Discuss about the case study English Literature for Political and Religious Contexts.
The literature studies reflect the overflow of the subjective ideas based on different contexts. It is to be considered that literature always specifies the interesting responds to the political and religious contexts. The literary works published in both the restoration period, Victorian ages are highlighting the clear illustration of the political, and religion contextualised ideas (Larque 1). The literary works published in the restoration period are much fascinated by the political influences. The study will be discussing the political scenario that has been clearly illustrated in the play The Duchess of Malfi written by John Webster. On the other hand, the study will be analysing the religious view presented in the play The Importance of Being Earnest written by Oscar Wilde. The analysis of the contextualised ideas portrayed in the former play is simply connected to the scenario of the restoration period. The illustrated portraits presented by John Webster will be explaining the influence of such political circumstances in the current state of affairs. Similarly, the latter play will be explained through focusing on the religious influences that have the significant impact on the starting point. This latter play will be highlighting the religious scenario of the Victorian Age. Focusing on such diversified scenarios, the major highlights of these playwrights will be discussed accordingly. The discussion is thus presented further.
Thesis Statement: The current state of affair reflected in Duchess of Malfi and Importance of Being Earnest.
It is noted that throughout history, man has tried gathering knowledge about the personal chronicles, cultures, and experiences. To achieve this purpose, the written documents are published. Sharing the experiences is the most prominent and helpful way of expressing the self-image and clarifying the conceptualised idea. Hence, in the year of 1614, John Webster presented a glimpse of the political image of 17th century through his play, The Duchess of Malfi (Kastan 12). According to scholars and critics, this scenario highlights the clear portraits of the social mobility, English marriage, and the imposed laws. Moreover, it can be mentioned that the play prominently illustrates the attitudinal judgment, which is the foremost attribute seen among the people of seventeenth century. The play, Duchess of Malfi has been signifying the vivid picture of several aspects. According to few critics, socio-political transitions had their reflection in this particular play. The critics believe that the Duchess had fought for both self-determination and autonomy. She had inspired killers like Bosola, and at the same time, she had disheartened the readers through her failures. The other group of critics although argues that she had given more importance to the natural bodily love and not to the body politic that is there. According to these critics, and scholars the character of the Duchess is not only bound to the role of a wife, mother and the widow. The scholars believe that she is the minor heir of Malfi and thus she should have carried on her role as a ruler. The critics, therefore, argue that she is not different from her corrupt brothers because she had followed her “anarchic will”, and married Antonio. Maybe that is why, in Act I Scene II, when Duchess and Antonio, finally bound themselves in a relationship, the following words are uttered by Cariola.
“CARIOLA: Whether the spirit of greatness or of woman Reign most in her, I know not, but it shows A fearful madness. I owe her much of pity.” (act i, scene ii) (Webster 10)
The Duchess of Malfi is prominently creating the intersection between the personal and political situations. This play portrays the image of the emancipated widow who has been representing the political and social transition in the Jacobean England (Philips 36). The fights of the Duchess for gaining autonomy and self-identity are quite inspiring on one hand and disheartening on the other. The life of the Duchess is thus mirroring the image of the real women in seventeenth century. However, the critics have not accepted the Duchess of Malfi as the political character. In spite of being the successor to the Duke of Malfi, the critics refused to feature her political emblem in this context. It is seen that in spite of receiving the freedom, several women wished to remain unmarried for securing their independence (Chin-Yi 75). This literary play beautifully portrays the perception of a large number of women in the society. They usually think that widowhood signifies the increased result of dependency on the male family. In fact, they perceive that they can secure their social and political favours by depending on the male family.
The play, The Duchess of Malfi has been explaining the corrupt nature of Cardinal and Ferdinand. In fact, in the initial setting of the play, this spoiled characterisation has been reflected through the comments of Bosola (Miller 195). He exclaimed,
“He and his brother are like plum trees that grow crooked over standing pools” [act 1, scene 1]. (Webster 26)
He also revealed the fake mask of these two brothers by addressing them dishonest and devious. Hence, it is seen that the political essence of seventeenth century have created the most influences on these two characters. Cardinal and Ferdinand are representing the higher social stand in this play and they are even criticised at the very beginning (Olson 12). Cardinal is renowned for the corrupt official serving in the Roman Catholic Church. At the beginning of the play he tried convincing Bosola to murder a person for him. Delio informed Antonio that Bosola was sent in the galleys “For a notorious murder” and it was thought that “The Cardinal Suborned it” [act.1 sc.1].
