Analisi del 2014

I folletti delle statistiche di hanno preparato un rapporto annuale 2014 per questo blog.

Ecco un estratto:

Il Museo del Louvre riceve 8,5 milioni di visitatori ogni anno. Questo blog è stato visto circa 79.000 volte nel 2014. Se fosse un’esposizione al Louvre, ci vorrebbero circa 3 anni perché lo vedessero altrettante persone.

Clicca qui per vedere il rapporto completo.

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img057 copiaShakespeare is considered   the greatest English writer of all times. His works have been translated into more languages than any book in the world except the Bible. He contributed to the development of the English language. A large number of words and phrases from his plays have passed into the language and are used today by millions of persons who have no idea that Shakespeare created them. When he wrote his plays, there were no accepted standardized  grammars or dictionaries, no accepted standards of spelling and pronunciation. Well-educated men spelled the same word in different ways and often pronounced it differently. They used grammatical forms which are not allowed today.   There were no English words for many ideas and new words and new expressions were taken from other languages or invented for the English language.

As far as his life, very little is known for sure. Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon on April 26th, 1564. He  attended the local grammar school but he did not go on to study at the university. When he was eighteen, he married Anne Hathaway, eight years older than he and they had three children, Susanna and the twins Judith and Hamnet. Hamnet died in 1596 and his death affected Shakespeare very deeply. He moved to London to work for the theatre as an actor and a playwright. He joined the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, one of the two existing companies of actors at the time, which later, when James I went to the throne, was renamed “The King’s Men”. They owned the playhouse “The Theatre”, which was dismantled and rebuilt in another place and called   “The Globe”. Shakespeare was a co-owner of The   Globe. He had a great success as a playwright and earned enough. Because of his success, he was attacked by   Robert Greene, probably envious of him, who complained that uneducated dramatists were becoming more popular than university men.  In his later years he retired to Stratford where he died in 1616.

Shakespeare wrote all his plays for performance not for publication and paid little attention to the written text. He wrote for the audience not for the readers because it was the audience that could afford him to maintaining his family and paying his company of actors. His plays were popular because he was able to write in such a way as to appeal both to learned and unlearned people.

Shakespeare did not bother to publish his works, which circulated in unauthorized copies known as  the “bad quartos” (quartos: volumes made up of sheets of paper folded twice; bad: because full of gaps and mistakes). They were reconstructed from memory by some actors or from notes taken in the theatres.  In 1623 two members of his company published the first edition of his plays, known as the First Folio (a volume made up of sheets of paper folded once). In this volume the plays were simply grouped as Comedies, Histories and Tragedies. This edition contained no indication as to the date of composition of the plays and the real chronology of his works remains imperfect and approximate. Critics divide his literary production  into four periods.

The first period goes from 1590 to 1595. It is the phase of his apprenticeship and he tried several different kinds of drama:  chronicle plays dealing with the history of Britain (Henry VI, Richard II, Richard III), comedies (The Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour Lost, The Taming of the Shrew, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, A Midsummer Night’s dream) and a Roman play (Titus Andronicus). They show little originality because he revised the plays of other authors or imitated those of his immediate predecessors that were already popular in the public stage. They are important because they contain elements that he later developed in his tragedies. To this phase also belongs  the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

The second period goes approximately from 1596 to 1600. Shakespeare gradually frees himself by imitation. It contains chronicle  plays (Henry IV, Henry V),comedies (The Merchant of Venice, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Much Ado about Nothing, As You Like It ,  Twelfth night) and the tragedy  Julius Caesar. To this period might also belong the history play King John  which contains a possible reference to Hamnet’s death.  Shakespeare expressed his great sorrow in Act III, scene IV, where he makes a character say the following touching words: “.…. I have heard you say that we shall see and know our friends in heaven. If that be true, I shall see my boy again…. Grief fills the room up of my absent child, lies in his bed, walks up and down with me, puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words, remembers me of all his gracious parts, stuffs out his vacant garments with his form…. O Lord! My boy, my Arthur, my fair son! My life, my joy, my food, my all the world! “ . Some critics maintain that these words have nothing to do with Hamnet’s death because, according to them, King John was written before his death.

The third period goes from 1601 to 1607. Shakespeare’s life in this period seemed to have grown dark.  He was forced to live more cautiously because he was a friend of the Earl of Southampton who was involved in the Earl of Essex’s plot against Queen Elizabeth. The day before the rebellion, Richard II was played at The Globe under the pressure of the Earl’s supporters. They hoped to win support for the rebellion because of the theme it dealt with. The rebellion failed and his best friends fell into ruin: Essex died on the scaffold, Southampton went to the Tower, Pembroke was banished from the Court and Shakespeare was probably under suspicion. This is the period in which Shakespeare wrote the so-called   “Golden Tragedies”: Hamlet, Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. They are tragedies of human sufferings, afflictions,grief and deal with the struggle between good and evil. The general mood   is one of pessimism. He also wrote four comedies, known as the “dark comedies” because they are full of blood  and we are tempted to consider them more as tragedies than as comedies: Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well that ends Well and Measure for Measure. They show Shakespeare’s pessimistic vision of the world and are tinged with a deep bitterness. In the same period he also wrote the Roman plays Anthony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus. Roman history was very popular in the Elizabethan Age because it was used as the material for political lessons.

The fourth and last period goes from 1608 to 1612. The works of this period (Pericles, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale, The Tempest) seem to reflect a new attitude   to life.  Shakespeare overcomes the previous pessimistic mood and expresses his happier state of mind.

