These essays were written for many of my English writing university classes. Most of them garnered an “A” in grade with minor edits and/or suggestions made by my professors, which I have since corrected.
I hope you enjoy reading them.
Society is as Society does
When children read a story for the first time, they are transformed into an imaginary world, where he or she achieves a sense of what is to be human through the exploits of its characters. The objective of the plot is to draw the reader into the exploration of the imaginary world and though imaginary, the world is readily equipped with social standards that are defined by gender roles for its fictional inhabitants. In “Gender Role Portrayals in Preschool Picture Books”, Stuart Oskamp states: “Children’s books provide their audience with cues about life ― in particular, about what goals and social norms are available and appropriate for members of their sex…” (27). The Encyclopedia Britannica defines social norms as: “rule or standard of behaviour shared by members of a social group…The social unit sharing particular norms may be small or may include all adult members of a society” (Encyclopedia).
In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, both writers create a coming-of-age story that has both male and female characters that either conform or do not conform according to 19th Century social norms.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about the coming of age of a young boy by the name of Huck Finn, who is dead set against what is expected of him by society: “…The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me…it was rough living in the house all the time…and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out” (Twain 32). Twain’s own discomfort with social norms is obvious throughout the story, as it is evident through Huck Finn’s continual struggle against it. In her critical essay “Reformers and Young Maidens: Women and Virtue in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, Nancy Walker states that: “Discussions of Twain’s male characters’ attitudes toward or relationships with women seem inevitably to address the attitudes of Twain…Huck mirrors some of Clemens’s conceptions of the nature and role of women” (479). This idea separates Huck Finn from the other characters in the story.
The women in Huckleberry Finn, though constantly in the background, do provide Huck Finn with those norms attributed to the women of 19th Century society ― nurture providers and moral disciplinarians. As a motherless young boy, Huck Finn has no choice but to be left at the mercy of the female characters he meets along his adventures. According to Walker, “…without the real human virtues represented primarily by the women in Huck Finn there would be little opportunity for Huck to grow” (481), this comment lends validity to the idea that the women, stereotyped as nurturers and disciplinarians played a major role in the development of Huck’s consciousness.
It is only later, when Jim is sold to Silas Phelps by the Duke and King and Huck Finn torments over how to help him, that he comes to a decision that in which his own conscious wins out ― Huck Finn would rather live by his own set of moral codes, than to conform to those already set up by society and in Huck’s eye could not be the right ones. Laurel Bollinger in her essay “Say it, Jim: The Morality of Connection in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” agrees: “…a boy courageous enough to stand against the moral conventions of his society, to risk Hell itself rather than to conform to the ‘sivilizing’ process of communities he rejects” (1).
Bollinger adds that, “Huck’s silence reveals an alternate moral code that has, in fact, driven him through the novel: a code based on the maintenance of relationships, not on an abstract hierarchy of values” (2). In other words, Huck’s non-conformist attitude rejects of society’s norm. He has his own moral code which he lives by and not by those provided to him by the women he encounters.
Though the women are in the background, they are given a chance to stand out over the murderous, abusive, thieving male characters. In Myra Jehlen’s “Reading Gender in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” she states that “If gender is a matter of nurture and not nature, the character conventionally assigned men and women in novels reflect history and culture rather than nature, and novels…” (Twain 498). The attributes assigned to women as nurturers are based according to 19th Century social norms for the female gender.
This works out well for the women of Huckleberry Finn, because they get to stand out over the men in their ability to provide Huck Finn with the nurturing he needs for his development. Walker states:
“…it is possible to re-view Huck Finn as embodying a basic tension between male and female values and roles — a tension that bears directly on Huck’s moral growth. Most of the female characters are derived from traditional — usually unflattering — stereotypes of women common to nineteenth-century authors and readers; indeed, the novel could serve as an index to common attitudes toward women as reflected in these stereotypical images…those who are not stereotypes, such as Judith Loftus and Mary Jane Wilks, have more to do with Huck’s development…” (479).
Though the male characters were aplenty in the novel, there is little that is being said about them by critics. The men are shown as murderers and thieves. Pap, Huck Finn’s father, couldn’t run for the father of the year award if his life depended on it. He is an alcoholic and abusive to his son, while the Duke and King swindled every village they came upon. Walker considers them more human and says that Twain uses them for satirical use as oppose to using them to horrify the reader with their blatant swindling schemes. However, Walker states: “The male characters, even the rascals and thieves, are allowed the freedom to accept or reject these values, whereas the women, as members of a subservient group, are obliged to preserve and transmit them” (495). The women had to conform to society whereas the men were allowed the freedom to choose to conform or not.