On the other hand, Ferdinand was already characterised as the dishonest and corrupt person. Throughout the play, they have been highlighting such corrupted characteristics. Ferdinand became erupt and unstable in anger when he heard the news of his sister’s pregnancy. He exclaimed “Till I know who leaps my sister, I’ll not stir” [act. II, sc. V]. Soon he discovered that Antonio is the father of his sister’s child (Smith 20). In the mean time, Bosola was manipulated to kill the Duchess. After the brutal death of his sister, Ferdinand finally revealed his true intention. He stated,
“Only I must confess I had a hope, /Had she continued widow, to have gained/ An infinite mass of treasure by her death” [Act IV]. (Webster 30)
The obtained idea of the above discussion has been reflecting that The Duchess of Malfi was completely affected by the corrupt politics of the seventeenth century. Most of the corruption and politics are highlighted through the characterisation of Ferdinand and Cardinal. Therefore, it can be argued that the author is thus trying to paint the image of the political scenario of the seventeenth century in a significant way. The corrupt royalty of the period, where “noble birth”, “high birth” could lead to insanity, is reflected in the play. The insanity reflected through the character of Ferdinand.
The other play, The Importance of Being Earnest, written by Oscar Wilde has been reflecting the society of the aristocratic society of the Victorian Age. Victorian Age, according to many critics is more about luxuriousness and fulfilment. Therefore, a similar kind of image is also there in the play when the play beings. In the very first act, in the stage direction, the playwright states:
“The room is luxuriously and artistically furnished” (act i, scene i) (Wilde 1)
It is to be indicated that the aristocratic Victorians give importance to the duties and responsibilities. However, the study seeks for the description of the religious implications that have been portrayed in this particular play. In this play, Oscar Wilde has portrayed the fortunes and misfortunes of two upper-class Englishmen in Victorian age. These characteristics have created the fictional entities to avoid the obligations associated with the family and society. On the contrary, the presentation of the comic scenes has criticized the masks of the societies in the Victorian age. The study is mainly focusing on the respectability, marriage, and religions. Religion is considered as a topic of satire. Dr. Chasuble is the character who is been used as the symbol of religious thoughts (Konrad 25). Oscar Wilde utilized this character in showing the concerns of the Victorian society towards the religious faith.
Lady Bracknell is one of the significant characters in this play and she has presented the mockery in criticizing Christianity. Critics, argue that in her words also the fulfilment and the luxurious lifestyle of the Victorian aristocratic England, found their reflection.
“Every luxury that money could buy, including christening, had been lavished on you by your fond and doting parents” [Act III]. (Wilde 30)
At the very beginning, Algernon has presented his concerns by stating, “Good Heavens! Is marriage so demoralizing as that?” [Act I] (Lewinsohn-Zamir 35). He exclaimed as soon as he heard of the news that champagne in married household is rarely top quality, rather, brand. The religious view, in this play, is somewhat connected to the description of marriage. It is noted that some of the literary scholars try to illustrate an apparent picture of a particular period. On the contrary, some other scholars try to use such literary work as the indication of reality.
The play, The Importance of Being Earnest has been focusing on the religious view in a descriptive way. Here, religion is considered as the typical example of the conflicts between the reality and the fake behaviour of the people that has been dictated by the society. The conversation between Jack and Dr. Chasuble regarding Jack’s desire of being a Christian has been signifying the clear evidence of such religious view (Kupske 118). Jack has presented his desire of taking the Christianity as his religion through this conversation with Dr. Chasuble. It is seen that Dr. Chasuble cracked a joke against such decision, as he thinks that Jack was not at all serious about being a Baptist. He firmly disagreed with his proposal and stated,
“Not at all. The sprinkling and of adults is a perfectly conical practice..... Our weather change is so changeable”. (Wilde 38)
The flippant attitude of Dr. Chasuble is indicating the sense of pun towards the changes in weather (Fridell 19). However, it is to be indicated that Oscar Wilde has created the tension by featuring such intended pun. The difference between the real attitude and the featured attitude of the society is continuously shown through such religious views. Moreover, the structural use of the irony and sarcasm is also highlighted through the works of Oscar Wilde in this play.
