Question 1: "Could Midsummer Night’s Dream be a romance? Using your lecture notes and the McDonald text, discuss any romance conventions that occur in the play and how they are used. At least one direct quote from the play and one from secondaries."
My first reaction upon seeing this question was to print out the rest of the essay answers, take this page, write "SEE PAPER" on it in giant letters and be done with the ordeal—since seeing this play as more than just a comedy is part of what the thesis paper of mine is about. But let’s be serious. In response to the question of if it could be a romance, I would say, "Indubitably!" I’ll take this from two angles: first, how it fits some of the "romance conventions" from the McDonald textbook; then I will give a quote from the play and give at least one reason of my own for seeing it as romantic.
I would like to make clear that I do not entirely with some of the things that Russ McDonald has to say. When discussing romance, he says, "As a distinctive kind of comedy, romance arrives at a happy ending by an unusually perilous route" (95). Well, I only agree with him to an extent, because I do not believe that romance should necessarily be classified as a type of comedy. Although Shakespeare certainly did excel at writing comedies and romantic comedies, it is not anyone’s place to try to redefine one genre as just a subsection of another.
Overlooking this, however, I admit that the statement is relatively accurate. Certainly Dream does arrive at its conclusion in a roundabout, even atypical fashion; like I said in the thesis paper, it’s a good thing (for the characters’ sake) that they’re in a comedy or they wouldn’t have had such fortuitous luck. I don’t know if the way in which the play (or characters) reaches the happy ending is a particularly "perilous" one, at least given the recognition that most everything was dreamed. (Perilous is used so vaguely here, I don’t fully know what he means!)
McDonald describes a number of traits that are common to romances. Some of these apply more to Dream than others do; for example, major characters undergo trials and ordeals—which culminate in victory and/or happiness in the end. He does say that the happy conclusion is often "joyous, even revelatory," although "the progression to that ending is much more arduous than in traditional comedy" (95). Basically, if you’re going to have a marriage, something unfortunate has to happen along the way, like catastrophe or death. Certainly Dream fits this description; not only are there a whole bunch of weddings in the end, there are a whole bunch of cataclysmic events beforehand! The most considerable of McDonald’s comments may be what he calls "the gap between the desperate middle and the joyful ending," an example of which (according to him) being "characters […] are able to retrieve what seemed irretrievably lost" (95). This certainly applies to Dream, in many ways; not only is love regained, but more significantly, people get back their own lost identities. Their sense of self is resurrected, augmented.
Now I add a little input of my own (and a quotation). I’m not going to go the traditional route and say "Well, they got married, it has to be a romance!" That’s inane. In the opening scene we catch a glimpse of the love which exists between Hermia and Lysander, which is quite intense. Hermia, for example, has been told that she has three options: marry Demetrius, become a nun or face execution! Neither Demetrius’ face nor Death’s face will she behold, and neither will she cover her own face with the veil of a sister’s habit. One of the best quotes here is when Hermia says to Lysander:
If then true lovers have ever been crossed,
It stands as an edict in destiny.
Then let us teach our trial patience,
Because it is a customary cross,
As due to love as thoughts, and dreams, and sighs,
Wishes, and tears, poor fancy's
This is in the middle of when Hermia and Lysander not only scheme to get away from Athens but when they profess love for one another. What’s comedic about this, I ask McDonald? It’s serious and admirable. The whole play isn’t a romance, but some parts are.
Question 2: "In First Henry IV, how do the two Henrys use the metaphor of the sun, and to make what argument? At least two quotes, one from each character."
The first person who uses the metaphor of the sun is Prince Henry (also called Hal), the son of King Henry IV. After the departure of Falstaff and then Poins, Henry is left alone on the stage. He addresses the audience with a soliloquy:
I know you all, and will awhile
The unyoked humor of your idleness.
Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.
If all the year were playing holidays,
To sport would be as tedious as to work;
But when they seldom come, they wished-for come,
And nothing pleaseth but rare accidents.
So when this loose behavior I throw off
And pay the debt I never promisèd,
By how much better than my word I am,
By so much shall I falsify men's hopes;
And like bright metal on a sullen ground,
My reformation, glittering o'er my fault,
Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes
Than that which hath no foil to set it off.
I'll so offend, to make offense a skill;
Redeeming time when men think least I will.
