Monday, December 13, 2010

Seamus Heaney reading "Underground"

Seamus Heaney's "Underground"


There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed

Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall.

Honeymooning, moonlighting, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shakespeare's Sonnets 1, 2, 15

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou, contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thyself thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel.
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content
And, tender churl, makest waste in niggarding.
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.

When forty winters shall beseige thy brow,
And dig deep trenches in thy beauty's field,
Thy youth's proud livery, so gazed on now,
Will be a tatter'd weed, of small worth held:
Then being ask'd where all thy beauty lies,
Where all the treasure of thy lusty days,
To say, within thine own deep-sunken eyes,
Were an all-eating shame and thriftless praise.
How much more praise deserved thy beauty's use,
If thou couldst answer 'This fair child of mine
Shall sum my count and make my old excuse,'
Proving his beauty by succession thine!
This were to be new made when thou art old,
And see thy blood warm when thou feel'st it cold.

When I consider every thing that grows
Holds in perfection but a little moment,
That this huge stage presenteth nought but shows
Whereon the stars in secret influence comment;
When I perceive that men as plants increase,
Cheered and cheque'd even by the self-same sky,
Vaunt in their youthful sap, at height decrease,
And wear their brave state out of memory;
Then the conceit of this inconstant stay
Sets you most rich in youth before my sight,
Where wasteful Time debateth with Decay,
To change your day of youth to sullied night;
And all in war with Time for love of you,
As he takes from you, I engraft you new.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hamlet: The Prince or The Poem?

First published: Proceedings of the British Academy 18 (1942); taken from C. S. Lewis, Selected Literary Essays, Walter Hooper, ed., Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969.

Hamlet: The Prince or The Poem?

C. S. Lewis

A critic who makes no claim to be a true Shakespearian scholar and who has been honoured by an invitation to speak about Shakespeare to such an audience as this, feels rather like a child brought in at dessert to recite his piece before the grown-ups. I have a temptation to furbish up all my meagre Shakespearian scholarship and to plunge into some textual or chronological problem in the hope of seeming, for this one hour, more of an expert than I am. But it really wouldn't do. I should not deceive you: I should not even deceive myself. I have therefore decided to bestow all my childishness upon you.

And first, a reassurance. I am not going to advance a new interpretation of the character of Hamlet. Where great critics have failed I could not hope to succeed; it is rather my ambition (a more moderate one, I trust) to understand their failure. The problem I want to consider today arises in fact not directly out of the Prince's character nor even directly out of the play, but out of the state of criticism about the play.

To give anything like a full history of this criticism would be beyond my powers and beyond the scope of a lecture; but, for my present purpose, I think we can very roughly divide it into three main schools or tendencies. The first is that which maintains simply that the actions of Hamlet have not been given adequate motives and that the play is so far bad. Hanmer is perhaps the earliest exponent of this view. According to him Hamlet is made to procrastinate because 'had [he] gone naturally to work ... there would have been an End to our Play'.' But then, as Hanmer points out, Shakespeare ought to have contrived some good reason'2 for the procrastination. Johnson, while praising the tragedy for its 'variety', substantially agrees with Hanmer: 'of the feigned madness of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause '.3 Rumelin thinks that the 'wisdom' which Shakespeare has chosen to hide under 'the wild utterances of insanity'4 is a 'foreign and disturbing element' as a result of which the piece 'presents the greatest discrepancies'.1 In our own time Mr Eliot has taken the same view: Hamlet is rather like a film on which two photographs have been taken-an unhappy superposition of Shakespeare's work 'upon much cruder material'.~ The play 'is most certainly an artistic failure'.3 If this school of critics is right, we shall be wasting our time in attempting to understand why Hamlet delays. The second school, on the other hand, thinks that he did not delay at all but went to work as quickly ~ as the circumstances permitted. This was Ritson's view. The word of a ghost, at second hand, 'would scarcely, in the eye of the people, have justified his killing their king'. That is why he 'counterfeits madness, and ... puts ... the usurpers guilt to the test of a play. Klein, after a very fierce attack on critics who want to make the Prince of Denmark 'a German half-professor, all tongue and no hand', comes to the same conclusion.5 So does Werder,6 and so does MacDonald;7 and the position has been brilliantly defended in modern times. In the third school or group I include all those critics who admit that Hamlet procrastinates and who explain the procrastination by his psychology. Within this general agreement there are, no doubt, very great diversities. Some critics, such as Hallam,8 Sievers,9 Raleigh,10 and CluttonBrock,11 trace the weakness to the shock inflicted upon Hamlet by the events which precede, and immediately follow, the opening of the play; others regard it as a more permanent condition; some extend it to actual insanity, others reduce it to an almost amiable flaw in a noble nature. This third group, which boasts the names of Richardson, , Goethe,1 coleridge,2 Schiegel,3 and Hazlitt, can still, I take it, claim to represent the central and, as it were, orthodox line of Hamlet criticism.

Such is the state of affairs; and we are all so accustomed to it that we are inclined to ignore its oddity. In order to remove the veil of familiarity I am going to ask you to make the imaginative effort of looking at this mass of criticism as if you had no independent know-ledge of the thing criticized. Let us suppose that a picture which you have not seen is being talked about The first thing you gather from the vast majority of the speakers-and a majority which includes the best art critics-is that this picture is undoubtedly a very great work. The next thing you. discover is that hardly any two people in the room agree as to what it is a picture of. Most of them find something curious about the pose, and perhaps the anatomy, of the central figure. One explains it by saying that it is a picture of the raising of Lazarus, and that the painter has cleverly managed to represent the uncertain gait of a body just recovering from the stiffness of death. Another, taking the central figure to be Bacchus returning from the conquest of India, says that it reels because it is drunk. A third, to whom it is self-evident that he has seen a picture of the death of Nelson, asks with some temper whether you expect a man to look quite normal just after he has been mortally wounded. A fourth maintains that such crudely representational canons of criticism will never penetrate so profound a work, and that the peculiarities of the central figure really reflect the content of the painter's subconsciousness. Hardly have you had time to digest these opinions when you run into another group of critics who denounce as a pseudo-problem what the first group has been discussing. According to this second group there is nothing odd about the central figure. A more natural and self-explanatory pose they never saw and they cannot imagine what all the pother is about. At long last you discover ---isolated in a corner of the room, somewhat frowned upon by the rest of the company, and including few reputable connoisseurs in its ranks -- a little knot of men who are whispering that the picture is a villainous daub and that the mystery of the central figure merely results from the fact that it is out of drawing.

Now if all this had really happened to any one of us, I believe that our first reaction would be to accept, at least provisionally, the third view. Certainly I think we should consider it much more seriously than we usually consider those critics who solve the whole Hamlet problem by calling Hamlet a bad play. At the very least we should at once perceive that they have a very strong case against the critics who admire. 'Here is a picture', they might say, 'on whose meaning no two of you are in agreement Communication between the artist and the spectator has almost completely broken down, for each of you admits that it has broken down as regards every spectator except himself. There are only two possible explanations. Either the artist was a very bad artist, or you are very bad critics. In deference to your number and your reputation, we choose the first alternative; though, as you will observe, it would work out to the same result if we chose the second.' As to the next group, those who denied that there was anything odd about the central figure, I believe that in the circumstances I have imagined we should hardly attend to them. A natural and self~explanatory pose in the central figure would be rejected as wholly inconsistent with its observed effect on all the other critics, both those who thought the picture good and those who thought it bad.

