Academic Article of Your Choice

Sypniewski, Holly M., and Anne Macmaster. “Double Motivation and the Ambiguity of €”Ungodly Deeds”: Euripides’s Medea and Milton’s Samson Agonistes.” Milton Quarterly, vol. 44, no. 3, 2010, pp. 145–167., doi:10.1111/j.1094-348x.2010.00244.x.

In this article, 17th century author John Milton’s work Samson Agonistes is compared to Euripides’ Medea in that both contain heroes who break cultural expectations and commit heinous crimes possibly based on Divine Will. According to Sypniewski and Macmaster, Medea and Dalila are both fictionalized foreign wives who wedded cultural heroes, yet are more intelligent than the others in their play. Likewise, both Jason and Samson only speak up for the law when it benefits them, despite their seemingly-intelligent arguments. Later on, the roles switch, and Medea’s murder of her children is echoed in Samson’s murder of the Philistines. Because of these similarities, the authors believe Samson Agonistes was inspired by Medea.

Throughout the first half of the article, the authors stress how Euripides’ Medea and Milton’s Dalila differ from the stereotypical “barbarian” woman, who would be categorized by “deviousness and intellectual inferiority” (Sypniewski 148). Instead, in the case of Medea, “the audience, expecting an irrational witch, gets a shrewd rhetorician who exem- plifies the Greek ideals of reason and honor,” as shown in her speeches at the beginning condemning Jason for his infidelity and picking apart his flimsy excuses (Sypniewski 148). And then, Euripides turns the tables by giving the negative qualities normally associated with “women and foreigners” to Jason, since his reasoning for leaving his wife is quickly refuted by Medea as being sneaky, selfish, and faulty (Sypniewski 148). In both stories, the cultural expectations of gender and national identity are flipped.

In the second half of the article, Medea’s and Samson’s claims of divine support for their murders are called into question. There is plenty of evidence in Medea that support that she worked on her own accord, such as her tendency to get hung up on her pride and revenge. According to the article, she is so fearful of mockery from her enemies that she is willing to kill her own children to shield them and herself from it. However, Medea invokes the gods to support her in punishing Jason, and appears at the end like a “dea ex machina” in Helios’ chariot above the stage, as if she has the divine will on her side (Sypniewski 159). To put the authors’ assertion in other words, it’s almost as if Medea is the “acting goddess” of the play, since the presence of the other gods is conspicuously absent. Therefore, it is possible to argue that by allowing the crime to occur unpunished (and in fact rewarded, since Medea is the “dea ex machina” at the end), the gods are on Medea’s side and approve of her murdering her children.

Through all sixteen pages of this article, Euripides’ ambiguity in his Medea’s heroism, divine backing, and selfishness is thoroughly analyzed and paralleled in the characters of Milton’s Samson Agonistes. It is a complex read full of allusions to other works and critics and with plenty of notes and sources at the end.

Source: Academic Article of Your Choice

Collier, “On Translating ‘Medea’”

…for a modern reader or audience inured to the public flaunting of unhappy relationships between celebrities, Medea’s sacrifice of her two sons to avenge Jason’s divorce and remarriage is an act of such enormity that it seems excessive and unbelievable (Collier 194).

Collier brings up a relevant issue in his short essay, one that we encountered in our class discussion. Medea’s choice to kill her own children seems so cruel, overdramatic, and unnecessary to us as a modern audience that we have trouble overlooking it to delve into the more complex issues of the play. It explains Collier’s desire to contain the play’s anger and vengeance so it wouldn’t seem to extreme.

In his included translation of the Messenger’s speech, Medea’s crimes are still described to their high degree, but the Messenger’s plain statement of facts further helps the reader imagine them. He is distraught, but there are no indications of overreacting in his lines, which is what Collier hoped to achieve. Still, it is difficult to dilute the drama in a play as dramatic as Medea, and so, the melodrama Collier hoped to avoid could still be portrayed through an actor’s or director’s choices. With the intensity of the play’s plot unchangeable, it is up to the audience and readers to look past the extremity of Medea’s actions to fully appreciate the rest of the play.

Source: Collier, “On Translating ‘Medea’”

Medea

One of the main discussion topics of our class was whether or not Medea was just a homicidal maniac and whether or not Jason was a total jerkwad. After this class, I still maintain that they are both the heroes (and antagonists) in their own right.

