It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.

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Quotes

It is impossible for a man to learn what he thinks he already knows.
Notes

Never stop learning because life never stop Teaching

Never stop learning because life never stop Teaching

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost—Hero or Anti-Hero:


Milton's Satan in Paradise Lost—Hero or Anti-Hero:


One of the most enigmatic and elusive figures in English Literature is Milton’s Satan in Paradise Lost. Milton has magnified arch-enemy of God and Man to heroic proportions. Though he is evil incarnate, he is shown to be the embodiment of obdurate pride and unconquerable will. Milton’s Satan is an unsurpassable leader albeit a defeated military figure, whom his legions would follow even unto the gates of hell. He is readily comparable to the heroes of classical epics—he is a variant of Achilles, who equates honor with own status and who has the ability to rally his troops by the magic of his eloquent speeches.

Milton’s Satan is such an emotionally complex character that we can never completely understand him. He is, by common consent, one of the greatest artistic creations ever portrayed in literature. There has been great controversy on the ambiguity of this character. Yet it is true that his character engages reader’s attention and excites his admiration too. Though the action of the poem turns round Man’s first disobedience, the character that gives epic qualities to the poem is that of Satan. In the words of Addison:“He is the most heroic subject ever chosen for a poem, and the execution is perfect as the design is lofty.”

In fact, the most appropriate observation about Milton’s Satan was put forward by William Blake: “The reason, Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels and God and at liberty when of Devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

In fact, all the poetic powers of Milton are shown in delineation the arch-enemy of God and humanity. Milton has endowed him the tragic grandeur of classical heroes. Some of the classical heroic qualities of Milton’s Satan are his physical might, his injured pride; his indomitable will, his leadership, and his appeal to human nature.Hazlitt remarks:“Whatever the figure of Satan is introduced, whatever he walks or flies rising aloft incumbent on the dusky air, it is illustrated with the most appropriate image,”

Milton’s first description of Satan is intended to impress us with his super-human dimensions. He is of gigantic appearance as in the words of Milton, “In bulk as huge/As whom the fables name of monstrous size.” He is compared to the monstrous size of mythical Titans, or Briareos or Typhoon or that sea-beast Leviathan, “…which God of all his works/Created hugest that swim the ocean-stream.” Then, Satan’s shield is compared to the moon as seen by Galileo through his telescope and his spear is compared to the tallest tree on the hills of Norway.

One the towering aspect of Satan’s character is his “obdurate pride” and “study of revenge”. Self-exaltation is the motive of his conduct. He suffers from a sense of “injured merit”. He vaunts aloud his tragic hubris; overweening self-confidence and his superior foresight. Even when he sees destructive gloom all around him, his pride accompanies him:“Round he throws his baleful eyesThat witnessed huge affliction and dismayMixed with obdurate pride and steadfast hate.”He reveals his intellectual pride in his address to Hell:“And thou most profound Hell,Receive thy new possessor, one who bringsA mind not be changed by place or time.”

S.T. Coleridge very aptly remarks:“The character of Satan is pride and sensual in indulgence, finding in self-sole of motive action…But around this character (Milton) has thrown a singularity of daring, a grandeur of sufferance and a ruined splendor.”

Another key aspect of Satan’s personality is his outstanding courage and indomitable will. He, though, maybe wrong-headed but has extraordinary courageous personality. Heaven is lost to him and his legions forever but he does not lose heart and inspires his comrades with new zeal:“What though the field be lost?All is not lost—the unconquerable willAnd study of revenge and immortal hate.”

Milton’s Satan is endowed with the unique qualities of a great leader. He has courage, resourcefulness and unyielding spirit. He knows how to command and inspire his followers in the times of distress. As a leader, Satan has great anxiety for his followers, feels sorry for their miserable condition, appreciates their loyalty and sheds tears of sympathy for them. He stirs his followers by bombastic and rhetorical language:“Peace is despaired/For who can think submission.”“Princes, Potentates/Warriors, the flower of Heaven, once yours now lost.”“Awake, Arise or be forever fallen.”

His dictum is, “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.” As a result of his fiery speeches, millions of rebel angels drew their swords and “Highly they raged/Against the Highest.”

Regardless of the fact that millions of rebel angels Satan has at his command, however, such faithfulness does not diminish his resentment over his defeat in Heaven, “For the thought/Both of lost happiness and lasting pain/Torments him.” He makes conscious attempts to preserve his calm demeanor for the sake of his followers. While he plots his revenge against God, Satan struggles from an inner turmoil that he hides from his legions. He cannot allow his feelings of regret to show to his followers because this kind of uncertainty would be interpreted as weakness. To him weakness is a crime:“Fallen Cherub, to be weak is miserable/Doing or suffering.”

Finally, Milton plays to human nature in his description of Satan and rebel angels. The angels are represented as rebels because of their strong allegiance to the dark prince. Both Satan and angels exhibit very human traits and succumb to the common temptations and sins. That is why audience often catches a glimpse of themselves in the portrayal of these ethereal figures.

From the above discussion, it becomes clear that the character of Satan is a blend of noble and ignoble, the exalted and the mean, the high or the low; and therefore it becomes extremely difficult to declare him a hero or a villain.

The 19th century Romantics considered Satan as the chief figure of Paradise Lost as Romanticism envisages that a hero should have a towering personality and capable of exercising his influence over others. He should be eloquent speaker and advocate of freedom. Shelley, for example, considered, “Milton’s Devil as a moral being far superior to his God.”

According to classical school of thought, a hero should be a noble person. He should neither be perfectly virtuous nor consummate villain. Hence we cannot treat Satan as the hero of Paradise Lost as he is essentially a wicked character and a personification of evil. He may have some heroic qualities but he cannot be a hero but an anti-hero; for in the end he himself realizes his impotence. As the poem proceeds, the towering figure of Satan degenerates; he loses his foothold and reclaims his common reputation—of deceitfulness.



We can Sum up above discussion in the words of C.S. Lewis: “From hero to general, from general to politician, from politician to secret-service agent and thence to a…toad, and finally to a snake—such is the progress of Satan.”

Shakespearean Tragedy / Shakespeare as a Tragedy Writer


Shakespearean Tragedy / Shakespeare as a Tragedy Writer


William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of about 38 plays, 154 sonnets, two long narrative poems, two epitaphs on a man named John Combe, one epitaph on Elias James, and several other poems. His plays have been translated into every major living language and are performed more often than those of any other playwright.
Shakespeare is perhaps most famous for his tragedies. Most of his tragedies were written in a seven-year period between 1601 and 1608. These include his four major tragedies Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth, along with Antony & Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Cymbeline, Julius Caesar, all of which are immediately recognizable, regularly studied and frequently performed.
Following are the salient features of his tragedies.
1. The tragedy is concerned primarily with one person – The tragic hero.
2. The story is essentially one of exceptional suffering and calamity leading to the death of the hero. The suffering and calamity are, as a rule, unexpected and contrasted with previous happiness and glory.
3. The tragedy involves a person of high estate. Therefore, his or her fate affects the welfare of a whole nation or empire.
4. The hero undergoes a sudden reversal of fortune.
5. This reversal excites and arouses the emotions of pity and fear within the audience. The reversal may frighten and awe, making viewers or readers of the play feel that man is blind and helpless.
6. The tragic fate of the hero is often triggered by a tragic flaw in the hero’s character.
7. Shakespeare often introduces abnormal conditions of the mind (such as insanity, somnambulism, or hallucinations).
8. Supernatural elements are often introduced as well.
9. Much of the plot seems to hinge on “chance” or “accident”.
10. Besides the outward conflict between individuals or groups of individuals, there is also an inner conflict and torment within the soul of the tragic hero.