 Shakespeare is not original in the choice of his plots, which are all derived from various ancient and contemporary sources: historical works (Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland), Roman history, classical works (Plutarch’s and Plautus’s writings), the Italian works of Matteo Bandello and others and material taken from many Elizabethan playwrights. In the Renaissance the idea of originality as we have nowadays, did not exist. There was no copyright and it was possible to copy other writers without any legal consequence. Writers were praised not for saying something new but for saying it well or in a new way. Of course Shakespeare did not copy; his  originality was in his ability to handle the original source and make it assume a new meaning and value.  He penetrated the depths of the human soul and   represented impartially all aspect of life and attitudes of men. He created a great variety of characters. They include persons of all types: Kings, Queens, ordinary people, heroes and so on. Shakespeare loved music and he also wrote several songs which appear in some of his plays.

imagesRIQMYLT3The Great Tragedies have got some common characteristics. They all    have a hero who is assailed by forces, good or evil, the full nature of which he doesn’t know until it’s too late.  Like the heroes of the greatest Greek tragedies, Shakespearian heroes are   driven to their downfall by the loss of something they believed in. The hero, who may be as wicked as Richard III or as innocent as Romeo, is also brought to his ruin by the operation of the Fate. The Fate works through the faults or errors of the hero, through the evil embodied in a “villain”, a character who lives near  him (Cassius, Iago) or through the supernatural (ghosts, witches).In nearly all the tragedies the destruction of the hero involves the death of the innocent who lives next to him. The hero  has fatal tragic flaws which explain  the calamities by which he is overwhelmed.   When the play ends, there is always his “redemption” even if he has been so wicked as Richard III or Macbeth.  The spectators feel pity on him because Shakespeare is able to make them realize that he was not completely bad and that he has been brought to his downfall by the operation of the Fate.

Other common characteristics are    the theme of the “Shattered Harmony” and the use of prose and verse.  There is always harmony at the beginning of the play; then the harmony is shattered by a character, the hero, who brings chaos, and by the forces of evil. But Good in the end always wins and   another character, usually a minor one,   defeats the hero and restores harmony.As far as the use of verse and prose,  characters belonging to aristocracy speak in verse while common people speak in prose. When a character from the aristocracy speaks in prose, it is because he is out of mind (for instance Hamlet and Ophelia). In Julius Caesar instead, Brutus and Anthony in their speeches respectively speak in prose and in verse for a different reason: Brutus addresses to people’s rationality and Anthony to people’s feelings.

Shakespeare’s world is male dominated but women are as important as men. In some plays the action is equally divided between man and women, for example in Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra and Macbeth. The psychology of the female characters of these plays, together with other female characters (Ophelia, Desdemona), has been openly investigated. They are stronger, more decided and less hesitant than their respective lovers and they are ready to risk everything for their love.

Besides being a dramatist, Shakespeare was also a great poet. He wrote some long mythological poems (Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece) and a collection of 154 Sonnets. They show  his knowledge of classical themes and mythology. Venus and Adonis and The Rape of Lucrece are dedicated to the Earl of Southampton, one of his patrons, who helped him when the theatres were closed because of the plague which raged all over Europe in the years 1592- 1594.It is probably because of the plague that Shakespeare and other playwrights start  to write poetry. The Sonnets can be conventionally divided into two groups: from sonnet 1 to sonnet 126 and from sonnet 127 to 154. The first group is addressed to a lovely boy, “a fair youth” a “Mr W.H.” while the second group is  dedicated to a “dark Lady”.In the first group there is also another character, a ” rival poet“, probably a poet (George Chapman?) who depended on the patronage of Shakespeare’s patrons. Critics have tried to discover who “the  fair Youth” and “the Dark Lady” were. They found no definite answers. Many of them think that the “Fair Youth”,    was the above mentioned Earl of Southampton, Henry Wriothesley, or William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, who were Shakespeare’s friends and patrons.  The “Dark Lady” is a mysterious married woman, probably Shakespeare’s mistress. The poet describes their troubled and   painful relationship in which they are both unfaithful to each other. The woman bestows her attention also on one of Shakespeare’s friends and he feels doubly betrayed by his woman and by his friend. The Sonnets have got many themes: unselfish love and mutual infidelity, friendship, old age, the decay of all earthly things, the destructive force of time and the immortality of art.

Shakespeare’s sonnets do not follow the Petrarchan sonnets of an octave and a sestet (or two quatrains and two tercets) but the standard English structure of three quatrains and a final rhymed couplet. The final couplet is used either to summarize the theme dealt with in the quatrains or to reinforce it. They also differ from the other cycles of sonnets of the time (Astrophel and Stella, Amoretti) because they do not  tell the poet’s love story for a woman.

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SHAKESPEARE: HAMLET Act III Sc.1 To be or not to be

1157 Hamlet is one of the so-called “Golden Tragedies” of the third period. It is a “revenge tragedy” and deals with the use and misuse of power, honesty and dishonesty, corruption and ambition of power. It  has been   debated and analysed in every time both in political and psychoanalytic terms. Hamlet, too, has been differently seen as an irresolute man, torn with moral conflicts, oppressed by melancholy, full of Freudian complexes and so on.

After his father’s death, Hamlet returns from abroad to become king and finds his throne usurped by his uncle Claudius who   has married his mother. His father’s ghost appears to him, tells him that he has been poisoned by his brother  Claudius and asks for revenge. Hamlet wants to take the revenge but he loves his mother,  too. This conflict reduces him to despair. His mother’s marriage has made him distrust and despise all women. He wants to escape the situation,  pretends to be mad  and rejects Ophelia, the girls he loved. As a consequence, Ophelia goes mad and commits suicide drowning herself. Hamlet decides to test the ghost’s story and asks a company of actors to perform a play in which the Queen marries the king’s brother who has killed the king. Claudius reacts at this and demonstrates guilty. In the final scene in a duel with Ophelia’s brother, Hamlet succeeds in killing him but he is also mortally wounded. Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, drinks from a poisoned cup prepared for Hamlet and dies. Hamlet, too, dies after stabbing the king and making him drink the rest of the poisoned cup.

