Lebanese University – English Department
Professor: Dr. May Maalouf Alfy – Student: Marie-Rose Zeenny
Session 1 - Monday November 13, 2006
Some of Shakespeare’s plays (tragedies & comedies) will be studied.
→ Midsummer Night’s Dream: masterpiece in comedy
→ Macbeth Tragedies
→ King Lear
→ Julius Caesar: historical
→ As You Like It: more mature comedy
Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, 5 long narrative poems and a cycle of 144 sonnets in a span of
about 20 years. Such a rich output with no exact dates of when each work was written render
any study of Shakespeare‟s work based on a chronological order a very misleading one. We
don‟t know much about Shakespeare. We know the body of his work; some are extremely
perfect, some are way below average. Historically, the plays are partly Elizabethan plays (i.e.,
written in the reign of Elizabeth I, 1533-1603) and partly Jacobean (James I, 1603-1625).
Accordingly, the course will focus on two plays prior to 1603 and four or five plays from the
Jacobean period. Although our critical analysis will address the theme, character, structure and
language of these plays, the course will trace the changes that might distinguish Shakespeare‟s
early from the later one. Particularly important will be Shakespeare‟s attitudes towards the
individual and society, the “world” of his comedies and of his tragedies.
▬ Class Requirements:
Students are expected to have read the play understudy before discussing it in class. Resource
materials are plentiful on Shakespeare; thus, the students should complement their reading of
the primary texts with critical readings, whether from books, journals periodicals, or websites
on the net (the most comprehensive Shakespeare resources website is Michael Best‟s).
Students are also strongly advised not to absent themselves as lectures are given in lecture
form. Students‟ active participation through oral presentation will gain them extra points that
come as “handy” at the end of the year.
Session 2 - Wednesday November 15, 2006
We will demythologize → humanize Shakespeare. He was a normal human like all of us and
not that Olympian giant godlike figure supposed to be perfect. He was a “vacuum cleaner” in
the sense that none of his work is not derived from somewhere else. They are all based on or
derived from previous sources: Italian, Arabic, Greek, the Bible, English history, etc…
No One Can Create Out Of Nothing → only God. He is a human being with ideas, extremely
talented. He is a smart reader. He is a forger of sources. He has the raw material from the
different sources; he takes them to the smithy of his imagination.
He is such an important person because he dared to say in his plays: “I Do Not Know”, “to be
or not to be, that is the question!”, “to act or to stay still”. His creativity lies in the ability to
picture humanistic feelings. He realized that life is not a neat package; he experienced life, and
he had the courage to say “I Do Not Know” until he reached and enjoyed negative capability (=
the ability to live in uncertainties). He expresses human emotion in a breathtaking
unprecedencial way. Shakespeare‟s working vocabulary was 25000 whereas Milton‟s was
12000. John Keats (Romantic poet) wrote 5 of the most perfect odes in English language.
He had poetic justice where good is rewarded while bad is punished; he did not follow that, but
he pictured life in all its aspects.
→ Elizabethan World view:
World view is the relationship of the individual to the world, how he views it in all aspects
(conventions, beliefs … of the period). Elizabethans view the world as different from how we
(20th Century readers) view it. The idea they had concerning human nature differs a lot from
how we look at it now. It is important to know what kind of views they had; it is shown
obviously in Shakespeare‟s plays and writings. Elizabethan → humanism
→ Humanism: is a very wide concept. Some consider that it began in the 15th century, around
1485, and from that date on, we are still, more or less, in the period of humanism (style of life).
Characteristics of the Renaissance Period / humanism:
1. Interest in Man: Man becomes the center of the universe.
Dark Ages → Everyman: generic (it is sponsored by the church for it is a morality play
that stepped out of bible stories and the public does not have a copy of the bible which
was written in Greek, so the clerk had to pick the stories and put them on especially
during the “passion” time). God was the center of universe and not man. The church
was of a great dark power where anybody could be picked by the charge if he behaves
in a bad manner. Umberto Ecco is a novelist and a literary critic; he wrote The Name of
the Rose acted in a movie by Sean Connery showing the Dark Ages where laughter is
presented as the work of the devil.
We can tell
Middle Ages → Chaucer (the church had extreme control over the population that was
not allowed to read the bible by itself. At this age, the church exercised all kinds of
from the title
torture especially the horrible inquisitions and was able to gain back the soul in order to
Elizabethan Age → Dr. Faustus: specific with a certain man who had the right to gain
power; he had 8 – 9 PhD‟s and still wanted more. He was willing to sell his soul to the
devil for 24 years of power. He is a typical Renaissance man seeking knowledge &
power. (Man is the center of the universe for it comes from the belief that he is the most
important being on earth). In the Renaissance, the focus is more on the individual (how
he can gain more education and more power).
2. The Rise of Individualism: concurrent with the attitude that man is the center of the
universe comes the rise of individualism (my interests come first). Individualism could
become dangerous → egocentricity leads to solipsism = the love of the self which is one
of the tragic flaws of Dr. Faustus. Hitler had a noble purpose → purify the German race.
Machiavellianism → from Machiavelli (around 1590), he wrote a book The Prince. In
that book, he presents the philosophy of how should leaders be. “The end justifies the
means”. A Machiavellian is one (a character) who would stop at nothing until he reaches
his goal. No moral scruples = no moral conscience or ethics. (Moral scruples are things
you puzzle about). Individualism is dangerous, because it could lead to Machiavellianism
& to egocentricity. “Might is right”: this is Machiavelli‟s philosophy. Keep in mind there
is a bit of Machiavelli, Faustus and Frankenstein in every one of us. In Shakespeare we
have Iago, Othello, Henry V, and Macbeth in which we see a bit of Machiavellianism.
3. Intellectual Challenges: The fall of Constantinople led to intellectual challenges.
Constantinople was the center of Greek philosophy and thought. It fell in the hands of
Turk. The scholars escaped Constantinople and spread all over the world taking with
them Greek philosophy and thought → very rich matrix for intellectual debates (west).
The west had no idea what was going on in Plato‟s and Aristotle‟s thought & mythology.
4. Religious → Hierarchy of authority: God has the highest hierarchy, then angels, people in
the power and then slaves. This hierarchical thought reflected itself in politics and in
society and towards the universe as a whole.
Very ordered universe → each having its own
Religiously God is the ultimate power → Angels. position (low, medium & high)→ Hierarchy
Political Head of the state and ministers.
There was harmony → Adam & Eve disobeyed
Societal or Familial Father and mother.
→ the birth of Chaos, and we have been living
trying to deal with chaos ever since.
Birds Eagle N.B: The natural world can interfere in natural
Fish Dolphin and supernatural things. One will be doomed
Man Head / Reason but liver is the lowest. when one tries to do something against nature.
1. Emergence of Man as the center of the earth
2. Individualism = Machiavellianism
5. Summary: Humanism is what follows:
3. Intellectual Challenges MACRO
4. Religious Hierarchy
The universe happens to be round as a globe & we have all other planets
around. For instance, if I am going to be the center of the universe then I
can say that I‟ve created a world of my own and I‟ve became a
microcosm. I have my history within me and I can live solitary in my
world. But if this is the microcosm, the other becomes the macrocosm.
For the family to live happily there must be harmony between the
macrocosm & the microcosm, but what if the macrocosm is in disparity
with the microcosm. I have severed / cut off the umbilical cord to be
myself and then I will have some problems to fit again in the society. MICRO
In the Castle of Knowledge, the moon is referred to the wheel of fortune ruled by ignorance
(blank figure stepping on a ball) whereas the sun is referred to the sphere of destiny
represented by circles in different directions (the figure is standing on a solid firm ground).
This dichotomy or dialectic between destiny & fortune, sun & moon, man & woman is central.
The Elizabethan view the world as spheres inside spheres. Man is at the center being at the top
of animate and inanimate existence. It is a society that is very much closed to the extent that
our movements become difficult. In order to be a perfect person, we must have the following
four elements (earth, water, fire & air) in proportion. In addition, we have humours / liquids in
our body that must be in proper proportions too.