The Hero, A Person Of High And Noble Birth
In Shakespearean tragedy, a hero is always a man of outstanding social status. He may be a king (as in King Lear and Julius Caesar), a prince (as inHamlet), and a very high official (as in Othello and Macbeth) etc. In his conception of tragic hero, Shakespeare conforms to the tradition of the ancient Greek tragedies of Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides and Roman tragedies of Seneca, and even the tragic conception of the Middle Ages. Bradley says:
‘The advantage of the Shakespearean conception of the tragic hero is that his fall is more bewildering and conspicuous as contrasted to his former prosperity. Moreover, his fate affects the welfare of a whole nation or empire, therefore his tragedy is more enveloping and widespread.
Marlow’s heroes are also extraordinary personalities but they are from humble parentage. Both Marlow and Shakespeare use the name of the hero as the title of the play. Moreover, unlike Shakespeare’s, in Marlow’s tragedies, there is an absence of female characters.
Sufferings And DeathThese heroes undergo a series of sufferings and hardships and torture. In the early tragedies, the form of this suffering is physical but in the later stages, it is not merely physical torture but mental upheaval which sways and rocks them. The hero, under the stress of these sufferings, appears shaken in spite of his greatness and heroic capacity for suffering. Hamlet by his mental torture is virtually laid on the rock. Othello experiences a tempest in his very soul. Lear turns mad. Macbeth loses all interest in life and is obliged to characterize it as
A tale told by an idiot,Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Character Is DestinyIn Shakespearean tragedy, it is the character of the hero which becomes the important factor to decide his destiny. In fact, character is destiny. However, exaggerated this may seem to some critics, it is a fact that it is the character that molds the action of the play. This fact becomes more important because, in the Greek tragedy, it is the plot which becomes a most important factor but in Shakespearean tragedy, it is first the character that is significant. After all, there is hardly any action in Hamlet yet it is one of the most fascinating tragedies in English literature.

Hamartia/Tragic FlawThere is a certain tragic flaw in the character of the hero, which Aristotle termed as “Hamartia” and which provides the ground for the calamity which eventually overwhelms him. Bradley observes:
‘Lear’s tragedy is the tragedy of dotage and short-sightedness, Othello’s that of credulity, Hamlet’s that of indecision, Macbeth’s that of ambition, Antony’s that of neglect of duty and so on’.
In Shakespeare, we find a variety of tragic flaws, while in Marlow’s tragedies, the Hamartia is common and that is “Uncontrolled Ambition”.

The ConflictThe conflict is of two kinds, both of which generally go on simultaneously in Shakespearean tragedy. Antony’s mind is torn between the opposite pulls of love and duty; Macbeth’s between those of ambition and duty. In Romeo and Juliet and Richard II, the conflict is almost entirely external. A lot of bloodshed is generally found in Shakespearean tragedy.
In Marlow’s tragedies, the conflict is only internal, within the mind and heart of the hero. Further, he didn’t pay much importance to chance happening.

Role Of ChanceChance plays an important role in the tragedy of the hero. In Romeo and Juliet, it is by chance that the hero does not get the Friar's message about the potion, and the heroine does not awake from her long sleep a little earlier. InHamlet it was a chance that Hamlet's ship was attacked by the pirates and he was back to Denmark to face the tragic end. Some people think that the introducing the element of chance is to manipulate the action of the play to suit one’s own purposes. But this is not correct because chance or accident is as much of a real life as any normal happening. But where Shakespeare has proved superior to many other playwrights is that he keeps the role of chance within the probable limits. He does not allow even chance or accident to take more importance than the character of the hero.

Supernatural ElementsShakespeare’s plays give a large place to the supernatural. This is because he wrote for an audience which had a liking for the fabulous and the marvelous.

There are Witches in Macbeth, Ghost in Hamlet, Hautboy music in Antony and Cleopatra. These have a close relationship with the abnormal conditions of minds of the protagonists. Hamlet’s mobility of mind is connected with the appearance of a ghost in the first act and in mother’s closet. Macbeth’s lust for power is aroused by the witches.

No Poetic JusticeIn the region of poetic justice where virtue is rewarded and vice punished, Shakespeare has his own laws which are the laws of the living world and not of a theory. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, we find that it is not only the evil that is punished but along with it the good and virtuous has to suffer. Yet it is true to nature that Shakespeare knows once the evil is afoot it will also take in its train goodness too.
DR. JOHNSON’S VIEWS ABOUT SHAKESPEAREDr. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) in his Preface to Shakespeare pointed out many merits and demerits of Shakespeare’s dramatic art. The greatest merit of Shakespeare’s plays, according to him, is the universality of their appeal. This is a result of the fact that the plays are based on the truthful observation of general human nature. His plays have stood the test of time and remain fresh and relevant upon numerous re-readings. There is a timeless and universal quality about his characters. Whereas in the works of other dramatists a character is often individual, in those of Shakespeare it is frequently a species.
Unlike most of the dramatists, Shakespeare does not confine himself to themes of love only. There are several other human passions that move the human mind and Shakespeare uses them in his plots as subject-matter.
Johnson appreciates the mingling of tragedy and comedy in Shakespeare’s plays. He is of the view that such plays accurately reflect the state of things in the world where the loss of someone is again for the other. Comedy seems to have been closer to Shakespeare’s genius than tragedy, therefore we find him providing comic scenes even in his histories and tragedies.
Shakespeare is criticized by the neo-classical critics because his plays do not observe the three unities of time, place and action. Johnson does not agree with them and attempts to a strong defense of Shakespeare’s practice. According to him, the only important unity is that of action, which Shakespeare does observe.

Dr. Johnson also points out some flaws of Shakespeare i.e. absence of poetic justice, loose plot structure and disregard for didacticism (moral purpose) etc.

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Aristotle's plot


Aristotle's plot

Aristotle devotes great attention to the nature, structure and basic elements of the ideal tragic plot. The tragedy is the depiction of action consisting of incidents and events. The plot is the arrangement of these incidents and events. It contains the kernel of the action. Aristotle says that plot is the first principle, the soul of tragedy. He lists six formative elements of a tragedy – Plot, character, though, melody, diction, spectacle and gives the first place to plot.

The Greek word for ‘poet’ means a ‘maker’, and the poet is a ‘maker’, not because he makes verses but he makes plots. Aristotle differentiates between ‘story’ and ‘plot’. The poet need not make his story. Stories from history, mythology, or legend are to be preferred, for they are familiar and understandable. Having chosen or invented the story, it must be put to artistic selection and order. The incidents chosen must be ‘serious’, and not ‘trivial’, as tragedy is an imitation of a serious action that arouses pity and fear.