Huck is constantly seen running away from them and the women. He regroups each time with Jim, for he would rather risk his freedom for Jim than to succumb to the social norms of his fictional counterparts. Jim perhaps is the only positive male role model in the book, though he is a runaway slave breaking the law, who sets an excellent father model for Huck…as far as what a father would do for his family. Walker states: “…(Huck) he arrives at a mature friendship with another man, one for whom he is prepared to risk eternal damnation” (495). Huck’s relationship with Jim is the only positive male pairing in the entire story.
It would be neglectful not to mention that while little is said about the men of the novel, according to Walker, the novel embodies a male quality to it: “…the thematic core of the novel embodies a dream escape to freedom that is both peculiarly American and identifiably masculine” (478).
Though a story about the conformance or nonconformance of 19th Century society the male and female characters of Huckleberry Finn remind us that no society is ever perfect. That the individuality of the one against the whole of society may be common and perhaps separates us from the whole of society is only short termed for the love for another being feeds our own social norms as an individual. Twain show us this when Huck at the end comes to terms with his own individuality: “…I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before” (263).
Though in Alcott’s Little Women, the fictional characters of the female gender do not mirror those of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the conflict between them and society’s expectation of them in 19th Century is once again a struggle of conformance.
The Marches consist of a family of four daughters; Meg, the eldest, Jo, the second child, Beth and then Amy, the youngest. There is Marmee, their mother and Pap, their father who is serving as a chaplain in the Civil War.
Little Women centers on the conflicts of young women’s life and social obligations that include domestic duties and personal growth. Alcott takes us through the escapades of the second eldest daughter, Jo March’s, journey of rebellion against society and its expectation of her ― marrying and having children. Jo’s exclamation early in the novel shows the reader her intense dislike of her own femininity: “I hate to think I’ve got to grow up, and be Miss March, and wear long gowns, and look as prim as a China aster…I like boys’ games and work and manners…I can’t get over my disappointment in being a boy” (Alcott 5-6). Jo’s anger at being a woman is because of the lack of freedom that is allowed to 19th Century women. According to John W. Crowley’s essay “Little Women and the Boy-Book”, he states: “To her mother and sisters, and especially her father, such ideas are perverse; and under pressure from them, Jo submits herself to a reforming self-discipline” (Crowley 390). Her family stands in for the social norms of her society. Jo later changes her mind when her mother reads a letter from her father reminding them to behave as little women should: “I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, ‘a little woman,’ and not be rough and wild…” (Alcott 13). Out of a sense of duty to her father Jo promises that she will become, much against her desire, that which her father wants of her.
Jo’s anger is not directed at being a heterosexual woman but rather at being a woman who according to society had very little rights or freedom ― conformance was not an option. Jo’s anger is evident in one of her plays about passion and revenge. According to Greta Gaard’s essay “Self-denial was all the fashion: Repressing Anger in Little Women”: “…play conveys the power of one woman’s anger, as opposed to the connotations of piety and submissiveness of the morality play” (Gaard 6). It is this anger that gets the best of Jo when Amy nearly dies when she falls through thin ice in her haste in trying to catch up with Jo to make up with her for burning her novel: “It’s my dreadful temper! I try to cure it; I think I have, and then it breaks out worse than ever…” (Alcott 94). She then asks her mother what to do. Marmee, like a good woman of society, encourages her daughter to pray and then she admits to Jo that she too has been angry for forty years and has learned to control and not show it. Marmee who had conformed to dealing with her own anger, which is what society expects from women is encouraging her daughter to conform by accepting that such behavior as exhibiting anger is not lady like and unacceptable by the very society she is trying to escape.
Jo has no desire to marry. In her heart, she fears that marriage not only stands for all that she is against in society but also an admittance of submissiveness that a woman must adapt from her relationship with Man and to Jo March this was unacceptable. The thought of her sister Meg becoming engaged is difficult for her to comprehend: “…I knew there was mischief brewing,” Jo says when she finds out about the romance between Meg and John, “I felt it; and now it’s worse than I imagined. I just wish I could marry Meg myself, and keep her safe in the family” (231). Crowley describes Jo’s apprehension: “…Meg’s engagement begins the dissolution of a nurturing female family; by affirming the hegemony of men, Meg’s submission to John Brookes shatters Jo’s dream of a spiritually self-sustaining community of women” (Crowley 391). Eventually, however, Jo does succumb to and warms up to the idea of Meg marrying John.
