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Monday Shmoop: Crazy Kids: Rash teenage behavior in Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye and a selection of Romeo and Juliet quotes

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Crazy Kids: Rash teenage behavior in Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye and a selection of Romeo and Juliet quotes

Teens are notorious for being impulsive, hormone-driven and conflicted human beings. Though such a statement smacks of stereotyping, such portrayals have been justified by science—just ask any neuroscientist how the teen brain reacts to a deluge of testosterone or estrogen.

Yet, this idea is really nothing new; science has just painted a color of truth to it. In fact, before all the mumbo-jumbo of science came about, Shakespeare mastered the lustful impulsive teen in his classic high-school mandated Romeo and Juliet, a love story where two star-crossed 13-year-olds from warring families fall in love, get married and then kill themselves in the span of mere days. Leave it to those crazy teens to rush into everything.

Yet, rash behavior makes good tragedy. And the most naturally rash are usually teenage humans. If Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet anything like Nicholas Sparks The Notebook (our endless apologies for the implied comparison, Bill), things would be more adult: drawn out, tense and ending with a death by Alzheimer’s instead of death by a poison/dagger combo. Romeo says it best: “Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel/Wert thou as young as I, Juliet thy love/ An hour but married, Tybalt murdered/ Doting like me and like me banished/ Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy hair/ And fall upon the ground, as I do now/ Taking the measure of an unmade grave.”

Romeo and Juliet quotes Shakespeare allotted himself some creative freedom with timing and pace by making the two lovers teens, crafting a play that places its tragedy on the fact that its two leading characters were naively young and too quick to act. Consider the fact that Romeo’s actions are purely emotionally driven. He rushes in pursuit of Juliet, acting like a creepy Edward Cullen-esque stalker below her balcony. He marries Juiliet within days of meeting her.

Though he largely avoids the conflict brewing between Tybalt and Mercutio, Romeo enters it and quickly kills his wife’s cousin. Then he runs off in exile, where his preoccupation and his emotional instability upon hearing his wife is dead—which was totally untrue—causes him to miss the one letter that explains it all and tells him to cool his heels. Inconvenient for him but very convenient for Shakespeare. Instead, he rushes to be by his “dead” wife’s side, poisons himself and dies seconds after seeing his wife wake up. If there was ever a story that urged people to take a few moment to breathe and think logically, it would be this one.

That troubled state of rash behavior is found in another quintessential teen story, the ever-iconic Catcher in the Rye. One could say that Holden Caulfield is a Romeo without his Juliet. Or a younger Hamlet without all the regicide and incestuous undertones. He has all this angst, energy and rashness that he cannot direct into a relationship, so instead, it propels him into New York City, where he wanders aimlessly without commitment, hardly following through with decisions because his erratic mind and behavior suggests he lacks both foresight and hindsight—a classic flaw of rash teenager thinkers. His state of anxiety has not outlet so it accumulates inside him until he is committed to a looney bin. Perhaps he just needed a girl who wasn’t a complete phony.

About the Author:
Shmoop offers hundreds of free educational guides and references. We believe that any topic, like Romeo and Juliet or Catcher in the Rye, can be broken down in a way that is relatable and fun for students. . . We keep things more interesting by using television shows, video games, music, and fashion references throughout our guides. Our goal is not only to present the fundamentals, but to bring the material to life in a way that makes students ask more questions, instead of less. Check out Shmoop’s website to see how all of our free resources can make a difference in your study time.

Monday Shmoop: The Scheming Tom Sawyer and Hamlet

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The Scheming Tom Sawyer and Hamlet

Every myth has its trickster character. In the Greek tradition, you’ve got Hermes. In Roman mythology, there is Mercurius. In many native American folklore, you have the coyote. And in the American literary tradition? Well, we’ve got Tom Sawyer.

Technically, Mark Twain’s famous mischievous but lovable character is not a myth, but nonetheless, we nominate him as one of our culture’s prank-pullers. Tom Sawyer is all about the schemes. He tricks the neighbor kids into painting the huge fence by pretending to do so is a rare and exciting honor. He fakes his own death—unintentionally, we might add—but still, the boy doesn’t rush to stop his funeral and instead let it plays out. The boy even has some scheming game with the ladies, getting a little named Becky to kiss him and eventually taking punishments for her to win her affection. He even tricks his Aunt Polly into believing, temporarily, that he’s psychic. The list of Tom’s various escapades could go on and on—and that’s why he revered as such an enjoyable character by countless readers.

