B. A. VI SEMESTER
The Aeneid is a Latin epic poem written by Virgil in the late 1st century BC (29–19 BCE) that tells the legendary story of Aeneas, a Trojan who travelled to Italy, where he became the ancestor of the Romans. It is composed of roughly 10,000 lines in dactylic hexameter. The first six of the poem's twelve books tell the story of Aeneas's wanderings from Troy to Italy, and the poem's second half tells of the Trojans' ultimately victorious war upon the Latins, under whose name Aeneas and his Trojan followers are destined to be subsumed.
The hero Aeneas was already known to Greco-Roman legend and myth, having been a character in the Iliad; Virgil took the disconnected tales of Aeneas' wanderings, his vague association with the foundation of Rome and a personage of no fixed characteristics other than a scrupulous piety, and fashioned this into a compelling founding myth or nationalist epic that at once tied Rome to the legends of Troy, glorified traditional Roman virtues and legitimized the Julio-Claudian dynasty as descendants of the founders, heroes and gods of Rome and Troy.
The Aeneid can be divided into two halves based on the disparate subject matter of Books 1–6 (Aeneas' journey to Latium in Italy) and Books 7–12 (the war in Latium). These two halves are commonly regarded as reflecting Virgil's ambition to rival Homer by treating both the Odyssey's wandering theme and the Iliad's warfare themes. This is, however, a rough correspondence, the limitations of which should be borne in mind.
The stories of the Arabian Nights were written by many people over the course of hundreds of years. The core of original stories came out of
and Persia in the early eighth century. They were translated into Arabic and given the name Alf Layla or The Thousand Nights. This set of stories was few in number and fell far short of living up to the number in its title. India
in the ninth or tenth century, a group of Arab stories were added. This new group probably contained the tales that refer to Caliph Harun al-Rashid. Also, in the period immediately after this, several tales that had previously existed outside of the Nights were incorporated into the main body of the tales. Iraq
Starting the 13th century, another group of tales was added, these of Syrian or Egyptian origin. In "modern" times, additional tales were added and the total was brought up to the number given in the title.
The oldest is a single page fragment that dates to the ninth century. This manuscript and his translation were subsequently lost, but a German translation of his work survives. This manuscript was the only one containing the end of the ending to the Nights, were Shahriyar finally decides to allow Sheherazade to live.
Four Arabic printed texts survive, known as
I (1814-1818), Calcutta Breslau (1824-1843), Bulaq (1835) and Calcutta II (1839-1842). The origins and pedigrees of these texts are in dispute. In particular the Breslau text was probably pieced together by its creator, Maximilian Habicht, from various other texts. Modern scholars find the Bulaq text the most significant. Today, the translation by Husain Haddawy is considered by many to be the best English translation. His translation has been described as "direct, modern and thrilling".
Don Quixote is a novel written by Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. Published in two volumes a decade apart (in 1605 and 1615), Don Quixote is the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age in the Spanish literary canon. As a founding work of modern Western literature, and one of the earliest canonical novels, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published. Cervantes tells the story of the adventures of Don Quixote by way of a fictional Moorish chronicler named Cide Hamete Benengeli.
The protagonist of the book is Alonso Quixano (or Quijano), a retired country gentleman nearing 50 years of age, who lives in an unnamed section of La Mancha with his niece and a housekeeper. He has become obsessed with books of chivalry, and believes their every word to be true, despite the fact that many of the events in them are clearly impossible. Quixano eventually appears to other people to have lost his mind due to lack of sleep and food from dedicating all of his time to reading.
He decides to go out as a knight-errant in search of adventure. He dons an old suit of armor, renames himself "Don Quixote de la Mancha," and names his skinny horse "Rocinante". He designates a neighboring farm girl, Aldonza Lorenzo, as his lady love, renaming her Dulcinea del Toboso, while she knows nothing about this.
He sets out in the early morning and ends up at an inn, which he believes to be a castle. He asks the innkeeper, who he thinks to be the lord of the castle, to dub him a knight. He spends the night holding vigil over his armor, where he becomes involved in a fight with muleteers who try to remove his armor from the horse trough so that they can water their mules. The innkeeper then dubs him a knight, and sends him on his way. He frees a young boy who is tied to a tree by his master, because the boy had the audacity to ask his master for the wages the boy had earned but had not yet been paid (who is promptly beaten as soon as Quixote leaves). Don Quixote has a run-in with traders from Toledo, who "insult" the imaginary Dulcinea, one of whom severely beats Don Quixote and leaves him on the side of the road. Don Quixote is found and returned to his home by a neighboring peasant, Pedro Crespo.
Don Quixote plots an escape. Meanwhile, his niece, the housekeeper, the parish curate, and the local barber secretly burn most of the books of chivalry, and seal up his library pretending that a magician has carried it off. Don Quixote approaches another neighbor, Sancho Panza, and asks him to be his squire, promising him governorship of an island. The uneducated Sancho agrees, and the pair sneak off in the early dawn. It is here that their series of famous adventures begin, starting with Don Quixote's attack on windmills that he believes to be ferocious giants.
The Cherry Orchard - Anton Chekhov
The Cherry Orchard itself was written over a period of more than two years, from early 1901 to late 1903, during which Chekhov was often in doctor-imposed exile from his wife and friends in Moscow, on the Mediterranean island of Yalta, in order to spare his ailing lungs.The germination of The Cherry Orchard probably came from numerous and diverse sources, over a longer period of time than that for any of Chekhov's other works. Chekhov had known cherry trees from his childhood days in Taganrog, before they were all cleared as a result of Alexander's liberal economic policies which encouraged development of the Russian hinterland. Also, Chekhov had himself planted a cherry orchard on an estate in Melikhovo that he purchased in 1892; he lost the estate a short while later, and the new owner cut down the cherry trees. Much of the intellectual discussion in The Cherry Orchard is distinctly influenced by Chekhov's wide reading in literature, philosophy, and the natural sciences, especially Darwin's Origin of the Species (first published only some forty years earlier) and Marxist and socialist philosophy. Chekhov had initially intended his last play to be a comedy, a vaudeville in fact, and though he may have given up that last idea he still subtitles his play A Comedy in Four Acts. Unfortunately for Chekhov, the most common reaction to the play was typified by his wife: "by the fourth act I burst out sobbing". Stanislavsky, the play's director, decided to interpret the play as a drama, against Chekhov's wishes. The debate over whether the play is in fact a comedy or a drama still goes on to this day.
