Littérature : française, britannique et américaine.

Study of a passage p.37-38: "he got off at the next stop […] whine of shells".

This passage is not a dialogue. The narrator is telling us about Burns. Presence of realistic elements: stress on concrete details ("a tuft of grey wool"). Use of chronological order + realistic framework. Everything is seen through Burns’s subjectivity: he is the central focalizer and we move from an objective description of landscape to a subjective mindscape.

I – Presence of subjectivity

A – Focalization

Burns is the focalizer (internal focalization): "looking up and down". Burns does not only look, he feels trough his skin: "raindrops", "burning round the knees".

He also hears the pigeon.

B – Narration

Passage characterized with 3rd person narration. From time to time, the voice of the character emerges:

  • "it was so long since he’d been anywhere alone".
  • "up, up".

Burns is talking. The main effect is to reduce the distance between the reader and the character.

II – The impossible escape

Burns has left the hospital in an impulse. He does not know where he wants to go. His mental state is extremely fragile and even the traffic is too much for him. He favours a solitary place: "a hill". Desire for escape:

  • out of hospital.
  • away from human beings.

The hill: a savage and desolate place. The stress is on the upward movement:

  • "up, up"
  • repetition of "hill"
  • "climbing"
  • "crest"

When there is an insistence on something in the text, it may have a symbolic meaning.

  • upward movement: usually trying to find a better world.
  • quite consistent with his desire to get away from human beings.
  • it is unconscious.

The problem is that he goes up but he is stopped: "way barred by a force". His progression is hindered and he becomes a prisoner of Nature. Intention to move on: "he pressed two strands of wire apart" but failure: "catching his sleeve". Then panic: "breaking into a sweat". Burns tries to protect himself: "steeple of his cupped hands".

There are 2 symbolic meanings:

  • protecting his breath,
  • steeple: symbol of the church.
    => he ought to take shelter.

III – An aggressive nature

3 elements out of 4 are present in the text:

  • Air: wind
  • Earth: mud
  • Water: rain

The 4 elements are necessary to life but here rain aggresses Burns and blinds him. No freedom. Air: high wind and maline intention (evil wind). "Snatching away" : the wind is trying to kill him. The landscape of Scotland becomes the landscape of Flanders. Burns mistakes a place for another (confusion) and a moment for another: there is no present for Burns since what he lives is the war.

That is the way Pat Barker chose to express Burns’ trauma.

How human beings presented in Regeneration are different from historical characters?

Paradoxically, several characters had real historical existence and yet, there is no difference between those who really existed and those invented: it seems that they are on the same level.

The major difference lays in characterization, i.e. the ways in which human beings are constructed in characters. In history books, the stress is usually on public life whereas in fiction the stress is on subjectivity.

Regeneration is a faithful evocation of World War One and the view of the war that is given is the juxtaposition of subjective views of characters.


A – Places

Where are the characters presented ?

  • hospital + patients’ room [Private]
  • one of the character’s home [Private]
  • the lovers’ place [Intimate]
  • several passages showing Rivers in his bathroom (p.44) [Most private

Study of the passage p11-12: from "What kind of questions did they ask.." to "with quite a bit of his leg left inside".

This is the first real dialogue between Rivers and Sassoon. Sassoon is presented as shell-shocked. This passage is composed of a dialogue and 12 lines of narrative. Most of the narrative comments describe Sassoon’s behaviour.

I. Dialogue and verisimilitude

Dialogue enhances verisimilitude. Rivers is a psychiatrist and Sassoon is the patient. It is a normal professional situation. The relations are based on dialogue. The psychiatrist has to understand and must invite patients to talk to overcome the previous trauma.
"War neurosis" : technical language.

II. Dialogue and drama

Tension, conflictual situation.On the one hand, Rivers is a military psychiatrist whose duty is to heal the soldiers to send them back to the front in France. On the other hand, Sassoon is a poet who has written a protestation against the war.

The conflict is all the more obvious that there is no narrator in this passage. The two characters seem to address the reader directly.

