Reference: Helen of Troy
Description: Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus is a play that seems to reject and embrace religion simultaneously. On the one hand, there is a message that the acceptance of the world as cited by religion is inaccurate, and therefore, religion is a restrictive force. On the other hand, it is a religious figure that entices Faustus, leading him to his final destination (Hell), which therefore confirms the existence of God. But God seems to be a deity that is incongruous alongside the scientific world that Faustus (and perhaps Marlowe) wants to understand. The ‘unclassifiable’ nature of the play’s morality and religion is echoed in the eponymous character’s own facets. On the one hand he is the Renaissance man, a true sapient homo who knows that the mysteries of the universe lie outside of the books and the accepted scientific/religious wisdom of his day. Faustus rejects dogma and embraces the surges of energy that are given off by his enquiring mind. However, his character becomes as dogmatic about his own fate as he was about the teachings that he rejected at the start of the tragedy. He refuses to repent (and thus save his soul) as he sees retreat or rejection from his own long-held views as a sign of weakness. Despite all of his academic learning, both in the real world and the metaphysical, Faustus is still just a stereotypically stubborn man. This stereotypical behaviour is seen further in his desire to be with Helen of Troy; Faustus conjures her image to appear in-front of his students as a way of ‘showing-off’. Later, he begins to contemplate the need to ask for forgiveness for his sins, an action, which he has been assured will grant him mercy in the afterlife. However, lust takes over his brain and his desire to be with Helen makes him stray once more from the path of Christian morality. Despite all of his academic learning and his intellectual prowess, Faustus succumbs to his baser instincts and decides to use his considerable powers for his own salacious fulfilment. In this way, Helen of Troy maintains her role as the seductress of men who carelessly seduces them to their doom. And, she also maintains her position in the literary canon as an ‘object’ to be discussed, rather than a person to be heard. The story of the ‘great man’ brought low by his inability to control his desires is still a ‘story of our times’, as is the inferred subtext/myth/lie that in some way, it was all ‘Helen’s’ fault.
Contributor: David Hogg
Reference: The Titans
Description: This entry is one for the English teachers out there... I know that J. B. Priestley is beholden to the name of the famous ocean-liner that sunk on its maiden voyage (The Titanic) and therefore, his reference is to the ship rather than the Titans. However, the ship is allegorically important and its significance in the play can be amplified further if teachers spend time thinking about the Classical nature of its name. The Titanic was meant to be a modernist masterpiece and show the world that man was the true master of this planet, replacing God and taming nature. And what better way to prove your industrial powers than to give your symbol of progress a godly name? However, students should be encouraged to look up what happens to the Titans - once they find this out, they will perhaps start to see the folly of naming the ship after them. In the play, the name and the ship itself become an excellent example of hubris and students should be encouraged to keep linking the arrogance of the ship's name to the fall of the Birling household and to the future sinking of capitalism. The arrogant capitalist Birling states, "this is one of the happiest nights of my life." before he hits his own ice-berg in the form of Eva Smith. The Titanic shows us that 'Man' must remember that he is not a god. If he does this, he may discover his humanity and find ways to care for other people, as opposed to 'ingesting' those around him for personal gain. In mythology, the Titans were taught a lesson by those that they oppressed and Priestley's message is the same, "if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish".
Contributor: David Hogg
Reference: Greek Chorus
Description: The lawyer Alfieri is the Chorus in this modern tragedy. He pops in and pops out of the narrative giving the audience ideas about what has happened, what will happen and what he thinks about the happenings. He also draws a link between 'now' and the Classical past in his opening speech when he states, 'in some Caesar's year'. There is also an old woman who performs the role of an 'oracle'; Alfieri is so worried about Eddie that he goes to speak to this wise old woman but her advice is to simply pray for Eddie. She knows how this story ends and her wisdom seems like a prophecy to the audience. Eddie is the tragic character whose hamartia leads spectacularly to his downfall. Miller has mined the Classical idea of tragedy brilliantly in this play. He has made Eddie a complex character and it can be hard for us to pinpoint exactly what his flaw is: is it his masculinity? A repressed homosexuality? Or his inappropriate feelings for Catherine? There is no definite answer to this question, but his downfall is definitely tragic.
Contributor: David Hogg
Reference: Plato (The Allegory of the Cave)
Description: The Inspector has come to the Birling household to shine a light on their behaviour. The first stage directions state, "The lighting should be pink and intimate until the INSPECTOR arrives and then it should be brighter and harder." The Birlings are living in their comfortable 'cave', shut off from the outside world and are not interested in the truth. That is until the Inspector reveals the consequences of their actions and the 'cave-dwellers' need to make a choice: do they follow this new 'prophet' or do they chase him out and carry on with their lives in ignorant bliss? It is this decision which forms the basis of the drama in this play. There is a moment when it seems that Gerald is going to make the 'leap of faith' - he 'leaves the cave' and goes for a walk. Disappointingly, he doesn't like what he sees in the real-world and runs back to the safety of the Birling house - back to ignorance. Sheila on the other hand is prepared to believe that what she currently 'knows' is a lie and that the truth is something that she needs to search for. The split in the family at the end is a chasm formed between those that believe in the truth and those that believe their version of the truth. Absolute truth is not absolutely easy (see the Flatland reference in Novels), and both Plato's Allegory of the Cave and Priestley's masterpiece demonstrate the bravery needed not only to go forth into the light, but also to bring it back and show it to everyone else.