Littérature : française, britannique et américaine.

I. The Vice

Was the favourite character in medieval morality plays. He is both an intriguer and a deceiver. He
creates laughter and engages the audience’s sympathy in a conspirational relationship. Richard generates a special relation between word and deed. He tells the audience what he is going to do, then does it and finally recalls what he did: his soliloquies and asides create a feeling of conspiracy.

The Vice was also a figure of carnival, who fights the established authority and embodies the audience’s anti-authoritarian impulses. He is an outlet for the people’s frustration.

II. A Monster

Shakespeare has added a physical deformity to the character of Richard because Richard was not a hunchback. In fact, at that time, deformed people were said to be willing to take revenge against Nature: because they cannot change their lot, they want to bring people down. Another reason is that showing fairground attractions on stage was a trick often used by Shakespeare to incite people to see his plays. A both deformed and mobile character was a very scary monster.

III. The Machiavel

In the Elizabethan times, the Machiavel became a character but its initial status was absolute evil. In Christopher Marlowe’s Jew of Malta, there is a prologue entitled « The Prologue: Machiavel ». Richard is also considered as a reincarnation of Machiavel. In Henry VI, Richard already says:

« I have sent Machiavel to school ».

Machiavel’s vice is characterized by ambition and power. Vice’s vice is lust. Machiavel is morally deprived, at the point of boasting his own depravity. He is also more severe than Vice, very gifted with words and rhetorics and efficient in convincing people. He is very good at reaching his aims: he divides and then conquer (by opposing one side to the other).

For the Elizabethans, Machiavel was utter evil. In the Renaissance, he was more considered as an individualist. Individualism was strongly opposed to Augustine and Aquinas, for who history was providential and ruled by God. For Machiavel, on the contrary, everyone should play his own part in life.

In the play, the victory of the Machiavel is present from the beginning till the middle. The second part shows history as still providential: Richmond the God-Sent becomes King. Richard is an hypocrite too: as to become king, you must be religious, Richard appears between two bishops, « two props of virtue ».

The War of the Roses and the usurpation of the The War of the Roses and the York’s usurpation was still fresh in people’s minds. It had been a was still fresh in people’s minds. It had been a period of disorder and chaos: people still remembered the civil and the divisions within the State: there was a need for exorcism. Shakespeare’s plays had a cathartic function.

According to Aristotle, the function of tragedy is catharsis: the audience will go through very powerful emotions but they will be protected by their status of audience. There is a play between participation (sympathy) and non-participation. The catharsis will allow an internal problem to be solved or externalized.

Always a ritual quality in Shakespeare’s historical plays: the lamentation scenes (like in Act IV, scene 4 with Margaret). These scenes are very rhetorical but in a conventional manner (by use of anaphors), as opposed to Richard’s puns and inventive style.

IV. The Scourge of God

The evil ruler is sent by God to punish a sinful people, like Nero for the Romans. It is part of the retributive justice: we get what we deserve. In Richard III, it is very cruel for it introduces the notion of collective responsibility for England. The citizens (III, 2) and the crowd (III,7) are the representatives of the English people.

This guilt of England must be purged by a series of crimes, culminating in the scourge of Richard III. Richard is a sacrifice to redeem England from all her sins. He kills them all and then die: purgative and cleaning act for the whole nation. There are no innocents in Richard III, all are guilty.

  • Clarence : for killing the Young Prince Lancaster.
  • Edward : for killing the Young Lancaster too.
  • Buckingham : for helping Richard.
  • Anne : for letting Richard woo her.
  • Elizabeth : for letting Richard woo her daughter.

War brought about treason and corruption. Margaret seems to be a victim but she killed Rutland: she is also a child-murderer (this will later be used by Richard against her). She’s the only character that feel satisfied with the children’s death :

  • she is as bitter as Richard.
  • she wants the same evils inflicted on others as she has been inflicted, especially towards Elizabeth.
  • logic of retaliation (an eye for an eye).

She is a prophetess but her main goal is guided by revenge. Shakespeare makes her leave the play as soon as she has her revenge. She leaves and Richmond appears, bringing some more positive notes.

Richmond is sent by God: he is the savior figure who brings the Golden Age. On the contrary, Richard is the anti-Christ figure who inverts all Christian values. Richard is utterly evil. He is a figure of exorcism because he is so evil that he absorbs all the sins. His sins are not contagious: all the people influenced by him (Buckingham – Anne) will come to regret. Richard wants to personify evil on his own: he is a satanic figure and he is very proud of it :  » I am determined to be a villain » (I,1). Richard is a parodist and a role-player :

  • 1st role: with Clarence: the sympathizing brother
  • 2nd role: with Anne: the passionate lover asking for charity
  • 3rd role: with the two bishops: the devout
  • 4th role: with the two princes: the devoted uncle
  • 5th role: with Hastings: the victim

NB: « hypocrite » in Greek means actor. Richard can pretend to be everything to get what he wants. He does not have the value of truth. He has a gift with rhetorics and is at his best when wooing Anne: he replaces her lamentations with Courtly Love. [Stichomythia: in a dialogue, re-use of something said by the other protagonist]. He manages to upset the linguistic foundations of her discourse. Language is an efficient tool but also a shaper of reality. At the end, we do not know where reality is for Richard also manages to woo the audience: it is disturbing. The character of Richard makes the success of the play, because of :

  • skills
  • resources
  • wit and « alacrity of spirit »
  • discernment
  • courage
  • thinking on his feet

Richard is not likeable but the audience enjoys seeing him on stage. The spectator is ambivalent.

« Titania with Ass-headed Bottom » by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1793/4)


Shakespeare has used many genres to convey his stories, especially comedies, tragedies and historical plays.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy.

A comedy is a kind of drama which is intended primarily to entertain the audience and which usually ends unhappily for the characters. There are:

  • romantic comedies: revolving around love (As you like it).
  • satiric comedies: see French playwright Molière.

I – A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the convention of comedy

Shakespeare was influenced by the concept of intertextuality and there are literary interferences all the time in his plays. Shakespeare inherited a tradition derived from Antiquity with Greek and Latin authors such as Aristophanes, Plautus or Terence. It is indulging in a literary exercise:

  • indulge in a game in which high spirits prevail (at least for comedy).
  • celebrate life renewal.

In Molière, you can single out his intention of copying life, distorting it, making fun of it. The social dimension is essential and the satire is intended to bring out a moral lesson at the end. (L’AvareLe Malade Imaginaire).

In Shakespeare’s comedies, there is no satiric excess. They are light-hearted comedies of errors, whose main theme is usually marriage or a celebration of marriage. The spring of comedy is a stratagem of exchanging partners. Lysander and Demetrius suddenly fall in love: beginning of a long qui-pro quo. Helena and Hermia are unaware of what is going on and think they are made fun of.

