Samuel Taylor Coleridge is often discussed in association with his peer, William Wordsworth. This is due in part to their friendship and joint ventures on works such as Lyrical Ballads. Although he is often “paired” with his counterpart Wordsworth, there are several differences in Coleridge’s poetic style and philosophical views. Coleridge’s poetry differs from that of Wordsworth, and his association with Wordsworth overshadows Coleridge’s individual accomplishments as a Romantic poet. In addition, Coleridge’s poetry complicates experiences that Wordsworth views as very simple and very commonplace. Samuel Taylor Coleridge has a poetic diction unlike that of William Wordsworth, he relies more heavily on imagination for poetic inspiration, and he also incorporates religion into his poetry differently. Coleridge’s different views, combined with his opium addiction, led to an eventual breach in his friendship with Wordsworth – a friendship that had begun in 1797.

Although Coleridge and Wordsworth did not meet until the year 1797, they were familiar with one another’s work prior to that date. As early as 1793 Coleridge had read the poetry of Wordsworth, and he was specifically drawn to the political elements of his poem Descriptive Sketches. Their first meeting occurred in 1795 atBristol during a political debate. Not much is documented about Wordsworth’s first impressions of Coleridge, but upon meeting him in 1795 he’s recorded as mentioning, “I wished indeed to see more [of Coleridge]- his talent appears to me very great” (Newlyn, 5). Their friendship truly began to flourish when Coleridge visited Wordsworth in March of 1797 at Racedown, and after that visit the two had a much closer relationship and communicated with one another regularly.

Despite any difference, the two poets were compatible because they were both “preoccupied with imagination, and both [used] verbal reference in new ways”(Newlyn, 31). In 1798 the publication of their joint effort, Lyrical Ballads, signified the height of their relationship. This came at a time when they were together in Alfoxden, where they had enjoyed the simple pleasures of spending time together, discussing ideas, and devising schemes for publications. “Never again would the two poets have the sort of compatibility which allowed for major differences of opinion, without creating unease”(Newlyn, 34).

Following this time period, their friendship began to slowly deteriorate; beginning with criticisms of each other’s poetry, then growing into conflicting views on creativity and intellect, and finally culminating in a “radical difference” of “theoretical opinions” concerning poetry (Newlyn, 87). However, their friendship could have been spared, had Coleridge not been misinformed by Basil Montagu that Wordsworth referred to him as a “burden” and a “rotten drunkard”(Romanticism, 448). That was the last straw, and had deeply upset Coleridge, who was by this point addicted to liquid opium and very sensitive about the topic. Thus, after 1810 their friendship would never be the same, and although Wordsworth and Coleridge had once been compatible, and are often paired together as Romantic poets, it was ultimately their distinguishable differences that led to their falling out.

Coleridge’s different perception of poetry is what sets him aside from Wordsworth. In fact, Coleridge even reflected on the difference between his contributions and those of Wordsworth in Lyrical Ballads. He stated, “my endeavors would be directed to persons and characters supernatural – Mr. Wordsworth, on the other hand, was…to give charm of novelty to things of everyday”(Biographia, ch. xiv). Although Coleridge’s retrospective interpretation of this work could be viewed as an overly simplistic division of labor, it nonetheless proves that Coleridge viewed his poetic style as different than that of Wordsworth. Moreover, Coleridge’s retrospective interpretation insinuated that he dealt with complex subject matter (supernatural), while Wordsworth gave the ordinary a revitalizing freshness. Even though they worked together successfully on the publication Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge and Wordsworth clearly had contrasting opinions about “what constituted well written poetry.”

Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner uses very deliberate phrases in order to describe images. The descriptions portray a bleak atmosphere with vivid images of the “rotting deck” where “dead men lay”(Romanticism, 530). His lines directly address the despair of the situation with very concise language, leaving little to the imagination. The essence of the poem is summed up in the lines, “The many men so beautiful/ And they all dead did lie! / And a thousand slimy things/ Lived on – and so did I (Romanticism, 534).” The detail throughout the poem is painstakingly precise, yet still as effective as the simplistic approach of other prominent Romantic writers. The succinct descriptions allow for few interpretations, but as Coleridge is quoted as saying, “…the language of real life should be refined to give poetry its intenseness (Newlyn, 88).” Somber and lonely feelings are expressed through the intenseness, and the exact diction of Coleridge is what makes it possible for this to be conveyed.

Even Wordsworth recognized that Coleridge’s poetic diction in this poem differed from that of his own. In Note to ‘Ancient Mariner’ he criticized some of Coleridge’s stylistic approaches. This criticism proves that Wordsworth and Coleridge were not completely compatible, and it points out how Coleridge developed his own independent poetic diction, regardless of whether or not Wordsworth approved. In Wordsworth’s opinion, “The poem of my friend has indeed great defects,” and he goes on to say, “the principle person has no character…[the mariner] does not act, but is continually acted upon…the events have no necessary connection” (Romanticism, 345). More importantly, he stressed, “the imagery is somewhat too laboriously accumulated,”(Romanticism, 345) meaning that he believed the concise, meticulous descriptions were a flaw. Wordsworth went on to complement the passion in the poem, but his prior criticism made it clear that he would have taken a different approach to writing this poem.

The poem Written in Early Spring exemplifies Wordsworth’s poetic style, which often involved ordinary language to create a simple poetic diction. When he describes components of nature, Wordsworth uses personification and thus avoids imagery that he would consider “too laboriously accumulated.” Instead of describing the images with extensively precise detail, as Coleridge had done in Ancient Mariner, Wordsworth uses a common literary device to portray the images. He refers to birds that “hopped and played” and twigs that “catch the breezy air,” in order to depict nature. This draws on the imagination of the reader to fill in the rest of the image, whereas Coleridge in Ancient Mariner provides much of the detail by invoking his own imagination as a tool.

In the views of Coleridge, it is imagination that is vital to poetry, and imagination is also central to his poetic style. He believed that high quality poetry is the result of imagination being involved in the process. The imagination is broken into two sectors, according to Coleridge, the primary imagination and the secondary imagination. In the workBiographia Literaria he commented on his theory of the imagination: “The primary imagination I hold to be the living power and prime agent of all human perception…the secondary I consider as an echo of the former…identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation.” The primary imagination is spontaneous, while the secondary imagination, aware of the conscious act of the imagination, is thus hindered and imperfect in expression (Barfield, 28). In particular, it was the “chemically altered imagination” upon which the addicted Coleridge grew to rely. One of Coleridge’s most notorious poems, Kubla Khan, was a manifestation of a drug-induced vision.

The liquid opium, known laudanum, was a double edge sword for Coleridge; it was the source of his tragic addiction and the potion that enthused his imagination. This was because the drug increases blood flow to certain parts of the brain, inducing a creative nature and often causing hallucinations. This is an explanation as to why Coleridge concentrated on the power of the imagination. The poem Kubla Khan was inspired by opium use, and this is evident because Coleridge devised a completely original setting that had an undertone of darkness. The setting was described with very innovative images, in lines such as, “A damsel with a dulcimer/ In a vision [he] once saw” (Holmes, 17). The event is described in the context of a vision, not a dream or a thought, and this implies that the opium caused the “vision.” Moreover, the poem refers to an evil Mongol ruler, Kubla Khan, who does not represent peace or joy. That creates an under tone of darkness, and with opium the visions may have been glorious but the reality of the addiction was very “dark.”

On the other hand, Wordsworth had been known to dabble with opium but he did not have the same type of dependence, nor was his opium use overly evident in his poetry. Furthermore, the primary and secondary imagination is a concept that was unique to Coleridge, and although Wordsworth incorporated imagination into his poetry, he primarily called upon other sources of inspiration.

Wordsworth draws from nature in association with “spontaneous overflow[s] of powerful feelings” and “spots of time.” This is what he judges to be essential in the creation of poetry. The “spots of time” are moments from the past that are forever present in the mind, therefore they can constantly be reflected upon. The autobiographical poem, The Prelude, is a prime example of how Wordsworth reflects on “spots of time,” such as when he recalled the stormy weather that coincided with the death of his father. In addition, he allows nature to influence the mood of his poetry in works such asTintern Abbey. For example, Wordsworth wrote about “waters, rolling from their mountain springs,” and “the quiet of the sky,” which gave him feelings of “unremembered pleasure”(Romanticism, 265). Similar to Wordsworth’s criticism ofAncient Mariner, Coleridge criticized the manner in which Wordsworth derived inspiration from nature.

Coleridge asserts that “a poet ‘s heart and intellect” should be “combined with appearances in Nature – not held in…loose mixture in the shape of formal similes” (Newlyn, 91). This quote comes from his criticism of Bowles, but can also be applied to Wordsworth because his experiences with nature are based on mood, such as in the aforementioned Tintern Abbey. Passion, to Coleridge, was much more important than language that was “polished and artificial” (Newlyn, 89).

Coleridge criticized Wordsworth’s occasional exploitations of nature, and Wordsworth showed disdain for Coleridge’s “laboriously” concise diction in Ancient Mariner. However, apart from differences in their poetic diction and the ways in which they derived poetic inspiration, the two poets also had different outlooks on religion.

Especially in his later years, Coleridge concerned himself a great deal with God, religion and faith. His “ill health had led him to read the New Testament in a new light,” and he then began to look for “proof of God in the natural world” (Holmes, 71). He believed that men habitually needed “to look into their own souls instead of always looking out, both of themselves and their nature” (Holmes, 72). Coleridge not only examined the Bible, but he also studied the Trinitarian view of Christianity along with the works of St. Theresa. On the contrary, Wordsworth was an Anglican, as well as a pantheist. Although he did focus on God through nature as a pantheist, Wordsworth differed from Coleridge in that he did emphasize religious symbolism.

The poem Spots in the Sun is an example of how Coleridge incorporated God into his poetry. The poem is filled with constant religious references, and begins “My father confessor is strict and holy” (Romanticism, 511). Coleridge goes on to say, “Good father, I would fain not do thee wrong” (Romanticism, 511). The stress Coleridge placed on religion and God is ironic because this poem intended to address the strain on his relationship with Wordsworth. This poem addressed God and referenced religious anecdotes (i.e. “Mi fili peccare noli” or “Sin not, my son” Romanticism, 511), and overall the poem is referred to the strain in his relationship with Wordsworth; yet Coleridge incorporates religious symbolism that essentially contrasted the ideals of Wordsworth. One would imagine that if Coleridge were addressing the problematic relationship he would use language that is partial to Wordsworth, and refrain from involving ideology different from that of Wordsworth. On a very deep level, this may be an attempt by Coleridge to use juxtaposed concepts to convey his point. However, it is important to note that Coleridge integrated God into this poem. It displayed that even though he was concerned about his relations with Wordsworth, a very worthwhile topic, he felt that he could best address the situation by incorporating religious references.

When Wordsworth addressed the deteriorating relationship between himself and Coleridge in A Complaint, he wrote three stanzas without mentioning a word about God or religion. He wrote, “What happy moments did I count,” and wonders “what have I, shall I dare to dwell”(Romanticism, 407). Wordsworth refrained from bringing God into the issue, but instead used a literary device to convey his sentiment. He metaphorically compared their relationship to something very simple, which was a well that he hoped would “never dry” (Romanticism, 511).

Wordsworth comments on the situation from a simple standpoint and does not involve God or a higher being; however, Coleridge makes the situation more intricate by involving God. On the surface, this is an example of Coleridge complicating things that Wordsworth deemed simple. In addition, this could be viewed fundamentally as Wordsworth’s creative ability to abstain from involving God and Coleridge’s reluctance to overlook the role of God. However, to truly understand why Coleridge involved God in his poem and why Wordsworth did not, one must understand how they each individually interpreted symbolism.

When Wordsworth rewrote Destiny of Nations according to his own terms, he included the lines, “Even in their fixed and steady lineaments/ He traced an ebbing and flowing mind, / Expression ever varying”(Newlyn, 44). Had Coleridge written this verse the “ebbing and flowing mind” would be interpreted as that of God, because he constantly searched for proof of God’s existence outside of himself. Nonetheless, the verse was written by Wordsworth, in his linguistic ambiguity suggested that the “ebbing and flowing mind” was in fact his own. In contrast, he is looked inside himself but not inside his soul, while Coleridge asserted that man must look inside himself and it is there he will find inspiration in God.

Whether their differences stemmed from religion, means of inspiration, or simply poetic diction, it is evident that these two poets were uniquely individual. Moreover, although Samuel Coleridge is often paired with William Wordsworth, upon further examination one can plainly see that the two poets are undoubtedly different. The similarities between them often overshadow their individual achievements, ideas, and styles. Due to the fact that Samuel Coleridge sought out the acquaintance of William Wordsworth and had his appreciation for Wordsworth’s poetry well documented, Coleridge is considered the lesser of the two poets. Additionally, before the men collaborated on Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge was temporarily viewed as Wordsworth’s understudy. Combined with the fact that his opium addiction crippled his poetic potential, these elements portray Coleridge as less accomplished poet than Wordsworth. Regardless of popular opinion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge possessed his own unique poetic diction, sought non-traditional methods of poetic inspiration, conveyed original theories about the imagination, and distinctly incorporated his religious philosophies into his poetry. It is for these reasons that Samuel Taylor Coleridge remains a pillar for the Romantic era of poetry.

Annotated Bibliography

1. Newlyn, Lucy. Coleridge and Wordsworth; Language of Allusion.

Clarendon Press;New York:OxfordUniversityPress, 1986.

This source focuses on the relationship between Coleridge and Wordsworth, both as friends and as collaborators. Newlyn mentions that the friendship eventually faded but the reason the two were so complementary was because they were very different. They were different in terms of their ideas about imagination and intellect, and perhaps they eventually had a falling out because they had “unrealistic expectations” of what their friendship could produce. This source is of particular interest to me because it focuses on the differences between the two poets, and that will help in contrasting Coleridge with Wordsworth. In addition, this source will allow me to examine the men as friends and co-workers, and that can help me to see if either of those two relationships affected the other. The shortcomings of this source would have to be the fact that some of the information is not supported very strongly. This seems to be because some points in the book are more of the author’s opinion; however, much of the book seems to have reliable arguments that are supported with examples from poetry or real life occurrences. It is also critical that I focus on how Coleridge’s differences are what gain him recognition in the absence of Wordsworth.

2. Magnunson, Paul.  Coleridge and Wordsworth; A Lyrical Dialogue.

Princeton,NJ:PrincetonUniversityPress, 1988.

This source concentrates on the complexity of the lyrical dialogue between Coleridge and Wordsworth in their poetry. One must read between the lines in order to identify the dialogue between these two men in their poetry. The author contends that this dialogue arose due to the fact that Coleridge and Wordsworth recognized similar themes and styles in their writing. This source is of value to me because it we help me grasp a better idea of the poetic relationship that existed between the two. In addition, the dialogue is hard to interpret so this source will make it easier to understand. Unfortunately, this source is heavily frequented with information about the methodology of their writings, and it tends to lack information on the men’s ideological differences as peers. Nevertheless, this source still holds value because it will break down the dialogue between the two men in several of their well-known poems.

3. Byatt, A.S.  Unruly Times: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time.

London: Hogarth Press, 1989.

The lives, letters, and criticisms of Coleridge and Wordsworth are covered in this particular source. The two poets are examined in accordance to their era and the events in politics, education and literature at the time. The most important information that this source contains is about the growth of the poet’s ideas.  This will aid me in breaking Coleridge away from Wordsworth, and discovering exactly where his ideas differ from those of Wordsworth. Moreover, the criticisms of the poets are much needed because they will spur new thoughts and perspectives for me when approaching this topic. Did people have the same criticism of both poets? If not, where did the criticism differ and why? These types of questions will make it easier for me to contrast the poets, and it will give me a good idea of Coleridge’s strengths and weaknesses. The book does cover background information about the period in which the men lived, and that is both good and bad. It is good because it will provide me with a grounds for examination, that is to say, I can see how both men reacting similarly/differently in response to certain events. It is bad because at times the background information can be too in depth and that is distracting.

4. Barfield, Owen. What Coleridge Thought. London:OxfordUniversity Press, 1972.

My final two sources focus more on Coleridge as an individual, and that is what my paper is basically aiming to cover. Aside from Wordsworth, Coleridge has his own independent ideas and works. However, he is still most often discussed in context with Wordsworth. This source provides exactly what the title suggests, and the ideas of Coleridge often seem to be very complex and in depth. I want to examine that in this source because it seems to be a strong characteristic of Coleridge’s poetry that differentiates him from Wordsworth. This source also discusses all of Coleridge’s poetry in great detail, and that provides a helpful interpretation and breakdown of the ideas behind the poetry. The one downfall to this source would be that it is the oldest of all my sources and some of the ideas might be out dated in comparison to my more updated sources. The basics are covered in this source and an older source may be able to actually provide perspectives that go overlooked today.

5. Holmes, Richard.  Coleridge: Darker Reflections. New York: Pantheon, 1999.

This is my most complete source on Samuel Coleridge, including both his life and works in a biographical format. The title accurately reflects the tone of this book, as it delves into Coleridge’s family life, poetry, and opium addiction. A full view of his life allows me to see why he may have thought differently than Wordsworth, and it also gives me better assessment of his character. Many of his poems are inspired by something he has seen or experienced, and this source provides information as to when, why, and how those inspirations occurred. This source however does not cover Coleridge’s early life, it only covers the last thirty years of his lifetime. Although that is not necessarily “complete” it is sufficient for my topic because that is the time period in which he grew apart from Wordsworth and their differences were magnified. When I see what makes him different from Wordsworth, it will allow me to see why Coleridge is unique as a Romantic poet. Also, many of the poems I intend to examine for my paper were written around this part of Coleridge’s life.

