essay

Benedick and The Book of the Courtier

Il Cortegiano – or The Book of the Courtier – was a book written by Baldassare Castiglione in the sixteenth century, and it consists of fictional conversations between various characters within the court of Duke Urbino regarding the qualities a perfect courtier – and the lady of his affection – must possess. The qualities discussed came to define the code of chivalry for its time, (Burke), and Collington and Scott both identified many similarities between characters from The Courtier and characters from Much Ado: Elisabetta Gonzagza and Hero; Emilia Pia and Beatrice; Duke Guidobaldo and Leonato. Scott also points out that the bantering between Lady Emilia and Lord Gaspare “is strongly suggestive of Benedick and Beatrice.” The character Benedick would eventually attain the status of the courtier, as can be seen through his defence of Hero after her slander, especially in the chivalric way he treats Hero and the way he stands up to Don Pedro.

The “chief conditions and qualities in a courtier” (Castiglione) consist of traits in “fields as distant or different as arms, letters, arts, music, conversation, sports, dancing, and telling jokes.” (Saccone) But the two most important qualities that a courtier must possess are concepts known as sprezzatura and grazia. Sprezzatura refers to the act of “conceal[ing] all art and make whatever is done or said appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” (Castiglione) Castiglione also wrote that “the Courtier ought to accompany all his doings, gestures, demeanors, finally all his motions with a grace.” This grace, or grazia, “consists of, or rather is obtained through, sprezzatura.” (Saccone) Despite the messenger’s proclamation that he is a man “stuffed with / all honourable virtues,” (1.1.52-53) it can be seen that initially Benedick is neither skilled in the art of sprezzatura, nor does he possess grazia. His aversion and misogynistic attitudes toward women are not at all “gentle, sober, meek, lowly, modest, serviceable, comely, merry, not biting or laundering with jests.” (Castiglione) He “hath every month / a new sworn brother,” (1.1.66-67) and he “hang upon him like a disease.” (1.1.79) One of the characters from The Courtier comments “that a man must in his protestation and counterfeiting take heed that he be not like commune jesters and parasites, and such as with fond matters move men to laugh.” When he first enters the play, he jokes of Leonato being a cuckold, directly disobeying one of Castiglione’s principles, to “not to be overseen in speaking words otherwhile that may offend where he meant it not,” leading Beatrice to say to him, “nobody marks you.” (1.1.109) As Beatrice observes, he “always end with a jade’s trick.” (1.1.136) after she insults him. At the dance, she further describes him as “the Prince’s jester, a very dull fool,” (2.1.123) and that other men “laugh at him and beat him.” (2.1.127­) Later on, Benedick’s rant to Don Pedro about her and the fact that he cannot come up with a comeback implies that there is some truth to what she has said. Much later on in the play, the way Claudio and Don Pedro treats Benedick’s challenge supports what Beatrice has said: Cladio says that he will accept Benedick’s challenge so that “he may have good cheer,” while Don Pedro cries “what, a feast, a feast?” (5.1.147-148)

In his defense of Hero’s honour, however, Benedick rises. The first aspect of his reaction to Hero’s slander that shows him to be a courtier is his chivalric response to Hero’s suffering. Upon Claudio and Don Pedro’s accusations that Hero is “but the sign and semblance of her honour,” (4.1.31) Benedick was the only man that employs reason and questions Beatrice regarding Hero’s whereabouts at nights. The usage of reason in a man’s treatment of women is approved by Castiglione, as he writes that a courtier’s love towards women should “not to be sensual or fleshly, but honest and godly, and more ruled with reason, than appetite.” He is also willing to abandon his former friends in favour of challenging Claudio to a duel. The “I jest not” (5.1.142) in the opening line of his aside to Claudio marks a turning point for his transformation from “the Prince’s jester” to a courtier. After Claudio and Don Pedro mock Hero during the wedding, Benedick admonishes and castigates them for their behaviour during his challenge: “I will leave you now to your gossip-like humour; you break jests as braggarts do their blades.” (5.1.178-180) As Collington writes, his “willingness to defend a wronged lady’s honor, even to the point of defying his prince, distinguishes him as having achieved the highest level of service outlined in The Courtier.”