III. Dialogue and character’s development

We learn about the characters when reading the dialogue. The dialogue is also used as stage directions: it has a theatrical function. Stage directions are indications of characters’ personality.

l.2: "Sassoon smiled".
  • smile is not expected
  • ironical when he says "Don’t you know ?"

He asks another question instead of answering. Non-answers. l.6: Sassoon describes the Board as "rather amusing" : flippant, arrogant, irony.

Flippancy changes with the psychological evolution of Sassoon.

  • l.23 : "looked surprised".
    From that point onwards, Sassoon is not so sure of himself.
    Rivers managed to destabilize him.
  • l.33 : "Mad Jack" —– "looked taken aback"
    Even more destabilized.
  • l.37 : " "Is it ?" Sassoon looked down at his hands".
    Avoids confrontation, playing hide and seek.
  • l.40 : "he looked up to see if he should continue".
    Sassoon recognizes that Rivers is a form of authority.

IV. Dialogue and banishment of the past

The use of dialogue modifies temporality because historical events are suddenly brought out of the past into the present situation.The novel was written in 1991. The passage deals with 1917. A history book uses 3rd person and past tense. Here, past is made present in the dialogue. Sassoon speaks of his own time (immediate time), talks about his Board and some parts of his experience in France a few months before. The period of time is reduced : the novel is situated in the First World War and 1917 becomes the temporal landmark.

Sassoon starts speaking in past tense but l.44 he reverts to sentences without verbs (nominal sentences). No verb means no passing of time, no past.l.46 : present tenses again. The experience is so drastic that when speaking he is reliving the moment. Past becomes present again. That is exactly what Rivers had hoped for.

Technical remarks

  • indirect speech : disappearance of the past.
  • l.5 : Sassoon reports the question he was asked. For us readers, it is as
    if we witnessed the scene of the Board: it is shown more than told.

Is Regeneration a novel with a plot ?

It is not as obvious as in a detective story.

I. Sassoon’s transformation

Must be seen in the changes that occurred between the beginning and the end of the novel. At the beginning, Sassoon has just protested against fighting the war.

In the end, something has changed: “no, I want to go back” (p.213). He has stopped his protest and has made the decision to go back to the front. He hesitates between protesting and going back. See p.118, paragraph 2: he is changing his mind.

II. Rivers’ transformation

At the beginning, Rivers has a very clear cut attitude: the soldiers must go back to the front when they are better. It is his “duty” (p.48). “Duty” is a very important word for Rivers. He is a military psychiatrist: a doctor but also an army officer.

p.164: “look […] I do the job“.
Not even a question of choice, he is an officer with responsibilities. Military pressure too: there were no reasons of not continuing the war at the beginning.

A hostile nature

Use of an adjective of color (yellow)

The sun and the light are described as yellow, which is a warm color not normally applied to natural light.

  • p.175, l.2: “fading to yellow“. Yellow not presented as a bright color, paradox.
  • p.128: “yellowing of the light“, “sulfurous“. Attribute of Lucifer, negative connotation.
  • p.199: “like an artificial sunset“.The natural light of the sun has gone. Yellow is linked to the war.

Yellow is associated with light, with Sarah’s skin (because of the ammo factory). It has a negative connotation. This is a subversion of nature. The sun is expected to give light. Here it is the ammo factory that gives light.

Light is the symbol of life whereas war is related to death: there is a subversion of the normal use of life and light.


Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

Macbeth by Shakespeare

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

Richard III by Shakespeare

World War One Poetry

Regeneration by Pat Barker

Introduction to Regeneration by Pat Barker photo

Regeneration has to do with World War One (WW1) and it is visible right from its cover. The novelist, Pat Barker is one of the first women writers who have written about the Great War. Pat Barker is a university-trained historian and this is confirmed by the presence of very reliable sources in the "Author’s Notes", at the end of the novel. Regeneration is a historical novel on the surface but is really more than that.

I. Historical accuracy

Several elements allow us to consider Regeneration as historically exact.

A. Real elements

1 – Real people

In the novel, there is a whole list of characters who have really existed.