His schemes and pranks play a large part of that enjoyment because there is something pleasurable about seeing such an artful prank unfold. Granted, his pranks are often light-hearted and never unduly mean, but Tom’s charisma and his ability to manipulate the outcomes are what is remembered and loved about him. Successful schemes in literature and even in popular culture also evoke a certain sort of pleasure or excitement for its audience. There’s something about being in on an harmless joke and seeing the craftiness of another. Consider the George Clooney remake of Ocean’s 11—another charismatic character who tricks people to get a girl and some cash. Mark Twain isolated this scheming charisma as part of a boyish childhood, done in all good fun. Even when it’s serious, it’s done for justice, especially when Tom and Huck start doing some reconnsiance work on the murderous Injun Joe to not only snatch his money but to turn the jerk into the proper authorities.

However, schemes are not always fun and games. Another famous literary scheme is found in Hamlet, a far cry from Mark Twain’s type of territory. Shakespeare’s favorite existential Dane is indeed a schemer, a depressed and manic one, but a schemer nonetheless. Throughout the entire play, Hamlet puts on an “antic disposition” to find out clues about his father’s murder and to bewilder his family members and girlfriend so they don’t realize what he knows. He even puts on a play symbolically called The Mousetrap—the famous “play within a play”—that retells his father’s murder (which his father’s ghost told him) in order to catch an image of his uncle’s murderous guilt. Critics largely note that Hamlet is an indecisive character whose mind stalls him from taking immediate action by having lengthy soliloquies about suicide and the meaning of life. We add that all that talking and no action might be Hamlet working out elaborate plans to reveal what he doesn’t know about the rotten state of Denmark and how to confirm what he does. Clearly, he’s no Tom Sawyer, but he employs similar tactics and tricks to ascertain the truth and to get what he wants. And in that part, many readers enjoy seeing Hamlet unveil his family’s misdoings with his antics because we’re not only in on it but we’re also seeing justice be served, in a sense. Without any scheming, Hamlet would be a revengeful and short play. But instead, the Hamlet summary becomes this drawn-out game of cat and mouse—hence, The Mousetrap—where Hamlet plays with his victims as if detective work was some sort of game, though a serious one. It’s all in the plan.

About the Author:
Shmoop offers hundreds of free educational guides and references. We believe that any topic, like Tom Sawyer or Hamlet, can be broken down in a way that is relatable and fun for students. . . We keep things more interesting by using television shows, video games, music, and fashion references throughout our guides. Our goal is not only to present the fundamentals, but to bring the material to life in a way that makes students ask more questions, instead of less. Check out Shmoop’s website to see how all of our free resources can make a difference in your study time.

Monday Shmoop: Hamlet and Romeo Have Tea with Holden Caulfield: Inside Fan-Fiction

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Hamlet and Romeo Have Tea with Holden Caulfield: Inside Fan-Fiction

Fan fiction has grown in popularity over the last decade. Gone are the days when the audience believed that a character’s fate was strictly in the hands of its creator; now they seem to believe that they can decide the future (or at the very least, an alternate reality) of their favorite characters from film, literature and even history.

Writer/comedian/banjo player/playwright Steve Martin probably would not like to have his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile referred to as fan fiction, but it is so similar that there’s almost no better definition. Martin took the “characters” of painter Pablo Picasso and physicist Albert Einstein and put them in a dream scenario: what would happen if two of the greatest minds of the twentieth century met up at a bar? How would they react to one another? What would they talk about? Would Elvis make a surprise appearance? (Spoiler alert: he does.)

That’s the beauty of fan fiction; the writer can create a fantasy scenario using any of his favorite characters from fiction or real life. An Austen fan could write a story that puts the heroines of all her major novels together in a house, sort of a like a Real World for fictional British women. What would Elizabeth Bennet think of Marianne Dashwood? Could Fanny Price share a bathroom with Emma Woodhouse? It’s fun to think about what would happen when Austen characters stop being polite and start being real.

