Literature

AQA LITB3 PPQ – JANUARY 2012 – ‘Carter explores base instincts rather than subconscious desires’

Probably one of the better essays that I’ve written timed/without the book. I got it marked today and it’s a band 6 response, hope it helps!


In ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ it is true that Carter explores base instincts, such as those of the narrator’s father in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ the depraved sexual primacy of the Count in ‘The Snow Child’ and the malign sexual instincts of The Erl-King. Yet, it is debatable that the exploration of base instincts are favoured by Carter. In fact, in the case of the Count, it could be perceived that base instincts arise from the subconscious mind and that the two are intrinsically linked. Furthermore, by considering the benign nature of ‘La Bestia[’s]’ instincts, in addition to the interpretation of ‘The Erl-King’ as an exploration of the narrator’s subconscious desires, it is clear that Carter does not simply wish to explore base instincts. Ultimately, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive – the ambiguity of Carter’s prose allows her to explore the relationship between the two.

In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ through the use of parallelism and the motif of the gothic double, Carter explores the base greed of the narrator’s father, which seems to be as instinctive to him as the animalistic ‘ferocity’ of the tiger, in order to convey the innate human tendency to succumb to the psychological id. Within the exposition, the narrator immediately alludes to her father’s base greed through the asyndeton of ‘his gaming, his whoring, his agonising repentances’ that led to the death of her mother. He is characterised as ‘a man in the last stages of debauchery,’ sensually indulging in ‘gambling’ and ‘perpetual pleasure’ and Carter elucidates that such base behaviours are instinctive by utilising the motif of the mask, characterising ‘La Bestia’ as an inverted gothic double, resulting in an ironic caricature of human behaviour. As the tiger wears ‘a mask with a man’s face painted on it,’ where ‘one profile is the mirror image of the other’ Carter echoes Freud’s concept of the uncanny, offering the reader an uncomfortable, yet inherently familiar reflection of uncivilised human instincts, as the tiger is literally a beast behind a guise of civilisation. Perhaps Carter is addressing how humans are either ‘fighting a battle with [themselves]’ as the tiger is, or instinctively succumbing to base and ‘perpetual pleasure’.

However, though Carter does explore some instincts that are base in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ she does not present all instincts as such. As the narrator undergoes a metamorphosis in the story’s denouement, as she ‘shrug[s] the drops off [her] beautiful fur’ and assumes an animal form, she learns from the benign and pure instincts of the the beast, who is actually a ‘delicate creature,’ as he offers her an escape from her entrapment and ‘balked simulation of life’ by encouraging her to shed superficial appearances in order to achieve liberation, as foreshadowed in the exposition by the ‘introspective’ setting in which he lives – his desire to see the narrator ‘unclothed’ is clearly not the product of base and sexual instincts, but of instincts altogether more positive and natural. Nudity is depicted in a completely un-sexualised manner, disconnected from any baseness, as the narrator who was once ‘unaccustomed to [her] own flesh’ and ‘unused to [her] own skin’ evades the objectification of a society ‘who take no account of [her] existence’ as she ‘peels down to the cold, white meat of [her] contract.’ She is able to find solace and rebirth in a ‘peaceable kingdom’ in which the oppressive base instincts of men ‘need not be [her] extinction.’

Furthermore, similarly to the way in which the narrator’s father succumbs to his greed in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ it could be interpreted that the Count acts on his ‘base’ and sexual instincts by having sex with the young girl in ‘The Snow Child,’ yet, as she is a manifestation of his subconscious desire, it is more likely that Carter does not favour the exploration of base instincts, but sees the two concepts in relation to one another. As the Count ‘thrust his virile member into the dead girl,’ helplessly ‘weeping’ in the process, it could be perceived that such base actions are instinctive and do come naturally to him, yet it would not only be controversial to suggest that engaging in rape, necrophilia and incest is instinctive, but also, inaccurate. Due to the fact that the girl is ‘the child of his desire,’ manifesting as soon as ‘[the Count] completed his description,’ it is a likelier interpretation that she is therefore, a product of male subconscious desire, as suggested by the anaphora as the Count ‘wish[es he] had a girl as white as snow,’ ‘… as red as blood,’ ‘… [and] as black as that bird’s feather.’ Carter explores how the depraved and unsettling desires of the Count interact with his instincts, as he acts on such sexual impulses, as the girl is ‘stark naked,’ serving no other real purpose than for the Count to fulfil the fantasies of his subconscious, as she dissipates, ‘[beginning] to melt’ as soon as he has raped her.