6.  Romanticism: An Anthology. Malden,MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1998.

This is the text that we used in class and it provided me with brief biographical information about Coleridge and Wordsworth. More importantly, this text supplied many of Coleridge and Wordsworth’s poetry, complete with footnotes.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge is often discussed in association with his peer, William Wordsworth. This is due in part to their friendship and joint ventures on works such as Lyrical Ballads. Although he is often “paired” with his counterpart Wordsworth, there are several differences in Coleridge’s poetic style and philosophical views. Coleridge’s poetry differs from that of […]

I found Jim Collins’ bestseller Good to Great to be an interesting, surprisingly-applicable book for social workers. I began reading the book with a slightly cynical attitude, which I admittedly struggle with when reading about or discussing information related to Big Business. My pessimistic attitude was unwarranted, though, and in this book I found helpful insight into human qualities that allow corporations to thrive.

According to its book jacket, Good to Great is a “#1 bestseller, with two million copies sold.” There are many possible reasons for this, ranging from the book’s relevance to a wide scope of classroom material, as well as its power to shed light on workings of the business world. When reading this book, I was stricken with how concise and clear-cut Collins’ examples were. He presented potentially complex business vignettes in laymen’s terms, allowing his insight to be available to a broader audience. I suspect it is Collins’ effective use of language, easily-understandable examples, entertaining, inspiring anecdotes, and applicability of the material to many social sectors that pulled Good to Great to the top of the bestsellers list.

One of Good to Great’s most notable relevancies to human service agencies lies in Collins’ concept of “Level 5 Leadership.” According to Collins, Level 5 Leadership is that leadership that “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will” (Collins, 2001). Collins incrementally outlines his concept of leadership hierarchy as follows:

  • Level 5: A Level 5 Executive builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.
  • Level 4: An Effective Leader catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision, stimulating higher performance standards.
  • Level 3: A Competent Manager organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of pre-determined objectives.
  • Level 2: A Contributing Team Member contributes individual capabilities to the achievement of group objectives and works effectively with others in a group setting.
  • Level 1: A Highly Capable Individual makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits” (Collins, 2001).

Collins’ concept of Level 5 Leadership was drawn from notable factors standing out in hundreds of interviews, conducted through research for this book, with management of successful companies, which his research defined as companies which had performed at consistently mediocre levels, then made “the leap” from good to great, and maintained that “great” status for at least fifteen years (Collins, 2001).

The Level 5 Leadership hierarchy was the management concept that most stood out as adaptable by human service organizations. The qualifiers of Collins’ Level 5 Executive is conceptually similar to that of managerial competency, as outlined in the Lewis et. al text, Management of Human Service Programs. This text divides management into a hierarchy triad, offering similar managerial requirements as Collins: a combination of technical skills, human skills, and conceptual skills, with the need for each respective skill becoming more stringent as one rises up the managerial triad of supervisory management, middle management, and top management (Lewis et. al, 2001). One of the most helpful things about Collins’ Good to Great is its malleability. Its concepts seem applicable across a broad range of disciplines, from high-yield Fortune 500 companies, to small non-profit agencies. Collins’ emphasis on managers’ need for strong human skills and personal humility allow many of his management concepts to be applicable to many types of agencies, including human service agencies.

Despite the fact that many of Collins’ concepts are easily related to human service agencies, one concept that I find difficult to adapt is A Culture of Discipline. While human service agencies, like most institutions, require some degree of discipline within their staff members in order to function, the overarching goal of Collins’ brand of discipline appears to be advancement, while human service agencies generally exist to serve human need rather than compete with one another. As Collins explains in chapter six of Good to Great, “Everyone would like to be the best, but most organizations lack the discipline to figure out with egoless clarity what they can be the best at and the will to do whatever it takes to turn that potential into reality. They lack the discipline to rinse their cottage cheese” (Collins, 2001).

My current field agency, Sycamore Community Unit School District #427, also differs from Collins’ researched companies and most human service agencies in that it is a public school district, with differing management, goals, and means to those goals than other types of agencies. Some of the managerial concepts mentioned in Good to Great could be useful to this school, however, particularly the ideals behind Level 5 Leadership. From my experience, much of the administrative staff in District #427 rely on strict state guidelines in implementing their supervisory duties. There is a cookie-cutter “type” of each administrative position across the schools in the district, with little apparent emphasis on human skills and competency. All focus is on pleasing the superintendent and other executives, with little regard paid to the relationship between administrators and staff.

For instance, there was recently a referendum passed in Sycamore, and it was announced privately to administrators that the district will be opening three new schools and one large school addition over the next five years. Unfortunately for the district’s students and employees, severe classroom crowding is anticipated in the meantime, and the district will be converting building rooms (not intended for students) into classrooms, as well as bringing mobile classrooms to the school property. Teachers can expect significantly larger class sizes in the near future, and support staff can expect larger case loads (and no new hires). This decision was made without notifying teachers or support staff, and was finally announced as an addendum during a routine staff meeting. The response was overwhelmingly panicked and angry, while the principal, who read the addendum during the meeting, passively took the brunt of the resentment, while offering no solace or explanation of the executives’ decision to drastically reform the district. Were this district to utilize more humanistic managerial approaches, such as Collins’ concept of Level 5 Leadership, the emphasis would likely shift toward an all-inclusive democratic process, rather than the current trickle-down of important decisions that leaves so many employees frustrated and threatening to leave the district. Along these lines, social workers can play a role in the process of advancing an agency like Sycamore from good to great by assisting, in focusing on human interest aspects of management, and advocating for employees, making for a more comfortable workplace, which often drastically alters the morale of employees. When employees feel secure, competent, and involved in their workplace, it is logical to speculate that they will work more ardently for their agency.

I feel that the hedgehog concept and the three circles are already an undefined aspect of many human service agencies. Larger agencies offer clear examples of this phenomenon. For instance, my internship agency from last year was at Hope Haven homeless shelter in DeKalb county. Each staff member, while working toward the common mission of providing social justice to homeless individuals in DeKalb county, had a clearly-defined, highly specialized role within the agency. Because of my education and experience with children, I worked as the children’s case manager, and handled the entire caseload of 30 children in the shelter. I was hired into this position because of my “hedgehog” tendency toward child work. I was the only employee in the shelter with a bachelor’s degree in developmental psychology, and with experience dealing with children in social service agencies. This “big thing” of knowledge also fulfilled my “three circles”: Working with children was what I did best in the world, was what drove my economic engine, and was what I was most passionate about (Collins, 2001). By hiring employees along these specialized guidelines, Hope Haven inadvertently employed the concepts of the hedgehog and the three circles.

I feel that it would be possible to create a research project similar to Collins’ if the goals used to define “good” and “great” were reformatted to involve service to people rather than making money or surpassing other companies in output/fiscal worth. As mentioned above in relation to the Culture of Discipline, human service agencies cannot always be plugged into the same equations Collins uses to evaluate corporations, as their differing goals and missions conflict with Collins’ definitions of success.

Jim Collins’ Good to Great was interesting to me because it showed me a side of business with which I was unfamiliar. I had not realized how similar the managerial concepts of larger corporations could be to the smaller human service agencies with which I was familiar. Perhaps the most interesting concept I took away from Collins’ book was the frequently-mentioned Level 5 Leadership. Its catchy name, clear values, and cross-discipline applicability make it a concept that I feel will assist me in my future with human service agencies, in any context that may be presented to me.


Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap…and others don’t.

New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Lewis, J.A., Lewis, M.D., Packard, T., & Souflée, F., Jr. (2001). Management of human service programs. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.

I found Jim Collins’ bestseller Good to Great to be an interesting, surprisingly-applicable book for social workers. I began reading the book with a slightly cynical attitude, which I admittedly struggle with when reading about or discussing information related to Big Business. My pessimistic attitude was unwarranted, though, and in this book I found helpful […]

William Shakespeare’s King Richard III and Macbeth carry out analogous deeds of treachery and endure comparable fates in their rises by sin to the throne.  However, their personalities differ such that Richard III is innately willing to execute anything and anyone to satisfy his quest for the crown, while Macbeth must be spurred by his wife to realize royal ambition.  Both men murder innocents, including children, and act with varying degrees of guilt, the combination of which leads to their downfalls.  Shakespeare drew both historical tragedies predominantly from Holinshed’s Chronicles, but had to take many liberties with the truth, as he knew it, to accomplish his dramatic objectives with the plays and characters.  The Renaissance histories for the reigns of the last Yorkist king and the Scottish usurper from the turn of the second millennium were factually inaccurate and mere springboards for the playwright and subject of the monarchy.

Shakespeare’s historical tragedy of King Richard III is a piece of art, not a text of facts. The play, first performed in 1592 or 1593, focuses on the York’s villainy and murders that propel him to sovereignty in 1483 and to his 1485 defeat at Bosworth Field by Richmond, who would become Tudor King Henry VII (Gunby 8).  The main source for Richard’s character is from More’s 1513 The History of King Richard the Thirde (Mabillard).  This volume, considered literature by many scholars, shaped the historical outlook of future Tudor historians by painting a dark picture of Richard’s crippled physique and murderous spirit (Gunby 13).  Shakespeare drew Richard’s character from More, who recounts the numerous murders and incorrigible ambition attributed to a man “little of stature, ill fetured of limmes, croke backed, his left shoulder much higher then his right, hard fauoured of visage, and suche as is in states called warlye, in other menne otherwise” (More 7).  No account from Richard’s life mentions any physical deformity; however, More intimated this medieval symbol of evil, which Shakespeare wove into the play (“Richard III Society: Myth vs. Fact”).  Shakespeare focused on Richard’s character as the ideal villain, as More emphasized, while slightly subduing the complicated and uncertain truth for his plot taken from other sources (Gunby 50).

Shakespeare derived his plot mostly from Holinshed’s 1577 Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, the standard history text of the time, which was derived from 15 other major historical sources available at the end of the 16th century (11).  Holinshed drew most of his information from Hall’s 1550 The Union of the Two Illustre Famelies of Lancastre and Yorke, which was dramatically influenced by More’s record (Mabillard ).  Hall added information about Prince Edward’s capture and death, Richard’s response to Buckingham’s request to be Earl of Hereford, Buckingham’s aversion to the murder of the innocent princes and stories from the Battle of Bosworth, all of which Shakespeare incorporated into his play (Gunby 15).  Chronicles synthesizes and condenses all the information from these two sources, and omits many of Richard’s finer characteristics (15-16).  Holinshed contributed plot points used by Shakespeare and not found in previous annals, including Richard’s visit to Exeter and the description of Henry VI’s wounds (15).

Shakespeare himself adjusted history in manipulating the chronology of events for dramatic effect in the play, especially in the first two acts.  The playwright contrived the death of Henry VI, Richard’s courtship of Anne, the imprisonment and death of Clarence, and the death of Edward IV to appear almost contemporaneous, even though the events occurred over a 12-year span (19).  He adapts the popular belief that the two prince-sons of Edward IV were murdered by Tyrell under Richard’s orders, even though the truth of their fates is still a mystery (“The Princes in the Tower”).  Shakespeare selected the historical details from Holinshed and its roots that he found useful, then fleshed out the characters and plot to meet his artistic aspirations.

The manifestation of his aestheticism was intrinsically intertwined with the Tudor Queen Elizabeth I on the throne.  All of Shakespeare’s sources were written under her family’s rule and about the last king from the House of York, the family whom the Tudors deposed to seize power.  Shakespeare cannot be faulted for historical inaccuracies or his depiction of Richard as an evildoer as More, Hall and Holinshed were subject to writing with a Tudor bias over faithful reports of history; Shakespeare’s play was based from the viewpoint of the English in his time (Moore “Richard III Society”).  In concluding his play that would be performed for the royal family among others, Shakespeare glorified the Tudor victory and York defeat by suggesting that evil had been suppressed at Bosworth and peace would be restored to England.  In Richmond’s last speech in the final scene, he remarks that the usurping Richard is dead, and hopes, “Oh, now let Richmond and Elizabeth,/ The true succeeders of each royal house,/ By God’s fair ordinance conjoin together” (5.5.29-31).  Marking reverence to Elizabeth I, an heir to Richmond and Elizabeth, Shakespeare writes for Richmond, “And let thy heirs, God, if thy will be so/ Enrich the time to come with smooth-faced peace,/ With smiling plenty and fair prosperous days” (5.5.32-34).  The playwright meets the expectations of his entire audience in dramatizing the history commonly accepted in Renaissance England without compromising the artistic integrity of this play about an usurping king.

Shakespeare adapted the known truth of another usurping king in writing Macbeth, and tweaked it to enhance dramatic effect and royal esteem.  The tragedy based on the historical Scottish regicides was written and performed in the summer of 1606 for James VI of Scotland, who recently became James I of England after the 1603 death of Elizabeth I (Dagleish viii).  As the murders of Macbeth were committed 550 years earlier, only basic facts were available to Shakespeare, who consequently had a great deal of latitude in manipulating the characters and plot (Whately 10).  The story Shakespeare reworked was clearly based on Holinshed’s Chronicles, which was derived from Boece’s 1527 Scotorum Historiae (Mabillard).  Shakespeare followed the sequence of events set forth by Holinshed, especially with regard to Macbeth’s murders and downfall, but noticeably branched out for Macbeth’s character and Banquo’s goodness.

The playwright sought a more complex Macbeth than Holinshed offers, so Shakespeare consulted Buchanan’s Rerum Scoticarum Historia (Mabillard).  Buchanan presents Macbeth as “a man of penetrating genius, a high spirit, unbounded ambition, and, if he had possessed moderation, was worthy of any command however great; but in punishing crimes he exercised a severity, which, exceeding the bounds of the laws, appeared apt to degenerate into cruelty” (Mabillard).  Shakespeare incorporated most of this description into Macbeth’s character with the exception of the Scot’s savagery.  Although he is responsible for the murders of many men, Macbeth is far from ruthless, as he is a noble and kind man before the slaying of Duncan (Mabillard).  This change too has the effect of enhancing the development of Macbeth’s character.

Another illustration of Shakespeare’s divergence from historical accounts for the sake of drama is the introduction of Macbeth in the play.  Holinshed first mentions Macbeth by calling him a “valiant gentleman, and one that, if he had not beene somewhat cruell of nature, might baue been though most worthie the gouernment of a realme” (Dagleish 9).  Macbeth is immediately commanded by King Duncan to suppress MakDowald’s rebellion, as he is in Shakespeare’s version (10).  In Holinshed’s Chronicles Macbeth finds the rebel’s corpse inside of a castle, and proceeds to order MakDowald’s head to be sent to Duncan (10).  Shakespeare, on the other hand, used the Captain in the second scene to announce,

For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name—

Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel

Which smok’d with bloody execution,

Like valour’s minion carv’d out his passage

Till he fac’d the slave;

Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him

Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps,

And fix’d his head upon out battlements.      (1.2.16-23)

This speech, unlike Holinshed’s narration, details a more interesting story that elevates the heroic image of Macbeth, thereby creating a greater potential plunge for the tragic character (Mabillard).

Shakespeare made another amendment by aggrandizing the character of Banquo mostly to please King James.  At the time, the Scottish king was believed to be a direct descendant of Banquo, a conspirator in Duncan’s murder according to Holinshed (Mabillard).  The historian writes that Macbeth, “communicating his purposed intent with his trustie friends, amongst whome Banquho was the chiefest, upon confidence of their promised aid, he slue the king           at Enuerns…” (Dagleish 13).  Shakespeare’s version of Banquo is an honorable soldier who is ignorant of Macbeth’s murderous plans.  His morality adds to the tension between good and the Macbeths’ evil.  Shakespeare’s change of recorded history through exculpating the king’s ancestor and dramatizing his link to the throne as a murderer also has the effect of not insulting the royal patron (Mabillard).  Shakespeare adapted the accounts of history known to him in weaving story lines that pleased the different monarchs while developing the ambitious protagonists.

On the surface, Richard and Macbeth are closely related as soldiers blinded from morality by ambition for unlawful claims to kingships.  The most central difference is the root of the ambition, which is revealed by both men through the murders of sitting kings and innocents.  Their individual expressions of guilt vary based on these different roots, but their subsequent downfalls are analogous based on their usurped positions.

Richard’s ambition stems from pride in his propensity and lack of hesitation to commit evil. Shakespeare does little to humanize More’s account of Richard as the ambitious, duplicitous fiend:

Hee was close and secrete, a deepe dissimuler, lowlye, of counteynaunce, arrogant of heart, outwardly coumpinable where he inwardely hated, not letting to kisse whome hee thoughte to kyll: dispitious and cruell, not for euill will alway, but after for ambicion, and either for the suretie or encrease of his estate. Frende and foo was muche what indifferent, where his advauntage grew, he spared no man deathe, whose life withstoode his purpose.    (More 8).

