Addressing sexual assault in the United States through the lenses of de Goya’s “Disasters of Wars”

A couple posts back, I wrote about the Blanton Museum of Art here on campus, which is home to some really cool temporary and permanent exhibitions. Last semester, Francisco de Goya’s etchings were here on display, and for one of my classes, I wrote a paper using the themes in his etchings to look at sexual assault in the United States today. It’s definitely a pretty long read — but it’s also a subject that needs to be addressed.

(de Goya, F. 1810-1820. Real Academia Calcografía. Etching. Davidson Galleries.)

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I will, my lord; I pray you, pardon me

Suicide is an important motif in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We encounter the contemplation of suicide, and even the act itself (maybe). To understand what the play says about suicide, we’ll look at the two most likely cases of suicide (Ophelia and maybe Gertrude) and a few other instances where Hamlet himself considers suicide.

Throughout the play, Ophelia is portrayed as a obedient and meek young woman, and every single one of her actions seem to be dictated by the men surrounding her, especially her father, Polonius. However, the death of Polonius — the single most influential person in her life and one whom Ophelia is very dependent upon — throws her entire life out of balance. Afterwards, she descends into madness, roaming and singing in the court and handing out flowers to each of the characters. When Gertrude informs us that Ophelia has drowned, she describes how Ophelia was “like a creature native and indued Unto that element: but long it could not be till that her garments, heavy with their drink, pull’d the poor wretch from her melodious lay to muddy death” (iv.vii.179-183). As a woman who had, prior to her father’s death, made no decisions of her own, her suicide represents the first time that she has absolute control over her life. Her choice to not save herself is an outward expression of her inner feelings of depression, loneliness and turmoil.

Likewise, whether Gertrude’s death was a suicide is also widely debated today. For my own panel discussion, I had the question about familial relationships, and believed that Gertrude truly loved Hamlet. After Hamlet informs her to stop sleeping with Claudius because the latter had killed her husband (in the same scene that Polonius is killed), I felt that Gertrude began to look for some opportunity to tell (or show) her son that she did not intentionally  seek to abandon either Hamlet or his father and was willing to help him. Thus, deeming her death a suicide made more sense in this context, as an effort to both save and warn her son no matter the consequences (King Claudius: Gertrude, do not drink. Gertrude: I will, my lord; I pray you, pardon me” (v.ii.290-291)). Additionally, Gertrude’s decision to drink the poisoned cup as an act of defiance and control would parallel the circumstances of Ophelia’s death. Both women, in committing suicide (if we choose to see both deaths as suicides), are exercising their only form of control over their lives.

On the other hand, Hamlet, who frequently contemplates suicide, never actually commits the act. In his famous “To be or not to be” speech, Hamlet asks “who would fardels bear, to grunt and sweat under a weary life, but that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country from whose bourn no traveller returns” (iii.i.76-80). The fear of what comes after death, as well as the fear of possibly not going to Heaven (as suicide was widely viewed as un-Christian) obstructs him from carrying out the act himself, but in this soliloquy, the analysis of the reasons behind suicide show that not only is Hamlet seriously considering suicide at this point himself, but is also considering why some people may not end their lives and rather suffer through it.

While the women who actually commit suicide never once mention it, Hamlet is very outspoken and dramatic about the topic, especially during periods of inactivity in his life. Still, the three share one thing in common: once they find that they lack a purpose in this life, they begin to consider/actually commit suicide. For Ophelia, this was when her known world, centered around Polonius fell apart; Gertrude, when she finally understands what has happened, and what she has done to her deceased husband and her soon-to-be poisoned son; Hamlet, when he was stuck between believing the Ghost/killing his uncle or maintaining his loyalty to the King and Queen.The topic of suicide is heavily intertwined with some of the other topics (such as feminism, madness and tragic flaws), but shakespeare shows that once each of the characters reach this point, the sense of helplessness and worthlessness exceed their fears of the unknown and even the fear of not going to Heaven.