To be, or not to be, that is the question—
Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep—
No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes Calamity of so long life:
For who would bear the Whips and Scorns of time,
The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely,
The pangs of despised Love, the Law’s delay,
The insolence of Office, and the Spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his Quietus make
With a bare Bodkin? Who would Fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered Country, from whose bourn
No Traveler returns, Puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Thus Conscience does make Cowards of us all,
And thus the Native hue of Resolution
Is sicklied o’er, with the pale cast of Thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment,
With this regard their Currents turn awry,
And lose the name of Action. Soft you now,
The fair Ophelia? Nymph, in thy Orisons
Be all my sins remembered

OPHELIA     Good my lord,                                                                                                            How does your honour for this many a day?                                                                HAMLET      I humbly thank you; well, well, well.                                                      OPHELIA     My lord, I have remembrances of yours,                                                               That I have longed long to re- deliver;                                                                                                I pray you, now receive them.                                                                                           HAMLET      No, not I;                                                                                                                           I never gave you aught.                                                                                                      OPHELIA     My honour’d lord, you know right well you did;                                                And, with them, words of so sweet breath compos’d                                                                        As made the things more rich: their perfume lost,                                                                       Take these again; for to the noble mind                                                                                        Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind .                                                                       There, my lord.                                                                                                                         HAMLET      Ha, ha! are you honest?                                                                              OPHELIA     My lord?                                                                                                           HAMLET      Are you fair?                                                                                                    OPHELIA     What means your lordship?                                                                          HAMLET      That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should  admit no discourse to your beauty.                                                                                                                             OPHELIA     Could beauty, my lord, have better commerce than with honesty? HAMLET      Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner  transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness: this was sometime a paradox, but now the time gives it proof. I did love you once.               OPHELIA     Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.                                             HAMLET      You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot  so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of  it: I loved you not.                                                                       OPHELIA     I was the more deceived.                                                                            HAMLET      Get thee to a nunnery: why wouldst thou be a breeder of sinners? I am myself indifferent honest; but yet I could accuse me of such things that it were better my mother had not borne me: I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with more offences at  my beck than I have thoughts to put them in, imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in. What should such fellows as I do crawling    between earth and heaven? We are arrant knaves, all; believe none of us. Go thy ways to a nunnery.Where’s your father?  OPHELIA     At home, my lord.                                                                                       HAMLET      Let the doors be shut upon him, that he may play the fool nowhere but in’s own house. Farewell.                                                                                                            OPHELIA     O, help him, you sweet heavens!                                                                HAMLET      If thou dost marry, I’ll give thee this plague for  thy dowry: be thou as chaste as ice, as pure as snow, thou shalt not escape calumny. Get thee to a nunnery, go: farewell. Or, if thou wilt needs marry, marry a fool; for wise men know well enough what monsters you make of them. To a nunnery, go, and quickly too. Farewell.                                 OPHELIA     O heavenly powers, restore him!                                                              HAMLET      I have heard of your paintings too, well enough; God has given you one face, and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and  nick-name God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on’t; it hath made me mad. I say, we will have no more marriages:those that are married already, all but one, shall live; the rest shall keep as they are. To a nunnery, go.                                  [Exit]

OPHELIA     O! what a noble mind is here o’erthrown!                                                              The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword;                                                              The expectancy and rose of the fair state,                                                                                      The glass of fashion and the mould of form,                                                                                The observed of all observers, quite, quite down!                                                                         And I, of ladies most deject and wretched,                                                                                     That suck’d the honey of his music vows,                                                                                       Now see that noble and most sovereign reason,                                                                          Like sweet bells jangled out of tune, and harsh;                                                                           That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth                                                                   Blasted with ecstasy: O, woe is me,                                                                                                  To have seen what I have seen, see what I see

This passage is taken from act III. Sc.1. King Claudius and Polonius, Ophelia’s father, are hidden somewhere waiting for the encounter they have arranged between Ophelia and Hamlet to test whether Hamlet’s madness is due to his disappointed love for Ophelia or to confirm the suspicion that Hamlet has discovered the truth about his father’s death.

It starts with a soliloquy by Hamlet  which enables the audience to enter inside  Hamlet’s mind and know  his intimate thoughts. The  first line, “ To be or not to be: that is the question”, sums up the dilemma that haunts his mind: should he continue to live and have his revenge or should he put an end to his life committing suicide? Soon after, his speech becomes a general analysis of the human condition. He  wonders whether it’s nobler to bear the difficulties of life or oppose them by putting an end to life itself. He does not refer to any event in particular. His words   can be interpreted in various ways: is life worth living or it’s better to commit suicide?  must he be passively submitted to the injustices and sufferings of life or react and rebel? must he   act and kill Claudius or   give it up? better react against an adverse destiny or  surrender to it?

