Make
a comparison between two sonnets.

Both William Shakespeare and Sir Phillip
Sidney’s sonnets explore the ideas of love and natural imagery. However there
are clear differences between their work too; Sidney steps out of the
boundaries of typical meters in sonnets while Shakespeare’s subjects of
interest, or muses, are not always identified as the typical female love
interest.                                                                              The main theme of Sidney’s ‘Astrophil
and Stella’ is unequivocally that of love. The speaker states that he is
‘loving in truth’ and wanted to demonstrate the sincerity or ‘truth’ of this
love through the writing of his Sonnet. Sidney’s exploration of the speaker’s
love works synonymously with the topic of the speaker’s struggle as a writer.  The speaker hopes that his love interest may
‘take some pleasure of my pain’- with pain possibly having a dual meaning. The
speaker is writing in the hopes that his lover will pity him, the pain of
unrequited love and the hardships of expressing his emotions in words. The speaker
studies ‘inventions fine’ in order to paint the ‘blackest face of woe’ so that
he can show his need for inspiration to write in order to win over his lover.

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Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 65’ also (albeit less obviously) studies the theme of
love but rather the fragility of it and the notion of mortality. The speaker
expresses the idea that nothing can withstand the effects of time, not even the
strongest of materials ‘since brass, nor stone…but sad mortality o’er sways
their power.’ The speaker then states his hopes that the writing of sonnets ‘in
black ink’ will immortalise the expression of his love- ‘my love may still
shine bright’ possibly suggesting that the idea that love can preserve one’s
youth and that it is the only thing that may withstand the eventual
destructions of time. Shakespeare uses the speaker of the sonnet to explore the
diverse effects of love while Sidney’s speaker discusses love in a more
egocentric way.

Sidney’s sonnets
were written before the premise of a typical English or Shakespearean sonnet
and therefore follow an Italian form with some variations. Sidney’s use of the
hexameter in ‘Astrophil and Stella’ and the use of commas or colons at the end
of each phrase, ‘I have my death wound; fly!’, creates a
disjointed meter with a lack of fluidity. This seems to demonstrate the
speaker’s anguish and self-conflict for not being able to write the sonnet that
will express his love aptly.  Conversely,
Shakespeare’s ‘Sonnet 65’ is written in iambic pentameter and uses the typical
rhyme scheme. The traditional meter and features of assonance, ‘hand can’,
create a consistent and powerful rhythm that consolidates the underlying
message of life being an impenetrable force that can be beaten by no strength.

This is further supported by the final rhyming couplet ‘might…bright’ that
reinforces Shakespeare’s exploration of the conflict of powers between life and
love.   

These two sonnets
demonstrate to a reader how similar ideas about the nature of love can be so
diversely expressed while still following the strict guidelines expected.  

 

Is
Satan properly described as a hero? Consider what principles or
characteristics might make us read Satan as a hero.

 

Satan in is a literary character with a
tarnished reputation and this can be said in Milton’s epic Paradise Lost or perhaps he is a tragic protagonist with a fatal
flaw that causes his own abnegation. However, readers may identify with the
influential characteristics of Milton’s Satan thanks to Milton’s eloquent,
elevated language and therefore read his character as a hero of this secular
poem.

 Satan’s name brings with it a tarnished
reputation, yet Milton’s use of language offers an alternative perspective to
this character. Satan offers guidance to the other angels, telling them, ‘Here
we may reign secure, and in my choice’. This speech in Book I characterises
Satan with admirable power and an eloquence that is undeniably heroic,
possessing a ‘free will and power to stand”. His self-assurance is reflected
through the use of personal pronouns and demonstrates to the reader he has a
heroic sense of pride that is further supported by him declaring it is ‘Better
to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.’ 

Satan’s character
could also be classed as a hero because he is an accessible figure who
demonstrates human traits. ‘Since love or hate, / To me alike, it deals eternal
woe’, Milton has used the dichotomy here in order for Satan to express his
inner conflict and anguish, admitting that his desire for power led to his own
demise. To add, Milton’s God in Paradise Lost speaks scornfully with a blunt
simple rhythm ‘Whose fault? / Whose but his own? Ingrate!’ which demonstrates
his unattainable power whereas Milton has crafted a self-aware character within
Satan with the ability to admit his own flaws in surprising contrast to
Milton’s God, who is a vengeful character that lacks such an independence of
mind and free will.

         Having
discussed Satan’s attributes such as pride or anguish, one may not view him as
the protagonist or hero of the poem but rather comparable to a character such
as Macbeth. Satan’s ‘unconquerable will’ acts synonymously with Macbeth’s
‘vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself’ hence suggesting that Satan’s pride
causes his downfall, fitting in with the archetype of a tragic hero just as
Macbeth does.  A tragic hero also holds a
specific characteristic of a flaw that ultimately leads to one’s own failure.

Milton uses the metaphor to discuss Satan’s flaw of being inherently
malevolent, ‘Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell’, a flaw that torments him
and threatens to ‘devour’ him. Satan’s inner anguish is expressed though his
speeches yet his actions juxtapose this and allows readers to follow Satan’s ever-deepening
fall into tragedy.

         Due
to Satan’s consistent acts of evil within Paradise
Lost, it cannot be said that he is the hero of the epic poem, but could
rather be viewed as a Tragic or Byronic hero. Satan is a character with an
ambition (such as ‘his confidence to equal God in power’) and admirable charm;
these are traits that deem Satan a venerable character yet ultimately lead to
his downward spiral into failure.