In a Midsummer Night‟s Dream, lovers go to the forest where the fairy world of Queen Titania
and King Oberon exists. If the fairies are unhappy with humans, they can do whatever they
want with them. Hence, the fairy world may affect humans. When the lovers go to the forest,
there would simultaneously be a battle of the wills in the fairy world. Humans become toys in
the hands of the fairies; the fairies send Puck (played by Neill in Dead Poets‟ Society) to
confuse the humans. The elements of the fairies should not interfere with the real world. Man
should stick to his sphere, he would shake the universe. When the spheres are in harmony, they
produce beautiful “music‟. [Plate 18 (up): Man is the center of the universe & (down): The civic life]
On the head of all, we have the queen. Like God is the ruler of the universe, the king is the
ruler on earth. The king is the first mover, just as God is the first mover and the first cause.
Royal king / to kill
In Shakespeare‟s time, killing the king was unforgivable: Regi / cide ↔ killing the king. No
matter how evil the king is, his subjects should not eliminate him because he represents God.
Usurping a throne is also an unforgivable sin. E.g.: Hamlet. By looking at the scheme, we get
the impression that the society is rigid, closed. Movement is limited; one can only move within
one‟s own sphere. For instance, Pamela was in the sphere of the masters. Fielding who is an
aristocrat, considers that Pamela has created a disharmony in the spheres. We cause
disharmony when we jump out of the boundaries of the sphere. Some characters are caught,
each in his spheres. Sphere is then a class of people.
During the Renaissance, neither blood circulation nor body organs were discovered. Man, like his
universe, was said to be composed of the four basic elements: earth, water, fire and wind. Man derived
his particular nature from the particular combination of these which predominated within him. If the
four elements are properly distributed within a person, that person is a balanced individual. In
proportion to these elements, we have humours (refers to spirits / souls). To describe the humans, we
refer to liquids which are: blood, phlegm (thick mucus secreted by the walls of the respiratory
passage), green bile (which came from the liver), and black bile (which came from the spleen).
Human personalities had been classified on the basis of the Humours Theory as:
Extra- - Sanguine (blood): the most satisfactory type, as blood was the most invigorating1 and beneficent of
the humours. (Characteristics: ruddy complexion, courageous, optimistic & romantic)
- Phlegmatic: most women were thought to belong to this type, whose cold and moist nature was
supposed to explain their tendency to tearfulness (characteristics: sluginesh apathy & in deference).
- Choleric: also known as bilious, because this type was dominated by the green / yellow bile.
(Characteristics: angry, bad-tempered and irritable)
- Melancholic: the humour most associated with mental illness, though it was thought to accompany
exceptional intelligence. (Characteristics: depressed and sad)
The popularity of this classification of the four humours had something to do with the neat way in
which it linked up with the four ages of man, and so on. (Refer to A Preface to Milton page 50)
To the Elizabethans, so much was unknown. This is why everybody saw the ghost in Hamlet.
If Hamlet‟s father is dead, he must be in the sphere of the dead. When Macbeth kills the king,
horses eat each other because what happens in the world around – even if it is evil. The
Elizabethan enjoyed much more active imagination than us because we„ve became so
dependent on visual materials. E.g.: unless a stage is full of props and people, we cannot
understand the play. Shakespeare‟s stage consisted of only two entrances, two pillars, and a
Shakespeare, in his will, gave his 2nd best bed to his wife along with the furniture to his wife.
This makes us wonder to whom he gave his best bed.
Shakespeare‟s will is a proof of his existence.
Session 3 - Monday November 20, 2006
1. Apprenticeship: Apprentice = trainee. The plays written during the apprenticeship period
were imitative & crude (not sophisticated, not so original), but based on Greek, Roman…
such as Henriad which was written in reference to the king Henry. A play like Taming of
the Shrew is a very artistic & challenging kind of play. Titus Andronicus is a play full of
rape & gang murderers; it is a bad play different than the group that appeared at that time.
2. Early Maturity: Shakespeare tries to establish his own dramatic style and art. The
language used becomes less rhetorical & more dramatic (Elizabethan used ornamental
language in an exaggerated way including too much metaphors, symbolism & paradoxes)
Moreover, Shakespeare has become more careful about presentation of psychology in his
plays. It is in this period that he starts writing his sonnets. England with Elizabeth came
to the best time, yet the living conditions in England were horrible with no sanitation.
The longevity at that time was low. Children had a high mortality rate. Many critics
wonder what happened to Shakespeare between 1600 – 1604 → these plays tend to ask
questions much more than the previous ones, more ambiguous (negative capability).
3. Problem plays became popular after World War II. Man is capable of the most horrible
atrocities → atomic bomb → World War II. After the war, man was asking: “Who am I?”
→ What makes man do what he does? → Just like Hamlet. Is one‟s life so meaningless
that it has to be attached to a top cause to mean something? In Henry V, what happened
between the period of his wife‟s death and his marriage is unknown, and whether he is
mad or not is not known too. He keeps delaying his revenge and in the final act he will
not care anymore and says that we have to accept life as it is. What changes his mind is
not revealed. In Othello, there is the African Arab that was converted into Christianity
and marries a lady from an upper class. She looses her handkerchief …
4. Mature Plays: witnessed a staggering outburst of high level poetic genius. Macbeth raises
an important issue of identity and gender. Usually in a tragedy, you need a tragic hero,
usually a noble person. Macbeth is already an evil character, we cannot sympathize with
him. “The main benefits of tragedy are that it arises pity and fear” (Aristotle). We
sympathize with the human side of people, not with their deeds. Round approach, round
view = different angles. (King Lear, Macbeth, Anthony & Cleopatra were mature plays).
5. Late (Romance) Plays: Romance as a genre in literature is a verse writing that touches the
supernatural. Critics are at a loss and wonder about the unexpected change that these
plays show. In The Tempest there are more acceptances of life‟s cruelty and losses and
more faith in fellow human beings. The last plays are less confrontational and less
rebellious against fate and destination with a sense of resignation. They are somehow
peaceful. It is as if Shakespeare wanted to present his audience with a view of the world
that would enable us to go on in this life → optimistic. The most important element of
romance is the interference of supernatural ornaments. It is the events of a noble cause in
an exotic setting with an involvement of the supernatural. Most of our tragedies come
from the fact that we cannot accept life‟s cruelty. In these plays, the natural and the
supernatural are intermixed. The element of supernatural is always with us: ghosts,
angels, Para-psychology or what we call “fate”, “destiny”, etc. If the supernatural is
inextricable from life, we should accept life‟s cruelty.
6. Comedy of Errors: The title itself suggests a comedy. For instance, As you Like it is a
wonderful play, Much Ado about Nothing reflects a silly title and both plays are self
mockery. Men will always be chauvinist / sexist and women not. Much of the titles are
not telling us a lot such as Twelfth Night, All is Well that Ends Well.
BARD is a person who speaks for the nation and Shakespeare is the bard of England. When
we think of Shakespeare, we must think of bardology. Shakespeare had his tragic comic view
of life. It was reality mixed up with fiction; it was a vision different from the earlier plays. He
has accepted that life has good & evil and we should accept both. For instance, when we read
a play, we should accept poetic justice. (This is what we believe in our naivety, because this
does not exist and no poetic justice.
→ Negative Capability: It is one of Keats‟s major contributions into the understanding of poetry
and of Shakespeare. In the letter Keats wrote to his brother, he tells him that Coleridge is
always seeking to get the truth out of his poems. Keats wished that Coleridge would have this
negative capability that Shakespeare had so much of it by being able to live in uncertainties
and this is why he is the genius that he is, because he does not claim the truth. Shakespeare
gives us specimen of life for us to interact with. When we read Shakespeare‟s plays, we will
not be able for sure to depict what the moral lesson is. Shakespeare does not moralize and
does not give the truth packaged.
Shakespeare‟s Theater: The globe is the universe ↔ macrocosm and our life is staged. The
“globe Theater” (theoretically & literary for Shakespeare) was built in 1599 and was burnt in
1613 (three years before Shakespeare‟s death). Shakespeare‟s theatre with no roof was more
intimate than theatres today), the stage is more elaborate where the two fixed pillars highlight
any kind of conflicts between opposites: passion & reason, good & evil, man & woman,
peace & war, rational & studied behavior. The relationship of life to art is one of
Shakespeare‟s themes. There were this intimacy between actors and audience. The theater is
in a box (the proscenium separates the actors from the audience making it secluded with four
walls). All kinds of people from different hierarchies attend the play. People sit on all sides of
galleries, but the royalty sit higher. The people standing in the middle used to buy the penny-stinking
ticket. The tickets cost a penny and the people stand. The kind of audience is given the lack of
scenery; they had to use their imagination so much and yet the Elizabethans enjoyed poetry
and art. They had excellent aural skills. In case we have a heroic couplet (Two ended
rhymes), this announces a new scene. They tried to do sound effects by firing the canon. On
the other hand, “Black Friars” theatre was roofed, and therefore more expensive.