The initial reception of the play ranged from the indifference of Maxim Gorky, who thought the play's story to be completely insignificant, to the loathing of Ivan Bunin, who attacked the play for being unrealistic in its depiction of both the central aristocratic family and the outrageously oversized cherry orchard. But it was also praised as one of Chekhov's best works, and possibly his best play. The Russian Symbolist poets saw the play as a narrative poem mourning the loss of beauty in the world, and thus saw Chekhov as a kindred spirit. The Bolsheviks would interpret the play as a harbinger of the 1917 revolution, because of Trofimov's speeches (many of which were censored by the Tsarist regime for the 1904 perfomance). Many noticed and applauded its new formal innovations in terms of the use of the empty stage, lost dialogue and its mixing of comic and tragic elements. But many saw the play as undeniably tragic, focusing on Ranevsky's downfall as the important element of the story.
Chekhov's critical reception outside of Russia was mixed, partly due to translation problems and the play's unique "Russian-ness", which Chekhov himself foresaw as being impossible for any foreign audience to overcome. Many foreign readers and viewers faulted the play for being unheroic, negative, and devoid of plot. But no less a figure than George Bernard Shaw said that "hearing Chekhov's plays make me want to tear up my own", and Chekhov's drama has gained increasing acceptance and praise over the course of the last century. Chekhov managed to attend The Cherry Orchard's opening night gala at the Moscow Arts Theatre on January 17th, 1904, his forty-fourth birthday. The night was also intended to celebrate his 25th year in literature; but the sight of the ill, dying Chekhov, now in the last stages of his disease, was not a cause for celebration. He remained in Moscow for the last few months of his life, finally succumbing to tuberculosis on July 1st of that same year, a few days after the The Cherry Orchard's first publication.
War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace is famously long for a novel (though not the longest). It is subdivided into four books or volumes, each with subparts containing many chapters. Tolstoy came up with the title, and some of his themes, from an 1861 work of Proudhon: La Guerre et la Paix ('War and Peace' in French). Tolstoy had served in the Crimean War and written a series of short stories and novellas featuring scenes of war.
He began writing War and Peace in the year that he finally married and settled down at his country estate. The first half of the book was written under the name "1805".
During the writing of the second half, he read widely and acknowledged Schopenhauer as one of his main inspirations. However, Tolstoy developed his own views of history and the role of the individual within it. The novel can be generally classified as historical fiction. It contains elements present in many types of popular 18th and 19th century literature, especially the romance novel. War and Peace attains its literary status by transcending genres.
Tolstoy was instrumental in bringing a new kind of consciousness to the novel. His narrative structure is noted for its "god-like" ability to hover over and within events, but also in the way it swiftly and seamlessly portrayed a particular character's point of view. His use of visual detail is often cinematic in its scope, using the literary equivalents of panning, wide shots and close-ups, to give dramatic interest to battles and ballrooms alike. These devices, while not exclusive to Tolstoy, are part of the new style of the novel that arose in the mid-19th century and of which Tolstoy proved himself a master.
RealismTolstoy incorporated extensive historical research. He was also influenced by many other novels. A veteran of the Crimean War, Tolstoy was quite critical of standard history, especially the standards of military history, in War and Peace. Tolstoy read all the standard histories available in Russian and French about the Napoleonic Wars and combined more traditional historical writing with the novel form. He explains at the start of the novel's third volume his own views on how history ought to be written. His aim was to blur the line between fiction and history, in order to get closer to the truth, as he states in Volume II. The novel is set 60 years earlier than the time at which Tolstoy wrote it, "in the days of our grandfathers", as he puts it. He had spoken with people who had lived through war during the French invasion of Russia in 1812, so the book is also, in part, accurate ethnography fictionalized. He read letters, journals, autobiographical and biographical materials pertaining to Napoleon and the dozens of other historical characters in the novel. There are approximately 160 real persons named or referred to in War and Peace.
Crime and Punishment - Dostoyevsky
Dostoyevsky conceived the idea of Crime and Punishment in the summer of 1865, having gambled away much of his fortune, unable to pay his bills or afford proper meals. At the time the author owed large sums of money to creditors, and was trying to help the family of his brother Mikhail, who had died in early 1864. Projected under the title The Drunkards, it was to deal "with the present question of drunkness ... [in] all its ramifications, especially the picture of a family and the bringing up of children in these circumstance, etc., etc." Once Dostoevsky conceived Raskolnikov and his crime, now inspired by the case of Pierre François Lacenaire, this theme became ancillary, centering on the story of the Marmeladov family. Crime and Punishment has a distinct beginning, middle and end. The novel is divided into six parts, with an epilogue. The notion of "intrinsic duality" in Crime and Punishment has been commented upon, with the suggestion that there is a degree of symmetry to the book. Edward Wasiolek who has argued that Dostoevsky was a skilled craftsman, highly conscious of the formal pattern in his art, has likened the structure of Crime & Punishment to a "flattened X", saying:This compositional balance is achieved by means of the symmetrical distribution of certain key episodes throughout the novel's six parts. The recurrence of these episodes in the two halves of the novel, as David Bethea has argued, is organized according to a mirror-like principle, whereby the "left" half of the novel reflects the "right" half.
The Divine Comedy – Dante
The Divine Comedy (Italian: la Divina Commedia) is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri between 1308 and his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preëminent work of Italian literature and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem's imaginative and allegorical vision of the afterlife is a culmination of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church. It helped establish the Tuscan dialect in which it is written as the standardized Italian. It is divided into three parts, the Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. On the surface the poem describes Dante's travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven but at a deeper level it represents allegorically the soul's journey towards God. At this deeper level, Dante draws on medieval Christian theology and philosophy, especially the writings of Thomas Aquinas. The work was originally simply titled Commedia and was later christened Divina by Giovanni Boccaccio. The first printed edition to add the word divine to the title was that of the Venetian humanist Lodovico Dolce, published in 1555 by Gabriele Giolito de' Ferrari.
Divine Comedy is composed of 14,233 lines that are divided into three canticas (Ital. pl. cantiche)—Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio (Purgatory), and Paradiso (Paradise)—each consisting of 33 cantos (Ital. pl. canti). An initial canto serves as an introduction to the poem and is generally considered to be part of the first cantica, bringing the total number of cantos to 100. The number three is prominent in the work, represented here by the length of each cantica. The verse scheme used, terza rima, is hendecasyllabic (lines of eleven syllables), with the lines composing tercets according to the rhyme scheme aba, bcb, cdc, ded, ....The poem is written in the first person, and tells of Dante's journey through the three realms of the dead, lasting from the night before Good Friday to the Wednesday after Easter in the spring of 1300. The Roman poet Virgil guides him through Hell and Purgatory; Beatrice, Dante's ideal woman, guides him through Heaven. Beatrice was a Florentine woman whom he had met in childhood and admired from afar in the mode of the then-fashionable courtly love tradition which is highlighted in Dante's earlier work La Vita Nuova.
