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Comparing Othello and Volpone

Similarities in Othello and Volpone

Upon reading Shakespeare’s l604 tragedy, Othello, the Moor of Venice and Jonson’s l606 comedy, Volpone, or The Foxe, a reader will notice both similarities and differences. In both plays, we meet characters of “rare ingenious knavery.” Indeed, Iago, Volpone, and Mosca are uncommonly similar in nature. An elaborate “con game” is practiced in each play through intriguing dramatic inventiveness. However, the focus of Shakespeare’s tragedy is upon a noble and heroic figure; the focus of Jonson’s comedy is upon a monster of depravity, a genius in crime.

Comparisons between these great plays continues to pale when Jonson’s script is held up to scrutiny. Whereas Shakespeare’s seventeenth century work in comedy would turn continually toward soft edges, romance, and the pastoral, mixing both the serious and the humorous, Jonson established a reputation as one of the major social satirists of the English dramatic tradition. In fact, Jonson’s comedies establish the tradition of social comedy on the English stage. In Volpone, although the satire is ultimately moral, its immediate aim is mostly social or legal. The play unmasks the artificial features of respectability, exposing vice and the manipulations of hypocrites. To his credit, Jonson did not altogether excuse the imperceptiveness of the victims in the play. Jonson’s central characters are among the early models of “anti-heroes,” a term generally restricted to characters found in Dostoevski, Sartre, or Camus. The specimens dramatized in Volpone are not merely fools, but money-hungry, lustful, morally despicable knaves. Their names immediately suggest their depravity because they are identified with the world of beasts. Thus, the lawy…

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… Now, though the Fox be punish’d by the laws, / He yet doth hope, there is no suff’ring due, / For any fact which he hath done ‘gainst you; / If there be a censure him; here he doubtful stands. / If not, fare jovially, and clap your hands.”

Works Cited and Consulted

Barish, Jonas A. Ben Jonson: A Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall Inc.: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1963.

Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes. New York: Barnes and Noble, Inc., 1970.

Dessen, Alan C. Jonson’s Moral Comedy. Northwestern University. Press, 1971.

Kermode, Frank. “Othello, the Moor of Venice.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1974.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. No line nos.

Toni Morrison’s Beloved – Identity

Review of “Beloved: A Question of Identity”

In her essay “Beloved: A Question of Identity,” Christina Davis discusses the issue of identity from an historical perspective, a textual perspective and an authorial perspective. She looks at the text in comparison to the slave narrative, explores how the text itself expresses issues of identity and describes Morrison’s choices of authorship and their contribution to identity. Her exploration of the theme of identity calls upon the treatment of self-image, particularly in the context of slavery; and outward image as expressed by naming and other white descriptions of the black characters. Her organization of information is historically sequential, ordering elements as they occurred rather than in the narrative order of the novel.

Davis’ introduction seeks to place the novel in the context of a slave narrative. However, she identifies several departures from the traditional form. Morrison creates a narrative which focuses on the individual rather than the collective. The novel favors the perspective of the oppressed to that of the oppressor. Davis identifies two ways that Morrison accomplishes this perspective. First, she describes not the “horrifying statistics of slavery” but instead seeks to explore “what it felt like” (151). This reorientation of topic is accomplished by taking “the individual out of the mass of statistics” (151). The second major device is the manner in which Morrison has “displaced the tone of the prose from the third person to the first” (151). Davis acknowledges that while the novel is not narrated primarily in the fist person, the main perspective is that of Sethe, who is gifted by Morrison with her own voice.

The first major division of the ess…

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…rison’s authorial choices. The first is “the reclamation of black history” by the characters (155). By giving voices to enslaved characters, Morrison gives “them back their own history as human beings” as well as reminding the reader of that history (155). The second major effect is the fullness of character that results from Morrison’s “mastery of the voices she speaks through” (155). Davis cites the sections of the novel which are delivered in the first person as particularly effective in producing the identities of Sethe, Beloved and Denver, the speakers. She identifies the chapter in which all three speak together as “the symbolic peak of the interaction among the three women and their search for identity” (155). Davis ends by praising the authorial skill of Morrison, as shall I.

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Beloved. New York, Penguin Books USA Inc, 1988.

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