  • Several characters like Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfried Owen and Robert Graves were both poets and soldiers during the war.
  • The two psychiatrists also existed: Rivers had very modern Freudian views and Yealland did apply his own methods as it is described in the novel.
  • Pacifists like Lady Morrel and Bertrand Russel are real people. Important to note that pacifism was strictly forbidden at the time.

Thus, this novel is a mixture of real people and characters: Burns, for instance, is a total invention.

2 – Real facts and events

There are numerous references to battles (e.g.: the battle of the Somme) and places (e.g.: Flanders, Belgium). Yet, the major place is Craiglockheart, where the action takes place. Regeneration is also historical because of its treatment of realism.

B. Realism

Some characters are real but some are pure invention from the part of Pat Barker. The general type of writing is realistic. Here are some elements that highlight this.

1 – Landscape

It is the landscape of war throughout the testimony of the patients and more especially trench warfare. Regeneration insists on the presence of corpses, mud and rats…

2 – Soldiering

That is the life the soldiers had in the trenches. Realistic writing likes to insist on things that are disagreeable and wants to show reality as it is (not hide anything). Pat Barker gives the reader lots of details about life in the trenches:

  • "It was flooded. You stand the whole time. Most of the time in pitch darkness because the blast kept blowing the candles out. We were packed in so tight we couldn’t move. And they just went all out to get us. One shell after the other. I lost two sentries. Direct hit on the steps. Couldn’t find a thing."
    "And you had forty-eight hours of that ?"
    "Fifty. The relieving officer wasn’t in a hurry." (p52)
  • "Your watch is brought back by a runner, having been synchronized at headquarters." A long pause. "You wait, you try to calm down anybody who’s obviously shitting himself or on the verge of throwing up. You hope you won’t do either of those things yourself. Then you start the count down: ten, nine, eight… so on. You blow the whistle. You climb the ladder. Then you double through a gap in the wire, lie flat, wait for somebody else to get out – and then you stand up. And you start walking. Not at the double. Normal walking speed." Prior started to smile. "In a straight line. Across open country. In broad daylight. Towards a line of machine-guns." (p78)

There is no commentary at all. All we have is action. There is no attempt at hiding reality: Prior says it as it is. It is clearly opposed to propaganda, where soldiers are always presented as great heroes.

3 – Horror

Throughout Regeneration, there is an insistence on physical suffering as well as on mental suffering, which is the major aspect of the novel. The symptoms are all exact, they have been studied by doctors (historically genuine). Several soldiers have twitching of the head (spasmodic movement), stammering, anorexia. Some became mute (e.g.: Prior) or have mental paralysis, hallucinations (CF p12), terrible nightmares (cannot sleep anymore) or phobias (Anderson cannot see blood any longer).

CF p102 from "He’d gone….eye".
This is a key passage. The notion of eye may be a reference to the second volume of Regeneration, which is entitled The Eye in the Door. Let us study the realistic elements in this excerpt to see how realism functions:

  • the characters’ names: Logan is a Christian family name, calling people with family name tends to create a familiarity with the reader.
  • setting: the trench. Very material details and a description of life in the trenches.
  • the person telling the story was there: Prior is an eyewitness.
  • factual style: very dry sort of style. Short sentence. No linkwords. No comments. The narrator wants the facts to speak for themselves.
  • insistence on all that is horrible: vomiting, putting human flesh in a bag, finding an eye.
  • temporal development of the passage. The reader is not prepared for the last sentence. No building-up. It is when the reader thinks the action is over that Prior finds the eye. Pat Barker is trying to put the reader in a situation where he expects to find vomit but no such thing as an eye.
  • traumatic reading experience, aiming at being as brutal as possible.

On the whole, due to the many references to real events and people, it might be tempturous to consider Regeneration as a historical document. In fact, history is subdued to fiction.