Frighted with False Fire

The Play Scene in 'Hamlet' (Daniel Maclise, 1806-1870)

The Play Scene in ‘Hamlet’ (Daniel Maclise, 1806-1870)

The above oil on canvas was painted by Daniel Maclise, a painter from Ireland, in 1842. Maclise’s work was often focused on literary and historical figures and scenes, and The Playscene in Hamlet (depicted above) is one his many paintings. The original is housed at the Tate Gallery (size: 60 x 108 inches).

Like the name suggests, The Play-scene in Hamlet depicts, well, the play-scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Hamlet and Horatio observe King Claudius’s reaction to the Murder of Gonzago. 

HAMLET: He poisons him i' the garden for's estate. His name's Gonzago: the story is extant, and writ in choice Italian: you shall see anon how the murderer gets the love of Gonzago's wife. 
OPHELIA: The king rises. 
HAMLET: What, frighted with false fire! 
QUEEN GERTRUDE: How fares my lord? 
LORD POLONIUS: Give o'er the play.
KING CLAUDIUS: Give me some light: away! Away!

In the painting, Hamlet is lying on the ground (in a creepy way, with an even creepier look on his face) as he stares intently at King Claudius, as if to look into his very soul. Claudius can no longer look at the play, as it reminds him of his guilt and his murder of his own brother, and a look of guilt and perhaps even remorse crosses his face. Queen Gertrude, who does not know of the murder yet, watches the play (with a relatively neutral look on her face), while Ophelia stares sadly (sympathetically?) at Hamlet and Horatio (at least, I think the one standing behind Ophelia is Horatio?) focuses on the King’s reaction to the play. Everyone else (Polonious, the lords and ladies) are watching the Murder of Gonzago, which is at the center of this piece.

The play itself is ominous, with the the lamp in front casting eerie shadows across the actors. That scene is particularly noteworthy: the murderer (in the play) turns his back to the audience to hide his identity, but the light (the truth) shines on him and reveals his clear features through the shadows on the wall. It’s a clear reminder to Claudius that his actions cannot forever be hidden, that soon, all will know of the atrocious act he committed. Yet, the play certainly isn’t the focus of this scene; rather, we are supposed to look at the facial expressions and details in the specific moment that Maclise captures with his painting. From the looks on each of the important characters’ faces, we see their deepest feelings and secrets; we see into their minds. Just as notable are the  tapestries of Cain and Abel on the walls that allude to the circumstances of King Hamlet’s death. Maclise’s work beautifully commands the emotions across the characters’ faces and their actions, while the intricate details add depth to our understanding of both the painting and of the original work itself.

Hamlet, starring Corambis, Montano and other misspelled names

A couple weeks ago, I examined the differences between the various folios and quartos of Othello. Today, I looked at the first quarto of Hamlet, and wow, I’m surprised scholars gave it a nickname so generous as “The Bad Quarto.”

To begin, the names were an absolute mess. Francisco didn’t even have a name, Voltemand and Cornelius became Voltemar (I kept on reading this as Voldemort) and Cornelia (a girl?). Ophelia’s name was close — Ofelia — but I don’t even know what happened with Polonius, whose name became Corambis. Montano, who I’m pretty sure is the governor of Cyprus in Othello, makes a cameo as Reynaldo, and then Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s names just straight-up were butchered (Rossencraft and Gilderstone).

And that was just the character names…Many of the soliloquies are drastically cut short in the first Quarto, though it’s still possible to understand the story line through the text (which, I assume, was the main goal of those who pirated Shakespeare’s original version). Here’s a look at the same section in the two editions (where Hamlet is planning on how to identify his uncle as guilty).

I have heard that guilty creatures sitting at a play
Hath, by the very cunning of the scene, confessed a murder
Committed long before.This spirit that I have seen may be the devil, And out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such men, Doth seek to damn me. I will have sounder proofs. The play's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King.
Folger Library Text:
Hum, I have heard That guilty creatures sitting at a play Have, by the very cunning of the scene, Been struck so to the soul that presently They have proclaimed their malefactions. For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak With most miraculous organ. I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks. I’ll tent him to the quick. If he do blench, I know my course. The spirit that I have seen May be the devil, and the devil hath power T' assume a pleasing shape. Yea, and perhaps Out of my weakness and my melancholy, As he is very potent with such spirits, Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds More relative than this. The play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.

