingly hopeless situation. A major part of his woe is concentrated on his loss of sight, as he believes that it is what makes his situation all the more hopeless (But chief of all, O loss of sight, of thee I most complain! Blind among enemies! O worse than chains… 1615 lines 64-66). Soon Samson is visited by a group of citizens of his homeland, who already regard Samson as a hero. They describe him as That heroic, that renowned, irresistible Samson…who tears the lion as the lion tears the kid (1616, lines 125-128) and as matchless in might, the glory late of Israel (1617, lines 178-179). From these quotes, the reader sees Milton portrayed people of this time as having a preoccupation with one’s personal might as an indicator of his heroism, similar to the preoccupation with strength and honour found in earlier British works such as Beowulf. It seems that Milton was influenced at least in part by these earlier works in developing his characters ideals.
Samson, however, disagrees with the accolades given by his friends. He argues that he has squandered his gift from God and does not deserve their praise: How could I once look up, heave the head, who like a foolish pilot have shipwrecked my vessel trusted to me from above…? (1617, lines 197-199). Samson goes on to say that [he has] divulged the secret gift from God to a deceitful woman (1618, lines 201-202), and asks if he is sung and proverbed for a fool in every street… (1618, lines 203-204). This quote is important not only because it shows that Samson has realized his faults, but also because it shows that Milton, with his Puritanical views, sees all women as inherently deceitful. Samson continues his penitent acts when he is visited by his father, Manoa. He tells Samson that he has made way to some Phillistian lords, with whom to treat about [Samson’s] ransom (1624, lines 481-483), to which Samson replies, Spare that proposal, father..let me here as I deserve…my punishment. This shows that Samson obviously regrets his errors, and is willing to receive punishment for them. Manoa conitnues to plead with Samson, saying, Be penitent…repent the sin, but if the punishment thou canst avoid, self-preservation bids… (1624, lines 502-505), yet Samson still refuses. This is a major step in Samson’s development as the Christian hero Milton wants him to be. Samson’s penitent nature after his mistake is the first step to his redemption, as it gives him a more Christian persona, likening him to the saints who sinned then repented to live a life devoted to God.
In the end of this work, Samson’s father and the chorus of his friends hear screams of anguish coming from afar, and Manoa assumes that they are coming from his son (Oh it continues, they have slain my son. 1646, line 1516). His friends, however, know that [Manoa’s] son is rather slaying them, (1646, line 1516) as that outcry from slaughter of one foe could not ascend (1646, lines 1516-1517). They postulate over what could be happening (What if, his eyesight by miracle restored, he now be dealing dole among his foes, And over heaps of slaughter walk his way 1646, lines 1528-1531), yet soon a messsenger comes and relays to them what happened: Then take the worst in brief: Samson is dead. (1647, line 1570). The messenger continues to relay to them how Samson ended his life, telling of how Unwounded of his enemies he fell…with horrible convulsion to and fro, he tugged, he shook, til down [the columns] came, and drew the whole roof after them…upon the heads of all who sat beneath. (1649, lines 1649-1653) His friends, know this to be the fulfillment of Samson’s destiny (Living or dying thou hast fulfilled the work for which thou was foretold… 1649, lines 1661-1662), and now regard him has a true hero. Manoa agrees, saying [he] heroically hath finished a life heroic… (1650, lines 1710-1711), and tells that Samson will be honoured with silent obsequy and funeral train to his father’s eyes…there will I build him a monument…[where] the virgins also shall on feastful days, visit his tomb with flowers (1651, lines 1732-1744). It is clear from these excerpts that Milton has given Samson all that he needs for true heroism. A clear indication of this is the description of Samson’s funeral, which likens itself to not only the way heros in the time of Beowulf were buried, but also to the crucifixtion of Christ himself, who would obviously be Milton’s greatest hero.
Through the use of several influences, Milton models Samson on his ideals of what a hero should be. While Milton’s work uses several liberties with the original story from the Book of Judges, he uses these liberties to make Samson seem more like the hero that Milton wants him to be. Milton obviously wants us to see that through penitence, all are given the chance of redemption through God, and that sacrificing oneself is the ultimate act of true heroism. Milton’s Samson achieves both of these, which, in Milton’s eyes, make him a true hero.
Blindness in Samson Agonistes
In John Milton’s play Samson Agonistes, eyesight is a recurring motif and blindness used frequently as a metaphor to define the status of a character’s journey. Milton uses the presence or lack of clarity in vision, both physically and spiritually, to indicate characters’ direction. Although several characters experience blindness to differing degrees, Samson epitomizes the dynamic states and stages of blindness. All of these are necessary components of his pilgrimage of personal redemption, where his loss of physical eyesight becomes essential to mitigate the more serious condition of internal, spiritual blindness.
