Thursday, October 24, 2013


The Picture of Dorian Gray was Oscar Wilde's only novel (he's mostly famous for his plays, poetry, and short stories), but what a novel it is! In the century or so since its initial publication in 1890, the fate of poor Dorian Gray has taken hold of the popular imagination. Dorian's story plays upon the timeless theme of selling one's soul in exchange for earthly pleasures (see other classics like Goethe's Faust or the musical Damn Yankees), and the inevitable disaster that results. Wilde's version of this narrative is particularly notable for its embrace of the hedonistic lifestyle of the Decadents, a late nineteenth century artistic movement that prized beauty and aesthetic experience over everything else. Dorian Gray and its protagonist have become synonymous with the pursuit of pleasure, regardless of its moral consequences.

The novel raised quite a blizzard of scandal in its day, and had critics denouncing Wilde for what they perceived to be his own innate immorality – and as a result, he responded with the famous "Preface" to the novel (published in its second edition) that explained his artistic beliefs. (Check out more discussion of the Preface in "What's Up with the Epigraph?") Altogether, The Picture of Dorian Gray reveals Wilde's philosophy more than any of his other works; reading it is an essential key to understanding his artistic mission as a whole.
 Why Should We Care Today?
Botox, liposuction, lip plumping injections, silicone, hair plugs… If you think about it, we go to extraordinarily bizarre measures just to hang on to fading youth and beauty. Our society is so obsessed with youth that there's a multi-multi-million dollar industry simply devoted to making us look younger (or weirder, as the case may be). And why? Because we live in a culture where youth is idolized and age is the enemy of the people – the goal these days seems to be not just to stop aging, but to get younger.

We're not the first culture to embrace this cult of youth, though. As we see in The Picture of Dorian Gray, our predecessors in the nineteenth century also longed for undying youth and beauty. In fact, the quest for the Fountain of Youth is one of the oldest stories there is; apparently, humanity in general has had a hard time getting over the fact that we all grow old and die. For this reason,Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel never ceases to be relevant – until we finally discover the secret of real eternal youth, we'll always be interested in Dorian's quest for it.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


Midsummer Night’s Dream Study Guide


1.       What can you conclude about Egeus’ attitude towards his daughter Hermia’s ‘place’? Find examples from the play to support you answer.
2.       What has Hermia done for which she asks Thesus’ pardon? (Line 60)
3.       List the points made by Lysander (Lines 101 – 112) in defending his right to marry Hermia.
4.       What is the point of Helena’s first speech? Write one sentence. (Lines 184 – 197)
5.       Explain the ways Love is childlike and blind. Use Helena’s speech (Lines 232+) as your reference.


6.        Find references to support each point about the Mechanicals:
a.       Bottom misuses words (malapropisms)
b.      Bottom likes to be in charge
c.       Snug is well-suited to be the lion.
d.      Snug is concerned for the ladies’ sensibilities.
7.       Why must Thisbe be played by a man?
8.       What device does Shakespeare use to arrange for the Mechanicals and the lovers to be in the woods together?



9.       What are Oberon and Titania fighting about?
10.   What image does Puck use to show the Fairy how bad the feelings are between Oberon and Titania (Lines 29 – 32)
11.   List the ways Puck interacts with humans. (Lines 33 – 43)
12.   What is the tone of Demetrius’ first speech? Locate the pun.
13.   Who overhears the fight between Helena and Demetrius? What does he resolve to do about it? (227 – 249+)


14.   Compare Lysander’s first lines with those of Demitrius in Scene 1.
15.   What does Helena’s pun (Line 94) of the word fond mean?
16.   What feeling does Helena’s speech (Line 105 ish) convey to the audience?
17.   The lines of the lovers, whether in love, angry, hurt, or confused, all rhyme in couplets. Why did Shakespeare use this form to weave his plot of confusion? Why not use unrhymed verse?
18.   Why is it ironic that Lysander claims it is his reason that makes him love Helena?
19.   Read Lysander’s speech (142 – 151). In addition to love, what emotion has the magic generated? Look up the words – surfeit and heresy. How is Lysander applying these words to his ‘old love’ for Hermia?
20.   To what does the word ‘your’ refer to in line 150?
21.   What is the irony in Hermia’s last line in this scene? What ‘plot fact’ does it recall?
22.   How does the story of Hermia and Lysander parallel the story of Oberon and Titania?


