When Six Blind Men Read Your Novel

An old tale from India tells of six blind men who viewed an elephant. One of the blind men concludes that the elephant is like a wall. Another believes the elephant is like a snake. The others perceive it as a spear, a tree, a fan or a rope. Each blind man forms his own idea of what the elephant is like, depending upon where he touches it.

One the most famous versions of this story is the poem "The Blind Men and the Elephant" by John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887). His poem concludes:
And so these men of Hindustan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right
And all were in the wrong.
Not to say readers are blind, but when we read, our perceptions can be like those of the blind men. When we write, we may hope we are leading our readers down a particular path, but their individual ideas, temperaments, and other preconceived ideas scatter readers onto different roads.

As an example, look at six schools of thought about literary criticism and how each of them might view a particular elephant. Our elephant in this example will be F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. The elephant remains the same, but the interpretations differ with each view.

A Psychoanalytic Criticism

Psychoanalytic criticism believes we are each born with a clean slate, and soon that slate is cluttered with images. Even before we have words to label them, we begin working to sort this clutter and make sense of the world around us. If a thing is suitable we keep it or forget it, but if a thing causes us pain, shame, or any number of negative responses, instead of forgetting it we repress it into our subconscious where it festers and poisons our waking thoughts and actions. As Nick, our narrator in The Great Gatsby, says to close the novel, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Much of our conscious present is made of dealing with the suppressed and unconscious images of our past. In life this battle with the past can feel like we’re paddling upstream, and in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby each character fights the current in his or her own unique manner. Jay Gatsby, subject of the book’s title, was “borne back ceaselessly into the past” by fighting the repression associated with that past. Having been raised in a lower class family, he spent his adulthood attempting to establish himself among the “upper” classes. However, his true desires may not have been purely social or economic.

In our pre-verbal period of infancy we experience a life of fantasy, an illusion, but it is shattered when we find things around us have an order and we begin to realize our place within that order. We learn our mother is separate from us and does not feel what we feel. We cannot control her with our minds and she does not feel pain when we inflict it upon ourselves. Further, we find she does not belong to us but in fact belongs to our father. We may spend the rest of our lives trying to replace the hole this leaves in our gut. Gatsby believed he could fill the void by aspiring to win the love of Daisy. She was of another world than ours, yet something which seemed to remind us of the illusions of our infancy. A relationship with Daisy could restore that feeling of complete intimacy we once thought we shared with our mothers. But just as our idea of that relationship with our mother was a fallacy, so is the idea we can be “one” with the woman we believe will replace her.

Daisy herself dealt with her own issues regarding the replacement of that illusory world with a concrete, verbal reality. But in her disappointment she adopted the protective shield of distance from others; she became unwilling to experience intimacy in her current life as a reaction to the painful loss of a perceived intimacy from her infant hood. Instead of allowing herself to draw close to Gatsby, she felt, possibly on a subconscious level, that he wanted too much of her. She perceived his desire for intimacy, and although his desire may have been rooted in the same place as her own needs and desires, her reaction was exactly the opposite.

In Nick's closing lines, Fitzgerald summarizes a theme we revisited often within the novel. We press on, and we may feel as though we are swimming upstream. We never get what we want, even if we don’t truly know what it is we desire. We dip the oars into the water hoping they will drive us into the future, but the very act of dipping in means we dredge up the past. However, if like Gatsby we try to reach for the green light across the bay, we are still forced to face the darkness inside us, even if that darkness is beyond our reach as well.

A Marxist Critique

When we feel we have nothing out of the ordinary, when everything we have is viewed in our society as a commodity, we raise the bar of our expectations and want something more. But even then, it isn’t enough to merely have it. We want to have it and rub it in the face of those around us at the same time. We buy our furs, our fancy cars, and our large houses telling ourselves it is because we need them, they are a commodity, but in reality it is all for show. Fitzgerald approached this idea of conspicuous consumption in his novel The Great Gatsby; it wasn’t enough to live in the richest part of the richest city in the richest country of the entire world, but his characters had to “look” the part as well.

But anytime the bar is raised and our expectations progress, any attempt to lower the bar, or even leave it the same, is generally viewed as regression. These are not our innate feelings, but they are what we learn. We learn if we are better dressed, drive better cars, and live in better houses, we are better too. The problem is, who has decided what is “better”? An author who wishes to criticize capitalism merely needs to paint a capitalistic society in this light. Something deeper flows within our veins than the norms our culture has placed upon us, and it can be stirred if we see blatant greed and self-centered behavior in others.

In spite of what our culture has taught us about our rights to consume, we also believe there are limits, even if it takes some time to recall that belief. So when we see the characters in Gatsby with their conspicuous consumption we know they are wrong in being that way. Unfortunately, it probably takes an example this extreme to make the point. If we were to face a more subtle example, possibly the greed of people in the middle or lower socioeconomic classes, it might go unnoticed. Because of the way we have been trained, we often view the efforts of our middle and lower classes to “better” themselves as noble. We say they are hardworking and God fearing individuals if they aspire toward wealth and rampant consumerism. If a novel were to suggest these hardworking souls were less than ideal, it would probably be rejected, possibly dismissed as communist propaganda.

That said, Fitzgerald set up the perfect setting and story to convey the conspicuous consumption of our modern era. Perhaps it is clouded in our judgment because we would rather call it a love story. The case against capitalism might have been more powerful if it had been set among those of our middle and lower classes. It might have been a more probing treatment. But at the same time, it might have hit a little too close to home for the majority of his readers, and Fitzgerald did the best he could to paint a picture of our society’s excesses. But in keeping the issue at arms length, he may have kept its understanding at a similar distance.

Reader Response Criticism

Although the Jazz Age in America came on the scene with a bit of a strut in its stride, taking bold steps forward into a whole new era, the same bold steps brought an air of uncertainty; new territory, previously uncharted, could bring its own dangers. Fitzgerald echoed that underlying fear, either consciously or unconsciously, creating an air of indeterminacy which left the potential result open for interpretation.

Just as indeterminacy leaves gaps in the text, or possibly the discovery of these gaps is what fosters the uncertain feelings, the era of Fitzgerald’s novel was a time where gaps were par for the course. Where were relationships headed, and what would happen to our old family values? What would happen when the idle poor became the idle rich and fortunes could be made with a few telephone calls? The very foundation of American society seemed up for debate. In a time where the buzz word meant freedom, where would the journey take us and what would we leave behind?

The Great Gatsby promises a story of riches and intrigue. Who is this Jay Gatsby and where did he come from? Soon we begin to expect a love story. Will Daisy fling off the oppressive life she has chosen and return to the arms of her one true love? These are stories we are comfortable with, stories that lead us where we expect to be lead. But soon an uneasiness begins to shadow the rest of the story. We begin to wonder who is good and who isn’t. If their story is to be so simple, why are these characters so complex? Are things going to turn out the way we expect in the end.

One image of indeterminacy, or where things are left open to our interpretation, is the dusty part of town called home by Tom Buchanan mistress, Myrtle. The place is covered in gray dust, and underneath that dust is a complex triangle between Myrtle, her husband George, and Tom. We wonder what the dust means. Is it some oppressive layer Myrtle will fling off in the raptures of her affair with Tom? Or is it the dust that settles on something that’s already dead, like the layer of gray dust in an old abandoned house or ghost town? Does the layer of dust foreshadow its throwing off, or does it foreshadow the approaching death and the abandonment of dreams to follow?

Early in the novel, Jay Gatsby holds one of his large parties with what seems like hundreds of guests, largely uninvited. It is a banquet, much like we often call life a banquet. But nobody really seems to know what it’s all about or why they are there, or even who the host really might be. Many at the party drink too much, laugh too loud, and care about the entire thing a bit too little. When the party disbands one of the drivers lose a wheel and a big fuss is created until the entire incident is laughed off as some form of a joke. When we see where Fitzgerald ultimately leads his characters by the end of the story, it’s easy to wonder if this party scene isn’t a parallel to the world and life. Is the whole thing a big party where we take things for granted and ultimately laugh the whole thing off as a joke? Are we uninvited guests at a party where nobody really knows the host? Is Gatsby God?

Indeterminacy isn’t the “what” of the story’s events, it may not even be the “why”. When thinking of indeterminacy in the context of Reader Response Criticism, it could be thought of as one of the many possible meanings of the text. But when introduced into a novel as full of contradictions and unanswered questions as Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, indeterminacy becomes the element which makes this story echo real life. We are left to wonder not only what the text could have meant, but what life itself is all about.

A Feminist Critique

Even if they disagree about other issues, all feminists believe patriarchal ideology works to keep men and women confined to traditional gender roles so male dominance may be maintained. Utilizing the precepts of Feminist criticism, it could be argued The Great Gatsby promotes a thinly veiled patriarchal agenda. Through Fitzgerald’s treatment of the three main women, as well as masking the possible homosexuality of a central character, the novel seems to promote only the traditional gender roles, swaying uncomfortably from any possible variance. This hidden agenda may be uncovered using common tools of Feminist criticism, primarily through the use of psychoanalytic theory, but with elements of Marxist theory and deconstructionism as well.

Psychologically, Daisy, Jordan, and Myrtle are obviously quite different from each other. In fact, it could be said they are like three corners of a triangle, supporting each others’ role in the story but entirely separate at the same time. Daisy is portrayed as a classic beauty who uses an innate sex appeal to gather some amount of control over her surroundings. As an athlete Jordan might carry the greatest potential to stray from a typical gender role. She could easily have been characterized as a lesbian because of her detachment from men, her self-centered lifestyle, and her unexplained connection to Daisy. Myrtle seems to be a more earthy woman, possibly possessing a raw sexual energy, but Fitzgerald stops short of portraying her as an independent, sexual being, empowered to pursue her own sexual experiences. In many respects these characters could have been deeper had Fitzgerald felt free to expound upon these possibilities. It seems the story would only have been enriched if he had explored these women deeper. However, the fact that Fitzgerald was not willing to fill out these women to their potential could indicate a desire, either of his own or one he felt society had placed upon him, to keep them within the expected stereotypes of their gender.

