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Essay Due: Wednesday, 11/21 at the beginning of class

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Debra Bronstein

English 44B

Essay 2: Drama
Essay Due: Wednesday, 11/21 at the beginning of class (note this is a change from the syllabus)
Papers should be 6 pages long, typed, double-spaced, Times New Roman 12 point font, 1-inch margins. You may extend your paper beyond the 6-page limit, as long as you are not repeating your ideas.
All papers should focus on analysis, rather than plot summary. You should present a thought-provoking argument that is well argued throughout the paper. In order to help focus your reader, you should provide sufficient sign posting. In order to substantiate your main claims, you should also provide sufficient evidence by giving your reader the context for your quotes (set up of the quotes), quotes that lead beyond plot summary and paraphrase, and a detailed analysis that scrutinizes the language of the quote by looking at rhetorical techniques, linguistic flourishes, puns, symbolic references, allusions, textual inconsistencies, gaps, and historical references. You should not string quotes together, as the focus of your essay should be on how you are proving your argument; thus, you will always need to close read your quotes. Also, stick close to the historical time period of the Renaissance or Baroque; don’t modernize or bring in contemporary references.

Please choose one of the following prompts:

1. Lope de Vega: Fuenteovejuna

Lope de Vega is heralded as one of Spain’s most significant dramatists during the Golden Age. Instituting a new dramatic form, which he called the comedia in Arte nuevo de hacer comedias en este tiempo (1609), Lope de Vega broke away from the Renaissance adherence to the Aristotelian unities and instead created a three-act play combining dramatic and comic elements involving love, jealousy, honor and sometimes also piety or patriotism. For Vega, the comedia was essentially a social drama, bringing with it a thousand changes on the accepted foundations of society. It questions and perhaps re-establishes respect for crown, challenges the legitimacy of religion, and focuses on points of honor (both male and female). This “point of honour” was a matter largely of convention, “honour” being equivalent, in a very limited and brittle sense, to social reputation; men were expected to be brave and proud and not to put up with an insult, while “honour” for women basically meant maintaining their chastity (if unmarried) or their fidelity (if married). It followed that this was a drama less of character than of action and intrigue that rarely, if ever, grasped the true essence of tragedy, because in comedia, there always exists the happy outcome.

Using this explanation as background, make an argument about Lope de Vega’s agenda in Fuenteovejuna. According to Alison Weber’s review of Donald Gilbert-Santamaria’s book, Writers on the Market: Consuming Literature in Early Seventeenth-Century Spain, “Lope’s theatre is hardly populist.” She explains that Gilbert-Santamaria maintains that “Lope's play reinforces the legitimacy of established class hierarchy in ways that defuse other more radical forms of self-expression by marginalized groups.” He attributes this “containment of subversive discourses” to “Lope's sophisticated understanding of the psychology of his heterogeneous audience. Thus, the collective amnesia that settles over the inhabitants of Fuenteovejuna at the end of the play responds to the audience's desire for a happy ending—one that effaces the more terrifying excesses of individual autonomy.” (Alison Weber. Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies 10.1 (2006) 278-279)
Do you agree? Is this a play that contains subversion or allows for subversive acts in order to overthrow the Machiavellian character, Fernando Gomez de Guzman? In order to answer this, you’ll need to examine some of the following subpoints:

  • The role of women in the play

  • The role of the peasants/the community/ “the sheep”

  • The role of the king (the flip-floppy nature of his “support”)

  • The historical background (The Reconquest/the battle between control of land waged between Portugal and Spain)

  • The Machiavellian aspect of Gomez de Guzman

  • Questions of honor

  • Philosophical discourse

  • Whatever else you might think of!

2. Shakespeare, The Tempest

The Tempest (1611) was written at a time of exploration, discovery and intense interest in the native peoples of the "New World.” Europeans approached the "New World" with a curious mixture of benevolence, condescension and greed.  The economic stakes were high:  the raw materials of the "New World" (including native peoples -- Englishman had participated in the slave trade as early as the 1560s) represented untold wealth for the countries that laid claim to them, and thus England began to vie with Spain and France for colonial holdings.  (Shakespeare was linked to the Earls of Southhampton and Pembroke, leaders of the Virginia Company that sponsored a colonial expedition in 1609; published accounts of a shipwreck on that expedition may have influenced The Tempest. Europeans tended to feel that there was a moral imperative behind their nascent imperialism:  they were after all bringing the Word to the Godless, Civilization to the savage, and Culture to the ignorant (the analogies with Prospero's attitude toward Caliban are clear).  On the other hand, there was a current in Humanist thought that saw the "unspoiled" natives of the "New World" as a foil for the corruption of Europe (think about Montaigne’s account of the cannibals).