Jo’s world has not been totally female. She forms a friendship with the boy next door, Theodore Laurence. When Theodore introduces himself as Laurie, Jo who emasculates her own name from Josephine to Jo because it was “so sentimental” (Alcott 35) is curious at how he came across to his own nickname. Laurie explains: “…the fellows called me Dora, so I made them say Laurie instead” (35). Crowley states: “That Laurie can remedy with his fists what Jo must bear with a sigh is a measure of Victorian gender differentiation…” (393).
Like Jo, Laurie hates the conventions of society to the point where he too wishes to reject the responsibilities expected by him as a man, education and a career in business. He loves the piano, but is not allowed to play it. The piano is associated with a skill taught to young ladies of social standing and old Mr. Laurence, Laurie’s grandfather, cuts off Jo’s praise of Laurie’s skills: “That will do, that will do…too many sugarplums are not good for him” (Alcott 65). Unlike Huck Finn, Laurie does not reject society’s expectation of him as a man, but feels like the women of his society, that he too is very limited in his rights to choose and make his own decisions.
Jo’s attachment to Laurie is not one of a love affair but one of brotherly-love. Later in the novel she rejects his declaration of love and marriage proposal. There is a scene at the end of part one where the entire family is together and is composed of male-female pairs – Marmee and Pap, Amy sketching Meg and John Brooke, Beth holding Mr. Laurence’s hand and Jo sitting in her favorite chair with Laurie leaning on the back of her chair, when they see each other in the long glass and he nods at her. Crowley states: “Laurie, whom Jo calls either Teddy or “my boy,” is reflected with her in the mirror because he and Jo are androgynous doubles, symbolic twins. As their very names suggest, she is a girl/boy and he is a boy/girl” (392). Even Marmee agrees that there are too many similarities between the both of them and that marriage between them wouldn’t work.
The climatic point between Jo and Laurie’s relationship is reached during the second part of the story. Jo, no longer calls Laurie by his nickname. Several years have passed and Jo has with time matured and no longer sees herself as Laurie’s equal. She becomes Laurie’s mentor and in doing so she adopts a motherly demeanor with him, and often references him by calling him by his birth name, Teddy, and sometimes even “my boy”. After an argument with his grandfather Jo takes it upon herself to handle the rift between the Laurence men: “Laurie, having dutifully gone to college to please his grandfather, was not getting through it in the easiest possible manner to please himself” (Alcott 274). Jo heals the rift forcing Laurie with the opportunity to please his grandfather. Crowley says: “In reconciling Laurie to his manhood, Jo realizes that she must thwart the child’s desire for freedom that has always bound them together…As adults, they will grow apart into the prescribed gender roles of their separate spheres” (396).
One of Jo’s greatest desires is writing. She hopes to earn money to help her family while enjoying the freedoms of writing and reading. Many of her plays are acted out by the four girls and in them she gladly plays the role of the male: “No gentleman were admitted; so Jo played male parts to her heart’s content…” (Alcott 22). Writing professions were considered a man’s profession and very uncommon for women. The more conventional a norm was the more she fought against it. During her stay in New York, Jo achieves publishing success, but much like the first part of the book, where she writes to provide her family with financial assistance, much of her published writings in New York are in an attempt to help her sick sister, Beth. In a non-conventional manner, Jo has become the bread winner in her family. A role society deems a male characteristic. In “Resentful Little Women: Gender and Class Feeling in Louisa May Alcott”, Stephanie Foote adds: “…much of the new material she gathers (in New York) finds its way into a conventionally domestic form” (79). In other words, many of the letters she sends to her family talk about life in the boarding house. Jo’s escape from Laurie and his ideas of romance and need of new materials for writing is only an escape from that, in New York she is faced with, social norms once again.
The beginning of the climatic point in which Jo’s life takes a turn to one of conformance is when she is hired as a writer. According to Foote, “…for experience that will sell ― means not only that Jo is betraying or sullying her “womanly” attributes, but more specifically, that she is sullying them by keeping bad company, by living in “bad society” (80). During this accompaniment of bad company she draws the attention of the man who is to become her husband, Professor Bhaer. Foote says: “His attempt to remove Jo from dangerous circulation…is not only a romantic or a moral rescue, it is a class intervention couched in standard phrases of morality” (80). Here Professor Bhaer is symbolic of his status in society as the male protector. Bhaer who works in obscurity does not want the same thing for Jo. Foote states: “Class is a moral orientation toward the world, and it is therefore inextricably tied to gender and its “natural” relationship to the moral” (80). Professor Bhaer makes Jo realize that by her joining the working class she injures others by pulling herself away from the “class of good women” (80). Foote then states: “…Jo’s reconciliation to domesticity comes when she discovers that she is the site of an emotional reading by someone else…” (80). It is at this point that Jo realizes how much the professor means to her, she eventually marries the Professor and has children of her own. She fulfils society’s expectation of her as a mother, wife and nurturer. She realizes the moral consequences of her actions and while she doesn’t totally conform she does conform nonetheless.
