Brutus Character: Becoming a Hero Through Changes
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Caesar is a soon-to-be monarch who is murdered by a group called the Conspirators whose justification for their actions may be debated. Throughout the story, Brutus switches sides several times, starting as Caesar’s best friend, then going on to kill Caesar, yet ultimately ending his own life with an apology to Caesar. The conversation between Antony, Octavius, Massala, Lucilius, and Stratus in Act 5, Scene 5, lines (50-81) portrays Brutus as a distinguished man whom everyone feels positively towards because he did not kill Caesar out of envy of power like the other conspirators and instead did all things for the common good, demonstrating his honorable and kind nature. In order to convey these ideas, Shakespeare uses assonance, logos, and foreshadowing respectively.
Shakespeare utilizes assonance to draw attention to Brutus’s selfless motives for killing Caesar. By acting for the good of the majority, Brutus is demonstrated to be a respectable man. Later when Brutus realizes that he had done wrong by murdering Caesar, Brutus takes an additional action deserving of repute by killing himself while stating “Caesar, now be still; I killed not thee with half so good a will” (V.v.50-51). Shakespeare helps to stress main points by using assonance; in this case, the sound “ill” is repeated in key words such as “still,” “kill,” and “will.” Having this pattern allows the words to individually pop out at the reader, thus underlining their significance to the passage. In accordance to what the ancient Romans believed, suicide preserves one’s honor in the face of defeat, moreover, preventing another from taking away one’s own honor. At the time of Brutus’s epiphany in how he made the wrong choice in killing Caesar and confrontation with defeat, he obeys this Roman law and impales himself upon his own sword, therefore maintaining his reputation as honorable. His final words show that Brutus is having regrets about his past while wondering about the real reasons that he committed suicide. Additionally, he wishes that “Caesar, now be still,” to rest in peace, and believes that he did a better thing in killing himself. Due to the assonance in this passage, Brutus’s last words tend to echo in the reader’s mind, leaving them with something to ponder upon as they continue reading.
Logos and a hint of personification help to portray Brutus as a gentle being in Antony’s speech. After hearing the story of how Brutus died, Antony says “This was the noblest Roman of them all […] Nature might stand up and say to the world, ‘This was a man!’” (V.v.68-75). Antony appeals to his audience using logos by giving logical examples of how Brutus is gentle, such as saying that Brutus aimed for “the common good.” Then, he praises Brutus as an example of goodness in nature with the words “Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’” Shakespeare also manifests personification here by characterizing nature as a literal figure with the qualities of a human. In Antony’s eyes, Brutus was the “noblest Roman” because he had not committed murder “in envy of great Caesar,” but instead for the common good. Brutus believed that by killing Caesar, he had liberated Rome and preserved its democracy, thus he would be doing something of benefit towards the majority. In the same way, the logic that readers see in Antony’s arguments assists Antony in his depiction of Brutus as a gentle being.
Notably, Brutus being an honest, gentle person — accentuated by Shakespeare’s foreshadowing of his honorable death — also pushed the others, such as Lucilius and Octavius, to think positively of him. In reference to Lucilius’s earlier prediction that no enemy would be able to take away Brutus’s honor, Lucilius speaks at time of Brutus’s death: “So Brutus should be found. I thank thee, Brutus, that thou hast proved Lucilius’ saying true” (V.v.57-59). A few scenes ago, Shakespeare foreshadows Brutus’s tragic death with Lucilius’s prediction that Brutus will not be found alive and instead be found like the honorable man that he is. This prediction already shows that Lucilius had seen Brutus as a benign figure. Having it to be proven true thus proves to Lucilius that Brutus is indeed a figure of virtue. Likewise, Octavius showed his positive opinion towards Brutus when he said “According to his virtue, let us use him with all respect and rites of burial” (V.v.76-77). After Octavius hears Antony’s analysis of Brutus’s goodwill during his time alive, Octavius offers a proper burial for Brutus’s body and similarly shows his acceptance towards Brutus by doing so. This acceptance is present in both Lucilius and Octavius in their common respect and understanding for what Brutus had to do. Applying foreshadowing in the earlier parts of this scene allows the reader a sense of satisfaction when events turn out to be what was predicted.
Ideally, Shakespeare incorporated assonance, rhetoric, and foreshadowing to emphasize significant points in the plot that contributed to conveying his overall message that Brutus was a good man. Not only that, his inclusion of these elements kept the readers engaged and thinking throughout the story. Using literary devices in such a way is the key to drawing detailed portraits of tragic heros.
Portia’s Controversial and Powerful Character
After a close look at today’s society, an observer will find that within all healthy relationships, both people are equal partners. Today, this equality is something we believe to be a result of our basic human rights. However, in Shakespearean times, women were considered to be weak individuals whose purpose was to eventually get married and serve their husbands. Unlike today, mutual love and respect were not commonplace in marriages, and women were generally assumed to be inferior to the dominant man in the relationship. This gender stereotype was one that many people questioned and disagreed with, Shakespeare included. However, Shakespeare was one of the few to actually incorporate his ideas of femininity into his famous works. Through his beliefs and analyzation of society at the time, Shakespeare was able to write strong female characters in his works, including a young woman named Portia who plays wife to Brutus and, at the same time, proves herself as an individual throughout the duration of the play. Therefore, in his play Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare breaks this all-around idea of the pathetic housewife and creates a complex female character named Portia, who stands out for her capability, loyalty, and intelligence.
Despite the general stereotype of women belonging to their husbands and subject to orders from them, Portia proves her capabilities as a wife, friend, and person throughout the play. One of the first examples of her capability in the play is during Brutus and Portia’s argument when Portia confronts Brutus by saying, “Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus, Is it excepted I should know no secrets That appertain to you?” (Shakespeare 13). Essentially, Portia proves herself capable of being Brutus’ wife by not only forming and stating her own unpopular opinions about equality within marriage, but also by assertively and rhetorically questioning her husband as she anticipates his response. Portia establishes herself as a strong and capable woman by rationally discussing her feelings with Brutus as opposed to staying quiet and obeying her husband’s irrational requests and lies, as most women would have done during the time period. Secondly, also during their argument, Portia brings up the controversial topic of gender stereotypes when she questions, “Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Beig so fathered and so husbanded?” (Shakepeare 115). This quote not only proves that Portia understands the judgments made about women at the time, but also shows that she believes herself to be capable of more than other women, simply based on her background and personal character. It also proves her ability to defend herself, her name, and her honor even to someone like her husband, who she respects immensely. Lastly, in the midst of her disagreement with Brutus, she uncovers a wound she has been hiding and says, “I have made strong proof of my constancy, Giving myself a voluntary wound Here in the thigh” (Shakespeare 115). This quote shows Portia’s ability to hide a severe injury, and is therefore her way of proving she is capable of keeping something her husband tells her confidential. She proves by hiding the huge gash in her leg that she is not only strong willed but also able to keep a secret no matter the importance of it. Portia’s strategic arguments and maturity within the conversation with her husband prove her capability.
Throughout the play, Portia also proves her unwavering loyalty to her husband, despite the decisions he is making. For example, when Portia and Brutus are arguing she begs him to confide in her his problems by saying, “Dear my lord, Make me acquainted with your cause of grief” (Shakespeare 113). Despite her suspicions that Brutus is struggling with a major internal conflict regarding something drastic and possibly immoral, she proves her loyalty to her husband by pleading him to confide in her so she can understand what he is going through and help him through it. She sees the pain he is undergoing, yet she wants to subject herself to that pain in order to take some of the weight off of her husband’s shoulders. In addition, when she is speaking to Lucius and urging him to go to the Capitol to check on Brutus, she reminds herself to keep quiet about what her husband is about to partake in by saying, “I have a man’s mind but a woman’s might. How hard it is for women to keep counsel!” (Shakespeare 135). Although it is difficult for her to refrain from saying anything about Brutus’ plans to assassinate Caesar, she remains true to her husband and stops herself from saying anything that might incriminate him. Despite her knowing and understanding that what he is doing is not necessarily ethical, she supports him and keeps his secret regardless, which proves her faithfulness and willingness to support Brutus through whatever may come their way. Finally, when Portia is worried about Brutus, she speaks to him from afar by saying, “O Brutus, The heavens speed thee in thine enterprise!” (Shakespeare 137). Although she may have disagreed with Brutus’ decision (it is not specifically stated in the novel what her reaction was when she learned of the plan), she continues to support him and hope that everything goes the way he planned it, specifically out of love for him, not his intentions. This shows her genuine worry and care for Brutus, and also proves her loyalty despite the seriousness of the circumstances. In brief, Portia proves her loyalty to Brutus in the play through her actions of care, worry, and love.