 Hamlet meditates on the idea of committing suicide and considers all  available points of view. He  analyses life and death.  Life appears to him as a long series of evils, both inherent in human nature and interpersonal relationships – “to suffer  the Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune….   and the thousand Natural shocks that flesh is heir to….. bear the Whips and Scorns of time (ageing)….. the pangs  of despised love” – and  the products of social organization – “The Oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s Contumely, the Law’s delay (inefficiency in legal procedures), The insolence of Office (mistreatment by authorities), and the Spurns That patient merit of the unworthy takes (unjust criticism)”. In Hamlet’s opinion to live means    “ to take arms against a sea of troubles…. to grunt and sweat under a weary life  ”.  Against this “weary lifesuicide would be a solution. To Hamlet death seems to have a positive connotation at first and he associates death with sleep, rest and peace  : “ to die, to sleep, no more”; Death  is the end “ of heart-ache”; Dying  while sleeping is “ a consummation devoutly to be wished”. But  when he associates death and sleep  to dreams ,“To die, to sleep,To sleep, perchance to Dream“, he realizes that death may not be an escape” Aye, there’s the rub”. Dreams are not always pleasant; they can be nightmares and death may bring an unknown and perhaps dreadful condition: “For in that  sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil”.  There are two obstacles to suicide:  the fear that death would not end everything  and the shame of being charged with cowardice. The   after-death   is an“  undiscovered Country, from whose bourn no Traveller returns”. The impossibility of not knowing what comes after death “puzzles the will” and makes us fear death.   Our decision is then weakened, “  the native hue of resolution is sicklied o’’er”. Eventually  he   chooses life, but his choice isn’t really a choice for life.  He   does not know what the after-death reserves for him, so better “ bear those ills we have than fly to others that we know not of”.

The monologue ends when he realizes the presence of Ophelia. Hamlet is rude to Ophelia, pretends to be mad,laughs and speaks illogically: “ I did love you once…..I loved you not…..I never gave you aught …..ah, ah”.   He knows   that she has been asked by her father and by the king to spy on him and charges her with using her beauty as bait to trap him:“ …..That if you be honest and fair, your honesty should admit no discourse to your beauty”. Pretending to speak to Ophelia, Hamlet attacks women and marriage: all women are prostitutes.   His attitude to women is probably influenced by his mother’s behaviour.  He thinks that beauty and chastity cannot coexist in women :“Ay, truly; for the power of beauty will sooner transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness”  ; women are corrupt and would be “ breeder of sinners”;  wives betray their husbands (“….for wise men know what monsters you make of them”); women deceive men  because they “change their faces”  using make up (“God hath given you a face and you make yourselves another”) and they “jig and amble….” to drive men mad; they are hypocritical because  they make their   false ingenuity an excuse for their lascivious behaviour(“ you make your wantonness your ignorance”) .   Ophelia    is disconcerted by his contradictory words. She  is a naïve simple girl and   fails to understand the double meanings of some words Hamlet uses (nymph, nunnery / standing for whore,  brothel) and his invitation to her to” go to a nunnery”.  As far as marriage, Hamlet is horrified by his mother’s  incest and is against marriage: “Only fool men can marry….marry a fool…… I say, we will have no more marriages…..”. According to a psychoanalytic interpretation, the attack on women and marriage may reveal  an Oedipus complex.

The passage ends with a soliloquy by Ophelia. She describes Hamlet’s  change from what he was before,   a perfect gentleman of the Renaissance, and his sorrowful present state:  “O, what a noble mind is here o’erthrown! The courtier’s, soldier’s, scholar’s, eye, tongue, sword; The expectancy and rose of the fair state, The glass of fashion and the mould of form,……….. Now see that noble and most sovereign reason, Like sweet bells jangled out of tune, and harsh; That unmatch’d form and feature of blown youth Blasted with ecstasy”. The soliloquy ends with a sad consideration on herself: She considers her own misery and desperation:” O, woe is me, To have seen what I have seen, see what I see”.

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The 18th century novel:De foe-Swift-Richardson-Fielding-Sterne


Modern novel began to develop during the 18th century.  The term novel derives from the Latin ‘novus and from the Italian ‘novella’. It was in opposition to the term ‘romance’, referring to a chivalric story in verse. It was used to refer to a prose fiction which was new because it told stories about recent events. There were many causes which brought to the development of the Novel:  expansion of the reading public,  growth of a new middle class,different position of women, economic reasons. People, who were richer than before, could afford buying books and women had more time for reading because, after the industrial revolution, they had much free time at home: they could buy in shops the products which before were handmade in the houses. Publishing  became a profitable business thanks to the spread of literacy and of reading as a form of entertainment among the wealthy middle class. The professional writers began to appear . They did not have rich patrons but earned their living by writing essays and books. This new situation, together with the creation of the circulating libraries  which borrowed books in return of a small subscription fee, increased the numbers of readers. Yet the number of those who could afford buying books was very small and there was still widespread illiteracy. The masses gained a low salary and books were still very expensive to buy.   There was no real public education system yet.  Poor children had little opportunities to study since they were used as industrial labourers and a huge number of people could neither read nor write.

The 18th century novel was labelled as realistic novel: the characters were real people with ordinary names and surnames; they were described in their daily routines; the settings were    real geographical places and the contents were taken from  real stories. Unlike the early Augustans, the novelists liked to write about ordinary people acting in real-life situations. The novelists tried to meet their middle-class readers who wanted to read about ordinary people because they enjoyed seeing themselves as protagonists of the stories. They were the ones who bought the books and consequently the authors’ point of view was the same as the readers’ one. 

The most important novelists of the time were: Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Laurence Sterne. Some of them devoted to writing because, as an effect of the Test Act of 1673, being Roman Catholics or Dissenters, they were forbidden to hold any important position in society and chose to become novelists or journalists.

DANIEL DE FOE is considered the pioneer of the modern novel and the first novelist in the English literature as well as the first journalist(his The Review is considered the first newspaper). He interpreted the likes and interests of the emerging middle class and depicted the 18th century world.  De Foe’s characters are common men and women with whom his middle-class readers could identify themselves. All characters of his novel narrate their individual struggles for survival in a difficult world, from Moll  Flanders, a prostitute, thief and incestuous wife to Robinson Crusoe, Colonel Jack, Captain Singleton and Roxana.