Aristotle says that the tragic plot must be a complete whole. It must have a beginning, a middle and an end. It must have a beginning, i.e. it must not flow out of some prior situation. The beginning must be clear and intelligible. It must not provoke to ask ‘why’ and ‘how’. A middle is consequent upon a situation gone before. The middle is followed logically by the end. And the end is consequent in a given situation but is not followed by any further incident. Thus artistic wholeness implies logical link-up of the various incidents, events, and situations that form the plot.

The plot must have a certain magnitude or ‘length’. ‘Magnitude’ here means ‘size’. It should be neither too small nor too large. It should be long enough to allow the process of change from happiness to misery but not too long to be forgotten before the end. If it is too small, its different parts will not be clearly distinguishable from each other. Magnitude also implies order and proportion and they depend upon the magnitude. The different parts must be properly related to each other and to the whole. Thus magnitude implies that the plot must have order, logic symmetry and perspicuity.

Aristotle considers the tragic plot to be an organic whole and also having organic unity in its action. An action is a change from happiness to misery or vice versa and tragedy must depict one such action. The incidents impart variety and unity results by arranging the incidents so that they all tend to the same catastrophe. There might be episodes for they impart variety and lengthen the plot but they must be properly combined with the main action following each other inevitably. It must not be possible to remove or to invert them without injuring the plot. Otherwise, episodic plots are the worst of all.

'Organic unity' cannot be provided only by the presence of the tragic hero, for many incidents in hero’s life cannot be brought into relation with the rest. So there should be proper shifting and ordering of material.

Aristotle joins organic unity of plot with probability and necessity. The plot is not tied to what has actually happened but it deals with what may probably or necessarily happen. Probability and necessity imply that there should be no unrelated events and incidents. Words and actions must be in character. Thus probability and necessity imply unity and order and are vital for artistic unity and wholeness.

'Probability' implies that the tragic action must be convincing. If the poet deals with something improbable, he must make it convincing and credible. He dramatist must procure, “willing suspension of disbelief”. Thus a convincing impossibility is to be preferred to an unconvincing possibility.

Aristotle rules out a plurality of activities. He emphasizes the Unity of Action but has little to say about the Unity of Time and the Unity of Place. About the Unity of Time, he merely says that tragedy should confine itself to a single revolution of the sun. As regards the Unity of Place, Aristotle said that epic can narrate a number of actions going on all together in different parts, while in a drama simultaneous actions cannot be represented, for the stage are one part and not several parts or places.

The tragedy is an imitation of a ‘serious action’ which arouses pity and fear. ‘Serious’ means important, weighty. The plot of a tragedy essentially deals with great moral issues. The tragedy is a tale of suffering from an unhappy ending. This means that the plot of a tragedy must be a fatal one. Aristotle rules out fortunate plots for tragedy, for such plot does not arouse tragic emotions. A tragic plot must show the hero passing from happiness to misery and not from misery to happiness. The suffering of the hero may be caused by an enemy or a stranger but it would be most piteous when it is by chance caused by friends and relatives who are his well-wishers.

According to Aristotle, Tragic plots may be of three kinds, (a) Simple, (b) Complex and (c) Plots based on or depicting incidents of suffering. A Simple plot is without any Peripety and Anagnorisis but the action moves forward uniformly without any violent or sudden change. Aristotle prefers Complex plots. It must have Peripeteia, i.e. “reversal of intention” and Anagnorisis, i.e. “recognition of truth”. While Peripeteia is ignorance of the truth, Anagnorisis is the insight of truth forced upon the hero by some signs or chance or by the logic events. In the ideal plot, Anagnorisis follows or coincides with Peripeteia.

'Recognition' in the sense is closely akin to reversal. Recognition and reversal can be caused by separate incidents. Often it is difficult to separate the two. Complex plots are the best, for recognition and reversal add the element of surprise and “the pitiable and fearful incidents are made more so by the shock of surprise”.

As regards the third kind of plot, Aristotle rates it very low. It derives its effect from the depiction of torture, murder, maiming, death etc. and tragic effect must be created naturally and not with artificial and theatrical aids. Such plots indicate a deficiency in the art of the poet.

In making plots, the poets should make their denouements, effective and successful. The unraveling of the plot should be done naturally and logically, and not by arbitrary devices, like chance or supernatural devices. Aristotle does not consider Poetic Justice necessary for Tragedy. He rules out plots with a double end i.e. plots in which there is happiness for one, and misery for others. Such plots weaken the tragic effect. It is more proper to Comedy. Thus Aristotle is against Tragi-comedy.

Aristotle's concept of tragedy


Aristotle's concept of tragedy




“The Poetics” is chiefly about Tragedy which is regarded as the highest poetic form. Abercrombie says:

“But the theory of Tragedy is worked out with such insight and comprehension and it becomes the type of the theory of literature.”

Aristotle reveals that imitation is the common basis of all the fine arts which differ from each other in their medium of imitation, objects of imitation and manner of imitation. Poetry differs from music in its medium of imitation. Epic poetry and dramatic poetry differs on the basis of manner of imitation. Dramatic poetry itself is divisible in Tragic or Comic on the basis of objects of imitation. Tragedy imitates men as better and comedy as worse than they are. Thus, Aristotle establishes the unique nature of Tragedy.

Aristotle traces the origin and development of poetry. Earlier, poetry was of two kinds. There were ‘Iambs’ or ‘Invectives’, on one hand, which developed into satiric poetry, and ‘hymns’ on the gods or ‘panegyrics’ on the great, on the other, which developed into Epic or heroic poetry. Out of Heroic poetry developed Tragedy, and out of satiric came the Comedy. Both Epic and Tragedy imitate serious subjects in a grand kind of verse but they differ as Epic imitates only in one kind of verse both for Choral odes and dialogue. The Epic is long and varied but the Tragedy has greater concentration and effectiveness. The Epic lacks music, spectacle, the reality of presentation and unity of action which the Tragedy has.

“All the parts of an epic are included in Tragedy, but those of Tragedy are not all of them to be found in the Epic.”

Aristotle comes to a consideration of the nature and function of tragedy. He defines tragedy as:

“the imitation of an action, serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude, in a language beautified in different parts with different kinds of embellishment, through actions and not narration, and through scenes of pity and fear bringing about the ‘Catharsis’ of these emotions.”

The definition separates tragedy from other poetic forms. Firstly, its objects of imitation are serious actions, unlike Comedy which imitates the non-serious. ‘Serious’ means important, weighty. Secondly, Tragedy on the basis of manner differs from Epic which narrates and does not represent through action. Thirdly, on the basis of the medium, it differs from Lyric. It employs several kinds of embellishments.

Aristotle considers plot as the soul of tragedy. Tragedy imitates ‘actions’ and its plot consists of a logical and inevitable sequence of events. The action must be a whole. It must have a beginning, a middle and an end.

The tragic plot must have a certain magnitude or ‘length’. ‘Magnitude’ here means ‘size’. It should be long enough to allow the change from happiness to misery but not too long to be forgotten before the end. Action, too short, cannot be regarded as proper and beautiful for its different parts will not be clearly visible. Its different parts must be well-related to each other and to the whole. It must be an ‘organic’ whole.