If we now return to the real situation, the same reactions appear reasonable. There is, indeed, this difference, that the critics who admit no delay and no indecision in Hamlet, have an opponent with whom the corresponding critics of the picture were not embarrassed. The picture did not answer back. But Hamlet does. He pronounces himself a procrastinator, an undecided man, even a ~ the ghost in part agrees with him. This, coupled with the more general difficulties of their position, appears to me to be fatal to their view. If so, we are left with those who think the play bad and those who agree in thinking it good and in placing its goodness almost wholly in the character of the hero, while disagreeing as to what that character is. surely the devil's advocates are in a very strong position. Here is a play so dominated by one character that 'Hamlet without the Prince' is a byword. Here are critics justly famed, all of them for their sensibility, many of them for their skill in catching the finest shades of human passion and pursuing motives to their last hiding-places. Is it really credible that the greatest of dramatists, the most powerful painter of men, offering to such an audience his consummate portrait of a man should produce something which, if any one of them is right, all the rest have in some degree failed to recognize? Is this the sort of thing that happens? Does the meeting of supremely creative with supremely receptive imagination usually produce such results? Or is it not far easier to say that Homer nods, and Alexander's shoulder drooped, and Achilles' heel was vulnerable, and that Shakespeare, for once, either in haste, or over-reaching himself in unhappy ingenuity, has brought forth an abortion?

Yes. Of course it is far easier. 'Most certainly', says Mr. Eliot, 'an artistic failure'. But is it 'most certain'? Let me return for a moment to my analogy of the picture. In that dream there was one experiment we did not make. We didn't walk into the next room and look at it for ourselves. Supposing we had done so. Suppose that at the first glance all the cogent arguments of the unfavourable critics had died on our lips, or echoed in our ears as idle babble. Suppose that looking on the picture we had found ourselves caught up into an unforgettable intensity of life and had come back from the room where it hung haunted for ever with the sense of vast dignities and strange sorrows and teased 'with thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls '-- would not this have reversed our judgement and compelled us, in the teeth of a priori probability, to maintain that on one point at least the orthodox critics were in the right? 'Most certainly an artistic failure.' All argument is for that conclusion -- until you read or see Hamlet again. And when you do, you are left saying that if this is failure, then failure is better than success. We want more of these 'bad' plays. From our first childish reading of the ghost scenes down to those golden minutes which we stole from marking examination papers on Hamlet to read a few pages of Hamlet itself, have we ever known the day or the hour when its enchantment failed? That castle is part of our own world. The affection we feel for the Prince, and, through him, for Horatio, is like a friendship in real life. The very turns of expression -- half-lines and odd connecting links -- of this play are worked into the language. It appears, said Shaftesbury in 1711, 'to have most affected English Hearts, and has perhaps been oftenest acted'.' It has a taste of its own, an all-pervading relish which we recognize even in its smallest fragments, and which, once tasted, we recur to. When we want that taste, no other book will do instead. It may turn out in the end that the thing is not a complete success. This compelling quality in it may coexist with some radical defect. But I doubt if we shall ever be able to say, sad brow and true maid, that it is 'most certainly' a failure. Even if the proposition that it has failed were at last admitted for true, I can think of few critical truths which most of us would utter with less certainty, and with a more divided mind.

It seems, then, that we cannot escape from our problem by pronouncing the play bad. On the other hand, the critics, mostly agreeing to place the excellence of it in the delineation of the hero's character, describe that character in a dozen different ways. If they differ so much as to the kind of man whom Shakespeare meant to portray, how can we explain their unanimous praise of the portrayal? I can imagine a sketch so bad that one man thought it was an attempt at a horse and another thought it was an attempt at a donkey. But what kind of sketch would it have to be which looked like a very good horse to some, and like a very good donkey to others? The only solution which occurs to me is that the critics' delight in the play is not in fact due to the delineation of Hamlet's character but to something else. If the picture which you take for a horse and I for a donkey, delights us both, it is probable that what we are both enjoying is the pure line, or the colouring, not the delineation of an animal. If two men who have both been talking to the same woman agree in proclaiming her conversation delightful, though one praises it for its ingenuous innocence and the other for its clever sophistication, I should be inclined to conclude that her conversation had played very little part in the pleasure of either. I should suspect that the lady was nice to look at.

I am quite aware that such a suggestion about what has always been thought a 'one man play' will sound rather like paradox. But I am not aiming at singularity. In so far as my own ideas about Shakespeare are worth classifying at all, I confess myself a member of that school which has lately been withdrawing our attention from the characters to fix it on the plays. Dr Stoll' and Professor Wilson Knight,2 though in very different fashions, have led me in this direction; and Aristotle has long seemed to me simply right when he says that tragedy is an imitation not of men but of action and life and happiness and misery. By action he means, no doubt, not what a modern producer would call action but rather ‘situation'.

What has attached me to this way of thinking is the fact that it explains my own experience. When I tried to read Shakespeare in my teens the character criticism of the nineteenth century stood between me and my enjoyment. There were all sorts of things in the plays which I could have enjoyed; but I had got it into my head that the only proper and grown-up way of appreciating Shakespeare was to be very interested in the truth and subtlety of his character drawing. A play opened with thunder and lightning and witches on a heath. This was very much in my line: but oh the disenchantment when I was told -- or thought I was told -- that what really ought to concern me was the effect of these witches on Macbeth's character! An Illyrian Duke spoke, in an air which had just ceased vibrating to the sound of music, words that seemed to come out of the very heart of some golden world of dreamlike passion: but all this was spoiled because the meddlers had told me it was the portrait of a self-deceiving or unrealistic man and given me the impression that it was my business to diagnose like a straightener from Erewhon or Vienna instead of submitting to the charm. Shakespeare offered me a King who could not even sentence a man to banishment without saying:

The sly slow hours shall not determinate The dateless limit of thy dear exile. (Richard II, I, iii, 50)

Left to myself I would simply have drunk it in and been thankful. That is just how beautiful, wilful, passionate, unfortunate kings killed long ago ought to talk. But then again the critic was at my elbow instilling the pestilential notion that I ought to prize such words chiefly as illustrations of what he called Richard's weakness, and (worse still) inviting me to admire the vulgar, bustling efficiency of Bolingbroke. I am probably being very unjust to the critics in this account. I am not even sure who they were. But somehow or other this was the sort of idea they gave me. I believe they have given it to thousands. As far as I am concerned it meant that Shakespeare became to me for many years a closed book. Read him in that way I could not; and it was some time before I had the courage to read him in any other. Only much later, reinforced with a wider knowledge of literature, and able now to rate at its true value the humble little outfit of prudential maxims which really underlay much of the talk about Shakespeare's characters, did I return and read him with enjoyment. To one in my position the opposite movement in criticism came as a kind of Magna Carta. With that help I have come to one very definite conclusion. I do not say that the characters -- especially the comic characters -- count for nothing. But the first thing is to surrender oneself to the poetry and the situation. It is only through that you can reach the characters, and it is for their sake that the characters exist. All conceptions of the characters arrived at, so to speak, in cold blood, by working out what sort of man it would have to be who in real life would act or speak as they do, are in my opinion chimerical. The wiseacres who proceed in that way only substitute our own ideas of character and life, which are not often either profound or delectable, for the bright shapes which the poet is actually using. Orsino and Richard II are test cases. Interpretations which compel you to read their speeches with a certain superiority, to lend them a note of 'insincerity', to strive in any way against their beauty, are self-condemned. Poets do not make beautiful verse in order to have it 'guyed'. Both these characters speak golden syllables, wearing rich clothes, and standing in the centre of the stage. After that, they may be wicked, but it can only be with a passionate and poetic wickedness; they may he foolish, but only with follies noble and heroical. For the poetry, the clothes, and the stance are the substance; the character 'as it would have to be in real life' is only a shadow. It is often a very distorted shadow. Some of my pupils talk to me about Shakespeare as if the object of his life had been to render into verse the philosophy of Samuel Smiles or Henry Ford.

