March 2009 Archives
Here is Katie's and my progress report:
What We’ve Done So Far
- Made a 10th grade lesson plan in Seton Hill’s official format (including behavioral objectives, PA Academic Standards, an anticipatory set, lesson sequences, closure, and evaluation).
- Made handout for students with a run-down of the four types of literary criticism we are dealing with (reader-response, mimetic, intertextuality, and author intent).
- Made note card game which requires students to match types of criticism, a definition, an example, and a question that one might ask about the text when using that type of criticism.
- Made exit-slip evaluation forms for the students to fill out, so that we can evaluate what they learned and how effective our lesson was.
- Contacted both principal of the school and cooperating English teacher to clear our teaching of the lesson.
- E-mailed lesson plan to cooperating teacher for approval.
- Practiced lesson plan in front of audience to check on the time factor and to make sure our lesson plan will run smoothly and makes sense to others.
- Gathered/made additional materials for lesson (including prizes, painting, poster paper, examples of literary criticism vs. book review, etc.)
What We Plan to Do
- Do a final run through of lesson.
- Double check to make sure all materials are in order.
- Present lesson on Friday, April 3 to a 10th grade English class.
- Look over students’ exit-slips to see how effective our lesson was.
- Look over teacher evaluation of our lesson.
- Consider how smoothly our lesson went (did it go over time, did we stumble, etc.)
- Consider what we could do to improve the lesson.
- Consider what worked really well in our lesson.
What We Plan to Produce
- Self-reflections on the lesson.
- Presentation organized from our self-reflections (so that classmates can see what worked well in teaching literary criticism and what didn’t work so well).
From Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”:
“It would be possible to show that all the names related to fundamentals, to principles, or to the center have always designated the constant of a presence—eidos, archè, telos, energia, ousia (essence, existence, substance, subject), aletheia ” (354).
While there are certainly many words in this sentence that one could define, I am choosing to focus on “aletheia.” According to Wikipedia, aletheia: “is the Greek word for “truth", and like the English word implies sincerity as well as factuality or reality. The literal meaning of the word is, "the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident.’” In other words, aletheia is the idea of truth which we frequently center ourselves around, yet does not truly exist according to poststructuralism.
Click here to learn more literary terms.
From Elizabeth Wright’s “The New Psychoanalysis and Literary Criticism”:
“The question naturally arises why we should bother ourselves about unstable meanings. What do we gain from proving that an author is ambivalent, and he did not know he meant it when he said it? It seems that on the one hand we are taking a share of the credit away from him, but on the other hand we are also giving him credit for an act of living communication. Instead of treating the author virtually as an egoist we are treating him as a subject whom we could enlighten. We do this not by gleefully uncovering hidden meanings of which he had only a blurred view, because no one can project perfectly and infinitely into the future” (399).
I liked many of the points that Wright made, yet at the same time, when I first read it, I felt that her article was not quite focused enough. She discovered many intriguing ideas about “Benito Cereno.” For example, the idea that Delano “create Babo as his symmetrical opposite” (296) is certainly an interesting claim. Nonetheless, the many different ideas she pointed out didn’t really come together in any sort of relationship. It seemed almost like she was just going through the text pointing out different disparities without any really sort of thesis. In many ways, I felt the same way about her article as I did about McDonald’s. I like the observations they make, but not their conclusions, because I feel in many ways that there is no conclusion. McDonald’s article in fact, seems to include some poststructuralist elements. McDonald observes repeated patterns in The Tempest, but then says, “There is small profit in seeking ‘meaning’” (105) in them.
It is for this reason that I like Wright’s article better than McDonald’s. Wright addresses head on the issue of “non-meaning” (my term, not Wright’s or McDonald’s). In other words, she doesn’t just observe repeated patterns (like McDonald) or just remark the contradictory nature of many elements of “Benito Cereno,” she addresses “what we gain from proving that an author is ambivalent.” She doesn’t just point out the ambiguity, she explains why she is highlighting it. These ambiguities allow the reader to appreciate not just the intended meaning of the author, but many others. In other words, by taking all these “unstable meanings,” we uncover more meanings than we could have ever imagined without addressing this “ambivalence.”