Aristotle divides the tragic plot into ‘Simple’ and ‘Complex’. In Simple Plot, the change in the fortunes of hero takes place without Peripety and Discovery; while the Complex Plot involves one or the other, or both. The Peripety is the change in the fortunes of the hero, and the Discovery is a change from ignorance to knowledge. Aristotle prefers complex plot for it startles, captures attention and performs the tragic function more effectively. He regards episodic plot, lacking probability and necessity, as worst of all.

Aristotle lays great emphasis on the probability and necessity of the action of a tragedy. It implies that there should be no unrelated events and incidents. They must follow each other inevitably. No incident or character should be superfluous. The events introduced must be probable under the circumstances.

By various embellishments in various parts, Aristotle means verse and song. Tragedy imitates through verse in the dialogue and through song in the Choric parts. Verse and song beautify and give pleasure. But Aristotle does not regard them as essential to the success of a tragedy.

Aristotle points out that the function of tragedy is to present scenes of ‘fear and pity’ and to bring about a Catharsis of these emotions. It would suffice to say that by Catharsis of pity and fear, he means their restoration to the right proportions, to the desirable ‘golden means’.

Aristotle lists six formative or constituent parts of Tragedy; Plot, character, diction, thought, spectacle and song. Two of these parts relate to the medium of imitation, one to the manner of imitation, and three to the object of imitation. The song is to be found in the Choric parts of a tragedy. The Spectacle has more to do with stagecraft than with the writing of poetry.

'Thought' is the power of saying what can be said, or what is suitable to the occasion. It is the language which gives us the thoughts and feeling of various characters. The language of Tragedy must be unusually expressive. The Language of Tragedy ‘must be clear, and it must not be mean’. It must be grand and elevated with familiar and current words. ‘Rare’ and ‘unfamiliar’ words must be set in wisely to impart elevation.

Aristotle stresses four essential qualities for characterization. First, the characters must be good, but not perfect. Wicked characters may be introduced if required by the plot. Secondly, they must be appropriate. They must have the traits of the profession or class to which they belong. Thirdly, they must have a likeness. By likeness, he means that the characters must be life-like. Fourthly, they must have consistency in development. There should be no sudden and strange change in character.

Aristotle lays down that an ideal tragic hero should not be perfectly good or utterly bad. He is a man of ordinary weakness and virtues, like us, leaning more to the side of good than of evil, occupying a position of eminence, and falling into ruin from that eminence, not because of any deliberate sin, but because of some error of judgment of his part, bringing about a Catharsis of the emotion of pity and fear.

The plot should arouse the emotions of pity and fear which is the function of tragedy. A tragic plot must avoid showing (a) a perfectly good man passing from happiness to misery (b) a bad man rising from misery to happiness (c) an extremely bad man falling from happiness to misery.

While comparing the importance of Plot and Character, Aristotle is quite definite that Plot is more important than Character. He goes to the extent of saying that there can be a tragedy without character but none without a plot.

Aristotle emphasizes only one of the three unities, the Unity of Action; he is against the plurality of action as it weakens the tragic effect. There might be numerous incidents but they must be related to each other, and they must all be conducive to one effect. As regards the Unity of Time, Aristotle only once mentions it in relation to dramatic Action. Comparing the epic and the Tragedy, he writes:

“Tragedy tries, as far as possible, to live within a single revolution of the sun, or only slightly to exceed it, whereas the epic observes no limits in its time of action.”

According to Aristotle, the end of poetry is to give pleasure, and tragedy has its own pleasure besides. Proper aesthetic pleasure can be possible only when the requirements of morality are satisfied. Verse and rhyme enhance the pleasure of poetry. Peripeteia and Anagnorisis heighten the seductive power of the action. Pure pleasure results from the exercise of our emotions and thoughts on the tragic action.


Such are the main features of Aristotle's theory of Tragedy. Aristotle knew only Greek Tragedy. His conclusions are based entirely on the drama with which he was familiar and often his views are not of universal application. His view might have been challenged but their history is the history of Tragedy.

Aristotle's theory of imitation


Aristotle's theory of imitation

Aristotle did not invent the term “imitation”. Plato was the first to use the word in relation to poetry, but Aristotle breathed into it a new definite meaning. So poetic imitation is no longer considered mimicry but is regarded as an act of imaginative creation by which the poet, drawing his material from the phenomenal world, makes something new out of it.

In Aristotle's view, the principle of imitation unites poetry with other fine arts and is the common basis of all the fine arts. It thus differentiates the fine arts from the other category of arts. While Plato equated poetry with painting, Aristotle equates it with music. It is no longer a servile depiction of the appearance of things, but it becomes a representation of the passions and emotions of men which are also imitated by music. Thus Aristotle by his theory enlarged the scope of imitation. The poet imitates not the surface of things but the reality embedded within. In the very first chapter of the Poetic, Aristotle says:

“Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also and Dithyrambic poetry, as also the music of the flute and the lyre in most of their forms, are in their general conception modes of imitation. They differ, however, from one another in three respects – their medium, the objects and the manner or mode of imitation, being in each case distinct.”

The medium of the poet and the painter are different. One imitates through form and color, and the other through language, rhythm, and harmony. The musician imitates through rhythm and harmony. Thus, poetry is more akin to music. Further, the manner of a poet may be purely narrative, as in the Epic, or depiction through action, as in drama. Even dramatic poetry is differentiated into tragedy and comedy accordingly as it imitates man as better or worse.

Aristotle says that the objects of poetic imitation are “men in action”. The poet represents men as worse than they are. He can represent men better than in real life based on material supplied by history and legend rather than by any living figure. The poet selects and orders his material and recreates reality. He brings order out of Chaos. The irrational or accidental is removed and attention is focused on the lasting and the significant. Thus he gives a truth of an ideal kind. His mind is not tied to reality:

“It is not the function of the poet to relate what has happened but what may happen – according to the laws of probability or necessity.”

History tells us what actually happened; poetry what may happen. Poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. In this way, he exhibits the superiority of poetry over history. The poet freed from the tyranny of facts takes a larger or general view of things, represents the universal in the particular and so shares the philosopher’s quest for ultimate truth. He thus equates poetry with philosophy and shows that both are means to a higher truth. By the word ‘universal’ Aristotle signifies:


“How a person of a certain nature or type will, on a particular occasion, speak or act, according to the law of probability or necessity.”

The poet constantly rises from the particular to the general. He studies the particular and devises principles of general application. He exceeds the limits of life without violating the essential laws of human nature.

Elsewhere Aristotle says, “Art imitates Nature”. By ‘Nature’ he does not mean the outer world of created things but “the creative force, the productive principle of the universe.” Art reproduces mainly an inward process, a physical energy working outwards, deeds, incidents, situation, being included under it so far as these spring from an inward, act of will, or draw some activity of thought or feeling. He renders men, “as they ought to be”.

The poet imitates the creative process of nature, but the objects are “men in action”. Now the ‘action’ may be ‘external’ or ‘internal’. It may be the action of the soul caused by all that befalls a man. Thus, he brings human experiences, emotions, and passions within the scope of poetic imitation. According to Aristotle's theory, moral qualities, characteristics, the permanent temper of the mind, the temporary emotions and feelings, are all action and so objects of poetic imitation.