Manoah’s paternal connection to his son hinders his ability to see that the blindness Samson must endure as a result of his failures is actually necessary to restore Samson’s inner eyes. Manoah attempts to convince Samson that his predicament can be reversed and that there is a way out:
“But God who caus’d a fountain at thy prayer
From the dry ground to spring, thy thirst to allay
After the brunt of battel, can as easie
Cause light again within thy eies to spring.” (581-84)
Manoah’s eyes are indeed veiled from reality, for he is unable to analyze the situation apart from his disposition and concepts which persuade him to believe that Samson is, in fact, ascetical. Manoah has the full assurance that the retrieval and homeward return of his son would cause the present problems to dissipate. However, Samson realizes that his escaping will not assist him along his destined path and will not accomplish the purpose of his existence.
Surely God did not intend for Samson to single-handedly liberate Israel, but as the tribe’s sole recipient of the divine instruction, Samson is regarded as the man who will free Israel and her people from captivity. The awe and wonder that his strength elicits became an obstruction in the eyes of the Hebrews and of their faith. It does not occur to them that perhaps they too, as a people, have a role in fulfilling God’s plan. Their eyes are so fixed on the idea that Samson will be their savior that in a sense their faith in God is lessened. Samson’s strength is a mere manifestation of God’s strengthening him from within; the Israelites, however, regard his gift of strength as his sole qualification for the mission’s assignment. By so doing, they deny any accountability themselves.
The Israelites should have learned from Solomon’s mistakes after his fall and taken the initiative to fulfill the promise. Instead, like Samson, his people lose sight of their faith and its source. It becomes apparent that Samson has become an idol to his people, and they have lost God as their focus by fixing their collective sight upon Samson’s God-like figure, which his strength and pride afford. Therefore, Samson is not the only one who has lost sight of his calling, but the Hebrews have fallen to the point where they “love bondage more than liberty, / Bondage with ease than strenuous liberty” (270-1).
Samson, as well as his people, initially fail to see that his strength lies not within the seven locks of unshaven hair, but that his hair is a mere symbol of his heritage and of his vow to God. A footnote in Numbers, explaining the significance of the Nazarite vow, says, “Not shaving the head signifies not rejecting but being absolutely subject to the headship of the Lord as well as to all deputy authorities appointed by God.” The Nazarite vow was not developed solely for Samson, but it was a voluntary time of consecration where the Israelites declared their separation unto God: “All the days of his vow of separation no razor shall pass over his head. He shall be holy until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself from Jehovah; he shall let the locks on his head grow long.” (Numbers 6:5) This general custom proves that, contrary to the belief of Samson and Dalila, that his hair is not the source of his super natural strength.
Samson’s “heav’n- gifted strength” (36) is accompanied by a mission whose accomplishment relies entirely on his faithfulness to the vow. Gradually Samson becomes distracted by the fame and admiration that his strength elicits. A purpose that initially originated from a divinely assigned mission slowly digresses into a self-glorifying talent which makes Samson “fearless of danger, like made a petty God, walk’d about admir’d of all” (529-30). Samson himself admits that he had reached a point where he was “swollen with pride” and fell “into the snare” (532). As this egotistical outlook begins to take precedence in Samson’s life, he simultaneously begins to lose sight of the goals in and purpose of his life, leaving him inwardly blind, prior to the dramatic gouging out of his eyes.
During the first three temptations of Dalila, Samson’s faith still remains true as he maintains his loyalty and covenant with God, just as he sustains the portion of his vow which requires him to abstain from “all delicious drinks… [to] repress” (541-43). However, upon Dalila’s fourth attempt to trick her husband, “this high gift of strength…how easily [bereaves] [him], / Under the seal of Silence could not keep, / But weakly to a woman [does] reveal it” (47-50). Once Samson recognizes his weakness, despite his outward strength, he begins the journey of ascent towards self- reconstruction, where Samson comes to realize how he came to be in such a predicament:
“God sent her to debase me,
And aggravate my folly who committed
To such a viper his most sacred trust
Of secresie, my safety, and my life” (999-1002)
Samson realizes too late that he was “impoten[t] of mind, in body strong!” (52). Before his upward journey, Samson is required to be completely broken, blinded and chained, “inferior to… worm” (73-74). The man that was once admired and worshipped is now “dark in light expos’d / to daily fraud, contempt, abuse and wrong” (75-76), made powerless, in order for him to begin the long, dark journey into his self and back to his calling.
Milton repeatedly utilizes the metaphor of blindness to take his characters on a progression from a point of darkness into light, to illustrate the growth and dynamic development of each character on their own, specific path to destiny. Milton’s entire tragedy depicts the treacherous journey of the hero whose “breeding [is] ordered and prescrib’d / As of a person separated to God” (30-31). In order for Samson’s purpose to be fulfilled and for God’s plan to be carried out, Samson’s physical strength has to be reduced to nothing. It is only possible in this moment of desperation following complete failure that the hero is able to prove his true strength, as he re-climbs from the heap of collapse. Not only does this journey entail the reconstruction of his strength, but Samson is forced to endure this journey in complete darkness in order to redefine his view of the world and to relinquish his confidence in his own ability, and to ultimately refine and strengthen his faith in God. The Hebrews, like Samson, are also in need of restoration of sight to see again who their God is. Their faith falters simultaneously with the breaking of Samson’s vow; not one of them takes any form of action in attempt to accomplish God’s plan. Their sole concern is the preservation of Samson’s sight and strength, for this is where their faith resides. Manoah also fails to see that the restoration of Samson’s sight is not of utmost importance, but that much more, his inward eyes would be reopened to realize his purpose, to see why God twice appeared to his parents to announce the importance of his birth. Samson is both weakened and inwardly blinded by his wife’s beauty and temptations, but it is not until his eyes are gouged out that he acknowledges that he has been “entangled with a poysnous bosom snake.” When Samson’s faith is lost, he is in “double darkness”, both outwardly and inwardly blind. It is not until his final moments that his inward eyes are opened; he regains his lost faith, and truly realizes and accomplishes his purpose in his very last breath.
