Thursday, October 11, 2007

Death of a Salesman

Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller (1915 - )

Type of Work:
Dramatic play

New York and Boston; 1949

Principal Characters
Willy Loman, a disgruntled traveling salesman
Linda, his wife
Biff, Willy's favorite and most athletic son
Happy, another son

As a flute melody plays, Willy Loman returns to his home in Brooklyn one night, exhausted from a failed sales trip. His wife, Linda, tries to persuade him to ask his boss, Howard Wagner, to let him work in New York so that he won’t have to travel. Willy says that he will talk to Howard the next day. Willy complains that Biff, his older son who has come back home to visit, has yet to make something of himself. Linda scolds Willy for being so critical, and Willy goes to the kitchen for a snack.
As Willy talks to himself in the kitchen, Biff and his younger brother, Happy, who is also visiting, reminisce about their adolescence and discuss their father’s babbling, which often includes criticism of Biff’s failure to live up to Willy’s expectations. As Biff and Happy, dissatisfied with their lives, fantasize about buying a ranch out West, Willy becomes immersed in a daydream. He praises his sons, now younger, who are washing his car. The young Biff, a high school football star, and the young Happy appear. They interact affectionately with their father, who has just returned from a business trip. Willy confides in Biff and Happy that he is going to open his own business one day, bigger than that owned by his neighbor, Charley. Charley’s son, Bernard, enters looking for Biff, who must study for math class in order to avoid failing. Willy points out to his sons that although Bernard is smart, he is not “well liked,” which will hurt him in the long run.

A younger Linda enters, and the boys leave to do some chores. Willy boasts of a phenomenally successful sales trip, but Linda coaxes him into revealing that his trip was actually only meagerly successful. Willy complains that he soon won’t be able to make all of the payments on their appliances and car. He complains that people don’t like him and that he’s not good at his job. As Linda consoles him, he hears the laughter of his mistress. He approaches The Woman, who is still laughing, and engages in another reminiscent daydream. Willy and The Woman flirt, and she thanks him for giving him stockings.

The Woman disappears, and Willy fades back into his prior daydream, in the kitchen. Linda, now mending stockings, reassures him. He scolds her mending and orders her to throw the stockings out. Bernard bursts in, again looking for Biff. Linda reminds Willy that Biff has to return a football that he stole, and she adds that Biff is too rough with the neighborhood girls. Willy hears The Woman laugh and explodes at Bernard and Linda. Both leave, and though the daydream ends, Willy continues to mutter to himself. The older Happy comes downstairs and tries to quiet Willy. Agitated, Willy shouts his regret about not going to Alaska with his brother, Ben, who eventually found a diamond mine in Africa and became rich. Charley, having heard the commotion, enters. Happy goes off to bed, and Willy and Charley begin to play cards. Charley offers Willy a job, but Willy, insulted, refuses it. As they argue, Willy imagines that Ben enters. Willy accidentally calls Charley Ben. Ben inspects Willy’s house and tells him that he has to catch a train soon to look at properties in Alaska. As Willy talks to Ben about the prospect of going to Alaska, Charley, seeing no one there, gets confused and questions Willy. Willy yells at Charley, who leaves. The younger Linda enters and Ben meets her. Willy asks Ben impatiently about his life. Ben recounts his travels and talks about their father. As Ben is about to leave, Willy daydreams further, and Charley and Bernard rush in to tell him that Biff and Happy are stealing lumber. Although Ben eventually leaves, Willy continues to talk to him.

Back in the present, the older Linda enters to find Willy outside. Biff and Happy come downstairs and discuss Willy’s condition with their mother. Linda scolds Biff for judging Willy harshly. Biff tells her that he knows Willy is a fake, but he refuses to elaborate. Linda mentions that Willy has tried to commit suicide. Happy grows angry and rebukes Biff for his failure in the business world. Willy enters and yells at Biff. Happy intervenes and eventually proposes that he and Biff go into the sporting goods business together. Willy immediately brightens and gives Biff a host of tips about asking for a loan from one of Biff’s old employers, Bill Oliver. After more arguing and reconciliation, everyone finally goes to bed.

Act II opens with Willy enjoying the breakfast that Linda has made for him. Willy ponders the bright-seeming future before getting angry again about his expensive appliances. Linda informs Willy that Biff and Happy are taking him out to dinner that night. Excited, Willy announces that he is going to make Howard Wagner give him a New York job. The phone rings, and Linda chats with Biff, reminding him to be nice to his father at the restaurant that night.