Portia’s intelligence, which she proves through her careful observations and her drawing of rational conclusions, shone throughout the play. Firstly, when Portia and Brutus are arguing back and forth, Portia says, “You suddenly arose and walked about…And when I asked you what the matter was You stared upon me with ungentle looks” (Shakespeare 111). Portia’s persistence emphasizes her intelligence, as her perseverance shows she is assured that she is right about her husband’s unusual behavior. The fact that she is receiving subtle hints and clues shows her sharp wit and restless mind, especially when it comes to reading her loved ones. Secondly, when Brutus lies to Portia saying he is sick, Portia lists evidence to show she knows better, and concludes by telling him, “No, my Brutus. You have some sick offense within your mind” (Shakespeare 113). This quote shows that after a close examination of Brutus’ irregular actions, she is able to infer that Brutus is acting strangely and strategically confronts him. Portia knows nothing of the plan to assassinate Caesar, yet she picks up on clues that are not entirely obvious and manages to piece the parts together, which proves her intellect. Lastly, after Portia commits suicide, Brutus reflects on her cause of death when he says, “That tidings came—with this she fell distract And, her attendants absent, swallowed fire” (Shakespeare 223). Portia’s suicide was not impulsive or sudden, but instead cautiously planed out, which shows her ability to manipulate factors to meet her goals.
Portia’s actions and responses throughout the play prove her unmatchable intelligence, highlighted by her careful planning and observation skills. Portia is not only a capable, loyal, and intelligent young woman, but she is also one of the few influential female characters within any form of literature during the time period. Her capability is proven through her strong and unwavering opinions, in addition to through her defense of her personal character. Additionally, her loyalty is confirmed through her worry of Brutus, her willingness to share his burdens, and her eagerness to help him in whichever way possible. Finally, Portia’s intelligence is shown through her keen observation and planning skills, by which she could manipulate things to her satisfaction. Shakespeare’s purpose of including Portia was to create a controversial, yet strong willed character that stands up for herself and her beliefs. It is safe to say that Portia’s character was an inspiration to domesticated women throughout Rome, as she was a change of pace from the typical expectations of women in the Roman society. Today, many women are seen as hard- working, strong, trustworthy, smart, and etc., and have finally been granted the right to speak freely and expect equality. This dramatic change in society’s outlook was partly a result of opinionated literature and the influence of independent female characters, and Portia was undoubtedly one of the most striking female characters of the Shakespearean time.
Rhetorical Figures and Means of Expression in Julius Caesar
In William Shakespeare’s tragic play Julius Caesar, the contrast between honor and power in a leadership position is presented as many individuals work to better Rome with their own ideals of national glory. Brutus and his followers pursue the idea that Julius Caesar was not an honorable ruler for Rome, leading them to kill him as a benefit to their country. Marc Antony opposes Brutus, being a strong advocate for Caesar’s rule, in order to bring justice to his deceased acquaintance and improve the lives of the citizens of Rome. Both men give speeches of their views on Caesar’s rule, but Antony’s more powerful message pits Roman citizens against Brutus and the conspirators. Shakespeare first uses paralipsis in Caesar’s rule by demonstrating Antony’s subtle mockery of the conspirators. Antony later uses repetition of Brutus being an honorable man as well as rhetorical questioning in order to cunningly place the blame on Brutus without directly saying so. Shakespeare utilizes various forms of altruistic, yet deceptive diction to portray Antony’s speech as superior to Brutus’ because he relates to the sympathies of Roman citizens rather than their nationalism.
Brutus has some hesitance when granting Antony permission to speak in reference to Caesar’s death. Brutus solely asks that Antony not speak badly of the conspirators, leading Antony to cunningly work around his oratory limitations. Antony first exclaims that he “come[s] to bury Caesar, not to praise him” in order to peacefully present his connection to Caesar and to honor him ceremoniously (III.ii.73). Despite Antony’s supposed cordiality, his motives lie in revenge, and he continues to praise Caesar regardless. The author utilizes paralipsis within Antony’s deceptive diction in order to subtly turn attention towards Caesar’s beneficial rule. By initially portraying himself as adhering to Brutus’ limits, Antony feigns loyalty in order to better his speech, and inspire the citizens towards his rightful ideals. The author utilizes Antony’s underhanded diction to enhance ethos, thus creating an emotional response within the citizens who sympathize with Antony’s loss. Rather than promoting patriotism for Rome like Brutus, Antony’s speech hones in on the sentiment of the individual, inspiring the crowds towards Caesar’s ideals. Shakespeare later supports Antony’s focus on Roman emotions when he sneakily announces that he “speak[s] not to disprove what Brutus spoke, but…to speak what [he does] know” (III.ii99-100). Shakespeare utilizes paralipsis once more in order to distract from Antony’s continuous opposition to Brutus’ methods. The author’s use of logos when speaking of Caesar’s rule over Brutus is used to sway both the minds and hearts of the citizens because they are more willing to follow someone who gives back to them. The author portrays Antony’s diction as being both benevolent and deceitful because his morals lie in bettering Rome, but his motives are to go against Brutus’ rule and avenge the death of his beloved Caesar. Antony’s ability to sneak around Brutus’ restrictions helps relate to the needs of the citizens because there is a central focus around Caesar’s past accomplishments. Antony later puts focus on Brutus’ supposed honor in order to show the contrast between Caesar, a proper ruler, and Brutus, a misguided one.
Antony puts emphasis on Brutus’ supposed honor in order to backhandedly mock Brutus’ morals that differ from Caesars. Antony repeatedly exclaims that “Brutus is an honorable man” in order to feign loyalty to the conspirators (III.ii.82). The author uses Antony’s repetitive diction to prove the opposite of its connotation. By portraying Brutus as consistently honorable, and then following his alleged successes with his detriments to society, Antony is cunningly putting the blame on Brutus while simultaneously complimenting him. Shakespeare utilizes the contrast between Brutus’ honor and his malicious actions to sway the public towards the more evident evil of murder. Where Brutus provides ideals of nationalism, Antony provides emotional and physical benefit to the public. Shakespeare uses ethos when Antony appeals to the public because even though they see Brutus as clearly honorable, they see Caesar as giving because they feel connection to his loss and they desire the materialistic possessions Caesar’s will administered posthumously. In addition to Brutus’ honor, Antony repeatedly claims that Caesar “was [his] friend, faithful and just to [him], but Brutus says he was ambitious”, thus providing a clear opposition between Caesar’s benevolent rule and Brutus’ sudden murder (III.ii.84-85). Shakespeare utilizes the comparison of Caesar to Brutus in order to place the “ambitious” characteristic instead on Brutus because he was the one that physically enacted evil. By backhandedly praising Brutus, the listeners soon sway from believing any accusations of Caesar’s rule because Antony continually disproves Brutus’ reasons for killing. By praising the conspirators, but praising Caesar more, Shakespeare is proving Antony’s speech as stronger because his benevolent diction uses ethos to make an emotional connection to each individual rather than to the whole. The citizens commiserate the death of Caesar by turning against the conspirators. Antony’s wisely worded speech then becomes stronger because he inflicts a physical reaction, all while speaking with peaceful diction. Antony’s final strategy in his speech plays with rhetorical questioning in order to make the public think and alter their thoughts towards avenging Caesar rather than celebrating his death.