The Three Muskteers – Alexander Dumas
The Three Musketeers is a novel by Alexandre Dumas, first serialized in March–July 1844. Set in the 17th century, it recounts the adventures of a young man named d'Artagnan after he leaves home to become a guard of the musketeers. D'Artagnan is not one of the musketeers of the title; those are his friends Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, inseparable friends who live by the motto "all for one, one for all" ("tous pour un, un pour tous"). The poor d'Artagnan travels to Paris to join the Musketeers. He suffers misadventure and is challenged to a duel by each of three musketeers (Athos, Aramis and Porthos). Attacked by the Cardinal's guards, the four unite and escape. D'Artagnan and his new love interest, Constance, help the French queen give a particular piece of jewelery to her paramour, the Duke of Buckingham. The Cardinal learns of this and coaxes the French king to hold a ball where the queen must wear the jewelery; its absence will reveal her infidelity. The four companions retrieve the jewelery from England. The Cardinal kidnaps Constance who is later rescued by the queen. D'Artagnan meets Milady de Winter and discovers she is a felon, the ex-wife of Athos and the widow of Count de Winter. The Cardinal recruits Milady to kill Buckingham, also granting her a hand-written pardon for the future killing of d'Artagnan. Athos learns of this, takes the pardon but is unable to warn Buckingham. He sends word to Lord de Winter that Milady is arriving; Lord de Winter arrests her on suspicion of killing Count de Winter, his brother. She seduces her guard and escapes to the monastery in France where the queen secreted Constance. Milady kills Constance. The four companions arrive and Athos identifies her as a multiple murderess. She is tried and beheaded. On the road, d'Artagnan is arrested. Taken before the Cardinal, d'Artagnan relates recent events and reveals the Cardinal's pardon. Impressed, the Cardinal offers him a blank musketeer officer's commission. D'Artagnan's friends refuse the commission, each retiring to a new life, telling him to take it himself, and so he takes it and later on he becomes a well known lieutenant. The story is lucid and entertaining to the common readers.
A Doll’s House – Henrick Ibsen
A Doll's House is a three-act play in prose by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It premièred at the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen, Denmark, on 21 December 1879, having been published earlier that month. A Doll's House opens as Nora Helmer returns from Christmas shopping. Her husband Torvald comes out of his study to banter with her. They discuss how their finances will improve now that Torvald has a new job as a bank manager. Torvald expresses his horror of debt. Nora behaves childishly and he enjoys treating her like a child to be instructed and indulged. Soon an old friend of Nora's, Christine Linde, arrives. She is a childless widow who is moving back to the city. Her husband left her no money, so she has tried different kinds of work, and now hopes to find some work that is not too strenuous. Nora confides to Christine that she once secretly borrowed money from a disgraced lawyer, Nils Krogstad, to save Torvald's life when he was very ill, but she has not told him in order to protect his pride. She told everyone that the money came from her father, who died at about the same time. She has been repaying the debt from her housekeeping budget, and also from some work she got copying papers by hand, which she did secretly in her room, and took pride in her ability to earn money "as if she were a man." Torvald's new job promises to finally liberate her from this debt.
A Doll's House was based on the real life of Laura Kieler (maiden name Laura Smith Petersen). She was a good friend of Ibsen. Much that happened between Nora and Torvald happened to Laura and her husband, Victor, with the most important exception being the forged signature that was the basis of Nora's loan. In real life, when Victor found out about Laura's secret loan, he divorced her and had her committed to an asylum. Two years later, she returned to her husband and children at his urging, and she went on to become a well-known Danish author, living to the age of 83. In the play, Nora left Torvald with head held high, though facing an uncertain future given the limitations women faced in the society of the time. Ibsen wrote A Doll's House at the point when Laura Kieler had been committed to the asylum, and the fate of this friend of the family shook him deeply, perhaps also because Laura had asked him to intervene at a crucial point in the scandal, which he did not feel able or willing to do. Instead, he turned this life situation into an aesthetically shaped, successful drama. Kieler eventually rebounded from the shame of the scandal and had her own successful writing career while remaining discontent with sole recognition as "Ibsen's Nora" years afterwards.
Madam Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary (1856) is Gustave Flaubert's first published novel and is considered his masterpiece. The story focuses on a doctor's wife,
Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel's true art lies in its details and hidden patterns. Flaubert was notoriously a perfectionist about his writing and claimed always to be searching for le mot juste ("the right word"). The novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors when it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between October 1, 1856 and December 15, 1856, resulting in a trial in January 1857 that made the story notorious. After the acquittal on February 7, 1857, it became a bestseller when it was published as a book in April 1857, and now stands virtually unchallenged not only as a seminal work of Realism, but as one of the most influential novels ever written. Madame Bovary takes place in provincial northern France, near the town of Rouen in Normandy. The story begins and ends with Charles Bovary, a stolid, kindhearted man without much ability or ambition. As the novel opens, Charles is a shy, oddly-dressed teenager arriving at a new school amidst the ridicule of his new classmates. Later, Charles struggles his way to a second-rate medical degree and becomes an officier de santé in the Public Health Service. His mother chooses a wife for him, an unpleasant but supposedly rich widow, and Charles sets out to build a practice in the village of Tostes.
When he by chance discovers Rodolphe and Léon's love letters, he still tries to understand and forgive. Soon after, he becomes reclusive; what has not already been sold of his possessions is seized to pay off Lheureux, and he dies, leaving his young daughter Berthe to live with distant relatives and she is eventually sent to work at a cotton mill.
The Frogs – Aristophanes
The Frogs is a comedy written by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes. It was performed at the Lenaia, one of the Festivals of Dionysus, in 405 BC, and received first place. The Frogs tells the story of the god Dionysus, despairing of the state of Athens' tragedians, and allegedly recovering from the disastrous Battle of Arginusae. He travels to Hades to bring Euripides back from the dead. He brings along his slave Xanthias, who is smarter, stronger, more rational, more prudent, and braver than Dionysus. The play opens as Xanthias and Dionysus argue over what kind of complaints Xanthias can use to open the play comically. To find a reliable path to Tartarus, Dionysus seeks advice from his half-brother Heracles who had been there before in order to retrieve the hell hound Cerberus. Dionysus shows up at his doorstep dressed in a lion-hide and carrying a club. Heracles, upon seeing the effeminate Dionysus dressed up like himself, can't help laughing. At the question of which road is quickest to get to Hades, Heracles replies with the options of hanging yourself, drinking poison, or jumping off a tower. Dionysus opts for the longer journey across a lake (possibly Lake Acheron); the one which Heracles took himself.