A similar opportunity showed itself within the characterization of Fitzgerald's narrator, Nick. Nick’s reluctance to enter into a relationship with Jordan was not sufficiently justified by the ol’ “girl back home” routine. No attempt at all was made to explain why Nick found himself at the bedside of an effeminate man, who was in his underwear. Nor did Fitzgerald explore Nick’s admiration for Gatsby on what seemed to be a more physical basis than of friendship. Nick made frequent schoolgirl-like references to Gatsby, but there didn’t seem to be much reason for a friendship. Gatsby’s motivation was clearly to make contact with Daisy, but why did Nick want to be close to Gatsby? These issues could have easily led to some discussion or admittance that Nick might have been gay or at least questioning his gender role. But the author’s unwillingness to breach these subjects seems to indicate he had made himself subject to the established patriarchy. By not saying anything against it, Fitzgerald inadvertently spoke in favor of the established order.

From a purely economic standpoint, the patriarchal agenda is evident in how all three of the major female characters are dependent to varied degrees upon the men in their lives. Even Jordan has some need for a man. Daisy and Myrtle are more obviously and traditionally dependent. The patriarchal agenda is also supported in the way men do “business” and women sit around and gossip. Even Nick, who in some ways is portrayed in a traditionally feminine role because of his financial dependence upon his family, is given a nice "man's" job in the stock market to remove any anti-patriarchal doubts. Simultaneously, a deconstructionistic dichotomy exists within the novel; the characters live in the decadent and supposedly "free" Jazz age, but at the same time seem unwilling or unable to free themselves from the patriarchal elements of society.

Overall, a Feminist criticism of this novel allows the reader to understand how subtle and pervasive the patriarchal influences are within our society. Through the questions Feminists ask of the text we are able to see a possibility for deeper characterization and a more enriched human experience without the shackles of patriarchal tyranny.

A New Criticism View

In another age, traveling medicine shows would tout their amazing stars as “The Great” or “The Invincible”. We learned to expect feats of magic and miracle from these men, even if beneath it all we knew they were charlatans. Fitzgerald used this bit of the pop psyche in the title of The Great Gatsby, and as we might expect he delivered a character strikingly similar to these miracle men of old. However, many people believed in these charlatans, even if they wouldn't say so in public. Their tricks tapped into our desire for magic and wonder; they were men of fantasy and intrigue. In naming his novel, Fitzgerald stirred the complex reaction America had to all the Great and Invincible of our history, tapping into a rich spring of paradox, irony, ambiguity, and tension.

Fitzgerald drove the reader into his novel with the question of Gatsby’s greatness. We wondered who this man might be. We come with a prejudice from the title, then Fitzgerald further guides us to accept Gatsby’s greatness by showing us his wealth. He has such wealth we are willing to accept the man must be great as well. But an ambiguity exists at the same time; nobody knows where this man came from, where his wealth originated, or indeed what makes him so great. But we believe it just the same. Here we have a man who has wealth and seems willing to share it. He seems well mannered and genteel, yet he reaches down from his pedestal and befriends our narrator, Nick. It seems somewhat a paradox, but real life is full of such opposites that the story only seems more real because of it. Because the paradox seems so real we believe the story, and because we believe the story we commit even deeper to believing the story’s title; the man must indeed be great.

But Fitzgerald also introduces a tension, possibly springing from the sense of ambiguity. As a reader we want to know where Gatsby came from, why he is wealthy, but we are afraid we won’t like the answer. Fitzgerald strings us along then plants little seeds of doubt, and we begin to worry. What if Gatsby is a bootlegger or a gambler, would we be able to reconcile the belief we have already adopted that he is indeed great? We need him to be great, because we already believe he is. Eventually, however, we come to realize Gatsby was not born to greatness nor did he really aspire toward it. Even his schooling is questionable. He does not have any of the sure signs of greatness we have come to expect, yet we realize there is still something great about him. It might simply be that we want to justify the decision we’ve already made about him. We need him to be great because we’ve already made up our minds that he is, but this brings a certain irony into play because we have committed to his greatness even though he isn't great by the definition we originally would have given the word.

Again, it is like the charlatan who made us believe in snake oil. When the snake oil doesn’t cure baldness or make your hiccups go away, we tell ourselves “The Great and Powerful” charlatan was a great entertainer. He is still great, just not in the way we originally expected him to be. Fitzgerald first made us believe Gatsby was great, then left us to justify the reasoning in spite of the evidence. But that is just like real life.

The Theory of Myths

Northrop Frye’s “theory of myths” refers to a system of patterns which mankind has used to realize the narratives of his stories and literature. Frye asserts human beings realize basic narrative in two fundamental ways; representations of the real world and representations of an ideal or fantasy world. Frye calls the two fundamental narratives the “mythos of summer” and the “mythos of winter”. Summer is a time of heroes and adventure, and winter is a time where life’s complexities are faced. But in spite of the convenience a system could afford our attempts to categorize the written works of mankind, real life isn't always so easily defined. It would follow naturally then, literature which reflects life in its fullness might not fit neatly within Frye’s two basic theoretical categories. Great literature echoes real life in its tendency to defy simplified explanation. So because Frye realized life’s tendency to travel between times of summer and winter, he also introduced two times of transition: “the mythos of autumn” and “the mythos of spring”.

The Great Gatsby is one example of a piece of literature which spans Frye’s primary narrative patterns, leading us from the romance and fantasy of summer to the reality and complexity of winter. Gatsby opens with all the optimism and boldness of its Age. We meet a young man named Nick who faces a life full of prospects, and we join him on his journey to the East Egg, a less fashionable part of New York’s fashionable Long Island. Nick has an interesting new neighbor, a man by the name of Gatsby, who is bathed in wealth and intrigue. Here we have all the makings of what Frye would call a romance. Gatsby holds extravagant parties where all the beautiful people attend; everything reeks of the romance of Camelot and King Arthur’s court. It is Frye’s summer, a world of adventure with beautiful women, idyll days, and romantic evenings.

But Gatsby doesn’t remain in summer forever. Although the novel opens with all the optimism of its age, before the final page it transitions into a novel of irony and complexity. Because this is the final message of Gatsby, it could be argued the mythos of winter overshadows that of summer in this story. We close the book with only a feint memory of Nick and Gatsby’s days of summer, and from our new and jaded viewpoint we regard those times as days of innocence and possibly naivety. We have seen how the flaws of man can lead us to the feeling we are swimming upstream, and Fitzgerald’s final lines bring this point home: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

Frye called the narrative pattern which transitions from summer to winter “the mythos of autumn”. This is a structure which moves us from a time of innocence to experience. We move from the ideal world to the real world. Likewise, Frye calls the movement from real to ideal, or experience to innocence, "the mythos of spring". He recognized conflict is the basis of romance, where superheroes face obstacles, but observed catastrophe is the basis of tragedy. While The Great Gatsby seems at first blush to be a story where a superhero faces the simple obstacles between him and his love, in the end and the catastrophe which develops along the way we realize the story of Gatsby is one of tragedy. Gatsby’s quest has ended in death, and Nick has taken a step down the road of experience.

Again, much like real life, it would be an oversimplification to label the time period covered in this novel as the time when our narrator Nick lost his naive and innocent view of the world. It would also be too easy to call it the story of the great Jay Gatsby’s fall from greatness. Life is not so simple. It is full of ambiguity, and transitions don’t always move neatly in one direction or another. For the purpose of a tidy story we might limit a piece to one period, one myth, or one time of transition. But real life isn’t so tidy, and part of the greatness of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby is how it reminds us of the ebb and flow of such things in life.


In John Gardner's immortal The Art of Fiction, he talks about leading readers through a fictional dream. It is our job to facilitate the fictional dream and avoid doing anything to interrupt it. We weave a dream and hope our readers find themselves lost in it. But it is interesting to note we cannot control that fictional dream; readers will have dreams of their own.

Satire in the English Renaissance Pastoral

Pastoral literature from the English Renaissance may remind today's reader more of fairy tales and fables than pieces of great literature. Examples from this period could be relegated to the world of kitsch alongside porcelain shepherd and shepherdess salt and pepper shakers or the mediocre oil paintings of impossibly idealized bucolic country sides, second cousins to oil-on-velvet paintings of sad clowns and Elvis Presley. At first glance, the pastoral's ruffle-clad shepherdesses and pan-flute-playing shepherds generally fail to garner much literary respect or stir much interest; however, "first glance" may not be a worthy inspection of this particular genre. These seemingly quaint fables may not be what they first seem; the very fact that pastorals occupied some of the greatest poetic minds of the English Renaissance could imply the form at one time spoke to something deeper and more substantial than a pan flute, courtly shepherd, or velvet Elvis ever could.

The English Renaissance pastoral might be better understood within the context of rich literary traditions that preceded it since, in the real world, a literary genre never springs forth fully developed like Venus in the half shell. The development of a literary genre requires the complex process of evolution, with each step in that evolution entirely dependent upon what has come before. To remove a genre such as English Renaissance Pastoral from its place within the context of history compromises our ability to understand that genre and its manifestation at any particular stage of its development.

Current literary scholarship routinely attaches the English Renaissance pastoral to its ancient roots, a rebirth of the genre brought about by the influential Renaissance humanism movement. One central feature of the Renaissance humanism movement was a commitment to study the primary sources of the best writing from ancient Greece and Rome. This commitment was summarized in the Renaissance humanists' motto "ad fontes," which means "to the sources." Renaissance humanists glorified the ancient civilizations and sought to both imitate and reincarnate the ideals of ancient literature. With this commitment, Renaissance Pastoral emerged as a direct descendant of works by the Greek writer Theocritus, who may have, in turn, drawn on authentic folk traditions of Sicilian shepherds.