Within ‘The Erl-King,’ through the narrative voice and the setting of the woods, Carter arguably continues to focus on subconscious desires, rather than base instincts, yet this time, those of the female. Though the Erl-King is characterised as an enticing figure, leading the narrator to indulge in her sexual instincts in ‘profane mysteries under the leaves,’ as ‘he came alive from the desire of the woods’ he is ultimately a construct of her subconscious desire. This sentiment is furthered through the narrative voice, as she deems herself an ‘imaginary traveller’ and alludes to the ‘invented distance’ of the woods, she evidently desires the ‘embracements’ of the Erl-King in spite of the ‘grievous harm’ she knows he is able to inflict. The denouement of the story affirms this interpretation as the Erl-King proclaims ‘Mother, Mother, you have murdered me!’ as she figuratively ‘murder[s]’ and suppresses the desires that she has previously been ‘mother’ to.

Yet, it could be considered that whilst Carter does explore the subconscious desires of the narrator, she does this in order to expose how females perceive the base instincts of men. The Erl-King is characterised as a powerful and ‘irrevocable’ figure, able to lead the narrator astray, and Carter alludes to his base intentions by utilising intertextuality from Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ as she equates his actions the ‘…thirsty, cankered..’ ones of the goblins of the poem. However, it is inferred that she will be ‘trapped in her illusion’ and her own subconscious desires, as she is essentially, aware of the Erl-King’s dangerous sexuality. Carter proposes that females metaphorically ‘[lose] themselves in the woods’ – it is their perceptions and toleration of male sexual instincts that are more damaging and thus, she explores both subconscious desires and base instincts in relation to one another.

Ultimately, Carter does not explore base instincts at the cost of subconscious desires, but views them as joint, exploring the relationship between the two. Thus, she shows how subconscious desires can be equally sordid and dangerous, and that baseness need not always arise from instinct.

AQA LITB3 Practice essay – To what extent is Macbeth responsible for his own downfall?

Hey there, this is a practice essay (Ie. not a real past paper question) that I completed for homework over half term. I haven’t had it marked yet, but thought it seemed decent enough to post! Reading over what I’ve written, one thing I’d focus on more if I could re-write it, is probably the influence of the witches, considering some of Heccat’s dialogue (‘trade and traffic with Macbeth / in riddles and affairs of death,’ the apparitions, the interpretation of Macbeth as a ‘wayward son’ for some further structural analysis etc.). I did write this with a conclusion (I concluded that he was the source of his downfall, but not responsible for it), but for some reason, it wasn’t saved to my laptop, so I’ll update this when I get my grade back.


The eponymous hero of Shakespeare’s Macbeth undeniably suffers a tragic downfall, from the ‘noble’ thane of Glamis in the play’s exposition, to an ‘abhorred tyrant’ in its denouement. Though it would outwardly appear that Macbeth is rather indisputably corrupted by extraneous forces of evil that lead him to his demise, such as Lady Macbeth and the three witches, perhaps a stronger interpretation is that such forces merely bring his latent evil into being. Ultimately, if we consider a psychoanalytic reading of the text, then we can regard Macbeth’s madness and guilt as a form of psychological defence, rather than proof of his good nature. The source of his downfall lies not with the malign guidance of others, but with the ‘black and deep desires’ of his own subconscious. However, whether Macbeth can actually be held ‘responsible’ for this is subject to interpretation, as he tragically seeks to repress such urges.

It could be interpreted, that as Macbeth is depicted as a ‘noble’ and ‘valiant’ warrior in the play’s exposition, he is an inherently decent character who allows himself to be corrupted by his, wife, and he is thus, not responsible for his own downfall. As Shakespeare uses the imagery of the ‘[eagle]’ and the ‘lion’ to characterise Macbeth as noble and brave and fully ‘deserv[ing]’ of the praise he receives then perhaps Lady Macbeth acts as a femme fatale and preys on his good ‘nature’, which she speculates is ‘too full o’th’ milk of human kindness’ by ‘pour[ing] her spirits in [his] ear, and goading him to commit regicide. Macbeth’s guilt is clear before he even commits to ‘treasonous malice,’ as the very thought of killing Duncan is ‘horrid’ to him, making his ‘seated heart knock at [his ribs], and this would certainly affirm the view that Lady Macbeth ‘chastise[s]’ him into the act and that she is to be held responsible for his downfall, as she is the character that incites his ‘illness’ and his villainy. Though Macbeth falters and states that ‘we will proceed no further in this business,’ the use of sequencing, as he is very quickly ‘settled’ into killing Duncan in addition to Lady Macbeth’s recognition that he already has the ‘desire,’ then it is a stronger interpretation to consider that her intervention is minor and that Macbeth’s earlier descriptions as valiant ‘eagle[s]’ and ‘lion[s]’ merely suggest his predatory nature and delight to ‘bathe in [the] reeking wounds’ of battle. As Macbeth surpasses Lady Macbeth’s mediation by murdering Banquo, ignoring her request for him to ‘leave this’ , his feelings of unrest cannot solely be attributed to her – perhaps `she is not solely responsible for his downfall.