Both Huckleberry Finn and Little Women shows the transformation of its fictional male and females into fully gendered, grown adults who make decisions based on what is best for them accordingly to either their needs or those of society’s expectations. Whether it is the boy who would rather run to the wilds of the West than conform to a primitive society or the girl who eventually conforms to her civilized society and while there is a struggle between men and women with their social duties they must eventually come to terms with making a decision.
What we shouldn’t forget however is that while the decision is ours to make there is still a sense of conformance that takes place either that for the sake of the society or for the individual. In other words, while the key to this transformation is self-sacrifice or a self-imposed denial, the latter is only a fragment of being a male or female and that there are rules that apply to these sorts of behaviors and characteristics, as well ― hence, conformance by any other name is still conformance.
Alcott, Louisa M. Little Women or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. 1955, 3-555.
Bollinger, Laurel. “Say it, Jim: The Morality of Connection in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Huntsville: University of Alabama, 2002, 1-50.
Crowley, John W. “Little Women and the Boy-Book.” The New England Quarterly: 58: 3 (Sept. 1985): 384-399.
Foote, Stephanie. “Resentful Little Women: Gender and Class Feeling in Louisa May Alcott.” College Literature 32:1 (Winter 2005): 63-85
Gaard, Greta. “’Self-denial was all the fashion’”: Repressing Anger in Little Women.” Papers on Language & Literature 27:1 (1991): 3-19.
Jehlen, Myra. “Reading Gender in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin. 2004, 496-508.
“norm.” “Encyclopedia Britannica. 2006. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 7 Dec. 2006 http://www.search.eb.com.proxydc.wric.org/eb/article-9056133.
Oskamp, Stuart. “Gender Role Portrayals in Preschool Picture Books.” Handbook of gender research. Ed. R. Crandall. Corte Madera: Select Press: 11: 5 (1996): 27-39.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin. 2004, 72-253.
Walker, Nancy. “Reformers and Young Maidens: Women and Virtue in Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn.” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin. 2004, 476-495.
The Tragedy of the Modern Man in Shakespeare and Marlowe’s Own Words
Fifteenth Century welcomed the Renaissance Humanism, which initially began as a movement in European culture and spread to the English shores. This movement was based on the recovery, interpretation and reproduction of ancient Greek and Roman text.
The Renaissance scholars who rediscovered these classical texts were called humanists. They were motivated by an educational and political ideal that all capabilities and virtues peculiar to human beings should be studied and developed to their fullest extent. Hence, humanism became a cultural dynamic that influenced almost every facet of intellectual life and created new interest in human experience by taking man away from religious experiences and placing an enormous optimism on the potential scope of human understanding.
Both William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) were writers who used the historical and philosophical movements of Renaissance Humanism to tell us stories of struggles between Man and God.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Prince of Denmark, Hamlet is torn between his own desires for revenge as oppose to letting God avenge his father’s death, while in Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, in his need for the ultimate power in knowledge, Faustus rejects God.
According to French Humanist, Michel de Montaigne, “the world of experience was a world of appearances, and that human beings could never hope to see past those appearances into the ‘realities’ that lie behind” (SparkNotes1). Shakespeare creates that kind of world and places his tragic hero Hamlet in it by creating a conflicted world that will have a detrimental effect on Hamlet, who spends the entire play torn between his need for revenge and making sure that he is acting justly and by God’s rule in that revenge will be his.