Pirandello And Picasso: An Analysis Of So It Is (If You Think So) As A Cubist Piece Of Literature
In Right You Are (If You Think So), Luigi Pirandello questions absolute truth by presenting various and contrasting perspectives of the same objects. The practice of highlighting multiple perspectives by showing several angles of the same object at once is one of the key elements of the Cubist art movement, co-founded by Pablo Picasso. Similarly, Pirandello presents characters from various perspectives of others, providing sometimes incongruous ideas about the same character. Both Cubist works and the characters in Pirandello’s play are fragmented forms in order to emphasize various viewpoints. The effects of Cubism and Pirandello’s work reveal the malleability of universal truth by showing how while one perspective is absolutely true to one person, it can be entirely false for another. The practice of showcasing multiple perspectives in both Cubism and So It Is (If You Think So) denounces the notion of a single unified truth and suggests that one must consider and respect all viewpoints, even if they differ from one’s own.
Cubism is a revolutionary art movement by Braque and Picasso that emerged in the early 1900s and is described as “a movement which denied single point perspective” (Glaves-Smith). It is an art form that fragments a single object or form into smaller and more detailed parts that highlight “a multiplicity of viewpoints, so that many different aspects of an object could be simultaneously depicted in the same picture” (Chilvers). In this way, various people observing the same piece of art can view it from multiple perspectives, disproving the idea of a single viewpoint. In her book Picasso, Gertrude Stein explains that “when [Picasso] ate a tomato the tomato was not everybody’s tomato, not at all and his effort was not to express in his way the things seen as everyone sees them, but to express the thing as he was seeing it” (17). Picasso, known for co-founding Cubism, stresses the importance of the subjective experience. Picasso’s sole concern with his own experience of the tomato and disregard of how it appears to everyone else denounces a singular absolute truth and emphasizes one’s subjective reality.
In Right You Are (If You Think So), Pirandello uses a Cubist approach to viewing characters by showing multiple perspectives of them. Lamberto Laudisi explains that “[he is] really the way [one] see[s] [him]. But this does not stop [him]…from also being what [he] is to [one’s] husband, [one’s] sister, [one’s] niece, and the lady here… because they, too, are in no way wrong” (148). Laudisi explains that different people view him differently, and they are all correct in their own way because it is their subjective reality; what is true to one person is not necessarily true to another. This notion is also illustrated through the character of Mrs. Ponza. Mr. Ponza believes her to be his second wife and Mrs. Frola believes her to be her daughter. The entire plot of the play is constructed around the question of truth, and which one of them is correct. Some of the people believe Mr. Ponza is correct, and some believe Mrs. Frola is the one telling the truth, to which Mrs. Ponza finally responds: “what? The truth? The truth is simply this. Yes I am the daughter of Mrs. Frola…and Mr. Ponza’s second wife…and for myself no one!” (205). In this sense, Mrs. Ponza can be considered a Cubist piece of art being looked at from multiple perspectives. To Mr. Ponza, she is his second wife, and to Mrs. Frola, she is her daughter, showing how she changes based on their subjective experience of her. She even appears more as an apparition or an object of the unreal as she “comes forward in a rigid manner, dressed in mourning, with her face covered by a thick, black, impenetrable veil” (205). She appears like a statue, further contributing to Pirandello’s effect of making her a symbol for the absence of one universal truth and drawing a comparison of her as a sort of Cubist piece of art. Mrs. Ponza’s final words, “I am the one you believe me to be,” echo the effects of Cubism and intentions of artists like Picasso (206). Importance is not placed on the collective’s perspective of her, but rather on the subjective and individual experience of her.