When Dionysus arrives at the river, Charon ferries him across. Xanthias, being a slave, is not allowed in the boat, because he was unable to take part in the Battle of Arginusae, and has to walk around it. As Dionysus helps row, he hears a chorus of croaking frogs. Their chant is constantly repeated, and Dionysus chants with them until he gets bored. When he arrives at the shore, Dionysus meets up with Xanthias, who teases him by claiming to see the frightening monster Empusa. A second chorus composed of spirits of Dionysian Mystics soon appear. Pluto allows Aeschylus to return to life so that Athens may be succoured in her hour of need, and invites everyone to a round of farewell drinks. Before leaving, Aeschylus proclaims that Sophocles should have his chair while he is gone, not Euripides.
Odyssey – Homer
The Odyssey is one of two major ancient Greek epic poems attributed to Homer. It is, in part, a sequel to the Iliad, the other work traditionally ascribed to Homer. The poem is fundamental to the modern Western canon. Indeed it is the second—the Iliad being the first—extant work of Western literature. It was probably composed near the end of the 8th century BC, somewhere in Ionia, the Greek-speaking coastal region of what is now Turkey. The poem mainly centers on the Greek hero Odysseus and his long journey home following the fall of Troy. It takes Odysseus ten years to reach Ithaca after the ten-year Trojan War. In his absence, it is assumed he has died, and his wife Penelope and son Telemachus must deal with a group of unruly suitors, the Mnesteres or Proci, competing for Penelope's hand in marriage. It continues to be read in the Homeric Greek and translated into modern languages around the world. The original poem was composed in an oral tradition by an aoidos (epic poet/singer), perhaps a rhapsode, and was more likely intended to be sung than read. The details of the ancient oral performance, and the story's conversion to a written work inspire continual debate among scholars. The Odyssey was written in a regionless poetic dialect of Greek and comprises 12,110 lines of dactylic hexameter. Among the most impressive elements of the text are its non-linear plot, and that events seem to depend as much on the choices made by women and serfs as on the actions of fighting men. In the English language as well as many others, the word odyssey has come to refer to an epic voyage.
Iliad – Homer
The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set in the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of Ilium by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles. Although the story covers only a few weeks in the final year of the war, the Iliad mentions or alludes to many of the Greek legends about the siege. Along with the Odyssey, also attributed to Homer, the Iliad is among the oldest extant works of Western literature, and its written version is usually dated to around the eighth century BC. The Iliad contains over 15,000 lines, and is written in Homeric Greek, a literary amalgam of Ionic Greek with other dialects.
Military Glory over Family Life
A theme in The Iliad closely related to the glory of war is the predominance of military glory over family. The text clearly admires the reciprocal bonds of deference and obligation that bind Homeric families together, but it respects much more highly the pursuit of kleos, the “glory” or “renown” that one wins in the eyes of others by performing great deeds. Homer constantly forces his characters to choose between their loved ones and the quest for kleos, and the most heroic characters invariably choose the latter. Andromache pleads with Hector not to risk orphaning his son, but Hector knows that fighting among the front ranks represents the only means of “winning my father great glory.” Paris, on the other hand, chooses to spend time with Helen rather than fight in the war; accordingly, both the text and the other characters treat him with derision. Achilles debates returning home to live in ease with his aging father, but he remains at Troy to win glory by killing Hector and avenging Patroclus. The gravity of the decisions that Hector and Achilles make is emphasized by the fact that each knows his fate ahead of time. The characters prize so highly the martial values of honor, noble bravery, and glory that they willingly sacrifice the chance to live a long life with those they love.
The Impermanence of Human Life and Its Creations
Although The Iliad chronicles a very brief period in a very long war, it remains acutely conscious of the specific ends awaiting each of the people involved. Troy is destined to fall, as Hector explains to his wife in Book 6. The text announces that Priam and all of his children will die—Hector dies even before the close of the poem. Achilles will meet an early end as well, although not within the pages of The Iliad. Homer constantly alludes to this event, especially toward the end of the epic, making clear that even the greatest of men cannot escape death. Indeed, he suggests that the very greatest—the noblest and bravest—may yield to death sooner than others.
Similarly, The Iliad recognizes, and repeatedly reminds its readers, that the creations of mortals have a mortality of their own. The glory of men does not live on in their constructions, institutions, or cities. The prophecy of Calchas, as well as Hector’s tender words with Andromache and the debates of the gods, constantly remind the reader that Troy’s lofty ramparts will fall. But the Greek fortifications will not last much longer. Though the Greeks erect their bulwarks only partway into the epic, Apollo and Poseidon plan their destruction as early as Book 12. The poem thus emphasizes the ephemeral nature of human beings and their world, suggesting that mortals should try to live their lives as honorably as possible, so that they will be remembered well. For if mortals’ physical bodies and material creations cannot survive them, perhaps their words and deeds can. Certainly the existence of Homer’s poem would attest to this notion.
The Imaginary Invalid – Moliere
Molière's ‘The Imaginary Invalid’ is a three-act stage play. It begins with an introduction, an eclogue with music and ballet dancing, and a prologue added a year after the play debuted. The acts of the play follow, interrupted by interludes of music and dancing. The play is generally classified as a comedy of manners. Throughout the play, the author brilliantly blends satire and farce in a fast-moving plot that lampoons doctors. Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1634-1704) composed the music, and Pierre Beauchamp (1636-1705) choreographed the dancing. The play was first performed on February 10,1673, at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in Paris, with Molière in the lead role as Argan, a hypochondriac. During the fourth performance on February 17, Molière began coughing up blood on the stage and died hours later at his home.
Introduction : A one-paragraph introduction praises Louis XIV, king of France, for military exploits. Although the introduction does not provide specifics, it is clear that it refers to his campaigns in the Spanish Netherlands, beginning in 1668, to strengthen French borders and to expel Spanish from strategic locales. Eclogue: Following the introduction is an eclogue, a poem with a rural setting, that further praises King Louis. It begins when an actress portraying Flora, the goddess of flowers, rounds up shepherds and shepherdesses, telling them the king has won glorious victories. Dancing and music follow to celebrate Louis's victories. Prologue : Following the eclogue is a prologue that was added in a 1674 edition of the play. It presents an actress portraying a shepherdess in a forest who is pining for her beloved and complains that ignorants médecins (ignorant doctors) cannot heal the pain she feels.