This Tudor description of Richard paints him as a man only in body, as his ambition and arrogance will lead him down any path of immorality if it would aid in his pursuit for royal power.  In Richard III’s opening soliloquy, which is dark in meaning but light in tone, the title character pronounces, “I am determinèd to prove a villain” (1.1.30).  By “determinèd,” Richard suggests that he is destined to villainy, and resolved to pursue this fate.  His natural depravity is indicated by his deformed posture due to his hunchback (Whately 16).  As Shakespeare wrote in Henry VI, Part 3 two years earlier, a younger version of the same character says of himself after stabbing an already dead King Henry, “I, that have neither pity, love, nor fear (5.6.68).  This heartlessness is preserved and further demonstrated in Richard III, especially in his order for the murder of the two princes, the rightful heirs to the snatched throne (Whately 16).

Even though Macbeth too steals the crown through murder of the king and innocent people he deems to be threats, he is not a heartless criminal.  Macbeth is introduced as a brave soldier loyal to King Duncan with a clear sense of right and wrong (Kemble 168).  His ambition was planted in him by the witches, and amplified by his ambitious wife (168).  The three witches were taken from Holinshed’s Chronicles, in which they prophesize in the corresponding scene, “‘All haile Makbeth, thane of Glammis!’…‘Haile Makbeth thane of Cawder!’…‘All haile Makbeth that hereafter shalt be king of Scotland!’” (Dagleish 13).  In Shakespeare’s Act 1 Scene 3, the three witches make the same prophecy to Macbeth and pronounce that Banquo will be the father of kings.  At the time the prognostication is made, Macbeth knows he is Thane of Glamis, but is unaware that Duncan named him Thane of Cawdor after his suppression of Macdonwald.  Both Holinshed and Shakespeare show Macbeth as being initially averse to obtaining the kingdom by force from Duncan and his heirs; however, in Holinshed’s account Macbeth decides for himself to seek counsel for usurping the throne (13).

Shakespeare added more drama and tension by increasing Macbeth’s reluctance to consider regicide seriously until his wife goads him.  Lady Macbeth is plotting to have her husband kill Duncan as soon as she receives Macbeth’s letter describing the witches’ prophecy.  She soliloquizes that her husband’s nature “is too full o’ the milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way.  Thou wouldst be great,/ Art not without ambition, but without/ The illness should attend it” (1.5.16-19).  She recognizes Macbeth’s ambition but also his noble character; thus she plans to take matters into her own hands.  As Holinshed explicates, “speciallie his wife lay sore upon him to attempt the thing, as she that was verie ambitious, burning in unquenchable desire to beare the name of a queene” (Dagleish 13).  This is Holinshed’s only mention of Macbeth’s wife, which indicates that this complicatedly ambitious matriarch sprung more from Shakespeare’s imagination than historical fact.  After she urges her husband to kill the king while he is in their home, Macbeth soliloquizes reservations based predominantly on his honorable sense that killing the great and virtuous Duncan is too terrible of a sin to commit.  He concludes, “I have no spur/ To prick the sides of my intent, but only/ Vaulting ambition, which o’er-leaps itself/ And falls on the other (1.7.25-28).  Macbeth’s only reason to kill Duncan is ambition, compared to a horse, which he decides will lead to a downfall.  Macbeth receives his spur in the form of Lady Macbeth, who enters immediately after these lines.  She prods him by calling the soldier a “coward,” questioning his manhood and saying the she would have killed their baby feeding at her breast before she would back out of the plot (1.7.39-59).  By the end of the short scene, Macbeth folds his moral instincts and sets forth on his plunge of killing innocents.

After resolving to commit murders for the procurements of their crowns, Richard III and Macbeth kill one blameless obstruction after another to secure their fresh kingships.  Both kings are ascribed of committing several murders, including many that they did not do, but the most significant, implied by both Holinshed and Shakespeare are their orders for the executions of young threats.

In one of his first acts as king, Richard charges Tyrell to slay Edward IV’s sons, which marks the last act before his complete crumble (Kemble 106).  With respect to the order, he resolves, “But I am in/ So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin./ Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye” (4.2.64-66).  The king recognizes the trail of blood that he took to his present state, and concludes that one more heinous act will not trespass his moral threshold.  In the scene following Tyrell’s description of the murder of the princes to Richard, the king fails to secure Queen Elizabeth’s consent to marry her daughter, learns of revolts against him in England, including ones led by his former supporter Buckingham and his greatest threat, Richmond.  Richard finally develops an idea of the wrong he executed during his forlorn downfall.

Macbeth’s failed scheme to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, signals the end of his success (Kemble 107).  In light of the witches’ original prophecy and Banquo’s great suspicion of the Macbeth in Act 3 Scene 1, Macbeth, in his first scene as king, orders two men to kill Banquo and Fleance.  The murderers carry out their duty with Banquo, but Fleance escapes.  Holinshed comments, “After the contrived slaughter of Banquho, nothing prospered with the foresaid Makbeth,” as he was feared by the entire kingdom (Dagliesh 15).  In the banquet of the subsequent scene, the ghost of Banquo haunts Macbeth, who appreciates, “I am in blood/ Stepp’d in so far, that, should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.136-138).  Like Richard comments following the execution of his analogous deed, Macbeth realizes that he has crossed a moral line and accounts for his action by reasoning that retreating would be as difficult as persisting (Lull 19).  Macbeth continues his spiral as Hecate, queen of the witches, pushes Macbeth to act even more wickedly in the next scenes by warning him about Macduff, Thane of Fife.  Macbeth proceeds to act without reason in making the fatal mistake of ordering the onstage execution of Macduff’s wife and young son.  Entering the final Act, Macbeth continues his unsound acceptance of the witches’ clairvoyant remarks all the way to his defeat in battle.

On their descents to defeat, the two monarchs take spiritually different routes.  Richard is able to retain his wicked senses of reason and humor throughout most of his murders, but cannot ultimately suppress his conscience.  The Scot does not mask his more upright character, as he is frightfully plagued by guilt from the murder of Duncan to Macbeth’s own death.  In so doing, Shakespeare further deviated from Holinshed, who wrote Macbeth as a more remorseless man.

From the opening soliloquy until his murderous order for the two princes, Richard would make a wry remark as easily as he would murder a man lying in his way to the kingship.  A few lines before ordering the execution of his older brother Clarence, Richard muses, “And thus I clothe my naked villainy/ With odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ,/ And seem a saint when most I play the devil” (1.3.336-338).  Richard relishes playing with his evil and perceived character, such that ordering two strangers to kill his brother does not faze him.  As Hastings remarks, shortly before Richard condemns him to death, “His grace looks cheerfully and smooth this morning./ There’s some conceit or other likes him well/ When that he bids good morrow with such sprit” (3.4.48-50).  Although Hastings as a character is too trusting of Richard, he does accurately notice that Richard continues to be light-hearted and not bogged down by the murders tainting his dormant conscience.

As Holinshed had done before him, Shakespeare marked the emergence of fear and guilt in Richard after the innocent princes were murdered.  Holinshed comments that the few years between the murder of the princes and the death of Richard were “spent in much paine & trouble outward, much feare, anguish and sorrow within.  For I haue heard by credible report of such as were secret with his chamberlaine, that after this abominable déed doone, he neuer had a quiet mind” (Holinshed 402).  The Tudor historian disparaged Richard for being weak as much as humanized the villain for having a conscience.  Shakespeare used this murder as the sin that stirs Richard’s sense of guilt.  The first explicit signal of distress comes when Richard inquires about the execution of the princes:

Richard: Kind Tyrrel, am I happy in thy news?

Tyrrel: If to have done the thing you gave in charge

Beget your happiness, be happy then,

For it is done.

Richard: But did’st thou see them dead?

Tyrrel: I did, my lord.

Richard: And buried, gentle Tyrrel?      (4.3.24-28)

Richard asks impatiently and hastily, as suggested by the breaks in the final two lines, about the completeness of the murder.  Shakespeare did not write a similar scene in which Richard inquires about the successful execution of Clarence, as this murder of innocents has a different effect.  Richard’s emotional unrest is worse and more explicit in the next act, when he asks for solitude to draw up his plans for battle and states, “Give me a bowl of wine./ I have not that alacrity of spirit/ Nor cheer of mind that I was wont to have” (5.3.74-76).  Richard’s request for wine, his second such demand in the scene, can be construed as a plea for an antidote that will return him to his previous, more powerful state of mind.  Richard, who is subsequently haunted by the ghosts of those he has killed, soliloquizes, “O coward conscience, how dost thou afflict me?” (5.3.182).  A few lines later, he confesses to Ratcliffe, “I fear, I fear” (5.3.215).  Richard is no longer an arrogant fiend, but is crippling to a man haunted by his guilty conscience and fearful of his impending doom.

Macbeth is plagued by his sin from the murder of Duncan to the usurper’s death in battle.  Unlike Richard who is typically jovial, Macbeth the murderer is constantly agitated and serious (Whatley 23-24).  Immediately following the killing, Macbeth hallucinates that he is hearing noises, and uneasily cries, “Who’s there? What, ho!” when Lady Macbeth enters (2.2.9).  A few lines later, he complains that he cannot pronounce “Amen,” thus is unable to pray to God (2.2.29-33).  Macbeth is obviously uncomfortable with his action, especially in comparison to Richard.  Lady Macbeth tries to tell her husband to regain rationality and clean up the evidence; notwithstanding, Macbeth says, “I’ll go no more:/ I am afraid to think what I have done;/ Look on ‘t again I dare not” (2.2.50-52).  Lady Macbeth realizes her husband’s incapacity, and clears up the traces of the murder that lead back to Macbeth.  The usurped king is uneasy and haunted for the remainder of the play, during which time he abandons his natural rationality in hopelessly committing more murders of innocents to maintain the throne.  After Lady Macbeth has a manic sleepwalking episode in Act 5 Scene 1, Macbeth asks her doctor:

Canst thou not minister to a mind diseas’d,

Pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow,

Raze out the written troubles of the brain,

And with some sweet oblivious antidote

Cleanse the stuff’d bosom of the perilous stuff

Which weighs upon the heart?            (5.3.40-45)

Macbeth is literally asking the doctor if there is some magical cure for his wife’s ailment, but he is also hopelessly inquiring for some such fix for himself.  Macbeth’s request is analogous to Richard’s, as both are made too late to absolve the usurpers of their sins.

Both wrongful occupations of the thrones were brief, ending in bloody battles after which the rightful heirs return to power.  Richard and Macbeth’s downfalls of solitude and bravery, as written by Shakespeare, partially follow the deaths as described by Holinshed, but are historically inaccurate.  Holinshed made no mention of Richard or Macbeth being alone, yet Shakespeare added the feeling of abandonment to both.  The two men valiantly died in battle, but historically were not defeated as Shakespeare dramatized.

The end of Richard’s plunge was concocted predominantly by Shakespeare.  Even though Holinshed made no such comment, Shakespeare added a description of Richard’s solitude by Blunt two scenes before the Battle of Bosworth: the king “hath no friends but what are friends for fear,/ Which in his dearest need will fly from him” (5.2.20-21).  The famed horse mentioned in Act 5 Scene 4 is another twist on Chronicles, but was derived more directly from the anonymous 1594 play The True Tragedy of Richard III (Mabillard).  Holinshed depicted Richard with a horse in his final moments, but the king was too proud to flee from imminent death in battle (Holinshed 445).  The anonymous play slightly twisted the horse story to a form comparable to Richard’s resolute line in the Shakespeare version, “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” (5.4.7).  Richard’s final moments when he is fighting man to man with and ultimately slain by Richmond is accurate according to Holinshed (Holinshed 444).  However, all primary sources indicate that the kind was killed in battle and not specifically by the future King Henry VII (Gunby 48).

Likewise, Macbeth’s death was more dramatically interesting than historically correct.  There is no substantive record of Macbeth’s personal relationships immediately before his death, so Shakespeare added information that suited his play.  Similar to Richard in both meaning and language, Macbeth remarks shortly before his final battle, “The thanes fly from me” (5.3.49).  Duncan’s son Malcolm adds to the isolated image of Macbeth in commenting, “And none serve with him but constrained things/ Whose hearts are absent too” (5.4.14-15).  For the final battle with Macduff, Shakespeare practically copied the Holinshed’s dialogue of Macduff’s response to Macbeth’s prophecy that he would not be killed by a man born naturally from a woman.  Holinshed wrote that Macduff said that he “was neuer borne of my mother, but ripped out of her wombe” (Dagleish 20); in comparison, Shakespeare ascribed to Macduff the lines “Macduff was from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ripp’d” (5.7.44-45).  Only in Shakespeare’s play does Macbeth deliver final lines that valiantly fit a warrior.  Along the same lines of hopeless determination as Richard’s plea for a fresh horse, Macbeth cries, “Lay on, Macduff,/ And damn’d be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’” (5.7.62-63).   In both versions of the story, Macduff decapitates Macbeth, then brings the usurper’s head to Malcolm, the new king of Scotland.  However, the truth is that a few years after this fabricated scene, on August 15, 1057 in Lumphanan, Malcolm was the one who defeated and killed Macbeth (“Scotland’s Past – Macbeth”).  Shakespeare followed Holinshed’s conclusion to the story because he presumably did not know that Malcolm had slain Macbeth, and Macduff’s exacting revenge is a strong dramatic finish to the play.

Shakespeare’s plays do not completely adhere to the historical facts of the lives of the two soldiers turn monarch, but the artistic works do present plots and characters that were embraced by his entire audience.  With several exceptions, Shakespeare followed the histories available to him about Richard III and Macbeth.  Without sacrificing his artistic integrity, the playwright deviated from the facts, as he knew them, to flesh out his complex characters, and elevate the drama of the usurpers’ sinful rises to and crippling falls from their thrones.


Dalgleish, Walter Scott.  Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1976.

Gunby, D.C.  Shakespeare: Richard III.  London: Edward Arnold Publishers, Ltd., 1980.

Holinshed, Raphael.  Chronicles.  Ed. Vernon Snow.  Vol. 3.  New York: AMS Press, 1976.

Kemble, John.  Macbeth and King Richard III.  London: J. Murray, 1817.

Mabillard, Amanda. “Shakespeare’s Sources for Macbeth.” 2000.  Shakespeare Online.

Moore, James.  “Richard III Society—James A. Moore, Historicity.”  29 Nov. 1995.  Richard III Society American Branch.

More, St. Thomas.  Complete Works of St. Thomas More.  Ed. Richard Sylvester.  Vol. 2.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.

“Richard III Society: Myth vs. Fact.”  18 Jan. 1998.  Richard III Society of Canada. <>

“Scotland’s Past – Macbeth.”  2001.  Scotland’s Past. <>

Shakespeare, William
Henry VI, Part 3.  Ed. William Montgomery.  New York: Penguin Books, Inc., 2000.

King Richard III.  Ed. Janis Lull.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Macbeth.  Ed. Roma Gill.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

The Society-History.”  Richard III Society.

Whately, Thomas.  Remarks on Some of the Characters of Shakespeare.  London: Collingwood

and Co., 1808.

William Shakespeare’s King Richard III and Macbeth carry out analogous deeds of treachery and endure comparable fates in their rises by sin to the throne.  However, their personalities differ such that Richard III is innately willing to execute anything and anyone to satisfy his quest for the crown, while Macbeth must be spurred by his […]

There is a strong anti-feminist movement in much of Middle Ages English Literature. It could be supposed that since most of Western Europe at the time was very strongly biased towards patriarchal society models, there simply were not enough female writers to have any distinctly feminine point of view writings survive the period. From Beowulf to Shakespeare, there are constant subtle and unsubtle remarks from all of the authors of the time. Some instances of this sentiment are as indirect as the characterization of most of the noteworthy female characters as villains. Some are as blatant as a woman taking a crippling beating and being deafened in one ear for not recognizing her place.

What this essay will attempt to do is to draw out the characters and inferences made in various works in English (modern or otherwise) dating from approximately 800 A.D., the earliest possible time of the authoring of Beowulf, to the works of those like Marlowe and Shakespeare in the latter parts of the English renaissance, in the middle to late sixteenth century. It is through review of these popular and venerated works that we will see the many inferences that women seek to live better more equal lives, but men are not interested in letting them have any such thing. The burgeoning feminist movement took several hundreds of years, and this travail is evident in much of English literature throughout that time period.

Beowulf – Author Unknown

Perhaps one of the most notable and infamous women of middle ages literature is that descendant of Cane, Grendel’s Mother. The mother of Grendel is not a popular character because she is feminine. In fact, aside from her desire to wreak vengeance over the slaying of her progeny, she portrayed traits that were decidedly masculine. She is, in fact, more powerful and dangerous than her son is. Although the focus of most English Literature research is directed more at her lineage, we should also consider what is being said of women in general by the presence of such a monster as a woman, and — perhaps more importantly — as a mother.

The Danes of Beowulf place particular value on the concept of wergild. If one’s kin is killed, it is the surviving relative’s duty to make the killer pay for the death, either with his own life, or the payment of wergild (the “man price”). Apparently, that price does not extend towards monsters. Especially those that kill the Danes. Particularly, in this case, the mother of Grendel, who has been massacring the Danes for an extended period before being interrupted by Beowulf in a rather final fashion. It is perhaps not a coincidence, then that it is Grendel’s mother, rather than a father figure, who comes to claim that wergild. It could be inferred that her femininity gives her a weaker ground for making the claim against the Danes—never mind that they are claiming their own revenge against the lives lost to Grendel—and so her position as a lesser creature is reinforced by her being a female.

