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Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown – Goody Cloyse and Catechetical Ministry

“Young Goodman Brown,” Goody Cloyse and Catechetical Ministry

This essay intends to compare the author’s disparaging slur of Goody Cloyse, Puritan catechism teacher, Deacon Gookin and the minister – all of whom are catechists – in “Young Goodman Brown,” with “In Support of Catechetical Ministry – A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops” from June of 2000.

The influence of Puritan religion, culture and education is a common topic in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works. Growing up, Hawthorne could not escape the influence of Puritan society, not only from residing with his father’s devout Puritan family as a child but also due to his study of his own family history. The first of his ancestors, William Hathorne, is described in Hawthorne’s “The Custom House” as arriving with the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 “with his Bible and his sword” (26). A further connection can also be seen in his more notable ancestor John Hathorne, who exemplified the level of zealousness in Puritanism with his role as persecutor in the Salem Witch Trials. The study of his own family from the establishment of the Bay Colony to the Second Great Awakening of his own time parallels the issues brought forth in “Young Goodman Brown.” In looking into the history of early Puritan society, Hawthorne is able to discuss the merits and consequences of such zeal, especially the Puritan Catechism of John Cotton, and the repercussions of The Salem Witch trials. Hawthorne sets “Young Goodman Brown” into a context of Puritan rigidity and self-doubt to allow his contemporary readers to see the consequences of such a system of belief.

Hawthorne’s tale places the newly wed Puritan Brown in a situation, where he has agreed with an evil character to participate in a coven, a witch’s ceremony, a devil-worship liturgy. The experience he has at this liturgy easily translates into the dream allegory of Hawthorne’s work and allows the author to use Puritan doctrine and the history of Salem to argue the merits and consequences of the belief in man’s total moral depravity. As Benjamin Franklin V states in “Goodman Brown and the Puritan Catechism,” Hawthorne used John Cotton’s Milk for Babes as the education source of Goodman Brown. It was the Puritan belief that man must be instructed to realize his own depravity, and therefore at childhood the education began. The child was taught that he was”conceived in sin, and born in iniquity” (70).

The Seven Soliloquies of Hamlet

Hamlet: The Seven Soliloquies

Hamlet gives us seven soliloquies, all centered on the most important existential themes: the emptiness of existence, suicide, death, suffering, action, a fear of death which puts off the most momentous decisions, the fear of the beyond, the degradation of the flesh, the triumph of vice over virtue, the pride and hypocrisy of human beings, and the difficulty of acting under the weight of a thought ‘which makes cowards of us all’. He offers us also, in the last act, some remarks made in conversation with Horatio in the cemetery which it is suitable to place in the same context as the soliloquies because the themes of life and death in general and his attitude when confronted by his own death have been with him constantly. Four of his seven soliloquies deserve our special attention: ‘O that this too sullied flesh would melt’, ‘O what a rogue and peasant slave am I!’, ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question’, and ‘How all occasions do inform against me’.

Readings of these soliloquies are varied and diverse. However, three remarks are in order:

1. The density of Hamlet’s thought is extraordinary. Not a word is wasted; every syllable and each sound expresses the depth of his reflection and the intensity of his emotion. The spectator cannot but be hypnotized.

2. The language is extremely beautiful. Shakespeare was in love with words. His soliloquies are pieces of pure poetry, written in blank verse, sustained by a rhythm now smooth, now rugged, by a fast or a slow pace, offering us surprises in every line.

3. The soliloquies are in effect the hidden plot of the play because, if one puts them side by side, one notices that the character of Hamlet goes through a development which, in substance, is nothing other than the history of human thinking from the Renaissance to the existentialism of the twentieth century.

The Hamlet of the first soliloquy is an outraged man who, disgusted by his ‘sullied flesh’, can see no outcome to his disgust other than death. To free himself from the grip of his flesh he must put an end to his life. But there is the rub: God, the Everlasting, he tells us, does not allow one to act in this way. God still rules the universe and Hamlet must obey his strictures.

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