Tag Archives: Claudia D

The Hypocrisy of Christianity

24 Oct

Is the play encouraging anti-semitic behaviour or is it designed to highlight the anti-semitic sentiments of society in order to encourage change?

To bait fish withal. If it will feed nothing else, it will

feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and

hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted

my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine

enemies—and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath

not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs,

dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with

the same food, hurt with the same weapons,

subject to the same diseases, healed by the same

means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and

summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not

bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you

poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us,

shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest,

we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a

Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a

Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance

be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy

you teach me I will execute—and it shall go hard

but I will better the instruction.

Determining the writer’s intent for a certain text is never an easy task, especially for one such as Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, was written in a time when anti-Semitism was highly abundant, especially in plays. This play, however, is different because it does not present the Jewish character, Shylock, as entirely villainous. Throughout the play, Shylock is constantly justifying his vengeful behavior and in doing so, exposes the faults of Christianity as well. Thus, the play is merely being realistic, demonstrating the behavior that took place during Shakespeare’s time.

In Act 3, Scene 1, we are provided with Shylock’s famous “Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech, or “plea for human tolerance”1 as some might say, in which he is defending his race and exposing the hypocrisy of Christianity (3.1.49-69). The first line of the passage, where Shylock says about taking a pound of Antonio’s flesh, “…if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge”(49-50), demonstrates his vengeful behavior. At first, this appears to be a ridiculous reason to take a pound of Antonio’s flesh, but as the passage continues, Shylock justifies his position, listing all the ways in which Antonio has wronged him.

In frankly stating, “…and what’s his reason? I am a Jew”(54) Shylock accuses Antonio of being anti-Semitic. From lines 54 to 63, Shylock draws parallels between Christians and Jews, stressing that Jews have “hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions”, the components of man.

The last few lines of the passage are even more significant, as they bring to light the flaws of Christianity. Shylock claims that his villainous and murderous behavior is learned “by Christian example”(67). Shakespeare’s use of the word “humility”(65) also implies that the Christians are hypocrites, as they usually accept wrongs with humility rather than seeking revenge.

Other key scenes in the play also demonstrate Christian hypocrisy if analyzed in-depth. In Act 4, Scene 1, Portia gives a grandiloquent and poetic speech about mercy to Shylock, who lacks it as he adamantly wants his pound of flesh from Antonio. However, by the end of the scene, Portia is certainly lacking in mercy when she strips Shylock of everything, including his dignity. One can start to see a recurring idea that Shakespeare is presenting to the audience, as he reveals the true nature of Christians. Hence, the theme: the hypocrisy of Christianity can be formed.

This passage is written in prose, as it lacks a consistent rhythm. While one would expect such a dramatic and emotive passage to be in verse, we must not forget the character that is narrating it. Characters of lower class adopt prose, and if we once again evaluate the play in-context, it is no surprise that the Jew’s speech is in prose. Although one would think that Shakespeare’s intent here was to portray Jews negatively, if we dig deeper, we can find other reasons for selecting prose.

Firstly, Shakespeare often uses prose for speeches in his texts, and in this case, it makes what Shylock discusses more sincere, serious and spontaneous, rather than calculated and poetic. Secondly, the fact that it is not written in verse does not detract from its emotional punch. When the passage gets down to the rhetorical questions particularly, the audience cannot help but feel sympathy and compassion for Shylock.

The Merchant of Venice highlights the anti-Semitic sentiments of the society in which Shakespeare was surrounded. But whether this was done to encourage change or not is hard to determine, as the play must be assessed in the context of when it was written. Analyzing the play in the present, it can be easily suggested that Shakespeare was encouraging change, but if this were really his intention, one would expect a lot more controversy to take place at the time it was published. Nevertheless, the play does not encourage anti-Semitic behavior, because while it does portray anti-Semitism, it also exposes the flaws or hypocrisy of Christianity.
1. Delahoyde, Dr. Michael. “The Merchant of Venice.” Washington State University. Web. <http://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/shakespeare/merchant3.html&gt;.

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The Predicament of Modern Man

5 Sep

“Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man.”
-British poet W.H. Auden

British poet W.H. Auden claims, “[Franz] Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of a modern man.” While on the surface, Kafka’s novel may appear to lack clear substance and intent, one begins to realize how much the main character, Gregor, relates to man in today’s world. Gregor is a salesman, carrying the weight of his entire family on his shoulders. As soon as he transforms into a bug, it is no wonder his dominant train of thought is about his occupation and empathy for his family, because they depend on him. It becomes evident that his family starts to fall apart subsequent to his transformation.