In one of several brief asides during the story of Beowulf, the narrator introduces us to another unusual woman named Thryth. She is also a powerful and cruel woman who is using a sword to rid her halls of intruders or unwanted hall-guests (Norton p. 74, lines 1937-1943) but barely manages to stay within societal boundaries and is less criticized for it than she might otherwise have been. It is fascinating to read of her exploits and see how they are so sharply contrasted by the well-behaved and respectful women who follow and precede her. Her character is also somewhat redeemed, when she later takes a husband and begins behaving more as a woman should, according to the narrator.

Another interesting pair of women from the epic are Wealhtheow and Hygd, two queens of the tale. Wealhtheow is the proper wife of Hrothgar, “observing the courtesies” (Norton p 45, l. 613) and quick to both defend the honor of her husband’s throne, and in turn honor those who have brought greater peace or happiness to her household. Hygd, the queen of Hygelac, is also a proper woman, “wise and well-taught” (Norton p 73, l. 1928). She later attempts to offer Beowulf the throne of the Danes, but he declines her offer of kingdom (Norton p 83, l. 2369-73). This, one could argue, may indicate a matriarchal society that is not entirely frowned upon. However, her character is really a minor one who is not given much more than an afterthought’s worth of lines in the epic. Evidently, it is all right to be a queen and have some power, but she still would not be the breadwinner, or hero of a tale. An odd distinction, to be sure, but it is there to be seen, nonetheless.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Author Unknown

Lady Bertilak is perhaps one of the quintessential temptresses of English Literature. The wife of Lord Bertilak shamelessly woos Sir Gawain night after night. Her wanton advances are instigated by yet another sinister woman, King Arthur’s wicked half-sister Morgan le Faye. This behavior might be viewed as an object lesson to women in how not to behave. This temptress is also an archetypal target of courtly love. Courtly love is not the noble sounding relationship that it sounds like, but rather a circuitous and often hypocritical series of courtships that involve trysts, love triangles, and a host of other unseemly acts. This behavior is even commented upon by the narrator: “But to take myself to the task of telling of love…It were folly, fair dame, in the first degree!” (Norton, p.190, 1540 and 1545) In this, Gawain criticizes rather strongly the act of courtly love and so-called romance.

By contrast, it would seem, the Virgin Mary plays a role as the patron saint of Gawain. Although her role is completely ancillary to the story, her presence nonetheless is a constant reminder to Gawain and the reader of what a proper (read: Christian) woman would be. The entire story could in fact be viewed as a cautionary tale against courtly love, as the women and men are on equal footing in such conflicts, rather than the normal male dominated sociology. Men like Sir Gawain might be better off without such distractions. Perhaps Lord Bertilak would not have been driven to such a cruel prank against King Arthur without the evil manipulations of Morgan le Faye.

The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer

The Wife of Bath speaks volumes about feminism during her introduction. She speaks of her five husbands, and how the fifth eventually kowtows to her after striking her deaf in one ear. The problem between Alisoun, the Wife of Bath, and her last husband, Jankin, is a classic one. Jankin wishes to know the truth about things. He is something of an armchair philosopher, whose quest for knowledge appeals to him greatly. In his pursuit of knowledge, he has come across a large number of anti-feminist works.

One text mentioned is Ecclesiastes. In this text, Solomon makes it clear how he feels about women. While he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, all of whom were no doubt well provided for, there can be little ambiguity about his lack of respect for them: “And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her. Behold, this have I found, saith the preacher, counting one by one, to find out the account: Which yet my soul seeketh but I find not: one man among a thousand have I found; but a woman among all those have I not found.” (Bible, Eccl. 7:26-28)

It seems easy to read between the lines on this piece, and say that he’s met few men that he could respect, but never met any women that he could respect. This seems to be the general theme of all of the authors Jankin was reading. Jankin apparently couldn’t understand that his wife was not the agreeable creature that he expected her to be, simply because he believed it should be so. He appears to have thought that anyone, male or female, should be able to understand and appreciate, on at least an aesthetic level, what he considered to be great truths in literature.

It also appears not to have occurred to Jankin that Alisoun might in fact be seeking dominion over him. That is probably one of the reasons she chose to marry someone significantly younger than herself. It may also account for her statement after the violent episode was recalled. Once he had expressed his remorse for striking and deafening her, and once he had capitulated his control over the estate and all of their familial business, “After that day we hadden never debaat.” (Norton 822)

Her story after the prologue reinforces this sentiment by telling the tale of a knight-rapist who is punished by death–commuted if he can discover what women want, namely emotional and social independence from their men, and also the tale of the old hag who manages to bend him to her will, just as Alisoun has bent Jankin to hers—albeit the circumstances are not the same. The crone succeeds in saving the knight, but at the cost of his dominion over women in general, and over her in particular. The crone then rewards the knight for his capitulation by promising to be both in charge, and a beautiful and desirable wife. We must assume some magic is at work here, of course, but since this is an Arthurian tale, some measure of magic is almost required.

The Clerk tells a tale that puts women in a more traditional role sociologically. The Clerk’s Tale serves primarily to applaud the virtues of patience and noble suffering in women, as represented by Griselde. She suffers unimaginable tortures at the hands of Walter, losing her two children and finally being divorced, even being ejected naked into the countryside to return to her father’s home. All of this is done merely to prove that she is capable of bearing any burden placed upon her. However, although the story is a celebration of Griselde’s fortitude, the Clerk accurately judges that it would be impossible for any woman to legitimately withstand the suffering that Griselde faced with such resignation.

Furthermore, her extreme behavior is not even commendable to the clerk or to the reader, since she allows her husband to “’murder” her two children without struggle. The Clerk indicates that women should strive toward the example that Griselde sets, but not necessarily follow her example in such an extreme form. It is only the fact that Griselde demonstrates awareness of her plight but remains true to her love that keeps her from seeming like a complete fool to the reader, for who else but a fool would tolerate so much pain in silence? The only completely implausible moment is near the end, when Griselde returns to her place at his side without so much as an afterthought to how angry she should rightly have been. This too might be taken as an object lesson to women, that retaliation or harboring a grudge against your lord-husband is a fruitless endeavor, so why bother?

The Faerie Queene – Edmund Spenser

Caution against open and sensitive love seems pervasive amongst the writings of Spenser and his contemporaries, like the author of -Arcadia, Sir Philip Sidney. The Faerie Queene fairly broadcasts this as almost a sub-theme of the entire work. The entire work, which Spenser himself claimed to be merely allegorical in nature, is actually also a veiled historical allegory which refers to many people and events of Spenser’s past and present. He even shows his hand in the preface letter written in 1589, “A Letter of the Authors Expounding His Whole Intention…” –one of the longer titles this reader has been subjected to. Spenser claims his intents with regards to the main characters of the story, in that the hero, King Arthur, was to embody “the twelve private morall vertues.” (Norton 625)

The female characters, by contrast, are all fairly two-dimensional and most are not very flattering to the female psyche. By his own admission, the Faerie Queen herself was intended to be an “excellent beauty” that would draw the young Arthur to her side. Nothing about her nobility of spirit, or her gentleness comes to his mind as he’s describing the situation to his reader. (Norton, p. 625) The best character for females that Spenser introduces is Britomart—or Britomartis—who represents chastity.

In the third book of The Faerie Queene, Spenser makes a complete study of the virtue of chastity through several different characters. He departs from the formula he used previously and sets up a new tone that is more complex and sensual. In so doing, he shows how some women are made stronger and happier by practicing virtue and other females are ruined by ignoring it–thus fulfilling the didactic purpose of teaching all the virtues that create a perfect person fit for salvation, which was the ultimate goal of Spenser in his allegoric tale.

The character that Spenser uses to teach the reader of chastity is the Lady Knight Britomart. Britomart is on an unending quest to find the object of her chaste love, the knight Arthegall, whom she had “seene in Venus looking glas” (Norton p 787, l.72) which had been created or “…deviz’d / By his deepe science, and hell-dreaded might.” (Norton p. 805, l. 159-60) Her devotion and commitment to Arthegall makes her the ideal representation of chastity and sets the standard by which the rest of the characters will be compared. No matter who she meets or what situation she gets into, she never forgets her commitment to Arthegall. This kind of chastity is reflected in the character of Florimell. Florimell also searches for her love, the fallen knight Marinell, and encounters one test after another of her virtue. She gets captured by the son of a witch, and, escaping that, is chased by a hyena (Norton, p. 839). On the verge of the death in these perils her only concern is retaining her honor (chastity) so as to remain worthy of Marinell. She never willingly lets the fisherman touch her and she ignores all the wooing of the sea god Proteus. Like Britomart, Florimell remains faithful to her love. In this way, Spenser demonstrates what he views as the appropriate behavior of women. All this while, characters like the Squyre of Dames in Book III Canto vii, who is questing to woo as many women as possible (U. of Oregon, Book III, Canto vii, l. 472-514) for both successes and now failures.

There are also characters that represent the opposite of the ideal Britomart and Florimell—among others—represent. The Giantess Argante is one. Her outrageous incestuous relationship with her brother and her monstrous sexual encounters with every young male she can kidnap makes her an unpleasant example of unchaste promiscuity. The Squire Argante kidnapped also represents unchaste promiscuity. His strange quest to find as many chaste women as unchaste women results in his finding a huge number of unchaste women requesting his services and only three chaste women denying. Then there’s the couple, Paridell and Hellenore–who reprise the roles of Paris and Helen, who caused the Trojan War with their unfaithfulness. Their affair winds up in a repeat of the rape of Helen with her eventual abandonment among the Satyrs and the fall of Malbecco. This object lesson that adultery will only lead to ruin is pretty unsubtle in this presentation.

While certainly no one would ever begrudge these long-dead authors for their opinions on the matter of feminism, one does find some of these opinions slightly distasteful. In the course of research on this topic, there were simply too many references to such attitudes and opinions to include them all in this simple work. Several different summaries of Utopia, for example, suggest an intonation that the peoples of that country let their women do less physical work, because they simply couldn’t handle the effort. (Sparknotes Section 9) Aside from that minor distinction, it appears to the reviewer that all other jobs are distributed with indifference to sex. A nice sentiment that I wonder if More shared with that reader.

In all, it bears little surprise that the overwhelming sentiment of most male writers on the Middle Ages English Literature scene are biased towards male dominated society. Having nothing as an exemplar of successful matriarchal or non-gender dominant society upon which to base even a fictional account, these authors were left to mirror their own experiences, and at best to encourage the best possible behavior of each gender in its perceived strong points, while diminishing the appeal of undesirable behavior. Most of these authors appear to either discount the entire argument all together—in such writings as “The Dream of the Rood,” or the Mystery play “Everyman” for example, little interest is paid at all to gender issues—or to make their opinion clear as crystal.

Many of the most popular works of this time period are strongly sentimental towards a male dominant society in which the woman plays the part of chaste and beautiful object of desire, respectful and obedient observer, noble treasure, and to abuse a modern euphemism, trophy wife. This is perhaps one reason why modern readers, who tend to be more sensitive to such attitudes, find reading these classical works so much more challenging than reading more modern works—even those still as old as post-renaissance works like those of the Bronte sisters, or of Jane Austen.


Spenser, Edmund. (1590) “The Faerie Queene” University of Oregon.

Spenser, Edmund. “The Faerie Queene” The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume I of II. Ed. Abrams, M.H. et al. W. W. Norton & Company: New York.

The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. Meridian, The Penguin Group: New York, New York.

More, Sir Thomas. (1516) “Utopia” Sparknotes: Utopia, Section 9.

There is a strong anti-feminist movement in much of Middle Ages English Literature. It could be supposed that since most of Western Europe at the time was very strongly biased towards patriarchal society models, there simply were not enough female writers to have any distinctly feminine point of view writings survive the period. From Beowulf […]

President Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” Life is tied with the very essence of nature. It is natural for life to blossom fully and go through a delicate and unpredictable cycle that is based on actions tied with one another like a string of togetherness until the ultimate demise is reached. It is this unpredictable in-between phase that makes life what it is, a pure enigma of indefinite proportions. The universe plays an important role in this game where it provides opportunities as well as diversions in a mathematical progression, all leading to infinite outcomes. One action begets another which progresses into a life style and ultimately a destiny. This is the quintessence that separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom, where logical reasoning and rationale give humans the better edge to dictate their lives’ outcome. Hence in this quest of steering life’s wheels, the universe can serve two different tasks. If human beings have the will to want something real bad, the universe will conspire in helping them achieve that dream or it might conspire against the dream and force humans to create a guise as a means of self preservation. This paper will try to explain this dual feature of the universe by comparing and contrasting the main characters of two novels, The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho and The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru. Santiago, the main character from, The Alchemist is a character that goes through life with the universe at his aid and Pran Nath, the main character from , The Impressionist goes through life with the universe as his setback.

In The Alchemist, Santiago is an educated young shepherd and future priest who decides to travel around the world in the quest for the true nature of the world, which was more important to him than knowing about God or learning about man’s sins. He sees the world in the way he wants to view it, not in what actually is happens.

Santiago’s journey is filled with inexplicable delicacy and marvel. He transforms in many stages to fulfill his inner search. He was young, bright and eager when he left for Africa, characteristics common to most adolescents as they make their initial venture on their careers with uncertainty of what it is to come lingering all in the atmosphere. His physical features were adequate for him to make his journey.

Emotionally, optimism blinded his common sense. He only envisioned the optimistic fates that awaited him and delayed on his contemplation of all the negative factors working against his plans. He leaves home voluntarily, driven with the inner urge to find the treasure he had heard so much about. He sells his belongings, his sheep and such, to travel to Tangiers, Africa. The most important observation of his emotional ties to his journey is the conversation he has with the gypsy woman and the old man. When asking the gypsy woman to interpret his dream about finding a treasure in the Egyptian pyramids, she offers to tell him for the price of one tenth of the treasure upon his return. On the other hand, when he asks the old man to show him the path to the treasure, the old man offers to tell him but requests one tenth of his flock as “payment”. The former payment method looks far more ideal but of Santiago’s eagerness beats the odds, being convinced for the presence of the treasure, he agrees wholeheartedly. This is emotional blindness at its best. The latter form of payment was more practical and indeed Santiago complies.

Spiritually, Santiago’s dream is the power that started the ignition. He had, what religious scholars would refer to as a revelation, an inner truth that is inspired by subconscious means. This dream changed his whole life and his journey is merely a spiritual quest in the physical world. His faith and convictions led him to pursue the intricate path of a personal-legend path charted by mysterious magnet of destiny but obscured by distractions. This was the force that appeared to be negative but actually showed him to realize his destiny by preparing his spirit and will. His spiritual desire to find the treasure originated in the soul of the universe and became his mission on earth.

In personality, Santiago was an adventurer at heart where his mission did not distract him into being subdued into a particular place as a settlement. He trusts his instincts more than anything else.

When observing his evolution as a person, his optimistic attitude was crashed on early on when he was robbed by a thief of all his money. This is the point where the first greatest challenge, the painful realization of reality, came into play. As they say, “Experience is the best teacher”, the robbery diversion thwarted Santiago’s plans and had him explore other alternatives of earning his living. He was forced to do menial job for a crystal merchant where he saw a great change in his growth. His mood and attitude had matured within the years he spent as an employee. He learns the art of business and most importantly, the art of patience. The latter practice especially was most crucial to the pursuit of his personal legend.

His judgment becomes sound when he indulges in a deeper notion of the meaning of the treasure. When he finds Fatima and falls head over hills in love with her, he questions whether she was the treasure he had always been searching for. His ways of doing things become less spontaneous as they used to be and he starts practicing patience more and more. His most profound growth in judgment is reflected on his conversation about the pilgrimage to Mecca with the crystal merchant. While the crystal merchant maintained that having a dream was more important than fulfilling it, Santiago realizes that he had always been in pursuit of it and starts exploring the pros and cons of where his treasure hunt would ceased at. He was happy with Fatima but then the contact with the Englishman brought back the passion of adventure once again.

The time he met the Alchemist is another most insightful moment of his journey. The Alchemist tells him that “you don’t have to understand the desert: all you have to do is contemplate a simple grain of sand and you will see in it all the marvels in creation.” The way to understanding life boiled down to exploring the makeup of life rather than the exploring life itself. The alchemist also shares this with him and not the Englishman because he saw the great features of a true adventurer, not driven by passion but by passionate logic. Santiago had to go through the dangers of tribal wars on the outskirts of the oasis to reach the pyramids and the alchemist had enough fate in him to let him finish his destiny alone.

Love was the second biggest diversion that had threatened to change his plans of obtaining his goals. “Love is blind” was the case when Santiago thought that Fatima was the treasure he had always been looking for.

The choices Santiago makes on his journey to Africa were completely voluntary and pressure free. He left his hometown as a tourist, thus he didn’t not face as much confrontations as he would have if had gone as a refugee. Moreover, if he had not been robbed and had not worked for the crystal merchant, he would have had another lifestyle and maybe wouldn’t have learned the tools of patience and networking to achieve his goal. Santiago had a strong heart, where he accepted all the pressures that fell upon him and had the determination to carry on with his task.

To sum up, Santiago voluntarily left his hometown in search of a treasure and had an unbreakable spirit and tenacity filled with optimistic emotions. He learned to mature and grow as a person in his journey through his interactions with different characters namely the crystal merchant, Fatima, the Englishman and the alchemist. He realizes that if one wants something really bad, the entire universe will conspire in an attempt to give aid and make the dream a reality.