As the lights fade on Linda, they come up on Howard playing with a wire recorder in his office. Willy tries to broach the subject of working in New York, but Howard interrupts him and makes him listen to his kids and wife on the wire recorder. When Willy finally gets a word in, Howard rejects his plea. Willy launches into a lengthy recalling of how a legendary salesman named Dave Singleman inspired him to go into sales. Howard leaves and Willy gets angry. Howard soon re-enters and tells Willy to take some time off. Howard leaves and Ben enters, inviting Willy to join him in Alaska. The younger Linda enters and reminds Willy of his sons and job. The young Biff enters, and Willy praises Biff’s prospects and the fact that he is well liked.
Ben leaves and Bernard rushes in, eagerly awaiting Biff’s big football game. Willy speaks optimistically to Biff about the game. Charley enters and teases Willy about the game. As Willy chases Charley off, the lights rise on a different part of the stage. Willy continues yelling from offstage, and Jenny, Charley’s secretary, asks a grown-up Bernard to quiet him down. Willy enters and prattles on about a “very big deal” that Biff is working on. Daunted by Bernard’s success (he mentions to Willy that he is going to Washington to fight a case), Willy asks Bernard why Biff turned out to be such a failure. Bernard asks Willy what happened in Boston that made Biff decide not to go to summer school. Willy defensively tells Bernard not to blame him.
Charley enters and sees Bernard off. When Willy asks for more money than Charley usually loans him, Charley again offers Willy a job. Willy again refuses and eventually tells Charley that he was fired. Charley scolds Willy for always needing to be liked and angrily gives him the money. Calling Charley his only friend, Willy exits on the verge of tears.

At Frank’s Chop House, Happy helps Stanley, a waiter, prepare a table. They ogle and chat up a girl, Miss Forsythe, who enters the restaurant. Biff enters, and Happy introduces him to Miss Forsythe, continuing to flirt with her. Miss Forsythe, a call girl, leaves to telephone another call girl (at Happy’s request), and Biff spills out that he waited six hours for Bill Oliver and Oliver didn’t even recognize him. Upset at his father’s unrelenting misconception that he, Biff, was a salesman for Oliver, Biff plans to relieve Willy of his illusions. Willy enters, and Biff tries gently, at first, to tell him what happened at Oliver’s office. Willy blurts out that he was fired. Stunned, Biff again tries to let Willy down easily. Happy cuts in with remarks suggesting Biff’s success, and Willy eagerly awaits the good news.
Biff finally explodes at Willy for being unwilling to listen. The young Bernard runs in shouting for Linda, and Biff, Happy, and Willy start to argue. As Biff explains what happened, their conversation recedes into the background. The young Bernard tells Linda that Biff failed math. The restaurant conversation comes back into focus and Willy criticizes Biff for failing math. Willy then hears the voice of the hotel operator in Boston and shouts that he is not in his room. Biff scrambles to quiet Willy and claims that Oliver is talking to his partner about giving Biff the money. Willy’s renewed interest and probing questions irk Biff more, and he screams at Willy. Willy hears The Woman laugh and he shouts back at Biff, hitting him and staggering. Miss Forsythe enters with another call girl, Letta. Biff helps Willy to the washroom and, finding Happy flirting with the girls, argues with him about Willy. Biff storms out, and Happy follows with the girls.

Willy and The Woman enter, dressing themselves and flirting. The door knocks and Willy hurries The Woman into the bathroom. Willy answers the door; the young Biff enters and tells Willy that he failed math. Willy tries to usher him out of the room, but Biff imitates his math teacher’s lisp, which elicits laughter from Willy and The Woman. Willy tries to cover up his indiscretion, but Biff refuses to believe his stories and storms out, dejected, calling Willy a “phony little fake.” Back in the restaurant, Stanley helps Willy up. Willy asks him where he can find a seed store. Stanley gives him directions to one, and Willy hurries off.

The light comes up on the Loman kitchen, where Happy enters looking for Willy. He moves into the living room and sees Linda. Biff comes inside and Linda scolds the boys and slaps away the flowers in Happy’s hand. She yells at them for abandoning Willy. Happy attempts to appease her, but Biff goes in search of Willy. He finds Willy planting seeds in the garden with a flashlight. Willy is consulting Ben about a $20,000 proposition. Biff approaches him to say goodbye and tries to bring him inside. Willy moves into the house, followed by Biff, and becomes angry again about Biff’s failure. Happy tries to calm Biff, but Biff and Willy erupt in fury at each other. Biff starts to sob, which touches Willy. Everyone goes to bed except Willy, who renews his conversation with Ben, elated at how great Biff will be with $20,000 of insurance money. Linda soon calls out for Willy but gets no response. Biff and Happy listen as well. They hear Willy’s car speed away.

In the requiem, Linda and Happy stand in shock after Willy’s poorly attended funeral. Biff states that Willy had the wrong dreams. Charley defends Willy as a victim of his profession. Ready to leave, Biff invites Happy to go back out West with him. Happy declares that he will stick it out in New York to validate Willy’s death. Linda asks Willy for forgiveness for being unable to cry. She begins to sob, repeating “We’re free. . . .” All exit, and the flute melody is heard as the curtain falls.