Even though Antony emits a cordial semblance during his speech, his inner motives lie in persuading the crowd from their original beliefs in order to avenge Caesar. When Antony states, “[Caesar] hath brought many captives home to Rome whose ransoms did the general coffers fill: Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?”, he is forcing the crowd to focus on the benefits of Caesar’s rule (III.ii.87-89). Shakespeare utilizes Antony’s heartfelt diction in order to turn the crowd’s motives towards revenge because it is easy for the public to relate to a king who benefits his fellow man. The author uses Antony’s double-meaning questions to enhance logos because even though Antony is internally rebelling against the conspirators, his statements of Caesar’s public influences are true. Antony utilizes the emotions of the public in his speech in order to amass a larger following. Brutus’ argument was that Romans should rebel against unjust ruling, which is certainly a worthy cause. However, Antony relates to each citizen by illustrating Caesar’s values that care for people and gives back to the public. Antony uses the rhetorical questioning of Caesar’s ambition to show the error in Brutus’ killing, thus pitting Rome against the conspirators who oppose Caesar’s benevolence. Antony then finalizes his speech with an inspirational question that says, “you all did love [Caesar] once, not without cause. What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?” (III.ii.101-102). Shakespeare uses Antony’s sincere diction in order to demonstrate his suffering, which in turn effects the Roman public as they join in his sadness. By forcing the public to mourn with him, Antony’s rhetorical questioning makes the public think more about their connections to Caesar, which ultimately influences rebellion. The author uses Antony’s altruistic and deceptive diction to show both a connection to an old friend and to avenge the killing of Caesar. Antony’s speech relates to the public on a more personal level because he forces them to decipher their conflicted emotions. Brutus was seeking justice for a whole country, which cannot be achieved without hard work. However, Shakespeare provides an easy opportunity for citizens to sympathize with Antony by using rhetorical questioning within Antony’s kind-hearted diction. Antony’s speech is ultimately superior because his genuine diction enhances ethos to spawn an emotional connection between a beneficial ruler and his subjects. The powerful quality of Antony’s views is capable of influencing change, which is why the public so instantly fights against the conspirators in an attempt to avenge the much-adored Julius Caesar.
In the tragedy Julius Caesar, Shakespeare uses multiple forms of benevolent, yet deceiving diction to display the superiority in Antony’s speech because he connects to the emotions of Roman citizens rather than to their nationalism. The author initially uses paralipsis to display Antony’s subtle mockery of Brutus and his fellow conspirators. Antony later utilizes repetition of Brutus’ supposed honor as well as rhetorical questioning to backhandedly place the blame on Brutus. Julius Caesar explores the capabilities of man in a leadership position. Even though Antony was right in defending Caesar’s values, Brutus’ morals showed a commitment to country and public responsibility that could ultimately be more important to Rome.
The Power of Argumentation in Julius Caesar
Arguments are the pinnacle of progress, development and change. People with conflicting ideas and beliefs engage in this activity constantly. However, did you know that arguments actually come down to a science? In 4th century B.C.E, Aristotle theorized that a well formed argument must include the following: ethos (an appeal to ethics, what is right vs. what is wrong), pathos (an appeal to emotion), and logos (an appeal to logic and sense). This theory, so widespread, has even shaped the success of arguments in Shakespeare’s plays. In act II of Julius Caesar, Decius and Calpurnia butt heads on whether Caesar should attend Senate. Although Calpurnia used strong pathos, Decius used pathos and logos in combination which turned out to be more powerful (as he appealed to Caesar’s pride and provided logical reasoning), and ultimately led Caesar to attend Senate.
Calpurnia’s first attempt to convince Caesar to not attend Senate comes in the form of very detailed imagery of her terrifying dream. She hopes that by using pathos, she can scare him out of attending the meeting. One part of her description says, “Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol” (9). She is trying to tell Caesar that her dream foreshadows the death of him in a way that would provoke fear. Although Caesar is a man of war and violence she recognizes he has a softer side and she wants to appeal to that aspect of him. However, Caesar responds that he does not fear death which forces Calpurnia to try from a different perspective. Calpurnia’s second attempt to convince Caesar comes in the form of another Pathos appeal. She begs him to not go forth to the senate and pleads, “Let me, upon my knee, prevail in this.” (34). After realizing that Caesar does not care about his own safety, Calpurnia informs him that it will upset her very much if he goes and she is willing to take any blame for his absence. She is hoping that Caesar will care more about the feelings of his wife and be willing to change his mind for her.
Decius, on the other hand, takes a different approach than Calpurnia. He begins his argument by providing an logical, alternate interpretation of Calpurnia’s dream, “Your statue spouting blood in many pipes, in which so many smiling Romans bathed, signifies that from you great Rome shall suck reviving blood” (47-50). Decius’ use of simple logos to explain the meaning of the dream is very powerful in convincing Caesar. If the dream was actually a prophecy of Caesar’s success, why would he attempt to challenge it? Decius’ argument is also supported by the fact the he is known as an intelligent man and has advised Caesar closely in the past. Moreover, Decius also uses pathos to counteract the pleas made by Calpurnia. He uses his knowledge of Caesar’s desires and foreshadows, “To give this day a crown to mighty Caesar.” (56). Not only is Decius telling Caesar that if he goes to senate he will be rewarded with what he wants most, power, he is also playing to his pride by calling him, “mighty Caesar.” Decius is very clever with the way he structures his words which make Caesar desperate to follow his advice. By using such personal and powerful pathos, Caesar plays right into Decius’ hands.
Decius had a more persuasive argument because he utilized both a strong pathos and logos whereas Calpurnia only had a semi-strong pathos argument. Decius’ argument was quick, clever, logical and exactly what Caesar wanted to hear. There are a lot of examples of Decius’ intelligent persuasive tactics but one that stands out from the rest is, “If you shall send them word you will not come, their minds may change [in reference to crowning Caesar].” (58-59). This small fragment of his argument is the epitome of Decius’ genius. Here he has appealed to Caesar’s desire to be crowned king and at the same time, logically stated that his most extreme desire will no longer be possible without his attendance. It is due to the powerful combination of tactics in Decius’ arguments that allow him to successfully convince Caesar to go to Senate.
The arguments made by Calpurnia and Decius highlight the potential that Aristotle’s ethos, pathos and logos carry. Arguments must include a variety of perspectives to be influential, persuasive and convincing. A powerful argument will include an appeal to a person’s feelings and emotions and a logical reasoning behind each of their statements. An even more powerful argument will include ethos, it will vouch for what is “right.” Arguments are a vital part of human interaction and it is obvious that they are an art rooted in a powerful psychological science.
The Metamorphosis of Henry V in the Shakespeare Play
Over the course of Shakespeare’s Henry IV and Henry V plays, the character of Henry V evolves from a reckless youth to a great King and revered hero. In 1 Henry IV the Prince confides to the audience that his irresponsible behavior is a sham that he means to throw off when he becomes king, so that his miraculous transformation will lend the public persona he unveils as King all the more glory and wonder. Henry’s development as he evolves from Prince Hal to King Henry V of England is significant, but not complete. Despite the seeming perfection of his deportment and courtly manners, traces of the disreputable Prince Hal still emerge in King Henry’s behavior, particularly when he is in stressful or emotional situations. Henry V seems to be prone to using deceit when it is the easiest way to obtain a goal, liable to play mean-spirited pranks when the fancy strikes him and susceptible to making rash decisions when angered. These faults indicate that while Henry has taken on a more kingly persona, this self is not as different from Prince Hal as he had intended.
The first of Henry’s flaws to which readers are introduced is the King’s tendency to make unwise choices when influenced by anger. In a conference with his advisors at the beginning of the play, Henry debates the validity of his claim to the throne of France. He asks Canterbury if England’s claim to France is strong enough to go to war over with the strict injunction to tell the truth, because “never two such kingdoms did contend without much fall of blood, whose guiltless drops are every one a woe” (I.ii.24-6). King Henry tells Canterbury that war must only be waged for just and valid reasons, since it “makes such waste in brief mortality” (I.ii.28). The King gives the impression of a man who values human life greatly and appreciates the sacrifices that are inescapable in any war. He and his advisors are still in discussion when a messenger from the Dauphin arrives, bearing a gift from France. King Henry is gracious until the gift is opened to reveal a taunt: a cache of tennis balls. Incensed by the implied insult, Henry flies into a speech detailing the different ways that he is going to make the Dauphin regret his disrespect. He swears that, “many a thousand widows shall this mock mock out of their dear husbands; mock mothers from their sons, mock castles down” (I.ii.283-6). This tirade continues to promise violence of the very kind that Henry was cautioning Canterbury against moments before. The Dauphin’s insulting gift of tennis balls provokes Henry into such anger that he appears to forget the reservations he previously held about war in the face of his desire to punish the Dauphin. He instructs the messenger, “Tell the Dauphin I am coming on to venge me as I may” (I.ii.291-2). After Henry receives the tennis balls, the war on France ceases to be primarily about succession and instead takes on the cast of a personal revenge crusade.