A good example of the kind of play which can be twisted out of recognition by character criticism is the Merchant of Venice. Nothing is easier than to disengage and condemn the mercenary element in Bassanio's original suit to Portia, to point out that Jessica was a bad daughter, and by dwelling on Shylock's wrongs to turn him into a tragic figure. The hero thus becomes a scamp, the heroine's love for him a disaster, the villain a hero, the last act an irrelevance, and the casket story a monstrosity. What is not explained is why anyone should enjoy such a depressing and confused piece of work. It seems to me that what we actually enjoy is something quite different. The real play is not so much about men as about metals. The horror of usury lay in the fact that it treated metal in a way contrary to nature. If you have cattle they will breed. To make money -- the mere medium of exchange -- breed as if it were alive is a sort of black magic. The speech about Laban and Jacob is put into Shylock's mouth to show that he cannot grasp this distinction (MoV, 1, 3, 72) and the Christians point out that friendship does not take 'A breed for barren metal ‘ (1, 3, 135). The important thing about Bassanio is that he can say, 'Only my blood speaks to you in my veins ' (3, 2, 177) and again, 'all the wealth I had Ran in my veins ' (3, 2, 255-6). Sir Walter Raleigh most unhappily, to my mind, speaks of Bassanio as a 'pale shadow '.(150). Pale is precisely the wrong word. The whole contrast is between the crimson and organic wealth in his veins, the medium of nobility and fecundity, and the cold, mineral wealth in Shylock's counting-house. The charge that he is a mercenary wooer is a product of prosaic analysis. The play is much nearer the Märchen level than that. When the hero marries the princess we are not expected to ask whether her wealth, her beauty, or her rank was the determining factor. They are all blended together in the simple man's conception of Princess. Of course great ladies are beautiful: of course they are rich. Bassanio compares Portia to the Golden Fleece. That strikes the proper note. And when once we approach the play with our senses and imaginations it becomes obvious that the presence of the casket story is no accident. For it also is a story about metals, and the rejection of the commercial metals by Bassanio is kind of counter-point to the conquest of Shylock's metallic power by the lady of the beautiful mountain. The very terms in which they are rejected proclaim it. Silver is the 'pale and common drudge 'Tween man and man ' (3, 2, 103-4). Gold is 'Hard food for Midas ' (3, 2, 102) --Midas who, like Shylock, tried to use as the fuel of life what is in its own nature dead. And the last act, so far from being an irrelevant coda, is almost the thing for which the play exists. The 'naughty world' of finance exists in the play chiefly that we may perceive the light of the 'good deed ' (5, 1, 91), or rather of the good state, which is called Belmont. I know that some will call this 'far-fetched'; but I must ask them to take my word for it that even if I am wrong, 'far-fetched' is the last epithet that should be applied to my error. I have not fetched it from far. This, or something like it, is my immediate and spontaneous reaction. A wicked ogre of a Jew is ten thousand miles nearer to that reaction than any of the sad, subtle, realistic figures produced by critics. If I err, I err in childishness, not in sophistication.

Now Hamlet is a play as nearly opposite to the Merchant as possible. A good way of introducing you to my experience of it will be to tell you the exact point at which anyone else's criticism of it begins to lose my allegiance. It is a fairly definite point. As soon as I find anyone treating the ghost merely as the means whereby Hamlet learns of his father's murder -- as soon as a critic leaves us with the impression that some other method of disclosure (the finding of a letter or a conversation with a servant) would have done very nearly as well -- I part company with that critic. After that, he may be as learned and sensitive as you please; but his outlook on literature is so remote from mine that he can teach me nothing. Hamlet for me is no more separable from his ghost than Macbeth from his witches, Una from her lion, or Dick Whittington from his cat. The Hamlet formula so to speak, is not 'a man who has to avenge his father but a man who has been given a task by a ghost. Everything else about him is less important than that. If the play did not begin with the cold and darkness and sickening suspense of the ghost scenes it would be a radically different play. If, on the other hand, only the first act had survived, we should have a very tolerable notion of the play's peculiar quality. I put it to you that everyone's imagination here confirms mine. What is against me is the abstract pattern of motives and characters which we build up as critics when the actual flavour or tint of the poetry is already fading from our minds.

This ghost is different from any other ghost in Elizabethan drama -- for, to tell the truth, the Elizabethans in general do their ghosts very vilely. It is permanently ambiguous. Indeed the very word 'ghost', by putting it into the same class with the 'ghosts' of Kyd and Chapman, nay by classifying it at all, puts us on the wrong track. It is 'this thing ' (Hamlet 1, 1, 21), 'this dreaded sight ' (1, 1, 25), an 'illusion' (1, 1 127), a 'spirit of health or goblin damn'd ' (1, 4, 40), liable at any moment to assume 'some other horrible form' (1, 4, 72) which reason could not survive the vision of. Critics have disputed whether Hamlet is sincere when he doubts whether the apparition is his father's ghost or not. I take him to be perfectly sincere. He believes while the thing is present: he doubts when it is away. Doubt, uncertainty, bewilderment to almost any degree, is what the ghost creates not only in Hamlet's mind but in the minds of the other characters. Shakespeare does not take the concept of 'ghost' for granted, as other dramatists had done. In his play the appearance of the spectre means a breaking down of the walls of the world and the germination of thoughts that cannot really be thought: chaos is come again.

This does not mean that I am going to make the ghost the hero, or the play a ghost story -- though I might add that a very good ghost story would be, to me, a more interesting thing than a maze of motives. I have started with the ghost because the ghost appears at the beginning of the play not only to give Hamlet necessary information but also, and even more, to strike the note. From the platform we pass to the court scene and so to Hamlet's first long speech. There are ten lines of it before we reach what is necessary to the plot: lines about the melting of flesh into a dew and the divine prohibition of self-slaughter. We have a second ghost scene after which the play itself, rather than the hero, goes mad for some minutes. We have a second soliloquy on the theme 'To die ... to sleep' (3, 1, 60), and a third on the 'witching time of night, When churchyards yawn ' (3, 2, 413-4). We have the King's effort to pray and Hamlet's comment on it. We have the ghost's third appearance. Ophelia goes mad and is drowned. Then comes the comic relief, surely the strangest comic relief ever written -- comic relief beside an open grave, with a further discussion of suicide, a detailed inquiry into the rate of decomposition, a few clutches of skulls, and then 'Alas! poor Yorick’ (5, 1, 201). On top of this, the hideous fighting in the grave; and then, soon, the catastrophe.

I said just now that the subject of the Merchant was metals. In the same sense, the subject of Hamlet is death. I do not mean by this that most of the characters die, nor even that life and death are the stakes they play for; that is true of all tragedies. I do not mean that we rise from the reading of the play with the feeling that we have been in cold, empty places, places 'outside', nocte tacentia late, though that is true. Before I go on to explain myself let me say that here, and throughout my lecture, I am most deeply indebted to my friend Mr. Owen Barfield (85-103). I have to make these acknowledgements both to him and to other of my friends so often that I am afraid of their being taken for an affectation. But they are not. The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are: that good fortune I have enjoyed for nearly twenty years.

The sense in which death is the subject of Hamlet will become apparent if we compare it with other plays. Macbeth has commerce with Hell, but at the very outset of his career dismisses all thought of the life to come. For Brutus and Othello, suicide in the high tragic manner is escape and climax. For Lear death is deliverance. For Romeo and Antony, poignant loss. For all these, as for their author while he writes and the audience while they watch, death is the end: it is almost the frame of the picture. They think of dying: no one thinks, in these plays, of being dead. In Hamlet we are kept thinking about it all the time, whether in terms of the soul's destiny or of the body's. Purgatory, Hell, Heaven, the wounded name, the rights -- or wrongs -- of Ophelia's burial, and the staying-power of a tanner's corpse: and beyond this, beyond all Christian and all Pagan maps of the hereafter, comes a curious groping and tapping of thoughts, about 'what dreams may come' (3, 1, 66). It is this that gives to the whole play its quality of darkness and of misgiving. Of course there is much else in the play: but nearly always, the some groping. The characters are all watching one another, forming theories about one another, listening, contriving, full of anxiety. The world of Hamlet is a world where one has lost one's way. The Prince also has no doubt lost his, and we can tell the precise moment at which he finds it again. 'Not a whit, we defy augury; there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is alL Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes? ' (5, 2, 232-8)

If I wanted to make one more addition to the gallery of Hamlet's portraits I should trace his hesitation to the fear of death; not to a physical fear of dying, but a fear of being dead. And I think I should get on quite comfortably. Any serious attention to the state of being dead, unless it is limited by some definite religious or anti-religious doctrine, must, I suppose, paralyse the will by introducing infinite uncertainties and rendering all motives inadequate. Being dead is the unknown x in our sum. Unless you ignore it or else give it a value, you can get no answer. But this is not what I am going to do. Shakespeare has not left in the text clear lines of causation which would enable us to connect Hamlet's hesitation with this source. I do not believe he has given us data for any portrait of the kind critics have tried to draw. To that extent I agree with Hanmer, Rumelin, and Mr Eliot. But I differ from them in thinking that it is a fault.