Likewise, in The Impressionist, Pran Nath Rasdan is a character much similar to Santiago but with many subtle differences. Pran Nath was the child of a wealthy man of high caste but fathered by and Englishman. His life was filled with mysterious puzzles due to the interlaying lies built one top of the other. Even during birth, the astrologer could not predict the Pran Nath’s future, as his chart showed lies with the stars contorting themselves with no pattern and no equilibrium. This was a prologue to the life of lies that was in store for Pran Nath.

Pran Nath was forced to leave home at 15 when the truth about him was revealed and he was tossed to the streets on his own. He was still young but he had the heart of a lion. He had the survival instinct. He had the looks and the charms with his father’s pale skin tone working to his advantage. The pale splendor of his skin was initially a proof of his distinguished bloodline which later became a telltale trait of his tainted heritage.

Emotionally, he had lost his compassionate side and had developed the survival instinct, whereby implementing the Darwinian theory of survival of the fittest. He denounces his English side at first because it was the factor that had alienated him from his family but along his journey, he realizes that it was of no help. Being Indian, he had to face caste systems and social hierarchies that tied the social construct. He found himself estranged and knotted in complexity. He saw no glimpse of hope which led him to act quickly, with a survival instinct to form a guise, he took full advantage of his English side to hustle his way in society.

He had chameleon like characteristics, where he was lost in lies by assuming different roles in society and leading multiple lives. He became an impressionist and this trait stemmed solely from the pressures of the political or social climate forces. It was not his wish to put on guises but without guises, he would go nowhere; the means justify the ends.

Spiritually, Pran Nath was impromptu with most of his decisions. Survival and self-preservation is what powered his engine. He is unethical because his guises serve as a tool of ruse and deception, yet it is an essential asset he had to go places. He represents more of the scientific ideology contrary to Santiago’s character who had the creationist’s ideology used throughout the story, in that he was not moved by any inner feelings but pure rationale. He was the perfect example of the universe working to conspire against him. To battle this, he used different guises as a form of shield.

Personality wise, Pran Nath was a character who knew what he wanted in life and how to get it. He represents todays more innovative and profit oriented corporate class. He had the ‘hustle’ mind frame with the intentions of providing for himself.

His maturity and growth is greatly shadowed by his multiple personalities and guises. He is a character living double lives and fulfilling different goals. He cannot be himself at any one point so the question of maturity is complex. He can act mature when he needs to be, just like he did with the Scottish foster parents becoming a dutiful foster son and just the same, as pretty Bobby, he is a pimp and a carefree lover of the women in the dangerous district of the area with no sign of maturity. From School boy uniforms and silk saris to academic robes and adventurer’s khaki’s, Pran Nath shaped others impression on him.

Pran Nath learns that perception is a ready replacement for reality. His judgments are based on his motivations of survival and are deceitful at many times, even unlawful. For instance, the incident when he took the passport of Jonathan Bridgeman to travel to London was a very bold and unethical move. He had completely taken advantage of Jonathan and was not even worried how he would act when meeting with Aunt Berthilda. He lives in a world where he takes the roles of all actors. “Jonathan had learned the trick… people care about outward forms… becoming someone else is just a question of changing tailor… easy, except when that being is involuntary, when fingers loose their grip and panic sets in that nothing will stop the slide, then becoming is flight… no one running… no one stopping… no one there alone.

Pran Nath seems like a character filled with adventure. He has the same tenacity as Santiago in that he is always seeking for something greater that he can guise for. He wants to explore other worlds in a quest to fill his inners self and maybe find himself and his status in society.

It is always interesting to imagine how things would have turned out if he had not been kicked out of his home. In his fifteen years as the only son of a wealthy academic of high caste, he could do no wrong in his family’s opinion, yet he had an arrogance, unappealing practical jokes and disrespectful nature that alienated the servants and townspeople. If the choice was not made to reveal his true self, he would have been despised even more but the opportunity of being expelled from home changed his attitude and forced his chameleon traits to emerge.

The foste, like the alchemist was the epitome that scared the impressionist. He thought that his English side would be sucked out of him and his barren, naked body exposed and his real personality revealed. His trait is common in today’s global world, where society assimilation has created a sense of loss in identity.

When comparing Pran with his English father, Mr. Forrester, they both had the sensed of adventure built in them. Although, Pran was more sociable than his dad, they were both determined in the goals they set and worked hard, by any means to achieve it. It was a dream and determination that took the life of his father away from him and Pran was at the mercy of such a fate. He was also spontaneous like his mother, wild and quick to make major decisions that would take him to places afar.

In summary, Pran Nath is a dispelled young lad who starts his journey as a lost kid but find his way around society and into prominence by the different impressions he creates and becomes. His journey is self-motivated by pressures of survival and his actions as far as he is concerned are acceptable as long as preservation is maintained.

In conclusion, the dual nature of the universe serves to help some and harm others but in doing so will implement a level of creativity by human beings either to combat it or go along with it. Santiago was getting the help of the universe; which was working along side him on his quest for the treasure. For Pran Nath, the universe was a bittersweet place which provided setbacks, one after the other to test his will and tenacity. Hence, whichever side the universe approaches, it is better to be always ready and ready for combat.

Works cited

Coelho, Paolo. “The Alchemist”- 1st ed. New York Harper: Collins Publishers, 1993.

Kunzru, Hari. “The Impressionist” New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. Company 2002.

President Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote, “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” Life is tied with the very essence of nature. It is natural for life to blossom fully and go through a delicate […]

Outwardly, The Great Gatsby may appear to merely be a novel about the failed relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. However, the major theme of the novel has much less to do with love then with the culture of the 1920s as a whole. In this article, the various cultural elements reflected in The Great Gatsby which led to the downfall of the 1920s American Dream will be discussed, as well as their implications for the characters in the novel.

During the 1920s, the perception of the American Dream was that an individual can achieve success in life regardless of family history or social status if they only work hard enough. In the book titled “Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity”, the author Roland Marchand describes a figure that he feels represents the quintessential 1920s man who is living the American Dream. He writes, “Not only did he flourish in the fast-paced, modern urban milieu of skyscrapers, taxicabs, and pleasure-seeking crowds, but he proclaimed himself an expert on the latest crazes in fashion, contemporary lingo, and popular pastimes.” (Marchand) The Great Gatsby is not mentioned once in this book, however it is impossible to deny the resemblance between Marchand’s definition of a twenties man living the American Dream and Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Jay Gatsby, who has risen from a poor childhood to being a millionaire with servants, a huge house, and dozens of friends. Gatsby epitomizes the idea of self-made success; he is successful financially and socially and he essentially created an entirely new persona for himself from his underprivileged past. All of the wealth and status which Gatsby acquired, that while on the surface made his life appear to be the precise definition of the American Dream were actually elements which led to it’s demise.

The culture of the wealthy Americans represented in Gatsby was defined mainly by consumerism and excessive material wealth. Wherever given the opportunity, Jay Gatsby is inclined to ostentation as shown in his flamboyant style of dress, what Tom refers to as his “circus wagon” car, and of course his huge mansion where he throws lavish, drunken parties. In Thorstein Veblen’s “The Theory of the Leisure Class” he writes, “…to gain and hold the esteem of men is not sufficient merely to hold wealth and power. The wealth and power must be put into evidence.” Thorstein Veblen, who popularized the term “conspicuous consumption” which so accurately describes much of what was occurring in The Great Gatsby was trying to convey that the people who had not been raised with money and came into riches and wealth on their on attempted to demand respect and esteem by showing it off through purchases.

The houses depicted in The Great Gatsby are perhaps the most obvious indicator of the relentless competition to declare one’s status, as all of the new rich attempted to outdo one another when it came to the size and amenities of their homes. Gatsby has achieved from the outside what looked like the American Dream, however although he had obtained the material status necessary to give that impression, it still wasn’t enough for him and had to seek reassurance that he in fact was impressive. For example, in Chapter Five, Gatsby says to Nick, “My house looks well doesn’t it? See how the whole front of it catches the light.” (Fitzgerald) In Scott Donaldson’s article, “Possessions in the Great Gatsby” he writes, “The culture of consumption on exhibit in The Great Gatsby was made possible by the growth of a leisure class in early-twentieth-century America. As the novel demonstrates, this development subverted the foundations of the Protestant ethic, replacing the values of hard work and thrifty abstinence with a show of luxury and idleness.” (Donaldson, 8) What Donaldson is implying here, is that the sudden wealth that many Americans began to acquire caused leisure and idleness to replace traditional ethics like hard work as qualities that were admired. None of the characters in The Great Gatsby seemed to care much about hard work once they had achieved their material goals. As part of the “new rich,” Gatsby epitomizes the American Dream at the beginning of the novel, prior to his downward spiral. However, he differs from the other newly rich members of society in that he did not earn his money in an honorable way, and therefore does not have the “hard work” ethic that Donaldson refers to. Part of the main idea of the American Dream was that it was achieved through hard work, and this contradiction between Gatsby’s American Dream-like lifestyle and the means which he achieved it are part of his downfall. The show of luxury and idleness that Donaldson talks about is best shown in Fitzgerald’s portrayal of Gatsby’s home and parties that for Gatsby were merely devices he used in a naïve attempt to win Daisy. Although he loves her, he undeniably also sees her as a material commodity, much the way he views his home. In Ray E. Canterbery’s article, “Thorstein Veblen and The Great Gatsby” he remarks, “Jay Gatsby wants to live with Daisy Buchanan because she is a member of the established American aristocracy of wealth. Gatsby lacks the maturity to realize that Daisy cannot be obtained by money alone and in a vulgar display of conspicuous consumption, he flaunts his nouveau wealth.” (Canterbery) In contrast, Tom Buchanan, who is just as wealthy as Gatsby chooses to display his wealth in a much more subtle way than Gatsby. His East Egg home is more modest than Gatsby’s, and is intended to be a display of breeding and taste, rather than a display of gaudiness and exorbitant amounts of cash to freely dispense. Because of Gatsby’s naivete, he fails to realize that no matter how many garish displays of wealth or fancy parties he throws, Daisy is essentially priceless and will not leave the aristocratic, old money lifestyle which she has become accustomed to through her relationship with Tom.

Gatsby’s home was mainly for show; it features a tower for no particular reason, as well as a marble swimming pool and acre upon acre of manicured lawns and gardens. Like his house, Gatsby’s parties are mainly for show as well. The extravagance of this society is shown in Gatsby’s parties in the flashiness, extreme quantity of illegal alcohol, and the volume of guests attending – most of whom only want to be near him because of his wealth. Gatsby puts huge sums of money into these parties yet does not seem to enjoy hosting them at all. In an article by Jennifer Fjeldstrom, she writes, “It is easy to see that the guests at Gatsby’s party are completely unable to exist independently of each other, for all of these people are similarly trying to become a part of the rich set.” (Fjeldstrom, 38) The guest at Gatsby’s parties were all attempting to achieve the American Dream that they believed Gatsby was privy to, they all wanted to be a part of the upper class lifestyle. It seems as if the guests at Gatsby’s parties did not realize that he was still lacking when it came to the American Dream as well. Gatsby’s life looked perfect from the outside, however he felt a deep void that he believed only Daisy could fulfill.

Gatsby however had trouble even believing himself that he truly fit in with the upper class Long Island society. In the Donaldson article previously referenced he also wrote, “The outsized house, together with the lavish parties and the garish clothing, the automobiles and the aquaplane, represent his attempt to establish himself as Somebody, or at least not Nobody.” (Donaldson, 11) Gatsby believed that in order to fulfill his own concept of the American Dream he needed to win Daisy’s love, and to do that he would need to “establish himself as Somebody.” After Daisy finally attends a party at Gatsby’s mansion and he senses their relationship beginning to sour, Gatsby fires his employees, stops throwing parties, and allows his house to deteriorate, representing the beginning of his lifestyle’s decline as well. The day after the car accident when Nick goes to visit Gatsby, Fitzgerald describes the deterioration of the house just since Gatsby fired his servants. It says, “There was an inexplicable amount of dust everywhere and the rooms were musty as though they hadn’t been aired for many days.” This discussion between Nick and Gatsby in this scene shows the origins of Gatsby’s decadent lifestyle. Gatsby’s attempts to win Daisy’s affection through obtaining material possessions, the extravagant home, the fancy clothing and cars changed the American dream from the pursuit of happiness into a quest for mere wealth. This was Gatsby attempting to establish himself as somebody. In order to earn Daisy’s affection he would have to be a “Somebody” or in the terms of the book, “old money.” Even if Gatsby had just as much money or more than Tom, he could never break through the barriers which the “old money” people put up to keep outsiders like Gatsby away.

Automobiles also played an important role in the culture of the 1920s, as well as an important role in the lives and deaths of several characters. At the time the novel was set, the automobile was still a relatively new technology, and just beginning to become important in the culture of wealthy Americans. To the rich characters in The Great Gatsby, the automobile was not so important as a mode of transportation as much as it had importance as a commodity. Just like a house, or a lavish party or anything else which Gatsby or the Buchanan’s may spend money on, a car was simply another way of displaying the massive amounts of wealth which they had available. For example, Gatsby has his own chauffeur, yet he still has a station wagon and an expensive Rolls Royce that he uses as well. In Lauraleigh O’Meara’s article, “Medium of Exchange: The Blue-Coupe Dialogue in The Great Gatsby” she points out that for the most part in the novel, the appearance of the car is much more important than it’s practicality. She writes that several of the phrases which Fitzgerald uses to describe Gatsby’s car have a strong resemblance to the advertising used during that period. Gatsby’s Rolls-Royce was “…a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hatboxes and supper-boxes and tool boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of windshields that mirrored a dozen suns.” (68) O’Meara writes, “Gatsby’s ‘splendid car’ delineate an expensive and unique commodity, not an efficient means for travel.” This attitude towards transportation is very in concordance with the attitude the characters, especially Gatsby have towards all material possessions. Gatsby likes to make a spectacle with his purchases, whether it is his clothing, his home, or his automobiles.

Gatsby’s attempt to seek fulfillment and win Daisy through material accumulation is one of the reasons that the automobile has to do with the demise of the American Dream. Additionally, the deaths of several characters in the book, whether directly or indirectly resulting from an automobile is an important thing to consider when examining how 1920s culture affected the collapse of the American Dream. Myrtle, Gatsby, and George all die because of an automobile accident, even though Myrtle was the only one who was directly killed by the car. Since Gatsby was the owner of the car that killed Myrtle, he ended up being killed by George, who incorrectly assumed that Myrtle’s death was Gatsby’s fault prior to killing himself. In this case, the automobile is no longer a commodity; it is what O’Meara dubs as a “death car.” The automobile is a symbol that Fitzgerald uses to accomplish several different ends.

The most important function of the automobile in The Great Gatsby however is what O’Meara writes near the end of her article. “The cultural obsession with commodities allows an ordinary automobile to transcend its functional purpose to become and embodiment of dreams.” (O’Meara) The automobile leads to the downfall of several characters’ American Dreams in the same way which their inessential homes did. The characters substituted their pursuit of happiness for a pursuit of wealth, believing that wealth would satisfy their dreams and lead to happiness, however lives were lost in the process instead.

In addition to the preoccupation with material wealth that led to the demise of the American Dream, the means which many people in the 1920s obtained the material wealth in the first place plays a large role. The Prohibition movement which coincides with the events in The Great Gatsby enabled many people who otherwise would have never achieved financial success to enjoy a lavish, extravagant lifestyle. Prohibition began in 1919 with the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment. It was believed by many that this movement would encourage moral behavior and discourage crime and disease. After the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment which stated, “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited” (U.S. Const. art XVIII, § 1) a business of bootlegging became a prime way for people to make money. There was a massive demand for bootleg liquor, especially among the rich, and many people such as the character of Jay Gatsby, became rich by catering to these people’s needs. To reach his dream of spending his life with Daisy, he attains his millions in the bootlegging business during the time of prohibition. In his article titled Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”, Nathan A. Cervo writes, “America is the land of opportunity, but all the opportunities that really matter are basically criminal in character, like bootlegging. To spin off from this a bit, it may be truly said that in America, no noncriminal ever becomes rich. By “crime” I mean not only the illegal, but the immoral; that is, breaches of decency, like honesty and trust, and a fair product for a fair price.” While saying that all activities that enable one to become rich in American are illegal is a slight exaggeration, Cervo is right on target when it comes to the instance of Jay Gatsby.