Setting : The action in the three acts of the play takes place in the second half of the seventeenth century at the Paris home of a hypochondriac. It was a time when many physicians still relied heavily on enemas and bleeding to purge the body of illness, methods that often worsened the condition of the patient. Apothecaries and physicians often prescribed concoctions prepared from plants, minerals, and various chemicals with unpredictable results.
The Ramayan – Valmiki
Traditionally, the Ramayana is ascribed to Valmiki, regarded as India's first poet.. The Indian tradition is unanimous in its agreement that the poem is the work of a single poet, the sage Valmiki, a contemporary of Rama and a peripheral actor in the epic drama. The story's original version in Sanskrit is known as Valmiki Ramayana, dating to approximately the 5th to 4th century B.C. While it is often viewed as a primarily devotional text, the Vaishnava elements appear to be later accretions possibly dating to the 2nd century BC or later. The main body of the narrative lacks statements of Rama's divinity, and identifications of Rama with Vishnu are rare and subdued even in the later parts of the text. According to Indian tradition, and according to the Ramayana itself, the Ramayana belongs to the genre of itihāsa, like the Mahabharata. The definition of itihāsa has varied over time, with one definition being that itihāsa is a narrative of past events (purāvṛtta) which includes teachings on the goals of human life. According to Hindu tradition, the Ramayana takes place during a period of time known as Treta Yuga.
In its extant form, Valmiki's Ramayana is an epic poem of some 50,000 lines. The text survives in several thousand partial and complete manuscripts, the oldest of which appears to date from the 11th century A.D. The text has several regional renderings, recensions and subrecensions. Textual scholar Robert P. Goldman differentiates two major regional recensions: the northern (N) and the southern (S). Scholar Romesh Chunder Dutt writes that "the Ramayana, like the Mahabharata, is a growth of centuries, but the main story is more distinctly the creation of one mind. The poem is traditionally divided into several major kandas or books, that deal chronologically with the major events in the life of Rama—Bala kanda, Ayodhya Kanda, Aranya Kanda, Kishkinda Kanda, Sundara Kanda, Yuddha Kanda, and Uttara Kanda.The Bala Kanda describes the birth of Rama, his childhood and marriage to Sita.The Ayodhya Kanda describes the preparations for Rama's coronation and his exile into the forest. The third part, Aranya Kanda, describes the forest life of Rama and the kidnapping of Sita by the demon king Ravana. The fourth book, Kishkinda Kanda, describes the meeting of Hanuman with Rama, the destruction of the vanara king Vali and the coronation of his younger brother Sugriva to the throne of the kingdom of Kishkindha. The fifth book is Sundara Kanda, which narrates the heroism of Hanuman, his flight to Lanka and meeting with Sita. The sixth book, Yuddha Kanda, describes the battle between Rama's and Ravana's armies. The last book, Uttara Kanda, describes the birth of Lava and Kusha to Sita, their coronation to the throne of Ayodhya, and Rama's final departure from the world
The Mahabharata – Vyasa
The Mahabharata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, the other being the Ramayana. Besides its epic narrative of the Kurukshetra War and the fates of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the Mahabharata contains much philosophical and devotional material, such as a discussion of the four "goals of life" or purusharthas (12.161). The latter are enumerated as dharma (right action), artha (purpose), kama (pleasure), and moksha (liberation). Among the principal works and stories that are a part of the Mahabharata are the Bhagavad Gita, the story of Damayanti, an abbreviated version of the Ramayana, and the Rishyasringa, often considered as works in their own right.
Traditionally, the authorship of the Mahabharata is attributed to Vyasa. There have been many attempts to unravel its historical growth and compositional layers. The earliest parts of the text are not appreciably older than around 400 BCE.The text probably reached its final form by the early Gupta period (ca. 4th c. CE).The title may be translated as "the great tale of the Bhārata dynasty". According to the Mahabharata itself, the tale is extended from a shorter version of 24,000 verses called simply Bhārata. With about one hundred thousand verses, long prose passages, or about 1.8 million words in total, the Mahabharata is roughly ten times the length of the Iliad and Odyssey combined, or about four times the length of the Ramayana. Vyasa narrating the Mahabharata to Ganesha, his scribe, Angkor Wat.The epic is traditionally ascribed to Vyasa, who is also a major character in the epic. The first section of the Mahabharata states that it was Ganesha who, at the request of Vyasa, wrote down the text to Vyasa's dictation. Ganesha is said to have agreed to write it only on condition that Vyasa never pause in his recitation. Vyasa agreed, provided Ganesha took the time to understand what was said before writing it down. The epic employs the story within a story structure, otherwise known as frametales, popular in many Indian religious and secular works. It is recited to the King Janamejaya who is the great-grandson of Arjuna, by Vaisampayana, a disciple of Vyasa. The recitation of Vaisampayana to Janamejaya is then recited again by a professional storyteller named Ugrasrava Sauti, many years later, to an assemblage of sages performing the 12 year long sacrifice for King Saunaka Kulapati in the Naimisha forest. Jaya, the core of Mahābhārata is structured in the form of a dialogue between Kuru king Dhritarashtra and Sanjaya, his advisor and chariot driver. Sanjaya narrates each incident of the Kurukshetra War, fought in 18 days, as and when it happened. Dhritarāshtra sometimes asks questions and doubts and sometimes laments, knowing about the destruction caused by the war, to his sons, friends and kinsmen. He also feels guilty, due to his own role, that led to this war, destructive to the entire Indian subcontinent.In the beginning, Sanjaya gives a description of the various continents of the Earth, the other planets, and focuses on the Indian Subcontinent and gives an elaborate list of hundreds of kingdoms, tribes, provinces, cities, towns, villages, rivers, mountains, forests, etc. of the (ancient) Indian Subcontinent (Bhārata Varsha). He also explains about the military formations adopted by each side on each day, the death of each hero and the details of each war-racings. Some 18 chapters of Vyasa's Jaya constitutes the Bhagavad Gita, the sacred text of the Hindus. Thus, this work of Vyasa, called Jaya deals with diverse subjects like geography, history, warfare, religion and morality. According to Mahabharata itself, Vaisampayana's Bharata expanded on the story, with Vyasa's Jaya embedded within it. Ugrasrava eventually composed the final Mahabharata, with both Vyasa's Jaya and Vaisampayana's Bharata embedded within the epic.