Another aspect of Benedick’s response to Hero’s fall is his open defiance to Don Pedro, his prince. This is in contrast to Claudio, who asks for Don Pedro’s permission at every turn, and would only pursue Hero after Don Pedro describes her as “very well worthy.” (1.1.205) Castiglione asks all courtiers “to become an Instructor and Teacher of his Prince or Lord, inclining him to virtuous practises: and to be frank and free with him.” Furthermore, when he knows that his prince is making a mistake, the courtier has a duty “to be bold to stand with him in it, and to take courage after an honest sort at the favour which he hath gotten him through his good qualities, to dissuade him from every ill purpose, and to set him in the way of virtue.” Benedick fulfills this obligation by challenging Claudio, whose decision to scorn Hero was supported by Don Pedro. His advising towards Don Pedro extends beyond what happened to Hero, as he advises Don Pedro to “get thee a wife, get thee a wife.” (5.4.120) Through the events that have transpired in the play, Benedick is transformed from a jester to a courtier.

By abandoning the world of men in favour of upholding Hero’s innocence, Benedick manages to stand higher than Claudio and Don Pedro. Through his chivalric defence of Hero’s honour and his ability to oppose Don Pedro when he has made an error, Benedick is able to become the courtier as described by Castigione in The Courtier – and become the primary hero of the play.

Works Cited

Burke, Peter. The Fortunes of the Courtier: The European Reception of Castiglione’s Cortegiano. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania University Press, 1996. Print.

Castiglione, Baldassare. The Book of the Courtier. London: University of Oregon Press, 1900. Print.

Collington, Philip. “‘Stuffed with All Honourable Virtues’: Much Ado about Nothing and The Book of the Courtier.” Studies in Philology. 103.3 (2006): 281-312. Print.

Saccone, Eduardo. “The Portrait of the Courtier in Castiglione.” Italica. 64.1 (1987): 1-18. Print.

Scott, Mary. “The Book of the Courtyer: A Possible Source of Benedick and Beatrice.” PMLA. 16.4 (1901): 475-502. Print.

Advertisements

The Masculinity of Macbeth

To this day, Macbeth remains one of Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedies, with the eponymous protagonist being the quintessential tragic hero. In the beginning, Macbeth is a moral man. He is the “brave Macbeth,” (1.2.18) who, with his “brandished steel, / Which smoked with bloody execution,” (1.2.19-20) was able to slice his enemies from “the nave to th’ chops.” (1.2.24) Unlike the previous Thane of Cawdor, he is loyal to his king. However, by the end he is transformed from a man that “smack of honor” (1.2.48) to one that is “smacking of every sin / That has a name.” (4.3.72-73) While we are led to believe that this transformation is caused by his unnatural ambition, the play taken as a whole strongly supports the idea that his primary motive is the assertion or preservation of a threatened masculine self-image.

One aspect of masculinity is its dominance over femininity. The first women that appear in the play are the witches. They “should be women,” (1.3.47) but they also possess androgynous features that demonstrate their masculinity. When they meet Macbeth for the first time, he “start and seem to fear” (1.3.54) their prophecies. While it is not explicitly shown in the play, there is also a desire within him to be more powerful, and thus, more masculine, than them. It is evident by the way he emulates the witches: as he prepares to kill Duncan, he invokes “pale Hecate’s off’rings”; (2.1.64) as he plans Banquo’s death, he describes a bat that “hath flown / His cloistered flight, ere to black Hecate’s summons.” (3.3.44-45) He is eventually able to “conjure” the witches “by that which [they] profess,” (4.1.51) demanding and receiving answers from them even when they ask him to “seek to know no more.” (4.1.118) It is this desire that compels him to commit acts that are unnatural, so as to become more like – and better than – the witches. By the end of the play, Macbeth has achieved this goal, not only in his evil acts, but also in his manner of speech. The prophecy that he chants repeatedly just before his final battle – “I will not be afraid of death and bane / Till Birnam Forest come to Dunsinane” (5.4.73-74) – rhymes just like the opening lines of the witches.