To be discussed to the class by Santander's group on Wednesday. (Oct. 17, 2007)


by Euripides


Medea - Protagonist of the play, Medea's homeland is Colchis, an island in the Black Sea, which the Greeks considered the edge of the earth--a territory of barbarians. A sorceress and a princess, she used her powers and influence to help Jason secure the Golden Fleece; then, having fallen in love with him, she fled her country and family to live with Jason in Iolcus, his own home. During the escape across the Mediterranean, she killed her brother and dumped him overboard, so that her pursuers would have to slow down and bury him. While in Iolcus, she again used her devilish cleverness to manipulate the daughters of the local king and rival, Pelias, into murdering their own father. Exiled as murderers, Jason and Medea settled in Corinth, the setting of Euripides' play, where they established a family of two children and gained a favorable reputation. All this precedes the action of the play, which opens with Jason having divorced Medea and taken up with a new family. The play charts Medea's emotional transformation, a progression from suicidal despair to sadistic fury. She eventually avenges Jason's betrayal with a series of murders, concluding with the deaths of her own children. Famously, the pleasure of watching Jason suffer their loss outweighed her own remorse at killing them.
Jason - Jason can be considered the play's villain, though his evil stems more from weakness than strength. A former adventurer, he abandons his wife, Medea, in order to marry Glauce, the beautiful young daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. Hoping to advance his station through this second marriage, he only fuels Medea to a revenge that includes the deaths of his new bride, her father, and his children. Jason's tactless self-interest and whiny rationalizations of his own actions make him a weak, unsympathetic character.

Children - The offspring of Jason and Medea, the children are presented as naïve and oblivious to the intrigue that surrounds them. Medea uses them as pawns in the murder of Glauce and Creon, and then kills them in the play's culminating horror. Their innocent deaths provide the greatest element of pathos--the tragic emotion of pity--in the play.

Chorus - Composed of the women of Corinth, the chorus chiefly serves as a commentator to the action, although it occasionally engages directly in the dialogue. The chorus members fully sympathize with Medea's plight, excepting her eventual decision to murder her own children.

Creon - The King of Corinth, Creon banishes Medea from the city. Although a minor character, Creon's suicidal embrace of his dying daughter provides one of the play's most dramatic moments, and his sentence against Medea lends an urgency to her plans for revenge.

Glauce - Daughter of Creon, Glauce is the young, beautiful princess for whom Jason abandons Medea. Her acceptance of the poisoned coronet and dress as "gifts" leads to the first murder of the play. Although she never utters a word, Glauce's presence is constantly felt as an object of Medea's jealousy. (Glauce is also referred to as Creusa.)

Aegeus - The King of Athens, Aegeus passes through Corinth after having visited the Oracle at Delphi, where he sought a cure for his sterility. Medea offers him some fertility-inducing drugs in exchange for sanctuary in Athens. His appearance marks a turning point in the play, for Medea moves from being a passive victim to an aggressor after she secures his promise of sanctuary.

Messenger - The messenger appears only once in the play--he relates in gruesome, vivid detail the death scenes of Glauce and Creon, which occur offstage.

Nurse - Caretaker of the house, the nurse of the children serves as Medea's confidant. Her presence is mainly felt in the play's opening lament and in a few speeches addressing diverse subjects not entirely related to the action of the play.

Tutor - A very minor character, the tutor of the children mainly acts as a messenger, as well as the person responsible for shuffling the children around from place to place.

Short Summary
Greek audiences would have known the story of the ill-fated marriage between Jason, hero of the Golden Fleece, and Medea, barbarian witch and princess of Colchis. The modern reader, to fully understand the events of Medea, needs to be familiar with the legends and myths on which the play is based.
Medea was of a people at the far edge of the Black Sea; for the Greeks of Euripides' time, this was the edge of the known world. She was a powerful sorceress, princess of Colchis, and a granddaughter of the sun god Helias. Jason, a great Greek hero and captain of the Argonauts, led his crew to Colchis in search of the Golden Fleece. King Aeetes, lord of Colchis and Medea's father, kept the Fleece under guard. A sorcerer himself, he was a formidable opponent. This legend takes place quite early in the chronology of Greek myth. The story is set after the ascent of Zeus, King of the gods, but is still near the beginning of his reign; Helias, the ancient sun god before Apollo's coming, is Medea's grandfather. Jason's voyage with the Argonauts predates the Trojan War, and represents the first naval assault by the Greeks against an Eastern people.

The traps set by Aeetes made the Golden Fleece all but impossible to obtain. By Medea's aid, Jason overcame these obstacles, and Medea herself killed the giant serpent that guarded the Fleece. Then, to buy time during their escape, Medea killed her own brother and tossed the pieces of his corpse behind the Argo as they sailed for Greece. Her father, grief-stricken by his son's death and his daughter's treachery, had to slow his pursuit of the Argo so he could collect the pieces of his son's body for burial.