Even if the majority of people agree on one perspective, people’s identity by nature is fragmented. People are constantly performing variations of their identity depending on their audience, the people they are in front of. The concept of performativity suggests that even within the individual there is no singular identity. In Act Two Scene Three, Laudisi speaks to his own reflection in the mirror and asks “which one of the two of us is crazy?” and points his finger at his mirror (173). In this bizarre conversation with his own reflection, Laudisi suggests that what he is doing is no different than the people chasing after the truth about Mrs. Ponza’s identity. He asserts that they are “chasing after the ghostly image of others. And they believe that it is something different” (173). The implication is that chasing after a unified singular identity of someone is impossible because people are not one fixed form. Laudisi often expresses notions of performativity throughout the play, suggesting that chasing after one unified identity of a person is futile, and trying to establish a “true,” singular, and fixed identity of Mrs. Ponza is futile, because there is none. Mrs. Ponza proves this with her final statements that “for [her]self [she] is no one” and “[she is] the one [they] believe [her] to be” (206). This seemingly frustrating conclusion of the play demonstrates that whichever version of the truth people choose to accept is the only version that matters. Her identity is fragmented into being Mr. Ponza’s second wife, and also Mrs. Frola’s daughter, and Laudisi’s fragmentation of himself into two beings, himself and the ghostly image of himself, or his performed identity, is similar to the fragmentation used in Cubism. Cubist pieces of art are fragmented to highlight the individual pieces that make up the full physical form, and “such fragmentation and rearrangement of form meant that a painting could now be regarded less as a kind of window through which an image of the world is seen, and more as a physical object on which a subjective response to the world is created” (Chilvers). Just as the Cubist artists use fragmentation to reveal the various perspectives and subjective responses one can have to the same piece of art, Pirandello uses fragmentation of characters to emphasize how different people view others in different ways, and suggests that there is no single unifying way to look at something.
The multiple perspectives presented in both Right You Are (If You Think So) and in Cubism stress the importance of the subjective experience. Laudisi exposes the problems with trying to establish an objective perspective when he explains that “[Mrs. Frola] has created for him, or [Mr. Ponza] for her, a fantasy that has the same consistency of reality itself and in which both of them live in perfect accord and at peace with one another. And this reality of their can never be destroyed by any document, because they can breathe this world of theirs” (170). The Ponza-Frola family is not unhappy with their situation; it is the meddling of the townspeople in their subjective realities that causes unrest and distress. Laudisi suggests that the multiple perspectives of Mrs. Ponza is not a bad thing because they all accept their own realities and live peacefully. The effects of Pirandello’s play and Cubism stress that one must “respect that which others see and touch, even if it is the opposite of what [they themselves] see and touch” (148). It is imperative that in seeing these multiple perspectives, there is an understanding that others will have subjective realities that are not the same as one’s own reality. It is important, then, that one considers and respects multiple perspectives in order to capture a fuller picture of reality.
Pirandello’s work Right You Are (If You Think So) can be read as a Cubist piece of literature. It exposes multiple perspectives by fragmenting the identities of Lamberto Laudisi and Mrs. Ponza, the same way that cubism fragments physical forms to highlight how one can view a single object from multiple angles. The ending of the play suggests the futility in aiming for a single, unified truth, and Laudisi’s examination of the townspeople’s obsession with the Frola-Ponza family suggests that it is wrong to seek this proposed ideal of one objective truth. Instead, one should respect the fact that there are multiple perspectives, and what is true to one person may not be true to oneself. Ultimately, denouncing a singular truth and emphasizing the importance of subjective reality suggests that one should consider others’ perspectives and respect dissenting opinions.
Chilvers, Ian. “Cubism.” The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists. : Oxford University Press. Oxford Reference. 2015. Date Accessed 14 Nov. 2016 <http:// www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.queensu.ca/view/10.1093/acref/ 9780191782763.001.0001/acref-9780191782763-e-645>.
Glaves-Smith, John, and Ian Chilvers. “Cubism.” A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art. : Oxford University Press. Oxford Reference. 2015. Date Accessed 14 Nov. 2016 <http://www.oxfordreference.com.proxy.queensu.ca/view/10.1093/acref/ 9780191792229.001.0001/acref-9780191792229-e-634>.
Pirandello, Luigi. So It Is (If You Think So). Six Characters in Search of an Author and Other Plays, Penguin Books, London, 1995, pp. 137–206.
Stein, Gertrude. Picasso. Courier Corporation, 1938.
The Transformative Power of Drama in “Our Country’s Good”
Wertenbaker wrote Our Country’s Good in order to depict a developmental process for the characters. Through the Howardian theory of redemption, by learning from each other, and by acting in their production of The Recruiting Officer, they transform into what Phillip calls “members of society again” as they “help create a new society in this colony.” The word ‘transform’ originates from the Latin word ‘transformare,’ meaning literally ‘to change shape or form,’ but normally has connotations of evolving rather than deteriorating. In Act 2 Scene 2, Wisehammer says, “It doesn’t matter when a play is set. It’s better if it’s set in the past, it’s clearer” and so, when the word ‘transform’ is applied to the theatre, it seems to suggest that as the characters physically change their appearance or mannerisms to act their characters in The Recruiting Officer, they equally change their way of thinking. They learn from the play’s history. Therefore, while Wertenbaker truly controls the transformations through his artistry, the characters seem to be transforming and improving themselves of their own accord.
Ralph demonstrates that he follows orders and does what he has to, to try and get out of the colony. In Act 1 Scene 6, he says, “We could…transcend…the brutality…and remember…England” as here ‘transcend’ means ‘to climb across’ or ‘to surpass,’ but this idea of going over suggests that Ralph does not want to directly contend with difficulty. Instead, he tries to evade trouble in order to keep moving. In Act 2 Scene 2, Ralph shows his complete obedience to Phillip with the terse, disjointed feedback —“Yes and I-,“ “Sir-“ and “I see- Sir”— which implies that here, too, Ralph follows through on duties to avoid confrontation and to keep life in the colony simple. Yet Ralph has not changed at all, and still wants to escape. This theme is further emphasized as in the original performance of Our Country’s Good in 1988 each of the actors played two or three characters; however, David Haig only played Ralph Clark. While this tactic could be simply practical, as Ralph appears throughout the play, it more likely suggests that he does not transform; the actors play various characters as they all work towards being united, but Ralph is left behind.