Oscar Wilde has illustrated several realistic view of the society in Victorian age. The support of the pun, the illustration of the flippant attitude, display of continuous tensions, and the classification of the real image and falsified images are all painting the social picture of that era. It is noted that in the late 1800s, the society was much influenced by the religion and it was considered as the fatal part of the human lives (Bernhardt 25). In fact, it is to be indicated that religion was specifying the iconic picture in the social and economic views. Another evidence of the religious society was featured in the second act. Oscar Wilde created the tension between the natural behaviour and the artificial behaviour of the people in the society. Dr. Chasuble asked Jack, “But Surely, Mr. Worthing, you have been christened already?” This portion of the act is not at all an interrogative part; rather it portrays the clear statement presented by Dr. Chasuble (Konrad 28). He has the perception that Jack would like to be a Christian only because it is a general social expectation.
In describing the morality of Victorian Age, Oscar Wilde has presented the religious view of the society in a satirical manner. The relaxed concentration of Dr. Chasuble on Sermon has been clarifying his slacking obsession with the moral consciousness (Mayne 602). The play, The Importance of Being Earnest, depicts the religious commitment of the people in Victorian age through the characterisation of Dr. Chasuble. He has been playing the role of a priest who provides the repeated advices to satisfy the attendant’s humour. However, he has come across a time when he has surrendered to Miss Prism by showing the instability of his moral consciousness. Keeping concentration on such predicament, the readers can get the idea of the satirical standpoint of Oscar Wilde. The wavering moral faith of Oscar Wilde in the Victorian society has reflected through such illustration of flippant attitude of Dr. Chasuble (Foster 23). Hence, it can be mentioned that the life of the society in Victorian Age was full of hustle and bustle. People followed the restriction in this period and the anxiety is also much foreseen on their behavioural traits. In fact, due to such hidden anxieties, most of the people in Victorian society were absent-minded. Even Miss Prism was showed as one of the victims of such absent-mindedness.
Therefore, it can be argued that both the plays are revealing the societal attributes of the respective era. While on one hand, the play, The Duchess of Malfi portrays the political influence of the people, The Importance of Being Earnest has been presenting the religious view of Victorian age. There is a similarity between these two plays. The diversified picture of these two ages has been signifying the picture of the entire society. The maintenance of aristocracy has been much prominent even though the anxiety among the characters is also present. Webster has tried to illustrate the influence of corrupted politics on the people in his play The Duchess of Malfi. Similarly, it can be argued that Oscar Wilde has clarified the air between the real image and the artificial image of the Victorian society. Thus it can be said that both the plays portray a clear picture of the societies. The periods have become the core theme of these playwrights.
The study has been reflecting the diversified images of the different era. The extracted concept from the above explanation has been signifying the diversified societal scenarios of two different ages. The argument for Duchess of Malfi states that, John Webster has illustrated the clear picture of political influence on people at restoration period. The corruption among the people in the society has been clearly portrayed. Critics, while arguing for Importance of Being Earnest states that, Oscar Wilde has showed the falsified characteristics of the people of Victorian society. The religious influence has been clearing the air of the real characteristics in a prominent way. The criticism is based on the flippant attitude of the aristocratic people. Sometimes these people are also presented as much manipulative. The continuous use of the sarcasms and satirical attribution has been determining the repeated conflicts. It is true that there are differences in opinion, yet many scholars believe that these two dramatists have painted the prominent picture of the ruthless society, which usually tries to conceal the real face. Therefore, the illustration has made the concept perfectly transparent to the readers.
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