Medea and Jason returned to his hereditary kingdom of Iolcus. Jason's father had died, and his uncle Pelias sat, without right, on the throne. Medea, to help Jason, convinced Pelias' daughters that she knew a way to restore the old king's youth. He would have to be killed, cut into pieces, and then put together and restored to youth by Medea's magic. The unwitting daughters did as Medea asked, but the sorceress then explained that she couldn't really bring Pelias back to life. Rather than win Jason his throne, this move forced Jason, Medea, and their children into exile. Finally, they settled in Corinth, where Jason eventually took a new bride.

The action of the play begins here, soon after Medea learns of Jason's treachery.
A Nurse enters, speaking of the sorrows facing Medea's family. She is joined by the Tutor and the children; they discuss Jason's betrayal of Medea. The Nurse fears for everyone's safety: she knows the violence of Medea's heart. The Tutor brings the children back into the house. The Chorus of Corinthian women enters, full of sympathy for Medea. They ask the Nurse to bring Medea out so that they might comfort her; the unfortunate woman's cries can be heard even outside the house. The Nurse complies. Medea emerges from her home, bewailing the harshness with which Fate handles women. She announces her intention to seek revenge. She asks the Chorus, as follow women, to aid her by keeping silent. The Chorus vows.

Creon (not to be confused with the Creon of Sophocles' Theban cycle), king of Corinth and Jason's new father-in-law, enters and tells Medea that she is banished. She and her children must leave Corinth immediately. Medea begs for mercy, and she is granted a reprieve of one day. The old king leaves, and Medea tells the Chorus that one day is all she needs to get her revenge.

Jason enters, condescending and smug. He scolds Medea for her loose tongue, telling her that her exile is her own fault. Husband and wife bicker bitterly, Medea accusing Jason of cowardice, reminding him of all that she has done for him, and condemning him for his faithlessness. Jason rationalizes all of his actions, with neatly enumerated arguments. Although he seems to have convinced himself, to most audience members Jason comes off as smug and spineless. He offers Medea money and aid in her exile, but she proudly refuses. Jason exits.

Aegeus, king of Athens and old friend of Medea's, enters. Aegeus is childless. Medea tells him of her problems, and asks for safe haven in Athens. She offers to help him to have a child; she has thorough knowledge of drugs and medicines. Aegeus eagerly agrees. If Medea can reach Athens, he will protect her. Medea makes the old king vow by all the gods.

With her security certain, Medea tells the Chorus of her plans. She will kill Jason's new bride and father-in-law by the aid of poisoned gifts. To make her revenge complete, she will kill her children to wound Jason and to protect them from counter-revenge by Creon's allies and friends. Many scholars now believe that the murder of Medea's children was Euripides' addition to the myth; in older versions, the children were killed by Creon's friends in revenge for the death of the king and princess. The Chorus begs Medea to reconsider these plans, but Medea insists that her revenge must be complete.

Jason enters again, and Medea adapts a conciliatory tone. She begs him to allow the children to stay in Corinth. She also has the children bring gifts to the Corinthian princess. Jason is pleased by this change of heart.

The Tutor soon returns with the children, telling Medea that the gifts have been received. Medea then waits anxiously for news from the palace. She speaks lovingly to her children, in a scene that is both moving and chilling, even as she steels herself so that she can kill them. She has a moment of hesitation, but she overcomes it. There is no room for compromise.

A messenger comes bringing the awaited news. The poisoned dress and diadem have worked: the princess is dead. When Creon saw his daughter's corpse, he embraced her body. The poison then worked against him. The deaths were brutal and terrifying. Both daughter and father died in excruciating pain, and the bodies were barely recognizable.

Medea now prepares to kill her children. She rushes into the house with a shriek. We hear the children's screams from inside the house; the Chorus considers interfering, but in the end does nothing.
Jason re-enters with soldiers. He fears for the children's safety, because he knows Creon's friends will seek revenge; he has come to take the children under guard. The Chorus sorrowfully informs Jason that his children are dead. Jason now orders his guards to break the doors down, so that he can take his revenge against his wife for these atrocities.

Medea appears above the palace, in a chariot drawn by dragons. She has the children's corpses with her. She mocks Jason pitilessly, foretelling an embarrassing death for him; she also refuses to give him the bodies. Jason bickers with his wife one last time, each blaming the other for what has happened. There is nothing Jason can do; with the aid of her chariot, Medea will escape to Athens. The Chorus closes the play, musing on the terrible unpredictability of fate.