Moreover, Ralph uses Mary in order to camouflage the hardships of being on the ship. In Act 2 Scene Nine (The Love Scene) it is clear that Mary and Ralph are having an affair, but as earlier on, Ralph seems anxious and afraid—“He looks at his watch. Gets up. Paces.” His relationship with Mary could be a means for him to forget the colony, in much the same way as Arscott uses the theatre to forget —“When I say Kite’s lines I forget everything else”. However, with the affair’s status as illicit (as Ralph is married to Betsey Alicia) and with Ralph’s desire to escape, Wertenbaker could be conveying the flaws of humans. Phillip understands this idea in Act 2 Scene 2, as he seems to have been made omniscient by Wertenbaker. He tells Ralph here that “Socrates irritated the state of Athens and was put to death for it” to suggest that Ralph has irritated the colony and the convicts by not accepting his own faults, but by simply blaming others, and hence is not a good Lieutenant. Instead, Phillip states that the convicts are to “be made an example of…by redemption” and that while Ross treats the convicts like animals —“Now wag your tail and bark”—Ralph can try “redeeming [their] humanity.” Ralph however turns to the idea of martyrdom by paralleling Jesus —“I will lay down my life”— but Phillip explains that their experience is not about deification or religion —“The Reverend’s an ass”—but about fundamental humanity, so fundamental that the Aborigine understands deeply two scenes later —“How can we befriend this crowded, hungry and disturbed dream?”
In Act 2 Scene 2, Phillip also conveys the ideas of the Philosophy of the Imperfect in that trying is what matters, even if “we may fail.” He suggests here that it’s no good ‘transcending’ and trying to escape, as then one won’t move forward. Dabby does not understand this at the end of the play, as she uses the play to escape —“bravo Dabby, hurray, you’ve escaped”—and is hence unhappy—“Please, I want to go back to Devon”—while Mary, who uses the play to liberate herself, ends with the striking and independent exclamation “I love this!” Here, Wertenbaker suggests that those who use the play to forget do not end up as happy as those who use the play to transform. The irony is that the convicts understand this while Ralph does not—“Unexpected virtues are often matched by unexpected virtues in people” (Phillip).
Later, in Act 2 Scene 7, Dabby understands transformation through engagement in the words of The Recruiting Officer but does not apply such transformation to the play and to her life. She says that “Marriage is nothing, but will you look after her?” and thus explores the idea of structure becoming meaningless if there is no emotion; if the convicts see the play as simply a form of drama, as opposed to a method for them to transform, the play becomes useless. While indirectly realizing this here, at the end, Dabby does not understand the idea and sees the play as a structural device, and hence offers a contrast to the momentum of the play and to Arscott’s ideals: “When I say my lines, I think of nothing else. Why can’t you do the same?/Because it’s only for one night” Dabby does, however, develop from her hardened cynicism to passion and romance. In Act 2 Scene 7, she says that “Love is the barter of perishable goods,” and this language of trade and industry suggests that she views love through the lens of being a convict; prostitution as a means for living is the only idea of love she has had. In Scene 11, though, she appreciates beauty and uses the language of romance (“I saw the whole play, and we all knew our lines, and Mary, you looked so beautiful”) and this transformation seems to be a fulfillment of Phillip’s earlier prophecy: “The convicts will be speaking a refined, literate language and expressing sentiments of a delicacy they are not used to.” The language of theatre and the freedom of expression have caused Dabby to appreciate the beauty of humanity.
In Scene 7, there seems to be a love clash between Ralph, Mary and Wisehammer. Wisehammer tells Mary, “I would marry you…you would live with me” and, while acting, kisses her. However, Ralph “angrily” becomes offensive: “I doesn’t say Silvia is kissed in the stage directions!” While clearly a conflict, this is in fact also a transformation from the very first scene as Wisehammer speaks in the language of lust and profanity—“what is there to do but seek English cunt”—and Mary distances herself from love, belittling it —“I don’t know why I did it. Love, I suppose.” By acting the characters in the play, and openly demonstrating emotion for each other as they disguise it as the emotion of Silvia and Brazen, they allow for their sentiment and affections to grow.