The levels of a stage are very important on the
thematic structure of the play. Romeo & Juliet
was played on two levels, Romeo stands in the
lower ground while Juliet is standing at her
window in the upper level. The difference is
between actors and what they symbolize. Juliet is
distanced and separated from the outer world
(negative).The relationship between levels is
highlighted in a physical tension between two
foci and especially how the stage may be
organized, so that we are compelled to watch the
contrast between one special space and another.
E.g.: Romeo & Juliet.
Session 4 - Monday November 27, 2006
There were two theories or schools regarding Shakespeare and his works:
1. Oxfordian Theory / School: believes that Edward Verne who was a relative to the Queen
and because the act of writing was not treated properly at that time, he signed his works as
2. Stratfordian Theory / School: believes that Shakespeare is the one who wrote all these
works, but the fact there are no biographical materials unlike other poets makes it difficult
to interpret any Shakespearian play.
→ Challenges: Any reader of Shakespeare faces challenges while trying to understand his work.
a. Shakespeare went through grammar school; however, John Milton (having higher
education) with his Paradise Lost has a stock of 12.500 working vocabulary whereas
Shakespeare has a stock of 25.000 working vocabulary. As a result, all this creates a
challenge for us.
b. Because of the lack of biographical materials, Shakespeare would remain a mystery to
us. For instance, when we have the life of the author we start relating the author to the
work (e.g. Hamlet) which would ruin the work itself. The lack of biographical materials
might be then a blessing to us whereby it allows us to better appreciate the text or work
c. Variety of artistic work: such as tragedies, comedies, lyrics, sonnets, narrative verse,
science fiction, pastoral poetry (The Tempest ↔ rural). We witness a wide spectrum of
Characters in his plays (10 characters / play x 37 plays = 370 types).
o Major characters
o Minor characters
Characters enjoy psychological depth especially in the tragedies because of
Shakespeare‟s use of soliloquies. Shakespeare goes through intense intellectual
There are also character types who represent ideas (similar things in morality plays)
such as the ghost in Hamlet or the witches in Macbeth that represent supernatural
Note: How someone with low formal education with the works of the classics could do this?
2. Absence of stage directions: The basic stage directions were: enter, leave, but other than
that we know nothing. Instead, we have implied stage directions which are what we can
gather about the gestures, the physical appearance, the emotional conditions or the props
through what the character says in the dialogue. For example, in King Lear we get to know
that Gloucester has blinded himself through implied stage directions. We do not even know
how old Hamlet is. This fact of no knowledge of age or looks would render the presentation
easier in that any character would be able to play Hamlet. At the beginning of Hamlet, we
had a soliloquy by Hamlet himself saying that his father died and his mother has remarried,
but we do not know after how long. Again, this question of time is unknown. All these
grant us with different possibilities to produce the play in any shape or any form with more
freedom. Though all this is a challenge, yet it is a blessing.
3. Different Productions: Usually, the director gives his own image of the play which is not
necessary the right image for he sees it in a certain vision or way.
a- In 1948, Lawrence Olivier played Hamlet in Black & white (surrealistic). The main
focus was on the melancholic figure of Hamlet as an intellectual.
b- In 1980‟s, Zefferelli‟s Mel Gibson played Hamlet focusing on clothing (color) and on
magnificent scenery in addition on playing on Oedipus Complex.
c- In 1995‟s, Kenneth Bramagh was at the same the director and the actor who played
Hamlet. The movie was four hours for it provided the audience with the whole text.
Each of these directors gives his own vision or a different view of the same play. The
challenge becomes even more when we are to produce the play in school or in college
although it is going to be the most economical one, but because it is Shakespeare we think
that we must be very genius or very professional in order to approach him. In other words,
we have to humanize Shakespeare and say that he is approachable.
4. Language: English language developed a lot from its beginning and up until now.
a- Archaic: It is not in use anymore such as the followings words:
o Thou ↔ you
o Thy / thine ↔ your
o Art ↔ are
o Seemeth ↔ seems
o Doth ↔ does
b- Word Formation: no dictionaries → no criterion for spelling → no care for mistakes →
Nouns & adjectives were used as verbs. E.g.: foot your enemy / I can happy my friend.
c- Pronunciation: e‟er → ever, „tis → it is,
o Word stress: important for scansion, now dis/co/vered back then dis/co/ve/red.
o Rhyming words: prove / love - find / wind were used as rhyming words & not
anymore. This is what we call poetic license.
o Questions and negations do not carry the auxiliary of verb to do. E.g.: “goest thou
to the movies?” instead of “do you go to the movies?” or “I like him not” instead of
“I don‟t like him”.
o Pronouns: thou (you) and the object is thine → if used in addressing a servant, it is
that of insulting, and if used in addressing a friend → intimacy.
o The inversion of syntax: the sentence is often rearranged depending on the situation
of whatever Shakespeare wants to talk about. E.g.: The story did I read. / The sleep
that I did not get.
Session 5 - Wednesday November 29, 2006
5. Publishing of the plays: Shakespeare was a businessman as well as a playwright. He had to
look for actors, clothes …; therefore, he did not give full time for his writing. He assigned
others to copy his plays in order to distribute them to the actors and yet without revising
these copies. Textual criticism is an approach to understanding a certain work. The text is
the main source of information & interpretation (date of publishing, spelling of words in
that period. E.g.: shewn instead of shown). In Shakespeare it is different and difficult,
because we had many copiers that might add or omit something to the text. So we have to
know if it is an authentic copy, but we cannot be sure in Shakespeare‟s plays. The editions
we had are problematic and up until now we do not have an authoritative (reliable) copy.
a- The plays were copied by changing some words. For instance, if we take Hamlet in the
first line of his first soliloquy, we find the expression too solid flesh whereas in other
versions we find the expression too sullied flesh. Both meanings work, but we do not
really know which one Shakespeare used.
b- The plays were often pirated because there was no copyright at that time and because
those plays enjoyed popularity among almost everybody. Shakespeare‟s plays became a
major source of income for the theatre business. During the 17th century, puritans shut
down theater → no dramatic writings.
Shakespeare never published his plays in a collective form (volume) and we do not even
who got the royalties, but later we come to know that the English government got the
royalties. These editions were published either through the use of a folio or a quarto.
a- Folio: Large sheet of paper folded once used for collection works (tragedy & comedy).
→ 1 page → used for singular plays.
b- Quarto: Large sheet of paper folded twice used for collection works, but some scholars
established that there were:
1 2 o Good quarto written by Shakespeare‟s friends such as Ben Jonson while the actors
3 4 were acting on stage.
o Bad quarto written by the actors that used to pirate and steal the play. They listen
and try to write it down later.
In the 18th century, censorship was very active and played a main role, even in
Shakespeare‟s time. Words related to religion and politics were forbidden whereas words
of obscenity were accepted. Because of censorship, textual criticism is not a means of
interpretation (texts are questionable they cannot be used as the main source of
information). In the 18th and 19th centuries, Shakespeare‟s works were bowdlerized because
there were those who wanted to rewrite Shakespeare because obscenity is offensive for a
young impressionable audience (editing for the moral purpose). So the authentic
Shakespeare‟s texts were not read in the original but in the Bowdler version all in the
service of the Evangelical Spirit that became intolerant. Such texts are questionable for
they cannot be considered as our main source of information.
6. Figurative or Poetic Language: is the exact opposite of the metaphysical conceit.
Elizabethan poets enjoyed ornamental poetry (lots of imagery: curtains of sleep ↔ eyelids).
The excessive use of similes and metaphors is then part of poetic language, but using puns
also contribute to poetic language. The pun is a major facet of Shakespearean language
wherein comedies it is mostly related to sex. The simile that Shakespeare uses is mostly
associated to nature and specifically to gardening. This is a challenge that we are not
expected to overcome because those who overcome it are counted by decimals only.
Session 6 - Monday December 04, 2006
→ Approaches: are schools of thought or theories we are using to approach the plays (to
understand Shakespearian plays). From which philosophy are we approaching the plays?