Read more on Wright’s article.
From Jacques Derrida’s “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences”:
“...the other choice—which I feel corresponds more nearly to the way chosen by Lévi-Strauss—consists in conserving in the field of empirical discovery all these old concepts, while at the time exposing here and there their limits, treating them as tools which can still be of use. No longer is any truth-value attributed to them; there is a readiness to abandon them if necessary if other instruments should appear more useful” (357).
I liked Derrida’s willingness to accept different ways of thinking, yet at the same time his critique of them. In a sense what he is doing is the same thing we are doing. We are to read about, apply, and consider the usefulness of the different schools of criticism. Once we have tried them out ourselves, we are free to decide: which schools works better than another, which ones work well combined together, and which ones just don’t seem very effective. Derrida does add the additional layer that “no longer is any truth-value attributed to them,” but nonetheless, Derrida does not simply garbage anything as useless. He considers their positioning in relation to the whole and if they do not work, then he will “abandon them,” but he still views them “as tools which can still be of use,” even if in one situation they did not work.
Read more on Derrida’s article.
From Keesey’s Introduction to Chapter 6, “Poststructural Criticism: Language as Context”:
“Poststructuralism, then, may be more broadly defined as the application of a deconstructive language model to all aspects of culture and thought” (350).
Much of what Keesey explained in his introduction to poststructuralism has already been explained by our reading from Eagleton last week. There was something that Keesey cleared up for me though that Eagleton did not. Angela considered the differences between deconstruction and poststructuralism in her blog last week, upon reading her questioning of their differences, I realized I didn’t really know what the difference between the two was either. But, Keesey explained the difference in his quote above. Deconstruction is the tool we use to take apart a work layer by layer and consider all its parts, even the conflicting ones. While poststructuralism is the broader category of criticism which can apply not just to literature, but to “all aspects of culture and thought.” It reminds me a little bit of the difference between close reading and formalism. Close reading is a tool we use to do a formalist reading of a work, just as we can use “deconstructive language” to do a poststructuralist reading.
Read more on Keesey.
From Eagleton’s Chapter 4 on Post-Structuralism:
“Structuralism was generally satisfied if it could carve up a text into binary oppositions (high/low, light/dark, Nature/Culture and so on) and expose the logic of their working. Deconstruction tries to show how such oppositions, in order to hold themselves in place, are sometimes betrayed into inverting or collapsing themselves, or need to banish to the text’s margins certain niggling details which can be made to return and plague them” (115-6).
For once (since Eagleton’s introduction), I think I actually understood the chapter. In general, Eagleton includes so many ideas which are totally new to me and the chapters are so long that I soon become confused. But this one, for once, was ok. I wouldn’t say I agree with post-structuralism. I mean it seems almost pointless to me to analyze a text so carefully and then to conclude that there is no determinate meaning in it and everything about it is contradictory.
However, at the same time, I can certainly see how it is possible to find these contradictions. I picked the quote that I did because when I read it, it made me realize that what I was doing on Derek’s blog was almost a sort of deconstructionism. As Derek summarized Gilbert and Gubar’s article about how houses represented female imprisonment from men, I was thinking of examples in literature which proved the opposite. I thought of how women can imprison women, how a woman can entrap herself, and how men can also be trapped by houses. In this way, I was observing the “certain niggling details” which Gilbert and Gubar “banish to the text’s margins.” After all, they used Jane Eyre as an example, yet didn’t consider the full complexity of what the houses in the story could be twisted into representing.
Read more on Eagleton.
“The tactic of deconstructive criticism, that is to say, is to show how terms come to embarrass their own ruling systems of logic; and deconstruction shows this by fastening on the ‘symptomatic’ points, the aporia or impasses of meaning, where texts get into trouble, come unstuck, offer to contradict themselves” (Eagleton 116).