The activities associated with Prohibition led to a decline in the American Dream because the idea of the American Dream is that only virtuous, moral, hard working individuals were rewarded. The bootlegging business during the 1920s came along with a huge increase in organized crime. It was probably because of his connections to bootlegging and through his drugstores that Gatsby met the infamous gambler and racketeer Meyer Wolfsheim, who was most likely based on an actual gambler from that era named Arnold Rothstein. Wolfsheim was a sly criminal who “fixed” the 1919 World Series and when Nick asks Gatsby why he is not in jail for his activities Gatsby just responds, “They can’t get him, old sport. He’s a smart man.” (Fitzgerald, 78) Wolfsheim showed Gatsby’s dark side and the way that his dream was ultimately corrupted. Gatsby was not a fundamentally corrupt man however through his association with dishonest, wayward people he gradually became more like them. In his article titled, “Gatsby’s Pristine Dream: The Diminishment of the Self-Made Man in the Tribal Twenties” Jeffrey Decker writes, “After Gatsby’s own sudden death, Nick approaches Wolfsheim – the deceased’s ‘closest friend’ – for an account of Gatsby’s source of wealth. Wolfsheim’s recollection functions to reconfirm the new threat posed by the immigrant to moral uplift and ethical entrepreneurship. To Nick’s inquiry, ‘Did you start him in business? ’ Wolfsheim replies, ‘Start him! I made him,’ and continues: ‘I raised him up out of nothing, right out of the gutter. I saw right away he was a fine appearing gentlemanly young man and when he told me he was an Oggsford I knew I could use him good. . . We were so thick like that in everything –’ He held up two bulbous fingers ‘ – always together. ’ Wolfsheim’s depiction of Gatsby’s success helps confirm the findings of Tom’s investigation. Not only is Gatsby ‘raised . . . up out of nothing,’ he is ‘made’ not by the sweat of his honest brow but by the black hand of the immigrant gangster.” (Decker) This revelation from Wolfsheim proves that Gatsby really did not fit in with the old rich people like Daisy and Tom. The way he earned his money and the fact that he had at one point been poor is part of what makes Daisy not want to be with Gatsby, and what basically ruins all hope that Gatsby ever had of fulfilling his dream of them being together.

Ultimately all of these things- the consumerism, materialism, the cars, parties, and houses, plus the Prohibition movement led to class struggles between the rich and poor, a superficial wealthy class of people, and an inaccurate perception of the relationship between money and happiness. For example, while Tom and Daisy may superficially represent the American Dream, their lack of morals, commitment, and dreams all ultimately contradict that. The perception of the American Dream changed, and the idea that money leads to happiness obviously was not the case for Tom and Daisy. The same is true for Gatsby. His illegal work was all an excuse to earn money and become close to Daisy, however once again, money could not buy Gatsby happiness.

This inaccurate perception was what led to most of the shattered dreams in the novel. Gatsby truly believed that the more material things he had to offer Daisy the better of a chance he had of receiving love in return. The failure of the American Dream in his life is mainly due to his moral decay throughout the novel. Instead of turning into an honorable man after earning his fortune, he turns into a quasi-member of Tom and Daisy’s crowd through trying to live up to the material culture of that decade. He never quite fit in with them but became morally relegated to association with that group. As Fitzgerald writes, “They were careless people Tom and Daisy. They smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” (187) Daisy becomes the only important person in Gatsby’s life, and in his efforts to win her love he becomes a careless person just the way she is. When Gatsby and Daisy hit Myrtle with the car, he isn’t even concerned about Myrtle; he is just concerned about whether this will cause problems for Daisy. Gatsby’s quest for happiness through illegal and superficial means ultimately is the cause of his death, and therefore the collapse of his American Dream.

The novel is somewhat of a commentary on the condition of the American Dream in the 1920s. It shows how the American Dream went from an idea that anyone could achieve success in this country through hard work and perseverance, to an idea that one needs to keep accumulating material wealth in the quest for happiness and fulfillment.

It is interesting to note that six years after the publication of The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald became obsessed with Marxism. He began reading and encouraging Zelda to read a children’s version of the Five-Year Plan, as well as organizing party meetings and sessions with a local communist in Baltimore. This is mainly an interesting thing to note since The Great Gatsby place so much emphasis on materialism and conspicuous consumption. Fitzgerald’s foray into Marxism several years later shows his concerns over this skewed version of the American Dream that was based more on wealth and possessions and less on hard work and achievement. The fact that he later rebelled against the material 1920s culture shows that he was in fact cautioning against this lifestyle rather than encouraging it.

Donaldson writes in “Possessions in the Great Gatsby,” “…he [Fitzgerald] was persuaded that capitalism was a corrupt and dying economic system.” (Donaldson, 3) Fitzgerald felt that capitalism and it’s offshoots— the excessive homes, cars, etcetera were the demise of the American Dream. The novel shows the possibilities that wealth can create and the irresponsibility that can ultimately ruin it. Additionally, the 1920s was a decade where a lot of cultural and social change was occurring—for example, the automobile and the Prohibition movement. The negative effects of these changes in culture also played a role in The Great Gatsby being less than a positive commentary on the state of the American Dream. More than anything however, what the automobiles, homes, and parties represented were what caused Gatsby’s dreams to be destroyed. All of those material possessions were bought to win Daisy, which Gatsby mistakenly felt would ultimately lead him to happiness and the fulfillment of his American Dream. In the end, Gatsby’s life and the culture surrounding it serves as a cautionary tale about those seeking happiness within the narrow confines of the 1920s American Dream.


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Allen, Frederick L. Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s. New York: Wiley, New Ed Edition.

Callahan, John F. “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Evolving American Dream: The ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ in Gatsby, Tender is the Night, and The Last Tycoon.” Twentieth Century Literature 42.

Canterbery, Ray E. “Thorstein Veblen and The Great Gatsby.” Journal of Economic Issues 33.

Cervo, Nathan A. “Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” Explicator 63.

Decker, Jeffrey L. “Gatsby’s Pristine Dream: The Diminishment of the Self-Made Man in the Tribal Twenties.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 28. Academic Search Premier.

Donaldson, Scott. “Possessions in the Great Gatsby.” Southern Review 37.

Fjeldstrom, Jennifer J. Jay Gatsby as a “Bold Sensualist”: Using “Self-Reliance” and Walden to Critique the Jazz Age in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Diss. Univ. of Saskatchewan.

Lena, Alberto. “Deceitful Traces of Power: An Analysis of Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby.” Canadian Review of American Studies 28.

Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream: Making Way for Modernity. Los Angeles: University of California P.

Michaels, James W. “The Mass-Market Rich.” Forbes 9 Oct. 2000. Business Source Premier.

O’meara, Lauraleigh. “Medium of Exchange: The Blue Coupe Dialogue in The Great Gatsby.” Papers on Language & Literature 30.

Prigozy, Ruth, ed. The Cambridge Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge.

Outwardly, The Great Gatsby may appear to merely be a novel about the failed relationship between Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. However, the major theme of the novel has much less to do with love then with the culture of the 1920s as a whole. In this article, the various cultural elements reflected in The […]

“Exploding Enforced Gender Roles via Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

Though usually viewed as a violent play about turbulent marriages, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? should be regarded as an early feminist text. Bonnie Finkelstein writes that the 1962 play portrays and analyzes the damaging effects of traditional, stereotypical gender roles, particularly for women; the play serves to point out how unrealistic, useless and extraordinarily damning they ultimately are.

Finkelstein notes that the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique unofficially began a re-evaluation of gender roles in the United States (Finkelstein 55). Friedan explores the idea that women need more fulfillment in their lives than can be provided by the drudgery of childrearing and housekeeping. The book also carefully lays out what society has determined to be the ideal gender role requirements for women:

“They could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity. Experts told them how to catch a man and keep him, how to breastfeed children and handle their toilet training…how to dress, look, and act more feminine and make marriage more exciting…They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights…All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.” (Friedan 15-16)

And, more specifically:

The suburban housewife…she was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment.” (Friedan 18)

Albee echoes this, noting by contrast what the ideal men and women in 1962 should be. In other words, his characters have failed at living up to gender roles and the play shows us how this quest has destroyed them. The most shocking thing Martha does is pack away the booze: “My God, you can swill it down, can’t you.” (16) She drinks straight, tough-guy booze, like whiskey and bourbon. She no longer favors the tastes of her youth: “brandy Alexanders, crème de cacao frappes…seven-layer liqueur things…real lady-like little drinkies.” Martha once behaved as a woman should, but no longer does and this is off-putting and unsettling to George. The reason women should drink sweet-tasting but really lethal drinks is because they make women more willing to serve men sexually, as pointed out in the Paula Vogel’s feminist (and set-in-the-early 1960s) drama How I Learned to Drive: “In short avoid anything with sugar or anything with an umbrellas…don’t order anything with sexual positions in the name…I think you were conceived after one of those.” (Vogel 44)

Indeed, the 1962 woman was not in tune with or even in charge of her own sexuality; according to Friedan, women would use sexuality as a means to achieve the fulfillment they were so sorely lacking:

“Are they using sex or sexual phantasy to fill needs that are not sexual? Is that why their sex, even when it is real, seems like phantasy? Are they driven to this never-satisfied sexual seeking because, in their marriages, they have not found the sexual fulfillment which the feminine mystique promises?” (Friedan 261)

While at an overprotective, women-only college (78), Martha was sexually active and chose her own husband. It was a real slap-in-the-face to her intelligence and identity when her father had her marriage annulled because it was not proper for a woman to be sexual or to make her own decisions. George himself comments on how Martha’s sexual expression is improper with lines like “your skirt up over your head.” (17)

The twenty-six year old “thin-hipped…simp” Honey is the incredibly stifling, unfulfilled result of what happens if a woman conforms to what 1962 society told her to be. In order to quickly show that Honey, the prefeminist-era ideal woman, is a farce, Albee makes her uninteresting, remarkably unintelligent and absolutely loathsome. She characteristically says boring, solicitous, giggly things like “Oh, isn’t this lovely” (21) and “Well I certainly had fun…it was a wonderful party” (21), even “put some powder on my nose.” (28). She is inoffensive, always agreeable, and, as Friedan points out, devoted to her husband, the ideal of femininity: “Their only dream was to be perfect wives and mothers; their highest ambition to have five children and a beautiful house, their only fight to get and keep their husbands.” (Friedan 18) Still, because she is the perfect woman and Martha is decidedly rebellious of the stereotype, Honey is everything Martha is not.

Similar to the Martha-Honey dynamic, Nick is the ideal man and is thus everything George cannot be. Martha tells George he is “a blank, you’re a cipher…a zero” (17) because of his lack of manly attributes, such as a commanding nature, athletic ability, good looks and ability to control his emotions. She berates him for sulking early on: “are you sulking? Is that what you’re doing?” (12) Men should not sulk; they must be stoic. Years prior, George refused to box his taunting father-in-law and was made to feel like less of a man because of it (56). Enter Nick, the macho-man, everything George is not. Instantly, he is commanding: “I told you we shouldn’t have come.” (21); he is also stoic– he dryly responds “I am aware of that” (22) when Honey tells him he’s being “joshed.” Most of all, Nick is far more attractive and athletic than old, pudgy George, described often as “about thirty, blond, and…good-looking” (9) and once as “quarterback.” (151) He was even a middleweight boxing champion (51). Martha has physical competition issues, too, with the young, skinny Honey: “I’m six years younger than you are,” (15) George says to Martha, implying that she is old and useless because she’s no longer young and pretty. Martha then foreshadows George’s inability to measure up against Nick: “Well…you’re going bald.” (15) Thus, George is ugly, unmanly and no longer virile. He feels threatened: “I said I was impressed, Martha. I’m beside myself with jealousy.” (49)

Albee uses George and Martha to show the effects when a society crams definitive, non-pliable gender roles down the throats of women and men. Nick and Honey’s presence shows that even those that strive to be the ideal cannot sustain the image without serious consequences. All four characters are damaged irrevocably and act out via violence, alcoholism and infidelity as substitutes for happiness and ways to forge identity. Engaging in this behaviors makes them feel something, anything when their gender identity feels nonexistent. Being seductive makes Martha feel like a woman and being violent lets George play out his macho fantasies.

Additionally, each of the four characters has ways in which he or she loses any sense of gender identity (they don’t feel like real women or real men) because of certain events. As Friedan repeatedly notes, the sole purpose for the 1962 woman was to be a good wife and produce babies: “All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.” (Friedan 16) Martha is unable to have children and is thus incapable of fulfilling her only supposed purpose in life. Finkelstein points out that:

Martha reveals to us the emptiness and loss she feels when, childless, she is an outcast at sex-segregated faculty parties and is tempted to mention their imaginary son…Martha feels that she doesn’t exist: she had no other dreams but to be a mother, and then she couldn’t do that. (Finkelstein 55)

For all intents and purpose, she feels she is not a woman and it eats her up. Conversely, we have Honey, who embodies all the attributes of the perfect early 60’s woman. She rebels against the path by refusing to have babies. Laura Julier points out this juxtaposition, that Martha cannot be a stereotypical woman and Honey to refuses to be the stereotypical woman.

Since he doesn’t fit the manly-man image, George feels almost non-existent: “Don’t I sort of fade into the backgrounds…get lost in the cigarette smoke?” (32) Though he agrees, other comments from Martha emasculate George further: “he’s not completely sure it’s his own kid.” (71) Here, Martha overpowers George to humiliate him and elevate herself, but there are fewer things more threatening to manhood in 1962 than by claiming someone’s (albeit imaginary) child is not their own; a man does not want to be a cuckold. Albee uses George’s emasculation once more to make a clear parallel to the lack of options for women in that period of America: “I did run the History Department, for four years, during the war, but that was because everybody was away. Then …everybody came back.” (38) George’s colleagues essentially see him as the then-current idea of a woman: useless, but able to fill in at a job of prestige in an absolute emergency. This is exactly like the woman-dominated home front workforce of World War II because the regular male workers were in the armed forces. George, like the enraged female workers of 1941-1945, was degraded when he was forced to return to his proper place.

Also, both George and Nick married their not out of love or because they were sexual conquerors, which would be preferable. Nick married Honey for money: “GEORGE: Sure, I’ll bet she has money, too!…NICK: Yes.” (102) George married Martha in an ultimately futile attempt to rise in the hierarchy of the college. Julier notes that the revelation that both men married their wives for money is ultimately an emasculating and embarrassing revelation because it shows they are reliant on women for their livelihood, a big no-no for a true macho man. (Julier 36)

Nick’s relationship with Honey is tenuous at best. They first knew each other as children, playing doctor (104). “A scientist even then,” (105) as George points out. Nick goes on to speak of their loveless marriage: “I wouldn’t say there was any…particular passion between us, even at the beginning.” Nick reveals that he had to marry Honey mostly because they thought she was pregnant. It’s almost as if Nick, who was forced to marry Honey and doesn’t particularly like her is harboring a latent homosexual nature. This is simply unacceptable in 1962, as Honey quietly notes: “Two grown men dancing…heavens!” (124)

In order to prove, or fake his manly, heterosexual nature, Nick engages in a quick, lurid sexual encounter with Martha (163). In fact, it is their problems with identity and self-expression within a sexist culture that lead the four characters to act out via near infidelity and heavy drinking. Alcohol is a social lubricant and a social liberator; alcohol gives Martha courage to say what she wants, it gives Honey a personality and proactivity, it gives George wit and Nick a dark side. Only through drinking and possibly by blaming it on the booze later, can these characters ever communicate and express themselves openly.

Though what the foursome do (making up a son, drinking, violence, “hysterical pregnancies,” latent homosexuality) isn’t necessarily the real-life result of gender roles, they are examples to get across Albee’s point that gender roles destroy the ideas of “man,” “woman,” and make determining personal identity difficult for those who don’t fit the mold. It’s also highly prescient and protofeminist that Albee structures this analysis of gender roles within a marriage. Finkelstein theorizes that marriages cannot stand under such highly regulated gender role circumstances and that marriage is thus outmoded because women are given so few options in their lives. (Finkelstein 51)

The most telling prophecy lies in Nick’s genetic project that aims for the perfection of the human species, a clear reference to 1962’s quiet, forced demand to conform to the images of the ideal woman and man. George notes: “we will have a civilization of men, smooth, blond and right at the middleweight limit.” (65) There will be no room in society for the unfit (George), the unintelligent (Honey) or female (Martha). Only Nick remains, and even he is flawed, proof that these gender roles are impossible to emulate. As Finkelstein notes, all four characters are afraid of Virginia Wolf, because she is, in 1962, the only icon of female equality society had. (Finkelstein 64)

Works Cited

Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New York: Atheneum House, 1962.

Finkelstein, Bonnie Blumenthal. “Albee’s Martha: Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Wife,

No One’s Mother.” American Drama (5) no. 1, Fall 1995. pg. 51-70.

Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: WW. Norton & Company, 1963.

Julier, Laura. “Faces to the Dawn: Female Characters in Albee’s Plays.” Edward Albee:

Planned Wilderness. Interviews, Essays and Bibliography. ed. Patricia De La

Fuente. Edinburg, Texas: Pan American University Print Shop, 1980.

Vogel, Paula. How I Learned to Drive. New York: Dramatists Play Service, 1998.

“Exploding Enforced Gender Roles via Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Though usually viewed as a violent play about turbulent marriages, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? should be regarded as an early feminist text. Bonnie Finkelstein writes that the 1962 play portrays and analyzes the damaging effects of traditional, stereotypical gender roles, […]

Like many of his comedies, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing involves young couples getting together, or trying to get together, and ends with the happy lovers getting married.  On the surface this appears to be a rather fairy-tale like ending, and both sets of lovers in this play, Claudio with Hero and Beatrice with Benedick, seem to end the play in a happy relationship.

However, if we say, as William G. McCollom does in his essay “The Role of Wit in Much Ado About Nothing”, that “the governing action (the activity guiding the characters) could be formulated as the search in love for the truth about love” (165), then we can view the two sets of lovers as contrasting commentaries by Shakespeare about what constitutes “true love”.  Looking at the play in this way, we can say that in Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare makes the point that true love is achieved with understanding, trust, and commitment by examining the relationships of the contrasting sets of lovers: the shallow relationship of Hero and Claudio, and the deeper relationship of Beatrice and Benedick.