 Robinson_Cruose_1719_1st_editionHis novel The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe of York, Mariner  is regarded as the first English novel. The novel is a true realistic novel: it is based on the real story of a Scotch sailor, Alexander Selkirk, who had lived alone for four years on the Isle of Juan Fernandez in the Pacific after a shipwreck. The story is told in the first person singular in the form of a diary.

Robinson Crusoe is the first narrative in which the character is not a hero, but an average man. De Foe went on with the puritan ideas that had survived even after the collapsing of the Puritan Republic of the Commonwealth. Robinson, a shipwrecked merchant who remained on a desert island for about 28 years, is considered the true puritan man: he showed industry, colonizing spirit, courage and initiative  and was seen by the readers as the personification of their own qualities: practical-minded, resourceful, religious.  He organized his life on the island and succeeded through  hard labour in surviving in a difficult situation exploiting all what the place offered.  Further , he not only made the native man Friday to accept him as master but also   made him use   his language and    converted him to Christianity .  Many critics charged this novel with being an imperialistic novel because it contained an affirmation of capitalism and saw man as an economic animal. Robinson was considered by those critics as the first capitalist hero in English literature, because he looked at everything in economic terms: produced more than he needed,   kept from  the ship a lot of things,   expanded his power on the whole island and eventually became rich.  They pointed out that when Robinson managed to go on board the ship which had been carried within a reaching distance, he also kept some money which, of course, was of no use on a desert island.

JONATHAN SWIFT  was the greatest satirist of his age. Using irony and satire he tried to change his own society and   attacked it at all levels. Together with Alexander Pope and others, he established the Scriblerus Club, an association of witty writers who satirized their contemporaries. People of his own time failed to see the irony and, sometime, they cried shame. An Anglican priest, he was appointed Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, where    he was buried.   A Latin epigraph he had composed himself  was placed over his tomb: “ The body of Jonathan Swift, Doctor of Sacred Theology, Dean of this Cathedral Church is buried here where fierce indignation can no more lacerate his heart…”.

gullivers-travels-first-edition-1726Swift is remembered for his   Gulliver’s Travels , a novel that, like Robinson Crusoe, is nowadays regarded as a book for children and as an anticipation of the modern fantasy novel. Actually the book was intended to be a bitter satire of his own country.Swift himself wrote to Pope that it “was intended to vex the world rather than divert it”. The novel satirizes the follies and the vices of politicians and scholars and is a very serious comment on politics, on learning and on all Mankind.  It shows Swift’s bad opinion on people. He is very intolerant of people in general and once he wrote to Pope: “ I heartily hate and detest that animal called man”. He maintains that man is not a reasonable animal but an animal endowed with reason, which he is not always able to use in the right way. Gulliver’s Travels tells the various imaginary voyages of Lemuel Gulliver, a surgeon on a ship, to various strange lands where he meets several man-like creatures. The philosophical basis  of the whole novel is in the contrast between rationality and animality. In the first book he is shipwrecked near Lilliput where he meets a race of tiny people, only six inches tall, and he is a giant among them. Rationality is represented by the Lilliputians with their organized society and their deep knowledge of mathematical science in contrast with Gulliver described as a big body. In book 2 the situation is reversed: he is in Brobdingnag, the land of giants   and he is a dwarf among them. The giants embody animality while Gulliver rationality. In the third book he visits the flying island of Laputa inhabited by scientists   concerned with abstract ideas. He visits the University of Lagado where he meets the “ projectors”, who work on new scientific odd plans:take sunbeams out of cucumbers,  melt ice into gunpowder,   melt ice into gunpowder and so on. They are presented in a decadent way: badly dressed, long hair and beard, very dirty, and even as beggars. Animality is seen in the scientists while rationality is seen in man. In the last book he is in the land of the Houyhnhnms , intelligent horses that can talk. They are perfectly rational and virtuous. They have man-like slaves, the Yahoos, who are bestial, irrational and vicious. Gulliver himself is seen by the Houyhnhnms as a Yahoo. In these various countries Gulliver explains to the inhabitants about life in Europe and in particular in England. What Gulliver says is how things should be , not how they are, and so his words become an ironical attack on what he is describing. In the first book he attacks the English Government and the hypocrisies of the party system.  Catholic Religion is ironically attacked, too. Swift comments the dispute over whether an egg should be broken, to be eaten, at the big end or at the little end: “ all true believers shall break their eggs at the most convenient end”.  In the second book he attacks the judicial and the political system in Britain aiming at stressing the hypocrisy and corruption practised in the Institutions. In the third book  there is an attack on science and on members of the Royal Society while in the fourth and last he attacks man. When he comes home after his rescue, he cannot accept the human race any longer. The human beings appear to him  like the Yahoos and he goes to live in a stable with the company of horses.