My word for this week is aporia. Eagleton actually defines what aporia is in his sentence. He describes it as “impasses of meaning.” Aporia is basically what post-structuralism is founded on. Aporia, as Merriam Webster, observes is “real or pretended doubt or uncertainty.” So in other words, the very idea that words’ meanings are constantly shifting because their meanings are created by other words (whose meanings are determined by other words) is in a sense a type of aporia. For if there is this constant flickering of meaning, it is impossible to have a fixed and determinate meaning.
Click here to learn more new words.
From Blade Runner (Director’s Cut):
She's a replicant, isn't she?
Tyrell: I'm impressed. How many questions does it usually take to spot them?
Deckard: I don't get it, Tyrell.
Tyrell: How many questions?
Deckard: Twenty, thirty, cross-referenced.
Tyrell: It took more than a hundred for Rachael, didn't it?
Deckard: She doesn't know.
Tyrell: She's beginning to suspect, I think.
Deckard: Suspect? How can it not know what it is?”
So, I watched Blade Runner last night. I had heard of the movie before, but knew pretty much nothing about it. However, I was talking to some of my friends over break about it, and I got a mixture of responses. Some people really liked it and some people hated it. But regardless, I did learn several things about it. For example, Blade Runner is based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. There are two versions of the movie, the original movie released in 1982, which included narration by Deckard. The movie was rereleased ten years later in 1992 (as the Director’s cut) without the narration.
I’m going to be honest here and admit that the movie was not
one of my favorites. I mean the general
idea of the movie makes a person think certainly. Rachael didn’t even realize she was a
replicant. I mean for all we know
Deckard was one too (after all, he’d never taken the Voight-Kampff test himself). And who’s to say that the replicants are any
less human than we are? Tyrell admits
that they can learn to have emotion over time.
Nonetheless, I thought the movie was rather slow moving. Maybe this is a result of the removal of
Deckard’s narration. After all, when we
watched the movie version of The Dead
in Advanced Literary Study, the absence of the characters’ thoughts I thought
was very detrimental (and this could be a similar situation, since it is again
a movie based on a book). But at the
same time, I’m not sure how they would have included Deckard’s narration
without it seeming rather out of place and corny in a movie. I think another problem I had with the movie
was that I was expecting some great explanation at the end of the movie. I guess I wanted some sort of resolution.
I suppose this lack of a clear answer or explanation can relate back to literary criticism in a way, since there is no real right school of criticism. We just have to do our best picking through the schools till we find the ones that work for us. There is no solid way to prove that our interpretation of a text is 100% right or that the author intended it to mean something (and even if they did intend something, does that even matter?). There is no clear black and white answer. (As another relation to literary criticism although we haven’t gotten to postmodernism quite yet, the constant questioning and upheaval of perceived realities in Blade Runner makes it have a postmodern feel).
From Charles Swann’s “Whodunnit? Or, Who Did What? ‘Benito Cereno’ and the Politics of Narrative Structure”:
“That is why I insist on calling it a mystery story—for it is a detective story where the reader on reading and, crucially, rereading the story has to learn not only to be the detective who could have solved the crime, but to decide what the crime was and who the real criminal is” (311).
I really liked Swann’s article, I thought it was one of the most convincing and well-done articles we have read so far in this course. I think some of my classmates probably feel the same way, Erica for example thought Swann's article was very helpful as well. Swann blended together many schools: historicism (through all his facts and research), reader-response (as he comments on page 320, “the reader has to be the kind of detective who will read the deep narrative that underlies the harmless-seeming surface,” implying that the reader has to be a certain type of reader), mimetic criticism (as on page 322, he quips, “Melville’s story is mimetic of social consciousness on both sides), author intention (on page 316, Swann ponders, “But what does Melville mean here?”), and obviously intertextualism (as he considers the mystery genre as a whole and takes into consideration works by Poe, other works by Melville, and the real historical account of the slave revolt on Santo Domingo). This blending of so many schools makes it almost impossible to come up with a counterargument for Swann’s claims. In fact, after Swann carefully goes through so many other arguments and disproves them all, who would want to disagree with him?