This type of situation is also drawn from Italian comedy: la « comedia del arte », based on qui-pro quo, mistakes, mistaken identities and the sudden reversal of relationships. A young woman who is in love with another woman dressed as a man (Twelfth NightAs you like it).

Here, the stratagem is based on the love juice. The comedy implies the participation of the audience on characters. We are aware of the love juice, we know the reason of the misunderstanding and the presence of the fairies. The Duke and Duchess are in the same position as we are, watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The superiority is shown by the audience. This is not found in tragedy: you tend to identify with the characters to the past in their own misery.

It is different from Molière: the comedy has a moral message. The epilogue is an appeal to balance and understanding: « if you pardon we will pardon« : triumph of common sense.

G. Meredith, in The Spirit of Comedy, said: « the comic spirit is the fountain of common sense ». In other words, the aim of the comedy is to re-introduce a balance in the end.

II – Shakespeare’s festive comedy

His comedies are celebrations and the mood is of holidays and festivals, making the whole experience of the play like that of a revel. Seasonal connotation: return of summer, victory of summer over winter.

Spring is the natural renewal. The play is about a midsummer festival and the aim is to celebrate a forthcoming marriage. The whole plot is entertained by music, dancing and disguise. The festival implies an escape to the woods, to a place out of the limits of ordinary society. It is a world set apart, which marks a break in ordinary life because it implies in the remote past: anything can happen. The wood becomes a place of celebration, leading to imagination, freedom, away from the context of social norms and order. Aberrations are things that are not normally tolerated but that are accepted within the norms of the play: we know that in the end, everything goes back to normal. Aberrations are tolerable as long as they do not last.

Because it is a festive comedy, no single characters control comedy, it is always as if it were a group. We have several groups of characters enjoying their own fun and they sometimes meet. Because it is a comedy, it also ends with a reconciliation, a promise of bliss. All negative features have been pushed aside and it brings back the characters to the beginning of the play but not exactly: something has happened in between.

The characters have been through a lot of tension and they have all been affected. Those tensions have been necessary to improve and society is indeed reinforced because the tensions have been solved.

III – A low comedy

The second layer of comedy (Puck, Bottom…) has very little in common with the first one. The people, very ordinary, are better suited for this low comedy. It relies on an absurd situation: the Queen of Fairies falls in love with an ass. The discrepancies appear in the gap between the register, between the message (Titania, declaring her love to Bottom) and the object (an ass): lots of ridiculous situations. There is even a third layer of comedy with Pyramus and Thisbe.

It is a farce: the subject of the play is inappropriate for the circumstances, a tragedy for a marriage celebration. The mechanicals are inappropriate as actors, unfit for the role they have. The play within the play gives way to satire. This other type of comedy is based on exaggeration (Pyramus’ death: « I die I die I die »). Presence of semantic mistakes (‘I’ll aggravate thy voice »): linguistic fun, use of alliterations. If too much, it becomes grotesque. Bottom is also the jester, typical of Elizabethan comedy. He is the fool, a naive instinctive character, an outsider to the main plot and in a good position to express the truth.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s greatest comedies. It is not limited to one single comedy and mixes several dimensions: that is what makes it interesting. It is also more than a comedy in the sense that it could have become a tragedy.

I – Characters and structure

Multiplicity of lines. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is remarkable for the many levels of its text. The play is different from Romeo and Juliet or the Taming of the Shrew (which have one main plot) because of the various levels of plots and characters. There are 4 levels: Theseus and Hippolyta, the young lovers, the mechanicals, and the fairies.

There are connections between:

  • Theseus & Hippolyta and the young lovers: made by Theseus, member of court.
  • The young lovers: connection through marriage.
  • The mechanicals: difference in substance, in social background. Bottom does represent the bottom in many ways, carpenter, weaver, taller…

It is not so much similarity as contrast. It is more from one social circle to the opposite. Shakespeare often involves the lower order of society. The justification is not simply methodological but also social. In the end, the play is a picture of the society (with top and lower orders). There is a gradation in that social order: from the Duke to the normal people. This enable Shakespeare to make philosophical and social comments on the way society works ( harmony, balance, social order). High society does not necessarily embodies perfection.

The introduction of Bottom has a farcical dimension, linked to the Duke and his lover. The connection between the Duke and Bottom exists because the play is put up to pay homage to the Duke and his future wife.

Fairies and friends: break in social circle but also in tone. Fairies take us into the realm of fantasy. There is a balance between couples: the Duke and the future Duchess, Theseus and Hippolyta, Oberon and Titania. The first two couples are to be connected.

Opposition between mortals and immortals. Oberon and Titania argue, they are supposed to be invisible. Theseus and Hippolyta are flesh and blood mortals. Oberon and Titania fall in love at first sight, have exaggerated demands and quarrel like any ordinary couple: they behave like old mortals.

The plot has been compared to a dance in which you exchange partners with 3 positions:

  • Hermia and Lysander.
  • Hermia rejected, Lysander and Demetrius fighting for Helena.
  • return to harmony.

It also follows the musical tone of the play.

II – Plot and structure

A – City of tension which seems to jeopardize the forthcoming activities

Conflict between father and daughter. Impact on the whole society: Elizabethan theory about balance. The rebellion by two individuals also implies a rejection of the norms of he society. The lovers rejecting the laws of Athens have to leave and go to the woods.

Rejection of authority (both the father’s and the Prince’s authority). Consequently, the woods function as a sheltering place.

B – The forest

Opposition between the town and the country: Athens~wood and culture~nature. The woods are a rich symbolic place in literature: they are a going back to nature, a return to something which is simple and unsophisticated. The wood is a place of freedom as opposed to the constraints of the law of society, where one can break the rigidity of concentration of the city life. It is a beneficent place where the spirit of rebirth and rejuvenation is to be found.

It is a place of fun (break of rigidity) but also a dangerous place because it is dark and you can face a lion (Pyramus and Thisbe). Wild animals and wild men. It is a kind of maze, a labyrinth where you are likely to lose your wy and yourself (it is nearly what happened to Titania).

The wood is the symbol of the unconscious (c.f.. E. Young). We are in the realm of fantasy and imagination. It destabilizes but at the same time, it is also the forest that enables the return to contentment and order. It is a kind of necessary passage. The disorder of the forest enables a return of the end:

  • wood v. Athens
  • rational v. irrational
  • night v. day
  • waking v. dreaming

The play is a parenthesis in everyday life, it is festive. Holiday time: allowed to break the rules (law v. transgression).

C – Return to harmony – recovery – wedding festivities

It is a comedy: all is well that ends well. It would be wrong to say that the end is a return to the beginning: you cannot forget what happened in between : they achieved serenity and acceptance of authority. The final act is often interpreted as a conclusion (postlude) to the whole play (see Act 5, scene1, l.414: Puck’s and Oberon’s comments at the end of the play.