The same could apply to Shakespeare characters. Many of the Bard’s most notable protagonists are known for their strong personalities. Hamlet is notably moody, indecisive and prone to killing people through curtains. What would a dinner party that consists of him, Lady Macbeth and Petruchio from The Taming of the Shrew be like? Or a tea party with the nurse from Romeo and Juliet, the witches from Macbeth and Hippolyta from a Midsummer Night’s Dream?

It’s fun to think about one’s favorite literary characters meeting up and interacting. Whether it’s The Little Prince meeting Anne of Green Gables or Harry Potter casting a spell on Edward Cullen from Twilight, this type of fan fiction allows readers and writers to explore the various facets of their favorite characters’ personalities. Sometimes it can even be used as wish fulfillment. For anyone who read The Catcher in the Rye and wished that Holden Caulfield would just come across someone like Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, who wouldn’t put up with his antics and give me the good slap across the face he deserves, writing literary fan fiction can be incredibly gratifying.

Of course, there is a stigma that comes with writing fan fiction, whether it’s for a popular science fiction TV show or the complete works of William Shakespeare. It can be an excellent creative outlet, but not necessarily something that will make for great cocktail party conversation. Speaking of which, what would happen if Captain Ahab, Henry V, Catherine from Wuthering Heights and Gandalf the Grey all met at a cocktail party?

About the Author:
Shmoop offers hundreds of free educational guides and references. We believe that any topic, like Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, can be broken down in a way that is relatable and fun for students. . . We keep things more interesting by using television shows, video games, music, and fashion references throughout our guides. Our goal is not only to present the fundamentals, but to bring the material to life in a way that makes students ask more questions, instead of less. Check out Shmoop’s website to see how all of our free resources can make a difference in your study time.

Monday Shmoop: Is The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel?

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Is The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel?

The concept of the “Great American Novel” is so pervasive that it has become something of a cliché. Burned-out businessmen and frustrated housewives and everyone in between has said that they’ll take time out to write it, but what if it’s already been written? What it it’s a book that almost every American high school student reads at some point, even if he or she doesn’t want to? What if it’s a book that some critics viewed as frivolous and sordid when it debuted, but also one whose author’s contemporaries found revolutionary and practically? What if it’s The Great Gatsby?

Why The Great Gatsby? F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnum opus is a love story, an allegory and a piece of American history. It has a narrator from the Midwest, an anti-hero who is also a war hero, a unhappily married couple, lavish parties, fancy shirts and flashy cars. Nick Carraway, the book’s narrator, is at first intrigued by Jay Gatsby’s lifestyle: the music, the women, all of the trappings of a life of wealth and (relative) social standing.

But as Nick gets more and more familiar with Gatsby’s life and backstory, he becomes more and more disenchanted with Gatsby’s world. As he learns that Gatsby is motivated primarily by his desire for Nick’s (married) cousin Daisy, he realizes that the world he’s entered is a shallow one, full of “careless people” who do not care whose lives they destroy so long as they get what they want. And while some argue that Nick Carraway is not as pure of heart as he may want readers to believe that he is, he at least tries to treat other people with consideration and respect.

Many people probably would not consider The Great Gatsby to be the Great American Novel, if only because they associate it with other mandates from their high school years: gym class, awkward dances and the SAT. But it’s a novel worth revisiting. Despite the accessibility of Fitzgerald’s writing, it’s a highly complex novel that certainly warrants multiple exposures. It is it entirely earnest or slightly tongue-in-cheek? Could its story work in any time period and location or is it only suited for a post-World War I America? What would happen to the story if Nick or Gatsby was a woman?

These questions do not just exist within the confines of a college English paper or an AP English Literature essay. They’re the kinds of questions any serious reader should be asking herself. Even if we decide that Nick is a reliable narrator, we have to wonder: is Fitzgerald a reliable author? What’s his agenda? By classifying Gatsby as a hero or villain, is the reader forming his own interpretation of the text or falling right into the author’s trap? It’s too late to get any answers from the writer, of course, so it’s up to readers (and countless literary scholars) to form their own opinions.