Furthermore, besides how well Swann sets up and proves his claim,
I really liked his emphasis on the reader being the detective. Melville’s active manipulation into forcing
the reader into this role really makes sense to me. While I was reading, I know I was searching
for clues as to what was going on. I was
trying to piece Delano’s perceptions and observations into some sort of
sensical explanation. After all, as
Swann points out about Delano, “he does not know
that a “crime” has been committed” (323), but we as the readers know that
something is amiss and are on the watch for the explanation. I think the positioning of the reader as the
detective is a very accurate representation of the emotions and efforts that
the reader goes through. And since the
reader so actively misses the solution during his or her first reading, it
makes her or him remember the story all the more and consider “what the crime
was and who the real criminal is.”
From Bernard Paris’s “The Uses of Psychology”:
“Aesthetic types—“villains, ingénues, ficelles, choral characters, nuntii, and so on”—serve mainly to create formal patterns and dramatic impact” (220).
The word I chose to define is “ingénue.” Hamilton did not have a definition for this word, so I resorted to Wikipedia instead.
Ingénue, I already knew, is a French word meaning innocent. I didn’t know that it could also serve as a literary term. Wikipedia explains that, “The Ingénue is a stock character in literature, film, and a role type in the theatre; generally a girl or a young woman who is endearingly innocent and wholesome.” When I hear the word ingénue, I think of The Phantom of the Opera. In one of the songs, Prima Donna sung by the arrogant veteran singer Carlotta, one of the lines is, “Would you not rather have your precious little ingénue?” in reference to Christine. So, when you hear the word ingénue, think of Christine. Think of her blind, innocent trust in the Phantom. As Wikipedia further elucidates, “Typically, the ingénue is beautiful, gentle, sweet, virginal, and often naïve, in mental or emotional danger, or even physical danger ” All of these words exactly describe Christine.
For your viewing pleasure, here is a YouTube video of the song I was referring to.
To learn more literary terms, click here.
From Northrop Frye’s “Shakespeare’s The Tempest”:
“The vision, however, is one of a renewed power and energy of nature rather than simply a return to a lost Paradise: a sense of a ‘brave new world’ appropriate as a wedding offering to a young and attractive couple” (302).
I found this quote to be particularly interesting in light of an earlier blog entry I wrote on The Tempest. I stated my belief that the ending of The Tempest was not so much of a happily ever after because along with leaving the island comes a destruction of Miranda’s innocence. Therefore, Frye’s comments on this being not a return to a lost Paradise, but the finding of a new one, definitely caught my attention. However, I don’t quite agree with him in one way. I don’t think that this “brave new world” is positive or hopeful at all. In fact, I think their abandoning of the secluded island (which could be seen in a sense as the garden) is yet another fall into deeper sin. As Frye observes there is no repentance on Antonio’s part. The cycle of depositions and greed is set up to continue again and again, just as there will be more and more people like Caliban. For as I pointed out, the hope we had in Miranda and Ferdinand is quickly dashed by Ferdinand’s cheating, Miranda’s compliance with Ferdinand’s behavior, and their removal from the relatively innocent life of the island. (Need I mention that Aldous Huxley’s take on Shakespeare’s line in his novel, Brave New World, is none to positive?)
Read more on Frye’s article.
I liked most of Frye’s article, I thought he had a good sense of humor, and I liked how he carefully went through and pointed out what the other types of criticism were lacking that his school of criticism provides. I really liked his point about not assuming that a good poem must be a projection of an interesting man. As Frye comments, “It often happens that interesting literature is produced by an uninteresting man ” (281). I think that Frye makes a very good point here. We should not rely on giving a poem value because of an author’s biographical information. As Eliot stressed, poets can write about emotions they have never felt personally.
I was a little confused though by something Frye wrote and how it fits in with intertextualism as a whole. Northrop Frye stated in his article, “The Critical Path” that:
“A scholar, qua scholar, cannot think for himself or think at random: he can only expand an organic body of thought, add something logically related to what he or someone else has already thought” (284).
