The Art of Allusion

In Chapters 8-10, Foster dives deeper into different popular pieces of texts that are often alluded to in literature. These pieces are stories from the Grimm Brothers, Greek and world mythology, and weather. When you hear about a trail of breadcrumbs, you think of the innocent children of Hansel and Gretel. When you hear about a war over beauty, you think of Helen of Troy. When you see dark weather, you think of dark foreshadowing. Although allusions use other pieces of texts, it isn’t used to plagiarize or steal the story of other writing. As Foster writes:

“Rather, we’re trying to make use of details or patterns, portions of some prior story (or, once you really start thinking like a professor, “prior text,” since everything is a text) to add depth and texture to your story, to bring out a theme, to lend irony to a statement, to play with readers’ deeply ingrained knowledge of fairy tales.“

A writer is not able to talk to each reader and compare the characters or events to the experiences of the reader. Therefore, they use other common books so that the reader can make the connection between the emotions experienced in both environments. A good allusion does not depend on the reader understanding the reference in order to understand the story. Instead, the allusion adds depth to the text so that the reader can subconsciously remember the emotions and motives of known story and apply it to the current text. In the story of Everyman, Jesus and Saint Charity are alluded to so that the reader knows this story follows the Christian mythology. The reader can then apply Christian morals and beliefs to the story so that they can see how the message of the play coincides to the church’s teachings.

Source: Foster (8-10)

Personification and Charity 

In the play Everyman, personification is used to show how Everyman (every man) can enter the kingdom of heaven after death. When Everyman tries to convince his other friends to join him or help him through death, only Good-Deeds follows him to the afterlife. His other friends, Strength, Discretion, Five-Wits, Beauty, Fellowship, Knowledge, Cousin, and Kindred, all abandon him in his time of need.

Good-Deeds: Nay, Everyman, I will bide with thee,

I will not forsake thee indeed;

Thou shalt find me a good friend at need.

Everyman: Gramercy, GoodDeeds; now may I true friends see;

They have forsaken me every one;

I loved them better than my Good-Deeds alone.

Knowledge, will ye forsake me also?

This play is used to spread the Christian message that only a person’s good deeds will carry them to heaven. Everything else is part of this world, such as beauty, knowledge, and strength.

In addition, there is repeated reference to “Charity” or “Saint Charity.” As God mentions:

For now one would by envy another up eat;

Charity they all do clean forget.

In this line, God is discussing how the Everyman has forgotten about Charity. The play also ends with:

That we may live body and soul together.

Thereto help the Trinity,

Amen, say ye, for saint Charity.

Charity is often defined as deep kindness. Therefore, it would make sense that Good-deeds caused the Everyday man to heaven. It’s interesting how the play makes the distinction of the two characters. The play claims that Good-deeds (good deeds) lead to Saint Charity (charity), in both a literal and metaphorical sense.

Source: Everyman (Anonymous)

Everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. 

Even this title is taken from the 1999 Film Fight Club. While it may seem dismal and edgy, it simply means that all ideas are innovations of each other. Netflix is a better television. Television was a better radio. However, in literature, human emotions are recycled over and over. How many ways can you write about two people falling in love without the stories sounding similar? While the plot may be different, we all scientifically feel similar emotions and chemicals when we are in love. We all are human, therefore, our experiences are similar to one another and our art will reflect those similarities. While this may seem bad and unoriginal, it actually enriches our literature. The more we read literature, the more we can see the similarities between texts and understand the characters. As Foster writes:

This dialogue between old texts and new is always going on at one level or another. Critics speak of this dialogue as intertextuality, the ongoing interaction between poems or stories. This intertextual dialogue deepens and enriches the reading experience, bringing multiple layers of meaning to the text, some of which readers may not even consciously notice. The more we become aware of the possibility that our text is speaking to other texts, the more similarities and correspondences we begin to notice, and the more alive the text becomes.

It’s the equivalent to being able to be empathetic towards your friend over the loss of their pet because you too have lost your pet. Since you’ve seen how the story played out once, you can hone in those past emotions and apply them to the new text. This is why it is vital to read older pieces of literature, such as the medieval dramas about Jesus. While the plays themselves may not be interesting, learning about them allows us to be able to understand other plays when they make allusions.

Source: Foster (5-7)

Acting as a form of devotion. 

Many kids were first introduced to the world of theatre through seeing their church’s Christmas rendition of the birth of Christ. While the play is cheerful and mainly played by children, the first medieval plays about Jesus Christ were more than entertainment; they were acts of devotion. In fact, they were like lively sermons, used to spread Christianity. However, as the community leaders are also the ones spreading Christianity, I’m curious to see how the leaders’ own agenda comes out in these plays. Were the plays just spreading and celebrating religious ideas or was there also propaganda used in there as well?

Source: Context for Medieval Drama

Humanizing the Soldiers

My Father, that all bales may bete,

Forgive these men that do me pine.