Shakuntala – Kalidas
In Hindu mythology Shakuntala is the wife of Dushyanta and the mother of Emperor Bharata. Her story is told in the Mahabharata and dramatized by Kalidasa in his play Abhijñānaśākuntalam. Shakuntalā was born of the sage Vishwāmitra and the Apsarā Menakā . Menakā had come at the behest of the King of the Gods, Indra, to distract the great sage Vishwāmitra from his deep meditations. She succeeded, and bore a child by him. Vishwāmitra, angered by the loss of the virtue gained through his many hard years of strict ascetism, distanced himself from the child and mother to return to his work. Realizing that she could not leave the child with him, and having to return to the heavenly realms, Menakā left the newborn Shakuntalā in the forest. It was here that the new born child was found by Kanva Rishi surrounded by Shakunta birds śakunta). He thus named her Shakuntalā.
Meeting DushyantaKing Dushyanta first encountered Shakuntala while travelling through the forest with his army. Pursuing a male deer wounded by his arrow into the ashram (hermitage), he saw Shakuntala and fell in love with her beauty. He profusely begged her forgiveness for harming the deer and spent some time at the ashram. They fell in love and married right there in the ashram. Having to leave after some time due to unrest in the capital city, Dushyanta gave Shakuntala a royal ring as a sign of their love, promising her that he would return for her.
Shakuntala despondent Shakuntala spent much time dreaming of her new husband and was often distracted by her daydreams. One day, a powerful rishi, Durvasa, came to the ashrama but, lost in her thoughts about Dushyanta, Shakuntala failed to greet him properly. Incensed by this slight, the rishi cursed Shakuntala, saying that the person she was dreaming of would forget about her altogether. As he departed in a rage, one of Shakuntala's friends quickly explained to him the reason for her friend's distraction. The rishi, realizing that his extreme wrath was not warranted, modified his curse saying that the person who had forgotten Shakuntala would remember everything again if she showed him a personal token that had been given to her. Time passed, and Shakuntala, wondering why Dushyanta did not return for her, finally set out for the capital city with her father and some of her companions. On the way, they had to cross a river by a canope ferry and, seduced by the deep blue waters of the river, Shakuntala ran her fingers through the water. Her ring slipped off her finger without her realizing it. Arriving at Dushyanta's court, Shakuntala was hurt and surprised when her husband did not recognize her, nor recollected anything about her. She tried to remind him that she was his wife but without the ring Dushyanta did not recognize her. Humiliated, she returned to the forests and, collecting her son, settled in a wild part of the forest by herself. Here she spent her days while Bharata, her son, grew older. Surrounded only by wild animals, Bharata grew to be a strong youth and made a sport of opening the mouths of tigers and lions and counting their teeth.
Meanwhile, a fisherman was surprised to find a royal ring in the belly of a fish he had caught. Recognizing the royal seal, he took the ring to the palace and, upon seeing his ring, Dushyanta's memories of his lovely bride came rushing back to him. He immediately set out to find her and, arriving at her father's ashram, discovered that she was no longer there. He continued deeper into the forest to find his wife and came upon a surprising scene in the forest: a young boy had pried open the mouth of a lion and was busy counting its teeth. The king greeted the boy, amazed by his boldness and strength, and asked his name. He was surprised when the boy answered that he was Bharata, the son of King Dushyanta. The boy took him to Shakuntala, and thus the family was reunited.
Mricchakatika, – Śhudraka
The Little Clay Cart, Mrichchhakatika, is the name of a ten act Sanskrit play written by Śhudraka in the 2nd century BC. It is set in Pataliputra modern-day Patna. Ripe with romance, sex, court intrigue and comedy, the plot of the play has numerous twists and turns. The main story is about a young man named Charudatta, and his love for Vasantasena, a rich courtesan or nagarvadhu. The love affair is complicated by a royal courtier, who is also attracted to Vasantasena. The plot is further complicated by thieves and mistaken identities, thus making it a hilarious and entertaining play. The play was translated into English, notably by Arthur W. Ryder in 1905 as The Little Clay Cart. It had previously been translated as The Toy Cart by Horace Hayman Wilson in 1826 The play has been adapted in several Indian languages and performed by various theatre groups and directors, like Habib Tanvir. The first silent film of Kannada film industry, Mricchakatika'(Vasantsena) (1931), starring Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay and Utsav, a 1984 Hindi Bollywood film by Girish Karnad was based on an adaptation of this play. The Indian play depicted in the 2001 film Moulin Rouge!, "Spectacular Spectacular", may have been based on The Little Clay Cart.
Parellel Lives - Plutarch
Parallel Lives or Plutarch's Lives, is a series of biographies of famous men, arranged in tandem to illuminate their common moral virtues or failings, written in the late 1st century. The surviving Parallel Lives, as they are more properly and commonly known, contain twenty-three pairs of biographies, each pair consisting of one Greek and one Roman, as well as four unpaired, single lives. It is a work of considerable importance, not only as a source of information about the individuals biographized, but also about the times in which they lived.
The first pair of lives — the Epaminondas–Scipio Africanus — no longer exists, and many of the remaining lives are truncated, contain obvious lacunae and/or have been tampered with by later writers.
His Life of Alexander is one of the five surviving secondary or tertiary sources about Alexander the Great and it includes anecdotes and descriptions of incidents that appear in no other source. Likewise, his portrait of Numa Pompilius, an early Roman king, also contains unique information about the early Roman calendar.
Plutarch is criticized for his lack of judicious discrimination in use of authorities and the consequent errors and inaccuracies, but he gives an abundance of citations and incidentally a large number of valuable bits of information which fill up numerous gaps in historical knowledge obtained elsewhere. He is praised for the liveliness and warmth of his portrayals and his moral earnestness and enthusiasm, and the Lives have attracted a large circle of readers throughout the ages.
The Republic – Plato
The Republic (Greek: Πολιτεία, Politeia) is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato sometime around 380 BC concerning the definition of justice and the order and character of the just city and the just man. It is Plato’s best-known work and has proven to be one of the most intellectually and historically influential works of philosophy and political theory. In it, Socrates along with various Athenians and foreigners discuss the meaning of justice and examine whether or not the just man is happier than the unjust man by proposing a city ruled by philosopher-kings. The participants also discuss the theory of forms, the immortality of the soul, and the roles of the philosopher and of poetry in society.
Plato’s strategy in The Republic is to first explicate the primary notion of societal, or political, justice, and then to derive an analogous concept of individual justice. In Books II, III, and IV, Plato identifies political justice as harmony in a structured political body. An ideal society consists of three main classes of people—producers (craftsmen, farmers, artisans, etc.), auxiliaries (warriors), and guardians (rulers); a society is just when relations between these three classes are right. Each group must perform its appropriate function, and only that function, and each must be in the right position of power in relation to the others. Rulers must rule, auxiliaries must uphold rulers’ convictions, and producers must limit themselves to exercising whatever skills nature granted them (farming, blacksmithing, painting, etc.) Justice is a principle of specialization: a principle that requires that each person fulfill the societal role to which nature fitted him and not interfere in any other business.