To be discussed to the class by Ayuno's group on MOnday, (Oct. 15, 2007)


Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
by William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Type of Work:
Tragic drama
Elsinore, Denmark; c. 1200
Principal Characters
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and son of the former king The Ghost, Hamlet's dead father
Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, and Queen of Denmark
Claudius, Hamlet's uncle and new stepfather, and now, King of Denmark
Polonius, Claudius'chief counselor
Laertes, Polonius' son
Ophelia, Polonius' obedient daughter
Horatio, Hamlet's faithful friend
Story Overview

Prince Hamlet bitterly opposed the marriage of his mother, Gertrude, to Claudius, her own brother-in-law, so soon after her husband's death. Moreover, Hamlet had a strange suspicion that the new king - his stepfather and former uncle - had somehow plotted his father's mysterious demise, and he refused to cease mourning his natural father, now two months dead.

As Hamlet languished in resentfulness, he was approached by his close friend Horatio, who revealed that for three nights now castle guards had seen the former king stalking the parapets as a ghost. He persuaded the prince that his father must have some message of importance to impart, and thus Hamlet should wait with him that night for the ghost to appear again.

The bloody apparition was indeed the image of Hamiet's father. In horror, the son listened with Horatio as the dead king described how his brother Claudius had seduced Gertrude, and how the two of them together had arranged for his murder, while claiming that a serpent had injected the fatal poison.

Hamlet was appalled - though not entirely surprised - at this revelation. But he was even more shaken when the ghost made a desperate plea: he ordered Hamlet to avenge his death by killing Claudius, but cautioned that Gertrude must be spared; heaven alone should punish her for her sins.

Now, Hamlet considered himself an intellectual, not a soldier or a man of action. This charge to exact revenge posed a real dilemma in the prince's mind. He swore Horatio to secrecy concerning the ghost and continued for the next few days to fret on what he must do.

Filled with suppressed anger toward both his mother and Claudius, and torn between doing his duty in honor and carrying out a most distasteful and bloody task, Hamlet began to act more and more erratic. Ophelia, his lady friend and the daughter of the new king's most trusted counselor, Polonius, reported Hamlet's eccentric behavior to her father. Polonius insisted that Hamlet had become demented, and cautioned Ophelia to keep her distance. He then reported Hamlet's bizarre turn to the king and queen.

Perceiving Hamlet as a possible threat to the throne, Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius hired two dull-witted courtiers, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on the prince, to learn whether he in fact coveted their power or was merely mad. But Hamlet, within minutes, recognized the charade and the motives behind it, and caustically mockcd them. And shortly, it seemed to Hamlet that everyone - including Ophelia was a spy and an informant for King Claudius and Queen Gertrude.

By now the prince was dashed by doubts and worries. He began to wonder if his father's ghost had really appeared; maybe it had been a vision from the devil instead. After all, the thought of murdering Claudius, vile and hated though he was, still repelled Hamlet. But soon he struck upon an idea: a company of traveling actors visited Elsinore, and Hamlet persuaded them to perform a murder scene that was actually a reenactment of the death of the old king. He was sure that if Claudius and Gertrude had in fact killed his father, their guilt would play on their faces and show in their actions.

The play proceeded. Sure enough, Claudius became so unnerved both by the drama and by Hamlet's sly, taunting comments, that he stormed from the performance, with Gertrude close behind.

Gertrude immediately sent for her insolent son. When he visited her in her room to discuss the matter, Polonius was hidden behind a curtain, listening. Soon the exchange between mother and son grew more heated and violent. When Polonius cried out for the guards, Hamlet, thinking he was Claudius, stabbed through the curtain and killed him. Amid this confusion, the ghost of Hamlet's father once more appeared (invisible to Gertrude) and again reminded his son of his original commission: to kill Claudius.

With renewed determination, Hamlet gripped his dagger and made for Claudius'bedchamber. But when he entered the room, prepared at last to do the deed, he found Claudius praying. This undid the prince's resolve; be could not slay this man while in the posture of supplication to God - a prayerful soul, he reasoned, would be swept straight to heaven, and Claudius deserved nothing higher than hell. So, the prince once again delayed his revenge.

Now Claudius, seeing the danger he was in, ordered that Hamlet be hurried off to England on the next possible ship. Again, Rozencrantz and Guildenstern were commissioned to carry out this errand, which secretly included orders for the murder of the prince on his arrival.

Several days before Hamlet was taken aboard ship, he witnessed a conquering Norwegian army marching past enroute to a distant battle. Their leader-captain was young Fortinbras, whose father had once lost many skirmishes and much property to Hamlet's own father. In harmony with his threats to invade Denmark to avenge these losses, Fortinbras, "a delicate and tender prince," was now dutifully acting on his father's wishes. Hamlet felt ashamed that he lacked equal willpower and character in response to filial duty.

As Hamlet was departing for England, Laertes, Polonius' hot-tempered son, arrived from Paris, seeking his own revenge. Enraged that Ophelia, his own sister, would allow Hamlet to escape unpunished, he lashed into her. Ophelia, now rejected by her banished lover and driven to madness by feelings of guilt borrowed from an embittered brother, drowned herself.

