Frankenstein

With dull yellow eyes, pearly white teeth, black lips, and a shriveled complexion, the fiend in Frankenstein was a horror to the human eye. Not only did he cause fear in those who faced him, but also in his creator, Victor Frankenstein. As the novel develops, we learn, as well as Frankenstein, that playing the role of God is not a human responsibility. However, because of his eagerness and dream to infuse life into a dead body, Frankenstein works 2 years to accomplish this goal. Then, when the lifeless thing arose from its inanimate state, Frankenstein feels terror. “For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart” (pg. 51).

frankenstein

The novel continues to develop, and we then read from the monsters point of view as he explains the troubles of being a wretched creature, who strikes fear in those he comes in contact with. In this, we see how he goes from quietly observing humans, hiding in the shadows, to murdering Frankenstein’s love, friend, and brother.

As we see the transition of the wretch, he gets angrier as the text progresses. He demands that Frankenstein create another monster to be his companion because he is living a terrible, and lonely life. To strengthen his desire, he tells Frankenstein: “If you consent, neither you nor any other human being shall eve see us again: I will go to the vast wilds of South America. My food is not that of man; I do not destroy the lamb and the kid to glut my appetite; acorns and berries afford me sufficient nourishment” (pg. 130). However, Frankenstein does not create a companion for the monster and in anger, the monster then kills Elizabeth and Clerval. So, my questions to the class: Did the monster deserve a companion to roam the earth with? Does he not deserve the chance to be happy too, like humans? Was his promise to leave man alone worth creating another monster?

Themes in Frankenstein

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley is a Romantic novel about a young scientist with radical ideas and ambitions. He is intrigued with life, specifically the creation of life. He spends years of his life researching and studying, he even spent extended periods of time in tombs observing bodies decay. This novel contains many important themes. Two of which I would like to highlight in this blog post.

The first is that man should not play God. Victor Frankenstein embarks on a quest to create life, which ends in tragedy. Frankenstein’s creature, in visioned to be a beautiful being with larger features then humans turned out to be a grotesque monster. Once it came to life, Victor Frankenstein himself could not even bear the sight of it, his own creation.

His monster fled the the house and never returned. Frankenstein’s monster tries to fit into society with desire of acceptance but receives only hate and fear from the humans, because of this it swears revenge on humans and his creator, Victor Frankenstein. This is where this first theme, that man shouldn’t play God becomes apparent. Wandering through the wood in Geneva the creature stumbles across a young boy. The boy reveals that he is from the Frankenstein family and the creature strangles him to death. The creature doesn’t stop here though, his next victim is Victor’s dear friend Henry Clerval, whose death is a result of Victor not complying to the creature’s request for a companion. The final straw is when the monster kills Elizabeth on Victor’s and her wedding night. After all of these killings Victor devotes his life to destroying his creation, which eventually leads to his own demise. Shelley wants to use Victor as an example of how men can’t play the role of God. The creation of life is beyond man’s control and through the savage killings the monster does, Shelley portrays what happens when man tampers with Gods role of creation.

The second theme that I would like to point out in this story is the healing role of nature. When Victor spent years creating the monster he fell very ill. It wasn’t until he left his house and received fresh air with his friend Henry that he began to feel renewed and healthy once again. Throughout the story Victor seeks sanctuary from illness in nature.

Dr. Faustus: Movement into the Renaissance

Deal with the Devil
Deal with the Devil

Dr. Faustus was written in the Renaissance and therefore represents how to be a good Christian. As a character, Dr. Faustus is not a good Christian. But he teaches readers of the time what they shouldn’t do. Faustus is showing the way not to die; if you live life as a good Christian and avoid the devil and temptation then you will go to heaven.

 

On page 14 we can see a shift away from the divine, and the definition of something more temporal. Faustus says “Had I as many souls as there be stars, /I’d give them all for Mephistophilis. /By him I’ll be great Emperor of the world, /And make a bridge through the moving air, /To pass the ocean with a band of men; /I’ll join the hills that bind the Afric shore, /And make that [country] continent to spain, /and both contributory to my crown. /The Emperor of shall not live but by my leave, /Nor any potentate of Germany. /Now that I have obtain’d what I desire, /I’ll live in speculation of this art /Till Mephistophilis return again” (p.14, scene 3). In this speech and throughout scene 3, Faustus defines hierarchy as the chain of being. He challenges mans place in the divine hierarchy as he is trying to let his own individual desires control his outcome. He believes that by making a deal with the devil, he can outsmart the devil and prove that there is no heaven or hell.