The next female character to appear is Lady Macbeth. Although Macbeth loves her and regards her as his “dearest partner of greatness(1.5.11), a part of him resents her dominance over him. With Duncan’s murder, she tells him to “leave all the rest” (1.6.86) to her and attacks his masculinity directly by telling him: “When you durst do it, then you were a man.” (1.7.56) Macbeth acknowledges her masculinity, as he tells her to “bring forth men children only, / for thy undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males.” (1.7.83-85) Lady Macbeth also seems, initially, to be far more emotionally prepared for committing evil acts than Macbeth, for she is the one who carries the bloody daggers back to Duncan’s chamber when Macbeth, overridden by guilt, cannot. The fact that Macbeth is influenced by a need to become more dominant is shown when Macbeth formulates a plan to kill Banquo himself and does not tell his wife about it. Indeed, he stops sharing with her his plans altogether. When she finally commits suicide, Macbeth, has once again achieved his goal: where she has succumbed to her guilt, he has not.

Another aspect of masculinity is the phallus, which is a motif that can be found throughout Shakespeare’s body of works. For example, in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet declares her love for Romeo by stabbing herself with his dagger. Even though it was a tragic and horrifying end, there is nonetheless a sexual connation to her suicide. Like Romeo and Juliet, daggers serve as a phallic symbol in Macbeth, though here they accentuate Macbeth’s struggles with his masculinity. As he was about to murder Duncan, the father that “had begun to plant [him] and will labor to make [him] full of growing,” (1.4.32-33) Macbeth hallucinates that a dagger is hovering before him:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (2.1.46-51)

This dagger seems to represent Macbeth’s doubt and guilt; however, this interpretation does not sufficiently explain the fascination Macbeth has with the dagger. Instead, this passage suggests that he is in fact suffering from castration anxiety. Castration anxiety, in Freud’s psychosexual development theory, refers to the fear of emasculation the son has from his father for desiring his mother. Macbeth is thus fearful of his castration – in other words the loss of his masculinity – for desiring kingship, which rightfully belongs to his “father” Duncan. Indeed, he calls out to his phallus: “I have thee not.” The sexual overtones of the dagger can be seen further when he says, “come, let me clutch thee,” which implies a yearning for masturbation; the word “come” being a double entendre for orgasm. The “heat-oppressed brain” also implies sexual arousal. Essentially, Macbeth is attracted to kingship, but he is subconsciously afraid that he will be emasculated by Duncan. Therefore, to prevent that fate, he must either stop desiring his mother – which is impossible for him at that point – or he must murder him, which he does. The blood-stained dagger that he mistakenly carries with him back to his own chamber is akin to a phallus that has ejaculated, symbolizing how Macbeth has now attained kingship.