Furthermore, there is also some clash on the concept of doubling in the play. Arscott argues that he, unlike Dabby, does not want to play himself, since “When [he] say[s] Kite’s lines…[he] forget[s] the judge…” Here, Wertenbaker explores theatre as therapy. As other characters use the play as escapism, Arscott tries to become absorbed by drama and lets it change him; at the end of the play, Arscott is enthusiastic and is the first to go out on stage—“Halberd! Halberd!” However, before going on stage, Arscott threatens that “I’ll kill anyone who laughs at me”; Wertenbaker seems to suggest that while everyone can be transformed or improved by theatre or another means, at our cores we remain the same. In accordance with the Lockian theory of innate criminality, Arscott will always, to some degree, still be a convict. Dabby, though, desires “to play [herself].” The cause of this impulse seems to lie in that it’s familiar and easy for her, and having lost family or friends in her life before conviction, “myself” is all she really has left, so she clings to it. However, Dabby could also be trying to achieve the same as Arscott through a different means. Arscott wanted to become the character in the play in order to change himself, but Dabby wants to play herself so that anything she does differently in the play can have a direct, transformative impact on her life.
Wertenbaker explores the idea that if people have nothing in their life to work towards, they will devolve, but once they possess something they are responsible for, they fight for it and use it to transform. This is exactly what occurs in Our Country’s Good as the convicts use theatre to improve themselves. Some fail to recognize the potential for improvement, and end up as despondent as they were to begin, but what is ultimately true is that all the convicts, once they had been given drama, were the active ones in transforming their own lives. It is simply that motivation that needs laying down before they can work to change themselves into anything they want: Sideway wants to start a theatre company, Wisehammer to become a writer, Liz and Ketch an actress and actor, and Dabby a playwright. As Governor Phillip says, “When he treats the slave boy as a rational human being, the boy becomes one, he loses his fear, and he becomes a competent mathematician.”
Relation of Clothing to Identity:disguise,costume
‘The roote of my desire Was vertue cladde in constant louse attire.’ (Arcadia, III)
Attire and appearance lie at the heart of Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, (or simply Arcadia) with the plot hinging on ideas of costume, shifting identity, and deceit; hardly surprising considering Sidney’s part in the humanist tradition of the Renaissance era, in which writers revived ideas from classical antiquity. Greek literature and mythology relied heavily on ideas about disguise and costume, with the title of Ovid’s Metamorphoses for instance translating to ‘books of transformations.’ ‘Transformations’ here seems a term particularly relevant to Arcadia, in which a change of costume or clothing equates to a transformation of identity rather than a simple adoption of one; attire and appearance are important therefore in the sense that they are the primary deciding factor as to how each character is approached and treated by others.
In book I, both of the princes adopt different identities as means to woo Pamela and Philoclea, bypassing the Duke’s refusal to allow noblemen near his daughters. Musidorus remains male but dons the clothes of a shepherd and becomes ‘Dorus,’ whilst Pyrocles dons ‘womanish apparel’ and becomes ‘Cleophila.’ Sidney describes at length the different parts of Pyrocles’ costume, and declares once he has finished dressing: ‘and thus did Pyrocles become Cleophila.’ This statement is boldly declarative, and uses ‘become’ rather than an alternative such as ‘assumed the appearance of,’ making emphatic the link between appearance and identity. In this case, Pyrocles donning the clothes of a woman makes him a woman, and the sense of this is continued by Sidney throughout where he uses he female pronouns ‘she’ and ‘her’ for the duration of Pyrocles’ disguisement. Winfried Schleiner notes in his essay on transvestism in Renaissance romance that ‘cross-dressing […] highlights, possibly in all literary periods, male-female differences and cultural gender stereotypes,’ and that this is most evident ‘when such garments are put on and when they are removed.’ Indeed, the dressing of Pyrocles in ‘womanish apparel’ is significant in the attitudes it projects about the female identity. Once Pyrocles has ‘become’ Cleophila, Musidorus ‘could not satisfy himself with looking upon him, so did he find his excellent beauty set out with this new change, like a diamond set in a more advantageous sort.’ Sidney’s ‘diamond’ similie suggests that whilst Pyrocles possessed good qualities as a male, his beauty is only realised fully in his adopting of a female identity. However, even more revealing is Musidorus being unable to ‘satisfy himself with looking upon [Pyrocles/Cleophila.]’ ‘Satisfy’ carries an overtly sexual connotation, and paired with ‘looking,’ objectifies Cleophila. Pyrocles has been decorated with finery in order to become a woman, ‘velvet buskins,’ ‘a very rich jewel,’ and has become a kind of decoration in doing so; Musidorus instantaneously objectifies Cleophila where he would not have Pyrocles. The importance of costume here is not, therefore, only in its ability to completely alter identity, but also in its revealing of cultural attitudes towards gender.
Furthermore, the appearances and attire of Pamela and Philoclea are the fore-frontal features ascribed to them by Sidney, with very little aside from this revealed about them. Most importantly, Pyrocles and Musidorus fall in love with the mere images of the two women before having actually encountered or met them: ‘she [Philoclea] drawn as well as it was possible art should counterfeit so perfect a workmanship of nature.’ Even after the princes have met the women, Philoclea is described as Pyrocles’s ‘beloved image,’ ‘image’ contributing to the impression that Philoclea is decorative and to be enjoyed visually, rather than existing in her own right. Throughout Arcadia, these two women are praised mostly on their physical appearance, telling us not, perhaps about the importance of this in the story, but again showing us a reflection of the importance and emphasis placed on the appearance of women in Sidney’s own era, in which the appearance of women was considered the most important part of their identity.