 

The moral of Dr. Faustus is to be a good Christian. Christopher Marlowe wrote in a time when Christianity and Plato’s idea of the great chain of being were being accepted and shifted towards justifying knowledge with religion and the church. This idea of the great chain of being means that people were born as natural slaves and could become saints if they are good Christians. This shift toward the renaissance and away from medieval synthesis is how Marlowe portrayed the character of Dr. Faustus and the way he wanted to gain more knowledge not given by the church and religion, as the heat of the renaissance was a time when people started to rely on their senses.

Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overly Ambitious Fool?

Scholarly Origins

Faustus is a scholar who debates between following good and evil but ultimately is won over by greed. Both a good angel and a bad angel influence him. They give him the same amount of advice. However, in heaven Faustus finds nothing of interests. In hell he finds riches and most of all knowledge. I believe that it is Faustus’s thirst for knowledge that truly drives him to seek out the dark arts.

Faustus’s Thirst for Knowledge

Faustus has been brought up as a scholar. He has excelled in his studies and has earned the name of Doctor. Faustus is skilled in many languages and is competent in many subjects such as physics and mathematics. However, he is dissatisfied with the amount of knowledge available to him.  I think that Faustus definitely equates knowledge with power. He wants to become a more powerful man and therefore thirsts for the next thing to boost his worth. The good angel implies that Faustus was once involved in theology. However, even then he scorns divinity and turns to magic to solve his problems. He wants riches, but even more he wants to be able to control spirits.

Link to Genesis

When Faustus is turned towards the dark arts, he appears to be mirroring the events inGenesis that led Adam to taste of the
tree of knowledge of good and evil. Mephistopheles and the serpent appear to be the same force of temptation. They are both sneaky and cleaver and have the ability to influence others. While both Adam and Faustus learn great knowledge after turning their backs to god, they regret it in the end. Also, they are both punished severely. All of these links between Genesis and Dr. Faustus appear to have been made intentionally by Marlowe.

Faustus’s Tragic Flaw

Faustus shares many qualities with the heroes of Greek tragic. First off, he is grand. He sells his soul to Lucifer which an act that rivals Oedipus gouging his eyes or Heracles killing his family. Also, he has a tragic flaw, which is his unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Like Prometheus, he doesn’t think ahead to way the consequences of his actions with the immediate benefit of the act. For example, he sells his soul to Lucifer in order to gain immediate power for twenty-four years and yet he once the term is over he will regret making this grim deal.

Evil’s Appeal

Faustus believes that he has nothing to gain from attempting to gain entry into heaven. Although he listens to both the angel of good and the angel of evil he is more persuaded by the evil angel. This is because the evil angel tells him what he wants to hear. He lures him in with stories of knowledge and power. Faustus is not made of strong moral fiber. Others easily persuade him.  Also, Lucifer acts almost comical when he comes to visit Faustus. He puts on a show and definitely appears as an entertainer. His theatrical personality also serves to lure in Faustus.

Faustus: Intelligent Hero or Overambitious Fool

Especially in an academic setting, it is difficult to blame Faustus when his only crime is to want to have more knowledge. He has basically read all the books and is eager to
transcend the boundary of current human knowledge. Understandably, some may view him as a hero for pursuing his passion despite the cost. However, I believe that in the end Faustus is an extremely flawed character. He is unable to feel content with what he has. He has a high position in society, and because of his doctorate he should also be well of financially. Perhaps Faustus serves as a metaphor for something that is overambitious to the point of being greedy and gluttonous.  Depending, on your personal perspective, you may choose to see him as a hero or a fool or something else entirely.

How would you describe Faustus?

Othello: Venetian Hero?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term hero is another way of saying submarine sandwich, but more importantly for this blog post, a hero is “a person, typically a man, who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities… the chief male character in a book, play or movie, who is typically identified with good qualities, and with whom the reader is expected to sympathize.” While Othello may not end in the happiest of ways, upon evaluating his life’s work (as Othello does himself in act 5.2), it can be said that Othello was a virtuous man of strong moral conviction, and while it led to his demise, many who were surrounded by Othello over the course of the play admired him.