Hamlet, sensing a plot against his life, had altered his guards' orders: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, not he, were killed by assassins on touching English soil. The prince sent word back to Denmark that he had been captured by pirates and would soon be returning to his home.

Claudius was dismayed to learn that his plans to do away with his pesky stepson had gone awry. So, together with Lacrtes, he hatched a new plan: Laertes would challenge Hamlet to a duel and kill him with a poison-tipped foil. If the fencing match failed to do the trick, a poison spiked drink would be in easy reach of the dueler. One way or another, meddling Prince Hamlet would be no more.

Upon Hamlet's return, he and Horatio stood in a churchyard, discussing the prince's perilous journey. In the distance they spied a funeral procession. The two concealed themselves and looked on at the passage of Ophelia's funeral train, led by Laertes, pompously bewailing his dead sister. Unable to endure such a false and pretentious display, Hamlet leapt out of hiding and lunged toward Laertes. Both men were restrained, but not until after the challenge to duel was made - and accepted.

To diminish suspicion that he was in any way involved with the plot, King Claudius bet heavily on the practiced swordsman Hamlet. Then, according to plan, poison was dripped onto Laertes' rapier and into the convenient cup.

But things soon began to miscarry. First the unsuspecting Gertrude raised and drank from the poison-laced cup in a toast to her son. In the contest that followed, Laertes wounded Hamlet, and Hamlet in turn fatally pierced Laertes. Then, as the queen fell to the ground crying, "The drink, the drink! I am poison'd!" Hamlet demanded that the treachery be revealed. At this, dying Laertes spoke up and exposed the plot - the poisoned wine and the venom-tipped foil, whose effects Hamlet would soon feel. Laertes further divulged that "the King's to blame": Claudius had authored the entire miserable scene.

Hesitating no longer, Hamlet rushed forward, stabbed Claudius, and cursed the "incestuous, murderous, damn'd Dane." Then Laertes and Hamlet turned and implored each other's forgiveness, that they might both die in peace. Within minutes, Fortinbras arrived, and, with Hamlet's dying approval, appropriated the throne of Denmark - a throne so tragically twice vacated in the previous few months.

What can be said about the most famous work of English drama? A lot, actually. In fact scholars have been pawing over this play for three hundred years, searching to explain the inner workings of its plot, and particularly debating why the intelligent young Hamlet had such a hard time mustering the courage to avenge his father's death. Often the only thing these scholars agree upon is that Hamlet's speeches and mannerisms are complex, allusive, and sometimes cryptic.

One thing is certain: Hamlet follows the conventions of a standard Elizabethan genre - the, revenge play" - of which there are many examples. But Shakespeare's poetic drama is by far more expansive and more ambiguous than any of these other works.

It has been suggested that the prince's delayed revenge, as opposed to Fortinbras' decisiveness, is meant to contrast two universal individuals - the man of contemplation and the man of action. The university-bred Hamlet analyzes everything too deeply and is thus prevented from taking any clear course:

... Thinking too precisely on the event
a thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
and ever three parts coward, I do not know
why, yet I live to say "this thing's to do," sith I have cause and will and strength and means to do't.

But Hamlet's essential dilemma is one that has confronted men throughout the ages; and this confrontation -between duty and morality, courage and fear, right and wrong - will assuredly persist for all ages to come.


To be discussed to the class by Jakosalem's group on Monday.


by William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616)
Type of Work:
Tragic fatalistic drama
Eleventh-century Scotland
Principal Characters
Macbeth, a noble Scottish chieftain
Lady Macbeth, his wife
Batiquo, Macbeth's warrior-friend
Fleatice, Banquo's son
Duncan, King of Scotland, a gentle and perfect ruler
Macduff, a rebel lord
Three Witches

