Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Test #2: 16th and 17th Centuries

I'm still lazy, and typing in the question is entirely too time consuming.

Jesse Broussard
English 341
Exam #2

1, 5). (Found in the Faith in Conflict section.) The Roman Catholic Church had actually redefined charity into the realm of works, largely based off of the passage in James (pure religion consists of helping the sick and needy, therefore, acts of charity equate to religion, etc). So charity had the connotation of being something that needed to be done, as opposed to the “purer” state of mind or heart, and when the Protestants were translating the Bible, they decided to jettison the connotation, and the denotation necessarily went with it.

As far as why the Authorized Version (King James) went with the translation “charity,” the consensus view is that it was due to the moderation of the English Protestantism—they weren’t trying to completely ditch anything that remotely connected to Catholicism, but did want a full break from it. There were tons of Catholics living in England, and the general view of King James was undoubtedly live and let live (especially considering his own rather loose interpretation of the mandates against homosexuality, etc), and, rather than have yet more persecution, the Protestant translators were apparently willing to allow some “compromise.”

Personally, I’m not entirely sure that it wasn’t (in part, at least) due to the somewhat odd (though incredibly brilliant and wholly foundational to our speaking of the English language through to the present day) adherence of Tyndale to the Hebrew, Greek and Vulgate texts. The Greek has αγαπη, στοργη, ερος, and φιλια (agape, storge, eros, philia). However, the Latin translation (from Jerome) of αγαπη is “caritas,” and Tyndale typically translated caritas as charity, probably due to the etymology of the word. Charity=charitas, so “charity” would almost certainly have been derived from the “caritas” of Jerome’s Biblia Sacra Vulgata.

2, 10). Christopher Marlowe, Faustus. This is the section when Faustus is deciding that he has mastered most everything that the natural world has to offer (logic/philosophy, medicine, law, and finally, divinity) and he is making the decision that the supernatural world is where his interest lies. This “weighing of the options” leads to him selling his soul and, due to his lack of repentance, being damned for all eternity. This is just after he has decided that divinity leads to a simple “Che sara, sara,” and to bid “Divinity, adieu!” So this power, like a carrot in front of a donkey (or at least an ass), is what convinces Faustus to abandon all that is good, and, in Marlowe’s brilliant turn of phrase, “Here Faustus, try thy brains to gain a deity.” This avarice and pride—that he wants power so desperately, and that he thinks divinity not out of reach—is what completes the foundation of his destruction.

3, 12). John Milton, Paradise Lost. This, one of my favorite passages in all of Milton, is his interpretation, even his imputation, of the actions and emotions of Satan. Here is brilliant, stubborn, impotent and arrogant rage revealed. This is the type of mind that would be a suicide bomber, or that would rig his home with explosives so that when he was killed he wouldn’t go alone. This is the defining mentality behind petty, vindictive evil, and when Milton attributes this to Satan, he determines the entirety of the events in the rest of his Paradise Lost. If Satan has adopted this type of mentality, this type, as Tolkien would say, of reckless hate, this desire to simply destroy and damage everything that he possibly could, then all of the evil in the world is easily explained. Yet, the complex genius of Milton does not simply write it all off on Satan, he goes further (Biblically) and attributes sin and death to mankind’s free will (see #6), though generously helped along by this implacable hatred of Satan, this desire to simply watch the world burn.

What fascinates me is that this would so often be a virtue, if applied in the right direction. Were it a navy seal being tortured, it would be noble, honourable and wholly praiseworthy. Were it shipwreck survivors, it would be necessary (minus the hate, perhaps). It is solely due to the object against which the struggle is aimed that the deplorable state of the struggle is due, and I think this is one of Milton’s points: water can never rise u than its source, and neither can actions rise higher than the motives that give them birth, and good virtues defending evil motives become themselves corrupted by the evil of their aim. And, carried further, the simple fact would be that, if you are mistaken, pray that you’re a total screw-up. After all, sighting in on the wrong person isn’t quite so bad if you can’t shoot worth an Oompa-Loompa's chances of riding the Zipper.

4, 7). Technically, it was probably Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, but all right, I’ll say Willem Shakespere’s King Lear. This is the great destructive decision of Lear, the decision that births all of the other evil that he experiences and that leads to his prompt and his daughter’s untimely death (heh—not a comedy). He decides that he wants all of the benefits of being a king with none of the responsibilities. He decides to take a vacation, an early retirement, and to lazily enjoy his wealth and privilege while leaving the running of his kingdom to his children. But, as Cordelia could not “heave her heart into her throat,” he leaves the running of his kingdom to the two daughters (though technically to their husbands) that are power-hungry and grasping little hags, the two daughters that turn him from their homes (or set such stipulations for accepting him in that they know he could not accept) and end up killing each other/themselves.

Had he not attempted to retain “the name and all the additions to a king,” it is wholly possible that it would not have ended so badly. Had he been willing to lose all: both the kingship and the status of being a king, his grasping daughters probably would have just killed themselves off, and not cost him his life. Had he not surrendered anything, he would have died old and (relatively) happy, and WS would be a lot more boring.

5, 6). Another of Milton’s from Paradise Lost. Here, we are presented with an unusual view of God, in which God is sovereign and omniscient, but also somewhat of an angsty God. I have to say that it’s a greatly refreshing change from our typical castrated hippie-on-pot effeminate “can’t we all just get along?” god, but it’s still quite interesting on the momentary tangent that I’m taking, chasing the rabbit down the hole. As your sign outside your office says, and I think it’s from Lewis’ introduction to Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, reading old books is quite beneficial, not because dead authors weren’t ever wrong, but because they were wrong in different ways than we would tend to be wrong, and having the sharp wind of the ages blasting through our own minds is an excellent way to clear out the dust that our own age wouldn’t ever notice. Here we are presented with a very different view of God than we typically assume. Our modern age Christians seem to view God as primarily nice, and niceness is of course the chief end of all things (therefore we can tolerate everything but intolerance, which is just downright—dare we say it?—not nice), which irritates me to no end, while Milton has no problem offering God a spine and a touch of a temper toward us ingrates.

