Saturday, October 21, 2006

Y12: Half-term homework on Hamlet essay

Have a a look at these two examples, which should help you write your opening sections. Obviously, this is not the whole opening sectin- I expect you to write a bit more than this to show you understand the main points made by Dover Wilson and TS Eliot.

How far do you agree that Hamlet is “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”? (TS Eliot, The Sacred Wood)

T.S. Eliot argues that Hamlet is, “a play dealing with the effect of a mother’s guilt upon her son”, and Shakespeare failed to make this theme work within the inherited story. John Dover Wilson opposes this, asserting that Hamlet has many good reasons for acting the way he does, beyond “excessive” disgust with his mother, Gertrude.
Hamlet believes Gertrude is guilty of many things. Firstly, she married again within two months of Old Hamlet’s death. Hamlet is angry and upset by this, as he doesn’t feel she has grieved long enough, and doesn’t care for his father’s memory.
In this essay I aim to evaluate TS Eliot’s theory on Hamlet, by comparing it to the counter argument made my Dover Wilson.

TS Eliot stated that “Hamlet is dominated by an emotion which is inexpressible, because it is in excess of the facts as they appear”. TS Eliot therefore believes that Hamlet is an artistic failure. Hamlet has many reasons for which he could be upset such as:His father has recently died; his mother has got married to his uncle within a month of his father’s death, he has not inherited his father’s throne after he died and his uncle [Claudius] has inherited it therefore he feels cheated. As TS Eliot believes the plays theme surrounds a mother’s guilt, we need to establish what Gertrude is guilty of before we analyse the reasoning. The most undeniable act Gertrude is guilty of is marrying Hamlets uncle [Claudius] ‘within a month’ of old Hamlet dying.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Y11: Equus One of you chaps emailed me and asked what the connection was between the personal response and stuff about consumerism and religion as themes of the play you are doing now and the main body of the essay, which is about dramatic devices and theatricality. Good question. My reply is below as it ay help you.

Good question- genuinely. Right, bit of course design for you- you have two essays on drama for Literature (the Shakespeare essay counts for Language as well but we'll leave that aside) - your pre-1914 play (in our case, Romeo and Juliet) and your post 1914 play- Equus. The marking scheme for both is identical. So, I try to use one essay to cover some of the aspects of the marking scheme and the other to sweep up the rest. Your R and J essay was about character and social historical context- we spent ages looking at Juliet as a character and her place as a woman in a patriarchal society and how that reflected Shakespeare's own historical moment, right? We also did a bit of stuff on theatricality and personal response. With Equus, the focus was on theatricality- looking at the play specifically as a play and thinkng about how it's staged, with a little bit of social historical context (the consumerist 70s) and personal opinion- the stuff you're writing about now. That way, we've got tightly focussed essays that cover everything without wasting time hitting the same objectives twice in detail: both essays do cover everything, but with a very definite bias one way or the other.

What that means is there isn't a tight connection between the cultural stuff/ personal response stuff you're doing now and the rest of the essay- I'm just making sure we've covered all the bases. For students like you who are aiming for A*, you should be concerned that that means the last section will appear a bit 'bolted on'. Glad you noticed! So, here's a couple of ways you can connect the theatricality bit with the context / personal response bit:

1. The staging of the play itself is symbolic and refers to Greek theatre. Theatrical style in the 70s was generally very naturalistic- the sets looked like real rooms with the forth wall taken out. The very theatrical style of shaffer's play, therefore, insists on the importance of symbols, the imagination, things beyond the material world. You should get something out of that, hopefuly...

2. The play is didactic, polemical, parabolic, allegorical (look these up and use the one you like best). It's about Dysart and Strang, who strike me as pretty convincing characters, but they are also symbolic characters- Strang is disaffected youth, alienated by a society that doesn't stimulate the imagination, Dysart is the generation that, despite itself, allowed this to happen by losing its own passion and imagination. We are encouraged to look at the characters as symbols because so much of the play's staging is symbolic- the horses, the wooden square etc. Usually, symbloc characters are very 'flat' and unrealistic. Shaffer manages to be both realistic in his characterisation ('these are real people') and symbolic ('these characters tell you something about society') Staging and meanng / theme are connected that way, too.