About the Author:
Shmoop offers hundreds of free educational guides and references. We believe that any topic, like Great Gatsby or SAT, can be broken down in a way that is relatable and fun for students. . . We keep things more interesting by using television shows, video games, music, and fashion references throughout our guides. Our goal is not only to present the fundamentals, but to bring the material to life in a way that makes students ask more questions, instead of less. Check out Shmoop’s website to see how all of our free resources can make a difference in your study time.

Monday Shmoop: The Cautionary Tale of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Monday, October 10th, 2011

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth contains a lotof life lessons. Number one: Don’t listen to stranger bearded women when wandering through a fog. Number two: Never let anyone bully you into doing something you don’t want to, even if it’s your wife. And Number 3? If you want to become king, the kill-everything-in-your-path strategy, while seemingly effective, is bound to backfire.

Macbeth is indeed a cautionary tale of greed, power and ambition. At the play’s core, it is about humanity’s tendency for evil and ruthlessness, particularly when fueled by the desire for ascension. Macbeth, a Scottish nobleman fresh from a ruthlessly victorious battle, stumbles upon a pack of prophesizing witches who imply that kinghood is in his future, effectively messing with his head and ego. Just a few little words set Macbeth in motion to achieve his fate of being king, instead of letting things unfold naturally.

Looking at Macbeth summary, Macbeth stands somewhat as a tragic hero and a villain in the play, as he is a man whose ambitious ego and thirst for power sets him on a path of destruction that inevitably arrives at a grisly destination with his head on a spike. Violent is as violent does for Macbeth.

What we learn from Macbeth, aside from the whole downside in embarking on a murderous rampage, is that our desires and our emotions control us much more than we think. It also highlights how easily swayed humanity can be at times, when all it takes is some eerie women to plant a seed of power in our impressionable egos. At its basic level, Macbeth is about the power and drive of man, and how that power and drive can effortlessly steer us off course. Take, for example, a selection from Macbeth quotes featuring the hallucinations of Macbeth that finally convinces him to kill the king. A floating mirage of a dagger, “a dagger of the mind” he calls it, seals the deal for Macbeth, reading it as something to “marshal’st” him on his way to power. Note the level of agency he ascribes to this image, which could either be a manifestation of the witches or of his “heat-oppressed” brain. The image is both a sign and a usher of sorts for Macbeth, suggesting his own lack of agency and self-determination that allows him to be easily swayed. (more…)


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Monday Shmoop: Movin’ On Up: Reading Education as Social Mobility in Great Gatsby Quotes and Jane Eyre

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Pink Floyd was wrong. Very wrong. So wrong in fact that its famous lyric, “We don’t need no education,” is an assault on the ears of anyone who considers themselves to be grammar aficionados.

As ironically implied by its error-laden sentence, Pink Floyd was definitely wrong about needing education. They needed it and we need it too, especially that now-a-days, a bachelor’s degree is often a rudimentary ticket to entry for low-level jobs. In fact, with the current economic funk sending more and more people back to higher education, it is no stretch to suggest that our society certainly values education as a way to move up in the world—or at least hold onto wherever one is currently.

Our value of education and the importance it holds is readily reflected in our literature. Authors often use characters’ educational training as a plot technique to move them beyond their lowly status and succeed. In that way, education is fundamental to the American dream, the individualistic doctrine that says if you work hard enough and learn hard enough, you will move up in the world. Education allows social mobility; it empowers the lower castes of society to pull themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps and make something of themselves.

No clearer literary example of this can be found than in Jay Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s self-reinventing tragic hero for which his classic novel The Great Gatsby is named. Gatsby—whose real name is Gatz—comes from a poor, Midwestern family with little inheritable potential for greatness. So he does what any red-blooded American does: he fakes it until he makes it. He takes a page out of Great Expectations and starts hanging out with the cooler people.

Though he doesn’t boast of it, the dude went to Oxford, only for five month. . Name recognition being everything, his new social-elite status is built on that fake education, which others use to buoy his credibility as someone of worth. A look at some Great Gatsby quotes, especially when Tom tries to discredit Gatsby’s education as to demean him, shows what value it has.