For what, after all, is happening to us when we read any of Hamlet's great speeches? We see visions of the flesh dissolving into a dew, of the world like an unweeded garden. We think of memory reeling in its 'distracted globe' (1, 5, 97). We watch him scampering hither and thither like a maniac to avoid the voices wherewith he is haunted. Someone says 'walk out of the air ', and we hear the words 'Into my grave?' spontaneously respond to it (2, 2, 212, 214). We think of being bounded in a nut-shell and king of infinite space: but for bad dreams. There's the trouble, for 'I am most dreadfully attended ' (2, 2, 281). We see the picture of a dull and muddy-mettled rascal, a John-a-dreams, somehow unable to move while ultimate dishonour is done him. We listen to his fear lest the whole thing may be an illusion due to melancholy. We get the sense of sweet relief at the words 'shuffled off this mortal coil ' (3, 1, 67) but mixed with the bottomless doubt about what may follow then. We think of bones and skulls, of women breeding sinners, and of how some, to whom all this experience is a sealed book, can yet dare death and danger for an egg-shell’ (4, 4, 53). But do we really enjoy these things, do we go back to them, because they show us Hamlet's character? Are they, from that point of view, so very interesting? Does the mere fact that a young man, literally haunted, dispossessed, and lacking friends, should feel thus, tell us anything remarkable? Let me put my question in another way. If instead of the speeches he actually utters about the firmament and man in his scene with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Hamlet had merely said, 'I don't seem to enjoy things the way I used to,' and talked in that fashion throughout, should we find him interesting? I think the answer is 'Not very.' It may be replied that if he talked commonplace prose he would reveal his character less vividly. I am not so sure. He would certainly have revealed something less vividly; but would that something be himself? It seems to me that 'this majestical roof' and 'What a piece of work is a man!' (2, 2, 313, 323) give me primarily an impression not of the sort of person he must be to lose the estimation of things but of the things themselves and their great value; and that I should be able to discern, though with very faint interest, the same condition of loss in a personage who was quite unable so to put before me what he was losing. And I do not think it true to reply that he would be a different character if he spoke less poetically. This point is often misunderstood. We sometimes speak as if the characters in whose mouths Shakespeare puts great poetry were poets in the sense that Shakespeare was depicting men of poetical genius. But surely this is like thinking that Wagner's Wotan is the dramatic portrait of a baritone? In opera song is the medium by which the representation is made and not part of the thing represented. The actors sing; the dramatic personages are feigned to be speaking. The only character who sings dramatically in Figaro is Cherubino. Similarly in poetical drama poetry is the medium, not part of the delineated characters. While the actors speak poetry written for them by the poet, the dramatic personages are supposed to be merely talking. If ever there is occasion to represent poetry (as in the play scene from Hamlet), it is put into a different metre and strongly stylised so as to prevent confusion.

I trust that my conception is now becoming clear. I believe that we read Harmlet's speeches with interest chiefly because they describe so well a certain siritual region through which most of us have passed and anyone in his circumstances might be expected to pass, rather than because of our concern to understand how and why this particular man entered it. I foresee an objection on the ground that I am thus really admitting his 'character' in the only sense that matters and that all characters whatever could be equally well talked away by the method I have adopted. But I do really find a distinction. When I read about Mrs Proudie I am not in the least interested in seeing the world from her point of view, for her point of view is not interesting; what does interest me is precisely the sort of person she was. In Middlemarch no reader wants to see Casaubon through Dorothea's eyes; the pathos, the comedy, the value of the whole thing is to understand Dorothea and see how such an illusion was inevitable for her. In Shakespeare himself I find Beatrice to be a character who could not he thus dissolved. We are interested not in some vision seen through her eyes, but precisely in the wonder of her being the girl she is. A comparison of the sayings we remember from her part with those we remember from Hamlet's brings out the contrast. On the one hand, 'I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick', 'There was a star danced, and under that was I born ', 'Kill Claudio ' (Much Ado 1, 1, 121-2; 2, 1, 351-2; 4, 1, 294); on the other, 'The undiscover'd country from whose bourne No traveller returns ', 'Use every man after his desert, and who should 'scape whipping?, ‘ 'The rest is silence 'Hamlet 3, 1, 79-80; 2, 2, 561-3; 5, 2, 372). Particularly noticeable is the passage where Hamlet professes to be describing his own character. 'I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me. I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious.' (3, 1, 125-9). It is, of course, possible to devise some theory which explains these self-accusations in terms of character. But long before we have done so the real significance of the lines has taken possession of our imagination for ever. 'Such fellows as I’ (3, 1, 132) does not mean 'such fellows as Goethe's Hamlet, or Coleridge's Hamlet, or any Hamlet': it means men, creatures shapen in sin and conceived in iniquity -- and the vast empty vision of them 'crawling between earth and heaven’ (3, 1, 132-3) is what really counts and really carries the burden of the play.

It is often cast in the teeth of the great critics that each in painting Hamlet has drawn a portrait of himself. How if they were right? I would go a long way to meet Beatrice or Falstaff or Mr. Jonathan Oldbuck or Disraeli's Lord Monmouth. I would not cross the room to meet Hamlet. It would never be necessary. He is always where I am. The method of the whole play is much nearer to Mr Eliot's own method in poetry than Mr Eliot suspects. Its true hero is man -- haunted man -- man with his mind on the frontier of two worlds, man unable either quite to reject or quite to admit the supernatural, man struggling to get something done as man has struggled from the beginning, yet incapable of achievement because of his inability to understand either himself or his fellows or the real quality of the universe which has produced him. To be sure, some hints of more particular motives for Hamlet's delay are every now and then fadged up to silence our questions, just as some show of motives is offered for the Duke's temporary abdication in Measure for Measure. In both cases it is only scaffolding or machinery. To mistake these mere succedanea for the real play and to try to work them up into a coherent psychology is the great error. I once had a whole batch of School Certificate answers on the Nun's Priest's Tale by boys whose form-master was apparently a breeder of poultry. Everything that Chaucer had said in describing Chauntecleer and Pertelote was treated by them simply and solely as evidence about the precise breed of these two birds. And, I must admit, the result was very interesting. They proved beyond doubt that Chauntecleer was very different from our modern specialised strains and much closer to the Old English ‘barndoor fowl'. But I couldn't help feeling that they had missed something. I believe our attention to Hamlet's 'character' in the usual sense misses almost as much.

Perhaps I should rather say that it would miss as much if our behaviour when we are actually reading were not wiser than our criticism in cold blood. The critics, or most of them, have at any rate kept constantly before us the knowledge that in this play there is greatness and mystery. They were never entirely wrong. Their error, on my view, was to put the mystery in the wrong place -- in Hamlet's motives rather than in that darkness which enwraps Hamlet and the whole tragedy and all who read and watch it. It is a mysterious play in the sense of being a play about mystery. Mr. Eliot suggests that 'more people have thought Hamlet a work of art because they found it interesting, than have found it interesting because it is a work of art' (14). When he wrote that sentence he must have been very near to what I believe to be the truth. This play is, above all else, interesting. But artistic failure is not in itself interesting, nor often interesting in any way; artistic success always is. To interest is the first duty of art; no other excellences will even begin to compensate for failure in this, and very serious faults will be covered by this, as by charity. The hypothesis that this play interests by being good and not by being bad has therefore the first claim on our consideration. The burden of proof rests on the other side. Is not the fascinated interest of the critics most naturally explained by supposing that this is the precise effect the play was written to produce? They may be finding the mystery in the wrong place; but the fact that they can never leave Hamlet alone, the continual groping, the sense, unextinguished by over a century of failures, that we have here something of inestimable importance, is surely the best evidence that the real and lasting mystery of our human situation has been greatly depicted.