Hamlet’s plan to have the players act out “The Murder of Gonzago” is much more elaborate, planned out and well-thought in the 2nd version, as he decides how he will employ the actors and how he will watch for Claudius’ reaction. These ideas are much more developed than those in the first version, where the paragraph length is cut in half. Certainly, it’s possible to catch the gist of Hamlet’s plan in the former version, but it’s only in the second that we sees these ideas form as a result of Hamlet’s thought-process and gives depth to his actions and decisions. These soliloquies are particularly important as they give us insight into the character’s mind, but when they’re cut –as they are in the bad quarto, we no longer have a thought-provoking and dark play, but rather just another murder mystery.

Still, the first quarto is pretty funny to read, especially after you’ve actually read Shakespeare’s Hamlet. For a good laugh, I’d definitely recommend it. For literary value (other than comparison to the other versions of the text), you’ll have to go elsewhere.


Five variations on “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice”

The archive at University of Victoria hosts high-resolution scans of antiquated printings of Shakespeare’s works. Since we’re currently studying Othello, I looked at several versions of that particular play (First Folio, Second Folio, Third Folio, Fourth Folio and Quarto 1). The page that I chose to look at in-depth included Act 3, scenes 1, 2 and the beginning of section 3.

First Folio: When I first scanned the page, my brain translated the stage directions (Enter Caffio, Muffitians, and Clowns) as Enter Coffee, Muffins, and Clowns. This version isn’t particularly different from my version other than the s-character looking to similar to the f-character, and certain words or punctuations being used differently. Occasionally, there’s an extra ‘e’ at the end of certain words (winde, paines, etc.) or in the middle of other words (heere, seeme). Also, the ‘u’ and ‘v’ are apparently flipped (flauor and vnto).

Second Folio: This edition is much easier to read, and the ‘u’s and ‘v’s aren’t flipped! Unfortunately, the f’s still looks like s’s, but other than that, there wasn’t anything drastic that changed between the first and second folio. Emilia is also spelled with that weird-looking AE character and abbreviated as AEmil.

Third Folio: Likewise, the Third Folio also isn’t very different from the other two. Certainly, the copy looks much cleaner, the sections are clearly separated, and as always, there are differentiations in spellings (and the y’s have been replaced in i’s).

Fourth Folio: This final folio is by far the easier to read, both in that the page was much neater and the text was (relatively) easier to comprehend (Like, if I had read the First Folio of Othello without having read my own version first, I doubt I would have any idea what was going on).

Quarto 1: Apparently the Quarto isn’t divided in acts and sections? Also, as mentioned before, the Quarto is the only version that out of these five that includes religious oaths (Zounds, Marry). And in the right-hand corner of every page was one word that, if you aren’t careful, is very easy to overlook. I have no idea what it’s doing there or why just that one word. Then, there’s an H also just there, at the bottom of the page, by itself? I’ve heard that some Quartos have gross translations of Othello, but the few pages I read didn’t seem that different, other than the fact that it just seemed, in terms of format, all over the place.

For she had eyes and chose me

Reading Shakespeare is rough, to say the least, but today I’ll be No-Fear Shakespeare for this section of Act I, Scene II of Othello.

