Part 1 Reading Responses
Week 5. Describe the character of Lanval’s lady and the character of Queen Guinevere in Lanval by Marie de France. Compare and contrast them, commenting on their different characteristics, social standing, relationships with other characters, and roles/functions in the unfolding of the narrative.
Gender role is at the heart of Marie’s lay Lanval. The two most bold and powerful characters are women. Although Lanval’s lady and Guinevere are strikingly different, they both challenge the stereotypical function of a woman’s role in society. The narrative is predominantly dictated by the influence of both women.
Lanval’s fairy-like lover’s introduction is praiseworthy and dramatically built up. We are not only made aware of her description, but also of this which are associated with her: her maids, her wealth, and her grand tent. She is an extremely beautiful lady. She possesses fair skin, curly blonde hair and dark eyebrows. She is powerful and wealthy, yet mysterious. Although she is one of the most important characters, yet she is interestingly unnamed. Furthermore, she is faithful, gentle and generous. Guinevere on the other hand is unfaithful and dishonest. She is open to use her status to flirt with Lanval to gain sexual approval.
Guinevere is a part of the kingdom and courtly love. Being the Queen of England, she is also a powerful figure. Although Guinevere has influence, her power is attributed to her royalty, not from her own character.
We are introduced to Lanval’s lover at a time when he has hit rock bottom. He flees town, escaping loneliness, marginalisation and his loyal knightly duties. It is at this point, in solitude where his life will be changed forever. The build up to his first encounter to the most beautiful woman of the land is quite extraordinary. I find the dramatic descriptions of her wealth, beauty and exclusiveness to be intense. It is interesting that Lanvals lady is the key character of the narrative, yet she is unnamed. It could be part of her exclusiveness and an effort to keep her status high that she is referred to as Lanvals lady. We also know that she is a mystical and mysterious character. It is not known if she is a fairy or a human being. What are the chances of stumbling across two beautiful maids and a grand tent, in which resides the most beautiful woman of the land? Surely the knights of Arthur would have discovered her at some point. After all, it was a period of war and struggle, as indicated that Arthur was concerned about the Picts and Scottss.
Furthermore, she is loyal. Her love for Lanval is genuine and pure. She is also a generous lady, promising Lanval with self-sufficient wealth, provided he will not disclose his encounter with her.
Week 11. King Lear. Secondary Source.
Dr Wallace rightfully alludes that there is never a dull moment in King Lear. There are twists and turns right up to the end – Wallace. Dr Wallace observes that the end of King Lear is excessively tragic. The emphasis at the end suggests that the beginning is comparatively less tragic. While I empathise that death and killing occurs in the final scenes of the play, I do however assert that the causation is equally tragic. The events at the beginning and middle of the story which caused the peak of tragedy at the end are equally as tragic as the ending.
From the very beginning we learn that Lear is a tragic hero. Lears fails to foresee that his power is reliant on his throne. His lack of wisdom and foresight makes him give away his kingdom to his deceitful and greedy older daughters.
Furthermore, Edmunds manipulative nature and clever schemes aid to the tragic events to follow. Perhaps his insecurity and self-entitlement stems from being an illegitimate son. His first evil ploy to turn his father and brother against each other. Then, his grand plan to use Goneril and Regan to his advantage.
Upon expelling their father out of his own kingdom, Lear had to resort to seeking refuge with his friend Gloucester. The extent of his suffering leads to his madness. Although both daughters work as a unit to bring down Lear and snatch his land, they despise each other. Regal notices the lustful tension between her husband and Goneril and wants revenge.
These bleak moments lead up to the ‘frenzy of tragic events’ – Wallace. Lear’s situation leads to his death and Cordelia, his one and only supporting daughter is murdered. In the midst, Goneril poisons her sister Regal, before taking her own life.
Although the heaviest scenes are in the final acts, the entire play is scattered with tragedies in their own right.
Part 2 Essay
In LIT107, we have studied King Lear, The Duchess of Malfi, and The Tempest. Which playwright offers the profounder insight into human nature, in your view? Discuss at least TWO (2) plays, and support your analysis with detailed reference to each text: give act, scene and line numbers for all quotations from, paraphrases of, and allusions to, the texts.
William Shakespeare incorporated a wide range of personalities in his tragedy, King Lear and his comedy, The Tempest. Both plays consist of complex characters and interesting social behaviours which allow us to explore and engage in deeper discussion into the human nature of these characters.
The most complex of all is King Lear. His role is not limited to being the head of state. Rather, we see him from a variety of angles. His human nature is expressed through his fatherhood to his daughters, friendship to Gloucester and his behaviour as an enemy.
Lear as a father craves unconditional love, praise and admiration from his daughters, in return for his kingdom. Lear values the approval of his daughters far greater than his throne. A father seeks to constantly please and fulfil the needs of his children. Due to the extent of sacrifices parents make, seeking approval and love is an reasonable expectation.
The false praises of his two eldest girls were received well by Lear. Although they exaggerated their love for him, it was comforting to him, as they cleverly told him what he wanted to hear. Their behaviour alludes to the selfishness of human nature. If the stakes are high, humans will even manipulate family for personal gain.
In contrast, Cordelia, the youngest of the three expressed her love honestly without exaggeration. While she was the most honest of the three, her level of praise was unsatisfactory to Lear, resulting in her banishment. Lear’s reaction toward Cordelia exposes his fragile emotional condition. Her truthful response failed to fill the emptiness of his yearning for approval.