It is also a feasible interpretation to suggest that as Macbeth plays victim to the ‘supernatural soliciting’ of the witches and is seduced into corruption by their favourable prophecies and equivocations, he is thus, not solely responsible for his downfall. Structurally, the witches are established as agents of chaos from the play’s very exposition. Not only do they frame the play’s narrative, but also establish their ability to render things ‘fair’ in nature, perhaps like ‘brave Macbeth’ into things that are ‘foul’ in their ominous chiasmus ‘fair is foul / and foul is fair’. Such control over Macbeth is implied further, as he unknowingly echoes their chiasmus in conversation to Banquo as he remarks ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen’ and manifests as soon as ‘[their] charm’s wound up’ in a sort of proleptic irony. As they show an apparent power to control the speech and actions of Macbeth, it is not altogether surprising that he is left in a ‘rapt’ state at their claims that he is to inherit the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘King hereafter’. However, though the witches are formidable in their powers, they are clearly not all-powerful; as the witches ‘curse a man forbid’ at the beginning of I:III, the couplet ‘though his bark shall not be lost / yet it shall be tempest tossed’ indicates that though the can manipulate nature to a certain extent, it is not in their power to exert complete destruction. Thus, the use of ‘noble’ Banquo as a foil, whose recognition that ‘To win us to our harm / the instruments of darkness tell us truths / win us with honest trifles / to betray’s in deepest consequence’ leads to the view, that, in spite of their malicious intentions, the witches can only partially lead Macbeth to his downfall. Though the witches are ‘there to meet with Macbeth’ and not Banquo, as he falsely interprets that ‘two truths are told,’ he essentially exhibits clear ‘vaulting ambition’, that is characteristic to him and not the witches, perhaps they are merely manifestations of his own ambivalence and inner conflict that drives him to commit ‘dread exploits’ lending to the interpretation that he is clearly the one to be held accountable for his downfall.

If we consider a psychoanalytic reading of Macbeth and consider him to be an inherently evil character who has previously suppressed his ‘black and deep desires’, then perhaps he is actually responsible for his own downfall. As Lady Macbeth reports how Macbeth ‘burned in desire’ to hear the prophecies of the witches, it is clear that his earlier soliloquy, which can be seen to reveal his innermost thoughts, reveals his subconscious intentions to kill Duncan. The subjunctive mood of Macbeth’s statement that ‘chance may crown [him] without [his] stir’ perhaps reveals not his innocent intentions, but instead, the possibility that he ‘may’ intervene. This is furthered as he speculates that Duncan’s ‘murther yet but is fantastical,’ as he unknowingly comments on the inevitability of treason, it seems to indicate that his evil has been present from the play’s very exposition. As his latent evil is eventually brought into being, the witches, who would have been perceived, contextually as proponents of the devil refer to him as ‘wicked,’ branding him rather indisputably as a gothic villain – the notion that an advocate of Satan would regard him to be evil potentially affirms that he is again, the one to be held accountable for his demise. However, if we consider the prospect that Macbeth is unstable, seeing an unreal ‘air-drawn dagger’ that provokes him to such deeds and plagued by ‘the torture of [his] mind,’ though the source of his downfall does lie within him, perhaps he cannot be held responsible for it due to his unstable state of mind.

AQA LITB4 – Further and Independent reading – Notes on the canon

If you’re preparing your critical anthology coursework piece, you might find these helpful. The vast majority of these notes are taken directly from the anthology, but I’ve divided them into sub-sections for ease of reading and included some extra content that isn’t included.


Introduction

  • Aesthetics = refined pleasure = art = beauty
  • Derives from a Greek word meaning ‘things perceptible to the sense,’ ‘sensory impressions’.
  • The concept of ‘good taste’ is melded with idealised and socially elitist notions of ‘the sublime’.
  • At its crudest, an aesthetic sense was simply a sign of good breeding.
  • Art for art’s sake” – is the aesthetic nothing more, nor less, than a sensitivity to the sublime and beautiful and an aversion to the ordinary and the ugly?
  • The intrinsic value of art, and the only “true” art, is divorced from any didactic, moral or utilitarian function.
  • Nb: Think Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’ – you can set up some interesting debate with aesthetic value here. Wilde claims in the preface that ‘all art is quite useless,’ adopting the mantra of ‘art for art’s sake,’ yet the story is rather ironically, didactic. I’d probably use this for my coursework piece if I hadn’t already used it for my comparative essay! 
  • Canon of literature = high art
  • Popular writing/mass media = treated as artisanal, applied, commercial and ephemeral and therefore, left to communication, cultural and media studies.
  • There is an inherent willingness to play down the fact that many works that are now canonised as timeless classics (Ie. Shakespeare/Dickens etc) were highly popular, commercial and designedly ephemeral in their own day.

