The Reformation in the British Isles photo

The Reformation in the British Isles

The Anglo-American World is predominantly a Protestant and religious world: reformed Christianity largely influenced the culture and ideals.

But Protestantism is no British creation for it appeared in the 16th century in continental Europe.

A German monk called Martin Luther started a rebellion against the churches’ authority in 1517 and founded a new church: “the Lutheran or Evangelical Church”.

A Frenchman called Jean Calvin rose against authority and influenced indirectly the whole civilization of the English-speaking world.

For them, the only authority in the church should come from the Bible and not from priests, for else the interpretation is open to everybody: the Reformation started a real challenge against authority.

English and American Protestantism were defined by plurality: the Reformation had a tremendous influence on individual freedom and on the development of an atmosphere of tolerance.

In Britain, churches after the Reformation organized themselves as official national churches: one particular protestant church became the established Church [=> rejection & exclusion].

In Ireland, the establishment was the natural elite: that what was called the Ascendancy.

The Church of England

The Church of England was created by the top of the British society in 1534 when Henry VIII decided to separate the English Church from the Church of Rome by his own authority.

His creation took the simple name of Anglican Church (English Church). The King had 3 main reasons for the creation of the Church of England:

1. Personal reason: the King wished to divorce his wife and the Pope refused. There was a problem of power for the King did not want to be ruled by the Pope.

2. Financial reason: England was small and poor before colonization and the King needed the Church’s wealth. Hence, the King accepted Luther’s theory about the abolition of monasteries and started the Reformation.

3. Political reason: Henry VIII wanted to be free of appointing the leaders of the church, i.e. the Bishops.

The Reformation is a declaration of independence for the rest of the world (especially for France and Italy).

In terms of doctrine, Anglicanism is a political, practical, and pragmatic compromise between Roman Catholicism and continental Protestantism: several tendencies developed within the Church from the part of the Church called High Church (close to Catholicism) to the low Church (close to Calvinism).

The Church developed in a general atmosphere of tolerance. Yet, in terms of organization and discipline, the Church of England kept an elaborate hierarchy of priests, bishops, and 2 archbishops under the supremacy of the King, the official head of the Church.

Individual access to reading the Bible, which represents a characteristic of Protestantism, was made possible through the publication in 1611 of an English translation of the texts.

But, this was made under a strictly controlled version, known after the very significant name of the authorized version, which is in use nowadays in the USA: King James’s Bible.

From 1563, those who wanted to eliminate catholic survivors from the Church of England were forced to leave it: they were called the Puritans from their wish to purify the Church from popery.

They gave birth to England’s religious pluralism that found an echo in a variety of American churches’ denominations.

The Church of Scotland

In 1559, John Knox founded a popular Calvinist church in Scotland. He rejected papal authority and all kinds of hierarchy but this democratic church imposed strict moral discipline and social order on the people.

It was organized after a system called Presbyterianism in which authority was detained neither by people nor ministers but by a category of members called the Elders.

In 1560, the Scottish Parliament adopted Presbyterianism as the Church of Scotland.

The non-established churches

Contrary to the notions of uniformity and discipline, expressed by the established churches (England and Scotland), the existence and persistence of non-established denominations demonstrate the principles of diversity which is characteristic of the protestant world.

Historically, both Catholics and Protestants dissenters were first persecuted and then excluded from civic life, i.e. they had no access to professions, to trading corporations, to universities (both as students and professors), and to politics.

Protestant independents were finally tolerated in the early 18th century but the formal emancipation of those two groups of people only took place in 182X, when they were given full civil rights.

Roman Catholicism

Because of persecutions, Roman Catholicism had almost disappeared from GB in the 18th century. But in Ireland, it remained the religion of a majority of the population.

Nevertheless, like the British counterpart, until 1829, Irish Catholics were discriminated and the minority Anglican Church was established as the official church of Ireland.

Mainly because of Irish immigration from 1845 onwards, Roman Catholicism has made constant progress in GB, particularly in the big industrial centers of the Northwest (Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow).

In 1921, the major part of Ireland separated from Britain and became the Irish Free State, which later took the name of the Irish Republic or Eire. But the mainly protestant countries of Northern Ireland remained British for political and religious reasons. They formed the province of Ulster.