1. Character-Analysis Approach: Look at the character as a gate to understand the play.
Characters in Shakespeare enjoy a certain level of complexity; they are not flat characters.
They are directly related to issues in the play that are complex. Consequently, they are
difficult to judge easily [Hamlet, King Lear, Othello…]. They engage us because they have
different attitudes to the very same situation such as the attitude towards death. Yet they are
confused; characters are life-like enjoying this quality. Every one of us has a bit of Hamlet,
Macbeth or Othello.
Characters react to plot.
The plot is manifested as it influences characters.
Characters are life-like – not allegoric figures – each has a personal identity, each has
his weakness, his strengths, each speaks in a certain way (individual way of talking).
Characters are subject to internal / psychological conflicts; they contain drama within.
This approach is problematic because:
There is not enough knowledge, not enough biographical material of character and not
enough historical or circumstantial evidence. Soliloquies → character standing on the
stage alone speaking his mind, but only the audience is listening. (Impasse: conflict-
problem): This is a major detriment for using the character-analysis approach.
Actor‟s role: Characters do not live in vacuum / void; they are the products of their
economical, social and political environment, or milieu. They represent ideologies of
Patriarchal → male dominating female / Primogenitor → who inherits
Characters do not know themselves. [Macbeth doesn‟t know himself]. They are puzzled
and how can we be sure of what they are.
2. Theme-Analysis Approach: is important because in any kind of art whether novel, drama,
music or poetry, we have a conflict of ideas (clash of ideas) or of issues (marriage of
convenience, money, ideal beauty), issue of gender (attitudes towards women and marriage
in general). There must be a certain opposition in order to have drama. [Men are supposed
to act according to their feelings whereas women are supposed to speak only]. Most of our
concepts are taken from society as it teaches us. Often they are not right which creates a
conflict of any kind.
It is also important because it highlights contemporary issues of politics, morality, and
all kinds of issues and problems going on there.
It helps in interpreting characters because ideas appear through the characters. In
Hamlet if we do not look on the issue of death, we could never understand the play.
The disadvantages of this approach:
One of the disadvantages is to fall into plot narration.
If all you do is to study the theme, the play is reduced in to an allegory (morality play).
Characters become universal representing ideas rather than human beings; they will be
stereotyped. The character becomes a personification of an idea rather than a real-life
character. E.g.: Everyman
It ignores linguistic and structural subtleties / nuances which are little details that you
lose if you focus only on the theme. Each character knows that word and understands it
in different ways from his own approach.
3. Psychoanalytic Approach / Psychological Approach:
The psychological approach is related to the emotional and mental side; it is within the
mind of the character. Freud (talks about sexual problems – child / parents). To Freud, all
of human nature is reduced to sexuality (libido). His study of human nature through the
medical practices he had is mobilized by the sexual drive ↔ this is a reductive reading in
that it reduces human nature into sexuality…
What Freud said about literary people? (Find it in research)
Jacques Lacan (Freud‟s student) takes Freud one step further. He talked about 4 stages:
One of them is the imaginative Stage: he focuses more on sexuality on the sense that it is a
fight of male versus female. Women suffer penis envy that is why they should obey
neglecting this lack in them. When one is born, he is complete only with his mother [no
separation] ↔ the imaginary state. Using the bottle + toilet, the infant is separated from his
mother which means that he will feel a certain lack becoming incomplete moving from one
stage to another trying often to come back to the original stage which is the mother or
female stage (ideal). As I grow, I have to enter the world of the father. At that point, I learn
the society codes and symbols. In other terms, when we start learning a language, we enter
the father‟s world.
According to Lacan, humans are always suffering in the patriarchal society (ego/super-ego)
because of codes. They always desire what they miss or what they cannot have again
(Oedipus complex in a different interpretation), but once they are in the patriarchal society
they are unable to go back to the matriarchal society which they desire the most.
It becomes associated with the items such as: It becomes associated with the items such as:
Note: Phallocentric means the role of the male rules. Hamlet wants to go back to his
matriarchal society, but he faces lots of obstacles. He treats Ophelia the way he treats her
because of misogyny which is the hatred of women. Misanthropy is the hate of mankind
whereas philanthropy is the love of mankind.
There are two levels for the psychoanalytic approach.
In an attempt to understand the text, I look at the writer‟s life and based on what I see I
can interpret the text. The text becomes the arena where the “id” can play his role by
having the author express his fears and anxiety. In other terms, I look at the relationship
of the text to the author‟s life. But since we don‟t know anything about Shakespeare,
this approach is not possible. It is an extremely rich area of investigation if used.
The psychoanalytic approach becomes then about the characters and the text not in the
relationship between the text and the author‟s life. Does Hamlet dramatize
Shakespeare‟s life? So Hamlet will hate his mother in the play.
In 1954, the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones analyzed for the first time the Oedipus complex of
Hamlet. However, there is a major danger while using this approach:
The Procrustean Bed: is when the patient suits the theory. In other terms, Moll Flanders
does not allow us to use the psycho-analytic approach in order to approach the novel.
The danger lies in the fact that we, students, make her fit within this approach.
Session 7 - Monday December 11, 2006
4. Poetic Language Approach: (Role of imagery, symbols, motifs ..., figures of speech).
Shakespeare‟s poetic genius enriches the style, the text, and allows him to express his ideas
in poetic language that makes his plays more appealing. If you live in borrowed robes, then
the size will not fit you properly, you will not be yourself. Macbeth puts on the crown on
his head, and it is not his; it is a borrowed garment. This type is rather difficult because we
might not understand the poet‟s symbol. It needs a lot of training to become sensitive to
poetic language. This approach reduces the text to a list of images, metaphors & similes.
5. Myth Criticism Approach: The theme is based on universal stories (from ancient times).
This approach focuses basically on the structure and shows the play as a universal theme.
On the negative side, it ignores the linguistic nuances & the individuality of the characters.
6. Historical Approach: = Play as an illustration of its age. This approach is vital for it allows
us to look at the political, social & cultural background of the time. Why does Hamlet
consider his mother‟s marriage to his uncle as incestuous? What is negative about this
approach is that it limits the play to its historical background and denies its universality.
7. Post-Colonial Approach:
Session 8 - Wednesday December 13, 2006
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Comedy: When we speak of comedy, we usually overrate it as a lower form of drama. One of
the reasons is the loss of Aristotle‟s book on comedy. He wrote two books: one on tragedy
which we still have and one on comedy which most of it is lost. Tragedy is the highest form in
values. Up until Shakespeare‟s time, we could say that comedy is a much lower form of
writing but with Shakespeare what he does to comedy is as crucial and important to what he
does to tragedy. Comedy according to Aristotle has a therapeutic role & a psychological effect.
a. Ancient Roman and Greek comedy:
Greek model basically focuses on father / son rivalry (competition). It also focuses on purse
strings (where the power is residing). The typical formula is as follows: Boy meets girl –
father disagrees – boy loses girl – problem solved – boy marries girl. The comedy would
revolve about a conflict like this or about shipwrecks – a ship deserted on an island, and we
have missing children…, or about mistaken identities [like Bottom in Midsummer Night‟s
Dream or like Joseph in Joseph Andrews not knowing who really he is]. So, we have lost
children, birthmarks, wills etc.
b. Greek Dramatist Menander
Before Greek drama, Menander, a Greek dramatics, had a great influence on succeeding
dramatists. His themes were more social than political, and the theme of youth love was a
favorite one. Menander also developed a kind of comedy which we refer to as “new
comedy”. The new comedy was further made popular by Roman dramatists Plautus and
Terence [they were before Shakespeare]. Both of them wrote imitations of Menander, and
their themes also tended to be concerned with youthful love.
What was this new comedy about?
i. The use of comedy to teach Latin. The goal was to practice using Latin.
ii. The use of comedy to teach moral lessons as well. Even in England, students would
perform drama to learn Latin as well as moral lessons, but it has yet another
characteristic – these moral lessons were taught through stock figures; stereotype-
lawyer. Stock figures do not develop or change. A stock figure (fixed and
interchangeable) is a stereotype of a certain character – the hypocrite. We also have, for
example, the stock figure of the mother-in-law. They were used in order to criticize
social mores, values, & behaviors and to teach moral lessons. Before, there was a
certain stock blueprint: boy meets girl. Problem: father angry. Boy loses girl, father
happy. Boy gets girl back. Ding, dong!!! Why does the boy lose girl? Because of
eternal problems related to society. Somewhere, a will appears!
c. Medieval literature and folk tales [tales from the past]
People / Ancient times
Folk / lore ↔ strange stories that are transmitted orally from one person to the other
Morality plays such as Everyman are usually sponsored by the church and later on they
developed into a kind of a mockery just by exaggerating the characters. Audience started to
pick up characters from folktales. Puck – Robin Hood fellow – is a character picked up
from folk tales, Shakespeare would pick up from ballads or songs. These in a rather
simplified form are looked upon as a pre-Shakespearian comedy.