Before this subject can be tackled, it seems important to define what we are talking about when we say “true love”.  This subject alone could probably fill several philosophical essays, so for this essay let us define true love as being a relationship that is based on something more than outward appearances or material goods, and being a relationship in which both lovers are prepared to be committed to the other despite any hardships or mistakes their partners might make.

It seems self-evident that in order for a couple to have a romantic relationship, they need to have a strong understanding of one another.  They need to have connections and shared experiences built through past encounters.  Claudio and Hero, however, have no past encounter, while Beatrice and Benedick have a previous history.

Despite never having met her before the start of the play, Claudio has an immediate attraction to Hero.  When he is alone with his friend Benedick, Claudio tells him that “In mine eye she  is the sweetest lady that ever I looked on” (I.1.180-181).  It would seem that this attraction Claudio has for Leonato’s daughter is purely the result of, first, physical beauty and, second, the desire to marry a noble and virtuous woman. While Claudio can’t be faulted for desiring such qualities in a wife, it is telling that he is ready to marry her after only this first meeting and that he goes to Leonato, not Hero herself, to purpose marriage.

In his essay, “Deception in Much Ado About Nothing”, Richard Henze writes, “as Claudio falls in love with Hero’s beautiful face but not with her feelings while Don Pedro arranges a profitable marriage, convention is excessively restrictive and sincere human feeling is deficient” (192).  This “window shopping” manner of selecting a wife completely eliminates any meaningful interaction between the couple and doesn’t allow for any understanding or emotional connections to develop.  This lack of connection is in large part what allows Claudio to be tricked by Don John later in the play.

In contrast to Hero and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick have a previous history with one another before the opening moments of the play, and though they play the part of not liking each other, it is clear that the seeds for a blossoming romance are already in place.  Beatrice’s first line in the play, in fact, in response to the news that Don Pedro is returning to Messina, is to ask, “is Signor Mountanto  returned from the wars or no?” (I.1.29-30).

Though she pretends indifference, Beatrice asks several questions about Benedick and seems generally interested in his current welfare.  Not only do Beatrice and Benedick know each other at the start of the play, but there is evidence that at one point they may have even tried to start a romantic relationship.  In response to Don Pedro’s jest that she has “lost the heart of Senior Benedick”, Beatrice replies, “Indeed, my lord, he lent it me awhile, and I gave him use for it, a double heart for his single one.

Marry, once before he won it of me with false dice; therefore your Grace may well say I have lost it” (II.1.263-268).  Clearly, unlike Hero and Claudio, Beatrice and Benedick have the past history with one another in order to build a relationship that is based on something other than physical beauty or money.  Instead, the relationship “is characterized by sincere feeling and trust” (Henze 193).  In short, Beatrice and Benedick understand each other, while Claudio and Hero don’t even know each other.

It is this type of understanding between people that leads to the second ingredient that Shakespeare is demonstrating to be a part of a successful relationship, which is trust.  On two occasions during Much Ado About Nothing, Claudio is shown to have no faith in his relationship Hero, accusing both friends and Hero herself of betraying him.  This lack of trust grows from the fact that Claudio and Hero haven’t had the chance to connect with each other in any meaningful way.  Beatrice and Benedick, once they have finally admitted to having feelings for the other person, do have strong level of trust, however, as demonstrated by their staying together when the actions of Claudio threaten to tear them apart.

Claudio’s lack of trust is first demonstrated by the ease in which Don John is able to persuade him that Don Pedro has wooed Hero for himself.  When Don John, pretending to think that Claudio is Benedick, tells Claudio that Don Pedro has confessed his love to Hero, Claudio doesn’t bother to seek further proof, instead immediately lamenting:

Thus answer I in name of Benedick,
But hear these ill news with the ears of Claudio.
‘Tis certain so.  The Prince woos for himself.
Friendship is constant in all other things
Save in the office and affairs of love;
Therefore all hearts in love use their own tongues.
Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent; for beauty is a witch
Against whose charms faith melteth into blood.
This is an accident of hourly proof,
Which I mistrusted not.  Farwell therefore Hero! (II.1.166-176)

With no other evidence other that the word of Don John, Claudio is ready to believe that his friend Don Pedro has betrayed him.  Without any emotional connection to Hero, Claudio cannot trust her or anyone who interacts with her on his behalf, and so he is quick to believe the worst.

Claudio’s lack of trust is preyed upon by Don John again later in the play, with much harsher results, when Don John convinces him that Hero has been having an affair with Borachio.  Again, Claudio makes no attempt to investigate the situation further once he is shown the false scene in the window, and he immediately makes plans to humiliate Hero at their wedding tomorrow.  This event is also important because one of the most attractive features of Hero to Claudio, her virtuousness, has in his eyes been spoiled.  Without an emotional attachment to Hero, Claudio has no reason to trust her, thus she is easily made into a villain in his eyes.

Claudio’s humiliate of Hero at their wedding, interestingly enough, is the event that proves Beatrice and Benedick’s trust in one another.  After Claudio has made his accusations and left, Beatrice is the first and, along with the Friar, only one to come to Hero’s defense, immediately denying the charges Claudio has put upon her cousin.  Later in the scene, when Benedick tells Beatrice he loves her, she asks him to kill Claudio.  He refuses, but Beatrice makes her case for Hero’s innocence.  Although Benedick is still reluctant, he puts his trust in her opinion:

Benedick.  Think you in your soul the Count Claudio hath wronged Hero?
Beatrice.  Yea, as sure as I have a thought or a soul.
Benedick.  Enough, I am engaged.  I will challenge him.  (IV.1.327-330)

We see, in the face of Claudio’s lack of trust, the trust Benedick has in Beatrice, as he is willing to challenge his friend to a duel on the word of the woman he loves.

When a romantic relationship has understanding and trust, commitment follows close behind according to the view Shakespeare is demonstrating in Much Ado About Nothing.  Consequently, because they lack understanding or trust, Claudio and Hero’s relationship feels flimsy, and Claudio himself shows in several scenes a lack of emotional commitment to the woman he wants to marry.

With our second couple, however, the relationship seems to be much deeper and more likely to persist into the future, not only because of Beatrice and Benedick’s understanding and trust of one another, but also, as David Bevington writes in his introduction to the play, “because of their refusal to settle for the illusory clichés of many young wooers” (219).

Claudio’s commitment to Hero is in question from the play’s very beginning.  As Don Pedro and Benedick are inquiring about Claudio’s feelings for the young woman, Claudio says, “If my passion change not shortly, God forbid it should be otherwise” (I.1.209-210).  According to Carl Dennis, in his essay “Wit and Wisdom in Much Ado About Nothing”, Claudio in this passage “seems to admit a lack of complete confidence in the strength and stability of his emotions” (231).  Later, immediately upon seeing the scene in the window between Borachio and Margaret, Claudio rejects Hero in his mind with no further proof.  We are told of his reaction through Borachio’s retelling of the story to Conrade, when he says, “away went Claudio enraged; swore he would meet her, as he was appointed, next morning at the temple, and there, before the whole congregation, shame her with what he saw o’ernight and send her home again without a husband” (III.3.156-160).

This, again, seems to be a very sudden rejection of a woman he supposedly loves based on minimal evidence, but Dennis notes that “Claudio is disposed to accept flimsy appeals to his senses because he has never fully committed himself to Hero, never rejected his suppressed doubts about the value of love”.  He goes on to write that “If love means anything here it should mean a special will to believe in the goodness of the beloved.  Because Claudio’s love is superficial, that special will does not exist” (232-233).  Claudio’s opinion of Hero quickly reverses yet again towards the end of the play when he finds out she has been framed by Don John and Borachio:

Don Pedro
But did my brother set thee on to this?
Borachio.  Yea, and paid me richly for the practice of it.
Don Pedro
He is composed and framed of treachery,
And fled he is upon this villany.

Sweet Hero! Now thy image doth appear
In the rare semblance that I loved it first. (V.1.241-246)

Because Claudio is only concerned with Hero’s virtuousness, his commitment to her is only as strong as his belief and faith in this fact about her.  Since we have already seen that this faith is easily shaken, we know his commitment to her cannot be very strong.

Projecting the patterns of behavior we see from the characters in this play, it is quite easy to create a “virtual future” for Claudio, Hero, Beatrice, and Benedick.  Without a solid base of understanding or trust, there can never be a real commitment from Claudio to Hero unless they can develop emotional connections during their marriage.  This seems difficult to imagine, being the pattern that emerges in the play of Claudio’s complete lack of trust in Hero.

It seems more likely that, since he was so easily made to believe that Hero had betrayed him before, Claudio will constantly be battling against jealousy and concerns about Hero’s faithfulness to him, a battle that would surely drive a wedge into their relationship.  Beatrice and Benedick, however, seem destined to have a strong marriage built on their mutual understanding, trust, and commitment to one another.

Although it may appear at first that Much Ado About Nothing is just another of Shakespeare’s romantic comedies with a typical happy ending in which everyone gets married and lives, presumably, “happily ever after”, a closer examination shows that Shakespeare has actually used his young lovers as a comment on the meaning of love and relationships.  Given how common the Claudio/Hero type of quickly arranged marriage was during the Elizabethan age, this message would have been of importance to the audience of the time.  In Much Ado About Nothing Shakespeare is giving his opinion on the issue of true love versus sudden romance, and he is weighing in favor of true love.

Works Cited

Bevington, David.  “Introduction to Much Ado About Nothing”.  The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Fifth Edition.  New York: Pearson, 2004.

Dennis, Carl.  “Wit and Wisdom in Much Ado About Nothing”.  Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 13.2 (1973): 223-237.

Henze, Richard.  “Deception in Much Ado About Nothing”.  Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900  11.2 (1971): 187-201.

McCollom, William G.  “The Role of Wit in Much Ado About Nothing”.  Shakespeare Quarterly 19.2 (1968): 165-174

Shakespeare, William.  Much Ado About Nothing. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare: Fifth Edition.  David Bevington, ed.  New York: Pearson, 2004.

Like many of his comedies, William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing involves young couples getting together, or trying to get together, and ends with the happy lovers getting married.  On the surface this appears to be a rather fairy-tale like ending, and both sets of lovers in this play, Claudio with Hero and Beatrice with […]


The nature of Montresor’s revenge in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is controversial; critics disagree upon several applicable questions. Is Montresor’s revenge a success or a failure? Is Montresor remorseful about murdering Fortunato? What is Fortunato’s insult and Montresor’s murder motive? The ambiguity of Montresor’s revenge has prompted numerous conflicting responses to these questions; however, the story’s evidence and certain critics’ insights suggest that Montresor’s revenge scheme ultimately fails, he is unremorseful, and his motive is based on religious-politico issues (yet somewhat ambiguous).

Unsuccessful and Unremorseful

Montresor’s revenge scheme is unsuccessful because it does not ultimately fulfill either of his two rules of revenge: “I must not only punish, but punish with impunity” and “the avenger [must] make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong” (Poe 848). Marvin Felheim maintains that since the crime has gone undetected “for the half of a century” (854), Montresor successfully implements his first rule. However, James E. Rocks asserts that Montresor is punished by fifty years of angst over the murder, “even if he cannot define those feelings nor experience genuine remorse” Sam Moon takes Rocks’ assumption a step further, asserting that Montresor experiences a lifetime of genuine and haunting remorse.

Moon claims that Montresor’s final phrase, “Rest in peace,” infers that, in confessing, he finally finds serenity (301). Many critics support Moon’s theory, but it is implausible. First, Montresor states that revenge is his motive, and a lack of remorse points more directly to a revenge motive than to any other; vindication for a perceived offense is easier to justify (thus, less likely to be regretted). Moreover, Montresor does not appear to be remorseful; his detailed recollection of every evil laugh and taunt underlines cruel arrogance, not remorse. He is careful to outline not the horror, but the genius in his scheme. In addition, Moon mistakes one of Montresor’s statements as evidence of remorse: “My heart grew sick – on account of the dampness of the catacombs.” There is a more compelling reason for Montresor’s heart to grow sick, that coincides with both his failed revenge and remorselessness.

Jay Jacoby points out that ironist critics generally find Montresor’s comment deceptive (e.g., the horror of his crime suddenly sweeps over him, but he tries to hide it from himself or his listener) (344). Jacoby offers a different perspective:

“… a stronger case can be made for another emotion underlying Montresor’s hasty rationalization: sudden disappointment as his carefully planned drama of revenge aborts at the untimely end of its main character … who dies still unaware of Montresor’s motives and before suffering the slow suffocation that would provide him time to fathom these motives.” (344)

Under this interpretation, the final bell jingling Montresor hears from Fortunato’s costume (followed by silence) suggests neither madness (as Moon asserts) nor comprehension of his insult and resignation to his fate (as Felheim insists) (Felheim, Moon, and Pearce 300), but immediate death caused by exposure to the cold, damp catacombs during illness. This unexpected turn of events would foil Montresor’s plan to fulfill his second rule of revenge, that “the avenger [must] make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong” (Poe 848). Jacoby continues: “Montresor’s choice of the mode of execution – slow-suffocation – suggests that he did not expect Fortunato to recognize his motive immediately, but to sober up and then, in walled in solitude, to discern gradually the cumulative result of the ‘injuries’ he had perpetrated on Montresor” (343). The terror of Fortunato’s situation (portrayed by a “succession of loud and shrill screams”) (Poe 853) combined with his persistent cough could initiate sudden death. Jacoby also claims that Montresor is troubled by the possibility when his final mocking words go unanswered (344):

But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew impatient. I called aloud –

“Fortunato!” No answer. I called again –

“Fortunato!” No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of the bells. (Poe 854)

Montresor subsequently hears only the sound of chains from Fortunato; he then sits upon the bones, to “hearken to [the sound] with the more satisfaction.” (Poe 853). Jacoby suggests that Montresor’s perverse gratification “… remains incomplete if Fortunato ultimately fails to recognize his tormentor as an ‘avenger’ per se, which Fortunato gives no explicit indication of having done prior to his final silence.” This explains Montresor’s increasing impatience for a reply; his revenge scheme necessitates a conscious victim. Jacoby claims that Montresor thrusts a torch at Fortunato’s head and allows it to fall at his feet in a “… final effort to arouse his victim, suggesting that he is beginning to suspect that Fortunato is already dead.” The jingling of bells that follows, under this interpretation, is not a sign that Fortunato is still alive, but evidence that Fortunato has fallen to his death: “Surely a conscious Fortunato, no matter how stoic, would have cried out in response to the flame.” Jacoby also proposes that Montresor’s subsequent haste “… implies a recognition that the ‘satisfaction’ to be derived from his victim has ended.” Montresor’s second rule of revenge, making his vengeful purpose known to Fortunato, fails (344).

Jacoby also suggests that Montresor’s “rationalization” for his sick heart (“… on account of the dampness of the catacombs”) infers that he recognizes the irony of his self-defeat, but cannot directly admit it. He suggests that Montresor’s final words, “Rest in peace,” are more sincere than many critics assume – an indirect admission of Fortunato’s “one-upmanship” (344). Jacoby insists that Montresor has been tormented for a lifetime, not by remorse, but by his comprehension of F’s final victory; hence, his first rule of revenge, to “punish with impunity” (Poe 848), fails. Within Jacoby’s incisive theory, neither of Montresor’s rules of revenge succeeds.

Montresor’s Motive / Fortunato’s Insult

Jacoby’s theory, supporting Montresor’s unsuccessful revenge and remorselessness, seems most consistent with the story’s evidence; however, it does not define Fortunato’s insult, left ambiguous by Poe. Many critics seem hesitant to conjecture about the nature of the insult, while others maintain diverse opinions about it. Felheim’s theory of a religious-politico based motive, supported by Rocks but criticized by others, warrants further consideration. Although Poe does not disclose Fortunato’s specific insult, it seems to be associated with religious-politico issues.

Felheim and Rocks believe that Fortunato’s affiliation with Freemasonry is the fatal insult. While definitive evidence for this theory is weak, the historic CatholicMasonic conflict seems significant to Montresor’s revenge (in light of Montresor’s Italian, presumably Catholic descent and Fortunato’s “grotesque” Masonic gesture) (Poe 851). Freemasonry, though not a religion, embraces religious elements (Lewis 113), some of which conflict with Catholicism. Rocks states: “Although the time of Poe’s story is unclear, it could be set during the period of forthright Catholic reaction against Freemasonry: by the eighteenth century some Masons of the French, Italian and other Latin lodges were hostile to the Church… .” He also points out that the oaths and rituals of FreeMasonry were seen as a threat to church and state. In such a context, Montresor might view Fortunato as not only a heretic, but a political enemy of Catholicism’s secular domination.

John Freehafer disputes this theory: “Since Montresor had no prior knowledge that Fortunato was a Mason, he could not have used Masonry as an excuse for his premeditated crime.” (317). However, Freehafer’s only evidence that Montresor was previously unaware of Fortunato’s affiliation is Montresor’s surprise at the Masonic gesture; Masonic signs are secretive, so the gesture might have startled Montresor whether or not he was aware of Fortunato’s membership. Even so, Masonry membership is probably not the entirety of Fortunato’s insult. While acknowledging the general religious-politico foundation of the murder motive, Shannon Burns asserts: “… Montresor does not propose to kill Masons as a general religious principle. In the nature of Italian revenge his injury is specific: ‘… when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge’ … Fortunato must have directed his insult against Montresor’s family…”. This seems reasonable, since the story focuses on both Catholicism and Montresor’s family. The two could be interconnected; an insult against Montresor’s family might likewise defame his religion, and vice versa. Hence, the “thousand injuries of Fortunato” (Poe 848) are likely related to the religious-politico conflict, but the fatal insult is a more specific defamation against Montresor’s family and religion. It need not be precisely defined, beyond those terms. Perhaps the decades of conjecture surrounding Fortunato’s insult would amuse Poe; he may have intended that it remain relatively ambiguous.