Judgement and value

  • Not all literature excites critical interest and comment
  • Literary critics have usually assumed that the texts which seem to repay special attention by many readers over a long period of time, thereby attaining ‘classic’ status, do so because they are intrinsically valuable.
  • Value is seen as a quality residing within the texts themselves – critics stress the importance of characteristics such as aesthetic unity, complexity, literary language, subject-matter and canonical status.
  • Literary texts which are assumed to be of special value are generally characterised by complexity of plot, structure, language and ideas.

Complexity

  • In this context, used as a synonym of value.
  • But, there are many different forms that ‘complexity’ can take;
  • The existence of a skilfully constructed plot and the co-existence of this plot with sub-plots that mirror and highlight the events and themes of the main one.
  • Language is also typically considered to be complex – writers don’t simply choose ‘ordinary words,’ but instead, words with resonance, historical associations, beauty, or ‘rightness’ for the particular context.
  • The language, structure, plot ideas etc. can be seen to constitute the aesthetic unity of the text.
  • If these elements aren’t cohesively linked to form the same overall structure within a text ad the reader is unable to find complex, unified patterns, the text will not be regarded as high literature and will be judged to be flawed.

Language

  • Language in valued texts is described as elegant, witty, patterned controlled; in short, the author is considered to have taken care in his or her choice, and the reader takes pleasure in the skill which the author displays.
  • Literary language, for critics such as the Russian formalists, is seen to constitute a separate type of language where the author plays conscious with the possibilities of expression i order to produce verbal art that has aesthetic qualities.

Subject matter

  • Generally considered to be serious, dealing with moral and philosophical topics of acknowledged importance.
  • Valued texts are supposed to give the reader an insight into fundamental questions which are of universal concern, such as the nature of evil, the corrupting effect of money, the value of love, etc.
  • Comic texts are rarely accorded status unless they appear to discuss such universal themes.
  • Valued texts = universal themes = durability. Eg. Shakespeare’s texts have significance not only for his time, but for all time.
  • When texts evidently discuss specific political questions in detail (political polemic), they are generally, at odds with literary worth.
  • Nb: Orwell’s ‘1984’ might be a text to consider here (or other dystopian text, but this one springs to mind as it is generally considered as canonical). It clearly discusses very specific issues, so perhaps the canon is somewhat more flexible than we give it credit for.
  • Satire is valued for its observations about humankind in general, not more specific criticisms of specific societies.

The Canon

  • Texts considered to be of the highest value.
  • Constantly changing (especially in schools), but generally taught in schools, colleges and universities.
  • Writers/dramatists poets. etc. belonging to the canon: Shakespeare, Milton and Chaucer.
  • Others debated on being included: Dryden, Lawrence, Pope, Swift, Woolf, Joyce, Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley, Jonson, Dickens, Hardy, Burns, Austen, Eliot and the Brontes.
  • Most of these writers are male, middle/upper-class, dead and are all white.
  • Is it a coincidence that most of these writers belong to the same ethnic, socio-economic and gender group, or does the canon support ruling ideologies?

Perspectives on value

– Barthes

  • Shifted the attention from assuming that ‘value’ resides within the text and focused on ‘the pleasure of the text’.
  • Not scholarly enjoyment, but the sexualised pleasure of reading.
  • Realist texts = readerly.
  • In reading ‘readerly’/realist texts, the reader begins not to be aware of the fact that he/she is reading and starts to get caught up in the pleasure of the narrative.
  • Barthes prefers ‘writerly’ texts (experimental/avant garde texts) which force the reader to ‘work’ and ‘play’ more in rode to make sense of them.
  • In ‘writerly’ texts, more attention is drawn to the process of writing (Nb: does this sound familiar??!?!?!) ; we are unable to become lost in the narrative in the same unthinking way as with readerly texts.
  • Though Barthes claimed to be opposed in constructing hierarchies, there does seem to be a value judgement made between readerly and writerly texts.
  • Yet, his writing about the pleasure of the text does question the traditional notion of canonical texts as somehow intrinsically more valuable than others.
  • Here, the reader plays an important role in attributing value to a text.