II. History is subdued to fiction

A. Representation of the war

1 – Dramatization

Is not something to be found in historical documents. See passage p160: Sarah is here with her friend. The setting is realist: it is an overcrowded hospital. Insistence on all that is horrible (opposed to romanticism). Pat Barker wants to tell the truth at all cost but the text cannot be reduced to realism : a historical document aims at objectivity and this passage is purely subjective.

a) focalization

Through whose eyes is the scene seen ? Focalization is a question of viewpoint. In this excerpt, the scene is seen through Sarah’s eyes. It has several effects and consequences on the reader: he identifies with Sarah thanks to the many verbs of perception, shift from objective verbs (see) to more subjective verbs (seem, look). Through the verbs of perception, the reader learns about the soldiers and about Sarah’s emotions. Focalization creates subjectivity.

b) narration

The narrator is the one who tells the story. He is a third-person narrator, i.e. an independent voice (different from a character’s), just like in history books. Yet , there is a shift from 3rd person narrator to Sarah’s voice.

  • "she backed out": indirect speech, narrator
  • "but no, she thought": form of emotion and later free indirect speech, Sarah’s voice.

We are finally placed in Sarah’s mind. Subjective element.

c) dramatization

Not a cold, neutral description. If we can feel emotions or reactions, we must find all the triggering elements.

  • Suspense
    • "before she saw them": at that point we do not know what "them" represents: it creates a form of suspense
    • "a row of figures in wheelchairs": stress on the form, not on humanity.
  • Different places : Sarah is entering the room: the "threshold" is the symbolical line separating two worlds.
    • Outside: the stress is on the sun, the light ("dazzled"). World of light and health.
    • Inside: absence of light ("dim"). World of half-life, half-death. This symbolical opposition is part of the dramatization effect.
  • Tension between the wounded soldiers and the young woman : conflict between the pretty girl (seduction) and the wounded (not handsome any longer because of their mutilations).

Internal conflict too: "thinking that perhaps if…" and then "but no…"
Thus, this passage is certainly not an objective evocation of mutilated soldiers
during WW1. It is as much about Sarah as it is about the war: her awakening
to the horror of the war and to a political consciousness.

2 – How can we differentiate Regeneration from a history book ?

a) Time

There are very few dates in the novel. Chronology is disrupted by a lot of flashbacks. The novel is based on a series of scenes and dialogues.

b) Subjectivity

The novel based on revolt and anger. Sassoon has really existed and protested against the war, though he was not a pacifist.
Ironical tone (cf Prior p78). The use of italics has the effect of foregrounding Prior’s voice (personal experience). Book: mixture of irony and anger. Irony is absent from history books.

c) Textuality

Presence of stylistic devices: literariness has been precisely worked upon to create some effect. See p.16 – 79 – 83

  • p.16: passage from "At one point…" to "tree".
    "like the roots of an overturned tree" : simile.
  • p.79: passage "I looked back… down."
    • "writhing": movement of a snake
    • "like fish in a pond"
    • "fluttering down" : evokes birds, butterflies
  • p.83: passage "You know….." : "like mushrooms".

All these examples are comparisons (similes and metaphors) between:

  • the wounded and the animals
  • dead bodies and plants.

It creates an effect of dehumanization.

Skulls and mushrooms => notion of proliferation. Plants: something growing, embodiement of life. Here, it means death. Very brutal effect on the reader because it is not expected.


Wilfried Owen was born in the West of England and educated in a technical college. He left England in 1913 to teach English in Bordeaux (France) and came back in 1915 to enlist.

He was soon commissioned and injured in March 1917. He was sent to Craiglockheart where he met Wilfried Sassoon. Returned to the Front in 1918 and was killed one week before the end of the war.

Owen found his own voice in the trenches, although he began writing poetry at an early age. Most of his poems were written between Summer 1917 and Autumn 1918. Only 5 of his poems were published in his lifetime. His reputation slowly grew and now, he is regarded as a War poet of first rank, woed for his bleak realism, his energy, his compassion, his high technical skills.

Two poets influenced Owen: Keats and Sassoon. The War had a very important impact on the quality of his verse. What is remarkable is how he developed from imitator of Keats to a major War poet. His meeting with Sassoon played a great key role too. In Regeneration by Pat Barker, Sassoon encourages Owen to write poetry and says: "Sweat your guts writing poetry".