But leaving that alone and returning to the actual question, this is the section where God foretells what man will do. Man will listen to Satan; disobey God and fall from grace, even though God gave him everything he needs to stand. This is the central fact of the poem: man was able to stand: he had all that he needed in order to remain righteous, but he was also able to fall, and did, and had to be restored by God. Here is how Paradise could be lost or secured, and from the outset, God knew that it would be lost, yet He allows it to happen, and this is the chief tension of the poem, and of life in general. God entrusted the world to man knowing that we would break it and ourselves, so that He could heal it and us, hence the title of the second half of the poem.

6, 9). This section of John Donne’s 19th Elegy (To His Mistress Going to Bed) is a quite delightful section of one of his most explicitly bad (as in misbehaving, not poorly written) poems. He refers to her as his America, his newly discovered land, his unexplored, untamed land. He also refers to her as his kingdom, and says she’s best when by one man manned (a fancy way of saying he preferred that she not spread it around), his mine of precious stones, and his empire. His overall theme in this is that she is first, foremost and solely his: “How blest am I in this discovering thee!” If she’s America, it’s because he’s discovered her, and she is virgin territory. She is land that belongs to him, she is a mine of wealth that he owns, she is a kingdom that he alone rules, she is wholly his, and it is in this, in this belonging to him that she is all of these things. Were she not his, or even not solely his, she would be none of these things to him. Her value to him is derived from the exclusivity of their relationship. She isn’t England, that everyone lives in, but America, and he has just discovered her. She is a mine that he alone delves, an empire etc.

I would just like to point out that this poem has probably the most inappropriate line in all of Donne’s poetry: “Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.”

7, 3). These words were spoken by Charles the First, shortly before his execution, are recorded in The Moderate, Number 28, and they really do strike at the heart of the issue of putting a king (especially your own) on trial. It comes down entirely to authority: does the king rule autonomously, or by the permission of an assembly of his subjects? I still think that the execution of King Charles the First was nothing short of a judicial murder, and I think that because his question could not be satisfactorily answered. He was the highest court of appeal in England, until a jury of his subjects had him killed. Worse still, they didn’t have him killed because of some great crime that he committed, but because of the necessary symbolism of the act: if the king could be tried, found guilty and executed, then he was ruler not by divine right, but by permission of the people. If the people could kill him, then he obviously ruled to serve the people, and if he performed his duty unsatisfactorily, he could be held to account. If his subjects had the authority to bring him to trial—an authority that, in this instance, they seized without lawful precedent—then the king’s question could have been answered. But they did not have that authority, unless we are simply going by a “might makes right” system of ethics, in which case nothing that ever happened was wrong.

Rather ironically, it is solely due to the fact that the king was being executed that I even have the texts with which to judge the executors as mistaken, as the king would most likely have suppressed or edited the story, had it had a different outcome. As it is, it placed the people of this time and the following times in a position of authority even over the king, until the royal family is now no more than a figurehead, a symbol of a decayed, outmoded and wholly obsolete monarchy, an obviated reliquary of an almost forgotten time. And the unlawful execution of Charles the First was, if not the beginning of this trend—that could be traced back to the Magna Carta—at least the great cresting of the first wave of this incoming tide of egalitarianism.

8, 13). This delightful text, that all twelve year old boys delight in reading to their parents over the dinner table (“but mom, it’s literature…”) was written by the exquisite Edmund Spenser in Book the First of his Faerie Queene, his attempt to copy Dante by writing an epic in the Lingua Franca of his people.

The difficulty with this text, other than the obvious problems that the more squeamish might have with the image so skillfully conjured, is interpreting exactly what Spencer meant. After all, we could easily interpret every single monster in The Faerie Queene as the Roman Catholic Church, but is that his meaning? He names this, the first monster, Errour (in my opinion, out of sympathy for struggling college students), so if we take his interpretation, we can’t narrowly interpret this as the Roman Catholic Church, but it is responsible exegesis, not extravagant isogesis, to read it thus: the Roman Church is full of error, and it is with this that it will assault you. Hence, the books and papers in her vomit (which Norton reminds us may be Catholic propaganda against the Faerie Queene herself, Queen Elizabeth). This would also be supported by the description of the monster: half holds the semblance of a woman, as the bride of Christ (the Church), but half is a serpent, as the enemy of Christ in particular and mankind as a whole (“you shall bruise his heel, but he shall bruise your head…”). Finally, if we do accept this as the Protestant Spencer’s description of the Roman Church, we find that he is accusing them (most likely) of witchcraft (Macbeth’s double, double, toil and trouble / fire burn and cauldron bubble makes much of frogs and toads, and his contemporary Spencer would have used the same imagery for the same purpose), as well as “great lumpes of flesh and gobbets raw,” which (as we mentioned in class) could be alluding to the Catholic Eucharist, or, as I would tend to lean, to the Protestant martyrs, those the Roman Church had “consumed.”

In fact, when we consider them, other explanations simply don’t cover the facts. Personal error doesn’t account for the shape of the monster; nothing but error accounts for the name of the monster, and only the Roman Church accounts for both name and shape. The significance of this is that it is the first monster that Redcrosse Knight encounters and defeats: therefore, in Spencer’s mind, when one is courting Truth (Una), the first step is to destroy the error of the Roman Church (and get thee Protestant). The rest of the poem follows suit, and in just as detailed a fashion.

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