Jason is not a horrible guy. Practically every hero in ancient Greece was proud, but that’s because they accomplished incredible things and were looked up to by almost everyone. Not to mention, Jason knew his wife was willing to kill random people just to secure power for him, as she proved with King Peleus and the whole cooked goat thing. Taking these two facts into consideration, it becomes less of a taboo that he should leave his wife and more of a safety precaution, protecting his reputation and his wellbeing. Medea is a loose cannon, and he just wants his and her future to be secure. So, he reasons, if the best way to do this is to separate, then so be it.

And yet, I also feel for Medea. I was biased coming into this play because the version of Medea’s myth that I knew (adapted by Rick Riordan, whose adaptation is biased as to better support his novel series) portrayed her as a completely evil witch with no remorse and not many likable qualities. And so, when I read her speeches about how hesitant she was to kill her sons, how she went back and forth whether she could escape with them to Athens or if it were better that they were dead, I saw a concerned mother battling with the wicked witch. For example:

Farewell my former plans. I’ll take
My children with me. To punish their father,
Must I hurt them too? Destroy myself?
I can’t. My former plans, farewell.

(Euripedes 36)

And then, on the same page,

Spare them. We’ll live in happiness,
Live in Athens. They’ll soothe my pain.

No! Spirits of vengeance,
Dark in the deeps of Hell,

Shall I leave them, my sons, toys for my enemies?

Medea is more than a witch. She is a mother, and also a cunning plotter, and these two sides of her grapple with the justification of her terrible plan. Her thirst for revenge against Jason, knowledge of politics and political enemies, and genuine sentiment conflict until she finally decides she must kill her sons if she means to truly hurt Jason and prevent their own deaths at the hands of her enemies.

And then, after reading the play, I read the introduction, which compared Medea not to a wicked witch or Lady Macbeth (who I had also found parallels with her), but as a “mermaid” type character, who left her home and family to live with humans, only to lose it all. (In the Disney version, Ariel doesn’t lose it all, but in Andersen’s original, she totally loses everything.) Trying to imagine Medea as a heroic, magical girl wronged by the human race is difficult to say the least, so to help me attempt it, I drew this:

WOW! Now you really feel bad for her! Poor mermaid princess Medea who doesn’t want to kill her kids but has to! (Okay, this is extreme, you’re probably not even thinking this, but pretend you are.) My point is, trying to imagine a literary character as different from your initial impression of them can change your understanding of their actions.

(You don’t have to imagine them as Disney characters, but that’s my go-to, because I am immature like that.)

(Regarding my illustration here, it ALSO makes you feel worse for poor princess Glauke, because I drew her as Lottie, and who doesn’t like Lottie? And making Jason look like Prince Eric also makes you feel for him, because Eric’s a nice guy.)

(Also, making Medea Ariel gave me too many easy jokes, so here’s a comic to end this post on a light note.)

Oh, Aigeus. At least the Aegean Sea is named after you.

Source: Medea

Oedipus Rex (2 of 2)

I’d like to start out with a cartoon by Kate Beaton that I thought was funny. Kate Beaton is a Canadian cartoonist/children’s book author who sometimes takes a book and makes a comic about it solely from what the cover looks like. And this one had Oedipus in it.

http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=247

Regarding this comic, I didn’t really pick up on an “Oedipus complex” back when I read Hamlet, but it works for the joke. Anyway, even though I didn’t find Hamlet very Oedipus-like, I did expect Oedipus to be a little more Hamlet-y coming in to this assignment.

You know, a bratty grown man who still lives with his parents and loves his mom and wants to kill his dad. Instead, Oedipus is a wanderer who kills a mean dude, saves a kingdom, marries the widow queen, and THEN finds out the guy he killed was his dad and his current wife is his mom. (Assuming Fosso’s conspiracy theories don’t apply.) His attitude surrounding the complex named after him surprised me.

Oedipus: Don’t say that word. Don’t think that word.

Jocasta: The word is true.
And knowing who you are.
I love you still.

Oedipus: How can you say it?

Jocasta: Because the word is truth.

It takes plenty of coaxing from Jocasta for Oedipus to get over the ickiness of his situation. He didn’t fall in love with her because she was his mother, only because she was pretty and they clicked. Which is still gross and illegal, but not the blatant incest I thought it would be.

Our tragic hero doesn’t even meet the most tragic end. Maybe it is thanks to the version we read, but if the ending is universal, Oedipus doesn’t die. He’s probably GOING to die, but we don’t see his death, or its consequences. (Unless his death is shown in the staging of the last scene, and therefore not listed in the script’s dialogue). Even his mutilation is self-inflicted, not the work of a monster or rival or vengeful god.