– Eagleton / Marxism

  • Attacks the concept of the canon, arguing that texts become canonical precisely as they serve to support the ruling ideology.
  • He doesn’t want to dispense with the notion of value completely, since he also thinks that there are literary texts which question or ‘escape’ ideology, and so, force the reader to consider his or her position, and perhaps lead to a form of consciousness raising.
  • Ie. Within The Women’s Movement, feminist novels written by Fay Weldon, Jeanette Winterson, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood and Angela Carter have been very important in bringing about changes in women’s thinking.
  • These literary texts have brought about a questioning of certain ideological assumptions about the position of women and can therefore, be seen as ‘valuable’ for this reason.

– Michael Foucault

  • Questions the idea of attributing value to texts at all.
  • He argues that literary texts are really, empty texts, containing less rather than more than other texts.
  • They display ‘enunciative poverty’.
  • With literary texts, critics have to work hardest in order to fill gaps that the text leaves gaping open.
  • It is the critics themselves, writing scholarly articles and books on canonical writers, who repeat over and over the message which the text itself failed to tell.
  • Foucault also questions the notion that the writer is in total control of what is written.
  • He draws attention to the importance of other factors in the writing process, such as the common-sense knowledge of time, literary traditions and the economic and literary pressures which lead the writer to write within certain genres or styles, and on certain subjects.

Additional Notes

  • Deciding what belongs in the canon – nostalgia, aesthetics, political status etc.
  • Should it be timeless?
  • unlike the other arts, [literature] can criticise itself. Pieces of art can parody other pieces, and painting can caricature paintings. But this does not amount to a total rejection of music or painting. Literature, however, can totally reject literature, and in this it shows itself more powerful and self-aware than any other art’ – John Carey, What Good Are The Artss? (2000) (p.175)
  • ‘…the so-called ‘literary canon’, the unquestioned ‘great tradition’ of the ‘national literature’, has to be recognised as a construct, fashioned by particular people for particular reasons at a certain time… ‘Our’ Homer is not identical with the Homer of the Middle Ages, nor ‘our’ Shakespeare with that of his contemporaries; it is rather that different historical periods have constructed a ‘different’ Homer and Shakespeare for their own purposes, and found in these texts elements to value or devalue, though not necessarily the same ones.
  • Some texts are born literary, some achieve literariness, and some have literariness thrust upon them.

Some Opinions

  • Whilst the canon is essentially an elitist, perhaps even pretentious construct, it is however, necessary.
  • How else would we decide which texts merit teaching? Are some texts simply better?
  • The problem is not the canon, then, but who decides which texts go into the canon.
  • A text does not have to be structurally and linguistically complex to constitute as ‘great literature’ – complexity of theme is of great importance. Camus’ ‘L’etranger’ is a seminal piece of existentialist literature, yet only compromises of two parts and is written in a concise, economic way. It poses hugely philosophical questions, but with regards to both style and structure, is very accessible.
  • Complexity is necessary, ultimately, because it makes us think. When we read Shakespeare, we do not read in the same, passive way that we would if we read, say, Harry Potter, or other popular escapist literature. Reading becomes a more active process and we are challenged to question things that are of importance that we perhaps, wouldn’t otherwise.

AQA LITB3 Practice essay – Gothic and the past

I haven’t posted in a little while, mainly because I was doing slightly more intense revise in preparation for mock week at college, but I’m back doing notes and practice essays now, so I thought I’d post this one! This isn’t a past paper question per se, but it’s a question that my teacher came up with for one of the other A2 literature classes. I decided to do it as a bit of practice to see how well I could unpick and debate the question thoroughly without the aid of a mark scheme!! Apparently the stuff on TLOTHOL is top of band 6, but the stuff on The Werewolf is a weaker, so that did even out the grade this received.


‘In her stories, Carter’s main priority is to expose the threatening and irrational nature of the past.’ To what extent do you agree with this view?

In ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ Carter explores the relationship between modernity and ancient superstition, and effectively, she finds both the myth in modern subjects and the modernity of fairytales. In ‘The Lady Of The House Of Love,’ not only does Carter base the characterisation of the Vampirella on Romanian folklore of the past, but she also presents the threatening intent of her supernatural ancestors. However, due to the malign control that the ancestors exert on the Vampirella, it could be perceived that Carter’s main priority is actually to expose the nature of the past to be not merely threatening, but physically dangerous. Though Carter does criticise the destructive capabilities of a present that has already been preordained, by presenting irrational fears to the reader, she fundamentally suggests that a more rational fear of the present is much more disquieting. Similarly, Carter furthers this view in ‘The Werewolf,’ a story that also echoes folklore, where inherited and irrational superstitions are exploited as a means of survival. Ultimately, we are left with the suggestion that our true anxieties should remain in the present and the future.