Hence, in Owen’s poetry, the two influences are used:

  • the Keatian, visible in word music and lyric strain: the delightened competence in sound effect and rhythm, the use Owen makes of color, his determination to see beauty.
  • the Sassonian in Owen’s irony and realism : anger and ironic contrast, number of themes (eg: theme of "Disabled"). Owen adds a cosmic dimension thanks to Sassoon’s themes.

Pity is a key word in Owen’s poetry:

"Above all I’m not concerned with Poetry, my subject
is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is the pity."


Edward Thomas was educated at Oxford University where he studied history. He was known as a critic and as an essayist. He wrote a lot (mainly reviews) but did not get much money. Thomas started writing poetry in 1913 when he met Robert Frost, who encouraged him to write verse. December 1914 saw his first poems.

Thomas was 37, married and with family when he enlisted in 1915 because of social pressure. He died on Easter Day 1917, without seeing his poetry published under his own name: he was published under the pseudonym "Eastaway". He wrote poems during the last 2 years of his life. Considered as a major poet like Auden, Larkin and Walcott, who acknowledged their debts to Thomas.

It is difficult to categorize Thomas: his poetry has been variously described as Nature poetry, Georgian poetry, War poetry and Modernist poetry. Although he wrote about Nature, it was more about his inner nature. Thomas poetry is a complement to Owen poetry.

His ideas about England

When asked why he enlisted, Thomas picked up a pinch of earth and said: "literally for this". He had a deep love for England but did not write chauvinistic poems. He regarded Coleridge’s poems such as "Fears in Solitude" as humble poems ("Oh dear Britain, O my Mother Isle")

Thomas’s anthology is entitled This England. It is an allusion to the praise of England made by one of the characters of Richard II by Shakespeare (Act II, sc.1, l.40-50). This anthology is rooted in English traditions and landscape.

His definition of England was: "This England is what we may be Lord of without possessing. England is not an idea, not even a nation but a very specific place, a place that for the poet is home".

Thus, Thomas’s notion of "Englisheness" is very different from Brooke’s conception in "The Soldier". There is always a connection between "I" and the external world: Thomas wrote about life, survival, and the cyclically renewal of Nature.

In 1999, more than 60 poets wrote poems in a book called Elected Friends Poems From, For and About Edward Thomas. He is the only poet receiving such a tribute.


Brooke’s poems were very famous and influential. His War Sonnets, published in 1915, caught very well the mood of the time.

He was born in 1887 in a very wealthy family and was educated at Rugby School and at King’s college, Cambridge. He was said to be strikingly handsome and the unfair reasons why he was considered a popular war poet was because of both his 5 poems dealing with war and his appearance.

In fact, Brooke’s experience of war was very limited and he was not a war poet in the sense S. Sassoon was. Yet, he had a strong symbolic role: he was a great and beautiful warrior turned into a myth.

Speaking of Brooke, Yeats said he was "the most handsome man in Britain" and Frances Cornford that he was "a young Apollo, with golden hair". Churchill himself paid him an homage in 1926 in an article entitled "Obituary": there is a strong emphasis on Brooke’s romantic death (he died of a fever in 1915) and the construction of the heroic figure. His early death was symbolic of the death of a whole generation of dedicated English youth.

Brooke’s poetry at once reflected the mood of the time. He became a hero for those who needed heroes and that is at the detriment of his poetry. He was wrongly considered as a war poet: he was a leading figure of the Georgian Movement, a prewar poet. The most famous poems from War Sonnets are "The Dead" and "The Soldier".

"The Soldier", tradition both in its sonnet form and its idealistic patriotic mood, represents the last significant expression of an attitude that could not survive the horrors of trench warfare.

His followers expressed bitterness, irony, sense of disillusion, loss of values and had a great literary influence in the postwar period.


War poetry is not a school of poetry in itself but it played a tremendous part since it inspired a new birth of inspiration. It was a totally new experience: nothing like that before in poetry, no war like WW1 before.