Swift was not insensible to the sufferings of the Irish and he was indignant at their exploitation by the British Government. The Irish lived on bad condition. He   wrote and published a work in defence of Ireland: Modest Proposal from Preventing the Children of poor people from being a burden to their parents or the country. It was a new attack against the English.  Using satire, he explained, that the misery of the starving Irish could be easily relieved by selling their children to the rich as food. There was also another benefit for the Irish: it should have solved the problem of overpopulation of Ireland, too. It was of course a provocation but at the times some foreign readers took it as an actual and serious one and there was quite a scandal

SAMUEL RICHARDSON: He is considered the inventor of the epistolary novel and the father of the novel of sentimental analysis. He introduced psychological studies of the characters, especially women. He started his career as a novelist quite late in his life when  some booksellers asked him to help the uneducated in their correspondence writing a sequence of letters   dealing with everyday subjects. Among these letters were to be included some to instruct pretty servant-girl to protect their virtue. He liked this idea also because, when he was at school, he used to be the adviser of girls who wanted to correspond with their sweethearts.  He decided to make a novel from the letters, and wrote Pamela, or virtue Rewarded. He chose an actual case  he had heard of, in which a virtuous 15-year-old  maidservant, who worked in a rich household, had resisted her master’s advances.

pamelaThe story is told through a series of letters from Pamela Andrews to her parents and their answers   to her. She asked for advice to defend herself from her master, Mr B, who wanted to seduce her . Published in November 1740, the novel had an instant success and it was followed by a second edition in February 1741, a third in March and even a fourth in May. As we can see, Pamela originated from the realistic moral problem for many young girls  who worked as maids: how to resist the advances of their rich masters. Pamela celebrates the middle-class value of chastity before marriage in opposition to the lasciviousness of the aristocracy. The theme of the persecuted maiden attracted many readers. The readers divided into “Pamelists”, who were for Pamela, and “Anti-Pamelists”, who criticized her. Pamelists maintained that she was a poor and simple girl who tried to keep herself honest and chaste. Anti-Pamelists ,  instead, maintained that her behaviour was not guided by purity but by utilitarianism: she was a cunning girl, who used her virtue to climb the social ladder and she provoked her master to make him marry her. In the 18th century  many people thought that virginity was not a value for a poor girl to defend and  that it was her duty as a servant to please her master.  Not all women considered chastity and honesty virtues to be defended. For instance Moll Flanders, the heroine created by De Foe uses her beauty and her seductive charm to improve the conditions of her miserable life. Pamela is considered the first best-seller in English Literature. It had got a happy ending, she married Mr B., and it pleased the readers, women above all, helping its success. Clarissa Harlowe, his second epistolary novel, is considered Richardson’s masterpiece. It deals with a woman who tries to escape from a combined marriage to a man she does not like. She finds refuge at a nobleman’s who seduces and rapes her. Clarissa refuses to marry him and eventually lives as an outcast condemned by society. 

Richardson’s success in his own age is mostly due to the subject matter of his novels, and to the technique of narration he used. As far as the former, that is the theme of  women who defend their virtues from the advances of a powerful man, it  appealed to a vast audience, above all women who constituted the larger part of the reading public. The other element was the suspense created by   the technique that Richardson used. He himself defined it as “writing to the moment”. This technique is a bit similar to the one used in modern soap operas: each letter dealing with the present has got elements whose consequences will happen in the next letter thus letting the reader wait.    

HENRY FIELDING: He was the first English novelist to introduce the burlesque element in the novel. He defined his novels as  “comic epic poem in prose.  The mock epic   is a parody of the epic  because it treats trivial things as if they had great importance. The  protagonist is involved in a series of apparently dangerous  adventures. Fielding was different from De Foe and Richardson. He belonged to the aristocracy  and unlike them, he did not believe in sexual chastity above all other virtues. The aristocracy regarded uninhibited sexuality with indulgence and considered other virtues as courage, generosity and loyalty above it. His first novel, An Apology for the Life of Mrs Shamela Andrews is to be considered as a reaction against the hypocrisy of the time as well as a reaction to Richardson’s Pamela. Fielding wanted to ridicule the Puritan view of morality. The Shamela in the title is a pun on the words of “shame” and Pamela. In his second  novel, Joseph Andrews, he   wanted at first to parody Richardson’s Pamela but he put aside this idea and wrote a story based on the life and adventures of Joseph, Pamela’s brother, and a friend of his. The situation is reversed and we have a young man who works at a lady’s that wants to seduce him after her husband’s death. Joseph, who is chaste and virtuous, refuses her advances.

Tom Jones ,his best novel,  is a picture of the life of the lower and upper classes of the 18th century society. Fielding depicts with humour and irony human weaknesses and stresses his tolerant attitude towards them. Tom is an unheroic character and has all the limits of the ordinary man. Fielding’s novels are considered picaresque in style, written in imitation of Cervantes  (Picaresque novels come from Spain and  deal with the adventures of a rascal of low social class; they are usually humorous, full of action  and excitement).

LAURENCE STERNE: In his own time, Sterne was considered an anti-novelist because he did not follow the canons of the realistic novel. He is the closest novelists to the modern ones of all eighteenth century novelists. His novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was written in instalments in nine volumes between 1759 and 1767. It  does not respect  the 18th century canons of the realistic novel. It is unconventional and very difficult to summarize. It recalls the stream of consciousness technique of Joyce and Woolf: it has no plot, no time scheme; it is full of the author’s interventions, digressions, comments, asides, long quotations, and shandy_pagemany unusual devices  and eccentric typographical characteristics as black pages ( to mourn a friend’s death),marbled pages, white pages, asterisks, arabesques, a little hand with printed finger to direct the reader’s attention to a point   . When a digression takes places, the author shifts from the main theme of the novel to other topics which are not related with what the character is going to do or say. The time of the story is interrupted to be resumed at the end of the digression. The temporal dimension is non-existent and clock time is abandoned for psychological time. The digressions allowed Sterne to tell events of the past or of the future in whatever order he pleased. The story is told in the first person singular by the main character, Tristram Shandy who remembers particular events of his past and present life. It starts with a flashback: we meet Tristram in the first volume as an adult but his birth happens in the third volume . We may suppose that Sterne was influenced by John Locke’s theory of the Association of Ideas. Tristram himself  defined Locke’s Essays as “ a history book….of what passes in a man’s own mind”. Sterne made a distinction between time of the clock, that is the chronological time, and time of the mind. Organizing his plot, the author goes backwards and forwards in time, thus disrupting the chronological order. He anticipated Bergson’s theory of the time, “la Durée”. Bergson thought that each individual lives moments and experiences that cannot be measured in fixed periods of time since the mind has its own time different from the conventional one of the external world.