Given this backdrop, how does Shakespeare’s The Tempest comment on colonization? Is it something which should be promoted or something that is cautioned against? In order to answer this, you’ll need to consider some of the following issues:

  • Fitness to Rule: Who is the rightful ruler of the island? In the play, virtually every character expresses some desire to be lord of the island, so what constitutes legitimate rule?

    • Who originally had control over the island? Does it belong to Caliban? If so, how would you justify the way Caliban is presented in this play?

    • Prospero is the rightful duke of Milan, but was he a good and responsible ruler?  What did he care about most? Did Antonio have some justification in usurping the throne?  On the island, Prospero governs with absolute authority -- a strength he did not show as duke of Milan.  Is that why he regains his throne?  What is the source of his power upon the island?  Is there a relationship between that power and his weakness in Milan? 

    • What about Stephano and Trinculo’s desire to rule?

  • The role of the savage: Who is the savage (the native or the European)? Is there such a thing as the noble savage? You can bring Montaigne into this discussion. If you believe that the savage is the native (Caliban), then what does this say about the role of and need for colonization? If you believe the savages are the Europeans (as Montaigne suggests) and the natives are “natural men,” what then does this say about the evils of colonization (but can you believe that, given the characterization of Caliban)?

  • The role of nature/the environment vs the supernatural. This would include the storms and the island itself. Who has control over nature? How does nature collide with the use of secrecy, magic, and spirits? Why is this only possible in the “wild,” away from civilization and Europe?

  • The role of Miranda (her innocence and her sexuality and the threat to her sexuality (Caliban’s attempted rape)/her forthrightness and her sense of equality) and the need for marriage to provide harmony so they can all get off the island and society can be restored to its original, rightful order.

  • The restoration of order at the end of the play. Since they all leave the island, what sort of commentary is Shakespeare making about colonialism?

3. Chikamatsu Mon’Zaemon: The Love Suicides at Amijima

How does the play negotiate the complex connection between desire and social obligation? Does Mon’Zaemon argue that desire is possible within a system in which class hierarchy, submission to social forms/mandates, economic constraints dictate the role an individual must play? How does he negotiate the conflicts that arise between competing obligations? Is death seen as an honorable escape of social obligation, a cop out or a punishment? In order to answer this question, you may want to examine:

  • The family obligation, in all its variations (Jihei/Magoemon, Gozaemon, Osan, Koharu)

  • The obligation to economic stability (trade)

  • The role of the woman (is Mon’Zaemon opening up a space for proto-feminist discourse in the character of Osan)

  • The obligations between Osan and Koharu

  • The situation of Koharu (prostitute)---Who owns her? Does she possess the power to dispose of her own desire or even to honor her obligations

  • The role of disguise (Magoemon as the Samurai)

  • The role of the Chanter in helping the audience negotiate the complex connection between desire and social obligation

  • The bridges (as a means of transportation, both physical and spiritual)

  • Suicide (do they go to hell together? Separation of body/soul). Is suicide the only answer?

4. Moliere’s Tartuffe:

Satire is defined as a genre of literature in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit as a weapon. Tartuffe is often praised as Moliere’s best satire. In this essay, show how Moliere is using satire in order to critique and perhaps reform social practices of his day. What is the object of his satire and what is his purpose? In order to answer this, you should consider:

  • The use of stock characters (does any character break out of the flat role (hint: Dorine))? If so, how is he balancing the use of stock characters with a more didactic or all-seeing character who steps out of her pre-established class role? What is Dorine’s purpose?

  • What is the object of the satire? Is it hypocrisy? Those who cannot read hypocrisy properly and therefore fall for it? What is the truth/what is a lie in a society that is so falsely constructed?

  • The role of femininity/marriage

  • The role of religion

  • The use of humor

  • The use of rhythm and rhyme (how the iambic pentameter line carries over, often from character to character (what is the purpose of this?

  • The use of hyperbolic and over-blown/clichéd language

  • Cléante and the voice of reason/balance

  • The role of the law

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