Henry’s tendency towards irrationality when angry is evident again later on in the war, near the conclusion of the battle of Agincourt. At one point, French soldiers slip through the guard around the English camp and murder the boys sequestered away from the fighting. The King is furious, and immediately orders the death of every French soldier taken captive. “We’ll cut the throats of those we have,” he proclaims, “and not a man of them that we shall take shall taste our mercy” (IV.vii.63-5).
Henry also makes injudicious choices when he is not in the throes of anger. He has a propensity, for example, for using deceit to accomplish his political goals. The first appearance of this tendency towards underhandedness is in Act II, scene ii, when Henry confronts three noblemen discovered to be plotting against him: Richard, Earl of Cambridge; Henry, Lord Scrope of Masham; and Sir Thomas Grey of Northumberland. Instead of directly accusing the traitors, the King maneuvers them into condemning themselves by asking their opinion on how to punish a wrongdoer apprehended of drunkenness the day before. After the three men recommend harsh punishments for the prisoner, Henry hands each of them documents revealing his knowledge of their intended treachery. As the traitors read the papers that are, in effect, death warrants, Henry teases them, asking, “What see you in those papers that you lose so much complexion?. . .Why, what read you there that have so cowarded and chas’d your blood out of appearance?” (II.ii.73-76). The sarcastic tone of these comments reveals Henry’s true pleasure in the deceptiveness of the indirect confrontation that he has planned. The scheme continues as Henry rebuffs the men’s pleas for mercy by referencing their condemnation of the drunkard discussed earlier in the scene. He tells them that “the mercy that was quick in us but late, by your own counsel is suppress’d and kill’d” (II.ii.79-80). Because the King had concrete evidence of the three men’s intended treason, they were, without question, headed for execution. Henry feels personally betrayed, so he goes beyond simply condemning the traitors to death by presenting the sentence in a manner that makes the three men feel as though they have sentenced themselves.
In Act III, scene iii, Henry exercises his skills in creative oratory to win the French town of Harfleur. After a time of fierce fighting, the town calls a parley to negotiate and King Henry delivers a fiery speech riddled with violent threats. He compares his troops to wild beasts beyond his control and prophesies that if Harfleur does not surrender unconditionally the men of the town will have to witness “the blind and bloody soldier with foul hand defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters; your fathers taken by their silver beards, and their most reverend heads dash’d to the walls, your naked infants spitted upon pikes, whiles the mad mothers with their howls confus’d do break the clouds…” (III.iii.33-41). Henry’s words communicate complete seriousness with intent to follow through, but his later actions contradict the brutality he preaches in the parley. When Bardolph—a soldier, and one of Henry’s old tavern friends—steals from a church along the march, Henry orders him hung because “when [lenity] and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gangster is the soonest winner” (III.vii.112-3). These sentiments suggest that Henry wishes to avoid unnecessarily alienating the French people, a very politic move for a King who hopes to become ruler of France. The facts of the situation in France, as well as the later evidence of Henry’s punishment of Bardolph, indicate that the threats Henry issued outside Harfleur were never more than bluffs. The speech, although dishonest, proves to be an effective strategy to take the town without further bloodshed.
On one occasion, King Henry practices deceit for reasons that in no way benefit England or the pursuit of justice, but simply for his own amusement. The evening before the battle of Agincourt, Henry dons a disguise and wanders among his own troops as an anonymous soldier, mingling with the men and assessing morale. At one point, Henry becomes involved in a discussion with several men about the culpability of the King in the fate of his soldiers’ souls. One soldier, a man named Williams, disagrees so vehemently with Henry that the two men come close to blows. Henry proposes a temporary compromise, “Give me any gage of thine, and I will wear it in my bonnet; then if ever thou dar’st acknowledge it, I will make good my quarrell” (IV.i.207-10). The two exchange gloves, and plan to resolve their argument later, if they both survive. After the battle, King Henry encounters Williams and inquires why the soldier is wearing a glove on his bonnet, without revealing that Henry himself was the mysterious soldier. The King encourages Williams to find the man who quarreled with him and “keep thy vow, sirrah, when thee meet’st the fellow” (IV.vii.144-5). After Williams leaves, Henry summons Fluellen, one of the captains. Henry gives Fluellen his glove and asks the captain to wear it as a favor. He then tells Fluellen, “when Alanson and myself were down together, I pluck’d this glove from his helm. If any man challenge this, he is a friend to Alanson, and an enemy to our person” (IV.vii=2E153-7). With this story planted to ensure that Fluellen will fight anyone who challenges the glove, Henry sends Fluellen over to where Williams is, and invites Exeter, Lord Warwick and Glouster to watch events unfold for their entertainment.
The entire incident is purposeless and unproductive—there is no reason behind it except Henry’s amusement at the prospect of maneuvering two strangers into fighting each other for a nonexistent cause. Henry does not let the joke carry so far as to allow either man to sustain injury, but does result in a fair amount of humiliation. After resolving the confusion, the King provides compensation for the two men he inconvenienced as if paying actors in a theater. Henry’s actions display a lack of respect for men of lower rank; he manipulates Fluellen and Williams like puppets for his and the other nobles’ amusement.
Although Prince Hal has made a credible effort to reform himself into a king, his metamorphosis is incomplete. The struggles and emotional tribulations of ruling a country strain the new image that King Henry tries to present, and allow traits of the old Prince Hal to slip through. The war in France begins partly because Henry wants to have revenge on the Dauphin, and ends on an unnecessarily gory note sounded by the King’s order to slit the throat of every French prisoner. When Henry discovers three of his nobles are plotting against him, he confronts them through an elaborate and, for them, distressing scheme which ends with the traitors passing sentence on themselves. In France, when challenged at the siege of Harfleur, Henry terrifies the town into surrender through the delivery of many harsh and unfounded threats. On the eve of battle, when his time would be better served strategizing, Henry instead picks a fight with one of his soldiers that later evolves into an extended practical joke at the expense of two strangers. These actions are more reminiscent of Henry’s former life as a tavern rough than of his new life as King of England.
“As You Like It” and “A Midsummer Night”s Dream”: Feminine Homoeroticism
In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It, feminine homoeroticism emerges as an interplay of passive and aggressive opposition. Women take the sphere of romantic love — one sphere to which they have access in the midst of an oppressive patriarchal order and reformulate it to exclude men. Ironically, in the midst of playing out their same-sex relationships, females assume particular roles that create a pseudo-patriarchy not unlike the order they sought out to escape. Rather than divorcing themselves from the patriarchal order, the women tend to seek the security of a familiar power structure, which they find as they create it for themselves.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hermia particularly opposes the patriarchal order in which her father and other figures of male authority dictate the terms of her marriage. She protests before the Duke, Theseus, saying,
I know not by what power I am made bold,
Nor how it may concern my modesty
In such a presence here to plead my thoughts,
But I beseech your grace that I may know
The worst that may befall me in this case
If I refuse to wed Demetrius. (MND , 1.1.59-64)
By arguing for her right to “plead [her] thoughts” before an assembly of men, imposes upon a male-dominated sphere with her rhetorical argument; she transgresses the boundaries that society imposes on her as a woman. As she compromises her modesty and her femininity, stands in the presence of the Duke and negotiates her own marriage before patriarchal authorities, she reflects the very rebellious nature that would allow her to subvert the heterosexual order through the enactment of feminine homoeroticism.
Erotic images of Hermia and Helena’s relationship occur in Helena’s recollections of their past interactions. She addresses Hermia, saying,
We, Hermia, like two artificial gods
Have with our needles created both one flower,
Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion,
Both warbling of one song, both in one key
As if our hands, our sides, voices, and minds
Had been incorporate. So we grew together,
Like to a double cherry: seeming parted,
But yet an union in partition,
Two lovely berries moulded on one stem. (MND, 3.2.204-212)
The references to the flower and berries introduce the ideas of life and regeneration emerging from their close interaction. Everything from their physical bodies, to their voices and minds fuse together, as if to make up for the one sexual fusion that cannot occur between two females. Since same sex intercourse will never yield the reproductive power of the intercourse between a man and woman, the prolific imagery compensates for the barrenness resulting from homoerotic intercourse. The “double cherry: seeming parted, But yet an union in partition” and the “two berries moulded on one stem” create several erotic possibilities. The split yet united nature of the fruits, as well as the color, could refer to their lips or, more erotically, to their genitalia, reinforcing the sexually charged nature of Hermia and Helena’s relationship. Jessica Tvordi cites this passage to acknowledge the homoerotic innuendos at work, saying that their relations “are described with language that is emotionally and erotically charged.” Tvordi also refers to the use of the words “head” and “nest” as slang for female genitalia. Given this knowledge, the association of Hermia and Helena to birds (“warbling of one song”) sexualizes their interactions by centering them around the female genitalia.