 

Taking the descriptions at the start of the poem of Leander (lines
51-90), consider which senses Marlowe evokes in his descriptions of him. You
should provide textual evidence for your views.

Critics have said
that Marlowe’s epyllion, Hero and Leander,
is an epic poem of controversy, only permitted due to this poem paying homage
to Marlowe’s narrative of the Ovidian literature, Heroides. Marlowe uses physical senses to touch on the homoerotic
and blur typical gender boundaries through sensually heightened and elaborate
language.

         Primarily,
Marlowe’s draws on physical senses, using the depiction at the threshold of the
poem to establish Leander as a sensual character. The description of Leander is
initiated with the implication that Leander has had other lovers, ‘I could tell
ye’, then leading on to physically explore Leander’s ‘straight’ body, pondering
‘how smooth his breast was, how white his belly’ instantly establishing his
power over Hero. Marlowe evokes the sense or desire to touch and implies
Leander is an experienced lover compared to the virgin Hero, giving him an
immediate dominance in their relationship. The sense of touch is evoked to draw
in on this dominance, discussing the fact that ‘immortal fingers did
imprint…with many a curious dint’ on his back. Marlowe’s use of touch lends
Leander some desirability that is comparable to that of Greek Gods and along
with the use of monosyllabic, masculine rhymes ‘imprint’ and dint’ creates a
powerful tone that coincides with the running themes of the tensions between
Hero and Leander and their battle for sexual authority.  The consistent struggle for power is
emphasised through this evocation of the senses and the use of rhyme creates an
upbeat town fitting in with the construction of an epic poem.

         Alternatively one may argue that
Marlowe evokes the sense of touch in the characterisation of Leander as a way
to explore and push the boundaries of constructed gender. Marlowe uses the
sense of sight and describes Leander in a feminine manner, being ‘beautiful and
young’ and then directly compares him to a woman stating that ‘some swore he was
a maid in man’s attire’; this determines Leander as an androgynous character in
the poem instantaneously. Marlowe’s feminine portrayal of Leander sets up for
humour within the poem further on, including the gender confusion between
Neptune and Leander “I am no woman, I”. Marlowe’s use of the senses draws back
on Leander’s desirability but in a more feminine way. Leander is ‘delicious
meat to taste’ and fixates the reader’s gaze on his male physique, yet makes it
incongruent by skewing the experience with a female presentation. Therefore,
humour is created through the obscure notion of presenting a male figure as no
more than a body, focussing on ‘those orient cheeks and lips’. Gender roles are
deconstructed and reversed, making Leander simply an object of desire thus
removing his suggested supremacy.

         We can see that the characterisation of
Leander evokes physical senses, alluring desire and exploring gender boundaries
in order to question the implied constructed gender roles a reader may
typically expect. Furthermore, the heightened sexual language follows the
standards of an epic poem to create an exciting tone and pay homage to Ovid’s
classic original story.

          

What constitutes identity (or identities)
in Twelfth Night?

 

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night is renowned for its comedy, historically known as a
festive play where chaos was expected to ensue. 
Shakespeare plays on the confusion of identities to emphasise the
comedic value of the play, subverting our expectations of identities including
gender or social.

         A
huge aspect of the play focuses on Viola’s identity crisis and the conflict
between her true self and her other identity, the ‘male’ Cesario. Viola must
create a new identity in order for her survival after losing her brother in a
shipwreck; she says ‘conceal me what I am…for such disguise as haply shall
become the form of my intent’. One may interpret from this that a woman was
deemed not to have an identity without a man, in this situation Viola having no
identity without her brother, thus having to create a new one. Shakespeare
crosses the boundaries of deception and plays with the boundaries of what may
be considered typically male or female. Viola, acting as Cesario, expresses to
Orsino ‘I am all the daughters of my father’s house/ And all the brothers too’.

While this confusion may have caused comedic effect as the audience would have
watched a male actor, dressed as a female character (Viola) then dressed again
as a male (Cesario), Shakespeare here also begs the question of gender
identity. It may be merely a construction or a learned idea rather than being
pinned to simple physical traits. Viola realises her disguise ‘is too hard a
knot for me t’untie’ as Cesario becomes ensnared in a complicated romantic
relationship with Olivia, further inferring that identity is constituted by
whomever and is not bound to a set of rules.

         Shakespeare’s
character Feste is depicted as the fool of the play, yet his dialogue is a
clever commentary on the idea of social identity being no more than pretence. Feste’s
use of intelligent language reveals him as more than a fool; he is similar to a
sagacious observer, who takes advantage of his comic role and having no bias to
make social commentary. Feste uses the aphorism 
‘Better a witty fool than foolish wit’. Here it is suggested that it is
better to be of a lower social standing and self-aware rather than to put up a
front in order to elevate one’s social identity. Shakespeare is making a
comment on the fact that the contemporary audience may have believed social
identity relied on one’s social position and class power. This can be
highlighted through comparing Feste with Malvolio. While Malvolio appears more
intelligent and attempts to rise in social class to become more than a steward
to Olivia, his attempt to form an exclusive social identity results in him
actually being made a fool, just as Feste aptly suggests.

         In
the points that have been made, a contradiction is clearly raised that
highlights how some identities may be manipulated while others cannot be forced
without repercussion, just as Feste declares ‘some have greatness thrust upon
them’.

 

Discuss
Blake’s treatment of religious belief in exploring the relationship between Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience,
paying attention to both texts and illuminations together.