Othelloiagomovie

Othello states that he had “done the state some service (5.2 line 338),” as we must assume due to his position as a general of the Venetian army from the onset of the play. From Iago’s complaints at the beginning of the play, we can figure that politics are behind all choices regarding the military. Despite the fact that “three great ones in personal suit” tried to convince Othello to pick Iago to become the next first lieutenant, Othello chooses otherwise, much to Iago’s dismay: “But [Othello]—As loving his own pride and purposes—evades [my advocates] with a bombast circumstance, horrible stuffed with epithets of war, and in conclusion non-suits my mediators (1.1 line 7).” All of this, including the fact that the person who beats Iago out for the job has “never set a squadron in the field, nor the division of a battle knows more than a spinster [meaning: an old woman without children who has never married].” Looking past the anger of Iago’s words, readers can observe that he still makes valid points that attest to the fact that decisions of this nature have more to do with personal connections rather than the level of an individual’s experience. It is then all the more admirable that Othello manages to reach such a high post in the Venetian military in the face of all of the racism he deals with. Seeing how blatantly disrespectful the Venetian people are towards him long after he has achieved this high post, one can only imagine the racism he dealt with before his many promotions. So let’s check a few things from our hero qualifications list: Othello is a man who was almost certainly admired or idealized for his courage and/or outstanding achievements in war, and his noble qualities may be what got him to the position of general in the first place.

But why should we, the readers, be sympathizing with him? Because, similar to another one of our favorite heroes, he unknowingly commits crime and fulfills the low predictions people hold for his existence. It was said outright to Oedipus in Oedipus the King that he would kill his father and marry his mother, compared to the discreet jabs taken by characters at Othello throughout the play: “What a full fortune does the thick-lips owe if he can carry’t thus?(1.1, line 66)” And how could we forget about Brabantio’s refusal to believe that Othello managed to court his daughter Desdemona in a sober state of mind? He would rather attribute Othello’s marriage to Desdemona to her being bound “in chains of magic (1.2, line 63).” Getting back to the point, though, after Othello does lose the composure that we come to know him by, he kills Desdemona after being falsely led to believe that she has cheated on him. Not too long after killing her on their marriage bed, Othello discovers that Iago lied to him the entire time. No longer justified by revenge for Desdemona’s infidelity, Othello finds himself guilty of murder. And so Oedipus and Othello’s paths converge, in their harsh self-imposed punishments: Oedipus gouges out his own eyes, and Othello stabs himself fatally. Many in our preceptorial class have sympathized with Oedipus, due to the fact that his crimes were committed unknowingly. It is not so cut and dry in Othello, because he still did kill a woman, regardless of whether or not Desdemona cheated on him. A definition for hero that we pondered with in class was that a hero was somebody capable of showing unique traits or powers. Having the poise to kill oneself on one’s own accord and choice (unlike Oedipus who essentially had no choice) is a trait that not many possess.

Going back to our Oxford definition (the non food related one)… it states that readers are expected to sympathize with the hero in question, but we certainly don’t have to. Regardless, Othello’s legend lives on for what is believed to be over 400 years later. The fact that we as readers can still evaluate and discuss Othello’s life all of these years later is proof enough that he belongs in the same discussion as Oedipus, Prometheus and countless other literary heroes.

What are your thoughts? Is Othello a hero in your mind?

 

Othello the Moor: the “race” for “sex”

Prepare for run-on sentences guys.