Gregor essentially epitomizes Kafka himself. He too grew up in a family where he was forced down a specific path (law) and was given little parental investment. We can see this repressed loneliness leak out in Metamorphosis, where Gregor progressively becomes detached from his family. Sadly, it seems like the only reason Gregor’s family paid any attention to him at all was so that he could continue supporting the family. Once this responsibility was dropped, so was his family’s love and attention. Kafka was a German Jew living in Prague, where he faced isolation and discrimination. His father had little time for him and drove him away from his passions (such as writing). After losing his siblings and being so far apart in age from his remaining ones, Kafka was left to fulfill his father’s wishes and seek a respectable profession. Thus, it is blatantly obvious that Gregor’s strained, deficient relationship with his father symbolizes that of Kafka and his father.

All of this trouble with family support and pressures, as well as employment is faced today, especially under the current economic hardships. In many families, kids are raised with their professional life already planned out for them by their parents, which yields immense pressure. This especially seems to be the case in more conservative, traditional families. I myself can think of a very similar situation to Kafka’s and Gregor’s in a good friend of mine. As the oldest sibling, she has been raised with a lot of responsibility and faces the pressures of family expectations and support. Aside from doing a lot of housework, she has also been steered in the direction of pursuing a more “respectable” career, whether it is in Business, Computer Sciences or Electrical Engineering. Like Kafka, she too has a passion: in music, especially singing. However, I do not imagine her parents would approve of her heading into the music industry. This is a shame, because aside from having the passion, she also has the skills or talent for music, just as Kafka had for writing. These kinds of family pressures are faced by all of us, and can often build resentment and repressed emotions that may or may not manifest later on in life.

Henrik Ibsen: Themes and Ideas

24 May

Known as the “Father of Drama” (“Henrik Ibsen.” Moonstruck Drama Bookstore), playwright Henrik Ibsen has produced many plays, which as a whole represent the evolution of drama. Ibsen’s writing life can be broken down into different periods. In his early days of writing, his plays were more open and romanticized. Initially, his plays were even tinged with a bit of depression, of which can be seen in the plays A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler. This is because Ibsen had endured a “dark” phase, going through depression and even thoughts of suicide. His work then started to become more comical and favorable by audiences. He especially applied mysticism to a lot of his works and his characters were often rebels, as can be seen in Brand and Peer Grynt.

Ibsen then started to adapt his themes, concentrating them more on Man vs. Society. At this point, he had left romanticism aside and started focusing on the political and social problems of society. His works started depicting more elements of realism, and he became known as a naturalistic, even political playwright. He gave the medium of drama substance, dragging it out of its superficial entertainment purposes, and his own opinions of society leaked into his work. Ibsen applied what was called the “principle of uncertainty”, in which dramatic monologues, and consequently, characters’ thoughts were less exposed, thrusting the audience upon their feet and forcing them to develop their own interpretations.

By this time, his work had begun receiving a lot of criticism and controversy, for he was revealing aspects of society that were not meant to be revealed. During a period of time that he called the “Golden Age”, he had reached the peak of his societal influence. During this time, he produced plays such as A Doll’s House, Ghosts and Hedda Gabler. A Doll’s House had a feministic focus and criticized gender roles in Victorian marriages. Other themes include women’s suffrage, religious intolerance (responded to by Oeuvre), class struggle and stereotypes. Ibsen’s characters were faced with self-realization and portrayed the clash between the individual and societal pressures.

Ibsen had repeatedly changed and experimented with different ideas in plays. His application of realism was even adopted by others, such as Chekhov. He had completely changed the structure of dramatic techniques, paving the way for modern drama.
“Henrik Ibsen.” Imagi-nation.com. Web. 20 May 2011. <http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc5.htm&gt;.

“Henrik Ibsen.” Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition (2010): 1. MAS Ultra – School Edition. EBSCO. Web. 24 May 2011.

Esslin, Martin. “Ibsen and Modern Drama.” DISCovering Authors. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 24 May 2011.