Theocritus' bucolic poetry represented the life of Sicilian shepherds living in an idealized natural setting reminiscent of the Golden age of Greek mythology, the highest in the Greek spectrum of Iron, Bronze, Silver, and Golden ages.  Theocritus' shepherds lived in a time of peace and stability.  He wrote in the Doric dialect but in dactylic hexameter, which had previously been associated with the Greek's most prestigious poetic form, epic poetry.  This melding of simplicity and sophistication would later play a major role in the history of pastoral verse in the hands of Renaissance writers.  The devices of these early pastorals were later adopted by the Roman poet Virgil, who adapted the genre into Latin with his Eclogues.

Virgil wrote about a more idyllic vision of rural life than Theocritus had done and was the first to set his poems in Arcadia.  Arcadia, although an actual location, became highly idealized within the realms of literature and developed into the most popular location for ancient pastorals.  Virgil presented a rural life more idyllic than what Theocritus had given; a distinction which gave the pastoral a foothold in the world of fantasy and opened the door to the use of allegory.  He implemented the practice of exploiting the pastoral form to make clandestine insinuations about contemporary problems. Virgil's Eclogues contained a blend of visionary politics and eroticism, and his work was met with popular success in the Roman theatre, catapulting Virgil into fame and establishing him as a celebrity and a legend among his contemporaries.

In its simplest form, a pastoral represents a shepherd's life in a conventionalized manner.  However, the Renaissance pastoral model was more involved than that.  Its features included:
  1. A fantastical world where the constraints of geography, nature, gender and time may become irrelevant and subverted.
  2. Exiles from urban life who are outsiders from the Pastoral situation form the focus of the Pastoral Romance. Shepherds are not the primary focus.
  3. When the exiles arrive in the countryside, they converse with the shepherds.
  4. The urban characters often disguise themselves as country folk or shepherds.
  5. Advantages and disadvantages of court and country are discussed; differences between the natural and the artificial are fundamental to the genre.
  6. Pastoral Romances include songs, masques and disguises.
  7. The Pastoral Romance celebrates rural simplicity, but in a highly stylized and artificial manner.
  8. Discussion and examination between the concepts of nature and nurture are present throughout the Pastoral genre.
  9. Pastoral figures are used to examine the evils of greed, cruelty, deceit, corruption and bribery through actions or discourse.
  10. By the culmination of the play, the exiles are reintegrated into the urban life and order has been restored.
  11. By providing an artificial realm through the imaginary forest and Shepherds, the Pastoral Romance provides its characters with an opportunity to see more clearly and therefore gives them the opportunity and freedom to change.
William Shakespeare made frequent use of the Pastoral, both through brief examples within works such as Love's Labor's Lost ("When icicles hang by the wall") and the Shearer's feast in The Winter's Tale or sustained examples like the play As You Like It.  Other plays by Shakespeare contain individual pastoral scenes, such as the bandits in The Two Gentlemen of Verona.  The Pastoral influence is also found within A Midsummer's Nights Dream and The Tempest.

Shakespeare drew from classic pastoral literature for the subject matter in As You Like It, specifically Lodge's pastoral romance, Rosalynde.  Lodge's 1590 novel had adapted "The Tale of Gamelyn," a narrative poem from the 14th Century.  Shakespeare's version gave characters greater depth than Lodge; he introduced humor into the story, and created new characters such as Jacques, Touchstone, William and Audrey.

The play's Phebe and Silvius appeared in Lodge's novel, but are stock pastoral figures as well.  Within the classical pastoral, conventional shepherds and shepherdesses had occurred in pairs with names like Phoebe and Silvius or the alternate Phoebus and Silvia.  In these traditional roles, the shepherd is lovelorn while the shepherdess is disdainful.  The lovelorn shepherd laments the loss or disdain of his lady, either in solo lyric or eclogue (a dialogue between shepherds about the simple life).  In As You Like It, Silvius complains to Corin about his love's rejection and the lovelorn Orlando hangs lyrics about his own love from all the tree branches.  Again true to the classic pastoral form, Phebe supplies the customary elegy for a dead shepherd by quoting Marlowe:
Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might,
"Who ever lov'd that lov'd not at first sight?"
As may be expected, Shakespeare was not content to merely use the Pastoral in his works but his contribution further developed the genre.  As You Like It utilizes many of the thematic and dramatic requirements of the Pastoral:
  1. Corruption of family and court forces several characters into exile and the Forest of Arden, thereby creating a platform where questions of nature, nurture and nobility may be raised.
  2. Cross-gender disguise is employed and allows Rosalind to freely discuss love and relationships with Orlando.
  3. As You Like It contains more songs than any of Shakespeare's other plays.
  4. The play features a wedding masque with the god of marriage, Hymen. Supernatural elements were important to the Pastoral genre.
  5. Social (and gender) order is restored at the end. Duke Senior resumes his place at Court and the brothers Orlando and Oliver reunite. Rosalind casts off her male alter-ego (Ganymede) as well as the freedom of speech which accompanied that role.
For all its merit as an example of the Pastoral genre, the interpretation of As You Like It is not without problems.  While some scholars have rated the play among Shakespeare's best, others do not see it as an equal within the Shakespearean canon.  Critic such as Samuel Johnson and George Bernard Shaw did not believe As You Like It was a good example of Shakespeare's high artistry. Several scenes in As You Like It are essentially skits made up of songs and joking banter.  Accenting the "You" in the title, Shaw theorized the play may have been written as a mere crowd pleaser, but one which did not particularly please Shaw.  Even Leo Tolstoy remarked about the characters' immorality and took issue with Touchstone's constant clowning.  On the other hand, American literary critic Harold Bloom believed Rosalind was one of Shakespeare's greatest and most fully realized female characters.

As You Like It, although neglected in performance for more than a century after Shakespeare's death in 1616, has been a popular play on the stage ever since.  It was revived in England for the first time in 1723 in an adaptation called Love in a Forest.  This version of the play interpolated passages from other Shakespearean dramas and comedies, notably A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Shakespeare's original was restored to the theater seventeen years later.  In the 19th century As You Like It was staged by a number of eminent English actor-managers including Charles Kean and William Charles Macready.  In late nineteenth century America, especially, the play became a favorite with audiences.  Rosalind found noteworthy interpreters in Helena Modjeska, Mary Anderson, Ada Rehan, and Julia Marlowe.

But perhaps Shaw's observation about the play's title does provide insight and Shakespeare's play is a commentary on the theatrical tastes of Elizabethan England.  For all its Pastoral elements As You Like It does not strictly adhere to conventions of the genre, but in fact appears to satirize them.  The Forest of Arden is a place where Dukes have been usurped, brothers are deadly enemies, starvation, lions and deadly snakes lurk.  For all the idyllic Pastoral qualities, Arden marries fantasy with a harsh reality.  As a departure from the pastoral form, in As You Like It Shakespeare tempers the idyll of the sweetly picturesque pastoral scene with the adversity of the malcontented Jacques, as well as the unlikely pairing of Touchstone and Audrey, ensuring neither court life nor pastoral idyll is presented as either too sweet or too adverse.  The play provides opportunities for its main characters to discuss love, aging, the natural world, and death from their particular points of view.  It presents us with the worldviews of a chronically melancholy pessimist preoccupied with the negative aspects of life (Jacques), and Rosalind, who recognizes life's difficulties but holds fast to a positive attitude that is kind, playful, and above all, wise.  Whatever Shakespeare's intent may have been for As You Like It, its composition does mark a turning point in his output as a playwright since; Shakespeare abandoned comedy soon after its completion and turned to the composition of his major tragedies.

So although current scholarship routinely attaches Renaissance Pastoral Literature to its ancient roots, and these connections are certainly valid, they stop short of realizing the influence of literature between the classical period and the European Renaissance. While it is evident Virgil introduced political allegory into his tales, this might not directly explain all the the techniques employed by Renaissance writers. To understand the English Renaissance pastoral it seems important to attach this genre to the body of literature immediately preceding it. Without this important link in the genre's evolution, we are apt to overlook its most important influences, and our interpretation of works within this genre will not reflect their possible deeper meanings and purposes.

Before the pastoral gained widespread popularity, satire had already been established as a staple of Medieval English Literature. If we give Renaissance Pastoral its proper place in the history and evolution of literature, the genre may seem less an enigma, relegated to that world of kitsch, and more a continuation of the rich satirical tradition of Medieval and Early Renaissance writers such as Geoffrey Chaucer, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and Thomas More. Ignoring the satire's popularity in Medieval and Early Renaissance Europe may cause us to forget how the stage had been set when the pastoral rose to popularity in the 16th century. When viewed as a continuation of the satirical tradition, Renaissance Pastoral may be greater appreciated, and its sense of wit, style, and daring may come into clearer focus.

Satirical poetry is believed to have been popular in Chaucer's time although little has survived.  Examples of such poetry may still be seen in the bawdy lyrics of Carmina Burnana, set to music by Carl Orf in the 20th Century.  The Canterbury Tales served as Chaucer's platform to satire the blind religion and thoughtless bigotry of his day.

Chaucer created "The Prioress' Tale" to satire the blind religion and thoughtless bigotry of his day.  Chaucer lived in a time when religious stories thrived among a largely illiterate population.  These stories were Saint's tales where the villains were impossibly bad and the heroes impossibly good.  The line between "good" and "bad" people was drawn by their religious beliefs; anyone who believed in the Christian church was good, and everyone else in the world was bad.

Knowing nothing else of him, we can deduce from the rest of The Canterbury Tales that Chaucer is a talented writer, skilled in both subtlety of character and storytelling. So why would his Prioress tell a story so obviously shallow, improbable, and bigoted unless Chaucer labored behind some hidden agenda? Judging from his other stories, Chaucer doesn't seem squeamish about poking fun at hypocrisy in religion; he points to gullibility in religious devotion through "The Miller's Tale" as well as through those who purchase the Pardoner's "relics" in "The Pardoner's Tale."  Further, history tells us Chaucer was part of a group of intellectuals who opposed the prevalent anti-Semitism of his time; in reality he would have been against characterizing Jews as "Satan's Hornet Nest".