III – A play within the play

The play has an embedded structure, with a flash of genius which contributes to the success of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Introduction of a ridiculous character, Bottom, whom Titania must fall in love with (Oberon’s plan is to make Titania ridiculous). Pyramus and Thisbe are parallel to the main subject. The play is about going into the woods and face the danger.

The tone of the subplot turns into comedy and verges on farce. These actors are unfit to be actors: this creates a discrepancy between the main plot and the subplot, which is very funny.

The play reminds us of Romeo and Juliet: split, tension, family disunion but the most important justification is probably Shakespeare’s reflection on dramatic art: absence of women, problems of representation (moon..), and liability (the lion is not a real lion: how to persuade the public..). It is a mockery of bad drama: plenty of mispronunciations. Good example of "mock tragedy".

It is easy to consider the subplot as a parody of the main plot. The play is very complex, and parallels the complexity of themes and tones, and so many disconnected elements fit in so nicely in the end: that can account for the success of the play. The beginning and the end are set in the city, the middle is set in the woods.


The characters are set in a given space and time. Shakespeare draws his material from a large body of social background, historical facts and myth: let us see the Greek background, the May festivities, and the fairies and spirits.

I – Greek background

The play is set in early Greece, in Athens. It is unexpected as so much of the play seems so typically England. Shakespeare was writing at the time where antiquity was the cultural reference, although the English Renaissance was more and more regarded.

But outside inspiration from Italy and Greece, Ovid, Aristofane, Plato, Aristotle were the early writers who set the norms of literature. Many of Shakespeare’s plays are set in these settings (Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice, The Twelfth Night..).

The Greek setting is a serious frame of reference, which the educated audience would immediately recognize. It also provides a warranty of seriousness and sets a distance from 16th century England: it enables Shakespeare to contemplate his society while distancing it in the past, which was important because playwrights were very dependent on sponsors and political power.

This athenian background represents order and reason, all the more appropriate as it serves to emphasize the fantastic aspect of the forest.The story of Theseus and Hippolyta refers to Plutarch and Ovid. Theseus was famous for his adventures and exploits. He got lost in the labyrinth and was saved by Ariane. He killed the Minotaur, kidnapped Hippolyta and tried to marry her before he eventually married Phaedra.

Considering Shakespeare’s views of the myth, the reader is not sure who Hippolyta was. In theory, she represents female power, independence. Amazons were rebels and did not accept male supremacy. Males were considered as procreation objects and the male child was usually got ridden of. The Amazons have usurped masculine power and authority. Hippolyta is a concrete woman, she looks passive: the contrary of an Amazon. She is an example of a dominated woman (dominated by her future husband).

Although admired for his courage, Theseus was known for his betrayal of women (not an example of fidelity). The play is about fidelity and betrayal (the disorder of love): Theseus could not be faithful to one woman.

Two fathers: Egeus and Neptune. Association between a mortal and a god. It is said that his birth was the result of a female trick: dangers and complexity of love relationship.

It would be possible to interpret the forest as a labyrinth, it is a place where you can easily get lost.

II – May festivities

Feast days: Christmas, Mayday, Midsummer, harvest time. Some ambiguity about "May": month but also the hawthorn bush (may pole) which blossoms in May. The golden bough: in May, there was a custom to go out to the wood to cut the maypole and bring the spirits of the tree home. For Shakespeare, there is a tradition of going to the woods and bring back flowers as a sign of fertility, luck, hope and protection. Sexual dimension in this game: "the green gown".

Shakespeare was elaborating on a very famous theme: a night out with a ritual about vegetation, return to nature and celebration of luck.The Queen or King of May are covered with flowers. In the play, Oberon is covered with leaves. The Lord of Misrule, Pluck, upsets the order of the ceremony and plays tricks on participants. His confusion of identity can be seen as a way of upsetting order.

This rite does not necessarily takes place in May: it is also on Midsummer night & day. Shakespeare mixes the rite of May and of Midsummer (although similar). Midsummer eve: 23rd of June. It symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, the beginning of summer, bonfires. The fire is a protection against witchcraft, cattle diseases, all sort of evil. There are no bonfires in the play.

Notion of turning point: end of spring, beginning of summer, longest day and beginning of shorter days. Midsummer is also associated with magic, spirits would be in the air during that night.

III – Fairies and spirits

The Fairies are part of the Elizabethan folk culture. Most people believed that they did exist (especially lower classes). As for their size, we tend to imagine small spirits; the problem is Titania’s size: she is large enough to be able to hold Bottom in her arms. They have the power of curing most diseases using plants but occasionally they could also do harm.

"They step out of a tradition of infernal connections and dark deeds".Oberon has been taken out of a Huon de Bordeaux, Titania from Ovid’s Metamorphoses (derived from Diana, connected with the moon).Robin Goodfellow (Puck): in fact Pouke, meaning devil or demon. Puck belongs to a different background from Oberon and Titania: p.37, we learn that he is half animal and half human, with hoofs and arms like the devil, pointed ears and a mischievous look. Yet, he has a neat beard and a benevolent face (opp. to devil). Creatures resembling witches are dancing around him. He has got a huge penis: connection with life. He holds a broom in his left hand: Puck was known to do housework at night.

l.378: "Not a mouse
Shall disturb this hollowed house
I am sent with broom before
To sweep the dust behind the door

Puck is half devil, famous for his tricks and pranks. Act II, sc.1: mischievous but at the same time: "they shall have good luck".

Puck’s ambiguity is remarkable, he has a power of transformation.

Very rich background of myth and folklore that Shakespeare borrowed and re-arranged in the play. It is not gratuitous for it adds up depth in the text. It also adds the fairy dimension, the mystery of a transcendent reality.

Place of the play in Shakespeare’s work

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most famous and successful Shakespeare’s plays. The play is part of the early work of Shakespeare (1554-1616), it was written and performed in 1595-1596, just after The Taming of the Shrew and The Two Gentlemen of Verona.

There is a connection between Pyramus & Thisbe and Romeo & Juliet: one character kills himself because he thought his love is dead (tragedy of misunderstanding). It proves that Shakespeare could write a tragedy and a comedy at the same time.

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, we have a tragedy within the comedy. Theme of rebelling children against their parents: 2 families at war but united through the love of their children.

Shakespeare could write in different moods at the same time: it goes very quickly from tragedy to comedy. Even in a comedy there is a substance of truth, of seriousness. A comedy is not empty of meaning.

Shakespeare’s last play is The Tempest (1611) and it is regarded as his testament for prosperity. Ariel is a kind of fairy, like Puck. Both plays have the same background of magic and fairies, and the episodes lead to a moral favol as an explanation of life’s mysteries: the surface of events and the meaning of events (more important).

Sources of the play

A Midsummer’s Night Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most leaned plays. Lots of information he took here and there:

  • Plutarch’s life.
  • Ovid’s Metamorphosis: Shakespeare borrowed Titania, who appeared as Diana.
  • Huon de Bordeaux (medieval French romance): Shakespeare borrowed Oberon.
  • Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale (love story).
  • and mythological references: Apollo…

Shakespeare put together all those apparently defragmented pieces to create an entirely original plot, which looks like a patchwork. His genius resides in the creation of something new in spite of the diversity of the elements.