In both, Shakespeare and Marlowe’s world, as well as Hamlet and Faustus’, individual experience in the here and now became of more interest than the vagueness of the afterlife. As a Renaissance Humanist, Man withdraws from the established religions, stimulating the value of worldly desires and the intense declaration of personal freedom. This withdrawal was an expression of the philosophy of secularism. The ideal life was no longer a straightforward break from society; instead, it became a complete involvement in human interaction that was more prosperous and diversified. In other words, the man of the Renaissance period lived between two worlds: the world of medieval Christian matrix, in which the significance of every phenomenon was ultimately determined through uniform points of view like religion and its afterlife, and the world of the humanist, where man was in the here and now. In Hamlet’s case, he was painfully active in the here and now of his father’s senseless death by his uncle, now the new King of Denmark. Unlike, Marlowe’s Faustus, who struggles with his own beliefs where God was concern, Hamlet takes it upon himself to be the deliverer of punishment towards his uncle; however, his Renaissance Humanism side is creating a duality of struggle from within himself. Hamlet is having a hard time deciding who is going to win this struggle. Will it be God who exalts the punishment or will he have to go ahead and kill his uncle.
Hamlet is a student studying humanism at the Wittenberg University, and according to Fintan O’Toole, he “sees everyman as a potential God, is almost convinced of the Renaissance glorification of his species. But he is also inescapably aware of death, to its power to reduce all of this to nothing” (46). This belief is evident in his soliloquy, “What a piece of work man is! / How noble in reason! / How infinite in faculties! / In form and moving…” Hamlet continues with the soliloquy as he remembers death, “And yet, to me what is this quintessence of dust?” (2.2 1085).
Hamlet is a man in search of the truth. Was his father really murdered by his uncle? Was the ghost of his father a demon sent to provoke him or was it truly his father seeking his son for vengeance against the man who killed him, now the King of Denmark? For Hamlet to believe in the ghost as a demon would therefore have him believe that there wasn’t an afterlife. If he were to believe in the ghost as the soul of his dearly departed father, then that would constitute a belief in the afterlife. Still Hamlet needs to believe within himself that there is no doubt to his uncle’s guilt. He becomes torn between the truth of man and God’s truth. Hamlet’s Humanism ideas only serve to set him up into a climatic situation that can only bring death to him and those closely involved in the story.
His inability to act quickly has long been a subject of criticism and discussion. According to the article “Inaction in Othello and Hamlet,” written by Daniel Ross and Brooke Horvath, Hamlet feels tremendously guilty about killing King Claudius. Hamlet would have to deal with the consequences of killing the king, while also trying to deal with his sanity. Once again Hamlet is faced with the duality of his world between the Renaissance humanist who wants action and the old self that allows things to go through the natural state of leaving things like revenge to God. In other words, his inaction will mean that though he will not sin, he will have to live with the burden of knowing that his uncle was guilty of murdering his father (Ross and Hovarth).
Ironically, Hamlet’s struggle to find his own conception of the truth only contributes to his deadly fall. He spends much of the time trying to look for a meaningful death, specifically one that is properly done within the scheme of things. Hamlet “is trying, in a sense, to marry his humanist understanding about the importance of every human life, the significance of humanity itself, with the obvious and inescapable fact of his world – which people die improperly, for no reason, without the true cause being known, without the proper rites being observed, without significance” (O’Toole 48). The struggle that Hamlet experiences in whether to take action or not is evidence of the continued struggle he faces throughout the play, e.g., the struggle between his Humanist views where things are left for some other higher being to handle.
It is important to note that Shakespeare immediately shows us Hamlet’s Renaissance humanist side by allowing Hamlet to say in the course of a few lines that “while on one hand customs should be broken, men should think for themselves and not be bound by what is traditional – the words of a Renaissance humanist – and on the other hand then say that men are born with certain defects, that Nature or Fortune determines their characters and that there is nothing they can do about it (49). O’Toole’s comment is evident through Hamlet’s soliloquy “…So oft it chances in particular men / That, for some vicious mole of nature in them / as in their birth / wherein they are not guilty / since nature cannot choose his origin / by the o’ergrowth of some complexion…” (1.4.1077).
Unlike Hamlet, whose faith in God had him torn throughout much of the play between allowing God to do his duty, as creator and the server of justice or taking it upon himself to see that his father’s murderer was brought to justice; Marlowe’s Faustus’, a humanist, as well, desire for a greater power of knowledge, sets him up to reject God altogether when his wish is sealed in blood by the devil. Faustus is, to begin with, the ideal Renaissance humanist; however, Marlowe shows him, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to be damned nonetheless.
With Medieval times over and the Renaissance movement beginning, Doctor Faustus, like Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Prince of Denmark encompasses both periods, according to Arnold Schmidt, “Humanism encouraged people to realize their happiness and potential in this, the material world, rather than focusing solely on eternal happiness in the afterlife” (1).