This close link between religion and politics, between Protestantism and unionism on the one hand and Catholicism and republicanism on the other hand is the main reason for sectarian violence in Ulster.

Other problems are typical of the religious context of Northern Ireland:

  • Absence of residential integration between Catholics and Protestants: the two communities live in separate quarters. This problem is responsible for the presence of ghettos in Belfast or Derry.
  • Persistence of job discrimination for the catholic minority in Northern Ireland. Although discrimination was formerly declared illegal in 1979, Ÿ of the jobless in Northern Ireland are Catholics.

Other protestant denominations

Several denominations still continue to be in the independent tradition that emerged in England and in Scotland against the established churches:

The Congregationalists: emerged as the old puritan separatists. In England and Wales, they have recently merged with the Presbyterians to become the united-reformed church. But this union was impossible in Scotland, where Presbyterianism is established as the official church.

The Baptists: were created in England in 1609 by John Smyth. Their action is very important in the USA (especially in the South). Famous Baptists: Martin Luther King, Billy Graham, Jimmy Carter.

The Quakers: were founded by the Englishman George Fox in 1650. They have no clergy at all and advocate pacifism (peace and love). Their influence is very important in charities and education. They played a decisive role in business and capitalism: Barclay founded an important banking company and Cadbury a chocolate company. The Quakers also founded two American states: Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, both famous for their religious tolerance and democratic institutions.

The Methodists: were created by an Englishman called John Wesley in the middle of the 18th century. Methodism started as protest against conservatism and formalism in the Church of England. Popular movement insisting on individual freedom and personal enthusiasm.

The Salvation Army: was founded by an Englishman called William Booth in 1865 in a very original protestant church without clergy, yet with a strong military organization. Church insisting on the relief of poverty as essential.

The influence of Protestantism

Protestantism and more especially Bible reading in English represent the major origins of the Anglo-American moral and intellectual traditions. It greatly influenced native traditions but it was also influenced by those different traditions.

The result of these interactions, sometimes violent, is a complex cultural melting pot that is characteristic of the contemporary English-speaking world.

Influence on politics and economics

Protestantism advocated individual freedom and more democracy in Church matters. The Anglo-American tradition emphasizes on the notion of respect for civic liberties and insists on the necessity for minimum intervention from the state in everyday life.

Therefore, both libertarianism and liberalism may be said to be the consequence of Protestantism. Parliamentary institutions were first adopted in England before the Reformation but the progressive desacralization of monarchy and the rule of pluralism through the creation of political parties are legacies of Protestantism.

The coexistence between centralism and delegation of authority was inherited from Protestantism. In Britain, the monarchy persisted as the symbol of state. In the USA, the new presidential institutions lay emphasis on a powerful head of state.

But in both cases, local authorities have their own say in political matters. The American regime is federal while the British system applies the rule of subsidiarity; i.e. decisions are taken at the lowest possible level.

Capitalism may also be attributed to Protestantism, since economic success and accumulation of capital were considered as signs of salvation.

Influence on culture and society

Because of the emphasis put on the individual by Protestantism, Anglo-American societies are strongly individualistic. They expressed the horror of collective structure, the cult of the self-made-man and are very often indifferent to poverty.

Society is also animated by a strong sense of community, in great respect for the organization, responsibility, and public spirit.

Sometimes, the state is committed to social issues: the Welfare State in GB was set up in 1945 to protect national health and social security but there is no Welfare State in the USA.

Hence, opposition of a puritan sense of economy, seriousness, work ethic, counterbalanced by a degree of relativism, distanced humor and nonsense, which are as powerful as the puritan trend.

Because of its religious diversity, the Anglo-American World inherited a great sense of compromise in a general context of striking social and cultural contrast.

Sommaire de la série From the Reformation to the birth of the American nation (1534-1776)

  1. The Reformation in the British Isles
  2. English Expansionism
  3. The Glorious Revolution of 1688
  4. The American colonies : Religion and Politics
  5. USA: Birth of a Nation
War Poet : Rupert Brooke (1887-1915) photo

War Poet : Rupert Brooke (1887-1915)

Biography

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 pre-war 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, a sense of disillusion, loss of values, and had a great literary influence in the postwar period.

World War One poetry : a problematic issue photo

World War One poetry: a problematic issue

Introduction

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 to 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, pantheistic rather than atheistic; and as simple as a child’s reading book.