Reception of the play

The play was not immediately admired.

18th century: the literary world showed skepticism towards it. It was the age of Reason and Enlightenment and the play had too little reason. 19th century: the judgments became more positive. Chesterton called it "the greatest of Shakespeare’s plays". and Frank Kermade "Shakespeare’s best comedy".

Why was it so popular ? Because it was most frequently performed and gave a lot of possibilities for stage directions. Shakespeare introduced a lot of singing and music so that it was easier for the audience and the actors to enjoy the play.

It is a comedy in which one past is hilarious but also a play with lots of ambiguities (position of women, position of the State). It is also a play with an usual modern dimension (sexual references).

The opening scene (Act I, scene 1, up to l.57)

It usually defines the setting and the characters and foreshadows what will come next. It can be divided into 2 parts:

     1- the dialogue between Theseus and Hippolyta
     2- Egeus’ complaint about his own daughter Hermia: we do not learn more about her but it is enough to show her determination.

A. Introduction scene

The Duke of Athens: enables Shakespeare to write about a very solemn character, a member of the royalty: he starts from the top characters to the lower characters. Egeus is a well know name for it belongs to mythology although we may wonder if he is the same as the mythological Egeus. At least it rings with it.

There is no date: the Athens we are presented with is not 16th century but related to antiquity. It is not obvious how much the audience is aware about that: it addresses an educated audience.

We are given one aspect of Theseus (the statesman), far from the mythological killer of beasts. He suggests authority and love, and has 2 dimensions: the statesman (public image) and the personal impending marriage (private). The theme of marriage is present in the very first sentence.

Hippolyta is the Queen of the Amazons. She has been vanquished by Theseus in one of his military fights: "I wooed her with my sword" : she was captured by him. We may question this relationship: it has to do with power and not love (the alliteration in "w" is not accidental).

Time: 4 happy days. The scene tells the audience that the wedding is due to take place in 4 days. In fact the play would last two days and one night.

B. Human relationships

Egeus’ complaint is the story of a rebelling daughter, it is almost a monologue, deeply anchored in the myth of vexation: the rhetorical inversions are a way of giving more strength to vexation. It is about a father:daughter relationship. Theme of rivalry between the 2 young men Demetrius and Lysander:

  • "Stand forth Demetrius"
  • "Stand forth Lysander"

Each of them represents one conception:

  • Demetrius: can marry someone even if there is love.
  • Lysander: it should be based upon love.

Love is irrational. Hermia pleads for feelings and her father for reasons. Children should be totally subservient to their father: "As she is mine, I may dispose of her". The play poses the problem of woman’s condition.

C. The Moon

The moon appears 28 times in the play. It is one of the richest symbol you can think of. At the beginning, the moon is too slow to appear. It is the moon that gives blessing to their wedding.

"Pale companion is not for our pomp": coldness, chastity, frigidity: the moon is sad and therefore incompatible with the spirit of mirth (incompatible with the play ?). The play is imbued with the spirit of night (A Midsummer Night‘s Dream), it i a kind of fantasy.

Summary of the plot

Theseus and Hippolyta are about to get married. A group of mechanicals want to prepare a play for their marriage. In parallel to that, Helena loves Demetrius who loves Hermia who loves Lysander. The Queen and King of the fairies, Titania and Oberon, have been quarrelling about a young motherless boy. The couple is split and she is strong will.

Oberon asked his servant Puck to drop some magic juice on Titania’s eyelids so that she would fall in love with the first person she wood meet: that would be Bottom, disguised in donkey by Puck. Oberon also asked Puck to drop magic juice on Lysander and Demetrius but Puck makes a mistake: Hermia is rejected and Helena is loved by both Demetrius and Lysander. In the end, everything returns and finishes with 3 weddings.

The play: Pyramus and Thisbe. Pyramus finds Thisbe’s piece of cloth blooded as if Thisbe had been eaten by a lion and kill himself. Thisbe comes back and sees Pyramus dead. She kills herself.

Different interpretations

  • theme of interest: lyricism and poetic beauty of the play.
  • becoming aware of the violence and madness of the play.
  • notion of power: political power (Duke of Athens), power relationships between men and women.
  • interpretation of love: romantic presence of love or cynical interpretation of love (all delusion): which type of love is it ?
  • fantastic dimension.
  • very performing play : play action.

The order of sins are always strategically ordered :

  • In Act I scene 2, Duncan is told about Macbeth’s valorous qualities and Cawdor’s sins.
  • In act I scene 3, the witches call Macbeth successively « Thane of Glamis », « Thane of Cawdor » and « King ».

It creates dramatic irony: we know something about the character that he still ignores. Moreover, the technique of using a prophecy, that is to say a prolepsis tends to add tension and suspense.

Violence is present throughout the whole play and is part of Shakespeare’s tradition of gore, like in all his revenge tragedy. It does not bother Shakespeare to show murders, blood or violence on stage, like in Titus Andronicus or Troilus and Cressida.

When a war is shown on stage, it is to embody disorder and a certain amount of chaos. The actors are then entering and exiting, fighting and falling down. But the more violent scen for the audience remains the child murder. It was the deepest evil for the Elizabethans.

Macbeth’s tyranny was so huge that only a war could get rid of him. In Act V scene 5, Macbeth says that « life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player […]. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing« . It is a real breakthrough, which shows the ultimate inner disorder of Macbeth. The rhythm of the play totally changes at the end. For instance, exits and entrances, alarums and stage directions are much more frequent. The end comes suddenly -when Malcolm is proclaimed King- and so is the re-establishment of order from the reader-spectator’s point of view.

Political questions are typical of the Renaissance: it is due to the inheritance of rulers by divine right. Malcolm, the oldest of Duncan »s sons, is declared heir to the throne and Prince of Cumberland. Like Richard, Macbeth wants to disrupt the natural order of things. At the end of Macbeth, just like in Richard III, the natural order is restored (« Hail, King of Scotland ») and the divine right is respected. The feudal social organization is based on duty, loyalty and allegiance to the King. All these virtues are violated by Macbeth.

Like disorder, treason in unnatural. A traitor is an unnatural subject. In II, 2 Macduff discovers the dead King and describes the deed as the « most sacrilegious murder » and the murderer as « a new Gorgon« . Killing a rightful monarch is an offense to order. In II, 4, 5 we see that what happens on earth is closely linked to what happens in the « skies« . The events on earth (« sublunary ») are so horrible that an eclipse occurs, meaning that the sun dares not happen. The murder of a King is unnatural, horrible and impossible to name.