Note: Before Shakespeare, problems were rather external than internal. Shakespeare changes
comedy in one genius stroke and that is quite a radical shift.
Shakespeare‟s main concern was the following or his major contribution to comedy is his:
1. Focus on characterization by focusing on the characters and not on the plot.
2. He focuses on internal conflicts rather than external ones; he relocates the conflict by
embodying it to the characters themselves. Thus, transforming external problems into dramatic
3. Internalizing of the problems and this is quite a radical shift. [They wake up with a new
knowledge of themselves] ↔ Complexity of characters. This renders the characters into subtle
/ hardly noticed complexities within the character and leaves the solution to the lovers and not
to some Deus (God) ex machina. This is a major difference from the pre-Shakespearian
The author is not capable of writing a reasonable plot when he uses a Deus ex machina; however,
in Shakespearian comedy there is a kind of self-discovery within character (s) which leads to the
solution. This process of self-discovery facilitates the solution and anticipates the wedding ding
dong!! At the end of the play, characters are not the same persons they were at the beginning;
consider Kate in the Taming of the Shrew, Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado about Nothing.
Bottom in a Midsummer Night’s Dream undergoes most the process of self-discovery because, for
a brief moment, he is between the two worlds [mortal and immortal].
1. A heroin is no more the prize [because in pre-Shakespearian comedy, the heroin is to be won].
She is not passive anymore; she is involved in the plot and in the dialectics (two opposite
natures) of the play. [Zoophilia: animal imagery]. In a Midsummer Night‟s Dream what Egeus
says doesn‟t matter. All what happens in the woods makes them wake up as different people.
At some point, they wake up with some new element about themselves. There is a certain
element of zoophilia, homosexuality in a Midsummer Night‟s Dream. When the problem is
internalized, the characters become complex. Rather, it is difficult to detect complexities within
the character. We look at characters and wonder what they could be. Who / what settles things
at the end of the book? The change of Demetrius is not because of a flaw; it is internal. This
leaves the solution to the lovers. They work out the solution themselves. This is a radical
difference from pre-Shakespearean comedy. The characters solve their problems themselves
and not some Deus ex machina solves the problems for them. We have a play, and the hero is
in a flat end. A lion is going to gulp him in the corner. And then, suddenly, some sort of
machine would save him – the Deus ex machine comes out of nowhere and saves him.
Deus ex machina: (from Latin “God out of the machine”). In Greek drama, a God was lowered
on to the stage by a mēchanē so that he could get the hero out of difficulties or untangle the
plot. Euripides used it a good deal. Sophocles and Aeschylus avoided it. Brecht parodied it at
the end of his three penny opera. Today, this phrase is applied to any unanticipated intervener
who resolves a difficult situation in any literary genre. This Deus ex machina is a sign of
weakness from the part of the author: it indicates that the author is unable of creating a credible
Dialectic is the
Platonic love tension between
The dialectics of love:
Non-platonic love opposing elements.
Both are present in the play. It is not necessarily two but it could mean multiple loves. A critic
said that in Shakespeare‟s comedy of love, the heroine no more is the prize (because in pre-
Shakespearean comedy, the girl is the prize). She is no longer passive, waiting for the man to
earn her love. Instead, she is involved in the play and in the dialectics of the play.
The dialectics of love: platonic versus carnal. Both are represented in a play, poem etc. when
an issue is presented in more than one aspect, then we are speaking of dialectics.
Love has many facets in a Midsummer Night’s Dream:
The love of Theseus and Hippolyta
The love of Oberon and Titania
The love of Hermia, Helena, Demetrius and Lysander
The love of Thisbe and Pyramus (not necessarily two)
2. The hero is no more one-dimensional; he is no longer a stock figure. We have also aggressive
and outspoken females such as Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing yet her basic role remains,
if not a prize, a facilitator for the man to discover himself & by discovering himself he wins
her. The response to “a” was that it is true that in Shakespeare plays we find outspoken and
[occasionally] aggressive women like Helena, Kate, and Beatrice… These women break the
stereotype. Yet, their basic role – if it is not a prize, it is a facilitator for the hero to discover
himself. Oberon makes Titania fall in love with an ass – quite humiliating. Titania becomes
the target of our laughter, though it was Oberon who started the struggle. Maybe the woman no
longer is the prize, but she is a facilitator, and she still is to be won.
3. Element of transformation or disguise [difference between reality and appearance or between
reality and fiction]: this is horrific in Shakespeare, because one of the things that he inherited
from Medieval literature is:
a. A kind of masque that you use to wear in order to perform, it was meant for entertaining [as
grotesque as a donkey‟s head being put on or as a Medusa (check it in George Eliot …)]; it
is some kind of disguise with some kind of a physical transformation.
b. An interlude is some kind of a brief sketch like a digression. It is when we have an interval
between two things as coming to change the atmosphere. The play is a source of
entertainment. Is it necessarily that the interlude is related to the whole theme of the play?
In theory, this is not necessarily but sometimes it must be related like Phrisbes & Pyramus.
It is a tragedy performed in a comic way and if the lovers don‟t wake up to the madness of
love this will be a tragedy. The mechanicals are the ones who perform a play on the
occasion of the wedding of Hippolyta and King Theseus. Their impact on the play is an
interlude. In the tragic-comedy, people do not become aware of the madness of love so that
it could lead to tragedy. The mechanicals are at the center of the play; they carry the
imaginative weight of the play and whose at the bottom of it is Bottom the producer of the
play. An interlude has comic dimensions. With Shakespeare, we have a lot of masquing,
physical and other. The masque comes in as an interlude (break). Thisbe is an interlude.
Does the interlude have something to do with the main theme of the play? In theory, not
necessarily, but sometimes, yes, like in Thisbe and Pyramus. To start with, Thisbe and
Pyramus is a tragedy performed in a comic way for entertainment. The events are in May,
Dec. 21st during the solstice. If the lovers don‟t wake up to the madness of love, tragedy
will occur. The mechanicals are very important in the play. They are at the center of the
play. They carry the imaginative weight of the play. Who is the bottom of it? It is Bottom.
Physical From within
The disguise is to show the different between reality and appearance, between reality and
fiction (refer to Puck‟s last speech)
V.S.: In the final exam, Dr. May Maalouf will give 2-3 excerpts in which we should be
able to discuss the importance of the speaker (over 60 / 100).
Session 9 - Wednesday December 20, 2006
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Because the play does not take place in mid-summer; it does not take place at the summer
solstice (summer begins at the summer solstice). Besides, the whole play is about madness –
both the mortal and the fairy world are in confusion. Lunacy rules are all over the play.
Is the whole play a dream? Puck‟s last speech “slumbered” (p.183 lines 402 – 405)
Are we living a dream along with characters? If we are living a dream, along with the characters,
what are we to make of it? ↔ Is a dream reality becomes confusion.
I. Reality / Dream
World of day World of night
1. Structure of the play: Is the world of day more of order & control represented by Theseus,
Hippolyta and Egeus than the world of night represented by lovers & fairies. We have also
the court and this world itself is in confusion. Reason / authority are as well more in control
whereas dream is the world of night represented by the couples (lovers).
The world of the fairies itself is complex. We have the battle of the sexes:
* Titania (loses by falling in love with Bottom‟s ass-head) ↔ emotion / passion / desire
* Oberon (male / authority which wins over Titania)
2. Mortals Fairies
Reality (people getting married) Fiction / drama (mechanicals)
Courtly love Idealistic love → not rational:
Theseus / Hippolyta Helena “make me thy spaniel”
Titania loving Bottom (idealistic love)
3. Comedy Tragedy
Mistaken identities / personalities Pyramus and Thisbe
The play opens with a threat of death: if you do not marry Demetrius, you must either die
or become a nun which is another kind of death (we have comedy that verges to tragedy).