The eroticized descriptions of Hermia and Helena’s relationship refer to the past, before the women entered the forest. Upon entering the forest, though, the absence of patriarchal authority drives their homoerotic relationship to develop into a pseudo-patriarchy. The same-sex relationship which depended upon the mutual oppression by men collapses in the absence of the social order. The equality between Hermia and Helena shifts into a hierarchy in which Hermia assumes the role of the pseudo-male and Helena that of the wronged female.
Hermia’s attempted subversion results in a new structure of relationships resembling the heterosexual order. Her boldness that empowered her rebellion translates into her assumption of the masculine role in the pseudo-patriarchy that she and Helena form.
As Demetrius’ and Lysander’s affections turn suspiciously toward Helena, she accuses Hermia of conspiring with the two men. She says,
And will you rend our ancient love asunder,
To join with men in scorning your poor friend?
It is not friendly, ’tis not maidenly.
Our sex as well as I may chide you for it,
Though I alone do feel the injury. (MND, 3.2.116-220)
Helena’s accusations substantiate the role that Hermia plays in their relationship; in Helena’s eyes (and thus in their pseudo-patriarchy), Hermia joins with a “confederacy” of men out to objectify and degrade females. She alienates Hermia from the entire female race, saying that their “sex … may chide [her]” for her union with men. Along with her statement that Hermia’s scorn of Helena is “not maidenly,” she also asks, “Have you no modesty, no maiden shame … ?” (MND, 3.2.286). These questions appeal to the trait that Hermia willingly gave up in order to negotiate her marriage in the presence of the Duke, implying that Hermia ultimately stripped herself of her femininity. Hermia cannot claim to have “modesty” or “bashfulness” because she admitted to her boldness in the first act (1.1.59) and stated that she would resist and argue against her marriage to Demetrius no matter “how it may concern [her] modesty” (1.1.60).
With the patriarchal tendencies laden in Hermia and Helena’s supposed homoerotic relations, the women have nowhere to turn but back to the patriarchal order and their respective heterosexual couplings. The text of the play secures the restoration with an almost disturbing finality and a silencing of the women. Hermia’s last words in the entire play are in response to Demetrius’ question of whether the Duke had just bid them to follow him. Hermia responds saying, “Yea, and my father” (4.1.192). In this one line, she gives a respectful, affirmative answer to a man, she re-establishes herself as her father’s daughter, and she submits to the authority of the Duke and her father, the same two men whose authority she challenged in the opening scene of the play. Her silencing must come more extreme that Helena’s because she posed a greater threat to the patriarchal order.
The homoeroticism depicted between Titania and her votress exhibits similar movement toward pseudo-patriarchy, with Titania as the dominant male and her votress as the female. The portrayal of their relationship does not involve masculine degradation and oppression, as with Hermia and Helena, but rather patriarchal issues of progeny. To launch into the discussion of progeny in relation to feminine homoeroticism, we must look back to Theseus’ threats to Hermia at the beginning of the play. When Hermia oppose the command to marry Demetrius, Theseus warns her of the prospects of life as a nun, painting a picture of women in tight quarters, sexually frustrated and bored of their religious duties. He depicts her living “in shady cloister mewed … a barren sister all [her] life” (1.1.71-2). His portrayal of a sterile, chaste convent ironically invites questions regarding what sorts of homoerotic activities could take place in an early modern English nunnery. (Hardly an implausible notion, the subject of lesbianism among nuns actually warrants an entire book, written by Judith C. Brown, entitled Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy (Erickson).)
Theseus’ threat of “withering on a virgin thorn” loses its basis if homoerotic activity were to occur within the confines of a nunnery. Hermia could technically remain a virgin while engaging in creative erotic activities with other women; she could live “a barren sister” and still have her sexual appetite fully satisfied. In fact, the notion of homoeroticism among nuns renders Theseus’ mention of barrenness irrelevant, since it displaces sexual activity outside the realm of human reproduction. Women who have chosen to consummate exclusively with those of the same sex have already accepted the reality of barrenness. This choice exercised by women challenges what Valerie Traub proposes as the issue at hand in feminine homoeroticism: that of the “upholding of marital alliance, with social and biological reproduction at its core.” (Traub, Ren, 258)
Returning to Titania, examining her and Oberon’s conflict regarding the changeling boy exemplifies a tension rooted in the instability of normative “social and biological reproduction.” Titania’s claim to the child, along with her sexually-laden description of her relationship with the votress, throws men into a precarious position. She describes their time spent together saying,
And in the spiced Indian air by night
Full often hath she gossiped by night
And sat with me on Neptune’s yellow sands,
Marking th’embarked traders on the flood
When we have laughed to see the sails conceive
And grow big-bellied with the wanton wind
Which she with pretty and with swimming gait
Following, her womb then rich with my young squire,
Would imitate … (2.1.124-132)
The image of their sitting together gossiping resonates with the description Hermia gives of her time with Helena, when they “Upon faint primrose beds were wont to life / Emptying [their] bosoms of their counsel sweet” (1.1.215-16). Immediately following the description of their time spent together with the picture of her votress’ swelled womb implies (although quite fantastic) that her relations with Titania somehow impregnated the votress. Particularly since Titania makes no mention of the votress’ sexual relations with men yet extensively describes their relations, one cannot help but to identify Titania as the other parent of the boy.
The idea of two females sharing the parentage of a child threatens the social institution of the family, which in turn tosses the concepts of heredity and lineage out the window. Titania obliterates the biological basis for men’s role in reproduction by describing her votress’ womb as “rich with [her] young squire” (2.1.131). When she calls the child in the votress’ womb “my young squire,” she leaves no room for a male’s biological contribution to the creation of the child. Her claim to the child “render[s] [Oberon] temporarily superfluous” (Traub, Lesbian Desire, 159). Oberon must challenge Titania’s maneuver, which displaces the male from the sight of social and biological reproduction, by gaining access to the boy, assuming a paternal role for himself and engrafting the boy to the patriarchal social order. Through his “adoption” of the changeling boy, Oberon would restore the patriarchal familial structure that Titania disrupted through her homoerotic relations with her votress and her attempt to single-handedly parent the boy.
Oberon asserts his restored control over reproduction, not only in his marriage, but in the marriages of all the couples in the play, in his concluding lines. He says,
Now until the break of day
Through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride bed will we,
Which by us shall blessd be,
And the issue there create
Ever shall be fortunate. (5.2.31-36)
His use of “we” confirms that he and Titania together will bless the beds of the couples, suggesting that they have plans to bless themselves as well, free of votresses, free of Titania’s diverted, homoerotic desires.
Celia similarly assumes the masculine role in the pseudo-patriarchy that she and Rosalind create; even when Rosalind takes on the male persona of Ganymede in public, Celia obviously dominates their private interactions. Celia demonstrates just as much authority over Rosalind socially, as her father, Duke Frederick, exercised in the beginning of the play. She tells Rosalind, “And truly, when [Duke Frederick] dies thou shalt be his heir, I will render thee again in affection. By mine honour I will” (AYLI, 1.2.15-17). The fact that Rosalind can only become Duke Frederick’s heir through Celia’s mediation and honor, places her under Celia’s command. Tvordi writes that Celia “impersonates her father’s authority in order to control Rosalind.” In doing so, Celia assumes a masculine air about her personality.
Celia also defies the conscripted role of women before a court of men by verbally challenging male authority. In her case, she objects to her father’s command to banish Rosalind from his kingdom. As with Hermia, this boldness within the patriarchal system translates into her claiming the authoritative role in their pseudo-patriarchy. The fact that Rosalind assumes the male role (Ganymede) and Celia that of Aliena does not displace Celia’s authority; their private interactions affirm her authority over their relationship.
In Orlando and Rosalind’s (as Ganymede) pretend marriage ceremony, Celia quiets her voice and complies to “Ganymede”‘s demand to “marry” them. While Celia expresses slight impatience in her words, “Go to,” (AYLI, 4.1.111), he does not assume her dominant role until Orlando leaves, upon which she immediately rebukes Rosalind for having “misused [their] sex in [her] love prate” (AYLI, 4.1.172). Celia’s accusation of Rosalind’s ease of affection runs consistent with her defied femininity. Rosalind’s doting offends Celia’s attempts to emerge among men as unconquered, unaffected by them. Her assumed masculinity as Ganymede also does not threaten Celia’s pseudo-patriarchal authority because Ganymede’s bold words obviously contradict Rosalind’s actions.