The whole play is based on the contrast between true royalty and tyranny. Duncan is the good King and Macbeth is the Tyrant. The subjects love the good King but fear the tyrant like in V, 2, 19: « Nothing in love » . In V, 3, Macbeth boasts himself to have a spy in each of his subjects » house. The tyrant used to have spies. Macbeth is unfair (like Richard) and Justice is the main quality of a good ruler. The abuse of power is shown in Act V, sc3, v11. Macbeth is gradually more and more lonely and less and less communicative. He fears himself, perhaps because if he has killed the King, he can be killed too.

What is a good ruler ?

This question is set everywhere in Shakespeare »s works (see The Tempest). A good ruler has to be the natural heir of the throne and needs culture, knowledge and prudentia. In Act IV, sc3, Malcolm is precocious and aware that « a good man can turn evil / A bad man can turn good ». Malcolm is not as naive as his father. He will test Macduff, whom he thinks he is one of Macbeth »s spies, by pretending to be totally awful. Malcolm recounts Cawdor »s death in I, 4. He is aware of Man »s nature and tells how Cawdor, a bad man, turned repentant.

Macbeth is compared to Satan because he is so valorous and close to the king that he thinks he can take his place. The central moral debate is how could Satan, so close to perfection, rebel against God. The answer is plain: because of jealousy. Macbeth was Duncan »s favourite knight just like Satan was God »s favourite angel.

Malcolm has prudentia and has learnt to be aware of traitors. Macbeth is tempted and falls. Malcolm is even aware that fall is part of Human Nature. It was the post-lapsarian period: everybody can fall and no one is innocent. The link between Macbeth and Satan resides in the name of Macbeth »s servant, Seyton.

Introduction to "Macbeth" photo

Macbeth was written by Shakespeare between 1603 and 1606, between Caesar and Hamlet. It is the story of a murderer and usurper, like Richard III or Claudius (Hamlet) from crime to crime to achieve security. Macbeth is a villain but a more humanized character compared to Richard.

Macbeth is a noble and gifted man. He chooses treachery and crime, knows them for what they are and is totally aware he is doing evil. Evil is concentrated in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who are influenced by the Weird Sisters.

The play examines the possibilities of evil and centres on the villain-hero. We find good only in secondary characters like Duncan or Malcolm. Macduff is the righteous character. Macbeth is a tyrant (Cf Richard III) and Malcolm will be the good king (Cf Richmond).

The supernatural powers are represented by the Weird Sisters and Hecate, standing for the side of evil (disorder) and by the King of England, standing for the side of good (order). The symbolism is obvious: it is light versus darkness, angels Vs devils and heaven Vs hell.

The character of Macbeth is interesting because he is fully conscious of the horror of his deeds. Indeed, we learn in the beginning of his soliloquies that he knows very well what is good: in Act I, sc2, l.13, there is an enumeration of all reasons why he should not kill Duncan. Macbeth is tortured between his erected wit and his infected will.

Macbeth is the story of the temptation of a good man by witches. It is comparable to Adam and Eve with the Serpent. Lady Macbeth is the one who is really tempted. There is also a sort of philosophical issue: Macbeth is a brave soldier but a moral coward too: he is a brutal murderer feeling guilty. It is a moral dimension that does not exist in Richard III. The play is therefore more subtle since we find the presence of evil in the virtuous and of good in the wicked. It is not a manichean word: « our life is a mingled yarn, good and evil together » (All’s Well that Ends Well).

The Thane of Cawdor is a traitor and he dies in I,4. But we learn that even the wicked can have virtue through repentance. It announces the other side. The fundamental moral issue is that evil is made possible because of man’s free will. Moral damnation is possible because man has understanding and can make the difference between good and evil. Awareness and clairvoyance make moral judgements possible. Macbeth is perfectly aware and morally conscious. The tragedy lies all in both being aware and being courageous -it is the fate of the tragic hero.

Macbeth is not a manichean vision of man. Richard III is the villain as hero but Macbeth is the hero who becomes a villain. The emphasis is on the process of turning evil. Hence, it is fundamental that, from the start, Macbeth should be presented as a hero: « for brave Macbeth » (I, 2, 16). At first, he is a very brave soldier but he is ambitious and wants to satisfy his wife who is even more ambitious. He will seize the opportunity to get the crown. But he made a misjudgment between temporal good (crown) and eternal good (heaven). Macbeth has awareness but his judgement is weak: he is very much influenced by his wife.

Shakespeare decided to show the steps by which a noble man is made to his damnation, to depict a man lured by evil. The more evil Macbeth is, the more isolated he becomes.

Shakespeare could not show a devil at the time of the Renaissance (for it was considered as comical at that time) so he showed witches instead, who were human beings that had given their souls to the Devil). Witches are not naturally evil. They have to become evil, just like Macbeth. Like Parcae, the three sisters are weaving human destiny. They represent fate and humans who have become evil. They know the past, govern the present and can foresee the future. They appear at the beginning, announce Macbeth’s rise and finally his fall: mainly at strategic moments. They only tempt Macbeth because he is ambitious and responsible. Ambition and his wife’s influence will lead him to murder Duncan. Everything is motivated by fear. The ultimate evil is always a child murderer. Banquo is killed because he represented a living reproach for Macbeth: Banquo did not yield to temptation and remained loyal. It is a vicious circle for Macbeth: after murdering Duncan, he has to murder Banquo. Macbeth’s solitude increases with the number of crimes.

The recurrent idea in Macbeth is that the more you fall into evil, the less free you are. Indeed, Macbeth has less and less choice. He has to do evil and he feels less and less guilty by doing so. Guilt was good because it showed him the difference between good and evil. Macbeth’s will is infected.

Lady Macbeth is less aware of this difference between good and evil. At the end, when consciousness comes back to her, she tries to wash her hands during her sleep, just like Pontius Pilate. It is interesting to notice that sleepwalking was a sign of possession by the Devil in Shakespeare’s times.

Conrad was a sailor and gave us a flavour of seamanship: read ch1-20, there are segments which should not be missed. In Youth (1828), Conrad wrote a fiction based on his first-hand experience as first mate on board a ship called the « Palestine ». He was directly involved in an incident: the Palestine caught fire and the team, including Conrad, were obliged to abandon the ship. A trial took place and the team was cleared because they had done everything they could. In Youth, Conrad’s double was a character that he called Marlow: it was the first time Marlow was introduced. In Lord Jim, Conrad is not directly involved.

The Jeddah incident was the model of the Patna (p319-358) : Conrad intertwines facts and fiction in an osmosis.

  • « the pilgrims of an exacting faith » (p15) : indicate a harsh religion, they are obliged to go to Mecca at least once in a lifetime. The voyage takes place in horrendous conditions : every deck is packed (children, women, men). People are suffering from the heat and promiscuous conditions.
  • The team knows of other conditions: debauchery and absence of morals. Opposition between the East (the pilgrims) and the West (Europeans).
  • the « unconscious crowd »: trust the white man and the ship. Dramatic irony, the ship is everything but safe.