In this instance, the sun is Henry’s royalty (more specifically, the duties he has as a prince—and the greater position of authority he will have later on as king). Actually, perhaps the sun is the prince himself. The clouds are basically his irresponsible actions and behavior that he has exhibited. Henry is well-aware of the fact that his conduct doesn’t quite go with his noble status; he says that like the sun comes out from behind the clouds, so will his true character become evident. Part of his about-face includes dissociating from the malefactors he’s been hanging around with, which may be what he means by "base contagious clouds" (1.2.192). He also says that the change in him will make him "…like bright metal on a sullen ground, / My reformation, glittering o’er my fault, / Shall show more goodly and attract more eyes / Than that which hath no foil to set it off" (1.2.206-9). Here he says that his bad behavior will serve to enhance his apparent transformation, because otherwise people would undervalue his attitude if he were always good. This reflects a previous line ("And pay the debt I never promised") (1.2.203); he knows his obligation to his nation. All in all, this is his argument that all of what he has been doing is a ploy and he will become as regal as the sun.
The second reference to old Sol comes in Act 3, second scene. King Henry criticizes his son, comparing his actions to that of the previous king, Richard II. The king says (of himself) that he has been doing what he can to be an upright leader—and now is hoping to find out if (and when) Hal is going to change his behavior. King Henry says that it doesn’t reflect well on him to have his son being seen associating with commoners, especially drunkards and thieves.
The king’s actual reference to the sun is when he says "Heard, not regarded—seen, but with such eyes / As, sick and blunted with community, / Afford no extraordinary gaze, / Such as is bent on sunlike majesty / When it shines seldom in admiring eyes" (3.2.76-80). This description seems more aimed at Hal than Richard, functioning as both an admonition and a piece of advice. (The king also makes another celestial reference by describing himself as "seldom seen" and saying that "like a comet, I was wondered at") (3.2.46-7).
Question 3: "Where and how does the 2000 film version of Hamlet make use of Act I, Scene I from the play? Cite specific dialogue, giving act and scene info."
Hopefully I can answer this question without editorializing too much about how much I disliked the film. (I don’t especially care for symbolism which involves Pepsi One vending machines.) But I digress. Anyway, getting back on track, the play only uses parts of 1.1. It is a flashback scene layered on top of 1.2 and begins about 11 minutes into the film. Right before the scene-shift into the past tense, Horatio and the others are talking to Hamlet to tell him about what they saw. Right after Horatio says "In the dead waste and middle of the night, / […] The apparition comes" (1.2.198; 1.2.211). We then see Horatio, Marcella (Marcellus) and Barnardo. They are watching one of the monitors connected to a security camera, which is mounted inside an elevator. Horatio sees the spectre riding in an ascending elevator, so he and the other two run over to the other elevators to pursue the apparition.
"[But] where was this?" asks Hamlet, voice-over. Marcella answers, "My lord, upon the platform where we watch" (1.2.213-4). Skip ahead a moment to the point where everyone has gotten out of the lift. Barnardo speaks: "’Tis here!" (1.1.142) The three follow the Ghost down a hallway where it walks towards a vending machine.
The action jumps back to Hamlet for a moment: "Did you not speak to it?" Horatio tells him, "My lord, I did, / But answer made it none. Yet once methought / It lifted up it head and did address / Itself to motion like as it would speak" (1.2.214-7).
We flash back to the empty corridor again. The Ghost turns to face Horatio and others, but does not speak. Horatio speaks: "Stay, illusion! If thou hast any sound or use of voice, speak to me" (1.1.127-29). Marcella, noticing it is still silent, says, "It is offended" (1.1.49). Horatio continues his attempt to get the transparent man to speak, telling it, "If there be any good thing to be done / That may to thee do ease, and grace to me, / Speak to me. Speak, speak, I charge thee speak!" (1.1.130-32; 1.1.51) No response is given; the Ghost glares at him rather enigmatically for a moment, then turns around and continues walking. It vanishes as it walks towards the soda machine. As the three stare at one another in bewilderment, the scene fades back to the present and to Hamlet, whose first remark is "’Tis very strange" (1.2.220).
Question 4: "Which was your favorite scene from the plays we read this semester, and why? Use at least one direct quote."
Someone in the classroom said "This one’s a gimme." Who said that? I don’t agree; there are so many great scenes. In fact, this one was a tossup; I’m not going to try to decide, in fact. Instead, I’ll take on both because they’re memorable for very different reasons. The first one is from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and is probably a popular pick—the Prologue as played by Peter Quince in 5.1.
If we offend, it is with our good will.
That you should think, we come not to offend,
But with good will. To show our simple skill,
That is the true beginning of our end.
Consider, then, we come but in despite.
We do not come, as minding to content you,
Our true intent is. All for your delight
We are not here. That you should here repent you,
The actors are at hand; and, by their show,
You shall know all that you are like to know.