With respect to Pyramus and Thisbe, we have a tragedy performed in a comic way. We
laugh at those who die and almost cry at those who live.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a sweet mille-feuille made up of many layers.
Though this play is an early play of Shakespeare, we find great sophistication in it –
different dialectics: love, marriage, authority, fiction, and imagination … Therefore,
many issues are interrelated.
4. Natural world:
The natural world and the supernatural world are mixed up. The supernatural world
shouldn‟t / isn‟t supposed to interfere in natural world. In Hamlet, for instance, the ghost
is not supposed to be in the world of the living. “Time is out of tune…” Hamlet
There is something wrong, when the supernatural world interferes with the natural world.
To add more sophistication to the play, Shakespeare draws on (it depends) Greek and English
Mythology and topics. Theseus → Greek King / Puck (Robin Good Fellow) → English
Shakespeare also draws on Ovid‟s Metamorphosis (change). The metamorphosis was known
at Shakespeare‟s time. The idea of transforming Bottom was not so strange to the
Elizabethans. Hence Ovid‟s metamorphosis was a major source for Shakespeare.
Shakespeare also draws on Chaucer‟s The Knight’s Tale (14th century).
For Bottom‟s vision, Shakespeare draws on Saint Paul‟s “Epistle to the Corinthians”.
Apuleis‟s The Golden Ass, a Latin Romance written in 2 AD serves for Bottom‟s
transformation to a head-ass.
We notice a richness of sources. Despite these different sources, A Midsummer Night’s
Dream is one of the very few plays whose plot is Shakespeare‟s invention whereas Hamlet‟s
Macbeth‟s, King Lear‟s stories already exist, but he added to them.
Richness in the sources Shakespeare draws upon …
Focus on: Richness in dialectics …
Richness in language … Prose
The Mechanicals of Prose:
Bottom doesn‟t speak in verse (act3, scene 1, line 110, page 75) while Titania speaks in verse
and Bottom answers in prose.
Poetic language is full of poetic devices such as metaphors, similes & inversion of sentences.
Prose language is referential; it is naming things by their name. In some plays, the use of
poetic language indicates idealism (high and flowery language) like in Much Ado about
Nothing and in Henry IV - part 1.
When prose is used ↔ it reflects realism, not idealism; mostly … Bottom seems realistic
when he says that love and reason keep little company together nowadays. But Bottom‟s
realism knows that Theseus also does not believe in love. On one hand, the love of the two
couples is not rational and on the other hand, Pyramus and Thisbe‟s love has no reason. Yet,
they die out of love.
Act 5 (page 147):
Bottom ← agrees with → Theseus
“Love and reason have little company “Lovers and madmen have such
together nowadays”. seething / enraged brains.”
Love and reason do not keep company. Theseus is the king; he‟s higher socially.
Bottom is at the bottom, socially. Although Theseus and Bottom agree
He is a weaver. that love and reason do not keep
Although Bottom is at the bottom, he company; they disagree on imagination.
thinks the same way like Theseus who is Theseus disagrees and disbelieves with
higher socially. Bottom in imagination because it makes
Bottom is not the same. things irrational.
When Bottom produces Pyramus and The imagination which Theseus
Thisbe, he asks the audience to use their disagrees on, to Bottom is something
imagination. very important.
The mechanicals are the link between the two worlds. Bottom directs a play to be performed
to the court (Theseus and Hippolyta). Bottom is transformed to an ass in the woods.
Court (King / Duke) Woods (couples / fairies)
Reality Dream / fiction / Art
Literature The Mechanicals synthesize the opposites.
Bottom has a vision similar to Saint Paul‟s vision in which he sees God. Saint Paul tries to
put into words how he is so close to God.
Bottom‟s Speech (page 145):
He says that he will tell them great wonders, but they should not ask him what.
The world of the mechanicals connects the two opposite worlds:
Art This world is too chaotic
→ It leads to death.
~ Better than the two worlds. Shakespeare favors the world of art as better → when he allows
Bottom Saint Paul‟s vision: he has the experience of Saint Paul. Shakespeare believed that
“art is better than life” → life is boring.
Drama is the real thing. Art is more important than real life; it is more important than the
chaotic world of imagination. Art synthesizes. If Shakespeare did not favor the world of art /
drama, he wouldn‟t have given this clumsy mechanic the ability to produce a play.
Epistemology: how we get to know the truth.
To some people, the truth lies in the Bible. If I am a very strong believer, I consider that
the Bible leads to the truth.
Others, no → Art tells the truth. Art gives us knowledge, and not books of science …
Epistemologically speaking, science / art etc. is my source of knowledge.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we know the truth though art, fiction, plays, and drama…
Epistemologically, Shakespeare says that if one wants to know things it is through art … The
dream world cannot lead us to truth; it is too chaotic… The world of reason is too dry etc.
Is the individual this or that? No → it is both. The world of reality is not our epistemological
source, nor is the world of dreams, but art such as sculpture, music, and painting… is the one.
Bottom gets close to the vision of the ideal, although he‟s just a mechanical involved in a
play. Art should be our epistemological source. Shakespeare seems to believe that the truth
can be known through art. Each world alone is incapable.
Many critics consider that act V is unnecessary and the play could have ended with act IV
where order is restored. We have this movement from order to chaos. Then, order is restored.
By act IV, order is restored and things have been resolved → why need act V then? Act V
shows how close tragedy and comedy may come as well as how close life and death may
come. We get this from the play of the mechanicals where all the contradictions coincide.
Page 165 → Hippolyta comments on the play she is watching. With respect to Hippolyta‟s
comments, some critics say that Shakespeare used the mechanicals in this performance to
make fun of the allegorical plays at the time. The reason why Shakespeare uses the
mechanicals in the play is to make fun of the types of plays at the time. If Hippolita describes
it a silly → it is the best. Hippolyta is won by the sword. Theseus waged a war and with the
sword he won her. Oberon also wages a war against Titania and wins her.
Hippolyta‟s judgment is doubted by looking at what kind of character she is given by
Shakespeare. Hence, the last act is a recasting of the play summarized in the one play of
Pyramus and Thisbe. The play of the mechanicals is a miniature of the tragedy that might
have taken place in the woods. Therefore, when picking quotes from characters, we should
make sure we know what the character is. Bottom is the best character because he opposes
Session 10 - Monday January 08, 2006
Act V → Another chaos that has something to do with dramatic genres: fiction and reality are
mixed up: “I am the wall”, “I am the lantern”, “I am the lion / moon…” At that point, the
illusion created by fiction is broken. Sometimes, we cry when watching movies; they seem so
real to the extent that we cry. In a thriller, if a character addresses me, then the illusion of
reality created by fiction is broken.
In act V, the illusion of reality that is supposed to be maintained in a drama is broken because
of “self-consciousness”. When one is so self-aware, the illusion of reality is broken.
Act V is a very self-conscious play – a play that continually refers to itself. When the
mechanicals are playing, they refer to themselves. The more somebody tells me he is the wall,
the more that I think of him not a wall. Hence, act V breaks the illusion of fiction that drama
should create. So there is also some sort of confusion between fiction and reality. A guy is
pretending to play a role, making me aware that he is playing a role. In reality, he is a man, but,
in fiction, he is a wall. There is an inter-relation between fiction and reality.
In acts I → IV, we have a regular play. The play is not self-conscious. We feel it is real. We
laugh and cry with the characters. The illusion of reality is maintained in the four acts. But, in
the last one (act V), it is broken by actors who are telling us how to look at the play.
Does the last act want to reinforce the credibility of the previous four acts or is it the opposite?
Act V: is a play that is so self conscious that it breaks the illusion of reality when it constantly
refers to itself. The one that breaks the illusion of reality makes both fiction and reality
interrelate. There is no barrier between fiction and reality. One takes the Hermia – Helena plot
for real. When one watches act V, one realizes that (s) he has been just watching a play. One
has been had by Shakespeare.
Dream and Awakening:
Dream → unreal
In the play, it is as if it is Bottom who dreams: waking → real
When the lovers awaken from the potion, it is like a dream for them – it is a dream out of
which they wake up again into the real world. Dream and awaking inter-relate in Hermia –
Helena. When given the potion, the male lovers behave in such a way that Helena no longer
believes them. The supernatural world becomes related to the natural world through Puck.
Bottom is also involved in the supernatural world.
We don‟t know where to draw the line. We don‟t know what is real from what is fiction.