So, Oedipus does not spend the whole play “mother banging” (as Beaton would say), he is initially grossed out at his affection toward Jocasta, and although the ending is sad, he does not die dramatically, like in battle or something. He’s nothing at all like I thought he’d be, which is actually a pleasant surprise.

Source: Oedipus Rex (2 of 2)

Oediups Rex (1 of 2)

Creon: Wait Oedipus. Think on this. Think in private.

Oedipus: I have thought.

Creon: Think again.
Let me council you.

Creon is all like, “Talk less, smile more, don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for,” and Oedipus is all like, “Burr, I’d rather be divisive than indecisive.” (These are Hamilton quotes, by the way.)

But anyway, this quarrel starts up between these two several times in the play. Oedipus wants to go public with all the details of his reign, and Creon doesn’t think he should disclose so much in front of the common people. It makes me wonder if Oedipus’ fatal flaw is really pride, or if it is something else.

As any proper Percy Jackson fan knows, a hero’s “fatal flaw” is his/her one ingrained weakness that leads to his/her downfall. For a lot of heroes (Oedipus, Achilles, Daedalus, etc.), their fatal flaw can be vaguely described as “pride,” since most heroes are proud, even egocentric people who complete impossible tasks worthy of pride. However, I am doubtful that Oedipus’ hubris is what leads to his downfall. It is definitely a negative characteristic of his, but after reading the play, it seems his true weakness is that he is too quick to act with anything.

Take this particular conversation with Creon. The first thing Oedipus wants to do is talk about the oracle, not caring that there are plenty of townsfolk around. And later, Oedipus jumps to accusations about Teiresias, Creon, and finally, himself. He impulsively makes decrees, sends for messengers, and ignores his own logic for the instant gratification of knowing something (or thinking he knows something). In short, if Oedipus had a Facebook account, he would love his newsfeed and his posts more than life itself.

Sure, Oedipus has hubris, like Creon says: he thinks his way is the best way, every time, but this is not the central problem of the play. The main issue with our friend Oedipus is that he acts on his impulses without thinking his actions through, and because of this, causes big scenes that generate a lot of attention. Of course, this is related to his pride, but because pride is such a big “umbrella” term, it isn’t specific enough to categorize Oedipus’ fatal flaw alone.

And this is sort of unrelated, but here is a comic that goes with to my post about Fosso’s essay whether Oedipus is guilty of his crimes or not. One of the questions raised is whether or not readers can trust the Delphic Oracles. And so, here is a cartoon that I found among my vast trove of fan art that I think helps add to Fosso’s point: you can’t trust everything a Delphic Seer says.

I would’ve included this with the post it actually relates to, but that other post was supposed to be “scholarly,” and there’s nothing very scholarly about Percy Jackson fan art. So there you go.

Source: Oediups Rex (1 of 2)

Fosso, “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King”

Under pain of torture, the herdsman reluctantly confirms this point, admitting that he gave the Corinthian shepherd (now messenger) “one of the children / of Laius” (OT 1167).28 Here the reader should be permit- ted a classic double take:“Children?! Laius had more than one child?”What, one wonders, became of the other children?

Using specific translations of the Oedipus Rex, Fosso collects enough textual evidence to raise reasonable doubt that Oedipus is guilty of some, or any, of his fated crimes. However, many of Fosso’s key details are absent in Alan Stanford’s more modernized version, such as the reference to “children” rather than “one son” made by the Corinthian in the quote shown here. Regardless of the translation discrepancies, though, plenty of doubt for Oedipus’ guilt still lies in this version of the text.

For example, the question over whether Jocasta is Oedipus’ birth mother is never fully proved, not counting the fits of passionate speech shared by the duo toward the end. In both Fosso’s and Stanford’s chosen texts, the Theban servant claims Jocasta was the woman who handed over the baby, but never says she was the child’s mother. Therefore, Fosso’s speculation that Oedipus could be a bastard son is still applicable, since historically, ancient patriarchs were known to have concubines.

Also, Stanford’s text corroborates Fosso’s claim about the “one vs. many” murderers of the king. Creon comes back from the oracle with news that the “killers” must be found (Stanford 15). And later, when Oedipus restates that the killer must be found, a chorus member corrects him, “killers” (Stanford 21). Oedipus knows he was the sole attacker of the men he killed, but both the town and the Oracle of Delphi claim that King Laius was killed by many attackers. Although the conflicting details of time aren’t as present in this translation as in Fosso’s, (Stanford attributes the surviving servant’s lagging arrival to the wounds he received in the fight), the mismatched accounts of the number of attackers are still there.