This is a stroke of genius; the satire is caustic, even mordant. How I managed to restrain from laughing outright in class is something we may never know; I am an aficionado of anyone capable of sardonic humor, and Shakespeare pulls out all the stops. Anyone who can make such a clever remark about people like maladroit thespians—and do so with nothing more than misplaced punctuation and sentence fragments—is A-OK in my book. While she’s watching the absurd play, Hippolyta remarks, "This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard" (5.1.209). I’m inclined to agree; the entire thing is hilarious.
Of course, as I sit here and write all this, I occasionally think to myself, "Is this the most worthwhile thing I have to say?!" Well, maybe it is, but I have nothing but fond memories of having done this scene in class. We didn’t exactly have Oscar-worthy performances either, but the mere fact that we had as much fun as we did—and with 400-year-old language, to boot—is certainly a testament to Shakespeare’s timelessness.
I am tersely going to cover the other scene which I remember quite well. It comes from A Winter’s Tale and is the final revelation. As much as I liked the rest of the play (and I really did, it may be a personal favorite thus far), the only other scene as memorable as 5.3 was Paulina’s rant in 3.2 where she tears into Leontes for his appalling behavior. But that’s just a close second; the ending in 5.3 is magnificent. Love certainly is long-suffering in this play; it is also forgiving. The climax of the play is certainly an unexpected one; a statue of Hermione has been commissioned… and took 16 years to complete! The sculptor apparently even decided to make Hermione look 16 years older than the age she was when she died. But as it turns out, the lifelike statue is no statue at all—Hermione is real!
The question is, what really happened to her? Was she in hiding; was she brought back to life? The former seems the answer, but that’s not why I liked it. I loved having discussions in class but that’s not why either. The language is vivid and the resolution, however mysterious, is a dramatic twist. Romantic, yes… but also tragic in a way, because Antigonus and Mamillius are still dead. It was Mamillius who’d said to Hermione once, "A sad tale’s best for winter" (2.1.27), but the end of the story more resembles the springtime, where things are revived and brought back to life—the seasons are like a cycle, winter being one of death and spring being one of resurrection.
Paulina says, "Music, awake her; strike! [Music.] / ‘Tis time. Descend. Be stone no more. Approach. / Strike all that look upon with marvel. Come, / I’ll fill your grave up. Stir, nay, come away, / Bequeath to death your numbness, for from him / Dear life redeems you" (5.3.98-102). Despite all her husband has done, Hermia returns to him. It is a poignant moment of recognition, happiness and mercy.
Question 5: "Read one of the critical essays in the Bedford/St. Martin’s Hamlet and identify its thesis. At least one direct quote."
The article I read was Elaine Showalter’s "Representing Ophelia: Women, Madness and the Responsibilities of Feminist Criticism." I will quote what I believe is the most substantial passage in her discussion:
When feminist criticism chooses to deal with representation, rather than with women’s writing, it must aim for a maximum interdisciplinary contextualism, in which the complexity of attitudes toward the feminine can be analyzed in their fullest cultural and historical frame. The alternation of strong and weak Ophelias on stage, virginal and seductive Ophelias in art, inadequate or oppressed Ophelias in criticism, tells us how these representations have overflowed the text and how they have reflected the ideological character of their times, erupting as debates between dominant and feminist views in periods of gender crisis and redefinition. (237)
Basically what Showalter is doing throughout her (lengthy) discussion is giving numerous examples of how Ophelia has been portrayed, especially on the stage, in paintings and in criticism. Showalter criticizes the way in which most people have chosen to analyze this character, because it seems—in her opinion—that what is usually written about her tends to be more of a reflection of the critic’s own ideological standpoint than anything else. People have their own cultural and philosophical beliefs, she says, which they tend to "read into" (incorporate into) their interpretation of Ophelia. She frowns on this because she feels that it becomes more of a subjective personal observation than a critical exegesis. A more neutral and factual approach, she says, would consider what Ophelia was really about and things such as Shakespeare’s intentions, thought process and character origins. How can we expect to make a worthwhile cultural analysis, she asks, if our readings of the text are influenced (even tainted) by our own mindset?
Here’s a brief example. There is a man from our church (I’ll just call him Mr. X) who is from a remote tribe in Uganda. Let’s say that he is standing in a circle, surrounded by three people: his wife, a racist from the South and a man from a rival tribe. Assume that neither of the last two people have any knowledge of him and have never spoken to him. If the three were asked about Mr. X, his wife would likely say "He’s the best husband in the world and I love him." The bigot would say "He’s just a stupid ne’er-do-well" [possibly even use a slur or expletive]. The tribesman would say, "He is our enemy." Well, none of these remarks have anything to do with who Mr. X is; they’re skewed, they’re just opinions (at best) and have nothing to do with Mr. X, like his character, life or anything else at all. This is how Elaine Showalter views the arguments and essays that she has read.