Mom! He's Touching Me Again!

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From "Shakespeare's The Tempest" by Northrop Frye in Keesey's Contexts for Criticism:

"On the enchanted island this dramatic action goes into reverse, Prospero expanding into the real Duke of Milan and Antonio shrinking to a kind of discarded shell...We note in passing the folktale theme of the struggle of brothers, the rightful heir exiled only to return later in triumph" (302-303).

When I read these lines I couldn't help of think of a few intertextual relationships and because that is the topic for this week, I found it appropriate to write about.

It is intriguing how many times in literature this sibling rivalry shows up.  In Shakespeare alone, it shows up numerous times.  You'll have to forgive me for it has been a while since I've read many of these works but I believe that King Lear and Hamlet also have elements of sibling rivalry.  In Hamlet, Claudius kills his own brother to capture the throne.  Also, in King Lear the jealous sisters are mean to each other, competing for their father's kingdom. 

I've learned that repetition is of merit in literature.  I'd assume that a repeated theme would also be of importance.  My own feelings about the repetition of the sibling rivalry in Shakespeare alone would be some sort of indication of what Shakespeare had experienced going on around him (possibly even personally) and seen enough of it to write about it several times.  This entry is loosly also based in historical criticism, however, I do not have the time to actually look this stuff up for sure.  (Breaks...what good are they if you don't actually get a break?)  Anyway, I would assume that maybe even some kingdoms in Shakespeare's time were going through this issue.  However, I could be wrong for this kind of conflict can even be found as far back as the Bible with Cain and Able.

What do you think about the reoccurance of this theme?  If you know anything about history during Shakespeare's time, please do share!

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1 Comments

Greta Carroll said:

Angela, it certainly is a repetitive theme. I like how you point out the one about Cain and Abel. The example that popped into my head as I was reading was the wicked step sisters in Cinderella. There is also Scar who feuds with Mufasa for his throne in the Lion King.

Honestly, I think it was in general just a common theme and that’s partially why Shakespeare used it and his audience could have related to it well. But, if you want to relate it to history, there was a great sibling rivalry between two of Henry VIII’s children over who would rule. Elizabeth I, who was the Queen when Shakespeare first started writing his plays, and her sister Mary were constantly feuding between themselves.

Henry VIII in his desire to have a male heir divorced Catherine of Aragon (this is why the Church of England broke away from the Catholic Church. Henry had to get approval from the Pope to be able to divorce Catherine and the Pope, probably under the influence of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who happened to be Catherine’s nephew, would not grant it to Henry). Henry VIII stuffed Catherine of Aragon off in a monastery somewhere in England where she eventually got sick and died (there are some rumors that she was poisoned, but there is no real proof of this). Henry VIII also required that all of his subjects sign a paper which basically said that they accepted that Henry’s divorce was legitimate and that his marriage to Catherine had never been lawful in the first place (Catherine had been married to Henry VIII’s older brother first and if she had consummated her marriage with him, it was grounds for Henry’s marriage to her to be consider null) and that Henry’s daughter with Catherine (Mary) was illegitimate. This was to make sure that Henry’s children with his new wife (Anne Boleyn) would rule first, before Mary. Mary refused to sign this paper on the basis that her mother’s marriage to her father had been real, legal, and binding. This made Henry mad, so he had Mary banished for a while too where she suffered many bouts of ill health and prohibited any contact between her and her mother (who hadn’t died yet).

Henry’s new wife, Anne, and he eventually had a daughter, Elizabeth. Years later, even after Anne Boleyn was executed (Henry VIII eventually got sick of her since she didn’t have a son and had her accused of treason), Mary continued to blame Anne Boleyn and her daughter (Elizabeth) for her mother’s death and her own hardship. Therefore, throughout Mary I’s reign, Elizabeth constantly was in fear for her life. Especially since there were many plots to seize the thrown from Mary and put Elizabeth on it (how much Elizabeth had to do with this plots is unknown). Furthermore, there was the religion issue. Mary was a devote Catholic and Elizabeth was a Protestant and this created even greater tension between the two.

But nonetheless, the sibling rivalry between Elizabeth and Mary would obviously have been something that the common person in England would have been very much aware of, since they had lived through it. So there’s some history for you, I hope I explained it in a way that made sense.

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