War had already been a subject for poetry but never with such feelings. In English consciousness, in 1914, war was fought by processionals away from home and many people thought it glamorous. Before 1914, war poems would have an exotic ending, completely removed from immediate experience. But WW1 is a new experience in the sense that the poets had to find a poetic voice to render what they witnessed. Poets were ill-equipped because they had no tradition to draw upon, no worthwhile models to imitate. First, poets imitated anthology pieces or well-established forms like sonnets. Then, they gradually found their own voices.

The Georgian Movement

The Georgian Movement appeared in 1912. Originally, it applied to the writers of George V but the meaning was then restricted to pastoral poetry. The five volumes of Georgian Poetry appeared between 1912 and 1922. It was very successful but the quality declined in the last volumes. Great influence for many poets.
Several poets, including Sassoon and Blunden, objected being called Georgian Poets, although they had published poems in the Georgian Anthology.

Note : nowadays, "Georgian" has a rather pejorative and negative connotation. Many critics made it impossible to associate "Georgian" and good poetry, especially because of the importance of modernism which marginalized Georgian Poetry.

G. Poets were mainly blamed for their traditionalism (imitation of their forefathers), for being escapists (attempting to escape from urban and industrial life) and for cultivating false simplicity.

In fact, Georgian Poetry was most interesting than that: the Georgian movement was a reaction against the poetic establishment, embodied by Newbolt. The first two volumes include many poems but fail to include such poets as Owen (who thought himself Georgian). Marsh is responsible for the Georgian anthology, he made it on subjective grounds: "this volume is issued in the belief that English poetry is now once more putting on a new strength and beauty".

As a result, the Georgian Movement is quite informal and Georgian Poetry is not homogeneous. There are two phases in Georgian Poetry :

  • Georgian phase proper: 1912-1915 volumes.
  • Neo-Georgian phase.

Phase 1 is the real Georgian Poetry. In 1912, Georgian Poetry was hailed as symbolizing "the new rebellion in English poetry". Poets have in common to challenge the establishment, the current trends in poetry:

  • Denial of individualism.
  • Virtues of national identity and moral responsibilities.
  • "Poetic diction", pompous poetry.

By contrast, the aims of Georgian Poetry in Phase 2 was to give a subjective personal response to personal concern to return to Wordsworth and to use a straightforward and casual language (that is why they were blamed for cultivating simplicity).

The Georgian general recommendation was the giving up of complex forms so that more people could read poetry. Georgian Poetry was to be English but not aggressively imperialistic, patheistic rather than atheistic; and as simple as a child’s reading book.


Georgian poets were blamed for being traditionalists: they rejected the accepted practices of their days. They tried to react and to follow the lead shown by Wordsworth a century earlier, who wanted to "write in the real language of man". They were not only reacting again but also trying to introduce some new keys innovations into English poetry.


Georgian poets were said to have ignored the time in which they lived (unlike Newbolt). They wanted to make the poetry reading public, aware of the unpleasant faith of English society. They introduced prostitutes and tramps in their poetry. Far from being escapist, early Georgian Poetry relied on realism (cf Brook). To make poetry relevant, they adopted a close reflection of real life, common and sordid. They attempted to describe the emotional reality.

Nature was an obsession for the poets: it was used to explore other issues and as a means of communication. Georgian Poetry puts a strong emphasis on emotional response. It is an answer to the increasing complexity of dislocation of the modern world.

Georgian War Poetry

Georgian war poetry is not a homogeneous mass, it changes at the same as new expedience arises from fighting and the life in the trenches. Early poetry written before the battle of the Somme in 1916 :

  • chivalric heroic aspect
  • virtue of sacrifice
  • righteous cause

Leading figures: Brooke, Sorley.

Later poetry (after 1916) :

  • sense of delusionment
  • war felt as senseless
  • cost of war in human terms (casualties)

Leading figures: Sassoon, Owen, Blunden, Rosemberg. Many of the early poems were written by patriotic versifiers. Many poems (not all) are a mere formula using stereotypes of rhymes etc.