Fiction and reality are inter-related. Hence, act V is where Shakespeare‟s notion of Art resides.
Shakespeare uses so many metaphors and allusions to say “the world is like a stage”.
Slumbered → Puck (last page)
World → stage
People → actors
How often, in our everyday life, are we not playing roles?
We cannot separate reality from fiction – that is impossible. Fiction affects reality and reality
affects fiction. It is dangerous, yet, to believe that fiction affects reality → Catherine in
But, after all, Shakespeare is an artist, a dramatist, and a man of the stage… To allow the world
of fiction, the world of theater, art, imagination, illusion (ink on a page), to be a source of
knowledge (epistemology), to affect the way by which we live…. is quite original in
Only two persons who came after Shakespeare were able to do that: Lord Byron who tried to
live his Byronic hero and James Joyce who tried to live his fiction in real life.
At one point, we wonder “Does the Byronic hero create Byron?” Byron created Childe Harold,
but Childe Harold becomes Byron. In his masterpiece Ulysses, to know how a betrayed
husband feels and write about it, Joyce led a journalist friend of his to have an affair with his
wife. The two men had a fight. Hence, this inter-relation between imagination and reality will
be recreated by Byron and Joyce the two most misunderstood and researched authors.
After Shakespeare, the puritans closed down the theaters. Shakespeare tells us that we cannot
separate between art and fiction. He represents such a modernist idea, art and fiction / life are
not two separate identities; they inter-relate.
“The play is the thing”
To catch the conscience of the king” – Hamlet
Hamlet agrees to perform the play within the play. After the play, Hamlet is sure ninety percent
that his uncle killed his father. He then sees the king praying and confessing. The play, then, art
is a way to truth.
In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, we see Shakespeare‟s modernist theory of art where fiction
and reality are so inter-related. Modernism began in the 20th century with Freud. Freud asserted
that the unconscious affects the conscious. According to him, dreams are a manifestation of our
reality, hidden in the id. Hence, Shakespeare‟s theory was proven in the 20th century when
Freud told us there are two levels of consciousness.
In Shakespeare‟s time they hardly knew the circulation system. The romantics came close to
that → dreams and unconsciousness (Freud). Hundreds of years before modernism begins with
Freud, Shakespeare does not separate between the two.
A shadow is the reflection of the real thing (that is why Theseus doesn‟t have a high opinion of
actors). Puck responds to Theseus.
If you have been insulted by what we said, suppose you have slept.
“Oh but → theme” A la “Hamlet” → depreciating oneself to receive praise
Extreme humility is an excess of pride. Psychologically speaking, the reverse is true
(psychological). It is yielding more than a dream, idle theme → knowledge.
Shakespeare disarms us. He is proud of the power of his art:
“So long as men can live, and eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee”
Of course, the poem is not about the beauty of the beloved; it is about the power of
Line 410 high!!
Serpent‟s tongue = boo (nowadays).
We want the audience‟s approval.
Robin will correct things if things are bad.
Robin belongs to the fairy world (he is a superstitious figure). It is as if the supernatural world
will correct things. But isn‟t fiction a supernatural world?
Theseus is attacking the writer. Theseus‟s views of fiction, drama, and art are not favorable. He
asks for the dance instead of the epilogue.
Are these fools Helena and Hermia, or us? They are both. They have also turned into fools.
At the end of the play, Puck is again saying “Lord what fools these mortals be”. We, like
Hermia and Helena, are under the influence of the supernatural world.
We, too, have been sucked into world of art (slumbered). All that we heard was a dream.
In Hamlet, this becomes extremely important. Hamlet plays several roles because he is asked
to do so by his father, but unfortunately Hamlet is incapable of taking revenge. Hamlet later
puts on an antic (lunatic) disposition, and he acts. The tragedy of killing Polonius is comically
Where is Polonius? At dinner, but not where he is eating, but where he is eaten by worms.
Why is Hamlet so conscious about how players should perform?
Drama, the play, art becomes important for him. Sometimes, he is Dracula; other times, he is
an obedient son, or a prodigal son …
Shakespeare‟s son, Hamlet, died as an infant. The ghost may be interpreted as Shakespeare
speaking to his son.
Shakespeare‟s relation to his art:
What we take for granted as separate is not really the case. We only believe so.
We cannot really draw a line. We are all but poor actors in the play. “We are but poor players”
This is another example to what extent Shakespeare considered life as stage.
In a Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is clearest to use. This is a much earlier work. Physically,
we are here. But what about our upper globe?
We are fools because:
1. We believe the previous four acts.
2. We believe in love and love only needs a potion.
3. We think we know what we are doing.
4. We are mortals. Puck is feeling sorry for us because we are mortals, and
he is immortal.
Session 11 - Wednesday January 10, 2007
“The Economics of desire” is an article written by Boehrer, Bruce in 2002.
Explaining the terms of the title:
Economics → how much one spends of the money?
How does one spend desire / money / desire?
The more desire / money one has, the more power one has; the less desire / money one has,
the less power. Hence, by the “economics of desire”, we mean the distribution of desire
Bruce, in his article, reaches the animal imagery and its function in Midsummer Night’s
Dream. He also tries to analyze the cross-species of the play:
Bottom is half ass (a man with the head of an ass) → he is half-animal. Puck says that every
man will have his mare (cross-species). We have many allusions to cross-species and cross-
races. With respect to Titania, the boy is the reason of the argument between her and Oberon,
but the boy is an Indian page (cross-races).
The cross-racial relationship is between Titania and the Indian page.
The cross-species relationship is between man and animal:
Bottom + ass‟s head
“Make me thy spaniel”: Helena is willing to become a dog for the sake of Demetrius.
We also have a same-species relationship (between humans): The lovers; Theseus &
Hippolyta, Oberon & Titania. In the same species relation, we have two types of relationship:
Cross gender relation (M+F) Male / female Same gender relation (M+M) (F+F)
Homosexuality applies for men and
women – although it is applied for men.
Why does Shakespeare handle so many different relationships?
When Titania falls in love with Bottom, we have ultimate combinations.
Hetero (cross-gender) Homo (same-gender)
Hippolyta: monarchy of women fighters –
like Royal Sorority (Queen of Amazon).
Theseus and Hippolyta
Men are excluded from this context. Yet, if
they are present, they are the subordinates.
Titania & Oberon
Hippolyta had enjoyed an exclusively
Pyramus and Thisbe
woman bondage (no men are involved).
Helen and Hermia
Page 97 Act III, Scene II (lines 192 … 219): Helena speaks and Hermia is conspiring with
the other men to make fun of Helena. Helena is reminding Hermia of the royal sorority. We
are talking about this kind of homo relationships. “How could you forget all that we mean to
each other?” we women should stick together. She (Helena) lingers on the idea very much.
That is why we have the long speech by Helena although we hand a clear idea from the very
beginning. “Are you going to throw away our old love?”
“Our sex” → sorority of women / Note that “Homo” is “homo-social”. In a very brief and
simple definition, homosociality is a concept that goes back to the 1980‟s. Homosociality is
the solidarity of one gender for the purpose of maintaining one‟s gender identity. In other
words, human beings bond together where there is solidarity:
Girl‟s / boy‟s talk (group of young men / women have their own discourse).
Being with a group of the same gender affects us. The same applies for men. Just like Helena
is saying “our sex is upset on you! There must be solidarity…”
Clubs sometimes are for men / women only - why? It is because the group of a certain gender
gets / draws power from being together in a certain context …
Helena goes through the listing, chiding … to conclude with “our sex, as well as I, may chide
you for it”. Hermia has left the homo-social bondage and stepped in with men.
Page 7, line 93:
Demetrius tells Lysander to let go of Hermia. Lysander answers: “you have her father‟s love
→ you marry him.” Demetrius and Lysander in bonding agree. Egeus wants Demetrius to
marry Hermia by force. Hermia has three choices: either she marries, dies, or goes to another
kind of death → nun (a woman‟s life is in reproduction).
Demetrius is willing to force Hermia to marry him though she does not like / love him.
This is a kind of homo-social bonding: Egeus / Demetrius
Line 99: I do estate (give as property) unto Demetrius
Woman = property.
When one has a title to a land, one has a right to a land / title / right / estate. Hermia is a piece
of land and all the men are the landlords trying to decide who is going to get the right to
plough the land.
Lines 100 → 111:
Is Lysander out of this social bonding? No. Hermia is everybody‟s right but what about hers.