Staying true to Shakespearean writing, I find Othello being of no exception, to be extremely allegorical. Even throughout the first 3 Acts there are hints towards issues and underlying themes of racism, sexism, and social class. Initially we learn that Iago is upset (to put it lightly) at Othello. Regardless of suspicion that Othello may or may not have slept with Emilia, his anger is fueled by the fact that Othello has given Michael Cassio the promotion that he felt he deserved. hmmmm? We notice Cassio being described as a Florentine, a foreigner, a mathematician, but of course no soldier like Iago. (anything yet?) Might this have been a contributing factor to why he was given the job over Iago? Not convinced yet..? fair enough! Upon Desdemona and Emilia’s arrival to Cyprus, Cassio greets them warmly with kisses and tells Iago that “tis my breeding that gives this bold show of courtesy”. The idea that it it’s his upbringing, his CLASS that propels him to act in this uppity way. I feel as though these differences are those which distinguish a Florentine smooth-talker like Cassio from a more soldierly Iago, therefore placing Cassio a step above Iago on the social ladder. Of course both men are considered “the elite” or the uperclass in this case but I feel as though this is definitely intentional. Another, more subtle example occurs when Iago goes on his rant about women, in essence, being good for nothing. (sexist right?) I find it quite interesting that although Emilia does not respond, Desdemona does. We know that Desdemona comes from a wealthy family, and so might be considered of higher class than both Iago and Emilia. Therefore not only would she not at all feel obligated to submissively listen to Iago’s opinion, but is also confident enough to retort and engage in conversation even though her husband is absent. Perhaps this exchange would not at all be possible is Desdemona were not of a certain status, keeping in mind she is the Boss’s wife of course. (its levels to this….)

Moving  on past Iago’s Chauvinism and Cassio’s possible class related promotion, there is the more obvious race thing. Race is real, just as it is today, it was than. We are confronted with these initial slight ( sometimes not so slight) instances of racism in both the diction used as well the ideology present within a couple characters. Apart from the examples we mentioned in class like Othello being refereed to as the Black ram tuppling Brabantio’s white ewe, did anyone notice that Othello is not even referred to by name until they get to the duke.(a man fair and who respects Othello). Here is this successful war hero, seems to be pretty well known and even financially well-off, yet those that mention him can’t even muster up enough respect to say his name. I feel as though this is a much more ideological racism being that it is not so much as stated as it is an assumed norm. Also when Brabantio learns that his beloved Desdemona has run off with a black man, he immediately assumes foul play, that which craft or some other mind-altering tool must have been used because no way his white pure, wholesome, christian daughter would fall for the black, moor.

Proposed in class what was the question of whether or not the antisemitic nature of this Shakespearean work affirms the beliefs and ideals of Shakespeare or do they acquit him of this rather sickening way of thinking. Although, I do believe that we must read Othello in totality and I personally must read more Shakespearean literature to accurately answer this question….. for the sake of a good time… I’ll give it a shot. (hopefully you guys follow up)                                                                                      Regardless of weather or not Shakespeare himself agrees with the ideals of his characters, the fact that he implemented these themes in his art shows that he is most definitely aware of these issues and therefore has an opinion. Perhaps in ‘publicizing” the nature of racism and sexism in a bit of discreet way, Shakespeare is speaking out against it. Regardless of, by no means would I deem this to “acquit”  him.

Oedipus the King and Self-Knowledge

In all of the texts we’ve discussed so far, we’ve seen that knowledge often comes at a price. This is certainly also the case with Oedipus in Oedipus the King. Oedipus’ struggle to plumb the depths of his own history reveals for him a terrible secret, though ironically, it’s a “secret” he knew all along. The play is a meditation on a type of knowledge that we haven’t seen much of yet—self-knowledge—and this raises a number of questions.

How much do we really know about ourselves? How much do we want to know? Can we, like Oedipus, often be blind to our own inadequacies? These problems take on a contemporary flair if we consider the ways in which science and technology have made it possible to know things about ourselves that we could never know before. Genetic testing, for instance, can now give us insights into our susceptibilities to certain diseases. How should we react once or if we know our likelihood of dying from a particular malady? Can we change our lives to lower our risks, or is such behavior, like Oedipus’ attempts to change his fate, ultimately futile? If you could find out whether something terrible awaited you in the future, would you want to know?

Part of what Oedipus shows us is that this sense of control that we feel over our lives and ourselves is illusory, and this is a scary message indeed. Despite having the best of intentions, Oedipus could not escape his destiny.  This lesson applies to us too: even if we solve all of the riddles and get to the bottom of all of all of our questions, this does not necessarily grant us the power to change what it is that we actually find. And, what’s more, once we have made the discovery, we must still decide how to react …and live with the consequences.