An analsysis of the theme of love and deceit in Twelfth Night
Introduction to Shakespeare’s Comedies, a comedy does not demand the ‘the degree of concentration and belief’ required by tragedy. As a result, an audience of a play ‘is amusedly aware that it’s all a play, a game that they are sharing with the actors’. FN1 In Twelfth Night, it is the characters, almost without exception, who, in varying degrees, are involved in deception. Swinden says, ‘Whether we look in the plot that Shakespeare took (indirectly) from the Italian, or the plot he made up to put beside it, we shall discover deceit piled on deceit’. FN2 Cesario/Viola deceives Olivia, Orsino, Sir Andrew, and Sir Toby, while Maria, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Feste deceive Malvolio.
In an intricate pattern of ‘concealment’ and ‘reveal-ment’ the play spins dizzily toward its happy resolution with all the deceptions that had, and had been, concealed revealed. Is the end of the play really a happy ending? What dynamic in the process of deception could cause Sir Andrew to disappear or force Malvolio to declare, ‘I’ll be revenged on the whole pack of you!’ ? Are the characters bettered or changed by their experiences when they arrive at the end of Act Five than when they started at the beginning of Act One? Whether it be a practical joke or a clever disguise, the games being played in Illyria simultaneously result from and protect each character’s deception not only of others but also, more importantly of themselves. The clearest examples are Duke Orsino and Olivia. The games begin with Orsino’s opening lines to the play:
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken and die .
As Orsino continues to wax rhetorical and hysterical about being in love, it rapidly becomes apparent that he is playing a game with himself, which he will continue throughout the play. He is not in love, but rather in love with love. Olivia is unattainable and she has told him so repeatedly. Yet Orsino persists in making himself suffer, listening to sad love songs, writing to her, staying awake at night and crying into his pillow because he believes that this is the way someone in love acts. It is part of the game that while it may appear that Orsino is rhapsodising about Olivia, he is actually concentrating on himself. The words ‘I’, ‘me’, and ‘mine’ occur ten times in the opening passage, culminating with:
How will she love…
…When live, brain, and heart,
Those sovereign thrones, are all supplied and filled
Her sweet perfections with one selfsame king! .
Shakespeare’s use of ‘selfsame’ intensifies not only Orsino’s description of Olivia, but also his focus on himself. Throughout these lines there is a sense that Orsino’s sexual identity, encased in a male body, has not yet been clearly defined, hence his necessity for adopting what he thinks are the affectations of a successful lover.
Orsino begins Act Two, scene 4 in the same way he begins Act One: ‘Give me some music’ . Here, however, Orsino requests a specific song, one overheard just the night before, as Feste, Olivia’s fool, sang it. How Orsino managed to overhear Feste’s performance is one of the mysteries of the play, but its effect on Orsino is unquestionable ‘it did relieve my passion much’ . The song’s lyrics are most depressing:
Come away, come away, Death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid.
Fie away, fie away, breath,
I am slain by a fair cruel maid;
My shroud of white, all stuck with yew,
O prepare it.
My part of death no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown.
A thousand thousand sighs to save
Lay me, O where
Sad lover never find my grave
To weep there.
Although Orsino says that he heard only a ‘piece of song’ , he also notes that it is an ‘old and antique song’ , indicating that he knows it in its entirety. Its tune and sentiment are so powerful that it remains with him the next morning. It is possible that the song reminds Orsino that he is no longer young enough to pursue an amorous campaign, and that there will be neither lover nor child to mourn him as Olivia mourns her brother. In modern pop-psychology terminology, Orsino appears to be having a mid-life crisis.
Orsino’s game reaches a breaking point when Cesario interrupts his rhetoric with, ‘Ay, but I know-‘ . Orsino is shocked that this young man may have love experiences to which he has not been privy. He questions what Cesario knows about love and women, and is eager to hear the boy’s ‘blank’ story. Yet, Orsino remains oblivious to Cesario’s confession: ‘I am all the daughters of my father’s house, And all the brothers, too’ . Orsino seems to be uncomfortable with this very personal, very intense revelation from another man since his ‘Ay, that’s the theme’ appears to restore his concentration to the safety and comfort of the pursuit of Olivia.
Orsino decides to discard his affectations and goes to speak directly with Olivia. Whatever has transpired between him and Cesario in their ‘three months’ silence of Acts Three and Four has given him the strength to declare that he ‘will be so much a sinner to be a double-dealer’ .
Many productions have offered Orsino actually falling in love with Cesario, such as the 1994 RSC version which had the events of 2.4 take place in Orsino’s bed. Orsino and Cesario share a passionate kiss that surprises them both, but the kiss also seems to flow from the action and its location. Trevor Nunn’s 1996 film moves the moment of passion to the scene during which Feste sings a love madrigal in a stable. Feste who coughs at the critical moment of their lips almost touching breaks the momentum. The interpretation is a valid one based on Orsino’s customarily rhetorical proclamations of love for Cesario:
Why should I not … Kill what I love. (5.1.106, 108)
…This your minion … whom, by heaven I swear I tender dearly (5.1.114-115)
…The lamb that I do love (5.1.119).
Has Orsino fallen out of love with love and in love with Cesario? His proclamations arise from his anger at Olivia’s very public rejection of them as ‘fat and fulsome to mine ear/As howling music’ (5.1.98-99), the same music that he has found so soothing. This anger is not generated by some newfound awareness. Swinden comments: ‘He is talking about Cesario, not Olivia… The presence on stage of both partners during the tirade brings out very delicately the ambiguity of Orsino’s shift in feeling. He fails to distinguish the object of his anger from the object of his love’. FN3
Even when Cesario is revealed to be Viola, his acceptance of a ‘share in this most happy wrack’ seems to be dependent on his seeing her in ‘woman’s weeds’ . Yet it is to Viola still dressed as Cesario to whom Orsino offers his hand, not once but twice. That Orsino will not accept Viola unless she looks like a proper woman and yet offers his hand to the male vision suggests that Orsino has not surrendered completely his comfortable sexual cocoon into which he has only admitted Cesario and then only with restraint. This reticence is confirmed at the play’s end when Orsino admits:
… Cesario come –
For so you shall be while you are a man,
But when in other habits you are seen
Orsino’s mistress, and his fancy’s queen .
In ‘The two Antonios and Same-Sex Love in Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice’, critic Joseph Pequigney explains that ‘Orsino’s attraction to Olivia, where he is heterosexually straight, like the other would-be wooers Sir Andrew Aguecheek and Malvolio, is a disaster. The love Cesario could not have changed instantaneously with the revelation of his femaleness; if it is erotic, then it would have been erotic before; what does change is that marriage suddenly becomes possible, hence the immediate proposal’. FN4 This proposal is followed by a mournful song from Feste on the stages of a love life, which brings the play back to the beginning. Clearly, Orsino has not changed from the man he was: he will still have his ‘fancy’. He is as he was at the beginning of the play: he cannot totally abandon his own sexual game. In all likelihood, Viola will now become an Olivia substitute, ‘his fancy’s queen’.
As Orsino hides behind the game of love, Olivia hides behind the game of grief cut off from love, adopting an Orsino version of mourning behaviour. Her entire household is in mourning and she daily goes to her brother’s grave. As long as she grieves for her dead bother, her sexual desires can be put on hold. Grieving gives her the perfect excuse for rejecting Orsino’s suit and relieves her of making a sexual investment in any man until she chooses ‘the sight/And company of men’ . Unlike Orsino, Olivia has put a seven-year limit on her mourning for her father and brother of which ‘twelvemonth’ has already elapsed when Viola lands in Illyria.
In addition, Olivia differs from Orsino significantly since she can
Sway her house, command her followers,
Take and give back affairs and them dispatch
With such a smooth, discreet and stable bearing .