Thomas More criticized the religious and political views of his contemporaries by obscuring his true intentions through the use of satire in Utopia (1516). Modern readers have come to understand a "utopia" as a paradise, a world built on higher ideals where the lamb lays down with the lion.  As such, it would be natural to assume that in this book More had explained his designs for a more perfect world, with his own religious, political, and moral beliefs fulfilled.  But in fact, the word "utopia" (which was coined by More himself from Latin) would be literally translated as "no place".  By calling his dreamland "Utopia" More is betraying his story, showing it is a made up tale; he is literally calling it a place which does not and presumably cannot, exist.  He further betrays his true view by the names he assigns to various characters and places within the story.

Thomas More wrote Utopia as a satire on his contemporaries' religious and political thoughts.  The positive light given to religious, political and philosophical ideas diametrically opposed to those of the author, the presence of ridiculous wordplay in the names, titles and locations within the piece, and the pseudo Renaissance-humanist air given by setting the work in Latin, all reveal More's satiric intent.

The implied benefits of divorce, euthanasia, married priests, and women priests, expressed in Utopia, disagreed with More's celebrated dedication to devout Catholicism. More was a persecutor of heretics (Protestants) yet the book extolled the virtues of embracing varied religions, and even under the same roof.  The piece engaged in political criticism, but More himself was Lord Chancellor, an influential English lawyer.  Communism and the idea of communal living expressed as an ideal in Utopia could be seen as the opposite view expected from a rich landowner such as More.

Because Renaissance humanist movement, which glorified the ancient civilizations, had already established an influence during his time it seems possible More could have been tipping his hat to them by setting his work in Latin and telling of an ancient idyllic civilization built on "superior" ideals. If this was More's intent, and if the tale of a perfect communal society was a reference to New World legend (although in reality Amerigo Vespucci's Incas practiced cannibalism), then this would be further proof that More viewed Utopia to be seen as a satirical work.

In Arte of English Poesie, George Puttenham argues the pastoral is a literary form especially designed:
Not of purpose to counterfait or represent the rusticall manner of loves and communication: but under the vaile of homely persons, and in rude speeches to insinuate and glaunce at greater matters, and such as perchance had not bene safe to have beene disclosed in any other sort.
In The Making of a Poem, Strand and Boland note how the pastoral spoke to poets of the Renaissance period and their "deep European unease about power, urbanization, and the demands made for a new centralization," citing the pastoral as "one of the true intellectual engines of [Elizabethan] poetry".

First in Latin with the work of Petrarch, Pontano, and Mantuan, and then in Italian vernacular with the works of Boiardo, Italian poets led the way in a 14th Century revival of pastoral form.  The pastoral became fashionable throughout Renaissance Europe.  Because of the satire's popularity in England during Medieval and Early Renaissance times the pastoral's appearance there may have simply represented a new incarnation of the satire.  In 1579 Virgil's Eclogues inspired Edmund Spenser's The Shepheardes Calendar (a series of twelve eclogues, one for each calendar month) and ushered the pastoral form further into fashion, but Spenser's creation was more than just a collection of colloquialisms.  A study by Robert Lane interprets The Shepheardes Calendar as criticism of the Elizabethan hierarchy and how society exploited and neglected society's underprivileged.  According to Lane, The Shepheardes Calendar undermines the courtly role assigned to Elizabethan poetry and capitalized on such pop culture mainstays as woodcuts, proverbs, fables and the calendar format to further drive its point home.

Understanding the connection between the English Renaissance pastoral and the satirical literature which preceded it, it is easier to see how William Shakespeare used the pastoral form to explore the realms of political and social commentary.  Shakespeare frequently exploited poetic form and theatrical convention to provide a vehicle for his legendary wit, so it may be safe to assume his use of the pastoral was also intended to "glaunce at greater matters".  He made frequent use of the pastoral both through brief examples within plays and as the framework for complete works, riding on the shoulders of the public's love for satire, to transport the pastoral into the world of social and political commentary.

The main plot of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale is derived, somewhat more loyally than Shakespeare is usually inclined, from Robert Greene's pastoral romance Pandosto (1590). Perhaps the most apparent pastoral element of the play is how pastoral life in Bohemia offers a sharp contrast to the world of the Sicilian court. Although the idealized character Perdita may be the primary spokesperson of the pastoral world and its values, Shakespeare does not romanticize the play's pastoral world itself. As a matter of fact the typical pastoral vision is undercut by sadness and ambivalence throughout the length of the play.

Historian Eric Ives has argued the play is actually a parody of Queen Anne Boleyn's fall, the wife of Henry VIII who was beheaded in 1536 for charges of adultery.  Ives states numerous parallels exist between the two stories, including how Sir Henry Norreys, a close friend of Henry, was beheaded as a supposed lover of Anne, refusing to confess to save his life on the grounds that everyone knew of the Queen's innocence.  Following this theory about the play, Perdita could represent Anne's only daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.  An understanding of the play in this light further strengthens the connection Shakespeare made between the pastoral and satire.

His poem "When icicles hang by the wall" from the play Love's Labor's Lost may at first glance appear quaint.  In this piece the country folk go about their daily work, subjected to the harsh and cold winter.  They carry firewood into the hall, watch the sheep, milk the cows, all the while dealing with the bitter cold.  But the owl represents more than a common bird; Shakespeare's owl represents the wealthy of society who watch over the poor, oblivious of the plight and singing a "merry note".

It is no stretch to assume Shakespeare's owl played an allegorical role in this pastoral.  Shakespeare frequently used the owl for similar purposes. As Lady Macbeth prepares to murder the king she is startled by the shriek of an owl:
Hark! - Peace!
It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman
Which gives the stern'st good-night. [Macbeth - II, 2]
Prior to the assassination of Julius Caesar an owl was reported:
The bird of night did sit,
Even at noon-day, upon the market-place
Hooting and shrieking. [Julius Caesar - I, 3]
Further, Puck says of the owl:
Now the wasted brands do glow,
Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shroud. (A Midsummer Night's Dream - V, 1)
Since Shakespeare often associated the owl with death, its use here may very likely represent the pending death of such rustics as cataloged within the poem.  Also noteworthy is the owl's disregard for their situations throughout this poem, singing his merry song in spite of their toil. Given the possible satirical heritage of the Renaissance pastorals, the owl could easily represent the wealthy officials who go about their merry way oblivious of the common man's trials.

Understanding the connection between the English Renaissance pastoral and the satire, the interpretation of Shakespeare's As You Like It becomes less problematic.  In the Arden Shakespeare edition, As You Like It is represented as a multi-layered chronicle of late English Renaissance culture and of all the various social and political conflicts marking the final decade of the sixteenth century.  Dusinberre outlines how the play functions to "glaunce at greater matters".  She cites Jaques's indebtedness to the period's vogue for satire and the faction-ridden politics occasioned by the Earl of Essex's career and his rivalry with Sir Robert Cecil. In the Arden Shakespeare edition of Shakespeare's pastoral play As You Like It, editor Juliet Dusinberre comments:
Social and political realities would not have been far from the minds of its first audiences in 1599, whether at court or in the public theatre.  Beneath an impeccably sunny surface 'As You Like It' touches on troubled territories.
The work of other Renaissance writers such as poet and playwright Christopher Marlowe may also be understood when a connection is made between the English Renaissance pastoral and its satirical heritage.  Marlowe made the pastoral his own by introducing exaggerated imagery and sexuality to the form.  Shepherds in the pastorals of Theocritus and Virgil had expressed love as a deep longing without sexuality, but in his pastoral poem "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" Marlowe's shepherd asks a woman to share an idealized romantic relationship.  However, the shepherd's proposal is actually more ridiculous than idyllic, possibly indicating Marlowe's intent to satirize the traditional pastoral form.  The shepherd offers his love:
Fair-lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold . . .
While a pretty promise, these and other claims in this poem are far from anything an actual shepherd could afford to bestow upon anyone.

The poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard had previously utilized the country life as a refuge for rejected suitors, but Marlowe's shepherd is not concerned about rejection or whether his social or financial status is acceptable to the girl; his only concern is the desire for immediate pleasure:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my Love.
Today's America lives in little or no fear for ridiculing the government or speaking out against "progress". But the pastoral provided those less fortunate a venue to play with questions "which verged on a philosophical subversion of traditional religious themes in poetry" (Strand and Boland, 208). The works of Renaissance writers like Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare provide compelling evidence pastoral literature of that period was often used as a vehicle for political and social commentary, and this intent becomes more clear when the satirical elements of these works' lineage are not overlooked; following in the shadows of the popularity of such well-loved writers as Geoffrey Chaucer, Thomas More, and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the pastoral would naturally have received a satirical interpretation by Renaissance readers and audiences. With this in mind, and although the references may likely be obscured with the passing of time, interpretation of the pastoral poem enters a new realm of understanding; instead of relegating these pieces to the world of kitsch and quaint, we may now be compelled to dig below the surface, blowing away the dust to uncover a treasure, and in doing so are likely to at least appreciate, if not enjoy, the wit of the pastoral form's most famous practitioners.

Works cited.

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. New York: Penquin Classics, 2003. Print.

Moore, R..  "As You Like It: Introduction." eNotes: As You Like It. Ed. Penny Satoris. Seattle: Enotes.com Inc, October 2002. eNotes.com. 24 June 2009. Print.
More, Thomas. Utopia. New York: Penquin Classics, 2003. Print.

"Pastoral in Shakespeare's Works: Introduction." Shakespearean Criticism. Ed. Michelle Lee. Vol. 89. Gale Cengage, 2005. eNotes.com. 2006. 24 Jan, 2009. Web.

Shakespeare, William. The Arden Shakespeare As You Like It. Edited by Juliet Dusinberre. London: Thomson Learning, 2006. Print.

"Shepheards Devises: Edmund Spenser's 'Shepheardes Calendar' and the Institutions of Elizabethan Society." Renaissance Society of America, 1995. The Free Library. 2006. 24 Jan, 2009 . Print.