Enter BRABANTIO, RODERIGO, and OFFICERS with torches and weapons.
OTHELLO. Holla! stand there!
RODERIGO. Signior, it is the Moor.
BRABANTIO. Down with him, thief! They draw on both sides.
IAGO. You, Roderigo! Come, sir, I am for you.
OTHELLO. Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them. Good signior, you shall more command with years Than with your weapons.
BRABANTIO. O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow’d my daughter? Damn’d as thou art, thou hast enchanted her; For I’ll refer me to all things of sense, If she in chains of magic were not bound, Whether a maid so tender, fair and happy, So opposite to marriage that she shunned The wealthy curled darlings of our nation, Would ever have, to incur a general mock, Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight. Judge me the world, if ’tis not gross in sense That thou hast practiced on her with foul charms, Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals That weaken motion: I’ll have’t disputed on; ’Tis probable and palpable to thinking. I therefore apprehend and do attach thee For an abuser of the world, a practicer Of arts inhibited and out of warrant. Lay hold upon him: if he do resist, Subdue him at his peril.
OTHELLO. Hold your hands, Both you of my inclining, and the rest: Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it Without a prompter. Where will you that I go To answer this your charge?
BRABANTIO. To prison, till fit time Of law and course of direct session Call thee to answer.
OTHELLO. What if I do obey? How may the duke be therewith satisfied, Whose messengers are here about my side, Upon some present business of the state To bring me to him?
FIRST OFFICER. ’Tis true, most worthy signior; The duke’s in council and your noble self, I am sure, is sent for.
BRABANTIO. How! the duke in council! In this time of the night! Bring him away: Mine’s not an idle cause: the duke himself, Or any of my brothers of the state, Cannot but feel this wrong as ’twere their own; For if such actions may have passage free, Bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be.


So to begin, here are the words and phrases that I wasn’t quite sure about the definition.

1) Guardage: guardianship
2) Gross in sense: obvious
3) Weaken motion: interfere with the senses
4) Do attach thee: arrest you
5) Direct session: court trial


After Rodrigo and Iago inform Brabantio that his daughter, Desdemona, has run away to elope with Othello, a Moor, Brabantio confronts Othello about his missing daughter and accuses him of using witchcraft to steal his innocent daughter away from him. Ordering his men to arrest Othello and send him to jail, Brabantio is displeased to learn that the Duke had summoned Othello to discuss matters of the state with him. The group proceed to the council hall, where Brabantio plans to plead his case with the Duke.


Othello responds to the sudden appearance of Brabantio and his men with drawn swords by asking them to “Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them.” Despite being a great warrior, this reaction portrays Othello as calm and poised, a sharp contrast against the raging Venetians who claim that Othello is a monster and an evil Moor. Brabantio persuades himself that Othello has “enchanted” his daughter with “drugs and minerals”; the element of supernatural depicts just how against the idea of his daughter leaving him for a Moor Brabantio is, so much that he would accuse Othello of witchcraft  and forget his common sense. After learning that the Duke has summoned Othello to appear before the council, Brabantio goes as well, so entrenched in his belief that Othello’s and Desdemona’s marriage is unholy and bizarre that he claims that “if such actions may have passage free, Bond-slaves and pagans shall our statesmen be.” That Brabantio would compare his councilmen to pagans and bond-slaves if they agreed to the marriage demonstrates his desperation and absolute disbelief of his daughter’s actions.



The curtains aren’t blue

John Gardner’s Grendel, which narrates the life of the monster from Beowulf from a first-person point-of-view, is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read: Gardner intricately weaves together philosophy and astronomy to create an engaging and thoughtful novel.

Decades ago, a teacher and three of her students sent Gardner their essays on his novel, and he responded with this sassy letter. Certainly, this letter contains way too many gems for me to cover in just two paragraphs, so I’ll just focus on the two things Gardner touched on that stood out the most to me (+ a little comment about the actual Beowulf epic).

(So here’s the little comment about Beowulf: It’s really interesting that Gardner hints at Beowulf begin pessimistic. Certainly, I’ve only read a section of a mediocre translation, but the way I perceived it, Beowulf was meant to laud the accomplishments of the Anglo-Saxon culture and Beowulf himself was the “perfect human” that everyone should strive to be like (at least, isn’t that what an epic is supposed to be?) Gardner suggests that in Beowulf, the hero “does everything he can to be a perfect hero, and in the end he’s killed, for reasons he doesn’t understand, dies deluded –thinking he has saved his people when in fact the treasure he’s captured is worthless…” I wonder if the scopes who first told Beowulf meant that, but either way, Gardner’s point is very much valid.)