The kind of criticism which I have attempted is always at a disadvantage against either historical criticism or character criticism. Their vocabulary has been perfected by long practice, and the truths with which they are concerned are those which we are accustomed to handle in the everyday business of life. But the things I want to talk about have no vocabulary and criticism has for centuries kept almost complete silence on them. I make no claim to be a pioneer. Professor Wilson Knight (though I disagree with nearly everything he says in detail), Miss Spurgeon , Miss Bodkin, and Mr Barfield are my leaders. But those who do not enjoy the honours of a pioneer may yet share his discomforts. One of them I feel acutely at the moment. I feel certain that to many of you the things I have been saying about Hamlet will appear intolerably sophisticated, abstract, and modern. And so they sound when we have to put them into words. But I shall have failed completely if I cannot persuade you that my view, for good or ill, has just the opposite characteristics-is naive and concrete and archaic. I am trying to recall attention from the things an intellectual adult notices to the things a child or a peasant notices -- night, ghosts, a castle, a lobby where a man can walk four hours together, a willow-fringed brook and a sad lady drowned, a graveyard and a terrible cliff above the sea, and amidst all these a pale man in black clothes (would that our producers would ever let him appear!) with his stockings coming down, a dishevelled man whose words make us at once think of loneliness and doubt and dread, of waste and dust and emptiness, and from whose hands, or from our own, we feel the richness of heaven and earth and the comfort of human affection slipping away. In a sense I have kept my promise of bestowing all my childishness upon you. A child is always thinking about those details in a story which a grown-up regards as indifferent. If when you first told the tale your hero was warned by three little men appearing on the left of the road, and when you tell it again you introduce one little man on the right of the road, the child protests. And the child is right. You think It makes no difference because you are not living the story at all. If you were, you would know better. Motifs, machines, and the like are abstractions of literary history and therefore inter-changeable: but concrete imagination knows nothing of them.

You must not think I am setting up as a sort of literary Peter Pan who does not grow up. On the contrary, I claim that only those adults who have retained, with whatever additions and enrichments, their first childish response to poetry unimpaired, can be said to have grown up at all. Mere change is not growth. Growth is the synthesis of change and continuity, and where there is no continuity there is no growth. To hear some critics, one would suppose that a man had to lose his nursery appreciation of Gulliver before he acquired his mature appreciation of it. It is not so. If it were, the whole concept of maturity, of ripening, would be out of place: and also, I believe we should very seldom read more than three pages of Gulliver at a sitting.


Barfield, Owen, 'The Form of Hamlet', Romanticism Comes of Age (London, 944), pp.85-103. (New and augmented edition, London, 1966.)

Bodkin, Maud. Archtypal Patterns in Poetry: Psychological Studies of Imatination (London: Oxford University Press, 1934).

Clutton-Brock, A. Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' (London, 1922).

Coleridge, Samuel. Seven Lectures on Shakespeare and Milton (London, 1856)

Cooper, Anthony Ashley 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times. Treatise III. vis. Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author, vol i (London, 1751), pp. 275~.

Eliot, T. S. 'Hamlet', Selected Essays (London, 1951).

Hallam, Henry. lntroduction to the Literature of Europe in the Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Centuries, 4 vol (London, 1837-9).

Hanmer, Thomas. Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (London, 1736 ), p.34.

Hazlitt, William. Characters of Shakespeare’s Plays (London, 1817).

Johnson, Samuel. The Plays of Shakespeare, vol. 8, (London, 1765), p.325.

Klein, L. Berliner Modenspiegel no.14 (1846). This quotation is found in A New Variortirn Edition of Shakespeare, vol 2, ed. H. H. Furness (PhiladelpIsia, 1877), p.196.

Knight, G. Wilson. The Wheel of Fire (Oxford, 1930); The Imperial Theme (Oxford, 1931)

MacDonald, George The Tragedie of Hamlet, Prince of Denmarke. A study, with the text of the folio of 1623 (London, 1885).

Raleigh, Sir Walter. Shakespeare (London, 1907).

Richardson, William. A Philosophical Analysis and Illustration of Some of Shakespeare's Remarkable Characters (London,1780)

Ritson, Joseph. Remarks Critical and Illustrative, on the Text and Notes of the Last Edition of Shakespeare (London, 1783), p.218.

Rümelin, Gustav. Shakepearesstudien (Stuttgart, 1866), p.75.

Schlegel, A. W. Lectures on Art and Dramatic Literature, trans. John Black (London, 1815).

Sievers, Eduard W. William Shakespeare, Sein Lehen und Dichten (Gotha, 1866).

Spurgeon, Caroline F. E. Shakespeare's Imagery and What It Tells Us (Cambridge, 1935).

Stoll, E. E. Shakespeare Studies New York, 1927); Art and Artifice in Shakespeare (New York, 1933); Hamlet the Man, The English Association, pamphlet no.91 (March 1935).

von Goethe, Johann Wolfgang. Wilhelm Meister, Book V, trans. Thomas Carlyle (Boston, 1851).

Werder, Carl, The Heart of Hamlet's Mystery, trans. Elizabeth Wilder (London, 1907).

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

from Samuel Johnson's "Preface to Shakespeare" 1765

A quibble is to Shakespeare, what luminous vapours are to the traveller; he follows it at all adventures, it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf him in the mire. It has some malignant power over his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. A quibble poor and barren as it is, gave him such delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the world, and was content to lose it.

It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his neglect of the unities; his violation of those laws which have been instituted and established by the joint authority of poets and of criticks.

For his other deviations from the art of writing, I resign him to critical justice, without making any other demand in his favour, than that which must be indulged to all human excellence; that his virtues be rated with his failings: But, from the censure which this irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with due reverence to that learning which I must oppose, adventure to try how I can defend him.

His histories, being neither tragedies nor comedies, are not subject to any of their laws; nothing more is necessary to all the praise which they expect, than that the changes of action be so prepared as to be understood, that the incidents be various and affecting, and the characters consistent, natural and distinct. No other unity is intended, and therefore none is to be sought.

In his other works he has well enough preserved the unity of action. He has not, indeed, an intrigue regularly perplexed and regularly unravelled; he does not endeavour to hide his design only to discover it, for this is seldom the order of real events, and Shakespeare is the poet of nature: But his plan has commonly what Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, and an end; one event is concatenated with another, and the conclusion follows by easy consequence. There are perhaps some incidents that might be spared, as in other poets there is much talk that only fills up time upon the stage; but the general system makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the end of expectation.

To the unities of time and place he has shewn no regard, and perhaps a nearer view of the principles on which they stand will diminish their value, and withdraw from them the veneration which, from the time of Corneille, they have very generally received by discovering that they have given more trouble to the poet, than pleasure to the auditor.

The necessity of observing the unities of time and place arises from the supposed necessity of making the drama credible. The criticks hold it impossible, that an action of months or years can be possibly believed to pass in three hours; or that the spectator can suppose himself to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors go and return between distant kings, while armies are levied and towns besieged, while an exile wanders and returns, or till he whom they saw courting his mistress, shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The mind revolts from evident falsehood, and fiction loses its force when it departs from the resemblance of reality.

From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises the contraction of place. The spectator, who knows that he saw the first act at Alexandria, cannot suppose that he sees the next at Rome, at a distance to which not the dragons of Medea could, in so short a time, have transported him; he knows with certainty that he has not changed his place; and he knows that place cannot change itself; that what was a house cannot become a plain; that what was Thebes can never be Persepolis.