Theseus tries to show that Demetrius is fictive. When homo-sociality is a male- male context,
the target is usually a woman, and she is usually the object of competition. She is not loved
for who she is but she is fought for just like what happens in the animal kingdom. They fight
for her; the stronger male gets the female and mates with her. Both of them are extremes;
both of them exclude the other.
One problem in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is that homo-social relations are problematic
for they exclude the other, they are extreme and eccentric (Hetero normative)
The hetero-social relations are also problematic because:
1. They are governed by absolute patriarchy exercised by figures such as Egeus, Theseus &
2. Puck is a proxy for patriarchy.
Note: When Mrs. Reed locks Jane in the red room, she is acting by proxy for Blocklehurst.
Theseus wins Hyppolita by the sword: “I wooed thee with my sword …” → opening scene
(lines 18-19). This is perverse, because he won her love by doing her injuries. Hence,
Theseus has the upper hand and the larger portion of the economic of desire. Theseus
considers that Hermia is to abide by her father and to obey him no matter what (absolute
obedience). Oberon wins through humiliating Titania. We see here absolute patriarchy → not
Theseus → winning / Egeus → owning / Oberon → humiliating.
Shakespeare is depicting the hetero and homo as being both problematic.
Cross-species or cross-racial relation (between animals): Hippolyta and Titania
Shakespeare, during his time, was familiar with the “Bestiary”. The “Bestiary” is a Middle
English poem of the late 12th or early 13th century presenting allegorical and descriptive
pieces about real and mythical animal. All the bestiaries indexes have their source in the
Physiologus of Thethballus, a Latin work of the 11th century. Using a variety of verse forms,
the work gives an account of various animals, describing real and imagined features of them
and then explaining their significance. Literary sleuths have surmised / inferred that stories
like George Orwell‟s Animal Farm (1945) and Richard Adam‟s Watership Doun (1972) are
modern developments of The Bestiary.
The Bestiary index was a dictionary wherein different kinds of animals are defined or
characterized. They describe the ass as the very symbol of wantonness (Lustful character,
sexuality). So what really governs the ass is basically erotic.
Ass (Asinine Bottom) / Hippolyta: the etymology of Hippolyta‟s name has to do with horses.
(Note that the sea horse is the only male creature that gets pregnant). The horse is defined as
a proud animal, and the mare is proud for no reason – “she” is proud unnecessarily. So how
the mare is taught humility? Believing herself part of a beautiful species, the mare would
want to mate with a stallion / horse. To teach her humility, the mane of a horse would be cut
and put on an ass brought to mate with her. Consequently, the mare would deliver a mule.
The mare is intimidated by forcing her to mate with an ass producing a mule not a pony. A
mule becomes more of a hybrid species.
In the English language, children born from the relationship between a black and a white are
called mulatto. (This is very derogatory). In French, they are referred to as métisse.
Page 39, line 122
Titania has a page the Indian boy. The boy is not a full-fledged young man to be a lover.
Titania loves him because of his mother. Titania will not give the child away because of his
mother. In the passage, we have beautiful female imagery. The sails of the ship were big-
bellied like the priestess. The relationship between Titania and the priestess is somehow
similar to the relationship between Hermia and Helena. After the priestess‟s death, Titania
decides to keep the child for the sake of the mother. Hence, the Indian page is the
replacement of the mother. (Page / the mother)
Titania rejects Oberon for the sake of the page which indirectly stands for the mother. She
gives all her maternal love to the page.
Titania runs away from the hetero by transforming her love to Oberon to a more maternal
one. She turns into this loving mother to the boy. Oberon does not accept that. He will teach
her a lesson – making her fall in love with an ass as a punishment because she rejects the
hetero-relation where the male is dominant and she accepted a relation where she as a female
Titania‟s rejection to absolute patriarchy makes her replace her love to Oberon with maternal
love to the page. Oberon does not like the situation. This is why Titania is made [by Oberon]
to fall in love with Bottom who is both man and ass.
Titania‟s love for Bottom, under the influence of the potion, is it purely material or does it
contain erotic elements? Titania‟s relation to Bottom is both material and erotic.
Shakespeare is with hetero-normative relations. By using Bottom as an ass head, the erotic
replaces the maternal, thus paving the way to Oberon!
Session 12 - Wednesday January 17, 2007
Shakespeare did not give a lot of information or stage directions; it is up to the director to
give his own view or vision of the movie / play. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we have
bicycles although bicycles did not exist at the time of Shakespeare. We have a certain
anachronism [against time]. However, in stage production, anachronism is allowed. This is
up to the producer to read and interpret the play the way he views it. E.g.: It would be
anachronistic to represent medieval characters chatting on msn.
Richard Loncraine‟s version of Richard III (1995) is set in 1930‟s England during a Fascist
coup. However, anachronism would be a problem if a character in the original play messes
his / her lines. E.g.: Catherine speaking of the Reform Bill of 1832.
This means one of two things:
Either the author is negligent
Or the character is out of tune.
The newest moiré version of Great Expectations is somehow anachronistic.
The Role of Bottom:
Bottom does have quite an important role in the play.
He wants to play every role (Pyramus, Thisbe, lion, wall …). He is a multi-faceted person.
He is the only character who shares both worlds. The play does not tell us that lovers see
“tinker bells”, but the movie does. It is at the end that the director gives us his own vision.
Bottom takes two forms: 1. Humans / Ass
2. Mortal / fairy
That Bottom is capable of being more than one thing distinguishes him from all the other
characters. We have to look at Bottom‟s dream. When he wakes up from his dream, we have
all this mix-up of the senses, because of the vision that has confused him.
Bottom, from the very beginning, suffered from malapropism (problems with words such as
exposition → disposition / deflowered → devoured). So it is not only the dream that confuses
Bottom. Miss Slipslop‟s malapropisms in Joseph Andrews are out of pretentiousness while
Bottom‟s are natural.
Page 141: act IV, scene 1, line 198 (when Bottom wakes up from his dream)
“I have had a vision, a dream …‟ Man is stupid if he goes to explain this dream. [It is
something supernatural] for it links two worlds. He was aware of his world and the fairy
world that cannot be understood by the mortals.
Saint Peter‟s vision of the Christ is similar. Mortals cannot fathom / comprehend the
immortal. We as God‟s creations are not expected to understand God. Man is but an ass if he
tries to expound this dream. Bottom has trouble defining what it is he saw, said, or
“Patched fools” are similar to “what fools these sad mortals be”. I want to get to the bottom
of something → I want to find the truth, the true cause of something or the solution to
something. Hence, Bottom is the distinguished character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Bottom‟s relation with Titania
Titania is humiliated through her relation with Bottom. Shakespeare wants to show that
hetero-normative relations (same species, different gender) are better. Titania swerves away:
1. Takes the Indian page & gives him maternal love (from the erotic into the maternal)
2. Titania is charmed to love Bottom erotically & sexually … With Bottom, the relation
is not maternal anymore. After Titania‟s relation with Bottom, Oberon pities her. She
falls in love with Oberon.
3. Titania, in an attempt to be against absolute patriarchy [Oberon], speaks of her love
to the votaress [same specie, same sex]
4. When erotic [man & woman] cross-gender and cross-species relationship, her
relationship with Bottom allows us to go back to the normative [her reality] →
Oberon. The same things happen to Helena and Hermia.
In some way, Shakespeare is punishing patriarchy [Egeus did not get anywhere]. Egeus is
over-ruled by Theseus who gives his word at the end; he is another patriarchal figure. But
things do settle in the end. Hetero-normative relations are the one that win at the end. Yet,
Shakespeare is not so easy with us; things get back to the normal through magic and not
through reason or through hard working. [Moral lesson of Shakespeare] And who knows
when magic will expire?
The happy ending is not man-made; it is imposed by the supernatural world through magic. If
life is to be solved by magic, God help us (our life will be meaningless). Shakespeare tells us
1. Hetero-normative relations are acceptable.
2. Absolute patriarchy is bad.
3. Everything is solved by magic – not man‟s rationalism. So how can we mend / fix
what was in the play?
Egeus will continue to think the way he thinks and then we trust the end of the play. In the
play, we use magic and in our life we use our imagination. The play goes against itself in the
way it is resolved. Magic is tenuous; it is not a strong valuable solution. What will happen
when magic dissolves? Will Oberon interfere or Puck?