Act I.
Also known as "The Scottish play", Shakespeare's dark, grim tragedy begins with Three Witches in Scotland deciding to meet again after a battle being fought nearby. Thunder, storms and the desolate heath paint a gloomy picture, setting the tone of this play and defining an imagery of nature at war with itself, a recurring theme in this play...
Macbeth is introduced as the brave man who led King Duncan's forces to victory against the traitorous Thane of Cawdor, Macdonwald and The King of Norway, in a battle that could have gone either way were it not for Macbeth's leadership. We learn that Macbeth killed Macdonwald himself in battle. King Duncan, overjoyed, decides to make Macbeth his new Thane of Cawdor. The previous Thane of Cawdor will be executed.
The Three Witches establish their malicious nature before meeting Macbeth and Banquo. The Three Witches tell Macbeth that he will be "Thane of Glamis!", "Thane of Cawdor!" and "king hereafter" or become the King of Scotland.
Banquo learns that his descendants shall be kings. Banquo is suspicious of the Three Witches, remembering that they often trick men. Macbeth initially agrees but when Ross and Angus tell him he has been made the new Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth in a very important aside (soliloquy), remarks, "Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor: / The greatest is behind."
Macbeth now first questions Banquo's on his feelings about his descendants becoming kings and then starts thinking of killing King Duncan to make prophecy fact but later hopes fate alone will spare him the need to kill...
Macbeth meets King Duncan, thanking him for his new title. The also loyal Banquo receives nothing. King Duncan remarks how he completely trusted the previous Thane of Cawdor.
King Duncan announces that his son, Malcolm will be the new Prince of Cumberland. Macbeth sees Malcolm as a threat to what he now takes seriously as his destiny to be king, a major turning point in Macbeth's changing morality. Macbeth makes this clear by famously asking in an aside (private speech) for the stars to hide their fires least they reveal his dark and deadly purpose or intention to kill King Duncan.
Lady Macbeth learns by letter from Macbeth of the Three Witches' prophecies for her husband, eagerly embracing them as fact. Fearing Macbeth is too compassionate and weak-willed to do what needs to be done (killing King Duncan), she famously asks the gods to remove from her all signs of compassion and femininity, replacing these with cold remorseless ruthlessness.
Learning from a messenger that King Duncan will stay at their castle, Lady Macbeth enthusiastically greets this news, suggesting that she already has plans to kill King Duncan. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth decide to speak again on the issue of the prophecies, Macbeth still uncertain of the need to kill King Duncan.
At Macbeth's castle King Duncan arrives whilst Lady Macbeth plays the most perfect of hostesses. King Duncan asks for the Thane of Cawdor (Macbeth) who is not yet present.
A guilt-ridden Macbeth wrestles with his conscience, certain that he should not kill King Duncan yet guiltily having to remind himself of all the reasons why it would be wrong. Macbeth decides against murdering his King but Lady Macbeth belittles him for not being able to murder, threatening to take away her love for him if he does not. This threat wins Macbeth over and Lady Macbeth outlines her plan to kill King Duncan in his sleep while he is a guest at their castle.
Act II.
Banquo and son Fleance arrive at Macbeth's castle. Banquo is troubled by the Three Witches' prophecy and tells Macbeth this. Macbeth pretends not to take the Three Witches seriously.
Learning from Banquo that King Duncan is asleep, Macbeth, alone, follows an imaginary dagger to King Duncan's bedchamber where he will kill him in his sleep... Lady Macbeth has drugged King Duncan's guards, allowing Macbeth to kill King Duncan unchallenged.
Lady Macbeth was to have killed the King but his resemblance to her late father means Macbeth does the deed instead. A bell frightens Lady Macbeth and Macbeth too is nervous, but he announces that he did indeed kill King Duncan.
Macbeth recounts that the two guards cried out "'Murder!'" and later "'God bless us!'", Lady Macbeth telling her husband not to fret over such things and the fact that is conscience prevented him from saying "'Amen,'" as one of the guards had done...
Lady Macbeth tells her husband a little water will wash away their guilt and the two retire to their bedroom when knocking is later heard...
Macduff, Lennox, the source of the knocking in the last scene, arrive at Macbeth's castle. News of King Duncan's death reaches all at Macbeth's castle. Lady Macbeth faints and Macbeth in rage kills the two drunken guards after claiming that they obviously killed their King.
These actions largely free Macbeth and Lady Macbeth from suspicion. King Duncan's sons, Malcolm and Donalbain are introduced, both men wisely deciding to flee Macbeth's castle as a precaution against their own murder. Malcolm will head for England, Donalbain for Ireland.
Ross speaks with an Old Man who describes various unnatural acts happening in Scotland, perhaps the single most significant scene for the theme of nature at war with itself, which relates to the idea of a natural order being disturbed by the death of a king, a prevalent theme throughout this play.
We learn that King Duncan's two sons have fled, leaving Macbeth to be crowned the new King of Scotland. Macduff, who later becomes instrumental in Macbeth's downfall, has significantly snubbed Macbeth's coronation at Scone to go to Fife instead. A tone of increasing despair for Scotland begins in this scene...
Act III.
Banquo is fearful that the Three Witches' prophecies are becoming true, questioning whether Macbeth played most foully for it, or killed King Duncan to make prophecy, fact.