Jocasta gives the following advice to Oedipus as he barrels down the pathway of discovering his true identity: “[it is] best to live lightly as one can, unthinkingly” (978). While this is certainly one way to react—to tamp down our thirst for knowledge entirely—to live a blissful life of ignorance—Oedipus himself also provides a model for how to seek out knowledge: once he finds the truth, he faces it and bears its consequences with a sense of dignity and personal responsibility.  Oedipus suffers dreadfully, but perhaps some amount of suffering is the price we must pay for knowing ourselves.

 

On a lighter note, do please enjoy this re-enactment of the Oedipus story with vegetables as actors: http://vimeo.com/19152100

Prometheus Bound Post

We talked about how Prometheus’s name means, “foresight,” which is proved true when he tells Io of her future and explains why he was so willing to take Zeus’s punishment. Clearly he has an accurate knowledge of things yet to be, so why does the supposedly all-knowing Zeus insist on, “following protocol” so to speak and going along doing exactly what Prometheus expects him to do? Zeus “commands” Prometheus to tell him what he’s seen in the future to unseat him from power, which quite frankly seems the wrong way to go about it. If I was an all-powerful god who was just told that I’d be booted off the throne in some vague way I would be a lot more hospitable to Prometheus than keeping him in chains. I find it hard to fathom that Zeus would be so blind to the power Prometheus has if he knows the future, and am surprised he didn’t make more of an effort to keep relations a little warmer.

On another note: I find it superbly ironic that Zeus chooses to punish Prometheus by having his liver pecked out every day by birds. This punishment is inspired by nature, yet Prometheus is a Titan, a.k.a. a nature force. Perhaps it was just by chance that Zeus picked that specific punishment, or perhaps he meant it specifically to be humiliating. The same thing happened with Atlas’s and Io’s punishments, using Nature to punish the Nature gods, so I think Zeus and Hera may have chosen those types of punishments specifically for them.

So is there method to Zeus’s madness? We know that Prometheus has a strategy (of sorts), and knows all the moves Zeus is supposed to make, so why is Zeus is barging ahead and using brawn rather than brains? If we look at the Olympian gods as forces of Civilization and the Titans as forces of Nature like we did in class, it could be seen as an allegory for the way civilization has conquered the natural world over the years by pure force; Zeus, Civilization, has used chains, tools of civilization, to bind Prometheus, but that might be a stretch.

 

Does Knowledge Alienate us from God?

We discussed in class today some of the broader similarities in worldview that one can discern in Gilgamesh, Genesis, and in Hesiod’s account of Prometheus and Pandora. All three deal fundamentally with what it means to be human and what we can and should, therefore, know or not know. In all three, we see how gaining knowledge has certain trade-offs and often comes with stiff consequences…

Of all of the characters we have read about, Utnapishtim, the survivor of the Babylonian flood story, seems the most fortunate in the whole gaining-of-knowledge shtick. He manages, though somewhat haphazardly, to survive the flood and is therefore granted the gift of immortality. For him, knowledge does not lead to death (or some other bad outcome), though his experience also seems like a bit of a fluke. As we learn from Gilgamesh, who fails multiple times in his quest for immortality, it seems near impossible to bridge the gap between man and god, immortal and mortal.

The other two stories seem to imply that knowledge alienates us from the divine—or at least that knowledge creates a sort of antagonistic relationship between us (humans) and them (God/the gods). In these stories, knowledge inspires wrath or punishment; and in the story of Adam and Eve in particular, it leads to a break-down in the relationship between humanity and their creator. Whether or not we accept any of these stories as part of our religious faith today, we see this conflict play out in contemporary terms in the science vs. religion debate that is a regular part of the “culture wars.” Does the knowledge offered to us by scientific progress (think of scientific theories like the Big Bang or Evolution) end up separating us from God? Does the accumulation of scientific knowledge diminish our belief in the divine? If it does, what have we lost? What have we gained?

 

We didn’t talk a lot about Pandora today, but it’s not uncommon to see the metaphor of Pandora’s box applied to the human thirst for knowledge more generally. We, like Pandora (or Eve?), can’t control ourselves when it comes to hunting down new discoveries and exploring new ideas, but in the process of opening that box, we often don’t slow down enough to consider the value of what’s flown out once the box is opened–let alone what the consequences of opening the box are in the first place!  We will explore this theme more fully at a later point in the term, but for now, it is worth considering whether religion and faith are a casualty of scientific progress and whether this is good, bad, or somewhere in-between.

 

Union College | Professor Watkins

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