After he has become king, the final aspect of masculinity comes into play: the ability to sire a child. However, it has far more implications than just fertility – Macbeth has never mentioned that he necessarily wants a child. Instead, the king that has the right to rule, like how Duncan has remarked, is like a gardener that must be able to make his subjects “full of growing.” (1.4.32-33) Therefore, the fact that Macbeth is childless, while all the other male characters have sons, reminds us – and him – of his moral illegitimacy as king. During his meeting with the witches, Macbeth sees two apparitions of children: one that is bloody and another that is crowned. These children represent kingships. The bloody child represents Macbeth’s kingship; it is bloody and deformed because of his illegitimacy. On the other hand, the crowned child represents Malcolm’s kingship – a legitimacy that Macbeth will never obtain. In other words, it is from his childlessness Macbeth realizes that he is not as natural and noble – or masculine – as the other male characters. The sentiment is demonstrated by his fear of Banquo’s “royalty of nature.” (3.1.54) and that “there is none but he / Whose being” (3.1.59-60) he fears. Indeed, when the witches show him apparitions of Banquo’s descendants, he cries: “horrible sight!” (4.1.137) In an attempt to make the other male characters less masculine – and thus make him more masculine – he attempts to kill their sons: first Banquo’s son Fleance, then Macduff’s son, and finally Siward’s son. There is also almost a desire to transcend the other male characters and their masculinity; upon killing Siward’s son, he recants the prophecy the witches told him: “But swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, / Brandished by man that’s of a woman born.” (5.7.17-18) – this recantation seems to be mocking the natural origins of the other male characters.

The interpretation of Macbeth’s masculinity brings another dimension of him into light. His struggles to protect his masculine image are almost ironic, for while doing so he is actually emasculating himself. By committing atrocious acts, he is straying away from his initial moral potency. By becoming as wicked as the witches, he is also becoming more and more like them. In the end, however, he seems to have regained partially his sense of manhood. When Macduff reveals that he is technically not born of a woman, causing Macbeth to realize that he is doomed; rather than fleeing, he resolves to fight until the very end.

Why Vegetarianism Is Evil

We’ve all sinned before. In fact, I will proudly proclaim that yours truly is smacking of every sin that has a name. However, of all my bottomless voluptuousness, there is one sin that I have never ever committed and will never ever commit. That sin is vegetarianism.

Of course some people will never agree to call it a sin. Those people are called “Satan’s disciples” and they are best to be avoided. Fine, perhaps calling them Satan’s disciples is a bit unfair. Maybe “brainwashed peon.” Some of these peons might squawk that eating animals is somehow an act of murder. While I do believe that livestock should be treated with care and respect, to call eating animals an act of murder seems a bit of a stretch. Are lions committing murder when they’re hunting? If the taking of a life for sustenance is somehow wrong, then what of the vegetables we are consuming right now? Are they not living things as well? What justifies the death of a cute and cuddly head of broccoli over the death of a mussel that doesn’t even move?

But it’s just as well. What more can you expect from peons that would keep on barking the ridiculous presumption that eating meat is unhealthy. As if vegetarianism is healthier. I mean, look at potato chips. Look at French fries. Look at Buddha.

But a bigger problem with vegetarianism is how we deny our nature through it. It’s never a bright idea to control what is a deep part of our nature. Take a look at how teenage girls found all over bad television shows would always inexplicably find themselves pregnant even though they wore a chastity ring and attend church every Sunday and loves Jesus and whatever. We have sharp incisors and canines for eating meat, and we have flat premolars and molars for eating vegetables. So when we question these designs of nature, aren’t we committing the root of all sins – pride? To presume that somehow we are more powerful than nature, that we are somehow better than what nature intended us to be, isn’t that the greatest sin of all?

I am not advocating for abolishing all medical advances and just leaving people to their fate. Humans have made progress that prolong and enhance their lives, and that is good. But surely nobody expects to develop immortality? In the end, there are boundaries that we cannot cross, things that we cannot overwrite, and changes that we cannot and should not make.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to eat, for all this philosophical talk has made me hungry.

Tragic Pity, Tragic Fear, and Jocasta

In literature, there exists an ample amount of filial wife and mother figures, women who will do everything to help and protect their husbands and children. However, perhaps one of the best known character is Jocasta, the wife and mother of Oedipus from the play Oedipus the King. In the play she acts as Oedipus’ wife who soothes and calms him, as well as provides crucial information regarding his origins. When she learns that she is actually Oedipus’ mother, she commits suicide. Despite her tragic end, however, we do not feel tragic pity and tragic fear for her because she does not possess a self of her own, her devotion towards her husbands does not reflect human qualities, and she is partially responsible for her outcome.