Such is the triumphant language with which a critick exults over the misery of an irregular poet, and exults commonly without resistance or reply. It is time therefore to tell him, by the authority of Shakespeare, that he assumes, as an unquestionable principle, a position, which, while his breath is forming it into words, his understanding pronounces to be false. It is false, that any representation is mistaken for reality; that any dramatick fable in its materiality was ever credible, or, for a single moment, was ever credited.

The objection arising from the impossibility of passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the next at Rome, supposes, that when the play opens the spectator really imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. Surely he that imagines this, may imagine more. He that can take the stage at one time for the palace of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for the promontory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be admitted, has no certain limitation; if the spectator can be once persuaded, that his old acquaintance are Alexander and Caesar, that a room illuminated with candles is the plain of Pharsalia, or the bank of Granicus, he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason, or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean poetry, may despise the circumscriptions of terrestrial nature. There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in extasy should count the clock, or why an hour should not be a century in that calenture of the brains that can make the stage a field.

The truth is, that the spectators are always in their senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only players. They come to hear a certain number of lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation. The lines relate to some action, and an action must be in some place; but the different actions that compleat a story may be in places very remote from each other; and where is the absurdity of allowing that space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but a modern theatre?

By supposition, as place is introduced, time may be extended; the time required by the fable elapses for the most part between the acts; for, of so much of the action as is represented, the real and poetical duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations for war against Mithridates are represented to be made in Rome, the event of the war may, without absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as happening in Pontus; we know that there is neither war, nor preparation for war; we know that we are neither in Rome nor Pontus; that neither Mithridates nor Lucullus are before us. The drama exhibits successive imitations of successive actions, and why may not the second imitation represent an action that happened years after the first; if it be so connected with it, that nothing but time can be supposed to intervene? Time is, of all modes of existence, most obsequious to the imagination; a lapse of years is as easily conceived as a passage of hours. In contemplation we easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore willingly permit it to be contracted when we only see their imitation.

It will be asked, how the drama moves, if it is not credited. It is credited with all the credit due to a drama. It is credited, whenever it moves, as a just picture of a real original; as representing to the auditor what he would himself feel, if he were to do or suffer what is there feigned to be suffered or to be done. The reflection that strikes the heart is not, that the evils before us are real evils, but that they are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players, but that we fancy ourselves unhappy for a moment; but we rather lament the possibility than suppose the presence of misery, as a mother weeps over her babe, when she remembers that death may take it from her. The delight of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness of fiction; if we thought murders and treasons real, they would please no more.

Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because they are mistaken for realities, but because they bring realities to mind. When the imagination is recreated by a painted landscape, the trees are not supposed capable to give us shade, or the fountains coolness; but we consider, how we should be pleased with such fountains playing beside us, and such woods waving over us. We are agitated in reading the history of “Henry the Fifth”, yet no man takes his book for the field of Agencourt. A dramatick exhibition is a book recited with concomitants that encrease or diminish its effect. Familiar comedy is often more powerful on the theatre, than in the page; imperial tragedy is always less. The humour of Petruchio may be heightened by grimace; but what voice or what gesture can hope to add dignity or force to the soliloquy of Cato.

A play read, affects the mind like a play acted. It is therefore evident, that the action is not supposed to be real, and it follows that between the acts a longer or shorter time may be allowed to pass, and that no more account of space or duration is to be taken by the auditor of a drama, than by the reader of a narrative, before whom may pass in an hour the life of a hero, or the revolutions of an empire.

Monday, November 29, 2010

from Julius Caesar (2.1) 1599

Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar, 61
I have not slept.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream: 65
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

from Richard II (5.1) 1595

I have been studying how I may compare
This prison where I live unto the world:
And for because the world is populous
And here is not a creature but myself, 5
I cannot do it; yet I'll hammer it out.
My brain I'll prove the female to my soul,
My soul the father; and these two beget
A generation of still-breeding thoughts,
And these same thoughts people this little world, 10
In humours like the people of this world,
For no thought is contented. The better sort,
As thoughts of things divine, are intermix'd
With scruples and do set the word itself
Against the word: 15
As thus, 'Come, little ones,' and then again,
'It is as hard to come as for a camel
To thread the postern of a small needle's eye.'
Thoughts tending to ambition, they do plot
Unlikely wonders; how these vain weak nails 20
May tear a passage through the flinty ribs
Of this hard world, my ragged prison walls,
And, for they cannot, die in their own pride.
Thoughts tending to content flatter themselves
That they are not the first of fortune's slaves, 25
Nor shall not be the last; like silly beggars
Who sitting in the stocks refuge their shame,
That many have and others must sit there;
And in this thought they find a kind of ease,
Bearing their own misfortunes on the back 30
Of such as have before endured the like.
Thus play I in one person many people,
And none contented: sometimes am I king;
Then treasons make me wish myself a beggar,
And so I am: then crushing penury 35
Persuades me I was better when a king;
Then am I king'd again: and by and by
Think that I am unking'd by Bolingbroke,
And straight am nothing: but whate'er I be,
Nor I nor any man that but man is 40
With nothing shall be pleased, till he be eased
With being nothing. Music do I hear?
Ha, ha! keep time: how sour sweet music is,
When time is broke and no proportion kept!
So is it in the music of men's lives. 45
And here have I the daintiness of ear
To cheque time broke in a disorder'd string;
But for the concord of my state and time
Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.
I wasted time, and now doth time waste me; 50
For now hath time made me his numbering clock:
My thoughts are minutes; and with sighs they jar
Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,
Whereto my finger, like a dial's point,
Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears. 55
Now sir, the sound that tells what hour it is
Are clamorous groans, which strike upon my heart,
Which is the bell: so sighs and tears and groans
Show minutes, times, and hours: but my time
Runs posting on in Bolingbroke's proud joy, 60
While I stand fooling here, his Jack o' the clock.
This music mads me; let it sound no more;
For though it have holp madmen to their wits,
In me it seems it will make wise men mad.
Yet blessing on his heart that gives it me! 65
For 'tis a sign of love; and love to Richard
Is a strange brooch in this all-hating world.

from Richard III (5.3) 1592

It is now dead midnight.
Cold fearful drops stand on my trembling flesh.
What do I fear? myself? there's none else by:
Richard loves Richard; that is, I am I.
Is there a murderer here? No. Yes, I am: 190
Then fly. What, from myself? Great reason why:
Lest I revenge. What, myself upon myself?
Alack. I love myself. Wherefore? for any good
That I myself have done unto myself?
O, no! alas, I rather hate myself 195
For hateful deeds committed by myself!
I am a villain: yet I lie. I am not.
Fool, of thyself speak well: fool, do not flatter.
My conscience hath a thousand several tongues,
And every tongue brings in a several tale, 200
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
Perjury, perjury, in the high'st degree
Murder, stem murder, in the direst degree;
All several sins, all used in each degree,
Throng to the bar, crying all, Guilty! guilty! 205
I shall despair. There is no creature loves me;
And if I die, no soul shall pity me:
Nay, wherefore should they, since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself?
Methought the souls of all that I had murder'd 210
Came to my tent; and every one did threat
To-morrow's vengeance on the head of Richard.