Traditionalism

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.

Escapism

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.

A Midsummer Night's Dream : a comedy photo

A Midsummer Night’s Dream : a comedy

titania_oberon_1000 compressor
“Titania with Ass-headed Bottom” by Johann Heinrich Füssli (1793/4)

Introduction

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.

Conclusion

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.

Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream photo

Structure in A Midsummer Night’s Dream

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 enables Shakespeare to make philosophical and social comments on the way society works ( harmony, balance, social order). High society does not necessarily embody 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.

Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream photo

Background of A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Introduction

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 the devil). Creatures resembling witches are dancing around him. He has got a huge penis: a 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.

Introduction to A Midsummer Night's Dream photo

Introduction to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Place of the play in Shakespeare’s work

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of the most famous and successful nplays by Shakespeare.

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 (the 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. The 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. And the 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 symbols you can think of.

In 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.
Puritanism : a New World Vision photo

Puritanism : a New World Vision

The Puritan New World vision in the longer schemes of things

English Puritans can be divided into several groups. Most of the Puritans remained in England. They accepted the principle of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth, with the Separatists (no affiliation with authority and the English protestant church). They were persecuted and many of them had to run away and come to the New World.

To many Puritans, Christopher Columbus’s passage in America was one of the most important historical events as the sign of a bigger historical destiny, as well as Gutemberg’s printing press (1456) and the Protestant reformation: 3 events, at the same time geographical, textual and religious, marking the beginning of a New World.

Gutenberg’s invention was particularly important for the New -England Protestants for their frequent use of texts (major means of communication). The Puritan society was a unique form of society in the sense that they defined their identity essentially by means of texts.

Throughout the 17th century, colonial identity was the product of two things:

  • Literature or texts
  • And concrete movement in social and geographical space.

This particular form of identity can be seen through different aspects of literary expression: the Puritans used these aspects as sermons, declarations, covenants, controversies and statements of purpose.

Therefore, the lasting effect of the printing press on colonial America is to be found in its contribution to the emergence of a national identity based first and foremost on language and writing.

It was first by means of publication that America declared to the world its identity as a nation and through an effect of discourse that she defined proclaimed and projected its past, its present, and its future.

Realizing the vision: the image of the future played out in the New World

As far as the Puritan world vision is concerned, the conception of their role in the discovery of America is profoundly religious: it’s inseparable from the biblical metaphors of the Apocalypse and the coming of the millennium.

Indeed, their historical and geographical position in America is closely related to their biblical definition of themselves and of America. In the bigger divine plan, the Puritans are God’s chosen people.

Their destination, both spiritual and geographical is America, the new Israel that marks the beginning of the millennium. In this context, it’s also important to add that the millennium utopianism of the Puritans goes hand in hand with their political and religious beliefs.

Through a characteristic synthesis, the Puritans defined their system as a church-state. They believed this religious political system should be a model for the Christian world.

The Puritans considered their historical role in the New World as that of a universal community organized under a “federal” or “national” contract, called a covenant.

Therefore, in John Winthrop’s words, the new church-state was supposed to be “a city upon a hill”, a universal “model of Christian charity” (taken from the sermon he made abroad the ship The Arbella in 1630).

But, with the beginning of the Restoration in 1660, the Puritans lost all hope of spreading their universal vision through England.

The realization of the Puritans’ vision was turned fully toward America and, consciously or unconsciously, the second or third generation of Puritans adopted European metaphors of America, those that they used in their futuristic vision of both land and history.

Thus, the imaginary visions of America as a utopia became synonymous with the New Heaven promised by the Revelation (the Apocalypse). In this apocalyptic vision, geographical and literary exploration, textuality, and religious imagery are inseparable.

These three aspects of the Puritan New World vision represent their most lasting contribution to the American sense of community and identity.

From the Declaration of Independence to the notion of the Manifest Destiny (John L. O’Sullivan) to the New Frontier (John F. Kennedy), the USA has always seen its confrontation with the future as a sort of battle of the wilderness: the nation’s representation of itself reminds us of the Puritans and their imaginary vision of the New World: the vision of a nation in danger, of a plantation facing a complex and hostile environment, of a unified community gaining strength from the challenges of its environment.