Strand, Mark, and Eavan Boland. The Making of a Poem. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001. Print.

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love: Introduction." Poetry for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 0. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. 31 January 2009. Web.

"The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (Style)." Notes on Poetry. Answers Corporation, 2006. Answers.com 01 Feb. 2009. Web.

"The Winter's Tale: Pastoral Elements." Shakespeare for Students. Ed. Marie Rose Napierkowski. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1998. eNotes.com. January 2006. 30 June 2009. Web.

Cinematic Narration and Shakespeare's Plays

Many of the limitations William Shakespeare faced in the technical facilities of the Elizabethan stage are answered in the nature and abilities of modern film. Where Shakespeare seemed to yearn for a way to express the true colors of his vision through words, film offers a ready palette and the ability to "show" what Shakespeare could only "tell." Shakespeare's theater, with its lack of technical resources, painted verbal pictures of battlefields and fantastical places, scenes and exchanges in a span of places from the underworld to the heavens, and snapshots of a character's inner thoughts and feelings, entirely through words. By its nature and technical abilities film has a broader visual vocabulary available to it than Shakespeare's theater could ever access.

In Henry V the chorus laments the limitations of Shakespeare's Elizabethan stage:
. . . Can this cock-pit hold
The vasty fields of France? Or may we cram,
Within this wooden O, the very casques,
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! Since a crooked figure may
Attest, in little place, a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
In director and actor Kenneth Branagh's 1989 film adaptation of Henry V, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Director, preeminent British classical actor of the first post-Olivier generation, Derek Jacobi, spoke these words of the chorus' prologue from the backstage of a modern theater. Jacobi's speech ended on the stage, where the play's opening scene is expected to begin. However the battle scene that follows is not in fact filmed on a stage, but on a 15th Century battlefield. By filming the opening sequence in this manner, Branagh both acknowledges and shatters the limitations Shakespeare faced on his Elizabethan stage, and opens a door for the cinematic narrator to offer its unique and virtually unlimited contribution to the production.

In a similar manner, Branagh's 2006 adaptation of Shakespeare's As You Like It takes us behind the scenes of its actual filming when Rosalind (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) delivers the play's epilogue among the actors' trailers and the general hubbub of the crew. Film's ability to break the fourth wall opens new realms for the cinematic narrator, bringing an intimacy between actor, filmmaker, and audience which Shakespeare could only experience in his dreams. This intimacy introduces the other end of a spectrum available to the cinematic narrator, ranging from spectacle to minute detail, and outlines its possible contribution to the filming of Shakespeare's plays.

But the modern cinematic narrator's contribution to the filming of Shakespeare's plays is not merely technical. The cinematic voice is the product of its own day and age just as much as the voice of Shakespeare. In "Shakespeare and the Cinema," Russell Jackson, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham and Director of the Shakespeare Institute, Stratford-upon-Avon, observes:
To an extent, the history of Shakespearian film-making is one of variations on this theme: shifting attitudes to the Shakespearian source material, varied objectives, and changing techniques.
So the adaptation of Shakespeare to film serves the needs of both play and filmmaker, and the cinematic narration developed for each individual film will be dictated by the attitudes, objectives and techniques applied to the material.

The Shakespearean canon offers a nearly comprehensive palette of human emotion and experience with ready-made scenarios to match each filmmaker's objective. However, public opinion about the individual plays continues to change. The play As You Like It, although neglected in performance for more than a century after Shakespeare's death in 1616, has been a popular play on the stage ever since. Although The Taming of the Shrew remains one of Shakespeare's most frequently performed comedies, interpretation of the play's commentary about women changes with the times. While few would dispute the numerous merits of The Merchant of Venice, its anti-Semitic themes have caused the work to fall out of fashion at times when these themes could not be readily justified. Attitudes about Shakespeare himself continue to change throughout the years; while he is often hailed as a great genius who has made numerous contributions to the English language as well as our overall understanding of humanity and the individual, at other times even his existence has been called into question and William Shakespeare has been thought to be the compiled penname for several writers of the Elizabethan stage.

In an interview for his 2006 film adaptation of As You Like It, director Kenneth Branagh spoke of his objectives for filming Shakespeare:
I felt as though I was watching Shakespeare across the generations and in a new medium - - sort of waving the flag and saying, We're not telling you this is better than anything you'll ever see but we think it's wonderful.
By nature of its creative flexibility, film opens the door to radical objectives and the use of distinctive narrative voices. Director Baz Luhrmann's 1996 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet sought to update the play with a radical approach intended to appeal to a broad audience. However, it may be argued this adaptation pales in comparison to Franco Zeffirelli's unforgettable 1968 film, which handled the material in a more traditional manner and is now considered a film classic. Addressing this capacity of film, and perhaps implying some restraint should be exercised in its use, Kenneth Branagh said:
When you make a film of a subject that existed in another medium - particularly in the theatre, where it's worked as a play for four hundred years - I think one is obliged to consider what the cinema can do to reveal the story of the play that the theatre can't do in the same way. I'm not suggesting one is better than the other, but simply, what can the medium do? Why do it in the cinema?
While the quality and influence of Shakespeare's plays may be a common reason they are adapted into film, these works have also been used as vehicles for promoting and preserving the work of individual actors. Sir Laurence Olivier's film performances of Shakespeare, which include King Lear (1983), Henry V (1944), Hamlet (1948), As You Like It (1936), Richard III (1955), and The Merchant of Venice (1973) are currently valued more for their preservation of work by such a legendary actor than their other cinematic merits.

It could be said Shakespeare's plays lend themselves to screen adaptation more readily than scripts from modern theater. A modern play frequently must be "opened up" so the visual narrative of film may be more fully applied, even though this process of opening is likely to superimpose new ideas onto the original play. Where modern theater seems to have been influenced by cinema and television, presenting dialogue virtually void of descriptive language, the plays of William Shakespeare give us language rich in narrative. With Shakespeare's plays the material for cinematic narration is often readily available in the existing text and may simply be translated into an artistic and effective visual representation. Coupled with modern cinema's technical capacities, the wealth of description present in much of Shakespeare's work may be more fully appreciated and realized than could ever have been possible on the Elizabethan stage.

But for all the literary and descriptive quality of Shakespeare's plays, they may be more effective as film when careful consideration is given to the development of an appropriate cinematic narrator and that narrator is given a clear voice in the film's execution. The plays have been filmed countless times and with varied amounts of cinematic intervention. On the one hand we have extreme makeovers such as the 1999 film Ten Things I Hate About You, based on Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew but set in a modern high school and rewritten in prose. Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Romeo and Juliet stayed much closer to the original, both the text and the setting. Both films can claim success on very different levels, but they share the benefit of a strong directorial vision translated into a distinctive style and use of cinematic narration. Russell Jackson said:
Films based on Shakespeare's plays are best considered in terms of their vision - that is, the imaginary world they create, and the way of seeing it that they offer the viewer rather than the degree of their faithfulness to a Shakespearean original.
One of the most obvious characteristics in any of Shakespeare's plays is his use of language, and in particular his use of blank verse. Actors on the Elizabethan stage did not enjoy the benefits of electronic amplification, so clarity was a major concern of any playwright when assigning words to an actor. Like other playwrights of his day, Shakespeare employed the use of iambic pentameter when constructing his lines. Iambic pentameter depends on an oral rhythm which approximates natural speech but almost magically makes it easier for an audience to hear and understand. Each line contains a series of alternating weak and strong stresses on its words. The combination of one weak and one strong syllable creates what is called a foot, and each line contains five such feet. Built upon iambic pentameter, blank verse was a helpful tool for the Elizabethan stage, but not an obvious one for modern film. Consequently, many filmmakers place little importance on their actors' use of these elements in the blank verse even though Shakespeare's use of iambic pentameter often carries instruction to the actors and hints about his intended meanings. A modern filmmaker may decide to ignore how and why Shakespeare used blank verse, but he does so at his own peril and his final interpretation of the work might suffer.

Antony's famous speech from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is written in blank verse. In general, when a Shakespearean actor comes across a line which seems to have more or less than five feet, it is likely an adjustment should be made in pronunciation. For example, in Antony's speech, the word "ambitious" is pronounced with four syllables and not three like we generally use today. The word "interred" is meant to contain three syllables as well, indicated by the number of feet in the line. But if you allow the form to flow, without fighting the rhythms, not only is it easier to hear the lines, but you begin to hear Shakespeare's own acting directions, indicating which word is stressed and therefore important. Often the stresses in a line can change or at least clarify the meaning. The stress given to the word "ambitious" throughout the speech, both by the number of syllables and the frequency of repetition, is underscored by the rhythm. We see this is a speech about ambition, but not necessarily about the ambition of Caesar. Because it is stressed, and repeated, then followed by "Yet Brutus is an honorable man" we get the idea Antony might actually be saying Brutus was the ambitious one, and not Caesar.

Another obvious characteristic of Shakespeare's language is its descriptive qualities. Because the Elizabethan stage did not use more than the most minimal bits of scenery to depict location and time of day, playwrights alluded to such details through the dialogue. Dialogue was also used to describe events which might be difficult to depict on the stage, or to relay information which the characters on stage might not otherwise be privy to. Because film carries such a wide range of possibilities, anything from voiceovers and flashbacks to quick editing and the ability to bring any time or feeling into the scene, Shakespeare's allusions within the text, although they are often beautiful, may easily be handed off to the cinematic narrator's duties. What remains next is for the filmmaker to decide if this descriptive dialogue is necessary or if it becomes redundant when these things can be shown in other ways.

Aside from a lack of scenery, the Elizabethan stage's use of costuming was minimal as well and actors generally wore "modern dress" whether the play took place in Elizabethan England or ancient Rome. Modern film actors are usually dressed in costumes accurate to the story's time and culture, again reducing the need for descriptive language which identifies a play's locale. Modern filmmakers often stray from the setting Shakespeare intended for his plays, adding yet another discretionary element to the director's plate and another instance where the original language might best be cut. Director Michael Hoffman's 1999 film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream changes the location from Greece to Italy and moves the time a few hundred years from its original era. Kenneth Branagh's As You Like It sets the tale in a British enclave of feudal Japan.