Meeting with Macbeth, Macbeth continuously asks Banquo of his travel plans and those of his son. Alone, Macbeth fears that Banquo's sons will mean his dynasty will be short-lived; only he will become King of Scotland and not his sons who will be replaced by those of Banquo's lineage.
Macbeth arranges for several Murderers to discreetly kill Banquo and Fleance to ensure his sons and not Banquo's become future kings...
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth speak in private. Macbeth is again plagued by a guilt we thought may have vanished. Lady Macbeth attempts to strengthen Macbeth's resolve.
The Murderers kill Banquo but his son Fleance escapes and survives.
The Three Witches' prophecy of Banquo's sons becoming kings has not been thwarted by Macbeth...
Macbeth and a lady are entertaining at their castle. The First Murderer arrives, announcing that Banquo is dead but Fleance has lived. Macbeth immediately realizes the consequences of this (his descendants may not become kings).
Macbeth famously sees Banquo's Ghost at his party, causing Lady Macbeth to finish their party early to prevent further suspicions about Macbeth's sanity and about their role in recent events (King Duncan's death whilst a guest at their castle). Macbeth makes his famous speech about being too covered in blood to stop killing...
Hecate, clearly in a position of command over the Three Witches, scolds her subordinates for helping an unappreciative Macbeth.
Hecate instructs the Three Witches to make preparations for her plan to use illusion and the Three Witches' prophecies against Macbeth. The Three Witches, eager to placate (please) their master, eagerly make preparations, doing as they are told...
We see Lennox and a Lord discuss affairs in their kingdom. We learn from their conversation that an army is being formed in England to fight Macbeth.
Act IV.
A major turning point in the play. Just as the Three Witches prophesied Macbeth's ascendancy to become King in Act I, Scene III, here they prophesies his downfall with the Three Apparitions (visions / ghosts). The first Apparition tells an eager Macbeth that he should fear Macduff, saying "beware Macduff; / Beware the Thane of Fife." The Second Apparition reassures Macbeth that "none of women born / Shall harm Macbeth" and the Third Apparition tells Macbeth he has nothing to fear until "Great Birnam wood" moves to "high Dunsinane hill" near his castle.
Macbeth decides to kill Macduff to protect himself from him and takes the Apparition's words to mean he is safe from all men since they are all born naturally and that only the moving of a nearby forest to his castle, an unlikely event will spell his doom.
Next Macbeth demands to know about Banquo's descendants , learning to his anger that they will still rule Scotland rather than Macbeth's descendants. Macbeth learns that he cannot kill Macduff so instead has his entire family murdered...
Lady Macduff is greeted by Ross, Lady Macduff expressing her anger at being abandoned by Macduff for little reason when in her eyes, Macduff has done nothing requiring him to flee.
Ross leaves and after Lady Macduff tells her son that his father is dead and was a traitor, a Messenger warns Lady Macduff to flee but Macbeth's Murderers succeed in killing Lady Macduff's son. The scene ends with Lady Macduff fleeing for her life...
Malcolm and Macduff discuss how Scotland under Macbeth's rule has been plunged into despair. Malcolm tests Macduff's integrity by describing himself as unfit to rule.
After Malcolm disgusts Macduff with increasingly sordid descriptions of his lust and greed, Macduff tells Malcolm that like Macbeth, he too is not fit to rule Scotland. This delights Malcolm who explains that he was lying; he described himself so negatively to test Macduff's integrity. We learn that a large army is gathering to defeat Macbeth.
Act V.
Lady Macbeth's insanity becomes clear... First her Doctor and a Gentlewoman discuss Lady Macbeth's sleepwalking and talking to herself and then we, the audience see this for ourselves.
Lady Macbeth makes her famous speech that she cannot wipe away the blood on her hands (or her guilt), indicating that her battle to suppress her guilty conscience has failed completely...
Macbeth's enemies gather near his castle at Dunsinane as Macbeth strongly fortifies his castle. We learn that Macbeth's hold on Scotland is less than absolute...
Macbeth prepares to defiantly fight his enemies armed with the prophecy that he will only be defeated when the nearby Birnam Wood moves on his castle. Macbeth now learns of the ten thousand strong army against him. Seyton confirms this bad news and Macbeth donning his armor, prepares to fight his enemies recalling the Birnam Wood prophecy once more as a source of comfort...
With his troops loyally around him, Malcolm orders each man to cut down a branch from the nearby Birnam Wood as his army now camouflaged under an umbrella of Birnam Wood, head towards Macbeth's castle at Dunsinane.
Macbeth laughs off his enemies' numbers, certain of the Birnam Wood prophecy and equally certain that his fortifications should laugh off any attack.
We hear a women's cry later learning that Lady Macbeth is dead. Macbeth coldly shrugs the news that his once "dearest chuck," is dead with complete apathy. Macbeth learns that Birnam Wood or rather Malcolm's forces are moving on his castle. Realizing what this means, Macbeth nonetheless defiantly sets off to meet his destiny...
Malcolm's men drop their leafy camouflage and the battle begins...
Macbeth fights, Siward killing him. Macbeth is now confronted by Macduff, a man he has consciously avoided and one, he refuses to fight.
Macbeth famously exclaims that he has lived a charmed life and is unable to be killed by a man, naturally born.
Macduff now explains that he has born by Caesarian section and the two men fight, Macbeth dying and order being restored when Malcolm is hailed as the new King of Scotland...


To be discussed to the class by Mahilum's group on Wednesday. (Oct. 17, 2007)