So it is safe to call Doctor Faustus a transitional play where these movements mix together with devastating outcome. Hence, he is a man torn between these two traditions―a man of medieval beliefs with renaissance aspirations. However it is these aspirations that will become his eventual downfall for he denounces God for this higher power of knowledge, “Settle thy studies, Faustus, and being / To sound the depth of that thou will profess” (1.1.460). Here we see in Faustus, once again, the quintessential Renaissance humanist – he is a man who has defied medieval belief that one cannot aspire to be as great as the angels and embodies the philosophies of Renaissance humanists, who prized individualism and scientific achievement:
In proceeding through the various intellectual disciplines and citing authorities for each, he is following the dictates of medieval scholarship, which held that learning was based on the authority of the wise rather than on experimentation and new ideas. This soliloquy, then, marks Faustus’s rejection of this medieval model… (SparkNotes19).
Faustus then brings up religion, having attacked all of the other learning doctrines; religion is his last one and the one that is revered by his society as the ultimate of all achievements of Marlowe’s period. Faustus, argues that religion is imperfect and therefore, must also be dismissed along with other institutions, “The reward of sin is death? That’s hard. / If we say we have no sin, / We deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us. / Why then belike we must sin, / And so consequently die. / Ay, we must die an everlasting death. / What doctrine call you this?” (1.40.461). Marlowe uses Jerome’s bible to help Faustus set the course to his damnation:
Faustus’s thoughts construct a syllogism. His two general statements―”sin leads to damnation” and “all people sin”―leads to his third―”all people are damned.” Faustus has read the quote from John about the wages of sin out of context, however, the rest of the quote promises mercy for those sinners willing to repent. Further, Faustus is reading (as he notes) Jerome’s bible. Protestant Elizabethan England saw this edition, associated with Catholicism as an erroneous text that altered or eliminated key elements of the Bible. (Schmidt 2)
Faustus refuses to accept the normal course of all religious doctrines; giving his Renaissance humanistic side the power to lead him to his damnation. Hence, as he denounces God, Faustus begins his journey into darkness, “What will be, shall be! Divinity adieu!” (1.48.460). Faustus now begins to believe that magic would be a far greater religion than the almighty doctrine of the divine, “These metaphysics of magicians / And necromantic books are heavenly!” A magician, he later states, “…is a might god” (1.49.461). Faustus’ rejection of religion is based only on selective pieces from the bible that sets up religion in a very negative light, “He reads that ‘[t]he reward of sin is death,’ and that ‘[i]f we say we that we have no sin, / we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us” (SparkNote19). Therefore, there is no truth in God.
It is to Faustus, having achieved the highest level of learning and theology, the ultimate crown glory to achieve the power of knowledge through magic and the conjuring of spirits, “The logic he uses to reject religion may be flawed, but there is something impressive in the breadth of his ambition, even if he pursues it through diabolical means” (SparkNotes20). There is more here than meets the eye for in rejecting God, Faustus also rejects his Renaissance humanism, although he seeks a high a power of knowledge.
When he summons Mephistopheles, he believes that Mephistopheles was forced to come to him by his own powerful incantations. However, it is not the power of Faustus’ words but the power in Fautus’ rejection of God that brought him up, Mephistopheles says, “For when we hear one rack the name of God, Abjure the Scriptures, and his savior Christ, We fly in hope to get his glorious soul…” (3.47.466). Marlowe uses pride to keep Faustus very much in the dark to the point that Faustus’ inner sight was clouded by his old beliefs and desires. When upon meeting Faustus, we see that he is a good and wise man by Renaissance ideals who has, through his beliefs, reached the end of human knowledge. Very much as in the classical tragedies of both Shakespeare and Marlowe’s time, Faustus and Hamlet’s downfall are complete due to their pride.
In the end, when it is time for him to pay his dues to the devil, Faustus refuses to call unto God for his salvation and instead calls upon the devil, according to Robert Smith, “The last speech of Doctor Faustus contained a number of Biblical passages coming from the Prayer Book of 1552 which is found in all versions of the Book of Common Prayer. This last passage showed that despite his sins, Faustus was not damned beyond saving. The only way that Faustus could be saved was by turning back to the Lord. In the end, however, Faustus called on Lucifer instead of Christ. This was the moment when his downfall became finally sealed” (1).