Tragic pity and tragic fear are both invoked by the fall of a great person. Tragic pity refers to the kind of pity that shows us what we are and what is precious in all of us (Sachs, 2005). Therefore, it goes beyond simple moralizations and sentimentality. Tragic fear, on the other hand, refers to the fear that the same thing will happen to us (Sachs, 2005). In order for us to feel tragic pity or tragic fear for a character, we must believe that the character does not deserve that fate (Konstan, 2001). Ultimately, we pity Oedipus because being the “everyman”, he suffers due to his hamartia – his quest to solve the riddle of his life – and we fear that like him, tragedy will befall us as we search for our truth.

While we may perhaps pity Jocasta for all her sufferings in the colloquial sense, we cannot pity her in the classical sense. We cannot do so because her life does not convey to us universal truths regarding the human condition. In other words, she does not invoke greatness. Her life always revolves around the happiness of her husbands, and she did not even step out the palace until Oedipus and her brother Creon started arguing. When Oedipus reveals to her the prophecies of “a mouthing seer” (40), she responded:

Oh then, altogether leave behind

these cares and be persuaded and consoled.

Well, there was a murder, yes,

but done by brigands in another land, they say,

Where three highways meet,

and secondly, the son, not three days old,

Is left by Laius (through other hands of course)

upon a trackless hillside,

his ankles riveted together.

So there! Apollo fails to make the son

his father’s murderer, and the father

(Laius sick with dread) murdered by his son.

The first sentence of Jocasta’s speech shows her devotion towards Oedipus. She is similarly devoted to Laius when she was married to him, as the second part of the speech shows her lack of hesitation in killing her newborn son just to appease the prophecy and save her husband. Although she later refers to the son as a “poor babe, who never killed a thing,” (46) here she describes the graphic details of the baby’s death almost with relief. It becomes obvious that she still cares deeply for her ex-husband, for she commits suicide while “sobbing Laius’s name (so long dead).” (70) Yet none of that emotion is shown when she mentions him here. This shows that her mind is concerned utterly with the well-being of her husband, or that at least she hides her emotions for her husband. Indeed, she makes no mention of her own happiness throughout the play. She even declares to Oedipus, “all my care is you, and all my pleasures yours.” (46) Even when she realizes the truth behind Oedipus’ origins, her focus is still on him, as she begs him to “[f]orget it all. It is not worth knowing.” (58). She is nothing more than a motherly figure for him. We cannot feel tragic pity for her because she does not have a self of her own, and there is no way we can relate to her.

It is for the same reason that while her end is sad, it does not evoke tragic fear in us. Firstly, she is led to her tragedy by her overwhelming concern over Oedipus, and not any other noble causes. Even though technically her husband Oedipus “reign[s] equally with her over all the realm,” (32) therefore giving her equal power and responsibility, what made her enter the stage is not the plague of Thebes, but Oedipus. Indeed, when Thebes was suffering under the plague, she “call at all the shrines” of Apollo “with these garlands and incense,” (48) on the behalf of Oedipus, not Thebes. She provides information regarding Laius because Oedipus demanded it. In terms of the shepherd that later proved to be pivotal to the unravelling of the truth, Oedipus was the one who tells her to “have him here.” (46). In essence, her sufferings were brought on by her need to help and protect Oedipus. Secondly, her devotion towards Oedipus does not universally resonate with us. When she finds out that her husband is in reality her son, she commits suicide. Yet she does not do so out of shame or guilt. She first attempts to stop him in his tracks, pleading to him “not to proceed.” (59). It is only when she realizes that there is no way to salvage her shattered paradigm does she quietly say to him, “there’s nothing else that I can call you know,” (60) before committing suicide. Without Oedipus as her husband, she just does not have the strength or will to carry on. Although motherly and spousal devotion is definitely a part of us, Jocasta’s devotion appears inhuman and illogical. Finally, she partially deserves her fate – she committed infanticide for the sake of Laius. It can almost be argued that her devotion towards Oedipus and her inability to live without him is her tragic flaw. In the end, we do not fear her fate, because we do not believe that we will suffer from the same consequences as her.