Poetry may imitate men as better or worse than they are in real life or imitate as they really are. Tragedy and epic represent men on a heroic scale, better than they are, and comedy represents men of a lower type, worse than they are. Aristotle does not discuss the third possibility. It means that poetry does not aim at photographic realism. In this connection, R. A. Scott-James points out that:

“Aristotle knew nothing of the “realistic” or “fleshy” school of fiction – the school of Zola or of Gissing.”

Abercrombie, in contrast, defends Aristotle for not discussing the third variant. He says:

“It is just possible to imagine life exactly as it is, but the exciting thing is to imagine life as it might be, and it is then that imagination becomes an impulse capable of inspiring poetry.”

Aristotle by his theory of imitation answers the charge of Plato that poetry is an imitation of “shadow of shadows”, thrice removed from the truth, and that the poet beguiles us with lies. Plato condemned poetry that in the very nature of things poets have no idea of truth. The phenomenal world is not the reality but a copy of the reality in the mind of the Supreme. The poet imitates the objects and phenomena of the world, which are shadowy and unreal. Poetry is, therefore, “the mother of lies”.

Aristotle, on the contrary, tells us that art imitates not the mere shows of things, but the ‘ideal reality’ embodied in very object of the world. The process of nature is a ‘creative process’; everywhere in ‘nature there is a ceaseless and upward progress’ in everything, and the poet imitates this upward movement of nature. Art reproduces the original not as it is, but as it appears to the senses. Art moves in a world of images, and reproduces the external, according to the idea or image in his mind. Thus the poet does not copy the external world but creates according to his ‘idea’ of it. Thus even an ugly object well-imitated becomes a source of pleasure. We are told in “The Poetics”:

“Objects which in themselves we view with pain, we delight to contemplate when reproduced with minute fidelity; such as the forms of the most ignoble animals and dead bodies.”

The real and the ideal from Aristotle's point of view are not opposites; the ideal is the real, shorn of chance and accident, a purified form of reality. And it is this higher ‘reality’ which is the object of poetic imitation. Idealization is achieved by divesting the real of all that is accidental, transient and particular. Poetry thus imitates the ideal and the universal; it is an “idealized representation of the character, emotion, action – under forms manifest in sense.” Poetic truth, therefore, is higher than historical truth. Poetry is more philosophical, more conducive to understanding than Philosophy itself.


Thus Aristotle successfully and finally refuted the charge of Plato and provided a defense of poetry which has ever since been used by lovers of poetry in justification of their Muse. He breathed new life and soul into the concept of poetic imitation and showed that it is, in reality, a creative process.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Aristotle's concept of ideal tragic hero: Hamartia


Aristotle's concept of ideal tragic hero: Hamartia

No passage in “The Poetics” with the exception of the Catharsis phrase has attracted so much critical attention as his ideal of the tragic hero.

The function of a tragedy is to arouse the emotions of pity and fear and Aristotle deduces the qualities of his hero from this function. He should be good, but not perfect, for the fall of a perfect man from happiness into misery, would be unfair and repellent and will not arouse pity. Similarly, an utterly wicked person passing from happiness to misery may satisfy our moral sense but will lack proper tragic qualities. His fall will be well-deserved and according to ‘justice’. It excites neither pity nor fear. Thus entirely good and utterly wicked persons are not suitable to be tragic heroes.

Similarly, according to Aristotelian law, a saint would be unsuitable as a tragic hero. He is on the side of the moral order and hence his fall shocks and repels. Besides, his martyrdom is a spiritual victory which drowns the feeling of pity. Drama, on the other hand, requires for its effectiveness a militant and combative hero. It would be important to remember that Aristotle’s conclusions are based on the Greek drama and he is lying down the qualifications of an ideal tragic hero. He is here discussing what is the very best and not what is good. Overall, his views are justified, for it requires the genius of a Shakespeare to arouse sympathy for an utter villain, and saints as successful tragic heroes have been extremely rare.

Having rejected perfection as well as utter depravity and villainy, Aristotle points out that:

“The ideal tragic hero … must be an intermediate kind of person, a man not pre-eminently virtuous and just, whose misfortune, however, is brought upon him not by vice or depravity but by some error of judgment.”

An ideal tragic hero is a man who stands midway between the two extremes. He is not eminently good or just, though he inclines to the side of goodness. He is like us but raised above the ordinary level by a deeper vein of feeling or heightened powers of intellect or will. He is idealized, but still he has so much of common humanity as to enlist our interest and sympathy.

The tragic hero is not evil or vicious, but he is also not perfect and his disaster is brought upon him by his own fault. The Greek word used here is “Hamartia” meaning “missing the mark”. He falls not because of the act of outside agency or evil but because of Hamartia or “miscalculation” on his part. Hamartia is not a moral failing and it is unfortunate that it was translated as “tragic flaw” by Bradley. Aristotle himself distinguishes Hamartia from moral failing. He means by it some error or judgment. He writes that the cause of the hero’s fall must lie “not in depravity, but in some error or Hamartia on his part”. He does not assert or deny anything about the connection of Hamartia with hero’s moral failings.

“It may be accompanied by moral imperfection, but it is not itself a moral imperfection, and in the purest tragic situation the suffering hero is not morally to blame.”

Thus Hamartia is an error or miscalculation, but the error may arise from any of the three ways: It may arise from “ignorance of some fact or circumstance”, or secondly, it may arise from hasty or careless view of the special case, or thirdly, it may be an error voluntary, but not deliberate, as acts committed in anger. Else and Martian Ostwald interpret Hamartia and say that the hero has a tendency to err created by lack of knowledge and he may commit a series of errors. This tendency to err characterizes the hero from the beginning and at the crisis of the play it is complemented by the recognition scene, which is a sudden change “from ignorance to knowledge”.

In fact, Hamartia is a word with various shades of meaning and has been interpreted by different critics. Still, all serious modern Aristotelian scholarship agreed that Hamartia is not moral imperfection. It is an error of judgment, whether arising from ignorance of some material circumstance or from rashness of temper or from some passion. It may even be a character, for the hero may have a tendency to commit errors of judgment and may commit series of errors. This last conclusion is borne out by the play Oedipus Tyrannus to which Aristotle refers to time and again and which may be taken to be his ideal. In this play, hero’s life is a chain or errors, the most fatal of all being his marriage with his mother. If King Oedipus is Aristotle’s ideal hero, we can say with Butcher that:

“His conception of Hamartia includes all the three meanings mentioned above, which in English cannot be covered by a single term.”

Hamartia is an error, or a series of errors, “whether morally culpable or not,” committed by an otherwise noble person, and these errors derive him to his doom. The tragic irony lies in the fact that hero may err mistakenly without any evil intention, yet he is doomed no less than immortals who sin consciously. He has Hamartia and as a result, his very virtues hurry him to his ruin. Says Butcher:

“Othello in the modern drama, Oedipus in the ancient, are the two most conspicuous examples of ruin wrought by character, noble indeed, but not without defects, acting in the dark and, as it seemed, for the best.”