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2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 38,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 14 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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The 18th century: Neoclassicism – The Augustan Age – The Transition/ Pre-romantic Age


pregoThe 18th century is known as The Age of Enlightenment or The Age of reason, to stress the rational trend of the period and the attitude according to which reason and judgement should be the guiding principles for human activities . It saw the birth of a new literary movement: Neoclassicism or Rationalism. This movement was greatly influenced by the ideas of John Locke and Isaac Newton. The importance of Newton is clearly seen in the epitaph written by Alexander Pope: “Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night; God said,’ Let Newton be! ‘And all was light”. In his Principia Matematica the scientist showed that the universe was governed by mechanical principles and exact laws rather than by divine ones as it was believed before. He left little place for God and we may say that he destroyed the traditional religious view of the world making God subject to the laws of science. Newton was elected President of the Royal Society, an association of learned man who wanted to promote scientific studies and to try new methods of experiment. Thanks to the research, new discoveries that religion seemed unable to explain, were made and Science became the new authority. It was believed that science and reason would have improved man’s condition turning   him into a social being who would conform to the rules of civilised life.  Reason , the most important man’s ability, enabled him not only to think but also to act correctly. Man, the only living creature to have it, became important for his power of observation more than for his power of feelings. Reason became the criterion of everything: what could be justified by reason was right  and   what could not be justified or proved by reason was false and rejected.     

famous-gardens-kenrokuen-1Every thing was regulated by reason, nature too. People were attracted by a  ‘reasoned Nature‘, as the one we can find in parks or gardens, a nature that reflected   order and   harmony. To follow nature meant to represent the world as it was, to obey reason.  Rationalism, stressing out the importance of reason and observation, started the beginning of the scientific thought and freed man from ignorance. Enlightenment thinkers mostly tended to atheism. They believed that principles should only be accepted on the basis of reason and not on the authority of sacred texts and tradition. In this Age of reason both government  and the king  had to justify themselves rationally. The belief that the king ruled by Divine Right was questioned. The king and the government    ruled by the agreement of the people, by contract which they had to respect.

The importance of reason was also influential in the literature of the time and English literary standards were reformed. The artistic creation, like science, had to follow exact rules and was to be based on reason. The writers  modelled much of their works on Classical writers and  referred to ancient Greece and Rome using subjects from classical mythology and history. All that brought to  the birth of a new   movement known as Neoclassicism. The reform was helped by the French writer Nicolas Boileau , who published a book, Art Poetique , which provided the key idea of neoclassicism: in good art inspiration must be controlled by judgement. He listed the rules of good writing: writing should be clear, balanced, ordered, elegant and eloquent. Neoclassicism provided the basis for the Augustan school of writing which dominated the 18th century literature.


The Augustans were so called because they compared their period   to that of the Emperor Augustus in ancient Rome, a period of political stability, splendour and tranquillity. They wanted this period of stability to last and attacked everything which threatened to upset it. They thought  that ancient art was superior to modern one and often imitated the great Roman classical authors: Vergil, Ovid, Titus Livius and Horace. The Augustans believed that their duty was not to try to be original but to re-express universal truths about mankind.  Their Age was characterized by the spirit of the Enlightenment which implied a new way of thinking characterized by philosophical, scientific and rational spirit. As to the contents, they mostly used classical subjects   and focused on man in society seen, not as an individual, but as an important piece of a perfect whole, a piece of a perfect mosaic. The artist was seen as he who had to express his knowledge of the world in a rational and objective way. He should not allow his own emotions and prejudices to influence his writing. In order to achieve objectivity , the writer had to write clearly and to use a precise and correct language, a language that all readers had to understand. The language they adopted was the poetic diction, an artificial language which used uncommon and learned words, Latinate and periphrasis. Samuel Johnson published his famous Dictionary and helped to understand the meaning of words. As far as style the authors were allowed to use “wit”, that is attractiveness, clever invention and humour.

Towards the middle of the century there was a reaction against rationalism and writers focused their attention on the individual and on the people’s feelings. This new interest found its expression in a new prose form, the Novel As far as poetry, we have to say that Augustan poetry was of secondary importance and continued the restoration trend for satire and mock-heroic poems written in heroic couplet  in which a trivial subject was treated with the seriousness of epic for comic effect. The most important representative was Alexander Pope and his finest work was The Rape of the Lock, telling about a quarrel between two aristocrat  families because of a trivial incident: Lord Petre had cut a lock of hair of Miss Arabella Fermor and that action was considered as an insult. Pope wrote it to ridicule the narcissistic attitude of the aristocracy.In the second half of the century new trends started to emerge and the heroic couplet lost its dominant position.