She is generous and tolerant, boarding Sir Toby and his guest, Sir Andrew, and positive in her view of the repressed Malvolio. With Feste’s logical and systematic stripping away of her facade, with Olivia’s consent, Olivia is free in a way that eludes Orsino. She demonstrates keen judgment about the affectations of love: ‘ ‘Tis not that time of the moon with me to make one in so skipping a dialogue’ . She has an agile mind and is able to counter Cesario’s metaphors as quickly as he issues them. She is inquisitive and only asks Cesario the necessary questions. She seems to be a realist, offering ‘divers schedules of my beauty’ in response to Cesario’s lyricism. These qualities refuse to submerged even as she finds herself falling in love with Cesario:
… Not too fast! Soft, soft!
… Even so quickly may one catch the plague.
Methinks I feel this youth’s perfections
With an invisible and subtle stealth
To creep in at mine eyes. Well, let it be.
Olivia thus chooses to abandon the safety of her game and pursue Cesario with complete abandon and confidence in her womanhood. In her pursuit, free from her facade, Olivia is naively honest with herself and Cesario. She confesses in 3.1 that she sent ‘a ring in chase of’ him. She asks him honestly, ‘I prithee tell me what thou think’st of me’ . Cesario attempts to repay this honesty, ‘That you do think you are not what you are’ . Because of her naïveté, Olivia takes the phrase literally and assures Cesario that she is not mad. However, the line also points out that Olivia, the noblewoman, has fallen in love with a manservant, though a ‘gentleman’, and that that gentleman is actually a gentlewoman. Even so, Olivia is rational enough to realise that ‘wit nor reason can my passion hide’ . Unlike Orsino, Olivia embraces the opportunity for sexual fulfilment with such enthusiasm that she will attempt to overcome every obstacle with actions, not moaning and words. She is quite lucid on love, ‘Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better’ . In this sense, she is the sexual positive to Orsino’s negative.
Olivia’s views will be challenged, however, when confronted by Sebastian. Since fraternal identical twins are a biological impossibility, it would seem that Olivia would note some difference between Cesario and Sebastian. But in the throes of sacrificing love, she would rather soothe her beloved’s ire with tales of ‘how many fruitless pranks’ have been instigated by Sir Toby than launch an investigation into any differences that may exist between the sister and brother.
For his part, Sebastian seems to think that nature caused Olivia’s consistency in being sexually attracted to a woman who looks just like him. But like Orsino, Olivia is eager for the sexual experience promised by marriage. Olivia is actually very much steeped in Orsino’s ‘selfsame’ deception. She was in love with the image of a man, not a man, admitting she was suffering from ‘a most extracting frenzy of mine own’ . With this admission, Olivia too returns to being as she was at the beginning, involved in a self-deceiving sexual game, as Cesario had lamented: ‘Poor lady, she were better love a dream’ .
Although Sebastian notes that he sees the reality and thinks it a dream, Olivia’s relationship with Sebastian will ostensibly have to be re-defined, as will Orsino’s with Viola. Pequigney observes:
Like Orsino, Olivia goes through a homoerotic phase that lasts through and beyond betrothal; both have experiences that evince their bisexuality. Nor do they ever pass beyond it, for the sine qua non of their psychological development – his away from fruitless doting on her, hers away from fixation on a dead brother – and it has a crucial, integral, and unerasable part in both their love stories, that of Orsino with Cesario/Viola and that of Olivia with Cesario/Sebastian. FN5
Twelfth Night not only asks the comic question of ‘how an individual gets out of tune with society’, but also the tragic question of ‘why the individual behaves this way, and why society insists upon its standards’. FN6 This play is unique in that it asks these questions simultaneously, and within the context of the sexual games of the play, the answers can be found in the most basic and defining activity of human kind: sex.
The Forest Of Arden As An Utopianism Sanctuary
In the pastoral setting of the Forest of Arden in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the characters are physically removed from society, and thus from the political, economic, and sexual rules that govern social life. If Arden is a paradise, however, it is an illusory one. Shakespere initially represents Arden as a sanctuary where the characters can re-invent themselves in roles that were unavailable to them in society. The experience of inhabiting different personae, however, only renews the characters’ dedication to their traditional societal roles. Shakespere thus presents the Forest of Arden as a commentary on the permanent influence of society on individual identity.
In Arden, both Rosalind and Oliver have a chance to reinvent themselves. Rosalind, having fled the corrupt society of court, approaches the Forest of Arden as a place where she may be able to be free to be herself. In a move that suggests the particular oppression of women in Renaissance England, Rosalind re-imagines herself as the mythological male figure of Ganymede: a Trojan boy of great beauty and Zeus’ cupbearer (II.1.123). In Rosalind’s attempt to shed her identity in outside society as the daughter of Duke Senior, she chooses the identity of a strong male. Underneath her disguise, however, she clings fiercely to her femininity. Even in her man’s apparel, Rosalind insists that she can “cry like a woman” (II.4.5).
Oliver is presented initially as a greedy, evil character who denies his brother the right to an education. When the Duke orders him to enter Arden to find his brother who has fled, Oliver has a chance to redeem himself. After being saved from the lion and snake by his brother Orlando, Oliver comes across Rosalind and Celia. Upon asking who he is, Oliver announces to the women: “I do not shame / To tell you what I was, since my conversion / So sweetly tastes, being the thing that I am” (IV.3.134-136). Removed from the pressures of court, Oliver has the opportunity to judge his own character and redeem himself as an authentic person (“this thing that I am”). However, Oliver’s redemption – presented in distinctly religious terms – is one that fulfills the Duke’s order and thus renders Oliver more suitable to court life. For Oliver, Arden is not an escape from society, but a temporary opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of the social world.
Similarly, Touchstone and Duke Senior remind the reader that Arden is merely a temporary respite from human society. Its utopian character is illusory: Arden is not part of another world. Although Touchstone is one of the fools of the play, he is one of the only characters who resists folly in believing Arden to be a type of paradise. Indeed, Touchstone reminds us that in Arden, “from hour to hour, [they] ripe and ripe, / And then, from hour to hour [they] rot and rot” (II.7.26-27). Provocatively, Touchstone suggests that Arden is not a supernatural realm: in Arden as in nature, nothing lasts forever. While Arden’s pastoral landscape may appear fantastical and ideal, time moves on and things are always changing. Duke Senior also demystifies Arden. The Duke tells of the wonders of Arden; how the woods are free from the perils of court and and the penalty of Adam. He refers to the Biblical Garden of Eden and the fall of man, contrasting it to Arden: a golden world wherein the fall of man never happened. However, as he continues, the Duke reveals an ambivalence about Arden’s status as the mythical “golden world”. He states that with “the icy fang/ And churlish chiding of the winter’s wind, / Which, when it bites and blows upon [his] body / […] [He shrinks] with cold” (II.1.6-9). In this description of the harshness of nature, the Duke suggests that Arden changes with the seasons and the weather will not stay perfect forever; it is the same in Arden as it is in human society.
Like Rosalind, Touchstone takes advantage of his time in Arden to re-invent himself in a role that would not be available to him in society. Significantly, both characters pay for transgressing their societal roles. Rosalind’s disguise as Ganymede enables her occupy a masculine role in the process of courtship. She attempts to woo the man she loves and teach him how to be a better lover. In her time as Ganymede, she and Orlando form a homosocial bond and with this, a homoerotic attraction to one another. Rosalind cannot, however, take part in a sexual relationship with Orlando while in disguise. Upon realizing that a homosexual relationship will not be accepted in outside society, she abandons her disguise and submits instead to her future husband (V.4). Similarly, Touchstone attempts to re-invent himself as a married man for his own ends. When he is made aware by the vicar that marriage in Arden is unlawful, he responds: “[He] is / not like to marry me well; and not being well married, / it will be a good excuse for me hereafter to leave my / wife” (III.3.83-86). Touchstone suggests that he does not believe in the bonds of marriage; yet in Arden, he is not afraid to follow through with the ceremony. He thus carries out his distorted fantasy of marrying Audrey in Arden in exchange for the promise of a void marriage back in human society. The Forest of Arden emerges as a realm where one’s fantasies of escaping societal roles ultimately lead to a re-inscription of those roles.
Shakespeare represents the Forst of Arden not as an ideal world, but rather a sanctuary where one can go to act freely, learn, and return to society with a new understanding of the permanence of individual identity. In Arden, people change, time changes and fantasies are fulfilled only temporarily. Ultimately, Shakespeare criticizes utopianism as an impossibility. Individuals re-enact their societal roles even in the absence of society.
Shakespere, William. As You Like It. Ed. Alan Brissenden.
Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998.