Gigantic Hamlet Paper

AP English Paper

1. I want you to write a 3-4 page paper on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This paper must be typed. It should have the following:

*title clearly explaining its subject

*thesis in the first paragraph explaining the subject explored in the paper

*citations from the text itself supporting all general statements

*parentheses citing act, scene, and line, ie, (4.2.122-115)


*your paper will be graded on the quality of your analysis as well as the logical presentation and defense of the thesis

*if you write a summary of the play, your grade will be very low

*if your analysis is superficial, your grade will be low


2. Possible Topics:

a. Hamlet and Purgatory
b. Hamlet’s character/personality/temperament
c. The metaphor of the body politic
d. Soliloquies in Hamlet: Purpose and Dramatic Design
e. Horatio’s role as confidante
f. The Fortinbras Frame: Keep or Drop?
g. Hamlet’s Relationship to Ophelia
h. Doubling in Hamlet
i. Why does Hamlet delay?
j. Hamlet’s Madness and its Consequences
k. The tone of suspicion in Hamlet
l. Hamlet’s collapse of the social hierarchy
m. The metaphor of “play” in Hamlet
n. The nature of Hamlet’s transformation in Act Five
o. Hamlet as Revenge Play
p. Is Gertrude in on the Murder of her husband?
q. Hamlet’s view of Death
r. Hamlet as Tragic Hero
s. Do we admire Hamlet? Why? Why not?

Gravedigger's Scene

Monday, November 22, 2010

Hamlet 3.3

Hamlet 3.4

Hamlet 4.7

from Keats' Letters (September 1819)

The Composition of "To Autumn"

Keats wrote "To Autumn" after enjoying a lovely autumn day; he described his experience in a letter to his friend Reynolds:

"How beautiful the season is now--How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather--Dian skies--I never lik'd stubble fields so much as now--Aye better than the chilly green of the spring. Somehow a stubble plain looks warm--in the same way that some pictures look warm--this struck me so much in my Sunday's walk that I composed upon it."

Manuscript "To Autumn"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

Edward Alleyn

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Henslowe's Diary

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Ode to the West Wind" by Shelley

Ode to the West Wind
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave,until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

"After Apple-Picking"

After Apple-Picking
by Robert Frost

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Thesis Example

In Richard Wilbur's "The Writer", images of the writing life as a sea-voyage are rejected in favor of an image of a trapped starling which seeks freedom in a manner analogous to the writer's imagination striving to transcend and create.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Introduction to Poetry

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

The Writer

The Writer
by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

The Unknown Citizen

The Unknown Citizen
by W. H. Auden

(To JS/07 M 378
This Marble Monument
Is Erected by the State)

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing Assignment--Due October 29th

Writing Assignment
AP English

Length: Two pages, typed, 14 font maximum.

Possible topics:

Gatsby’s character, its ambiguity, greatness, weaknesses.

Plot: the seasonal changes, the house of Gatsby.

Analysis of chapter, scene, and its meaning within the novel as a whole.

Stylistic analysis of a single passage, its meaning within the novel as a whole.

Daisy’s character, imagery and tone and meaning.

The last chapter: Imagery and Final Impressions

Significance of the Green Light

Nick as Narrator: Virtues and Limitations


You must have a thesis in your opening paragraph. If all you have is a series of factual statements in the opening of your paper, I will stop reading it and return it to you for revision.

To insure this, I want you to italicize your thesis-sentence in your final draft to me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fitzgerald Biography

The Great Gatsby Online

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spots of Time in Lyric Poetry

Perhaps as a function of its brevity, the themes of lyric poetry often seem to emerge in a "sudden" shift of perception. Actually, there is due preparation, but some feeling or insight about human experience does seem to come suddenly into focus. Robert Langbaum has called this the "epiphanic" mode, and has suggested that it is the dominant modern convention of the lyric. (In religious usage, "epiphany" suggests revelation.) Again, most of us are familiar with this convention because we have experienced versions of it elsewhere (for example, in some popular songs and short stories).

The most challenging issues of lyric poetry, however, probably have to do with our third expectation-- that it is structurally coherent. What interconnected elements of a poem can suggest to us its themes? In the newspaper "poem," we found coherence between the "stanza" form and the diction (the appearance on the page seemed to focus attention on significant word choices), and between the characters (neighbor and blind person) and the implied attitude of the speaker ("neighbors" should care). In many lyric poems, in fact, the speaker is perhaps the most important element of all.

The typical "speaker" of a lyric poem is a conventional construct, someone who may be associated with the historical author, but who is not really that author speaking in his or own person. The importance of this conventional speaker is that he or she is in one way or another the agent of revelation. For example, in one common sequence, the speaker has an experience, responds to it with feelings, and comes to understand the meaning of the events or objects he or she describes. This meaning discovered by the speaker may then become for us the epiphany. But it is a bit more complex than this.

Whether we realize it or not, we can respond to this conventional speaker in the same way that we might respond in real life. But whenever a real-life speaker says something, we respond to two things--to the idea the speaker is expressing and also to the speaker himself or herself. Whenever we read a lyric poem, we can do the same, and either or both of these responses will lead to the significant insight we expect from a lyric poem. That is, the insight may be (1) the same as the speaker's or (2) related to the character of the speaker or (3) both.

The insight we derive that is identical with the speaker's is not usually delivered directly. In fact, if the speaker does seem to be saying something directly to us, it may be ironic. For example, an Emily Dickinson speaker, preparing us for a theme about people who think they are "somebody" (they are pompously "public, like a frog"), says slyly,

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us--. . .
Do you believe the "nobody" self-assessment of this speaker? Of course, an ironic tone may also be present in less direct poetic statements. Another Emily Dickinson speaker:
What soft, cherubic creatures
These gentlewomen are!
One would as soon assault a plush
Or violate a star.

Does the speaker really think these "gentlewomen" are "cherubic"?
In both of these lyric poems, the reader needs the whole poem to determine more fully the attitude of the speaker, and thus the significant insight we will come to share with him or her. Yet we should also note that in both of these poems, our acceptance of the insight is contingent on an implicit judgment we make about the character of the speaker. As in real life, we will assume the speaker is "right" and will accept the insight that is suggested, only to the extent that he or she seems worthy; that is, the speaker must seem not only trustworthy, but also possessed of wisdom. The speaker's "voice" must convey credibility.

Sometimes, the character of the speaker figures more overtly, in ways that relate to the theme itself. For example, if one of Wordsworth's favorite early themes is that "feelings" are more valuable than "reason," his speakers often become an integral part of that theme. In "We Are Seven," there is a a very "rational" adult speaker, who keeps insisting to a child that her family no longer numbers "seven" because some of them are dead. We feel mild irritation with this speaker; our sympathies go with the equally insistent, but more intuitive child, for whom the dead members are still alive because she feels their presence--"their graves are green, they may be seen." On the other hand, in Wordsworth's "Strange Fits of Passion," we find ourselves siding with the speaker (who in fact solicits our sympathies), in opposition to those implied persons who would judge him. He admits to us that what pops into his head, his "wayward thoughts," can only be told into a "lover's ear," that others would consider his thoughts "strange," evidence of irrational "fits." And the associative flash that he reports, connecting the moon's sudden drop behind the hill with the possible death of his beloved, is indeed irrational. But we like this speaker, and with him, take delight in observing such interesting (and universal) vagaries of the human mind.

Sometimes our sympathies may be wonderfully enlarged when we perceive in the character of a speaker, not commonality, but difference from ourselves. To a male reader, Emily Dickinson's striking "I Started Early--Took My Dog--" can open up new insight if, in responding to the character of the speaker, he takes in the fact that she is female (there are references to "Apron" and "Boddice"), and that next to the huge ships in the harbor she feels small, like a "Mouse-- / Aground-- upon the Sands--." In a highly charged progression of sexual images, the ambivalent-sounding speaker also tells of her retreat from a pursuing, polite, yet extremely powerful, potentially engulfing sea, personified as male suitor.

Based partly on how we react to people in real life, we can almost always react to a "speaker" in a lyric poem. From the speaker's words we can construct a situation and derive an attitude. In many cases, we assume the speaker is worthy, a sensitive observer and interpreter whose moments of discovery we can directly take over as our own. In some dramatic monologues, on the other hand, our discovery may be primarily about the character of the speaker (who often is not aware of his own shortcomings). Occasionally, the speaker/situation may seem unreal- -in real life, people do not speak to the West Wind or to a Grecian urn. Yet an attitude or insight is still present. Even when the speaker seems invisible or anonymous (we have no clues pointing to a real person speaking the words), the disembodied "voice" suggests an attitude. Some recent critics have suggested that all lyric speakers are haunted by multiple "voices"; rather than being agents who determine and control insight, they can speak only in the "voices" of the surrounding culture, only what its biased language system permits them to speak. Yet there is still some significant theme expressed.