Both Hamlet and Faustus become victims of a struggle between the old medieval Christian matrix and their new awareness of the revolution of the Renaissance man. To be that new man or not to be, that is the question Hamlet asks as he fails to grasp that the whole purpose in life was to understand how to act. Hamlet either needed to take action, by killing his uncle or staying within the boundaries of the old medieval Christian matrix by leaving God with the responsibility of avenging his father’s murder. On the other hand, Fautus’ action does not come from lack of action but from his quick action of denying a greater power―God. Marlowe and Shakespeare’s brilliantly retelling of the Faust and Hamlet legend springs not only from their own creativity, but from the times in which they both lived in. Therefore, both Hamlet and Faustus became fallen prey to movements like Renaissance humanism, causing them to become their own worst enemy; bringing upon themselves tragedies which enfolded from the struggles between God and themselves.
Gramercy Books. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New Jersey: 1975
O’Toole, Fintan.. Shakespeare Is Hard, But So Is Life. London: Granta Books, 2002.
Ross, Daniel W., and Brooke K. Horvath. The Upstart Crow, Volume 11. Inaction in Othello and Hamlet. 1991
Schmidt, Arnold. “An overview of Doctor Faustus.” Drama for Students. Detroit: Literature Resource Center. Gale. Montgomery County Public Library. 2 Dec. 2008; http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=LitRC&u=rock21695>.
Smith, Robert A.H. “A note on Faustus’s final speech.” Notes and Queries. 44.4 (Dec. 1997): p483. Literature Resource Center. Gale. Montgomery Public Library. 2 Dec. 2008 http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=LitRC&u=rock21695.
SparkNotes. Hamlet. 27 Nov. 2008 <http://www.sparknotes.com/i>
The Enlightened Criminal
The Age of Enlightenment was an important movement during the eighteenth century in that it brought to Europe and its society advancements in the sciences, arts, and politics. This intellectual movement had leaders who thought of themselves as pioneers who were going to lead the world out of the dark ages and into a rational, orderly and unified universe. One of these leaders, Cesare Beccaria, wrote On Crimes and Punishments. This manifesto was based on the criminal justice system of Europe, which brought to the reader a reformist’s point of view on the changes required to bring about a more civilized and just penal system. Beccaria offered Europe’s society modernized reforms to torture and the death penalty, which he considered very barbaric.
Beccaria began by pointing out one of the problems of the criminal system by stating that the current form government and criminal justice was barbaric by any other standards, let alone those of the enlightenment period. He stated, early in his book, that “A few remnants of the laws of an ancient predatory people…These laws, the dregs of utterly barbarous centuries, are examined in this book…” To Beccaria reasoning was the answer to the ever increasing need for the enlightenment of the European society out of the dark ages and into a more modern and equal one.
Beccaria then tells us that it is all Man’s fault because Man created these laws for the sake of society, but it eventually benefits not the simple man but the most powerful of men. This idea goes against his believe in social contract, which is the thought where one chooses to live in a society, then one gives up its personal freedom in exchange for protection and the comfort of belonging, because he turns around and blames Man. He says that Man sets out to benefit from these laws for his own purposes, “…it had to be defended against private usurpation by individuals each of whom always tries not only to withdraw his owns share but also to usurp for himself that of others.”
There were two powerful institutions that Beccaria believed abused these barbaric laws: the monarchy and the church. To say that Beccaria disapproved of this was merely an understatement for he felt that the church and monarchy used punishment for their benefit and not for the benefit of its society.
The church especially benefited because of its strong connection with the absolute monarch. Beccaria believed that both government and church should have separate duties. He strongly felt that the church had no business carrying out any forms of punishment. Beccaria believed that the church should have concerned itself with sin and the state with the punishment of crimes against society and her people. This was quite the opposite of what was happening prior and during the Enlightenment. Beccaria saw a society that had assigned Man with the power to carry out these laws and they too were corrupted and they spared no time in the misused of punishments for their own benefits.
While crimes were committed and they ranged from capital crimes to minor ones, it was the abuse and barbaric uses of punishment that caught Beccaria’s attention. In his chapter on “Torture,” Beccaria claimed that torture was used in order to extract information from the criminal; however the manner of torture allowed for discrepancies in the statements or confessions of the accused. He was very concrete in this idea “A cruelty consecrated…is torture of the accused during his trial, either to make him confess the crime or to clear up contradictory statements, or to discover accomplices, or to purge infamy in metaphysical or incomprehensible way…” These barbaric punishments consisted of trials by fire or boiling water to name a few, other torturous techniques used ranged from starvation and exposure to diseases.