Aristotle lays down another qualification for the tragic hero. He must be, “of the number of those in the enjoyment of great reputation and prosperity.” He must be a well-reputed individual occupying a position of lofty eminence in society. This is so because of Greed tragedy, with which alone Aristotle was familiar, was written about a few distinguished royal families. Aristotle considers eminence as essential for the tragic hero. But Modern drama demonstrates that the meanest individual can also serve as a tragic hero and that tragedies of Sophoclean grandeur can be enacted even in remote country solitudes.


However, Aristotle’s dictum is quite justified on the principle that, “higher the state, the greater the fall that follows,” or because heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes, while the death of a beggar passes unnoticed. But it should be remembered that Aristotle nowhere says that the hero should be a king or at least royally descended. They were the Renaissance critics who distorted Aristotle and made the qualification more rigid and narrow.

Aristotle's concept of catharsis



Aristotle's concept of catharsis

Aristotle writes that the function of tragedy is to arouse the emotions of pity and fear and to affect the Katharsis of these emotions. Aristotle has used the term Katharsis only once, but no phrase has been handled so frequently by critics, and poets. Aristotle has not explained what exactly he meant by the word, nor do we get any help from the Poetics. For this reason, help and guidance have to be taken from his other works. Further, Katharsis has three meaning. It means ‘purgation’, ‘purification’, and ‘clarification’, and each critic has used the word in one or the other senses. All agree that Tragedy arouses fear and pity, but there are sharp differences as to the process, the way by which the rousing of these emotions gives pleasure.
Katharsis has been taken as a medical metaphor, ‘purgation’, denoting a pathological effect on the soul similar to the effect of the medicine on the body. This view is borne out by a passage in the Politics where Aristotle refers to religious frenzy being cured by certain tunes which excite religious frenzy. In Tragedy:
“…pity and fear artificially stirred the latent pity and fear which we bring with us from real life.”
In the Neo-Classical era, Catharsis was taken to be an allopathic treatment with the unlike curing unlike. The arousing of pity and fear was supposed to bring about the purgation or ‘evacuation’ of other emotions, like anger, pride etc. As Thomas Taylor holds:
“We learn from the terrible fates of evil men to avoid the vices they manifest.”
F. L. Lucas rejects the idea that Katharsis is a medical metaphor, and says that:
“The theatre is not a hospital.”
Both Lucas and Herbert Reed regard it as a kind of safety valve. Pity and fear are aroused, we give free play to these emotions which are followed by emotional relief. I. A. Richards’ approach to the process is also psychological. Fear is the impulse to withdraw and pity is the impulse to approach. Both these impulses are harmonized and blended in tragedy and this balance brings relief and repose.
The ethical interpretation is that the tragic process is a kind of lustration of the soul, an inner illumination resulting in a more balanced attitude to life and its suffering. Thus John Gassner says that a clear understanding of what was involved in the struggle, of cause and effect, a judgment on what we have witnessed, can result in a state of mental equilibrium and rest, and can ensure complete aesthetic pleasure. Tragedy makes us realize that divine law operates in the universe, shaping everything for the best.
During the Renaissance, another set of critics suggested that Tragedy helped to harden or ‘temper’ the emotions. Spectators are hardened to the pitiable and fearful events of life by witnessing them in tragedies.
Humphrey House rejects the idea of ‘purgation’ and forcefully advocates the ‘purification’ theory which involves moral instruction and learning. It is a kind of ‘moral conditioning’. He points out that, ‘purgation means cleansing’.
According to ‘the purification’ theory, Katharsis implies that our emotions are purified of excess and defect, are reduced to an intermediate state, trained and directed towards the right objects at the right time. The spectator learns the proper use of pity, fear and similar emotions by witnessing the tragedy. Butcher writes:
“The tragic Katharsis involves not only the idea of emotional relief but the further idea of purifying the emotions so relieved.”
The basic defect of ‘purgation’ theory and ‘purification’ theory is that they are too much occupied with the psychology of the audience. Aristotle was writing a treatise not on psychology but on the art of poetry. He relates ‘Catharsis’ not to the emotions of the spectators but to the incidents which form the plot of the tragedy. And the result is the “clarification” theory.
The paradox of pleasure being aroused by the ugly and the repellent is also the paradox involved in the tragedy. Tragic incidents are pitiable and fearful.They include horrible events as a man blinding himself, a wife murdering her husband or a mother slaying her children and instead of repelling us produce pleasure. Aristotle clearly tells us that we should not seek for every pleasure from tragedy, “but only the pleasure proper to it”. ‘Catharsis’ refers to the tragic variety of pleasure. The Catharsis clause is thus a definition of the function of tragedy, and not of its emotional effects on the audience.
Imitation does not produce pleasure in general, but only the pleasure that comes from learning, and so also the peculiar pleasure of tragedy. Learning comes from discovering the relation between the action and the universal elements embodied in it. The poet might take his material from history or tradition, but he selects and orders it in terms of probability and necessity, and represents what, “might be”. He rises from the particular to the general and so is more universal and more philosophical. The events are presented free of chance and accidents which obscure their real meaning. Tragedy enhances understanding and leaves the spectator ‘face to face with the universal law’.
Thus according to this interpretation, ‘Catharsis’ means clarification of the essential and universal significance of the incidents depicted, leading to an enhanced understanding of the universal law which governs human life and destiny, and such an understating leads to the pleasure of tragedy. In this view, Catharsis is neither a medical, nor a religious or moral term, but an intellectual term. The term refers to the incidents depicted in the tragedy and the way in which the poet reveals their universal significance.
The clarification theory has many merits. Firstly, it is a technique of the tragedy and not to the psychology of the audience. Secondly, the theory is based on what Aristotle says in the Poetics and needs no help and support of what Aristotle has said in Politics and Ethics. Thirdly, it relates Catharsis both to the theory of imitation and to the discussion of probability and necessity. Fourthly, the theory is perfectly in accord with current aesthetic theories.
According to Aristotle the basic tragic emotions are pity and fear and are painful. If tragedy is to give pleasure, the pity and fear must somehow be eliminated. Fear is aroused when we see someone suffering and think that similar fate might befall us. Pity is a feeling of pain caused by the sight of the undeserved suffering of others. The spectator sees that it is the tragic error or Hamartia of the hero which results in suffering and so he learns something about the universal relation between character and destiny.

To conclude, Aristotle's conception of Catharsis is mainly intellectual. It is neither didactic nor theoretical, though it may have a residual theological element. Aristotle's Catharsis is not a moral doctrine requiring the tragic poet to show that bad man come to bad ends, nor a kind of theological relief arising from the discovery that God’s laws operate invisibly to make all things work out for the best.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Hemingway's Hero


Hemingway's Hero




Barnes, Nick Adam, Frederic Henry, Robert Jordan etc. are all Hemingway’s typical heroes who remain continuously under great stress because they are living in absolutely unsatisfactory conditions. Hemingway’s hero is always in some war or warlike conditions but the notable point is that he enters a war without any social, political or ideological obligation. That is why he is basically a disinterested spectator of war instead of a vehement participant. Romantic ideals and abstractions like sacred, glory, bravery etc. do not fascinate him and we cannot help wondering why he offers himself to serve in the war.