The quote itself makes sense to me, after all, anything we are likely to think or come up with will have already been thought. We can say it differently, more clearly, or add something to it, but coming up with a completely new idea is not very likely. However, if we can only build off of things that “someone else has already thought,” I am confused about something Keesey said in his introduction. Keesey said that, “The question of how much Shakespeare could have known about Sophocles’ drama is, on this view, less important than the reciprocal illumination that results when the plays are compared” (267). But, if this is the case, then Sophocles obviously could not have expanded on anything that Shakespeare thought or wrote, since he wrote before Shakespeare. So if that is the case, how exactly does one write a paper comparing the two? After having read Shakespeare we will certainly view Sophocles differently, but how do we transfer this into some sort of thesis? Isn’t this more reader-response than anything else, since the readers’ perception of the two works is what has changed, and not the works themselves?
Read more on Frye’s “The Critical Path.”
From Josephine Donovan’s “Beyond the Net: Feminist Criticism as a Moral Criticism”:
“This does not mean that we should throw out or refuse to read these works, but that they should be read with a perspective that recognizes the sexism inherent in their moral vision” (230).
I liked how Donovan did realize that men can sometimes create realistic female characters (the examples she uses being Shakespeare and Sophocles), I like how she incorporates film into her essay, and I like that she comments that women are not the only ones who can be portrayed as “the other” (on page 230, she says this happens to “the Jew” and also “the Negro”). However, I do find fault in her insistence that “the net effect of good literature on the reader should be moral growth” (231). She seems to think that this means that all women must be portrayed in a realistic way that allows them to grow as a character. Some literature though, I would argue is powerful simply because of the lack of growth on a character’s part. Their own inability to change or perceive their problems can speak volumes to the reader.
Donovan faults writing which presents women as “defined solely in terms of whether they help or hinder the hero on his course” (229). But isn’t it possible that this isn’t always sexism, but instead simply the female character is not the main character? Paris divided characters into three types, perhaps the female just isn't the character that the author wishes to make his mimetic character. This does not necessarily mean that he did not respect women or saw them as objects, he simply had to make some characters aesthetic, some illustrative, and some mimetic.
Donovan also objects to the archetypical portrayal of women as either “good or evil” (228). My question is this: aren’t men portrayed in this same way as well? Aren’t male characters in literature for the most part either good or evil? It kind of goes back to the idea that all stories have already been told and today we are just telling variants of this same story. If this is the case, then all characters must be archetypical to some degree. How can we completely escape this idea with males or females?
Lastly, in the quote I chose at the top of this entry, Donovan suggests that we still read these works but read them with a critical eye, realizing that there will be some bias in the work. But again, can’t this apply to all literature? Shouldn’t we read all literature with a critical eye not just for sexism, but all types of biases? I guess what I’m saying is that regardless of whether it is a work with “sexism inherent” or not, the reader should always be reading carefully, so it should be no special exception to read critically for sexism.
Read what my classmates have to say on this subject.
From Bernard Paris’s “The Uses of Psychology”:
“As critics we demand, indeed, that the central characters of realistic fiction be like real people, that they have a life of their own beyond the control of their author” (219).
I didn’t like most of Paris’s article. In fact, I was disagreeing and questioning pretty much everything he said up to page 220, where the division of the three dots was. After the three dots, I began to agree with him.
The first problem I had with the article almost from the very beginning of it, was this idea of “realistic fiction.” After all, who gets to decide what is realistic and what isn’t? Realistic is one of those words fraught with value-judgments. What I think is realistic is not the same as what someone else thinks. I was talking to a friend the other day and they didn’t think that the characters in the movie Ironman were realistic. I, on the other hand, very strongly think that they are. I think it is completely impossible to come up with some true way to differentiate between realistic and non-realistic. But setting that idea aside, I still have other issues with Paris.