In ‘The Lady Of The House Of Love,’ though Carter depicts the ancestors of the Vampirella to be both threatening and irrational influences of the past, it is evident that they are not exclusively just ‘threatening,’ but actively destructive. The use of free-indirect discourse in the narrative voice that exclaims ‘Vous sere ma proie’ mimics the sentiment that the Vampirella ‘does not possess herself’ and that through her, the sinister and ‘baleful, posthumous existence’ of the past lives on. Due to the fact that she is controlled by her ‘demented and atrocious’ predecessors, despite her ‘own horrible reluctance,’ perhaps Carter simply manoeuvres the conventions of irrational folklore symbolically and as a mode by which she can expose the past to be both oppressive and detrimental to those in the present.

Equally, through the characterisation of the ‘rational’ soldier, who escapes the ‘annihilation’ of the Vampirella and her ancestors, Carter clearly exposes the nature of the past to be merely threatening and irrational, which, in turn, critiques the human tendency towards irrational thought.  The young man’s ‘fundamental disbelief’ of superstition and the make-believe threats of ‘the timeless Gothic eternity of the Vampires’ is, ironically, his ‘protection’ against their harm. Carter manipulates the narrative structure in order to deceive the reader into a false sense of fear as we are told of the Vampirella’s predatory nature and her ‘teeth [that] have been sharpened on centuries of corpses,’ leading to the belief that the soldier will, in fact, die at her ‘fatal embrace’, despite the fact we are explicitly told that he is destined to die in the ‘trenches’ of war. Thus, the folkloric allusion to the Vampirella as a descendent of ‘Nosferatu’ and the recognition that ‘it is folly to believe one’s eyes’ implies the notion that Carter’s main priority is, in fact, to critique our irrational fears of the past to expose the notion that the present is much more horrifying. However, through her use of equivocation, as Carter presents the Vampirella as intrinsically linked to warfare, her role as the ‘hereditary commandant of the army of shadows’ does put to question whether or not the soldier dies in the conflict of war. As the soldier is abandoned by his bicycle, a symbol of ‘rationality’ as he enters the setting of the Chateau, then perhaps our fears of his death at the hands of the Vampirella and her ancestors are not entirely unfounded. The denouement itself is an ambiguous ‘no-man’s land,’ and as the soldier is greeted ominously by ‘the heavy fragrance of Nosferatu’s roses’ in the barracks, the reader is left with the implication that his death in ‘the trenches’ does actually come as the result of supernatural intervention. This view is furthered by the use of structural parallelism, as the imagery used to describe the ‘corrupt’ and ‘baleful’ rose links to that used to illustrate the Vampirella’s ancestors, inferring that the young man has not escaped their hold. Though this leads to a more irrational mode of thought, posing that the ‘special exemplary fate’ of the soldier comes from the ‘vindictive inhabitants’ of the past, it is more likely that by ending the story ambiguously, wherein the acts of human conflict are effectively on par with those of ‘corrupt’ and fictional vampires, then the view that Carter exposes the malevolence of humanity is reaffirmed.

Similarly, in ‘The Werewolf,’ through the protagonist of the story, who is deceptively labelled as a ‘good child,’ Carter depicts not the threatening and irrational nature of the future, but the sinister and ruthless nature of the future generations. The exposition of the story presents a society both impoverished and based on folklore – the asyndeton of the ‘cold; tempest’ weather within the setting immediately creates a harsh and foreboding atmosphere, and one that certainly proves difficult for the continuation of the ‘harsh, brief, poor lives’ of its inhabitants. Outwardly, the denouement appears to be the ‘happy ending’ characteristic of a fairytale, as the protagonist prevails in such adverse circumstances, yet, it is more likely that its laconic tone is more chilling than it is satisfying. It could be interpreted that perhaps the child exploits the universal and irrational beliefs that ‘the devil is as real as you or I’ and of the ‘discover[y of] witch[es],’ to allow her own grandmother to ‘[fester]’ and suffer her violent death as she is ‘pelted with stones,’ as she supposes that her meagre ‘wart’ is the ‘[mark]’ of a witch. Thus, Carter reveals the notion that, for survival and material gain, humans will do anything to ‘[prosper]’ as the child does, even if it is at the cost of sacrificing those closest to them, indicating that her main priority is actually to uncover the threatening ‘cold hearts of the future that manipulate beliefs of the past.

Ultimately, though Carter does present the past to be both threatening and irrational in nature, this is not her main priority. It is more feasible that she presents these views in order to warn the reader rather more fittingly, of the alarming nature of both the present and the future.

AQA LITB3 Revision – How does Macbeth adhere to the Gothic? – Act I:I, II and III

Whilst it is not strictly a gothic text (this is something I definitely plan to bear in mind when writing any essays on the play), Shakespeare’s Macbeth does anticipate many elements of the gothic tradition. Whether it is the excessive violence, the inclusion of supernatural and unnatural forces or the exploration of the divided human psyche that runs central to the play, all contribute to the dark, atmospheric intensity of Macbeth, allowing us to label certain aspects of the play, rather indisputably, as being ‘gothic’.