Hemingway’s hero leads a private life as an isolated individual because during the war he very closely observes the nothingness of life, cruelty of man against man, temporality, emptiness, and meaninglessness in human relationship and extremely realizes that looking for permanence in human relations is to meet utter disappointment. However, we should not assume that he is a misanthrope but he has a great ability to recognize another member of his breed and establishes an immediate understanding with him.

Although, he is a tough man and loves outdoor activities, yet he is equally sensitive and his wounds add fuel to fire to his sensitiveness. Secondly, he suffers from Nada which always keeps him restless and the darkness at night intensifies the feeling of nothingness in life. That is why he keeps on thinking and cannot sleep at night and even if he sleeps, he is disturbed by nightmares. However, it is worth mentioning that a typical Hemingway’s hero is not volunteer thinker or philosopher rather he wants to avoid these troublesome haunts. He takes pleasure in spending most of his time in going on for hunting or fishing trips, reaming about different restaurants and enjoying free sex or drinking. The restlessness of the typical Hemingway’s Hero continues until he searches out a solution of present agony. At last, he succeeds in formulation a code which may work effectively as a bolster for the dome of his life.

Jake Barnes is the typical Hemingway’s hero who leaves his own country America and lives in Paris and he works as a journalist in an American Newspaper. He voluntarily takes part in the First World War and, like other Hemingway’s heroes are wounded. However, the nature of Barnes’ injury is quite different and unique because he is injured in such a way that he can feel sexual desire but the consummation of this desire is not possible. To aggravate the situation, an English volunteer nurse Brett Ashley falls in love with him and ironically enough, she is near nymphomaniac. Jake is fully aware of the irony of fate and remains restless day and night. Brett Ashley moves from one man to another in pursuit of her physical satisfaction and Jake is a silent spectator.


He nervously moves from one hotel to another, one dancing club to another but to no avail. He cannot overcome his grief because it penetrates to the depth of his soul. In Hotel Monty at Pamplona in Spain, he meets Pedro Romero, the greatest bullfighter who is born with great qualities of tolerance and patience. Romero is severely beaten by the boxing champion Robert Cohn, but his soul remains untouched and he does not lose his integrity and performs his duty in the ring stoically. In his fiesta in Pamplona Jake loses his sweetheart Brett Ashley and his friend Montoya, but he learnt the greatest lesson of his life that a great amount of patience and tolerance is required to lead life and it is possible only through a manly encounter with death. This is the lesson which enables him to receive a telegram from his disloyal beloved and respond to her stoically and patiently.

Hemingway's Code Hero


Hemingway's Code Hero

The major characters in Hemingway’s novels and short stories are divided into two groups. There are certain round characters who find themselves at cross-ends with the world around them and they are trying to come to some convincing terms with their environment but do not know the way out. They learn with the passage of time and evolve a new set of values, which make their survival possible. There are certainly other characters that do not need any education because when they appear before us they are perfect in themselves. These characters appear with different names in different novels. But they share so many characteristics in common that critics identify them collectively as the Code Hero or in Earl Rovit’s terms “the Tutor”.Hemingway’s code hero is usually an older man, tremendously courageous and blindly confident who has realized his potentialities and know his area of operations. He is perfectly skilled and experienced in his art and executes his jobs full-boldly. He is usually a bullfighter, a fisherman, a veteran soldier or a prize fighter who is dead sure of his success and acknowledgment in his particular department.Hemingway’s code hero is an incarnation of those values, which make for the void of life caused by the First World War. The code hero is fully aware of the fact that if a man wishes to live most intensely only in confrontation and death by showing his coolness, endurance, grac, and discipline he can assert his moral integrity and manliness.Wilson, Pedro Romero, Santiago etc. are different examples of the code hero. Santiago fights the battle with courage and dignity to defend his prize against the sharks in the big sea especially when the Marlin is bleeding but as to give is unmanly. So he sustains his stature in the face of heavy and even insurmountable odds. He proves that:“Though the field is lost everything is not lost.”And“A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”Romero, the code hero, in “The Sun Also Rises” is presented as the“Messiah” who has come to save not only full fighting from decadence but also“The Lost Generation”. He demonstrates to them through his actions how one can live with dignity and grace while facing death. Jake Barnes is greatly impressed by Romero when the former says:“After Romero has kill his first bull “Montoya”, caught my eye and nodded his head. This was a real one. There had notbeen a real one for a long time. He knows everything when he started. The other cannot learn what he was born with.”The encounter of Robert Cohn and Pedro Romero, the encounter of the code hero and the romantic hero present the difference between physical and moral victory between chivalric stubbornness and real self respect. Thus Pedro fights to repair an affront to his dignity and though he is badly beaten yet his spirit is untouched by disappointment, whereas Cohn’s spirit is completely smashed. Though the next day Romero’s eyes were discolored, lips and face were swollen yet he beats Belmote in particularly every sphere of the sport. Cohn had based his skill at boxing or upon a women’s love, so he fails when neither love nor skill supports him but Romero’s manhood is a thing independent of women. Even in his courtship of Brett Ashley there is no loss of his pride and self respect.He appears for a brief span of time but he has taught Jake Barnes to face the realities of life with stoic endurance and made Brett say:“You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch.”And“It is sort of what we have instead of God.”
Brett’s declaration is a prove that Romero indeed had the greatness within the bullring and outside of it.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Explanation Of Ariel Poem By Sylvia Plath


Explanation Of Ariel Poem By Sylvia Plath


"Ariel," the title poem of Sylvia Plath’s posthumous volume of the same name is one of her most highly regarded, most often criticised, and most complicated poems. The ambiguities in the poem begin with its title, which has a three-fold meaning. To a reader uninformed by Plath’s biography "Ariel" would probably most immediately call to mind the "airy spirit" who in Shakespeare’s The Tempest is a servant to Prospero and symbolizes Prospero’s control of the upper elements of the universe, fire, and air. On another biographical or autobiographical level, "Ariel," as we know from reports about the poet’s life, was the name of her favorite horse, on whom she weekly went riding. Robert Lowell, in his forward to Ariel, says, "The title Ariel summons up Shakespeare’s lovely, though slightly chilling and androgynous spirit, but the truth is that this Ariel is the author’s horse." Ted Hughes, Plath’s husband, adds these comments,

ARIEL was the name of the horse on which she went riding weekly. Long before, while she was a student at
Cambridge (England), she went riding with an American friend out towards Grantchester. Her horse bolted, the stirrups fell off, and she came all the way home to the stables, about two miles, at full gallop, hanging around the horse’s neck.

These two allusions, to The Tempest and to her horse "Ariel," have often been noticed and pointed out, with the emphasis, from a critical perspective, being placed on the biographical referent. But there is another possible referent in the title of the poem which no one has yet noted, although the poet, apparently, went out of her way to make reference, even obvious reference, to it. I refer to "Ariel" as the symbolic name for Jerusalem. "Ariel" in Hebrew means "lion of God." She begins the second stanza of the poem with the line "God’s lioness," which seems to be a direct reference to the Hebrew or Jewish "Ariel."

Plath’s obsession with Judaism and the Jewish people is clearly indicated in many of her poems.

[….]