To Beccaria torture led to an unbalance of the truth, since someone in excruciating pain would admit to just about anything, believing that any information divulge would lead to some kind of release for them, but this was often not the case. Because of this Beccaria believes that “The effect of torture…is a matter of temperament and calculation that varies with each man according to his strength and sensibility…a mathematician could more readily…resolve this problem: given the muscular force and nervous sensibility of an innocent person, find the degree of pain that will make him confess himself guilty…”
Beccaria believed that if the truth is too difficult to ascertain in the air, gesture or manner of a person then what truths will be discovered when that person is in the throes of torture? He then declared that torture was not a proper means of discovering any truths and in order to punish someone a rational government or society should have a rational system of punishment. To Beccaria in the case of torture things could be twice as bad for the innocent person, not only because of the torments he endures, but the charges that are brought upon him.
Though torture was just one of the forms of punishment that required reform, to Beccaria punishment by death was just as barbaric as any form of torture and though it was quicker and perhaps saved the victim a lot of pain, it was unthinkable, for he believed life any life was sacred and should therefore killing should not have been considered an acceptable form of punishment, “The death penalty cannot be useful, because of the example of barbarity it gives men.” Though he speaks about other types of punishments that coincide with the crimes committed Beccaria here focuses on the death penalty.
What Beccaria argues is that penalty by death has become a human condition to society. It has been so accustom to man that he no longer flinches at the sight of an execution. The value of human life hence was diminished by the barbaric penal system. Beccaria does, however, suggest that the death penalty be used in several scenarios with one of them being in the case of treason. In other words the extend of a punishment should be compared to the extent of the crime committed, for example crimes against the state during war should be consider a capital punishment, hence the punishment should befit that crime. In most cases treason was punishable by death.
He brings up his disdain against the church by stating that in their involvement they rush towards the victim’s demise, “Then religion presents itself to the mind of the abusive wretch and, promising him an easy repentance and an almost certain eternity of happiness, does much to diminish for him the horror of that ultimate tragedy.” He even softens the penalty by suggesting that permanent slavery is more effective in that the punishment while not severe or deadly is much more carried out through a long period of time and Man once free would not be susceptible to giving it up, hence a future crime might be prevented.
Beccaria states that once a person is found guilty there should be a prompt and certain punishment. He believes that, “the certainty of a punishment…will always make a stronger impression than the fear of another which is more terrible but combined with the hope of impunity.” He stresses once again that the punishment must remain true to the law and not that of any Man’s or legislators’ desire.
To solve the dilemma of inequality, he goes further to suggest that laws be created by a “dispassionate student of human nature.” He states that many of the present laws were just “a mere tool of the passions of some, or have arisen from an accidental and temporary need.”
Beccaria’s reasoning introduces to society a more modern judicial system, very much like the system used today, by suggesting that laws should be set by legislators. These legislators would not be able to judge and in turn they would not be allowed to interpret the laws. The laws would then need to be clarified prior, this way laws would not be targets of an unbalance of power who wishes to change them for their benefits. He adds that all offenders be judged by an audience of their peers.
Most importantly, Beccaria stated that all judges be impartial searchers of the truth and have no ties to any money making opportunities (leaving no room for the opportunity of corruption). Along all of these important steps one must maintain a rational thought process in order to produce a system worthy of its society. That punishment should be to reintegrate the individual back into society was a key principle for Beccaria.
Beccaria’s treatise eventually influenced the western world by his presentation of a stable and rationally constructed penal system. He is credited with helping to found the “Classical School of Criminology.” The key to these classicists is that the punishment should be proportional to the crime committed.
Beccaria thought that if human reason could reveal laws, then society should be able to use reason to find laws to be governed by. The Enlightenment Movement forced societies across Europe to use reason. Hence, Beccaria’s answer to the reforming of a criminal judicial system reflected in his treatise “On Crime and Punishment” clearly defined the purpose of the enlightenment period, in that reason was used while at the same time the modernizing of the criminal penal system took place by stating and proving that all punishments should be proportioned to the crime and that society should be conditioned to the proper punishments befitting the crime committed.
Beccaria states that with the creation of a criminal justice system and laws that there should also be a rational form of punishment. He expressed that while the state had the right to punish those that threatened a society, that they only had the right to inflict those that were necessary, “for a punishment to attain its end, the evil which it inflicts has only to exceed the advantage derivable from the crime, in this excess of evil one should include the certainty of punishment and the loss of the good which the crime might have produced. All beyond this is superfluous and for that reason tyrannical.” He also advised society that both the church and state should be separated and laws should be clearly defined in order to avoid any misinterpretations.
Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments, tr. Henry Paolucci, (New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, 1963)