It is impossible to know how Shakespeare himself might approach the filming of his plays if he were alive today, of course. Freed from the constraints of his Elizabethan stage, we can only guess what the Bard of Avon might have given us. Perhaps he would have left out much of the descriptive sections within his plays, or maybe he would retain them for their poetic contributions. Of course Shakespeare would realize an almost unlimited palette of times and locations for his plays, but perhaps he would have rejected their importance and focused even more on the interactions between characters. Or perhaps Shakespeare would have transferred a portion of his writing from the pen to the camera, using each tool for its inherent strengths and understanding their weaknesses. What we do know is the cinematic narration in a modern film may be used to enhance what we already have in Shakespeare's plays, the only challenge comes in knowing where and how much of the focus to give that narrator.

Works cited.

Braudy, Leo and Marshall Cohen. "Film Narrative and the Other Arts." Film Theory & Criticism. Ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. 341-344.
Jackson, Russell. "Shakespeare and the Cinema." The Cambridge Companion To Shakespeare. Ed. Margreta de Grazia and Stanley Wells. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 217-233.

"Lawrence Olivier." IMDb: The Internet Movie Database. IMDb.com, 1990-2009. 05 July, 2009. < http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000059/>

"Online Exclusive With Kenneth Branagh." HBO Films. HBO Films, 2006. 05 July, 2009. < http://www.hbo.com/films/asyoulikeit/interviews/>

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Gilbert and Sullivan Characters

The bulk of Leone Cottrell-Adkins' opera troupe had been performing together for years, but opera was a new experience for the fledgling small-town community theatre who now hosted them, and for me. As an eighteen-year-old stage manager I was actually a little intimidated by the whole thing.

I had managed to sit through their production of Mozart's Cosi fan tutti, but the finale brought welcome relief. However, their production of the Gilbert and Sullivan mainstay operetta, The Mikado, was another story entirely. I had never been exposed to the sublime ridiculousness of G & S before then, but I melted each time the lead soprano sang The Moon and I and thrilled at each performance of the Act I finale. I laughed at all the little jokes interspersed through the dialogue, and even vaguely understood a bit of the social and political satire. If it weren't for herding around that chorus of ancient singers, the experience would have been a dream.

In fact, as I became more familiar with the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, a collection of little operatic satires that brought the musical theater to new heights of wit and sophistication, I noticed how these characters resonate within our individual and cultural psyches. They mirror our own aspirations, our own failures, and even our own successes.

I learned that these operas can teach us valuable lessons for leading happy, productive lives. If their libretti were collected in one volume, you might even call it The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Gilbert and Sullivan Characters.

Lesson 1: Synergy and the Three Little Maids From School

A friend once told me his grandmother's theory about little boys and mob mentality: "One boy is fine, but two boys is about like half a boy and three boys ain't no boy at all."

Synergy happens when the result is greater than the sum of it's parts, so I guess with little boys it's a case of synergy in reverse.

But on the other hand three little girls can be synergy personified. Just consider the three little maids in Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. Individually, they are nothing more than little girls who just graduated from a ladies' seminary. But synergistically, these three little maids are a force to be reckoned with.

Jim Rohn said: "You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with."

It's true our associations help us decide what activities we'll engage in and they influence our general psychological outlook. But synergy happens when we step outside our everyday associations. It takes place through teams and at its essence requires us to embrace diversity.

Stephen Covey said: "Synergy is the highest activity of life; it creates new untapped alternatives; it values and exploits the mental, emotional, and psychological differences between people."

Granted, Gilbert and Sullivan's three little maids are a fairly homogeneous group. But at heart they are three unique individuals with their own needs, wants, and desires. Obviously something in their union touches our culture's corporate psyche.

And what can synergy accomplish? Perhaps the first little maid puts it best when she shares her true agenda:
I mean to rule the earth,
As he the sky--
We really know our worth,
The sun and I!

If not rulers of the earth, synergy has certainly allowed these three little maids to ascend to the status of cultural icon. Here are a few of the many nods pop culture has given this synergistic trio, courtesy of Wikipedia:
The song "Three Little Maids" is featured in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, where Harold Abrahams first sees his future wife dressed as one of the Three Little Maids. Many television programmes have featured the song, including Frasier Crane and John Cleese in the Cheers episode "Simon Says" (for which Cleese won an Emmy Award), Frasier solo in the Frasier episode "Leapin' Lizards", the Angel episode "Hole in the World", The Simpsons episode "Cape Feare," Alvin and the Chipmunks episode "Maids in Japan",The Suite Life of Zack & Cody episode, "Lost In Translation," and The Animaniacs Vol. 1 episode "Hello Nice Warners". The Capitol Steps also performed a parody entitled "Three Little Kurds from School Are We" about conditions in Iraq. In the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation episode Suckers, a corrupt casino owner uses the notes from the first line ("Three little maids from school are we") to program the combination to the casino's safe.

Where can synergy take you?

Lesson 2: Strategic Planning and the Lord High Executioner

Flotsam and jetsam are interesting things. In general they're just debris that floats around in the ocean, but specifically they have two entirely different origins.

Jetsam is debris you'll find floating around in the ocean that was thrown overboard (jettisoned) by the crew of a ship, usually to lighten their load in an emergency. Flotsam is other stuff floating around in the sea that wasn't deliberately put there, like perhaps the remnants of a ship wreck.

But generally they're just topsy-turvy stuff floating around in the ocean.

Not that Sirs Gilbert or Sullivan would necessarily be classified as flotsam or jetsam, but a few of the characters they created might be. In particular Ko-Ko, the reluctant Lord High Executioner in The Mikado.

Ko-Ko describes his rapid (and involuntary) ascent from common tailor to political heights:
Taken from the county jail by a set of curious chances; liberated then on bail, on my own recognizances; wafted by a favoring gale as one sometimes is in trances, to a height that few can scale, save by long and weary dances; surely, never had a male under such like circumstances so adventurous a tale, which may rank with most romances.

Oh sure Ko-Ko might enjoy all the general deferring by the common folk, but his new lot in life presents a couple of unpleasant tasks. First he is expected to separate folks from their beloved heads. Second, after another set of curious events he is left with no choice other than to woo and wed a rather unpleasant woman named Katisha.

Ko-Ko ended up in a mess because he merely floated with the current. Not being proactive, lacking a plan of his own, a plan was trust upon him.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Harvey Mackay, John L. Beckley have all been credited with some version of this saying:
If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

Ko-Ko did not have a plan. While he did create a list of possible decapitation candidates, a dutiful task for any Lord High Executioner, that was after he had already been wafted around a bit and dubbed (or dooped) Lord High Executioner.

Experts tell us the best laid plans are:

  1. Written. If we just keep plans in our heads they have a way of morphing, a great way to justify when we don't stick to them. Yes Ko-Ko had written a list, but it also needed to be . . .

  2. Measurable. It's not enough to say you're going to chop off a few heads; you need to say you'll chop off X-number of heads before a certain date or you'll have no concrete way of knowing when you've actually attained your goal.

  3. Attainable. You've got to pace yourself. You're not going to decapitate too many criminals when you're first starting out. Set a do-able measurement for your goal, but don't be afraid to push yourself.

Flotsam and jetsam go wherever the current takes them and where they'll wind up is anyone's guess. But we're not sea debris; we can be proactive and plan for our own choices. They'll find someone to be Lord High Executioner, but does it really have to be you?

Lesson 3: Win-Win Thinking For Multi-Talented Fairies and Mortals

Henry Ford may not have invented the assembly line, but it's probably safe to say his use of the concept helped it catch on. His first conveyor-belt version of it started cranking out sub-assemblies and chassis somewhere around April 1st, 1913, but hardly anyone considered it a bad April Fools joke.

Workers were trained in the art of specialization, and the assembly-line exploded on 20th Century America. All over it, to be exact.

And soon, gone were the Renaissance men, the generalists, the Ben Franklins among us who joyously pursued varied vocations. The number of kites flown in thunder storms reduced drastically as well.

Teachers everywhere started asking children what they want to be when they grow up, and Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis business really started taking off.

But Gilbert and Sullivan had long since addressed this situation in their fairy opera, Iolanthe.

You see, young Strephon faces a problem with duplicity. Being born of an unlawful marriage between a fairy mother and a mortal father, he is fairy from the waist up but his legs are entirely mortal. But does he let this get him down?

Of course not. Would I write about him if he were a loser like that?

Oh sure, he hesitates about telling the little secret to his fiance. But when he does, his fiance is very glad to know his bottom half is the mortal part.

At first there is a little strife between the fairies and the mortals over the whole issue, but following the Gilbert and Sullivan tradition, everything ends in a win-win situation.

Stephen Covey listed "Think Win-Win" as number four in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey learned a lot from Gilbert and Sullivan.

Covey also listed four steps to win-win thinking. Covey used a lot of lists.

  1. See the problem from the other point of view, in terms of the needs and concerns of the other party.

  2. Identify the key issues and concerns (not positions) involved.

  3. Determine what results would make a fully acceptable solution.

  4. Identify new options to achieve those results.

But what if you, like Strephon, struggle with embracing your inner fairy? What if you feel there are two halves to you and never the twain shall meet (nor never shall the two meet Twain)?

The same process applies.

Multiple interests and talents are common among creative types. But thanks to the Industrial Revolution and things like Ford's Great April Fools Joke the multi-talented are often encouraged to choose one thing and go with it. It's nobody's fault, it's just the brainwashing we've all had.

However, by learning to think win-win about our multiple interests (okay, so if you have several just tack on more wins and think win-win-win or whatever) we come up with true solutions to help us live happy and congruent lives.

Choose one paradigm and you're thinking win-lose, surpress them both and you're thinking lose-lose. But embrace your inner fairy and everybody wins.