The Age of Neoclassicism was followed by a transitional period also known as Pre-Romanticism. It developed during the last decades of the 18th century. There was a reaction against classicism and reason and a search for new models of poetry taken no longer from ancient Rome and Greece but from the Middle Ages. The period was greatly affected by the French Revolution, the American Revolution and the Industrial Revolution.  They provided literature with new themes which began to develop side by side with the old ones. First of all there was a new interest towards the poor and the children, who lived at the margin of society during the Augustan Age. Satire and realism were respectively replaced by sentimentalism and imagination, paving the way to the flourishing of Romanticism. The Age preserved its main features with its emphasis on reason, precision, order, clarity and harmony, but some other features appeared in opposition to them: interest in country life, new way of seeing Nature, different role of Art, new themes based on feelings and so on.

imagesCAJAHP96Poetry was no longer concerned with “wit” but with simple feelings and nature. Poetry was pervaded by a melancholic tone and was often associated with meditation on Death. This kind of poetry was remembered as Graveyard Poetry. The poets of the Graveyard Group were melancholic and seek for solitude. Their thoughts were directed towards Death, or the fear of Death, suicide and graves. The settings of their poems were often medieval ruins, caverns, coffins and skeletons. The most important poet of the group was Thomas Gray and his most famous poem was Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, based on the concept of the levelling power of Death. Other poets were Edward Young and Robert Blair, both church ministers. The Graveyard poets influenced the Gothic Novel and the Ossian Poetry which became very popular literary forms especially among they who were unsatisfied with classical novel and poetry and looked for Gothicism, a mixture of both medieval features(ruins, ancient castle and so on) and supernatural. Both poems and novels of this kind were melodramatic, full of horrors and supernatural and set in a medieval context. The most famous Gothic Novels were Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and The Castle of Otranto by Walpole.

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The 18th century: from the Restoration to the industrial revolution -essential historical and social background

borghesia  e proletariatoAfter the Glorious Revolution, Parliament grew of importance, increased its power and became the real ruler of the country. All that happened with the consent of the King. Some laws which limited the Royal powers were passed. Among them the most important were The Bill of Right (1689) and The Act of Settlement (1701), which ensured that future monarchs should have been protestant because the Catholics were excluded from succession.

As far as politics, there were two political parties, The Whigs and The Tories which gave rise to the modern two-party parliamentary system. The division between them was not so clear and groups in Parliament acted according to their own interests and not to any political programme. The Whigs, however, wanted to maintain the power of Parliament against the King, supported the interests of trade and finance and did not condemn the Dissenters while the Tories wanted a stronger King, protected the authority of the Anglican Church and supported the rights of the landowners. In 1707 The Act of Union was passed by the parliament of England and Wales and the parliament of Scotland. The Act stated that there was to be one parliament for the three countries thus forming Great Britain.

During that period a new social class began to emerge: the middle class, also known as the Bourgeoisie. It grew rich, thanks to the exploitation of the colonial trade. As England became richer, English people became more tolerant and  less obsessed with religion. The influential   philosopher John Locke  expressed this new attitude   in  his Epistola de Tolerantia ,published in 1689, in which, after pointing out that religious controversies easily can lead to a civil war, he argued that the state should not interfere in religion, which was a matter of private conscience, and religion should not interfere in government matters. In the same year Parliament passed The Toleration Act, which recognized freedom of worship to all dissenters, excluded the Catholics. Freedom of trade increased  in the same way as religious tolerance. In 1776 the Scottish economist Adam Smith published On the Wealth of Nations.  He  thought that if people were left free to follow their own commercial interests, more goods and money would circulate and all society would get richer.  According to Smith’s Laissez-faire theory, the State should not interfere too much in economic matters and the individual should be able to decide for himself.

coffeeThe growth of the middle class also helped the appearance of newspapers. Their desire to be informed helped the boom of journalism. Being literate and more involved in politics, they wanted to read about political matters. To satisfy their need, regular daily newspapers began to appear. They circulated mainly in the big cities and were   often read in the Coffee-houses, where men used to meet to exchange ideas and opinions, discuss about local latest news and read newspapers. Even if newspapers had existed since the 17th century, it was only in the 18th century that they began to become influential. The Tatler, The Examiner, The Spectator and The Daily Universal Register, now known as The Times, were some titles. The most important  was The Spectator, edited by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele.

THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION: The industrial revolution began in the late 18th century and made England the richest country in the world. The label may lead to a misunderstanding because the changes in the industry were not sudden, but were the result of long, gradual developments; they were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In the long distance, however, they brought a revolution in the British life. The label was used by scholars during the 1830s. Looking back into the recent past, they were struck by the many changes that had occurred between 1760 and 1790. They saw that changes had completely altered man’s way of living. Someone (J.A.Blanqui) spoke of the changes as an “industrial revolution” and the term entered the language use to indicate that period.

Before the 1760s, farming was the most important occupation of all people. The ordinary man was a farmer and lived in a village. He raised his own food, made cloths, furniture and tools at home utilising what he produced in the farm: wool, wood, leather and so on. In the towns, which were generally quite small, some manufacturing was carried on. Some goods were manufactured under the domestic system, which was then a new and revolutionary idea:an organizer distributed raw materials to workers in their homes and collected the finished products. He owned the raw materials, paid for work done and took the risk of finding a market.

Town products were exchanged for food from the country districts. They were also exported in payment for luxuries imported from abroad, traded for slaves or sent to the colonies to pay for raw materials which they sent to Europe. This trade was in the hands of a small numbers of merchants and mercantile companies; profits were enormous and some persons grew very rich.

The Revolution was started by the invention of the steam-engine and by the introduction of textile machines which made handwork unprofitable. It brought many changes in every field and turned England in an industrial country. The agriculture was abandoned and people began to move towards the new industrial towns where the new factories were built. The consequence was the overpopulation of these towns and its effects on the workers’ way of living; they were housed in unhealthy districts called slums and lived on very bad conditions; they were forced to work hard for 12 to 19 hours a day; women and children were exploited and the wages were very low. All that brought to the development of two different social classes, the capitalist bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and to the first form of Trade Unions, organizations that defended the workers and helped them to better their lives.

This new Age was not all negative and on the whole it was considered an Age of progress and prosperity. Average people approached science and the development of the new middle class provided the reading public for literary works and, for the first time, prose became a new strong force to influence the readers’ thoughts.

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