Although costume and disguise may seem intrinsic to identity, the relationship between appearance and attraction is slightly different. There are hints of attraction between Phioclea and Cleophila upon their first meeting despite Philoclea being under the impression that she is female, where her cheeks blush and is said to have ‘already […] concieved delight in Cleophila’s presence.’ Because the reader is aware of Cleophila’s intent to woo Philoclea, the word ‘already’ used here allows us to assume that this moment in the book marks the beginnings of Philoclea’s attraction towards Cleophila/Pyrocles. Similarly, Gynecia falls in love with Cleophila whilst she is in a woman’s attire, though this is in the knowledge that she is in fact Pyrocles disgused: ‘take pity of me, O Cleophila, but not as Cleophila, and disguise not with me in words, as I know thou dost in apparel.’ Though one might argue that Gynecia’s attraction here is to the male Pyrocles and not the female Cleophila, it is fair to appreciate that she fell in love despite Pyrocles’s female disguise, suggesting that attire and appearance is not necessarily important in its relation to attraction. However, in most cases, the love or attraction various characters have for one another cannot be truly expressed or realised until true identity is revealed. For instance, in book II, Philoclea states: ‘O Cleophila (for so I love to call thee, since in that name my love first began, and in the shade of that name my love shall best lie hidden[.])’ Here, whilst Philoclea admits that it was whilst Pyrocles was acting as Cleophila that she fell in love, this realisation comes chronologically after she has discovered that his true identity is that of prince Pyrocles. The effect of this is that Sidney avoids the suggestion of homosexual love between Philoclea and Cleophila, a highly controversial subject for the heteronormative climate of the renaissance era.
Because the two princes in the book alter their appearance and identity as means to win over or woo the Duke’s daughters, appearance and attire in the book is naturally bound up with deceit. At the very start of book I, the reader is introduced to the princes as virtuous and noble characters with ‘all good inward and outward qualities’ who defended ladies ‘from wrongs’ and restored rights to ‘disinherited persons,’ establishing at the outset the reader’s expectations for their behaviour and endeavours to come. Despite this, Blair Worden asserts in The Sound of Virtue that ‘[The Princes] confront a test which confounds the expectation of chivalric adventure which our introduction to the princes has created in us.’ Indeed, In the very act of disguising their true identities, the princes are being deceptive. However, the ultimate act of deception appears where Dorus/Musidorus deceives Dametus, Mopsa and Miso almost simultaneously in book III in order to escape with Pamela.
While this appears to be deceptive and therefore contradictory to the apparent virtue of the princes, the reader is encouraged to support their intentions as they are presented as noble and essentially good, whilst Dametus, Mopsa, and Miso are not. Worden comments that ‘the relationship of inner thought or feeling to the outward expression of it is a constant subject of [Sidney’s] fiction, where disordered ethics and emotions are invariably reflected in disordered countenances.’ What this essentially suggests is that in Sidney’s writing, outward appearance is important in what it reveals about inner goodness; an idea exemplified in later works of the Renaissance period. In Milton’s Paradise Lost for example, after Satan and his army are cast out of heaven and therefore are no longer ‘good’ in the eyes of God, their appearance is altered so that Satan barely recognises his fellow angels: ‘but O how fall’n! How changed[.]’ In Arcadia, Dametus, Mopsa and Miso are all depicted by Sidney as repulsive, Dametus with a ‘nose turned up’ and ‘seven or eight long black hairs upon his chin,’ and Miso with a ‘splay foot.’ Whereas the reader is introduced to the princes as goodly and noble, the depiction of these three characters enables us to exclude them from our sympathies as their outward appearance is indicative of their inner evil. Appearance and attire in Arcadia are therefore also important as being indicative of inner character or good.
Appearance and attire are essential to the plot and understanding of Sidney’s Arcadia. Undoubtedly the most important disguises adopted are those of Pyrocles and Musidorus, who become ‘Cleophila’ and ‘Dorus’ then ‘Timopyrus of Lycia’ and ‘Palladius of Caria,’ these costumes altering their identity and enabling them to first obtain access to the women they desire, then conserving ‘the honour of their royal parentage.’ Appearance is key to identity, with inner good being externally expressed and inner bad being externally expressed and where Pyrocles, by simply donning women’s clothes appears (at least initally) as unquestionably a woman. It is perhaps, as Schleiner tentatively suggests, that Arcadia belongs to a ‘fairy-tale world where anything is possible,’ set in Greece and telling the tale of Princes, Princesses, and nobility.