Lesson 4: I Am the Very Model of a Modern Armchair Generalist

Frank Gelette Burgess, artist, art critic, poet, author, humorist, and inventor of the Purple Cow once said, "To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life."

Leonardo da Vinci (whose introduction requires no laundry list of accomplishments) is quoted with: "Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen."

Gilbert and Sullivan addressed these same ideas in the Major-General's famous patter song from The Pirates of Penzance.

Understanding military leadership's necessity to see things from a distance, as well as their ability to appreciate nonsense, the Major-General breezily rattles off a laundry list of his impressive academic accomplishments.
I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

What's that? You say knowing the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes, understanding calculus and binomial theorem, and the ability to whistle all the airs from that delightful operetta H.M.S. Pinafore has nothing to do with military competency? Rubbish, I say!

Granted, a taste for G & S does require an ability to appreciate nonsense, but this capacity may easily transfer into an ability to see the all-important bigger picture in life, work, and all the above. Gilbert and Sullivan's patter song could be the anthem for modern armchair generalists.
I am the very model of a modern Armchair Generalist,
I treat life like a drug store and approach it with a lotta lists . . .

Stephen Covey tells us if we ever hope to be one of the seven highly effective people with habits, we must "sharpen the saw." Although many of us do in fact have an axe to grind, sharpening our saws is an entirely different affair; of course Mr. Covey is (in part) talking about sharpening our minds.

Of course, sharpening our minds doesn't give us carte blanche to go all willy nilly. In his novel, The Prime Minister, Anthony Trollope describes the character Everett Wharton:
[He] had read much, and although he generally forgot what he read, there were left with him from his reading certain nebulous lights, begotten by other men's thinking, which enabled him to talk on most subjects. It cannot be said of him that he did much thinking for himself - but he thought that he thought.

And of course any conversation about thinking leads us to the famous Dr. Seuss-ian epiphany:
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! 'Maybe Christmas,' he thought, 'doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . . means a little bit more!'

Taking in the view from Mt. Crumpit, the Grinch became a generalist, a divergent thinker. Gilbert and Sullivan, Stephen Covey, and Benjamin Franklin would all be proud.

Creative minds unite untie.

Lesson 5: Little Buttercup On Seeking First to Understand

In Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta H.M.S. Pinafore, things are not what they seem. It appears young sailor Ralph Rackstraw loves above his station in life, the Captain's fair daughter Josephine. But as in life and as in the bulk of the G & S Canon, things are seldom what they seem.

In fact, under her gay and frivolous exterior, so gay and frivolous everyone calls her "Little Buttercup," dockside vendor Mrs. Cripps hints she may be hiding a dark secret.
The others however are as uninterested in hearing her secret as she is in revealing it.

But after a great deal of general topsy-turvy we learn Mrs. Cripps had once been the nursemaid of Ralph Rackstraw and Josephine's father, the Captain. Prone to confusion, she inadvertently switched the two babes and Ralph should in fact be the Captain and the Captain should in fact be Ralph.

So being of high birth, Ralph hadn't loved above his station at all, but below it. As such, he is free to marry the low-born but lovely Josephine.

Two hours of twisted plots could have been avoided if everyone had sought to understand Mrs. Cripps' earlier warnings. But of course we would not have had two hours of Sullivan's lovely music either, so all is forgiven.

In Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he extols us seek first to understand, then to be understood.

And Mrs. Cripps extols us:
Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;
Highlows pass as patent leathers;
Jackdaws strut in peacock's feathers.

I think Covey may have learned a thing or two from Mrs. Cripps.

Lesson 6: Aesthetic Poets and "To Thine Own Self Be True"

Aesthetics. These are people who really get into appearances. They suffer for the sake of suffering, and supposedly that makes great art.

Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Patience, Reginald Bunthorne is an aesthetic poet whose apparent sincerity and purity make him a big hit with the ladies. I say "apparent" because he is a total fake. In a private moment with the audience, Bunthorne gives a little advice:
If you're anxious for to shine in the high aesthetic line as a man of culture rare,
You must get up all the germs of the transcendental terms, and plant them ev'rywhere.
You must lie upon the daisies and discourse in novel phrases of your complicated state of mind,
The meaning doesn't matter if it's only idle chatter of a transcendental kind.
And ev'ry one will say,
As you walk your mystic way,
"If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me,
Why, what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!"

Here is what Wikipedia (love Wikipedia) had to say about Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Patience:
The opera is a satire on the aesthetic movement of the 1870s and '80s in England, when the output of poets, composers, painters and designers of all kinds was indeed prolific-but, some argued, empty and self-indulgent. This artistic movement was so popular, and also so easy to ridicule as a meaningless fad, that it made Patience a big hit.

Bunthorne teaches us a sort of anti-lesson. Contrary to what he might advise, be true to yourself.

Embrace all the varied and wonderful things that make you unique and unleash that on the world, even if you feel foolish. Your right people will find you if you're not hiding behind something else, something that isn't really you. Then sit back and don't worry about what will come; the right things will come along with the right people. Just let your creative spirit go skipping down the halls, if that's what it needs to do.

Being true to yourself is the first priority.

Lesson 7: Begin With the End in Mind

Returning to The Mikado, Pooh-Bah holds numerous exalted offices including Lord Chief Justice, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Buckhounds, Lord High Auditor, Groom of the Back Stairs, and Lord High Everything Else. Wikipedia says:
The name has come to be used as a mocking title for someone self-important or high-ranking and who either exhibits an inflated self-regard, who acts in several capacities at once, or who has limited authority while taking impressive titles.

It isn't so much an issue of inflated self-regard, and while I Pooh-Bah may have had a penchant for holding grand-sounding titles, he had a goal in mind: power. His willingness to wear so many hats was just the price he was willing to pay for his ambition. Through all these efforts, he kept the end in mind.

Mark Twain offered some advice:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

An old joke asks how you can sculpt an elephant. The answer is this: Get a huge block of marble, then chip away everything that doesn't look like an elephant.

Or as Stephen Covey says, "Begin with the end in mind."

And With That in Mind, Here is the End

At eighteen I didn't realize how true to human nature these silly little characters really were. Since then I've crossed paths with the persistent Katisha in real life, I've known others who habitually wafted to and fro like Ko-Ko, and each of the operetta's surprisingly three-dimensional characters have appeared in other faces throughout my adult life. But what really surprises me is when I notice elements these merry musicals' characters in myself.

Now I just need to heed their sage advice.

How Obscure Clarity Can Improve Your Writing

In On Writing, Earnest Hemingway says, “I try always to do the thing by three-cushion shots rather than by words or direct statements. But maybe we must have direct statements too.”

E.B. White is often quoted with, “Be obscure clearly.”

Hemingway's three-cushion shot and White's obscure clarity could be seen as extensions of the “show, don’t tell” advice often given to fiction writers, but the implications of both techniques could mean added texture for a story, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks from his own experience.

Case Studies for Obscure Clarity

Utopian and dystopian literature have long been strongholds for the imaginative use of obscurity. Inventing new societies, new governments, and new social norms have been the hallmark of these genres. In the process they have specifically capitalized on the use of satire, symbolism and euphemism. Utopian and dystopian authors have utilized White's obscure clarity through the names assigned to characters, locations, themes, and everyday vocabulary used within the context of the story. In his Utopia, Thomas More criticized the religious and political views of his contemporaries by obscuring his true intentions through the use of satire. Ayn Rand used religious symbolism in Anthem to exalt the pursuit of one’s true self. In The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood applies the use of euphemisms to show how we might become used to just about anything, however tyrannical or foreign it initially seems. Other writers, as well as film makers, built euphemisms, established symbolism, and wrote in a satirical manner to both cloak and intensify their messages. By the use of obscure clarity, the resulting pieces of literature have become powerful works of fiction, capable of clearly delivering messages beyond what might have been possible without the use of such three-cushion shots.

Satire in Thomas More's Utopia

Thomas More was a man of deep religious convictions, a devout Roman Catholic who was canonized in 1935, four hundred years after his death, by Pope Pius XI. More was declared the patron saint of politicians and statesmen by Pope John Paul II. It should be reasonable then to assume More’s religious and political views would be similar to those of the church he served. But More’s fictional Utopia, completed in 1516, flies in the face of his century’s religious convention with its free society of religious experimentation and political socialism. Understanding the names of places, people and even the book’s title will reveal More’s satirical purposes in writing the book.

Modern readers have come to understand a “utopia” as a paradise, a world built on higher ideals where the lamb lays down with the lion. As such, it would be natural to assume that in this book More had explained his designs for a more perfect world, with his own religious, political, and moral beliefs fulfilled. But in fact, the word “utopia” (which was coined by More himself from Latin) would be literally translated as “no place”. By calling his dreamland “Utopia” More is betraying his story, showing it is a made up tale; he is literally calling it a place which does not, and presumably cannot, exist. He further betrays his true view by the names he assigns to various characters and places within the story. The primary narrator, the character who describes this paradise to his companions, is a traveler named Raphael Hythlodaeus. Although he is telling his tale to two real-life, historical characters, Thomas More and his friend Peter Gilles, Raphael is a fictional character. Since the character’s name is chosen by the author, it opens the door to investigate the reason this particular name was assigned. Because More was widely known to be a deeply religious man, it doesn’t require too much stretching of the imagination to assume More chose the name “Raphael” with its Biblical counterpart in mind.

In the Bible, Raphael was the name of an angel. The angel Raphael was mentioned in the Book of Tobit. He guides Tobias and later cures his father of his blindness and helps him recover his property. Because of this story, Raphael is considered an angel-physician, an agent of healing who cured both the bodies and the souls of men. In fact, the name “Raphael” is from the Hebrew for “God has healed”. Throughout the Bible, angels are seen as ministers of light and illumination, proclaiming messages from God. The angel Gabriel was said to have delivered tidings to a virgin named Mary, who was to bear the son of God. The archangel Michael is one of the principal angels in Abrahamic tradition; his name was said to have been the war-cry of the angels in the battle fought in heaven against Satan and his followers. Therefore, the name Raphael carries connotations of a healing messenger, with a message of possible divine origin. Taking this into consideration it might appear More professed his Utopia to possess an illuminated culture, and that imitating their society would mean the deliverance of humanity. Deeper exploration of the book shows this isn’t the case at all.