At the end of Book IV, Plato tries to show that individual justice mirrors political justice. He claims that the soul of every individual has a three part structure analagous to the three classes of a society. There is a rational part of the soul, which seeks after truth and is responsible for our philosophical inclinations; a spirited part of the soul, which desires honor and is responsible for our feelings of anger and indignation; and an appetitive part of the soul, which lusts after all sorts of things, but money most of all (since money must be used to fulfill any other base desire). The just individual can be defined in analogy with the just society; the three parts of his soul achieve the requisite relationships of power and influence in regard to one another. In a just individual, the rational part of the soul rules, the spirited part of the soul supports this rule, and the appetitive part of the soul submits and follows wherever reason leads. Put more plainly: in a just individual, the entire soul aims at fulfilling the desires of the rational part, much as in the just society the entire community aims at fulfilling whatever the rulers will.
Poetics – Aristotle
Aristotle proposes to study poetry by analyzing its constitutive parts and then drawing general conclusions. The portion of the Poetics that survives discusses mainly tragedy and epic poetry. We know that Aristotle also wrote a treatise on comedy that has been lost. He defines poetry as the mimetic, or imitative, use of language, rhythm, and harmony, separately or in combination. Poetry is mimetic in that it creates a representation of objects and events in the world, unlike philosophy, for example, which presents ideas. Humans are naturally drawn to imitation, and so poetry has a strong pull on us. It can also be an excellent learning device, since we can coolly observe imitations of things like dead bodies and disgusting animals when the real thing would disturb us.
Aristotle identifies tragedy as the most refined version of poetry dealing with lofty matters and comedy as the most refined version of poetry dealing with base matters. He traces a brief and speculative history of tragedy as it evolved from dithyrambic hymns in praise of the god Dionysus. Dithyrambs were sung by a large choir, sometimes featuring a narrator. Aeschylus invented tragedy by bringing a second actor into dialogue with the narrator. Sophocles innovated further by introducing a third actor, and gradually tragedy shifted to its contemporary dramatic form.
Aristotle defines tragedy according to seven characteristics: (1) it is mimetic, (2) it is serious, (3) it tells a full story of an appropriate length, (4) it contains rhythm and harmony, (5) rhythm and harmony occur in different combinations in different parts of the tragedy, (6) it is performed rather than narrated, and (7) it arouses feelings of pity and fear and then purges these feelings through catharsis. A tragedy consists of six component parts, which are listed here in order from most important to least important: plot, character, thought, diction, melody, and spectacle.
A well-formed plot must have a beginning, which is not a necessary consequence of any previous action; a middle, which follows logically from the beginning; and an end, which follows logically from the middle and from which no further action necessarily follows. The plot should be unified, meaning that every element of the plot should tie in to the rest of the plot, leaving no loose ends. This kind of unity allows tragedy to express universal themes powerfully, which makes it superior to history, which can only talk about particular events. Episodic plots are bad because there is no necessity to the sequence of events. The best kind of plot contains surprises, but surprises that, in retrospect, fit logically into the sequence of events. The best kinds of surprises are brought about by peripeteia, or reversal of fortune, and anagnorisis, or discovery. A good plot progresses like a knot that is tied up with increasingly greater complexity until the moment of peripeteia, at which point the knot is gradually untied until it reaches a completely unknotted conclusion.
For a tragedy to arouse pity and fear, we must observe a hero who is relatively noble going from happiness to misery as a result of error on the part of the hero. Our pity and fear is aroused most when it is family members who harm one another rather than enemies or strangers. In the best kind of plot, one character narrowly avoids killing a family member unwittingly thanks to an anagnorisis that reveals the family connection. The hero must have good qualities appropriate to his or her station and should be portrayed realistically and consistently. Since both the character of the hero and the plot must have logical consistency, Aristotle concludes that the untying of the plot must follow as a necessary consequence of the plot and not from stage artifice, like a deus ex machina (a machine used in some plays, in which an actor playing one of the gods was lowered onto the stage at the end).
Aristotle discusses thought and diction and then moves on to address epic poetry. Whereas tragedy consists of actions presented in a dramatic form, epic poetry consists of verse presented in a narrative form. Tragedy and epic poetry have many common qualities, most notably the unity of plot and similar subject matter. However, epic poetry can be longer than tragedy, and because it is not performed, it can deal with more fantastic action with a much wider scope. By contrast, tragedy can be more focused and takes advantage of the devices of music and spectacle. Epic poetry and tragedy are also written in different meters. After defending poetry against charges that it deals with improbable or impossible events, Aristotle concludes by weighing tragedy against epic poetry and determining that tragedy is on the whole superior.
The Human Comedy - William Saroyan
If the sun can laugh and cry, sing a pleasant tune, tell you a bedtime story, if the sun can sit in the middle of your chest and wrap its gentle arms around your heart, it would very much be like the writing of William Saroyan. The Human Comedy, probably Saroyan's most famous work, is touching, inspiring, and thought provoking. It is a novel set in Ithica, California in 1942, revealed in a series of vignettes. I say this because each little chapter is a golden nugget that can stand on its own. Though the novel pulsates with simplicity and innocence, the author tackles grander themes. Like the loss of innocence, in individuals and people as a whole; the suppression of the poor; morals and ethics; even racisim. Homer Macauley, still a teenager, a bicycle messenger for a telegraph company, loses his innocence as he learns about people, the real world, life and death. His younger brother, Ulysses, is the epitome of innocence and views the world around him in wonder. Saroyan presents a slice of small town life through these vignettes -- not necessarily a moveable plot. There is, however, a pervasive feeling of change. World war is underway. Industry changes and grows in leaps and bounds. People begin to think about their connection to their world. Corruption and crime seem to be new words in their vocabulary. Yet Saroyan's characters remain pillars of strength in their changing world. And there are a good many characters: Mr. Spangler, manager of a telegraph office, who sees nothing but goodness in people; Mr. Grogan, the always drunk telegrapher; Rosa Sandoval, who lost her son in the war; Mrs. Macauley, widow, filled with a clear, well-lit knowledge of the universe; and others: Charlie, who lost 33 Belgian rabbits; Big Chris; Fat, Texas, Horse, three soldiers; Ara the grocer; Mary Arena, girlfriend of Marcus Macauley, Homer and Ulysses's brother who went off to war. For the Macauley brothers, their future and their expectations for the future, is pinned to the return of their brother. When another soldier returns to Ithica with news of Marcus's death, the Macauleys', as a family, find strength and even see a brightness in their darkness. To read Saroyan is to feel the return of something this world, our world, has lost. It is more than innocence, it is the recognition of the presence and power of love.