(more…)

Monday Shmoop: Party Time: Party Settings in Romeo and Juliet and Great Gatsby quotes

Monday, September 26th, 2011

 

Ah, parties. Who doesn’t love a good party? You’ve got awesome food, drinks, cool people, loud music and unrestrained hijinks abound. Beyond being an opportunity to go buck wild or to be a social animal, parties also serve a purpose of potential serendipity. What we mean is that the human celebratory party is the setting for chance interactions and fateful meet-ups. For example, you can meet the love of your life at a chance encounter during a college party, then quickly proceed into the happily ever after stage of marriage, children and even a chocolate lab. If it wasn’t for that party, you might never have had Bruno the dog.

The party setting is also a literary staple. Authors use parties in their stories because it offers an opportunity to converge two unacquainted characters or two distinctive plot lines in one place, allowing the story to advance or change its course.

Consider Shakespeare’s teen drama, Romeo and Juliet. Romeo sneaks into the Capulets lavish party, hiding his true identity because of the whole Capulet vs. Montague beef. He comes across Juliet and falls instantly in love. The party scene is a catalyst their relationship and ensuing demise. In a sense, the party becomes a fulfillment of fate for the two star-crossed lovers, a tactic used by Shakespeare not only to advance the story but to brew the formula for pending tragedy.

In other words, the party gives free rein to Shakespeare to add any elements he sees fit—logical restrictions and continuities do not readily apply. As in real life, the party allows authors to mingle their intentions for the story. (more…)

Monday Shmoop: Endurance as a virtue in The Scarlett Letter, Antigone and To Kill a Mockingbird quotes

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Endurance is a virtue that we, as a Westernized society, place a great deal of worth in. To withstand intense pain, strife or just plain unpleasantness—or even muster up the strength to resist an endlessly tempting pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chubby Hubby—is to be respected, appreciated and at times, worshipped. History is littered with examples of those elevated super-humans who demonstrated the capacity to grin and bear it while turning the other cheek. Think Jesus, Mohammad, Buddha or even the countless Christian saints revered for their storied sacrifice and strength.

It should be no surprise that our reverence for those who endure has found its way into our story telling. Tales of strength, daunting and physically excruciating tasks and the ability to overcome the odds are the stuff that defines our heroes. More importantly, these sort of tales also define humanity as a whole. They represent not only our values and our morals as mere humans, but they also construct social norms and rules that shape our societies. Again, religious figures such as Jesus and Buddha come to mind, whose teachings have shaped our perceptions of how we as humans should act for thousands of years. Consider the Golden Rule—a virtue present in nearly every religion that urges people to treat others as they would like to be treated—as a sort of test of endurance. Especially when you’re in line for the DMV. That bitter (and completely justifiable) attitude is only going to get you more bitterness.

A classic literary example of valued endurance, especially with religious connotations, is Nathanial Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in which Hester Prynne, a young woman living in mid-17th century puritanical Massachusetts Bay Colony area, is publicly punished and shamed for having a child with someone who is clearly not her husband, since the dude has been MIA for a few years. As part of her punishment, she is forced to wear the letter “A” to forever mark her as an adulterer. Yet, despite her imprisonment, constant public shaming and general disenfranchisement, Hester endures. A woman of honor, she does not public reveal who her baby daddy is (it’s the town minister, by the way) to protect him and his reputation. Her love for the minister gives meaning and purpose to her suffering, making her a patient and relatively tolerant literary figure with religious overtones. (more…)

Monday After-School Special Feature!

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Wpm02 05 Starting this week, I’ve got a new feature on Monday afternoons. Remember the great article I posted on Romeo and Juliet from the folks at Shmoop? Well, they are going to be back every week with a new article related to books, authors and readers. I am really looking forward to seeing what they come up with, and I want to pass along a special thank you to Paul Thompson at Shmoop who made this all possible.

 

What Your Favorite American Author Says About You

In his best-selling novel High Fidelity, Nick Hornby asserts that what a person likes (books, movies, music, etc.) is more important that what a person is like. No need to get to know someone well, observe her in a variety of situations and truly judge her character; no, all anyone needs to do is find out which actors, authors, musicians and other artists a person likes to truly understand her character and determine if she could be a potential match for friendship or romance.

Whether or not anyone should actually take stock in this theory, it’s fun to think about what a person’s preferences indicate about her personality. Below, some possible clues into a person’s psyche based on her favorite American author.

Click here to see the author list… (more…)