Indeed, some of the imagery which informs the passage concerning "Ariel" in the Book of Isaiah (29:1-7) appears to have been drawn on directly by Plath for her imagery in her poem "Ariel." In Isaiah 29-5-6 we read,

And in an instant, suddenly,
You will be visited by the Lord of hosts
With thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
With whirlwind and tempest,
And the flame of a devouring fire

In short, then, the poet seems to be combining these three references to "Ariel" in her poem and creating a context where each of the possible meanings enriches the others. She even seems to imply this when she says, in the second stanza, "How one we grow." Each of the three "Ariel’s" contributes its part to the totality of the poem, and each of them merges into the others so that, by the end of the poem, they are all "one."

Now, of these three references to "Ariel," the two that seem most fruitful in terms of an analysis of the poem appear to be the autobiographical and the Biblical In terms of the autobiographical overtones, the poem can be seen as what apparently it is in fact—an account of the poet’s going for a ride on her favorite horse. Each of the details she mentions with respect to the ride (at least through the first six stanzas) can be seen as exact reporting of what it is like to ride a horse. The last five stanzas of the poem obviously move beyond the literal telling of taking a horseback ride and move into something which partakes of the mystery whereby the rider experiences something of the unity which is created between horse and rider, if not literally, at least metaphorically. This change in the theme of the poem is signaled both by a change in tone and by a change in technique, and specifically by the break in the rhyme scheme.

In talking of the rhymes in Plath’s poetry, John Frederick Nims points out that in The Colossus, Plath’s first book, she chooses to rhyme "atonally" using one of the several variations:

The same vowel-sound but with different consonants after it: fishes-pig-finger-history; worms-converge. Different vowel-sounds but with the same final consonant: vast-compost-must; knight-combat-heat (this is her most characteristic kind of rhyme in The Colossus). Unaccented syllable going with accented or unaccented: boulders-wore: footsoles-babel. She considers all final vowels as rhyming with all others: jaw-arrow-eye (perhaps suggested by the Middle-English practice in alliteration). Or she will make sounds that have almost anything in common: ridgepole-tangle-inscrutable.

Nims goes on to say,

In Ariel, the use of rhyme is very different. In some poems, it is ghostlier than ever. But more often it is obvious: rhyme at high noon. The same sound may run on from stanza to stanza, with much identical rhyme. "Lady Lazarus" illustrates the new manner. The poem is printed in units of three lines, but the rhyme is not in her favorite terzarima pattern. Six of the first ten lines end in an n-sound, followed by a sequence in long e, which occurs in about half of the next twenty-two lines. Then, after six more a’s, we have l’s ending eleven of fourteen lines, and then several r’s, leading into the six or more air rhymes that conclude the sequence. Almost Skeltonian: the poet seems to carry on a sound about as long as she can, although not in consecutive lines.

Now up to the seventh stanza of the poem (and continuing on through the remainder of the poem once the transition has been made in the seventh stanza, "White / Godiva, I unpeel— / Dead hands, dead stringencies"), the rhyme scheme has been, for the most part, "regular" in terms of the slant rhymes Nims has suggested, each stanza having two lines which rhyme, given Plath’s approach to rhyme. "darkness" / "distance," "grow" / "furrow," "arc" / "catch," "dark"

/ "Hooks," "mouthfuls" / "else," "air" / "hair," "I" / "cry," "wall" / "arrow," and "drive" / "red." It is true that the rhymes do not all fit the categories Nims has set forth, although some of them do. Where the rhymes do not fit his scheme, another scheme, equally justifiable, could be suggested—one which the poet apparently used equally often, here as well as in other poems in Ariel. For instance, in the case of the rhymes "darkness" / "distance," the rhyme works on the duplication of the initial "d’s" and the final "s’s"; in "arc" / "catch," "arc" ends in the consonant "c" which is picked up as the initial letter in "catch" (also the sequence "ac" in "arc" is reversed in "catch" to "ca"); the "k" in "dark" and "Hooks" carries the rhyme for the lines ending in these two words; in the "wall" / "arrow" rhyme Plath has apparently worked the words so that the letters of the one word become inverted and duplicated backwards in the letters of the other, thus "w" begins "wall" and ends "arrow" and the double "1" in "wall" is duplicated by the double "r" in "arrow," each of the double consonants following the vowel "a"; and the initial "d" of "drive" goes with the final "d" of "red," and so forth.

But, to show the change in theme in the Godiva stanza, Plath breaks the rhyme within the stanza itself, while, and at the same time, she joins this transitional stanza to what has gone before and to what will follow by interlocking its rhyme with the dangling or unused line in both the preceding and following stanzas. Thus "heels" from the preceding stanza is made to rhyme with "unpeel" in the Godiva stanza, and "seas" of the following stanza is made to rhyme with "stringencies." The unity of the poem as a whole has thus been maintained while the shift in its theme is signaled both thematically and structurally by a shift in the rhyme scheme.

In addition to this rather complex patterning of rhyme, Plath also has her own alliterative-devices to bind together individual lines and, at times, larger units of her poems. In "Ariel," for instance, we find lines like, "Pour of tor and distances," "Pivot of heels and knees," and "Of the neck I cannot catch." In each of these lines, the internal rhyme ("pour" / "tor") or the alliteration ("cannot catch") or the assonance ("heels and knees") creates a kind of music which takes the place of exact or even slant rhyme.

[….]

On at least two other occasions, then, Plath has set forth similar experiences to the one she details in "Ariel," and in each case, she has communicated her experience in terms of horses and horseback riding. All demonstrate a desire to have her reader feel, if not see, the unities of the interconnected emotions which she is attempting to express in these poems. Particularly in "Ariel," she is careful to link the thematic and rhyme devices already mentioned to an overall structure which suggests the special kind of fusion that she intends. The poem is written in three-line stanzas, and, in the sense that two of the lines in each stanza rhyme, the poem might be considered to fall into a loose terza rima. Another way in which the form works to complement the meaning is in the stanzaic form itself. The very fact that the stanzas are tri-fold parallels the tri-fold allusions to the horse, Ariel in Shakespeare, and "Ariel" as a reference to Jerusalem, Therefore, the stanzaic structure as well as the structure of the individual stanzas corroborates the theme of the poem.

But perhaps the most important structural, as well as thematic, line in the poem is the last line, which is also the final stanza of the poem. This line is important in a three-fold way: first, the "ro" of "cauldron" is inverted to "or" in "morning," thus continuing the quality of the double, and here internal, rhyme that occurs throughout the poem, but at the same time tightening the rhyme even further into the space of a single line; second, the words "eye" and "morning," carrying as they do the overtones of "I" and "mourning," at once incorporate the personal activity (riding a horse) with the communal concern of the Biblical passage (where "Ariel" comes to signify the whole history of the Hebrew race and the suffering, the "mourning" so immediately identified with that history); and, thirdly, the word "cauldron" mixes all of the foregoing elements together into a kind of melting pot of emotion, history, and personal involvement. Thus, the poem takes on the richness and complexity we have come to expect from the poet, and, not without reason, stands as the title poem of the book. As A. Alvarez has said, "The difficulty with this poem lies in separating one element from another. Yet that is also its theme." Indeed, Plath seems to have always had a similar difficulty in separating one element of her life from another. But, that, too, was also, and always, her theme.

 
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