Rewards and Challenges of Reading Lyric Poetry
This discussion has focused in a general way on two conventional aspects of lyric poetry with which, though we do not often think about them, we are familiar. These are "stanza" form, which we assume is appropriate to feeling and theme, and the "speaker," who is often the most important agent of the theme. Beyond these, in lyric poetry, we assume structural coherence may be found in all of its elements.
Several final comments on the rewards and challenges of reading lyric poetry:

a.) The element of epiphany, of revelation, is perhaps the major reason we think lyric poetry can matter in our lives. Though extremely brief (Rossetti called it a "moment's monument"), a good lyric poem can have an enduring effect. We can find and take back with us new ways of seeing or feeling, or find that an old, seemingly inexpressible feeling has been given shape for us.

b.) In its brevity, lyric poetry thrives on exclusion, leaving a good deal of context to be supplied by a reader. It thus reminds us how much reading is a creative process, to which we bring not only our knowledge of the conventional possibilities of literary form, but also all of the unique experiences that each of us, as individuals, has undergone. The situations described in the preceding examples--a "rational" adult's conversation with an "unreasonable" child; anxious, irrational feelings about losing a lover, aroused so suddenly by the setting of the moon; the powerful and significant fantasizing that can take place during a walk by the sea--all become meaningful only as our prior experiences and knowledge make them so.

c.) Even "difficult" poems--those with seemingly unrelated objects and situations, with fragmented sequences and syntactical dislocations--can be assumed to have unity; if we work at them, we can "make sense" of them. Meanings may not immediately be apparent; epiphanies, though they seem to be "sudden" revelations, may take time to be discovered. Yet there is pleasure to be had in the working out of meanings. (We are always justifiably pleased whenever we use our talents and powers.)

d.) In lyric poems, we may discover joy, surprise, and playfulness. Authors do "play" with their themes. Responding to this aspect of lyric poetry is much like listening to the jazz musician who improvises on a musical theme. Many jazz afficionados listen first for the main theme, then follow as the musician begins to fly with it, and then, understanding what the artist is doing at a particularly inspired moment, they will whisper in quiet admiration--"yeah!" In reading lyric poetry too, when one appreciates how the author has skillfully played with the theme, how apparently discordant lines turn out to be interesting variations that come back always to the same idea, one may have a silent, admiring "yeah!" response.

e.) Finally, the experiences of reading are cumulative. We can build on them. Because "texts" absorb and reflect each other, the more we read, the richer can be our experience of any one poem. With individual authors, for example, we can read many of Blake's Songs of Experience in light of his Songs of Innocence (and vice versa); or we can enrich our understanding of the single word "thing" in Wordsworth's "A Slumber Did My Spirit Seal" if we know his use of the same word in the Tintern Abbey "Lines" (where the speaker sees into the life of "things"). We can also recognize this "intertextuality" between the texts of different authors, and also between literary and non-literary texts. Thus, the more that we read, the more that we extend our participation in our common literary and cultural community (with its shared assumptions, expectations, and conventions), the more we will understand and enjoy experiences that have been among the most intense and meaningful that human beings have ever put into words.

Adapted from A Guide to the Study of Literature: A Companion Text for Core Studies 6, Landmarks of Literature, ©Brooklyn College.



Enjoyment of lyric poetry, like enjoyment of any other genre, depends in part on knowledge of its conventions. To what extent are these familiar or unfamiliar? What do we already know that can make us very comfortable with reading a lyric poem?
We are in fact familiar with two kinds of popular "texts" that bear some similarity to and have some of the same "feel" as lyric poetry. We also know how to recognize a lyric poem when we see one (more important than we might at first think), as well as how, in general, we are expected to read it. Finally, we know more about two of its special conventions, "stanza" form and the "speaker," than we may realize.

Lyric Poetry and Familiar Popular "Texts"

Lyric poetry makes its impact in a very brief space. It stresses moments of feeling. It is often quite memorable. In these and several other ways, lyric poems resemble two other kinds of "texts" with which we are quite familiar: ninety-second popular songs and fifteen-second television commercials. Both of these aim, in extremely brief time, to capture moments of feeling. Both aim to imprint themselves in our memory. To achieve this, besides repeated air play, both use internal forms of repetition.
In pop songs, there is a strong emphasis on rhythm, on "the beat," a very basic way of using repetition to aid memory. The best songs also use striking images and are about subjects that concern us. They may relate a memorable incident and tell of its lasting emotional implications. Refrains, catch phrases, and other verbal devices invite us to remember the specific words so that we will sing them--as the record is being played, afterwards to ourselves, and finally on our way to the record store.

Television commercials also present striking images, sometimes in very quick sequence--a series of "poetic" fragments that try to associate the particular product with a feeling or goal that is highly valued (friendship, health, social status, or love). Some of the best are like mini-dramas, telling brief, emotionally appealing "stories." A first-born child, disturbed by all the fuss over a newly arrived baby, says plaintively, "I have blue eyes too"; he is taken by his father to MacDonald's, for a "man-to-man talk," where a new role is offered to him, to be a teacher of the younger child. A teen-age girl complains tearfully to her friends about her mother--"She's so much prettier than me"--until she smiles, realizing that at the same age, her mother looked "exactly like me." Accompanying these commercials, there is also a strong musical element, either as background or as a catchy tune with catchy words to it. To sell the product, story and music and verbal devices all aim at being memorable.

The earliest poetry of every culture also aimed at being remembered. It had to. Without the resources of mass printing, it could only survive through oral transmission. There were many repeat performances. Mnemonic verbal devices, a "story" which engaged the concerns and values of the culture, and strong musical elements existed here too (the poems were sung or chanted to musical accompaniment). Medieval popular ballads were not printed until the fifteenth century. These were generally story-songs that used refrains, as well as "incremental repetition" (lines that change only slightly in each appearance).

Our pop songs and commercials today are in part the inheritors of ballad and other popular traditions. But they also echo more consciously "literary" forms (in literary history, there is constant exchange). In particular, they use two conventions of lyric poetry which developed in the nineteenth century. First, as the lyric moved "up" in the hierarchy of literary genres, the objects and situations it described "descended," became more commonplace, more everyday. This was one of Wordsworth's major innovations. Second, the place of "action" or "story," of primary importance in literature since Aristotle, shifted. Feelings became primary. Wordsworth said that feelings gave importance to the action and situation, not the other way around. Both of these conventions of the nineteenth century lyric-- emphasis on everyday events and on a "story" that exists mostly for the feelings it expresses--may be seen operating in a great many commercials and popular songs today (think of any Country and Western song).

To sum up, because we are familiar with these brief, popular "texts," we may, in a general way, be more familiar than we realize with the conventions and codes of lyric poetry.

--Adapted from A Guide to the Study of Literature: A Companion Text for Core Studies 6, Landmarks of Literature, ©Brooklyn College.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Plato's Allegory of the Cave

Book VII of The Republic

The Allegory of the Cave

Here's a little story from Plato's most famous book, The Republic. Socrates is talking to a young follower of his named Glaucon, and is telling him this fable to illustrate what it's like to be a philosopher -- a lover of wisdom: Most people, including ourselves, live in a world of relative ignorance. We are even comfortable with that ignorance, because it is all we know. When we first start facing truth, the process may be frightening, and many people run back to their old lives. But if you continue to seek truth, you will eventually be able to handle it better. In fact, you want more! It's true that many people around you now may think you are weird or even a danger to society, but you don't care. Once you've tasted the truth, you won't ever want to go back to being ignorant!


[Socrates is speaking with Glaucon]

[Socrates:] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon:] I see.

And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -- will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?


Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.


He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.