Whether or not God exists is irrelevant because of free will

19 May

For theists, God is a being in which they depend on, and a lot of their actions are driven by their faith in such a being, even though it is unsure as to whether He exists or not. In my opinion, free will isn’t as easily applied when one believes in God. For example, in Islam, the consumption of alcohol is frowned upon, or in its more extreme form, requires women to cover themselves by wearing the hijabs. Thus, you can see that religion somewhat coerces certain believers’ actions. There are so many women in Iran for example, that have to cover themselves as mentioned, even against their own will, because they would be penalized for it otherwise. Even outside of the country, the women are obligated to cover themselves. Theists also believe that essence precedes existence, in that one’s course in life is predetermined and that choices will be made based on laws, traditions and religion.

While God may dominate certain people’s choices, His existence does not only concern free will. Many people find comfort in their God and that they can depend on something, especially in times of hardship. Others simply want to express their gratitude for their fortunes in life. The very existence of God is something many agonize over in this world, and what people seem to forget is that we each have the ability to make our own choices and develop our ‘essence’ as we go along in life, which is taken from these very choices, our experiences, and our responsibilities. It is for this reason that I think the existence of God should not be debated any further. Would I like to know if God exists? Sure, but I am not going to lose sleep over this million-dollar question. I believe in free will and that we determine our own fate in life. While other factors in life such as our culture, family values, nationality and religion may influence our choices, we as individuals are what ultimately make the choice. Often you will hear the phrase, “but I had no choice!” This is wrong. We always have a choice. Hitler and his subordinates had a choice when they decided to kill 6 million Jews; citizens of the U.S. had a choice when they decided to vote for Bush; the guards in Zimbardo’s notorious Stanford Prison Experiment had a choice, but decided to give in to the power of the situation and treat the prisoners the way they did.

The Motif of Light

5 May

Camus’s novel, The Outsider, presents us with a very peculiar protagonist; one who is very introspective and aware of his physical surroundings. Throughout the novel, Meursault is the epitome of pathetic fallacy. He always describes how he is feeling as a result of nature, whether it is the temperature or amount of light present. Light especially is a motif, and appears to affect Meursault’s vision in various instances. This is first introduced when Meursault is attending his Mother’s funeral, initially at the vigil. After describing, “The caretaker turned the light-switch and I was blinded by the sudden blaze of light”(14), Meursault refers a few more times to the glare from the white walls and how it bothers him, especially his eyes. Following along, when carrying his mother’s hearse along the countryside, it happens to be a very hot day, and this gets to Meursault: “All around me there was still the same luminous, sun-drenched countryside. The glare form the sky was unbearable…I was so tired that I could hardly see or think straight anymore” (21). So it can be seen that sunlight, or natural conditions in generally, directly affects his mood. He also claims that the presence of the sunlight is “inhospitable and depressing”(20), which is ironic, because sunlight usually has positive connotations or symbols.

Light also seems to interfere with another significant occurrence further in the novel. This is demonstrated by his unjust shooting of the Arab man at the end of Part I, where he vividly describes the sunlight and its penetrating effects on himself: “The light leapt up off the steel and it was like a long, flashing sword lunging at my forehead…My eyes were blinded by this veil of salty tears. All I could feel were the cymbals the sun was clashing against my forehead(60). Thus, the sun ultimately blinds his vision here, causing his senses to be overwhelmed, followed by an impulsive reaction. Meursault himself claims that his actions are dominated by his feelings, which are influenced by his physical needs: “But I explained to him that by nature my physical needs often distorted my feelings”(65).

Later in the novel, the instances mentioned above are used against him. When asked earlier to explain his indifferent attitude at his mother’s funeral, he simply claims that he was tired that day and had not completely grasped all that was happening. We know that the sunlight is part of what influenced this behavior and that his feelings succumb to physical conditions. On trial, he is asked of his motives for shooting the Arab man, to which he responds, “…it was because of the sun.”(99) So it appears that light acted as a disturbance at pretty significant events, which ultimately cost him his life and reinforce the absurdity of his death sentence.

On a final note, Meursault seems to regard sunlight as more of an irritation in Part I, but in Part II, it carries a more positive connotation. A few times, he associates sunlight with Marie: “One day when I was clinging to the bars, with my face straining towards the light, a warder came in and told me that I had a visitor. I thought it must be Marie. It was”(72) and “But the face was the color of the sun and burning with desire: it was Marie’s face.”(101) Knowing how Meursault feels about Marie, it can be assumed that he views it in a more optimistic light (no pun intended). He also uses light to judge the passing of his days in prison; a form of killing time. Perhaps light is another element that supports Meursault’s transformation in the novel, in terms of his attitude towards it.