Act I:I

Gothic setting

The ominous setting is described as ‘open ground. Thunder and lightning,’ – here, not only do we have remote and desolate locations (‘open ground’ and a barren ‘heath’), but also, pathetic fallacy within the setting that definitely aids the sense of great foreboding in this scene. The pathetic fallacy is furthered as the witches speak of their next meeting, ‘in thunder, lightning or in rain,’ and this is quite symbolic – we can perhaps interpret the turbulent weather as being representative of disturbances in nature, leading us to the question, are the witches agents of chaos that control Macbeth, leading him to his demise, or is it something else?

The supernatural 

Inarguably, the supernatural is the most obviously gothic aspect of play. I don’t think an explanation for why witches and their familiars are gothic is particularly necessary, but what I do think is worth a mention, is that structure is definitely something to consider here. Why would Shakespeare open the play with the prophesying of witches? The use of the witches and their fateful discussion within the exposition actually sets the tone of what’s to come. They are central to the plot, as they state plainly that they plan to ‘meet with Macbeth,’ and this is, again, indicative of the prospect that perhaps they do control him. If this is the case, then can we label Macbeth as a gothic villain later on? This considered, the form that Shakespeare uses here also aids our interpretation of the witches as the forces of evil in the plan. Act I:I is written in stichomythia (several characters speaking in alternate lines of verse), so the fact that the witches are 1. speaking in unison 2. effectively, finishing each other’s sentences, is disconcerting to say the least. Stichomythia is a technique typically used when a plot is reaching its climactic point or some sort of crisis, so using it here, in the opening of the play does contribute to the sense that something is not quite right. The witches are able to predict what is about to happen, but do they cause it?

Macbeth’s corruption

We’re about to hear all about Macbeth’s ‘valour’ and ‘brave[ry]’ in the upcoming scene, but the final couplet spoken by the witches does put to question whether Macbeth is as noble as he seems. The chiasmus (which simply put, is a reversal of terms) ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air’ blurs the lines between what is good and what is evil, so already, we have the characterisation of Macbeth of some sort of gothic double, which is something integral to play, as Macbeth progresses to ‘look like th’innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t’.

However, it would be quite reductionist to simply view Macbeth’s divided nature as something intrinsic to him. There is actually debate as to whether the witches are the agents of instability that cause Macbeth to commit regicide, or whether they are merely manifestations of his inner conflict… In Act I:III, Macbeth echoes the chiasmus of the witches in a sort of proleptic irony as he tells Banquo ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen,’ and whilst he is not definitively speaking about the same matters as the witches are (he’s just talking about the battle), this unconscious repetition could perhaps imply that the witches already have a hold on him.

Equally though, this could just convey his latent evil, as in Act IV:I, in the immortal line, ‘and by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,’ Macbeth is quite literally referred to as a ‘wicked’ and evil by the witches, who would’ve been perceived (contextually) as proponents of the devil. The notion that an advocate of Satan would view Macbeth as ‘wicked’ is very important to our perceptions regarding him as a gothic villain.


Act I:II

To me, this scene is quite important in terms of evaluating whether or not Macbeth is an inherently depraved character, capable of the actions he later commits. Here, he is depicted as ‘valiant’, ‘brave’ and ‘noble,’ which of course, would lead us assume that Macbeth’s true nature is one of benevolence and self-sacrifice.

So, here are some of the quotations that I think are useful when conveying this perspective, complete with a little bit of analysis:

‘Brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name)’ This doesn’t really need much explaining – the captain quite plainly states that Macbeth is worthy of the praise that he receives, and thus, is not evil.

‘Like valour’s minion carved out his passage until he faced the slave’  Though he is ‘valour’s minion,’ the fact that he quite ruthlessly ‘carved out his passage’ and ‘unseam[s] [Macdonwald] from the nave to th’ chops’ paints Macbeth as a merciless killer. However, as Macdonwald is himself ‘merciless’ and seems to be the greater evil, it’s safe to assume that this was a noble murder (if such a thing exists!).

‘Valiant cousin’/’worthy gentleman’  Again, quite self explanatory! 

‘What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won.’ – Of course we have the interpretation of Macbeth as ‘noble’ and great again, but what’s interesting here is the influence that the past has on the present. The previous Thane of Cawdor is a ‘traitor’ and guilty of ‘treason,’ which as we know, Macbeth also becomes guilty of later in the play. Here, we can consider the rather gothic theme of entrapment. Though Macbeth ‘hath won’ a title, he also inherits ‘borrowed robes,’ [I:III] / ‘strange garments, [that] cleave not to their mould'[I:III] indicating that he is somewhat thrust into a role that doesn’t quite fit or belong to him. I think it’s fair to say that we can feel some sympathy for Macbeth if we interpret his misdoings as a consequence of a future that has been preordained for him – if he is overwhelmed by his new power and has no control over his status, then can we blame him for his actions?

‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ – This metaphor/allusion to Roman mythology references Bellona, the goddess of war and effectively compares Macbeth to Mars, God of war in the process. He’s quite favourably depicted as some sort of supreme being.

‘They smack of honour both’ – Simply put, this envisages both Macbeth and Banquo to be honourable men.

‘They doubly redoubled strokes upon foe: Except they meant to bathe in reeking wounds, Or memorise another Golgotha’ – This is the first indication that Banquo acts as a foil to Macbeth. They are both fighting valiantly, which becomes important later on (if you’re arguing in favour for Macbeth as an innately evil character anyway). However, the latter part of this quotation would potentially suggest that the battle is less noble than we’re led to think.

Leading on from the last quotation, it is entirely possible that we could interpret certain aspects of this scene as actually depicting Macbeth’s ruthlessness – is he innately a killer?

The biblical allusion (Matthew 27:33) references Christ’s death on Mount Calvary – ‘And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, a place of a skull’. According to John 29:34, a Roman soldier pierced Christ’s side as he hanged from the cross. This is particularly interesting, considering Macbeth has previously been compared to the Roman God of war, Mars. This goes some way to depict Macbeth and his army as excessively violent (yet another gothic aspect) and perhaps even sadistic, delighting in the ‘reeking wounds’ that they inflict and making the battlefield as bloody as Golgotha. 


Act I:III (Lines 1-80)

Gothic setting 

As in scene I, we have pathetic fallacy with the ‘thunder’ and the desolate ‘barren heath’. To the theistic contemporaneous audience, the thunder would’ve been perceived as a warning from God – his voice of what’s to come, thus, this contributes to the dark, brooding atmosphere.

Supernatural/The witches

At the beginning of scene 3, we are again presented with the sooth-saying of the ambiguously gendered witches. Their earlier predictions that they will go to the Heath ‘to meet with Macbeth’ are realised upon the third witches’ couplet ‘A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come!’. This, in addition to the prospect that the witches have control of the elements (‘I’ll give thee a wind’) exemplifies the power that they have over the natural world, and this would definitely fortify the interpretation that they are the manipulators to blame for Macbeth’s hamartia. It is wholly possible that the witches are the sources of inherent evil in the play, as their vengeful attitudes towards a woman’s husband (they state that ‘He shall live a man forbid; Weary sev’nights nine times nine’ and seem to rejoice in the agony that they inflict).

‘The Weyward Sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the sea and land, Thus do go, about, about, Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, And thrice again, to make up nine. Peace! The charm’s wound up’

Spoken by all of the witches, this bit of verse is particularly ominous and ritualistic. Their collective name ‘The Weyward Sisters’ conjures up (pardon the pun) images of liminality and connotations of the strange and the unnatural, the fateful and the perverse – they are amphibious ‘posters of the sea and land’. This again, is all of course, very gothic.. But their ability to literally conjure Macbeth who enters as soon as ‘The charm’s wound up’ seems to prove their power to control not only the elements, but also, the actions of humans.

Equivocations

Though the witches are formidable in that they have destructive powers, they are not all-powerful. As the first witch curses a ‘man forbid,’ the lines ‘though his bark shall not be lost, Yet it shall be tempest-tossed’ indicates that though the witches can cause a storm, gnawing a hole in the side of the ship, it is ultimately, not in their power to destroy the ship completely. So, we can attribute this piece of information to Macbeth also… We can interpret that they partially lead him to his own destruction by their use of equivocations. Their ‘prophetic greetings’ are only half-truths – they’re not strictly false, but in telling Macbeth that he ‘shalt be King hereafter!,’ they do miss out the slightly vital piece of information that he’s also to be despised as a tyrannical leader and then, murdered. By telling Macbeth snippets of the truth and not any of the repercussions, they essentially drive him to fulfil their prophecies.

Macbeth and Banquo

As I mentioned earlier, Banquo acts as a foil for Macbeth, exposing how he is in fact, driven to corruption. They are both valiant in war and curious about the prophecies of the ‘imperfect speakers,’ but both fundamentally different in their responses. Macbeth fiercely demands them to ‘Stay’ before they ‘vanish’ into thin air and is clearly irked by what he is told – he’s left discombobulated and ‘rapt withal,’ whereas Banquo remains sceptical. Thus, we’re left with the inclination that Macbeth is going to act on what he’s told, complete with dire consequences.