It is very often an issue in Shakespeare’s plays. It deals with order and degree: each thing in the Universe has a place in a scale of things. It is more than a political doctrine: it implies a metaphysical organization of the Universe, which is also linked with theology. We can”t find an exponent of this doctrine, it is everywhere at the back of people’s minds. It is a world picture in the collective unconscious consciousness.

Disorder is the equivalent of the original chaos (as opposed to cosmos). God sustains the world as ordered, holding everything into place: he did not create it once and for all.

Order is the means by which you can judge disorder. The notion of sin also intervenes, at several levels (in the Bible…) :

  1. Revolt of the Bad Angels with Satan
  2. Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden
  3. Murder of Abel by Cain

It constitutes frames of references for the Elizabethan. Sin is the reason for chaos and disorder. The ordering of the world is very complex and means a very specific organization. Every thing has a place, even the slightest one. They conceived the world as a scale, an infinite ladder with infinite degrees: each thing is both superior and inferior to something else. It is a hierarchical order of things, known as “The Great Chain of Beings”. One can notice that only Hell escapes this ladder.

Great Chain of Beings

Man has all the possibilities of the earthly existences (he forms a microcosm in the macrocosm of the Universe). The inanimate class nourishes the vegetative class that nourishes… and so on. Man aspires to the spiritual class. It is very closely linked: the bottom of one class is connected with the top of another class. It is a system of infinite diversity and unity of the Universe.

There is a primate in each class :

  • Birds: eagle
  • Trees: oak
  • Elements: fire
  • Man: King
  • Stars: sun
  • Values: justice
  • Body: head

Man is close to animals in sensuality and to angels in understanding: he is a nodal. For the Elizabethan, man was really himself when he was social. That is why morals and politics were far more important at that time than science. Man is between Matter and Nature. It is a source of internal conflict because he is always trying to bridge the cosmic gap (to reconcile) the angel and the beast within him.

Macbeth is representative of the human condition but Richard is definitely evil. This brings us to make the difference between being amoral and being immoral. Someone who is amoral does not have a moral because he does not know what moral is. On the contrary, someone immoral knows exactly what is moral but chooses to turn his back to it. Richard is definitely immoral.

For the Elizabethans, Nature and Creation had done things for the best. That is why Richard accuses Nature and puts the blame on the Creation for being deformed. If he had accepted his rank in the order of things, he would have been Ok. The order of things -the Cosmos- is also based on a series of correspondences between the several levels of beings.

  • heavenly order: God
  • macrocosm: World, Nature (“sub-lunar level”)
  • the state: body politic
  • the body: body natural

Each element at a certain level has another correspondence in another level. In Richard III, Richard the Tyrant (state) is a cripple (body) and at the beginning, the King is sick because the State is sick. In Macbeth, there is an eclipse after Duncan’s death.

The main problem is the question of Evil. How can Evil be possible in a perfect world ? Man yielded to the temptation of Evil and sinned. God allowed havoc as a punishment for man’s sins. Man is the only creature who was given freedom of will and the choice of his own actions. He chose transgression and brought about Evil. Havoc happened because of man but it was also part of God’s plans. Everything is determined by God for the Elizabethans. In the end, we realize that transgressors are always punished by God, whereas they were successful in the beginning.

In fact, this was not the Elizabethans” picture but the Middle Ages” one. In the 16th and 17th century, this world vision has already been questioned by several thinkers and especially by Machiavel, who believed neither in law and order nor in man’s basic goodness. One one hand, man was capable of understanding what was good (Erected Wit) but on the other hand, there was evil temptation (Infected Will).

For Machiavel, man is basically prone to Evil and disorder is the natural state of man, not the exception. Man is not idealistic but completely cynical. Machiavel said that through will and determination, man could reach power. The success story of Richard is the mere illustration of The Prince.

Richard’s role is that of the Scourge of God. From the start he is determined by God but does not realize it. In the end, a machiavellian success is always part of God’s success. See the Wheel of Fortune, ruled by Providence and therefore by God.