Othello’s Final Scene: a Cinematic Comparison
As Othello, Laurence Olivier entreats the Venetian nobles to relate the true account of his actions and motivations. Olivier’s words seem almost imploring, suggesting that he is an outsider seeking approval from those with foreign sympathies. At the beginning of his address, little in his demeanor resembles that of Laurence Fishburne’s Othello, whose quiet yet confident dignity courteously yet firmly dictates the judgment to be passed upon himself. Speaking with emphatic tones, Fishburne’s delivery establishes Othello as one who views himself as an equal, if not a peer. The juxtaposition of these two portrayals yields contrasting possibilities for the interpretation of Shakespeare’s final scene in Othello; along with the text, it suggests an ultimate duality in the protagonist’s perception of his relationship to different others.
Othello’s murder of Desdemona can, in one sense, be traced to his insecurities about being different in a society of courtly Venetian whites. Tragically, it is only too late that Othello realizes his difference had no diminishing effect on Desdemona’s love for him and should have had no bearing on his love for her. Upon coming to this realization, Othello appeals to the Venetian nobles, “Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate, / Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak / Of one that loved not wisely but too well” (5.2. 351-353). Othello’s capacity to love, albeit too late realized, suggests a certain nobility. At the same time, Othello makes such an appeal because he realizes that others may associate his lack of wiseness with blackness and further associations of baseness and ignoble difference.
While realizing that others may continue to judge, Othello seems to come to terms with his difference. Conscious but no longer self-conscious of his outsider status, Othello compares himself to foreigners; he calls himself “the base Indian, [who] threw a pearl away” (5.2. 356) and one “Albeit unused to the melting mood, / Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees” (5.2. 358-359). Othello further compares his pending suicide to his earlier slaying of “a malignant and a turbaned Turk / [who had] Beat a Venetian and traduced the state” (5.2. 362-362). Paradoxically, Othello is at once an assaulter and defender of the Venetian state. As Desdemona’s murderer, he is like the Turk who transgresses moral and state laws; by taking his own life, however, Othello executes the letter of the law. The latter qualifies him as part of the Venetian circle, even though he is a stranger. Simultaneously victim and victimizer, transgressor and avenger, Othello bears a dual relationship to the world of nobles and courtiers.
An exaggerated portrayal of this duality can be seen though a comparison of Olivier and Fishburne’s renditions of Othello’s suicide. Olivier’s Othello kills himself with a violent defiance – a perhaps desperate attempt to prove that he can match the supposedly higher morality of white men by avenging Desdemona’s death. Implicit is Othello’s conviction that others deem him different and base. In contrast, Fishburne’s Othello takes his own life with a gracious stoicism – as though he were a dignified agent enforcing a law that he stands behind with white others. Implicit is his assumption that he bears a level of moral and other equality matching that of those witnessing his death.
To the very end, Othello is conscious of the criticism and judgement of others. On the one hand, he realizes that some may only see him as a black man who murdered a white woman. By avenging Desdemona’s death upon himself, however, Othello preemptively attempts to counteract such judgments while asserting the purity of his love for Desdemona. Indeed, Othello states that he is the equal of anyone who may dismiss him as a base black man; his suicide contains an implicit acknowledgement and acceptance of the same moral standards that even those supposedly superior to him use to judge acts of violent death – that those who murder should be punished by death.
Desdemona: A Strong and Willful Lady
That the character Desdemona in Shakespeare’s play Othello holds on to her dignified manner until the very end, when she is murdered by her jealous husband, is indicative not only of her chaste mind, but also of her willful determination. Given that women of the time were largely seen as second-class citizens and mostly one of two extremes – either virtuous or licentious – some readers will understandably view her as weak and passive. Desdemona’s strengths, however, are clearly illustrated in three pivotal scenes in Shakespeare’s play: in her resolute plan to assist Cassio back into her husband’s good graces; in her poise when confronted with her husband’s crumbling gentlemanly facade; and finally, perhaps most dramatically, in the dignified way she faces her own demise head-on, feeble on protestations, yet overflowing with grace.
In Act 3, Scene 3, readers find Desdemona not sitting idly by like somebody’s lapdog, but rather taking it upon herself to formulate a plan to help Lieutenant Cassio, who has been demoted at Othello’s instruction. Her intention is to get her husband, Othello, to see how loyal a servant Cassio has been. We can presume that here loyalty begets forgiveness, for only after Cassio had a drunken mishap, albeit at the instigation of the underhanded Iago, does Cassio earn Othello’s contempt and subsequent demotion. Desdemona reminds the audience of Cassio’s devotion to Othello, remarking to Cassio, “You do love my lord” (57, line 9).
We read, on pages 57-58, not of a shrinking violet who formulates this plan, but of a proactive, calculating Desdemona, who promises Cassio:
I give thee warrant of thy place. Assure thee,
If I do vow a friendship, I’ll perform it
To the last article. My lord shall never rest;
I’ll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;
His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift;
I’ll intermingle everything he does
With Cassio’s suit. Therefore be merry, Cassio,
For thy solicitor shall rather die
Than give thy cause away (lines 20-28).
Even as her husband, Othello, enters and is mistakenly led to believe something is amiss between his wife and Cassio, Desdemona sticks to her resolution. Of course, she knows not what insidious thoughts Iago has planted in Othello’s head, and she stands up for Cassio as she has assured him she would. She tells Othello of Cassio’s unwavering dedication, and boldly requests that her husband meet with Cassio to discuss “a man [Cassio] that languishes in your displeasure” (58, line 43). Othello dismisses her request several times, and still she persists. She does not feebly submit to her husband’s resistance, but stubbornly repeats her request, asking him: “Why then, tomorrow night, on Tuesday / morn, / On Tuesday noon, or night, on Wednesday morn. / I prithee name the time, but let it not / Exceed three days” (59, lines 59-63). She further tells her husband, “In faith, he’s [Cassio is] penitent” (59, line 63). Would not a passive woman meekly acquiesce to her husband’s opposition and simply drop the matter?
Next, during Act 4, Scene 2, Desdemona proves herself a lady in her discussion with the evil Iago, who, unbeknownst to her, is the cause of her chagrin. She laments that Othello has called her a whore, yet she herself does not stoop to ad hominem insults. Proudly, she declares, “Unkindness may do much” and, in a moment of chilling foreshadowing, adds “And his [Othello’s] unkindness may defeat my life” (100, lines 158-59).
This is a woman who is arguably virtuous to a fault, such class does she exhibit here. She states, “I cannot even say ‘whore.’ / It does abhor me now I speak the word; / To do the act that might the addition earn / Not the world’s mass of vanity could make me” (100, lines 160-63).
Finally, in Act 5, Scene 2, during the tragic conclusion of the play, when Othello smothers his beloved Desdemona in the mistaken belief of her infidelity, she nonetheless leaves the play with dignity. She does not wail or behave like a coward. Instead, she merely states: “O, falsely, falsely murdered!” (119, line116). Readers are left to wonder if she is referring to herself or to Cassio; regardless, these words are simply matter-of-fact and are not the emotion-driven cries one would normally expect from a person facing her own execution.
As to her dying breath, Desdemona states plainly, “A guiltless death I die” (119, line 121). Her mistress Emilia, obviously overcome with emotion, can scarcely believe her [Emilia’s] ears. She beseeches Desdemona to name the killer, wailing, “Help! Help, ho! Help! O lady, speak again!” (119, line 119) and “O, who hath done this deed?” (119, line 122).
With a quiet composure not many would be able to muster on their deathbed, no less a murder victim killed by a beloved spouse, Desdemona cryptically tells Emilia, “Nobody—I myself. Farewell” (119, line 123).
And therein this shocking climactic scene is the end of Desdemona. Was she a self-loving character who had the ability to love others unconditionally? Or was she a fool who accepted what was then largely seen as the female’s lot in life in the mistaken belief that, by doing so, she was being righteous? Othello seems a far weaker character to allow himself to slay his beloved due to his own misguided vanity and jealousy, than does Desdemona in meeting her own demise with dignity. Her characterizations in the above examples establish that she surrendered not to her husband, but rather to her own ideals of what it means to be unsullied.
Readers are well-advised to recall that this is a woman who publicly defied her father in order to marry the man she loved – a man who, ultimately, was her undoing. In the end, Desdemona proved herself to be not a fragile, frail example of a naïve young woman, but rather the epitome of a strong, willful lady.