More assigned Raphael the surname Hythlodaeus, which when translated from the Latin means “dispenser of nonsense”. So although he may have been named after an angel, a messenger of light, the Raphael Hythlodaeus character is designed to be simply a messenger of nonsense. More’s satiric intent was further underscored when he used this character to describe a country whose name literally means “no place”, and its river of no water and its ruler with no people. Most of the proper names More used in Utopia are words of Greek derivation, invented for More’s purposes. Anydrus (the name of a river in Utopia) means “not water”, and Ademus (the chief magistrate’s title) means “not people”.

In the introduction to his translation from the original Latin, Paul Turner states:
It is clear from an ironical passage in a letter to Peter Gilles that More expected the educated reader to understand these names; and, to ensure that their significance was not overlooked, he mentioned in the book itself that the Utopian language contains some traces of Greek in place-names and official titles.
The implied benefits of divorce, euthanasia, married priests, and women priests, expressed in Utopia, disagreed with More’s celebrated dedication to devout Catholicism. More was a persecutor of heretics (Protestants) yet the book extolled the virtues of embracing varied religions, and even under the same roof. The piece engaged in political criticism, but More himself was Lord Chancellor, an influential English lawyer. Communism and the idea of communal living expressed as an ideal in Utopia could be seen as the opposite view expected from a rich landowner such as More.

Satire was an established staple in Medieval and Renaissance literature. These periods gave birth to such greats as Geoffrey Chaucer and Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. English pieces from the late Medieval period were aimed primarily at hypocrisy within the church. Even if he did not criticize the church, within the protective walls of satire’s three-cushion punch More was afforded the safety to criticize other religious and political fancies of the day.

Symbolism in Ayn Rand's Anthem

Few would dispute that Twentieth Century literature has been impacted by the work of Ayn Rand. Every book written by Ayn Rand is still in print and sales each year number in the hundred thousands. More than 20 million copies of her books have been sold to date.

In the summer of 1937 Rand constructed a dystopian tale of mankind in the distant future called Anthem. Unlike More, Rand’s reasons for writing the short novel are fairly transparent; she did not obscure her message through the use of Greek. If her motives are not readily apparent within the story, then the title can easily be broken down to reveal Rand’s motives. An anthem is a piece of music with religious significance. It is often made of scripture, and is sung or recited as a proclamation of faith. In naming her story Anthem, Rand declares its purposes, but in this case these purposes are not religious in the traditional sense of the word. In a letter Rand explains the final two chapters of the book are the actual anthem, and it is obviously an anthem to the individual.

The working title Rand used for this short novel was “Ego”. However, as she corresponded in November of 1946 to Richard de Mille:
I used the word in its exact, literal meaning, I did not mean a symbol of the self – but specifically and actually Man’s Self.
In an introduction to the 50th Anniversary American Edition of Anthem, Leonard Peikoff explains:
Although the word ego remains essential to the text, the title was changed to Anthem for publication. This was not an attempt to soften the book; it was a step that Ayn Rand took on every novel. Her working titles were invariably blunt and unemotional, naming explicitly, for her own clarity, the central issue of the book.
On another level the names she assigned to her characters, as well as their social significance and assignment within the story, add another layer of meaning to the text. In the world she has created, our own world but in the distant future, people are expected to view themselves only as part of a larger whole, a single cog in a larger machine. The individual is not recognized, and preferences are not permitted. To further this agenda, names are assigned at birth via committee, and are such socially oriented names as “Unity”, “Union” and “International”. No surnames are used, but instead a string of numbers is attached. These names have no individual meaning and are merely used to indicate which cog a person is in the great machine of society.

As the story progresses, two of Rand’s characters explore possibilities of the naming convention. Rand uses this realization as a stepping stone toward their ultimate realization and understanding of the concept of an individual. They assign descriptive names, which appear more like titles, such as “The Golden One” and “The Unconquered”. In this case, Rand’s naming choices revealed the characters’ growing understanding of “self”.

As Rand’s characters gain further awareness, they begin to explore the symbolic possibilities of an individualized name. Rand’s protagonist names himself Prometheus, symbolic of his attempt to share his light box invention with his brethren and the resulting persecution. Prometheus then names his female partner “Gaea” to symbolically show that she is to be the mother of a new race. The lives of both characters have shown parallels to their mythological-god namesakes, and we are led to expect further godlike parallels from them in the future.

Throughout the piece, Rand employs forms of symbolism by means other than name. For instance to deepen the humanistic values of her text, she pulls images from the Bible. Her protagonist pulls light from the heavens and delivers it to his brothers with a message of hope for the future, but is rejected and persecuted. He discovers a word from ancient times, the word “I”, and proclaims it is a god, to be followed and worshiped for its own ends. Rand draws from the Biblical account of Adam and Eve as well. Overall, Rand uses the depth of symbolism to enrich the messages within her text.

Euphemism in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale

Margaret Atwood is a Booker Prize-Winning author who has received numerous awards and several honorary degrees, including the Canadian Governor General’s Award, Le Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France, and the National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature. Her works have been published in more than twenty-five countries. In her novel The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood capitalizes on society’s tendency to euphemize difficult situations as a way to gain their general acceptance.

The Handmaid’s Tale paints the picture of a dystopia from the then-near future. One of the distinctive features of this world is how names are assigned to a position, a job, and each handmaid assumes that name when they take that job placement. The names of handmaids in the story, such as Offred, Ofwarren, or Ofglen merely show that handmaid is the property of Fred, of Warren, or of Glen; as such, the women are reduced to the level of an object. Just as I may own a car and call it “my car”, when it’s sold a new car takes its place and is given the moniker “my car”; the names of handmaid characters in Atwood’s story show a similar lack of personal regard.

While not directly named for their assignments, two other official forms of employment for women are assigned generalized names, the “Aunts” who train the handmaids, and the “Marthas” who run the households. Guards are called “Angels” and men in leadership roles (within the Gilead regime, the government within the story) are called “Commanders”. Atwood utilizes such “friendly” names to assist in hiding the grim realities within the story; such euphemisms as “angels”, “handmaids”, and “aunts” hide the real duties of characters assigned to these positions.

In particular, the term “handmaid” is applied to the nameless surrogate mothers forced into slavery to bare children for the country’s sterile elite. The term is taken from the Biblical account of Rachel and Jacob.
And when Rachel saw that she bare Jacob no children, Rachel envied her sister; and said unto Jacob, Give me children, or else I die.And Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, Am I in God’s stead, who hath withheld from thee the fruit of the womb?And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her, and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her. (Genesis 30:1-3)
Reminiscent of the section titles in Geoffrey Chaucer's medieval narrative poem The Canterbury Tales, where Chaucer's text personalizes his storytellers even though they are identified by their profession, Atwood creates a complex narrator for her story. The complexity of the narrator, Offred, is in contrast to the generic qualities of her name.
My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it’s forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.
Atwood utilized other euphemisms to reflect the utilitarian sensibilities of the governing culture within her story. A short Biblical reading and the subsequent act of fornication imposed upon the handmaidens was called a “ceremony”. The resultant babies, when they were not correctly formed or had some other defect, were called “Unbabies”, and women who could not conceive were called “Unwomen”. Assassinations of the rebellious and disobedient were not called executions, but “Salvaging” and were seen merely as an “unpleasant necessity”. Even the handmaids’ slogan, “From each according to her ability; to each according to his needs” could be seen as a euphemism for the reality of slavery which it strove to mask.

With such words as these, Margaret Atwood made the dystopian hell of The Handmaid’s Tale seem a place of benevolent inconveniences where anyone could grow accustomed. Ironically, in Atwood’s tale where such occasions as public hangings and slavery can be accepted as commonplace, the simple game of “Scrabble” is viewed as a dangerous, forbidden activity.

A Few More Examples

The use of obscure clarity and the three-cushion shot is not limited to Utopian or dystopian literature. However, whether by the use of satire, symbolism, euphemisms, or some other means, the these genres have drawn a long line across history from their works with hidden, or at least partially veiled, agendas. Where Edward Bellamy’s novel Looking Backward caused the formation of small book discussion groups called “Bellamy Groups” across the nation, its indirect attack on the Industrial Age from whence it came brought new attempts at social reform and affected the future for several generations. In a like manner, George Orwell’s book and the movie version of 1984 sent reverberations around the globe for introducing the concept of a futuristic “Big Brother” who is always watching us.

The use of euphemism as a means of creating obscure clarity may also be seen in the smog-choked dystopian Los Angeles of 2019 in Ridley Scott’s 1982 film, Blade Runner. In this film, a class of androids has been created to perform slave labor on remote planets. In some instances these androids are too smart for their own good and become dangerous. However they are not “exterminated”, despite their decidedly human appearance and actions; the term used for their annihilation is that they are simply “retired”. One could only guess if such a euphemism is applied to the “retirement” of human individuals as well.

A Kinder, Gentler, Message?

The self-proclaimed prophets of our modern society stand on street corners within the city. They hold up their cardboard signs and warn us to “repent.” As we cross their paths we duck our heads and hide our eyes, pretending they are not there and never considering their messages. At the most we might throw a dollar in their hat with the small hope that somehow it will make them go away. Such prophets have always been with us. But other prophets approach us on the literary sidewalks. They capture our imaginations with tales of a time to come and the possibilities of the future. These prophets also warn us of our folly, but we listen carefully. We give these prophets of the literary sidewalk our rapt attention because they do not hit us with their messages head on. These prophets shrewdly approach us and spin their tales with an obscure clarity. They tell us of our folly, but soften the blow with a three-cushion shot so we are not offended. For this sensibility, we regard these writers as our best and brightest, the wise sages among us.