« Unconscious believers » seem to be doomed to die. The irony lays in the fact they are doomed to survive. They will prove to be right in their belief and will be saved in the end.

  • p15, paragraph 3 : the lighthouse is personalized, winking and laughing at the pilgrim ship, it is the symbol of technological advancement. It is ironical since they will reach their destination. There is a play on the situation: their faith is first mocked and then gains in value. The ship does not sink. Each sentence is loaded in meaning. The arrival of the pilgrims is compared to water flooding. In fact, this announcement does not occur: the reader has been taken in.

The Patna is a steamer: it possesses a steam and a sail to manoeuvre in the harbour. It is in a very bad state of repair, a rooker which should be dismantled because it is not seaworthy. A steamer is propelled forward by a condensing engine. The steam cylinders produce energy and the condensing machine is visible on deck. The steam is produced by coal being burnt.

The deck is packed with Muslims and amid-ship are the white members: the captain, Jim, the first engineer, the second engineer and George. Two lascars are holding the helm throughout the circumstances, we find them again at the trial. The whole ship is reduced to a deck-winch: this is a synecdocque (the whole is reduced to a part).

After the collision, Jim is convinced the ship is not going to hold down. The obstacle is never mentioned: « the thing », « something ». Jim goes down to the lower deck and a piece of rusted iron comes down: the sea can flood the ship at any moment. It is a hopeless situation with only 7 boats for 800 people. Against all expectations, the Patna holds out: « the safest thing was to leave it alone » (French Lieutenant, p85).

Part of fiction of the Patna :

  • Conrad internationalized the crew.
  • The original captain was an Englishman, not a New South Wales German.
  • The Jeddah was rescued by an English vessel and not a French one.

Conrad’s aim is to make Jim’s decision hard to comprehend and to heighten the sense of moral dilemma. In the Jeddah incident, there was the mention of a storm, the pilgrims rebelled and there was a few casualties. None of this happens with the Patna: only George dies from a heart attack. The Patna only mysteriously collided with an unexplained something on a treacherously, ominously calm sea:

« she went over whatever it was as easy as easy as a snake crawling over a stick » (Jim, Chap4 p21): sense of the unexplainable and sense of magic.

Jim, as the son of a parson, uses a biblical image. Conrad toned down the atrocities that took place on the Jeddah and this is a central decision. He does not allow our sympathy to be aroused and makes things go against Jim.

Jim first behaves as an officer and does not recommend abandoning the ship (dignity). Contrary to the others who desperately try to escape, Jim is not a walkabout clown and appears to be superior to the others, who are only preoccupied with their own survival. Image of an officer in full command who assumes responsibility towards his passengers.

The final jump is inexplicable since it was shown that Jim was better than the others. Conrad wishes to confront the essence of the case in all its starkness. How is it possible to account for the sudden breakdown of an officer who is trustworthy and faithful on his condition of first mate ?


« A free and wandering tale » about « the acute consciousness of lost honour ». Lord Jim is not a simple book that could be called novel: this is too reductive. From a technical point of view it is an idealistic image, a Jamesonian novel. Conrad tries to innovate by rejecting Victorian methods of writing and patterns.

In an essay called « The New Novel » (1914), Henry James tries to analyze Conrad’s complexity : « Conrad’s first care is explicitly to set up a reciter, a definite responsible first person singular, possessed of infinite sources of reference who immediately precedes to set up another to the end that this other may conform again to the practice ».

Conrad’s mark resides in a series of embedded testimonies. The narrative complexity brings about mystery and elusiveness as if nothing could be pinned down.

E.M. Forster’s try to give a definition of elusiveness: « What is so elusive about him is that he’s always promising to make some general philosophic statement about the universe and then refraining. […]. He is misty in the middle as well as at the edges. »

Conrad was never understood by his contemporaries, for instance Virginia Woolf said:
« Mr Conrad is a Pole, which sets him apart and makes him however admirable not very helpful. » (helpful on the reflection on the English novel).

James scoughed at Conrad’s technique and compared his situation of elucation to buckets of water being passed on for the improvised extinction of a fire, before reaching our apprehension. In a nutshell, Conrad creates a sense of suspense but it’s like it’s created for nothing because the end does not live up to the promises.

Thus, Conrad’s fiction writing, consisting of the adding-up of novelties, was ignored by Virginia Woolf. Why rejecting Conrad ? Conrad testifies to a complexity of influences which may be what his contemporaries failed. He is a crucible of different influences.

I – Adventures at sea

Conrad mentioned two authors who influenced him:

  • Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848): Mr Midshipman Easy (1836) is a ship microcosm of society.
  • James Fenimore Cooper, who introduced the sea novel genre in American literature and used sea romances as a means to regain and recast identity in fiction. Like Cooper, Conrad was reticent to reveal details about his life (refusal to disclose any sense of privacy).

The paradox is that you depend on the narrator to know the story but this « I » refuses to make too personal comments. Besides, different languages coexist in Lord Jim :

  • attempt to reproduce foreign language:
    • quoting French (French lieutenant)
    • quoting German (Stein)
  • attempts from Indians to speak English:
    • broken syntax
    • poor English
  • Shakespearian overtones between Marlow and Stein (ch. 20, cf. Hamlet)

Why is the sea so central ?

Life at sea is compared to the process of writing (cf. A Personal Record). Once you’ve starting sailing, you cannot stop. It’s a need that cannot be refrained and once you stop, you become a wreck. The same applies for Conrad : his short-story became a novella and eventually a novel. There are 3 common factors: restraint, solidarity and fidelity.

A. Restraint

The sea is a test which puts to the proof the mettle of sailors. The merest moment of absent-mindedness can be devastating: cf Jim’s failure to make a decision, absence of decision:

  • The beginner saving the 2 mates is a warning.
  • When he leaves the Patna, his attention flags : devastating consequences.

One way to praise soldiers is to call them « strictly sober », i.e. not liable to yield to sudden impulses.
The risk for the writer is to be too complacent, to give in to sentimentality and sensationalism. Conrad wishes to subordinate emotions to imagination and intelligence. It is the whole thing between possessing a feeling and being possessed by it :

« It may be my sea training but the fact is that I have a positive horror of losing even for one moving moment that full position of myself which is the first condition of good service ».

In a way, Conrad never establishes an intimate relationship with the reader. Dignity in the story prevents you from identifying with the story: it creates a distance with the reader and there is a lot of linguistic work. English is not Conrad’s first language and this lack of spontaneity is a form of restraint.

We could argue that Conrad is the exact opposite of D.H. Lawrence for Conrad is not at his best at love and passion. He is not a writer putting much faith in the generative powers of nature, yet he is unrivaled on two questions:

  • problem of personal identity.
  • moral conduct and ethics.