Anyways, on the rest of his letter. The three students who wrote to Gardner apparently all came to the conclusion that his opinions on life echoed that of the dragon (and that he was advocating for only one philosophy of life). But Gardner (the author) disagrees, saying that a “good writer is indeed a careful philosopher; but his method is not to argue for a single position—but rather to explore, with all the care and wisdom he’s capable of mustering, the various implications, contributing factors, etc., that must be considered when any serious philosophical question is raised.” Rather, the author must develop the gift of mimicry and become able to present various points of view on any given question.”  Gardner does exactly that: in twelve chapters, he explores the major perspectives on the biggest question: what is the purpose and meaning of our lives?

Grendel, with his man-eating lifestyle and absolutely terrifying thoughts (especially later in the novel), still serves as a foil against society and its corruption — the making up of noble (or ignoble, as Gardner notes) values that forces Grendel to”give up all hope and faith, becoming a mere enemy, a mere brute.” But neither is the novel a statement about society’s corruption; rather, anything can corrupt, including isolation. And then he adds, “In the long run, I hope, an imperfect society is better than a solitary monster.”

After reading this letter, I’m in awe. A lot of times, I’m guilty of this:







But dang. Gardner is a pure genius, and he wants us to know it (it being that his novel is a masterpiece, that he’s a genius, and that everything in Grendel is EVERYTHING).

Most sweet it is with unuplifted eyes

My sonnet project was about the poem The World Is Too Much With Us, by Williams Wordsworth, and I’ve found his poetry to be absolutely wonderful. So of course, when I checked my email this morning and found this little jewel as the poem-of-the day, I got really happy (plus it’s a sonnet!). Here you go:

Most Sweet It Is With Unuplifted Eyes

Most sweet it is with unuplifted eyes
To pace the ground, if path be there or none,
While a fair region round the traveller lies
Which he forbears again to look upon;
Pleased rather with some soft ideal scene,
The work of Fancy, or some happy tone
Of meditation, slipping in between
The beauty coming and the beauty gone.

If Thought and Love desert us from that day,
Let us break off all commerce with the Muse:
With Thought and Love companions of our way,
Whate’er the senses take or may refuse,
The Mind’s internal heaven shall shed her dews
Of inspiration on the humblest lay.

With 14 lines and mostly iambic pentameter, the poem is obviously a sonnet, in this case, a Petrarchan sonnet, as it follows the ABAB CDCD EFEFFE. Like most of Wordsworth’s poetry, this poem explores man’s relationships with nature, as well as the desire to understand the human mind and soul and highlights shift from rationalism to viewing the world through the lenses of emotions, nature and the imagination, characteristic of the Romantic Period. The only instances were iambic pentameter breaks are in lines 10 and 13. In line 13, “let us” is a trochee, and just so happens to break iambic pentameter before Wordsworth calls for us to “break off commerce with the muse.” Line 13, which has 11 syllables, reflects Wordsworth’s idea that the mind is not to be confined by facts and reality, or in this case, the common 10-syllable meter characteristic of a sonnet.

The poem begins with a traveller pacing around a path, looking at the fair, green region surrounding him. As he looks again at the same spot, his imagination recreates the scene as “soft [and] ideal.” With unuplifted eyes, the speaker is able to notice that which is around him — nature — and not focus on the callings of greed and desire, and draw inspiration from that. The line between reality and illusion becomes blurred, with “beauty coming and beauty going.” It is this tone of wonder and serenity that defines the first octet of the poem, where the poet recognizes the greatness of the mind and soul combined with emotions and sense.

The volta occurs betweens 8 and 9, and the second sestet takes on a more decisive tone as the poet vows to “break off all commerce with the Muse” should it ever occur that thought and love — among the two most integral ideas to the Romantic-era individual — leave them, and thus, cause them to lose their inspiration and purpose in life. For without those two elements, the outside world lacks luster, and no longer contains the appeal for him to either reflect or analyze this life. Wordsworth lauds the beauty inherent within nature, and stresses the importance of the relationships between imagination, emotions and nature with the soul.