Helena several times speaks of wanting to be like Hermia. Write a paragraph in which you tell about someone (real) who you would like to be more like. Describe this person, and tell why you admire him/her and how you might go about changing to be more like them. If you are very pleased about yourself as you are, write about what you like most about yourself. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013



A Midsummer Night's Dream is a classic example of Shakespearean comedy. Here is a checklist that details all the typical conventions and features of the genre:
Light, humorous tone: The play features fairy magic (like Oberon's love potion which goes wrong), silly pranks (like the transformation of a guy's head into that of a ass, cutsey enough for a fairy Queen to fall in love with -- with the help of a love potion), and the botched performance of a play-within-the-play by a bunch of craftsmen (The Mechanicals). 
Clever dialogue and witty banter: Shakespeare is a huge fan of puns and snappy wordplay, so naturally, his characters know how to get their witty repartee on. Shakespeare reserves some of the best dialogue for his warring lovers, especially Oberon and Titania -- ("How not nice to see you, Titania") and even the "rude mechanicals" manage to wow us with their clever banter at times.
Deception and disguise: Hard to find a Shakespearean play without disguise. Hermia and Lysander try to sneak away from Athens to elope (behind Hermia's father Egeus's back). Also, Titania and the young lovers have no idea they've been drugged by Oberon and his magic love juice. 
Mistaken identity: Sort of. In most of Shakespeare's other comedies, someone usually runs around in a disguise to mask his or her identity. (Sometimes, a lover is even tricked into sleeping with the wrong person by mistake.) This isn't necessarily the case in A Midsummer Night's Dream, unless we count the fact that the love juice causes Titania to fall head over heels in love with an "ass." In other words, Titania mistakes Nick Bottom for a creature who is worthy of her love and affection, much to the disgust of Oberon. The same can be said of the other lovers who are dosed with Oberon's magic love potion.
Multiple plots with twists and turns: There are several lines of action in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Shakespeare invites us to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. The first plot involves Theseus and Hippolyta's upcoming wedding. The second plot line involves the young Athenian lovers who run around the wood in confusion. The third plot follows Oberon's tiff with his wife, Titania. As a fourth plot line, Shakespeare works in a bunch of craftsmen (the Mechanicals), who plan to perform a play at Theseus's big fancy wedding in Athens.
Love overcomes obstacles: From the play's very beginning, Shakespeare beats us over the head with this idea. Seriously. The only reason Theseus is even engaged to Hippolyta is because he conquered her people (the Amazons) and basically won her in battle. Just a few moments after we hear about Theseus and Hippolyta, we learn that Hermia and Lysander must also overcome a major obstacle if they want to be together because Hermia's dad wants her to marry someone else, Demitrius. Never mind the fact that we've got a bunch of mischievous fairies running around the wood sloshing magic love juice into the eyes of hapless humans, causing them to fall in and out of love with the first creature that comes into view. In the end, though, love wins out and Theseus and each of the four young lovers hooks up with a steady partner. Keep reading...
Marriage: This is important so pay attention. No matter what else happens, Shakespeare's comedies ALWAYS end with one or more marriages (or the promise of marriage). This is Shakespeare's way of restoring social order to the world of his plays (after turning order on its head for a few hours, disturbing that Great Chain of Being if you will). At the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream, Theseus finally gets to marry Hippolyta and spend the night with her (which he's been talking about since the play's opening lines). As for the four humans who have been chasing each other around the forest and falling in and out of love, they finally settle down and hook up with a steady partner: Hermia weds Lysander and Demetrius gets hitched to Helena.
Family drama: If you read the very first scene, you know that Hermia and her dad Egeus go toe-to-toe about who she should and shouldn't marry. Egeus is so worked up about his daughter's disobedience that he wants Duke Theseus to uphold the Athenian law that says daughters have to do what their fathers' say or else they get sentenced to death. Geesh. Hermia doesn't seem at all fazed by this, so she must have Dad wrapped around her little finger. It's a good thing A Midsummer Night's Dream isn't a tragedy, otherwise, this ugly little domestic dispute would end badly. How badly? Think Romeo and Juliet.
(Re)unification of families: Like we said earlier, Egeus would rather see his daughter dead than witness Hermia marry Lysander. Still, A Midsummer Night's Dream is a comedy so Egeus eventually backs down and gives in to the idea that Hermia is going to marry for love. We should point out that Egeus only changes his mind after Duke Theseus orders him to back off (4.1), but still, Egeus sticks around for his daughter's wedding so we're counting that as a family reunion.