My second problem comes from the quote I chose for my agenda item above. This whole idea of a character being uncontrollable to an author, I find to be questionable. I agree with Paris that some characters do have a stronger personality, and that at times an author may feel moved to have the character act in certain ways because of these character traits. However, even if the author puts aside all personal feelings and beliefs, the characters actions will still to some degree be limited to the author’s imagination and will always be chained to the author’s experience and creative-capacity. The characters are not free entities in of themselves; they must rely on the author. And if the characters did not rely to some degree on the author to create them, and the author faithfully depicted realistically what he observed in his everyday life what he wrote would cease to be fiction and instead become nonfiction.
My third (and last major) problem with the article is in regards to the three divisions of characters that Paris sets forth. He says there are: aesthetic characters which are one dimensional and rush the plot along; the illustrative that are almost archetypical in a sense and are simply meant to represent or illustrate some general principle, type of person, or idea; and then the mimetic who are the “realistic” characters. My difficulty is that, if the aesthetic and illustrative characters are flat and the mimetic are not, how can this be realistic? In real life are not all people complex? Do not all people have their own motivations which we must concern ourselves with? Considering this, if a work of fiction is to truly be mimetic or realistic then shouldn’t all the characters even the minor ones be complex, since that is how it is in real life?
Read more on Paris’s “The Uses of Psychology.”
From Keesey’s Introduction to Chapter 5, “Intertextual Criticism: Literature as Context”:
“Intertextual critics, by contrast, though not necessarily denying that certain symbols may have special potency, feel no need to locate the power of myths or symbols in the unconscious or in the extraliterary. Like the conventions of language, literary conventions are arbitrary, and they must, therefore, be learned. From this perspective, readers who fail to respond to King Lear, say, or to Moby Dick, are no psychologically defective; they simply don’t know how to read well enough” (271).
Keesey’s explanation of intertextual criticism makes a lot of sense to me. After all, I believe that all people can interpret literature, but some people are obviously better at it than other people. It makes sense that this could be because some people have read more than others. The more you read, the more practice you will have had interpreting literature, and as they say, practice makes perfect.
Another reason I really like intertexual criticism is that it shifts the focus away from the non-literary (such as psychology) and focuses entirely on the literary and books. I’m not saying that using psychology is not useful, but I really think that when you bring in other forms of study, it is easy to let the focus shift from the literary work itself to something else, which kind of defeats the purpose of it being literary criticism. So all in all, I would say that I think intertexual criticism seems like a much more useful tool than some of the others we have been studying. It does not demote those who do not like a literary work, it keeps the focus on the literary, and it still allows one to use many schools of criticism.
I actually read Reading Lolita in Tehran this summer before I even knew Azar Nafisi was coming to Seton Hill to speak. I saw a French movie last Spring called Persepolis which was based on two graphic novels (which I also read this summer)by Marjane Satrapi. After talking to some of my friends from high school about Persepolis one of them recommended Reading Lolita in Tehran to me since it, like Persepolis, dealt with the Iranian revolution and the loss of freedom for women specifically, but everyone in general. I highly recommend Reading Lolita in Tehran, both graphic novels, and the movie (yes, there is an English language version of both). If you’d like to check out a trailer for the movie, click here.
One of the things that shocked me when I read Reading Lolita in Tehran and Persepolis was how ignorant I was. I knew very little to nothing about the Iranian revolution. For all I knew, everyone over there in Iran liked wearing veils and things being how they were. They are the ones that revolted after all and instituted the new Islamic regime. How little I knew about any of it, I soon realized. As Azar Nafisi commented in her lecture, “why do we think that Americans are the only ones with a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” We know so little about what is going on over there, that it is so easy for us just to write the whole situation off as what they want. But it’s not what they all want. And as she also observed, we are “complicit through our silence.” We learn nothing about what it going on; we prefer to live in ignorance, so we don’t have to deal with it. But it is our choice to remain ignorant to what is going on other places, and ignorance does not free us from guilt. I really think we need to learn more about what is going on in other countries.