B. Solidarity

In Lord Jim, to become a seaman means belonging to a group, a confraternity with a tradition of service. This decision of Jim to assume responsibility brings nothing else than shame. Marlow constantly says : « he was one of us », which is a reference to the society of sailors. The meaning of an artist’s life must be sought in an ideal of human solidarity and seek to express man’s capacity for comradeship.

Marlow’s interest for Jim comes from the fact Marlow wishes to come to some understanding of the deepest motivations in mankind. He wants to rescue a certain realistic image of mankind. Conrad repudiates the view that moral life would depend upon abstract principles. Moral reflections are not inspired from Heaven or abstract principles but are edicted by circumstances: Conrad is a moral pragmatist, the opposite of Rousseau (« an artless moralist » according to Conrad).

The second view rejected is the insistence on individualism. The self as self-reliant is a solipsism. Conrad rejects utilitarianism, liberalism and aestheticism. The individual should stand in the limelight.

C. Fidelity

Conrad is in a marginal position (as a Pole). He is neither a patriot nor a traitor, in position of nomadism and with a pessimistic approach to Nature and the Universe (cosmic forces): the elements are unreliable and destructive (p.68: the storm is described as an  » infernal joke »).

Nature can provide no comfort or relief. Some sort of meaning has to be found in human relationship. Fidelity is like a bulwark (separation, protective screen) against the drift of dissolution. To be faithful is to make a definitive commitment, for example Marlow’s pledge to Jim p.93: « our communion in the night was uncommonly like a last vigil with a condemned man. »

II – Lord Jim as a colonial saga

Conrad followed the 19th-20th century fashion of colonial places (cf. Paul Gauguin in Tahiti). Patusan is a medley of different influences. It is influenced by Berau (place near Borneo) and by Conrad’s own reading, especially The Malay Archipelago by Alfred Russell Wallace, who was interested in collecting butterflies and beetles. The references to insectology and entomology in Lord Jim show the correspondences between Stein and Wallace.

In chapter 20, Stein catches a gorgeous butterfly. The butterfly is an embodiment of the absolute beauty which transcends man’s finitude. Read p.125:
« as though on the bronze sheen of these frail wings, in the white tracings, in the gorgeous markings, he could see other things, an image of something as perishable and defying destruction as these delicate and lifeless tissues displaying a splendour unmarred by death. »

The butterfly is the epitemy of a central romantic paradox: through its beauty, it attains a form of eternity and through its symmetry it escapes the boundaries of corrupting time. Yet, it is pinned down lifeless on cardboard: it is physically dead while challenging the very idea of death.

Beetles encapsulate everything horrendous and are used as flat characters. Cornelius is depicted as a beetle p170:
« His slow laborious walk resembled the creeping of a repulsive beetle, the legs alone moving with horrid industry while the body glided evenly. »

On a geographic level, Patusan is fictitious, the name contains all the letters from « Patna » and introduces two new letters « us ». The Patna is still very much present in Patusan. There is no escape. Patusan was colonized by Dutch and English colonists for the pepper trade (under the reign of James I in the 17th century).

With the arrival of Gentleman Brown, there is a shift from Borneo to the West coast of Sumatra. It is a chronotope: a symbolic space-time which may be used to contribute to a definition of the characters, to organize diegetic events, to convey emotions and to transmit a system of values. Patusan has a symbolic significance in the book, it is a chronotope for the limits of moral transgression and for the social rupture with the Western world.

With Patusan, Conrad breaks with the exotic picturesque representation of the East commonly found in books published in the Victorian age (cf. Rudyard Kipling or Rider Haggard). In adventure tales, a threshold has to be crossed. Once it is been crossed, conquest may start. In Lord Jim, this right of passage does not work at all. It is a leap – when Jim escapes from the Rajah and jumps from a palissade: « He took off from the last dry spot, felt himself flying through the air, felt himself, without any shock, planted upright in an extremely soft and sticky mudbank ».

  • primordial, primeval matter
  • earth and its origins

The jump is not a forward but a backward leap, indicating a regressive process. That is why Lord Jim is a modernist novel, Jim is not an explorer bringing about civilization. The mud he leapt in is a by-word for regression. Conrad changes the significance of what would be a rite of passage. Patusan is described as a dead-end, a place of no-return : « this is my limit because nothing else will do » (p198).

There is nothing else after Patusan, it is the ever-undiscovered country from which we know Jim will never return (cf. Hamlet). Patusan is also the place where the ideal of Western civilization will collapse. Profound pessimism (for Conrad had read Schopenhauer). The Humanist tradition (Renaissance) was called into question by Schopenhauer : the Western man proud of his superiority is replaced by the naked man, having lost everything, including the faith he used to put in himself.

Man is no longer capable of forming objective opinion and he can no longer trust any transcendental power: he is powerless in front of blind impulses which he cannot refrain.

The moment of the jump from the Patna is never treated as such. It seems that the key moment is not one in which a decision is made. Jim is not acting but acted upon. He is not totally in control of the situation, a situation which cannot be grasped through language. It is a sort of silence, considered in retrospect (cf Schopenhauer: man is partly victim of circumstances).

In 1828, Conrad wrote that « the worst thing about man’s condition is that he’s conscious ». Consciousness is lethal.

Schopenhauer’sinfluence can be found in Holy-Terror Robinson, Chester’s friend, who shows that under certain circumstances, some civilized characters may regress to the most barbarous practices. Indeed he survived only through cannibalism (p99).


Lord Jim clearly illustrates a point made by Bakhtin in his essay « Epic and the Novel », who says that the Novel as a genre has a tendency to incorporate elements of other genres such as myth, romance and sea-life adventures in the case of Lord Jim. Through its narrative technique, it comments on the transition in the European cultural tradition from oral to written narratives, which Walter Benjamin showed in his essay « The Story-Teller »:

« The Story-Teller takes what he tells from his experience: his own or that reported by others… The Novelist has isolated himself… To write a novel means to carry the incommensurable to extremes in the representation of human life. »

Finally, the subtitle of Lord Jim is « A Tale ». It is a novel, predicated upon an act of telling to come into being, relayed by different tellers. Hence it shows that everything told is fragile, relative, filtered by different minds and that the reader must be active.


Laurie Lee belongs to a large family, due to his father’s two marriages.

The first time, his father got 8 kids but only 5 survived: Marjorie, Dorothy, Phyllis, Reggie and Harold.

The second time, with Laurie’s mother, he got 4 kids and just 3 survived: Laurie, Tony and Jack. There are 8 members in the family and Laurie is one of the youngest.