Comparison of Juno and Mrs. Tancred
Sean O’Casey’s drama Juno and the Paycock details the slow, painful degradation of the Boyle family in war-torn Ireland in the early 1920s. Juno remains strong and calm throughout the course of the play, even though she suffers from a drunkard, good-for-nothing husband, an illegitimately pregnant daughter, and a dead son. The last of these—Johnny’s death—elicits perhaps the most emotional response from Juno, and rightfully so. After learning of her son’s demise, Juno launches into a speech that she borrows from another son-less mother—Mrs. Tancred, a relatively minor character found only in the second act. . These shared words force the reader to consider Juno and Mrs. Tancred in comparison to one another and, when examined closely enough, one discovers that, while Mrs. Tancred foils Juno in appearance and emotional composition, she and Juno share …
When Mrs. Tancred enters the scene (121), she is described as “a very old woman, obviously shaken by the death of her son.” She is obviously defeated by the untimely death of her son and even hints at the probability of her own death, saying “I won’t be long afther him” (122). The death of her son has seeped into her very being and has wreaked havoc on her; she is small and weak and has no use for life any longer. Juno, on the other hand, is described as a woman that, “[w]ere circumstances favourable, she would probably be a handsome, active, and clever woman” (72). Juno is always in a state of motion and is arguably the only true example of life in the play. She is never short on words and possesses a sort of vitality that one could easily believe impossible in Mrs. Tancred.
Accordingly, Mrs. Tancred is a woman of extremes while Juno is far more balanced, controlled, and calm. Mrs. Tancred looks the art of the mourning mother; one can imagine her hunched over, pale, and cold even needing a shawl from Mrs. Madigan (122). She speaks in extremes, as well. When a neighbor, trying to console her, assures Mrs. Tancred that her son will be buried “like a king,” she insists that she will live “like a pauper” (122). Directly after that, Mrs. Tancred launches into a speech about carrying her son from the cradle as well as bringing him to his grave (122). There is no middle ground, no area of compromise for Mrs. Tancred: her son may die like a king, yet she lives poor; the only noteworthy experiences of her fallen son’s life are his birth and untimely death. In a latter speech she implores the Lord, asking Him to replace their “hearts o’ stone” with “hearts o’ flesh,” to replace “murdherin’ hate” with “Thine own eternal love” (123). For Mrs. Trancred, things are black and white in a world of grey.
Juno, on the other hand, is far more balanced and controlled than Mrs. Tancred appears. When Juno first expects Johnny is in trouble, the reader is explicitly told that she reacts calmly to the news. There are very few stage directions at this point; it seems that Juno barely moves at all, spending most of her energy consoling Mary and figuring out how to salvage what is left of their lives. After being told that a man was found by the police and they think it may be Johnny, Mary throws her arms around her mother, moaning, “Me poor, darlin’ mother!” (153). Instead of giving into emotion, however, Juno tells Mary to “Hush, hush, hush darlin’; you’ll shortly have your own throuble to bear” (153). Furthermore, when Mary admits to Juno that she “dhread[s]” seeing the body of her dead brother, Juno reacts rationally and kindly, saying “No, no, you mustn’t come—it wouldn’t be good for you. You go on to me sisther’s an’ I’ll face th’ ordeal meself. (155). Even in an incredibly difficult moment, Juno still considers what is best for Mary and continues to rely on herself for strength. She even manages to plan their future, saying “We’ll go. Come Mary, an’ we’ll never come back here again… I’ve got a little room in me sisther’s where we’ll stop till your throuble is over, an’ then we’ll work together for the sake of the baby” (154). In the midst of tragedy, Juno manages to control her emotions and, without resorting to extremes, makes logical decisions that should make the best out of the situation.
While Mrs. Tancred and Juno seem like very different characters, they share the important similarity of a dead son. Mrs. Tancred makes a heartfelt speech in Act II about her son, saying:
Ah, what’s the pains I suffered bringing’ him into the world to carry him to his cradle, to the pains I’m sufferin’ now, carryin’ him out o’ the world to bring him to his grave! … O Blessed Virgin, where were you when me darlin’ son was riddled with bullets, when me darlin’ son was riddled with bullets! … Sacred Heart of the Crucified Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone…an’ give us hearts o’ flesh! … Take away this murdherin’ hate…an’ give us Thine own eternal love!
After finding out about Johnny’s death, Juno, in her sadness, remembers Mrs. Tancred:
Maybe I didn’t feel sorry enough for Mrs. Tancred when her poor son was found as Johnny’s been found now… Ah, why didn’t I remember that he wasn’t a Diehard or a Stater, but only a poor dead son! It’s well that I remember all that she said—an’ it’s my turn to say it now…
These shared words between the two women force the reader to compare Mrs. Tancred with Juno. Mrs. Tancred sets a precedent for Juno, an example for her to follow. Yet only Juno can fully realize the dehumanizing effects of war because of her initial reaction to Mrs. Tancred’s son’s death; she admits that she saw Mrs. Tancred’s son as a Diehard, not a as man, not a as son, not a as human. War reduces people to sides; good and bad, right and wrong, for and against. People cease to be people in wartime, unless a loss is suffered. In order for Juno to grow in her dynamism, she had to feel the sting of mortality through the death of Johnny; only then can she—and the reader—realize that she and Mrs. Tancred are really not that different. Both Mrs. Tacnred and Juno are struggling to get through this period of war, poverty, and squalor; they are simply at different points in their struggle—Mrs. Tancred, near the end and Juno, just beginning.
O’Casey, Sean. “Juno and the Paycock..” Selected Plays of Sean O’Casey. New York City: St.
Martin’s Press Inc, 1954. 69-157.