Finally, Fosso’s skepticism of Teiresias holds some weight in this version, too. The conversation does not seem to be as in depth as in the version Fosso consulted (as is the difference between all the scenes from Stanford’s and Fosso’s editions), but Oedipus still spends plenty of time ticking the cantankerous prophet off. Teiresias refuses to answer any of Oedipus’ questions, even refusing to look into the past. Coupled with his disagreeable personality, his avoidance can be construed as proof that he is just an old guy pulling “godly prophecies” out of thin air, and happens to be stuck on ideas for the moment. It is not until Oedipus accuses him of conspiring against King Laius that Teiresias speaks up, and when he does, it is to accuse Oedipus back. Therefore, readers may reasonably infer that the old man is defending himself and his profession with his prophecy about Oedipus, like Fosso states.

Overall, Stanford’s retelling of Oedipus Rex may be easier for modern readers to comprehend, but it loses much of the wordplay and subtext found in the older translations Fosso referred to in his essay. And yet, even with its simpler language and clearer dialogue, Stanford’s version of this infamous tragedy still casts reasonable doubt as to whether Oedipus is truly guilty of the crimes he believes he committed.

Source: Fosso, “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King”

Academic Article

“Although her civil disobedience and conscious heroism set her apart from the farm women of “Trifles,” her ultimate choice of powerful silence links her to the earlier characters” (Holstein 284).

I totally remember doing this activity in class, but I didn’t realize there was a blog attached to it. So, here is the very late blog post. Originally (and on time at the time), I found an Academic Article about Susan Glaspell’s “Trifles” by Suzy Clarkson Holstein called “Silent Justice in a Different Key: Glaspell’s ‘Trifles.'” In summary, it is about the fundamental differences between the way the men and women approach situations in the play, and how the ladies use the negative gender-role of being silent to their advantage, making their silence a strength. It also analyzes the use of strong women using silence as power in other plays by Glaspell. And there you go.

Source: Academic Article

Zubarev

Chekhov’s goal, however, was to show that his character was composed from heterogeneous characteristics, which made its potential quasi- strong, not ridiculously weak. The degree of strength of the character’s potential is measured by the degree of its influence on its own environment (Zubarev 6).

I can see how this quality of Chekhov’s work is found in “The Cherry Orchard.” Zubarev likes to use the term “quasi-strong,” which I interpret to mean a character could possibly strong if they tried, but isn’t strong anyway. Take Gaev, for instance. He has clear planning skills and genuine care for his family and property, which can be seen as positive, strong qualities. However, they are hampered by his tendency to let his emotions take over his common sense, and his inability to make his plans follow through. Therefore, he is neither weak nor strong, and is also not a stereotype, or “caricature,” as Zubarev would say.

Same thing with Trofimov. He is intelligent because he is well-educated, and he also longs to improve society. But because he is a “perpetual student,” he never accomplishes any of the lofty goals he sets out, and likely never will. It’s not that he isn’t trying. It’s just that he doesn’t get anything done. Therefore, he is “quasi-strong.”

I also was fascinated and surprised to learn from Zubarev’s article that Chekhov named his characters specifically to match their symbolism. So, I decided to use my incredible language research skills to dig deeper into the names of “The Cherry Orchard.” (And by “incredible language research skills,” I mean I quickly looked them up in Google Translate, so they’re not going to be the most accurate and deep translations.)

Our heroine, Lyubov Ranevsky, has a name that means “Love Wounds.” Sounds fitting, right? Lopahin could possibly be taken from “lopah,” or “shovel,” since he is an ex-serf. Trofimov means “trophism,” a scientific term. Pishchik means “Picker,” and he clearly picks and chooses things to benefit him. Gayev means “gay,” probably as in happy, or possibly as in homosexual. Epikhodov means “exits,” which is funny, because any time that guy enters, something goes wrong, forcing him to exit.

Now that I know Chekhov picks specific meanings for his characters, I am less annoyed at their long Russian names. I hope Google Translate was accurate enough for these definitions, because they all make sense. A better source of linguistic research than me would clear up any confusion if you are still curious.

Source: Zubarev

Aristotle on Tragedy (Summary)

The events of a life, even the life of an imaginary character, must be sorted and organized. Homer, for example, does not include all of the details known about Odysseus’s life in the Odyssey, but selects a series of events (the hero’s homecoming) and assembles them into a consistent and unified whole.

Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard adheres to Aristotle’s definition of plot. Instead of chronicling every detail of Lyubov’s life, he focuses on a specific section of it: the loss of her cherry orchard, what led to it, and what happened directly afterward. For instance, Chekhov lets us know about Lyubov’s time in France through her and Anya’s speeches, but he does not actually show them in France and on the road at the beginning of the play, because that would be unnecessary.

Aristotle also says that surprises in a drama should be necessary to the plot and inevitable in hindsight, not just shocking for the heck of it. The big twist of The Cherry Orchard also follows this rule. In the end, when Lopahin buys the orchard, the readers and the other characters alike are surprised. But then, looking back on it, the action seems inevitable: Lopahin had the financial means to do it, he had an elaborate plan in mind, and he was one of the main characters. If the other millionaire had ended up buying the orchard, or some other wealthy person, then the selling of the orchard would not benefit the plot. It would be random to introduce someone new so far into the story. Therefore, Lopahin buying the property just makes sense.

According to Dr. Jerz’s summary, Aristotle believed that comedies depicted the worst in people and tragedies, the best. Because The Cherry Orchard contains comedic and tragic elements, it shows us both sides. Chekhov intended this play to be a comedy, and in it, he satirizes the undesirable characteristics of society: Firs’ senility, Yasha’s carelessness, Gaev’s randomness, Lyubov’s irresponsibility, Lopahin’s lack of remorse. And yet, the sadness of the plot brings out humanity’s best qualities in these characters, too: Firs’ loyalty and chivalry, Yasha’s longing for a better life, Gaev’s perseverance, Lyubov’s generosity and compassion, Lopahin’s patience and diligence.

The characters genuinely care about each other and want each other to have the best lives possible, even when their plans conflict and their ideals clash. Because of this, Chekhov’s play shows us both sides of Aristotle’s views on drama.

 

Source: Aristotle on Tragedy (Summary)

Nine Reflection

This scene does not actually appear in “Nine,” but after watching the production live, I have know doubt that it could happen.

*FOLIES BERGERES*

Haha! YES! Start dancing.

Anyway, after watching Seton Hill’s production of “Nine,” I have completely changed my point of view on most of the characters, Guido especially. Because I have performed in and worked behind the scenes of musicals many times before, I know from experience that reading the script loses so much of the play’s essence than acting it out or watching someone else act it out. (Anytime I get a script and read it over, I think, “Oh, wow, these lyrics are lame. I wonder how they sound,” and after I hear it, I think, “I LOVE THIS SONG.”) The same is true for my experience with “Nine.”

For starters, I hated Guido after reading the play. I found him obnoxious, annoying, self-centered, and completely overrated. (Like Romeo, but with less death.) I especially disliked his song about himself in Act I. However, after watching the show, noticing how his brow raised any time his producer was mentioned, or when he cringed whenever everyone was chattering in his head, or how he slipped around to try and avoid reporters or La Fleur, I came to see him as a real person. Hearing his voice really raised my impression of him and explained why so many women fell for him, as I myself would do anything a charming baritenor told me to do in song. His song in Act I was not a selfish boast of contradictions, but an inside-look for us into his mind, which explained why he is so stressed and why he strives to do better in each movie. I still think he is a shmuck for being a womanizer, but I respect him more as a writer, actor, and general human being.

Claudia was another character I gained respect for after watching the show. In the script, she reads as just as seductive as a mistress as Carla, since Guido imagines her on his lap and blowing kisses to him or whatever in several Act I scenes. But we don’t get to meet the REAL, unimagined Claudia until Act II, and when we see her hesitant body language toward Guido and hear her proper, operatic voice, we realize she is a much different person from Carla. Carla loves Guido because she likes seducing and being seduced by him. Claudia, on the other hand, fell in love by accident and cannot escape it now.

The scene with the Germans was so confusing in the script, with all the simultaneous singing and German lyrics, but watching it was hilarious, and made perfect sense. It introduced the funny foreign characters that Guido would later use as actors in his movie, therefore a necessary bit of exposition. I did not pick up on the necessity of the scene when I first read it in the script.

I am still confused by Our Lady of the Spa. Is she a nun? Is she the Virgin Mary? Does she even exist? She stood out from all the other women in the play because she is the only non-relative of Guido (who doesn’t hate him) who is not seduced by his charms. I really enjoyed her character for standing out this way. (And also, the actress who played her is a friend of mine.)

There are many more positive things I would like to say about “Nine,” but I am running out of time, so let me just say, it’s great that the Germans don’t know how to tarantella, and *FOLIES BERGERES*

(dance break)