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee : chapter analysis photo

I. The 3 half-sisters

Marjorie: is the eldest. She’s a blonde Aphrodite. She’s tall, long-haired, and dreamily gentle, and her voice is low and slow. She’s quite unconscious of the rarity of herself, moving always to measures of oblivious grace and wearing her beauty like a kind of sleep. (p.61-62)

Dorothy: is a wispy imp, pretty and perilous as a firework. She is an active forager who lives on thrills, provoked adventure, and brought home gossip. She is agile as a jungle cat, quick limbed, entrancing, noisy. In repose she is also something else: a fairy-tale girl, blue as a plum, tender and sentimental. (p.62)

Phyllis: is the youngest of the three. She’s cool, quiet, tobacco-haired, fragile girl, who carries her good looks with an air of apology. She is an odd girl, an unclassified solitary, compelled to her own devices, quick to admire and slow to complain. (p.62-63)

Laurie gives us an account of his sisters’ personalities with a very detailed description. He seems to admire his sisters :

  • « These half sisters I cherished », p.63
  • « Generous, indulgent, warm-blooded and dotty, these girls were not hard to admire. They seemed wrapped as it were in perpetual bloom, the glamour of their grown-up teens, and expressed for us boys all that women should be in beauty, style, and artifice. For there was no doubt at all about the beauty or the naturalness with which they wore it », p.61

Laurie’s sisters protect and rescue him:

  • « Faces of rose, familiar, living; huge shining faces hung up like shields between me and the sky; faces with grins and white teeth (some broken) to be conjured up like genii with a howl, brushing off terror with their broad scolding and affection », p.9
  • « Marjorie, the eldest, lifted me into her long brown hair, and ran me jogging down the path and trough the steep rose-filled garden », p.10
  • « How magnificent they appeared, full-rigged, those towering girls, with their flying hair and billowing blouses, their white-mast arms stripped for work or washing; at any moments one was boarded by them, bussed and buttoned, or swung up high like a wriggling fish to be hooked and held in their lacy linen », p.15

Moreover, when Laurie’s mother went to see his father, the sisters played a preponderant role. They played a part in Laurie’s education. They appeared as a second parents and formed a microcosm closer to their brothers than their mother :

  • « Suddenly there where only girls in the house, tumbling about with brooms and dishcloths, arguing, quarrelling, and putting us to bed at random. […] Marjorie was breathless and everywhere; she was fourteen, with all the family in her care. […] But we ate; and the girls moved about in a giggling flurry, exhausted at their losing game. […] All this time the sisters went through the house, darting upstairs and down, beset on all sides by the rain coming in, boys growing filthier, sheets scorching, saucepans burning, and kettles boiling over. The doll’s-house became a mad house, and the girls frail birds flying in a wind of chaos. Doth giggled helplessly, Phyl wept among the vegetables, and Marjorie would say, when the day was over, « I’d lie down and die, if there was a place to lie down in », p.20-21

II. The girls’ lovers

Marjorie’s is Maurice. Dorothy’s is Leslie, « a shy local scoutmaster, at least until he met her ». Phyllis’s is Harold the Bootmaker, « who had fine Latin books, played the piano by ear, and sang songs about old-fashioned mothers », p.225

  • « The sisters, as I said, were about to get married. Harold was working at a factory lathe. Brother Jack was at grammar school, and his grammar was excellent; and Tony still had a fine tremble voice. My mother half-knew me, but couldn’t help, I felt doomed, and of all things wonderful. » p.231
  • « Marjorie was off to her Milliners’ Store. Dorothy was off to her job as junior clerk in a decayed cloth-mill by a stream. Phyllis was off to her Boots-and-shoes » p.68

III. The 2 half-brothers

Reggie : the first born, is only once mentioned because « he lived apart with his grandmother », p.63

Harold : « was handsome, bony, and secretive, and he loved our absent father. He stood somewhat apart, laughed down his nose, and was unhappy more often than not. Though younger than the girls, he seemed a generation older, was clever with his hands, but lost. », p.63

IV. The 2 true brothers

Jack: « was the eldest. He was the sharp one, bright as a knife, and was also my close companion. We played together, fought and ratted, built a private structure around us, shared the same bed till I finally left home, and lived off each other’s brains. » p.63

Tony: « the baby, strange and beautiful waif, was a brooding, imaginative solitary. Like Phyllis he suffered from being the odd one of three; worse still, he was the odd one of seven. He was always either running to keep up with the rest of us or sitting alone in the mud. His curious, crooked, suffering face had at times the radiance of a saint, at others the blank watchfulness of an insect. He could walk by himself or keep very still, get lost or appear as wrong moments. He drew like an artist, wouldn’t read or write, swallowed beads by the boxfull, sang and danced, was quite without fear, had secret friends, and was prey to terrible nightmares. Tony was the one visionary amongst us, the tiny hermit no one quite understood… », p.63

Laurie seems to be very close to Jack:

  • « My brother Jack, who was with me in the Infants, was too clever to stay there long. Indeed he was so bright he made us uncomfortable. » p.47
  • « Jack, already the accepted genius, was long past our scope or help. It was agreed that his brains were of such distinction that they absolved him from mortal contacts. So he was left in a corner where his flashes of brilliance kept him twinkling away like a pin-table. » p.52-53
  • « He was jumpy, shifty, and quick-off-the-mark, an electric flex of nerves, skinny compared to the rest of us, or what farmers might call a ‘poor doer’. If they had, in fact, they would have been quite wrong, for Jack did himself very well. He had developed a mealtime strategy which ensured that he ate for two. Speed and guile were the keys to his success, and we hungry ones called him The Slider. » p.69


The Short Story appeared in the 19th century, inherited from tales and narratives. As Edgar Allan Poe stated it, a Short Story must have a « unity of impression, of totality and of single effect ». It could be compared to poetry: consciousness, inner life and the end of the story subjected to many interpretations lead to a sudden illumination from the part of the reader: at a certain point, this latter understands everything.

The Novel is based on a principle of disgression whereas the short-story is based on compression. In the short-story, there is no useless details and everything is important: one single detail can deeply affect a character and have many consequences on the plot. The short-story is short (!) but tends to go thoroughly into characters’ minds. The spiritual and inner quest, as well as the closed spaces are necessary to the achievement of the plot: there is often a scheme of circularity, ie we always go back to the beginning, even if it has changed. The final situation is the sum of the initial situation mixed up with transformations, either affecting the character himself or his surrounding.

The Short-Story and the Novel

Length : A short story is short and a novel is relatively long. The term  » short story  » is normally applied to works of fiction from one thousand to fifteen thousand words. Novels are generally thougt of containing about forty five thousand words or more. The short story is neither a truncated novel nor a part of an unwritten novel. Edgar Allan Poe settled the matter of a short story’s length when he said it should be short enough to be read at one sitting. Poe also said the story should be long enough to produce the desired effect on the reader.


The plot of the short story will often turn on a single incident that takes on great significance for the characters. The art of Poe depends for success on an intensity and purity of emotional effect based on rigorous selection and arrangement of materials and on an intensity and purity of emotional effect. Poe aimed at a sublimation of terror.

Development implies time, and the writer of a short story has little time at his disposal. Therefore, characters seldom develop in the short story. Rather, they are revealed to us.

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