But moving away from the political issues and focuses more on the literature part, one interesting thing that Azar Nafisi said was that there are two things which go into helping to create a country’s identity. The two things are:
1. The literary heritage from books.
2. The cultural/historical foundation of the country.
This point seemed particularly interesting to me, since
after all, aren’t some of the schools of literary criticism arguing that these
things are important and some arguing that these things are not important? Historicism obviously would consider the
cultural and historical to be important, while intertexualism would capitalize
on the importance of the literary heritage and the conventions inherent in
these books. Meanwhile, formalism would
say none of these things are important. But
when things are presented in the way that Azar Nafisi explained them, I’m going
to have to disagree with the formalists.
I very much think that books are powerful tools which can make a
difference and do help people feel grounded.
Books can remind us of who we once were, who we are, and who we can
become. So in this sense, I suppose Azar
Nafisi was a bit of an intertexualist.
Read more on Azar Nafisi's visit to Seton Hill University.
From Stephen Rupp’s “Reason of State and Repetition in The Tempest and La vida es sueño”:
“He realizes he could call his father to account for denying him not only his patrimony, but also the most fundamental of human liberties. His understanding is, however, dangerously one-sided, in that he does not recognize limitation of any kind on his own conduct” (310).
Essentially Rupp’s argument comes down to the same focal point that Sears’s did. Segismundo and Basilio need to learn to rule within certain parameters. They are neither completely free, nor completely chained. They have to find a happy medium between controlling, and realizing they do not have ultimate power. And also they need find a balance between being educated, focusing on their subjects, and having Christian morals.
However, despite the idea of finding a way to break from the repetition of constant political upheaval found in both The Tempest and La vida es sueño, I noticed another correspondence between the two works as I was reading. I thought that Segismundo did not just relate to Ferdinand as Rupp stated, but also to Caliban. Caliban in a sense is Segismundo without the benefit of some sort of an education.
Caliban, like Segismundo, is a “hybrid.” Segismundo calls himself a monster and acts without thought for other people; he says he will kill Clotaldo with his bare hands in an animalistic fashion. Caliban and Segismundo are both tempted by women and both will do whatever they deem necessary to maintain control of their land (Caliban through reproducing with Miranda and Segismundo through usurping his father). The main difference between the two characters is that Segismundo even without having experience in the real world has been given an education.
So my question to you is, if the only thing separating Segismundo from being as animalistic as Caliban is his education, what does this tell us about both human nature and education?
Read what my classmates have to say about this topic.
From Sears’s “Freedom Isn’t Free: Free Will in La vida es sueño Revisted”:
“Basilio also has his faithful follower Clotaldo instruct Segismundo in ‘sciencas,’ but of a far different kind than the ‘estudios’ of which the king himself is master: ‘en la ley le ha instruido/ catolica’ (in Catholic law/ he has instructed him) (757-58). Thus, if only in embryonic form, Segismundo is in possession of a kind of knowledge that outranks his father’s astrological science” (282).
Sears makes an extremely interesting point when she brings up the differences between Basilio’s and Segismundo’s study. Not only is this idea stressed through Basilio’s admittance that Segismundo has been raised in the Catholic Church, but the very language the Basilio and Segismundo speak in stresses the differences. When Segismundo talks he uses such words as “Oh heavens” (11) and “God” (13), in contrast to Basilio who instead talks of “science” (37) and “constellations” (39).
Not only is this strange simply because it creates a disparity between the two characters, but as Stanley Appelbaum the editor and translator of our edition of the text remarks in the introduction, “Basilio, in the eyes of Calderon’s contemporaries, would be seen to derogate sadly from his royal station by dabbling in astrology ” (xiii). So as usual the question comes down to why would Calderon do this? Why make the “savage” Prince have more appropriate beliefs despite his imprisonment than the “civilized” King?
In the introduction, Appelbaum suggests that Basilio’s interest in astrology is simply meant to hint to the audience that he may lose his throne. However, I think it is more than this. I think that Calderon was constantly trying to stress that the belief that we can possess foreknowledge of what is to come (like Basilio thinks) is simply not something humans were meant to have. However, neither were we supposed to believe that we have no control over our existence. But it is instead as Sears explains that we have free will within certain parameters.
Read more on Sears’s article.