Other Interpretations

Other critics have devised various murder motives for Montresor that are weak or flawed in logic. Joy Rea asserts that revenge is not Montresor’s motive, and that Montresor murders Fortunato simply because Fortunato genuinely loves him. She claims that Montresor only speaks of revenge to direct attention away from his perverse need to destroy a friend (306-07). Although Rea’s theory is reminiscent of the murderers of “The Black Cat” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” (who kill people with whom they have warm relationships), it glosses over Fortunato’s two offensive insinuations: “I forget your arms” and “You? Impossible! A mason?” (Poe 850-51). If Fortunato indisputably loves Montresor, why would he intimate that the Montresor family is easily forgotten in its social exile, and that Montresor is not of the elite Masonic brotherhood (an aristocratic society, in the eighteenth century) (“Freemasonry”)? Moreover, Montresor is different from Poe’s other murderers: his narrative is calm, he is not delusional, he asserts a revenge motive, and he confesses in his old age. It follows that Montresor’s motive might be different, as well. Rea’s theory also necessitates the construction of some ulterior reason for which Montresor verifies revenge as his motive; directing attention away from another motive is merely a conjecture – a weak one, at that.

Although John H. Randall aptly suggests that the specific nature of Fortunato’s insult is irrelevant, he maintains that Fortunato deserves his fate because, despite his high birth, he merely presumes to a gentleman’s code held by “a little band of undisputed aristocrats” in the Middle Ages. Randall claims that the code, which depends not only on birth but also on “personal bravery and coolness,” allows a gentleman to personally “redress” any affront to his personal honor (seeking lawful recourse is below aristocrats) (302).

Randall claims that Montresor devises a series of “tests” to see if Fortunato is a true gentleman. For example, Montresor gives Fortunato repeated chances to escape his fate and shows him the murder weapon, as gentlemanly revenge requires, but Fortunato is not wise (hence, not gentlemanly) enough to recognize the hints. That Montresor is evaluating Fortunato is unlikely; no gentleman could pass such tests (particularly if intoxicated). Montresor is friendly to Fortunato and never utters a threat (Poe 848), so Fortunato is not necessarily unwise or ungentlemanly when he misses Montresor’s so-called cues. Further, Montresor has “definitively settled” his deliberate method of revenge in advance (Poe 848); if the certainty of Fortunato’s death was contingent upon his display of gentlemanly graces, Montresor would have included such a significant stipulation in his list of revenge rules. Moreover, Fortunato’s final plea, mimicked heartlessly by Montresor, indicates that more than mere class distinction is involved – the murder motive pivots on religion: “For the love of God, Montresor!” (Poe 854).

A third critic, James W. Gargano, maintains that Montresor’s motive arises from his fragmented psyche (312). He assumes Montresor is divided against himself, hence, unable to see the binding qualities of his resemblance to Fortunato (portrayed by mirroring symbolism, such as Montresor’s imitation of Fortunato’s supplications). Gargano believes that the revenge’s failure is not caused by remorse, but “… an inability to harmonize the disparate parts of his nature …” (313) – though he sees Montresor as remorseful as well as insane (an unlikely combination). It is clear that the story includes mirroring symbolism, but Montresor’s fragmented psyche (insanity) does not necessarily follow. Gargano himself points out that Montresor neither “loudly and madly proclaims his sanity” (as in “The Tell-Tale Heart”) nor suffers agonizing hallucinations that lead to self-betrayal (as in “The Black Cat” and “Ligeia”), but tells his tale with “outward calm and economy” (311).

Though Gargano claims that Montresor’s rational demeanor is deceptive, it would more likely represent interior sanity. The presumption many critics (including Gargano) make – that the same motive drives each of Poe’s murderers, hence, each must be insane – disregards the complexity and individuality of Poe’s characters.

Gargano also claims that Montresor’s internal discord distorts his reality, creating double meanings in his mind: wine vaults double as burial vaults; Fortunato’s Masonic sign contrasts with Montresor’s sinister pun; Montresor alters meaning as he mimics Fortunato’s words; etc. (313). However, Poe provides no indication that these clever dualities are hallucinations, or that they stem from inner conflict. They could merely be symbols of an ironic, simultaneous resemblance and divergence between the men, perhaps intended to highlight their joint membership in a brotherhood that transcends religious-politico differences: humanity. Gargano also argues that Montresor’s divided psyche causes him, following Fortunato’s vociferous screams, to tremble and unsheathe his rapier (314); however, Montresor might hesitate merely from fear that someone might hear the screams and discover his criminal activity. (This fear is momentary; as he feels the “solid fabric of the catacombs,” he is satisfied that no sound will penetrate them) (Poe 853).

Since Montresor is sane, his revenge motive must be somewhat rational (unlike fear of an evil eye as in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or a cat’s bewitching in “The Black Cat” – or the need to remunerate love with murder, in both). Moreover, if Montresor’s motive draws from a religious-politico foundation, one might expect the presence of religious symbolism. That Montresor’s motive stems from the coherence of revenge based on religious-politico conflict precludes his insanity more than Rea’s theory (a murder motive of love), or Gargano’s theory (a split psyche). Felheim’s theory regards Montresor’s sanity but shows the revenge as successful, even fitting (300). Though Randall’s theory is also consistent with Montresor’s sanity, and is accurate in its stance that the Italian code of revenge coincides with Montresor’s rules of revenge (Burns), it focuses too sharply on social distinction and fails to account for the religious symbolism throughout the story.

For example, Montresor’s coat of arms is a Satanic serpent bruising the heel of a human foot (Poe 851); moreover, Montresor speaks of his ritualistic, profane act as an “immolation” (Poe 848). Elements of Christ’s passion are also introduced: the carnival parallels the Passover; the method of ensnaring Fortunato is intimate betrayal (resembling Judas’ kiss); like Fortunato, Christ is led to a “place of skulls” (Golgotha); and the wine they seek has sacred and sacrificial overtones (Amontillado means “from the mountain”) (Felheim, Moon, and Pearce 301). These symbols suggest a parody of biblical events, underlining the significance of Catholicism in Montresor’s motive.


These contrasting theories, while barely touching on the plethora of critical opinion over Montresor’s revenge, illustrate the extent of divergence surrounding the story. Regardless of the persistent controversy, few critics dispute that “The Cask of Amontillado” ranks as one of Poe’s superlative achievements.

Works Cited

Burns, Shannon. “‘The Cask of Amontillado': Montresor’s Revenge.” Poe Studies 7.1 (June 1974): 25. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.

Felheim, Marvin, Sam Moon and Donald Pearce. “The Cask of Amontillado.” Notes and Queries 1.10 (Oct. 1954): 447-49. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Nesbitt. Vol. 35. Boston: Gale Group, 2000.

Freehafer, John. “Poe’s ‘Cask of Amontillado': A Tale of Effect.” Jahrbuch für Amerikastudien Ed. Ernst Fraenkel, et al. N.p.: 1968: 134-42. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Ann Nesbitt. Vol. 35. Boston: Gale Group, 2000.

Freemasonry.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.

Gargano, James W. “‘The Cask of Amontillado': A Masquerade of Motive and Identity.” Studies in Short Fiction 4.2 (Winter 1967): 119-26. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Nesbitt. Vol. 35. Boston: Gale Group, 2000.

Jacoby, Jay. “Fortunato’s Premature Demise in ‘The Cask of Amontillado’.” Poe Studies 12.2 (Dec. 1979): 30-31. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Ann Nesbitt. Vol. 35. Boston: Gale Group, 2000.

Lewis, James R. Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1999. NetLibrary. National U Lib. System, San Diego, CA.

Poe, Edgar Allan. “The Cask of Amontillado.” Poetry, Tales, and Selected Essays. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc., 1996.

Randall, John H. III. “Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado’ and the Code of the Duello.” Studia Germanica Gandensig 5 (1963): 175-84. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Nesbitt. Vol. 35. Boston: Gale Group, 2000.

Rea, Joy. “Poe’s ‘The Cask of Amontillado’.” Studies in Short Fiction 4.1 (Fall 1966): 57-69. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Nesbitt. Vol. 35. Boston: Gale Group, 2000.

Rocks, James E. “Conflict and Motive in ‘The Cask of Amontillado’.” Poe Studies 5.2 (Dec. 1972): 50. The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore, Inc.

Introduction The nature of Montresor’s revenge in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” is controversial; critics disagree upon several applicable questions. Is Montresor’s revenge a success or a failure? Is Montresor remorseful about murdering Fortunato? What is Fortunato’s insult and Montresor’s murder motive? The ambiguity of Montresor’s revenge has prompted numerous conflicting responses to […]

Contrasting in tone, style, and content, Grigorij Machtet’s depictions of American rural life in the mid-late 1870’s, “The Prairie and the Pioneers” and “Frey’s Community,” nonetheless share some common themes with Maxim Gorky’s portrait of American urban life in the beginning of the twentieth century, “City of the Yellow Devil.” While similarly disparaging the actions of the American bourgeoisie and the greed often shown in the business world of the US, their views on American democracy diverge sharply. Although they view two different dimensions of American life, at two different points in history, with two different perspectives, and, as the logical result, tell two different stories and come to two different conclusions, there remain linkages between their experiences, their stories, and their interpretations of America.

Both authors recognize greed-driven and exploitative business dealings as a staple of American economics. Machtet describes the prairie merchants as “people of a special cast of mind and morality…whose entire task and goal is to make money without producing anything” (Prairie 32). He goes on to describe with amazement, tinged slightly by sarcasm, the business of buying goods in one area only to resell them in another, for ludicrously high prices (32). Thus, he highlights one of the ironies of capitalism: that one can make more money by skillfully manipulating the market than by actual productive labor. In other words, the man who actually produces a thing profits less than the man who simply buys it and sells it strategically.

Machtet then pauses to further explore the merchant phenomenon. Recognizing that the merchants engage in price-fixing, he explains their ability to avoid the usual decrease in prices resulting from competition (Prairie 32). His analysis of this situation points out one of the weaknesses of the “Invisible Hand” Theory1: it presupposes fair play and “perfect competition”2. The merchants Machtet speaks of capitalize upon high transaction costs3, as well as mutual agreements to keep the prices uniformly high, made possible by their already existing oligopoly4.

Machtet also recounts, rather humorously, but nonetheless critically, a company’s attempt to get President Grant to wear their socks, bearing their trademark (Frey’s 63). He notes that although the scheme outraged Grant, his vehement refusal generated publicity for the company (63). Again, Machtet mentions the merchant class, this time using the event of a political scandal to draw people to town and thus provide more business for themselves (65). Throughout, Machtet points out some of the negative conditions in America generated by the capitalist system.

Similar criticism occurs in Gorky’s essay, but here it becomes the main point of emphasis. Describing the “greediness of the Yellow Devil’s rich slaves,” Gorky portrays the vicious inequality that develops between the bourgeoisie and the “pitiful microbes of poverty,” the men and women whose labor feeds the city’s economy (Gorky 137). Through extended metaphors, Gorky describes the city itself as a type of inhuman monster, ruthlessly and insatiably devouring the lives, labor, and indeed the very souls of the people who work there (133). This personification artfully aims its cry of outrage at the people who own the grim factories and “the dark, silent skyscrapers…square, devoid of any desire to be beautiful” (133). Gorky’s constant references to gold, symbolizing the profit motive, recognize the private lust for more and more wealth, greater and greater economic growth, as the force which sets this monstrous machine in motion, imbuing it with life by transforming humanity into a mere tool used for its own purposes. The self-interested, short-sighted pursuit of profit by the few forces the many into a mechanical life of subjugation.

Gorky also provides a detailed description of the dehumanization and alienation resulting from the squalid conditions and bleak life of the proletariat (Gorky 137). He describes children fighting like wild dogs over scraps of food found in trash bins (137). Describing what those who live in the city often cannot see for themselves, he tells of the bitterly ironic illusions shrouding the vision of the people: “They have gotten used to their striving without a goal, used to thinking that there is a goal. In their eyes there is no anger toward the rule of iron, no hatred for its triumph” (135).

Machtet describes American democracy in glowing terms, praising the public involvement of the citizens (Prairie 26). He praises the democratic process by which the people adopted the Fence Law instead of the Herd Law, ignoring the fact that this decision, no matter how democratically reached, put the burden of extra time and work on those who were the poorest and newest to the community, those who had the least to spare (32).

Naively trusting in complete democracy, Machtet praises the mob “justice” that reigned in the prairie ( Prairie 47). With little chance to observe such things, let alone analyze and study them in a legal and statistical sense, Machtet comes to this conclusion not through reason or understanding of the facts, but from romanticization of life on the American prairie, and of the peasantry in general.

Gorky, on the other hand, takes a negative view of American democracy, seeing it as merely a transparent mask adorning the visage of a monstrous “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.” Using irony and personification, Gorky unmasks the hypocrisy of America, the destruction of the ideals it claims to represent, as he describes the statues of America’s founding fathers, neglected and ignored, all shreds of their former glory buried and forgotten beneath the glitz and grime or modern industrial capitalism (Gorky 134).

He goes on to further describe the so-called freedom of the masses, who despite suffrage and civil rights, still live lives controlled by their bosses, their companies, their economic status, still suffer under the horrid despotism of the time clock.5

The anti-capitalist stances of both Machtet and Gorky show through in their essays, but more openly and strongly in Gorky’s. Both have a political agenda in their writing. While Machtet praises American democracy, Gorky reviles it as just another trick of the ruling classes. The differences in the focus and content of their writing may largely generate from the difference in their politics and their experiences. Machtet, devotee of peasant socialism and visitor of the 1870’s American frontier, caught a glimpse of rural life which, at the time, remained more autonomous and freer from exploitation than city life. Also, Machtet envisions a form of socialism similar to the peasant commune. Thus, he focuses more on the methods of organization for these smaller, autonomous units, rather than the overarching governmental system, if there were to be any at all, ideally. Having looked to America as a possible spawning pool for socialist experiments, he seeks out possible opportunities and favorable conditions along that front.

Whereas Gorky, Bolshevik and visitor of an American industrialized city a year after the Russian Revolution of 1905, finds quite different conditions and takes a different political focus. While Machtet follows a more utopian socialist path, Gorky adheres to scientific socialist theory. Thus, he focuses on the class structure, the economic system, and the government resulting from it. His experiences show him the dark side of American life, the brutal economic inequalities that the market and democracy have both failed to solve. Having long viewed capitalism as a menace and America as a land engulfed by it, Gorky focused more intently upon the negative aspects of American urban life.

In the conclusion of “The Prairie and the Pioneers”, Machtet speaks of the Blue Valley meeting of clergy and worshipers (Prairie 50). Describing their diatribes against modern life and hopes for the future, he looks upon these people as good, pious, intelligent, and almost saintly. He concludes with the words: “And they say that they know this paradise and will show the way to it. There the sun shines eternally and there is neither sadness nor sorrow!” (50). Gorky’s essay, after pausing to notice a glimmer of hope in the existence of such men as a lone, rebellious thief, concludes with a final bleak personification: “The dismal City of the Yellow Devil raves in its sleep” (Gorky 142). In their journeys to America, Machtet saw the American Dream and Gorky saw the American Nightmare. One spoke of people like angels, the other of the devils of poverty and greed.

Works Cited

Gorky, Maxim. “City of the Yellow Devil.” America Through Russian Eyes. Ed., Trans. Olga Peters Hasty and Susanne Fusso. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. 128-143.

Machtet, Grigorij. “Frey’s Community.” America Through Russian Eyes. Ed., Trans. Olga Peters Hasty and Susanne Fusso. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. 54-82.

Machtet, Grigorij. “The Prairie and the Pioneers.” America Through Russian Eyes. Ed., Trans. Olga Peters Hasty and Susanne Fusso. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. 16-53.

1 The “Invisible Hand” Theory, posited by Adam Smith, states that the diverse market forces within the self-interest-driven, capitalist system, counterbalance each other to create natural equilibrium and stability within the system.

2 “Perfect competition” entails a large market of many buyers and sellers, none of whom can individually manipulate the price of a product, as well as a homogeneous product, well-informed consumers, and the absence of transaction costs.

3 Transaction costs are the extra time, money, etc. spent in acquiring lower priced goods, due to fees, tariffs, having to travel a farther distance, etc. In other words, the relative inconvenience of attaining goods for a lower price.

4 An oligopoly is a market condition in which there are many buyers and only a small group of sellers for a given product.

5 “…it is only the independence of the axe in the carpenter’s hand, of the hammer in the blacksmith’s hand, of the brick in the hands of an invisible mason who, grinning slyly, is building one enormous but cramped prison for everyone” (Gorky 135).

Contrasting in tone, style, and content, Grigorij Machtet’s depictions of American rural life in the mid-late 1870’s, “The Prairie and the Pioneers” and “Frey’s Community,” nonetheless share some common themes with Maxim Gorky’s portrait of American urban life in the beginning of the twentieth century, “City of the Yellow Devil.” While similarly disparaging the actions […]

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