Upon receiving their share of land, Gonerill and Regan’s greed extended to Lear’s entire kingdom. Their evil grew so much, that they perceived their own father as an obstacle between them attaining ultimate power. Their heartless ploy to kill Lear is a testimony that the love for power and greed for wealth is the root of all evil. So much so that it can make a person capable of mowing down loved ones to achieve it.
Their wicked attitude made him realise his lapse in judgement toward his truthful youngest daughter, Cordelia. His decision to expel her resulted in extreme guilt and regret, which also contribute to his insanity. Lear faced emotional turmoil after the death of Cordelia in the final scenes of the play. “And my poor fool [Cordelia] is hanged. No, no, life! Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life and thou no breath at all”.
Furthermore, King Lear welcomed suggestions from the Fool. Although he had absolute power and was surrounded by obedient servants, King Lear allowed fool to speak freely. In the presence of authority and sound hierarchy, a lowly worker who speaks freely is perceived as lack of King Lear’s authority and weakness. While the social status of fools are low, his advice for his master was wise and sincere.
Lear: Dost thou call me fool, boy?
Fool: All thy other titles thou hast given away; that thou wast born with. (1.4.141-143) (Shakespeare).
A noteworthy feature of the Fools interactions with King Lear is his ability to convey an honest opinion. Seldom do friends give honest feedback which is truly in the best interest of the friend. In most cases, people say what the other wants to hear. Particularly if the other is more powerful, and by telling sweet tales it will serve self-interests. In this case, the fool is able to harness the power of humour to articulate honest opinions and views.
After many tragic encounters and experiences, King Lear came to terms with the true nature of people and was able to distinguish the good from the bad. ‘Unaccommodated man is no more but such a poor, bare, forked animal as thou art.’
Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a brilliant attempt to address aspects of human nature. The use of a complex, yet interesting plot, along with a variety of personalities enables an enriched discussion to surface assumed and nuanced behaviours of humans.
Certain traits and impulses are uniform in all characters of the play. The most noteworthy commonality is the desire for power and control. The degree of the sought power differs from person to person. However, every character demonstrates that they seek power, control and liberty in their own capacities.
The love for power and control is first manifested in Prospero’s behaviour. His motive is to win back his throne and reclaim his status in Milan. His innate authoritative nature is carried with him to the island. Soon after arriving, his authoritative predisposition leads him to taking Ariel and Caliban as slaves. Prospero harnesses his leadership ability to establish order, civilisation and self-preservation. His ability to engage Ariel and Caliban with tasks is effortless.
Furthermore, Prospero recognises that a position of responsibility requires knowledge. He is constantly seeking knowledge to develop himself as a leader. An example of this is the knowledge of Magic. He utilises his knowledge and ability of Magic to sanction Sycorax and capture spirits as slaves.
Prospero’s brother Antonio plays an evil, deceitful and treacherous character. He removed his own brother from his position as Duke of Milan and assumed the position for himself. He even removed him from the country, to solidify his position. We are exposed to Antonio’s toxicity again in the latter part of the story. He manipulates Sebastian to kill his own brother Alonso, the King of Naples.
Social status and the colonialism is a major theme that shapes The Tempest. Prospero represents the coloniser. He perceives himself and his kind superior Caliban and the like. Caliban is depicted as the unfortunate native who is in need of the coloniser to civilise him. Caliban is perceived as such firstly due to being different. He doesn’t fit the bill for an ideal civilised man because he is not human, rather another creature. Secondly, his illegitimacy impacts his social status. Prospero maintains his generalised view of Caliban as the other. Interestingly, his daughter does not share this view.
In the final scenes of the play, Prospero is faced with his adversaries on the island including Antonio and Alonso. At this point, the viewer assumes that Prospero will rightfully exercise justice and inflict punishment upon them for their wrongdoings towards him. Instead, Prospero forgives all those who harmed and attempted to harm him. It is at this point we realise the bigger picture. That Prospero orchestrated the storm to gather the wrong doers in one place, just to forgive them. The wrongdoers in turn regretted their doings and repented, remorsefully.
We can deduct from this that the Duke of Milan, Prospero was a faithful Christian. His vision was to bring people closer to Christianity. He realised that he will more likely achieve this by softening their hearts and exposing them to forgiveness and repentance, rather than applying the force of justice.
- Wallace, J. (n.d.). The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Learning Module, Week 13.
- Cliffsnotes.com. (2019). Play Summary. [online] Available at: https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/t/the-tempest/play-summary [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].
- Cerezo, S. (2019). Human Nature and Superiority. [online] Summer Shakespeare at New Paltz. Available at: https://npshakes.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/human-nature-and-superiority/ [Accessed 21 Jun. 2019].
- Study.com. (2019). What is Human Nature? – Definition, Theories & Examples – Video & Lesson Transcript | Study.com. [online] Available at: https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-human-nature-definition-theories-examples.html [Accessed 20 Jun. 2019].
- Aqa.org.uk. (2019). Aspects of tragedy: text overview – King Lear. [online] Available at: https://www.aqa.org.uk/resources/english/as-and-a-level/english-literature-b/teach/text-overview-king-lear [Accessed 20 Jun. 2019].