The Magic Mountain – Paul de Mann
The Magic Mountain or Death in Venice is not only representative of some of the issues treated in Mann's personal body of work; it also reflects many of the most vital ideas discussed in literature during the time of its composition. At the turn of the century, many European writers expressed a biting awareness of cultural and personal decadence, and social and moral decline was a central theme to such novels as Theodor Fontane's Effi Briest (1895), Joris Karl Huysmans's Against the Grain (1884), and Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891). Literature of the era also focused to a large extent on issues of homoeroticism: like Death in Venice, Dorian Gray uses a fictional character to serve as a mask for its own homosexual author; Andre Gide's novel The Immoralist (1902) represents the extreme identity crisis experienced by many European homosexual artists of the time. Apart from the larger themes at work in the novella, Death in Venice was largely inspired by actual events in the life of its author. Mann had been on an island near Venice in 1905 during a cholera outbreak, and he later traveled to the city in May 1911, because, like his character Gustav von Aschenbach, he was exhausted by a difficult stage in his writing and felt the need for escape. On May 18 of 1911, Mann read the obituary for composer Gustav Mahler, who had died at the age of fifty; Mann based Aschenbach's facial features on Mahler's. Like Aschenbach, Mann was also homosexual: Although he was married and had six children, his wife is reported to have said that she married simply to have a family, and the publication of Mann's diaries in recent years have illuminated his many homosexual relationships. Moreover, in 1965, it came to light that the story owed even more to fact than previously suspected: A Polish baron named Wladyslaw Moes identified himself as the boy whom Mann fictionalized as Tadzio. Upon reading the Polish translation of the book in 1923, Moes recognized himself in the portrayal of the boy: Moes' family had gone to Venice for the sake of his health, and he must have appeared quite sickly; like Tadzio, Moes had slept late and engaged in carefully monitored exercise; Moes' striped linen suit, red tie, and blue jacket with gold buttons are faithfully rendered in the novella; Moes had played with a rowdy boy nicknamed "Jasio," echoing Mann's Jashu. Moes even remembers seeing an older man staring at him raptly in the hotel elevator. Moes waited to publicize his story until after Mann's death.
The Miser – Moliere
L'Avare is a 1668 five-act satirical comedy by French playwright Molière. Its title is usually translated as The Miser when the play is performed in English.The play was first performed in 1668 at the Palais Royal in a period when Molière's company was, on the one hand, under considerable establishment pressure to modify its output, but on the other hand, under the protection of Louis XIV himself. Little is known about the original performance, although it is said that Molière himself played Harpagon, utilising his by this point chronic cough and gait to humorous effect. The Miser's plot, involving a rich moneylender called Harpagon, whose feisty children long to escape from his penny-pinching household and marry their respective lovers, is a comedy of manners to which the 17th-century French upper classes presumably objected. It is less savage, however, and somewhat less realistic than Molière's earlier play, Tartuffe, which attracted a storm of criticism on its first performance. The play is also notable for the way in which it sends up certain theatrical conventions. Many comedies from the Elizabethan period and onwards contain asides which are delivered by characters to the audience and which the other actors ignore. In L'Avare, however, characters generally demand to know who exactly these asides are being delivered to. The play's ending is also self-consciously ridiculous, mocking the French idea of comedy to better the comical effect of the play and its parts, while still taking in hand the tragedy of Harpagon and his life. A brilliant playwright who practiced what is regarded as a precursor of Absurdism, Luigi Pirandello was born in Girgenti (now Agrigento), Sicily in 1867 to a wealthy family of sulfur miners. During the 1880s, he attended the University of Rome and then the University of Bonn, earning his doctorate in Roman philology in 1891. In 1894 he married Antonietta Portulano, the daughter of a sulfur merchant, in what appears to have been a business deal between their respective families. From 1904 onward, Portulano suffered severe bouts of hysteria and other mental illness that weighed heavily on their household, Pirandello ultimately institutionalizing her in 1919 upon the capture of both their sons in a World War I military campaign.
Six Characters in Search of an Author - Pirandello
Pirandello began writing while at university and returned to Rome in the late 1890s to pursue a career as an author. After a flood ruined his family's sulfur mines, Pirandello began to support himself by teaching rhetoric and then Italian Literature at various local colleges. During this time, he translated Goethe's Roman Elegies, wrote his Elegie Renae, two books of poetry, and a volume of short stories entitled Amore Senz' Amore (1894). Pirandello's first novel, L'esclusa, appeared in 1901; Il Fu Matta Pascal, his first major success, followed in 1904. Though Pirandello had begun writing plays in the 1880s, he initially considered drama an impoverished medium in comparison with the novel. Eric Bentley, perhaps Pirandello's most canonical critic in Anglo-American dramatic studies, divides the playwright's career into three major phases: the early period of Sicilian folk comedies, Pirandello's philosophical works, and that of the mythic plays written under fascist rule. It is for the works of the second period, those often considered progenitors of the absurdist theater, that Pirandello is remembered today. Apart from the famous Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), notable examples include Right You Are If You Think You Are (1917), a tale of a mysterious woman who could be either one of two different people, and Henry IV (1922), the story of a madman who believes he is a German Emperor from the eleventh-century. To accommodate his madness, his sister keeps him in a medieval castle surrounded by actors playing the role of his courtiers. Premiering to great controversy in Rome, Six Characters in Search of an Author recounts the fate of a family of characters left unrealized by their author. Desperate to come to life, the characters interrupt the rehearsal of another Pirandello play and demand that the director and cast stage their story. Pirandello retrospectively grouped this surreal tale in a trilogy of "the theater in the theater," along with Each His Own Way (1924) and Tonight We Improvise (1930). Taking the theater itself as its setting and subject, this trilogy drew upon the relations between all the major players of the dramatic spectacle—directors, actors, characters, spectators, and critics—to "present every possible conflict." As such a deeply self- referential or meta-theatrical work, Six Characters is also a key exercise in what Pirandello termed il teatro dello specchio or "the mirror theater," a play that turns a mirror onto the theater itself. As critic Anne Paolucci notes, the result then is not a reflection but a shattering, Pirandello generating his works through the fracturing of the dramatic spectacle itself.