What they work woot they nought:

Therefore my Father I crave

Let never their sins be sought, searched

But see their souls to save.

These are the last words of Jesus before he is killed. He uses his last breathe to ask God to forgive the soldiers for their ignorance and for simply doing their job. In fact, throughout the entire play, we see the mentality of the nameless soldiers. They do not act in hatred or wickedness. Instead, the soldiers discuss honor and see the action as a part of their business. As they mention:

It may not help here for to hone,

If we shall any worship win.

In this line, they talk about how they shouldn’t delay the crucifixion if they want honor to win. This shows that what they are doing is what they think is just in the eyes of God. In fact, punishing the heathen that was Jesus was how they were “worshipping” God. The audience is supposed to sympathize with Jesus, however the enemy are not the soldiers. Perhaps in the Medieval Times, the high priests did not want to condemn the soldiers because the knights were to be respected members of society.

Source: York Crucifixion

Is Pride Bad?

In “The Creation, and the Fall of Lucifer,” Lucifer exclaims to the world:

“the beams of my brightness are burning so bright.”

This line informs the world and God that his light is powerful and as valuable as God. In this stanza, he is prideful and confident in himself. However, the story ends with Lucifer casted out of heaven by God. As God states:

Those fools, for their fairness, into fantasies fell

And envied my might, that marked them and made them.

The fall of Lucifer is due to his envy of God. However, this is also a message to the audience that you should remain in your position in life and that it is wrong to believe that your “power surpasses each peer.” Lucifer’s fall from grace is due to his belief that he is better than people and deserves more. While this mentality would thrive in our modern American capitalistic society, it crumbles in feudalistic society that was in the Medieval Times. This play could be used as propaganda at the time to enforce classes to remain in their social hierarchy.

Source: York Creation/Fall

Wilde as Parodist

Often when examining The Importance of Being Earnest, only Jack’s and Algernon’s honest and “earnest” behavior is being questioned. However, Cecily also shows a two-faced persona towards Algernon. In fact, it is her ability to have “fake, girlish innocence” while still maintaining wit that causes Algernon to become exposed. She sees through him and tells him, “I hope you have not been leading a double life, pre-tending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.” The irony of her relationship with Algernon is that Algernon’s journey to become more honest begins when he interacts with a fabricated fickle woman.


Source: Wilde as Parodist

The Business of Marriage

In the Importance of Being Earnest, marriage is often seen as a business transaction rather than an act of love and romance. While Gwendolen and Ernest (Jack) believe they are in love and want to get married, Lady Bracknell (Gwendolen’s mother) shows the audience that love is not enough in order to get married. As she tells Jack:

Lady Bracknell: To speak frankly, I am not in favour of long engagements. They give people the opportunity of finding out each other’s character before marriage, which I think is never advisable. (III.86)

While this comment is comedic, Lady Bracknell is a reminder of how many women see marriage during this era. Learning about each other’s character is not important in a marriage to Lady Bracknell. Instead, the whole ordeal is simply a way of climbing the social ladder, a sad reality for women at the time.

Source: The Importance of Being Earnest (Wilde)

Rewarding Hard Work

In Rossum’s Universal Robots, the world has been taken over by human-like robots. On the final days of earth, the scientists discuss how they do not regret their dream of creating robots. As Harry Domin exclaims:

It was not an evil dream to shatter the servitude of labor!–– the dreadful and humiliating labor that man had to undergo. Work was too hard. Life was too hard. And to overcome that!––

However, RUR shows the value of hard work when the humans are killed other than Alquist, a builder for RUR.

He works with his hands like the Robots.

It’s interesting how while skill and hard work were trying to be eliminated through the use of robots, the robots ended up saving just one person because they believed he must have some skill and work hard at creating new robots. The reward of labor is life. In addition, while the robots were trying to be more humanlike, they too did not want the servitude of labor either.

Source: RUR, Continued

Food for Thought

What if dinner turns ugly or doesn’t happen at all? A different outcome, but the same logic, I think. If a well-run meal or snack portends good things for community and understanding, then the failed meal stands as a bad sign.

In Foster’s 2nd chapter of How to Read Literature like a Professor, he discusses about the importance of food and eating together in stories. Whenever people eat together, it is a sign of kindness and friendship. Likewise, when food goes spoiled, it is a bad omen. In the play Trifles, Minnie Foster’s fruit has “frozen” and both Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters feel sympathy for her spoiled fruit. This fruit is a symbol for Minnie Foster, as the fruit only became ruined after her husband died. However, when Mrs. Hale choses not to surrender Minnie to the sheriff for the murder of her husband, Mrs. Hale begins to talk about the fruit. Mrs. Hale wants to tell Minnie that her fruit are “all right” and lie about them being gone. This discussion of protecting Minnie from knowing about her ruined fruit shows camaraderie between the women. Through examining the role of food in stories, the reader can examine the larger meaning and significance of its use in literature.

Source: Foster (Ch 2