Throughout this vision, we found three fundamental elements of American identity:

  • The imaginary projection of nature as the scene of an especially American self.
  • The representation of a self that uses such a scene to enact a specifically American model of self-realization (in the future).
  • The conscious or unconscious references to biblical imagery and the biblical conception of history: American identity as a necessary self-fulfilling promise.

Dialogues ZEP : “finalement, l’anglais c’est con”

Life is one gib nap, interrupted by occasional moments of consciousness...Classe de 5ème section foot. On aborde la structure had to + verb sur le thème de Cendrillon. Un de mes élèves se redresse d’un coup, jette un coup d’oeil à l’image qui se trouve dans le livre et lance, comme illuminé :

– Finalement, l’anglais c’est con hein m’sieur !!!
M : Ben justement, tu devrais cartonner alors…

Les filles se mettent alors à rire, comprenant l’allusion immédiatement. L’élève fronce alors les sourcils, dans un visible effort de compréhension.

– hiiiinnn….
M : Next please !

C’est surprenant comme les filles comprennent plus vite que les garçons. J’ai l’impression qu’elles sont également plus à l’écoute, observant et analysant à la fois. Plus matures finalement.

PLC2 en Vendée, c’est fini…

Picnic

Aujourd’hui s’achève l’année PLC2 Anglais, tout du moins la partie IUFM : nous avons fait le bilan de l’année ce matin, en épluchant les différents volets de la formation.

Si toutes nos doléances sont prises en comptes, la formation des professeurs stagiaires de l’année prochaine devrait être grandement améliorée. Espérons pour eux !

Nous avons ensuite été faire un petit picnic près d’une gare d’eau : tout le monde avait apporté que quoi manger et boire… grosse dînette en compagnie de notre psychologue et de notre responsable de groupe de référence qui, avons-nous appris avec stupéfaction, est allergique au poisson sous n’importe quelle forme. Ah ces anglais, il faut toujours qu’ils nous trouvent quelque chose… ;-)

Je me rends compte que notre groupe va nous manquer dans les prochains mois : on aura rarement un groupe aussi soudé depuis le lycée. Rien à voir avec les années fac, rien à voir avec les autres groupes IUFM.

Pour la postérité, voici la liste des coupables : Aline, Arnaud, Arthur, Aurélie, Ben, Ben², Céline, Mana, Magali, Stéphanie, Nolwen, Pascale, Pauline, Sophie, Stéphanie et Matt.

Les lecteurs les plus assidus de ce blog remarqueront que quelques prénoms dans cette liste reviennent assez régulièrement… qui se ressemble s’assemble comme qui dirait !

Ce n’est bien sûr qu’un au revoir, nous nous reverrons certainement l’année prochaine dans notre prochaine académie. Au pire, j’ai déjà créé un groupe PLC2 dans les options de mon compte Gmail.

Keep in touch buddies !

Dernière journée TICE

Et voilà, nous venons de terminer la troisième et dernière journée TICE de l’année. Je dois avouer que j’ai été agréablement surpris par les contenus de la formation : enfin du concret avec les ordinateurs. Bon je l’avoue, j’ai survolé certains contenus comme la création d’une page HTML mais d’autres ont sérieusement piqué ma curiosité. Les webquests, par exemple, me semblent être un très bon moyen d’insérer les nouvelles technologies dans le cours d’anglais : recherches sur Internet, sélection des informations pertinentes, création d’un panneau pour afficher en classe, compte-rendu oral. Tout se tient. L’essentiel est de bien détailler chaque étape : le professeur doit s’effacer et constater les progrès autonomes de l’élève. Cela me parle bien ce genre d’activité.

Le formateur – tuteur de Ben au demeurant – touche sa bille. Sérieusement, on voit qu’il aime cela et qu’il sait de quoi il parle, ce qui est toujours agréable. Par contre, j’émets quand même quelques réserves sur l’intérêt de tenter d’apprendre à la majeure partie du groupe le langage HTML et les CSS. Cela m’a semblé un peu overkill : bien sûr que cela serait génial si tout le monde pouvait coder ses pages à la main, même les CSS mais sérieusement, combien le feront ? J’ai eu l’impression que l’on dépassait largement le cadre des TICE en cours d’anglais pour s’approcher du côté obscur du code.