Jocasta’s role within the play is limited. She is merely a motherly archetype and a shadow of her husband Oedipus. Her life simply does not demonstrate enough intrinsic human qualities for us to have either tragic pity or tragic fear for her. While Oedipus, driven by his determination to save his city and his desire for knowledge, falls in a human way, Jocasta centers her life on Oedipus and could not see a way to live without him. Therefore, despite the tragic end of her life, she does not inspire tragic pity or tragic fear in us.

Work Cited

Sachs, Joe. “Aristotle: Poetics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2005. Web.

Konstan, David. Pity Transformed. London: Duckworth, 2001. 181. Print.

Be Yourself

“Be yourself.”

We’ve all heard of that phrase before. Or at least a variation of it. When we were young, we heard it from Disney shows where profanity is magically never muttered. When we become old, we will hear it from a self-help book, with the obligatory Oprah’s preface full of praises. And when we are anywhere in between, we will probably hear it from our hipster friends, because they are just so cool. To these people, individuality is the most important thing in the world, and to sacrifice that for any reasons is akin to sinning.

And I am here to tell you that it is all bullshit.

Now upon reading that sentence, Disney, the self-help gurus, and the hipsters would no doubt gasp in horror and roll their eyes in contempt. Disney would first berate me for swearing. Then Hannah Montana would remind me that everyone is special and that you should never ever pretend to be someone you are not just to become one of the “popular” people (a fate worse than death, it would seem). But in real life, we don’t make friends with terrible people not because we wouldn’t “be ourselves,” but because they are terrible people. What if the lonely protagonist is a neo-Nazi and the “popular crowd” is the kittens club? Would Disney offer the same moral then? On the other hand, Oprah would shake her head, and say that unhappy people are unhappy because they are not being themselves. But what if we were the ones that caused our own unhappiness? Do we take responsibility for it, or are we exonerated? Finally, hipsters would interrupt rudely, yelling that we should “be ourselves” instead of being a sheep that only does what other people are doing. But what if the sheep is doing the right thing? Do we listen to their advice, or do we dye our fleece black and listen to bad music?

To be or not be ourselves, that is the question. Actually, this entire question can be rendered into a single word: change. Do we change and grow, or do we stagnate and sink? Mother Nature changes herself all the time. The leaves fall. A flower blooms. Young men grow older and become, dare I say it, bald. But all the changes occur for a good reason. Fallen leaves decompose to support trees. Flowers bloom to herald spring. Bald men become teachers to young men. Change is vital and necessary.

However, when we are being ourselves, we are not changing. We grasp for that every last bit of ourselves, unwilling to let go. Worse still, we begin to think that we are perfect, that we are somehow “special”, and that we are not required to change. “There must be a reason why we are this way,” we muse, and we begin to believe that any changes we make to ourselves are somehow “fake” and unauthentic. That it is shameful to admit that we are imperfect and that we make mistakes. When consequences of our mistakes catch up to us, we shrug them off as a facet of ourselves. When failures start to threaten us, we accept them. “I am just not good at this.” We give up, accepting the failure to be part of who we are, and merrily go on our way. We are locked within ourselves, forever trapped in a cage made out of our “self-worth.”

But then, other people begin to recognize our flaws, and they confront us over them. But our hubris blinds us. When friends offer constructive criticism, we immediately accuse them of not accepting us for who we are. When parents discipline us to get to work, we begrudge them for not forgiving the “littlest” of mistakes. “And what did they mean when they called me that? I am just being honest!” By being ourselves, we fail to see the existence of others. We place the utmost importance on our own wellbeing and satisfaction. People must accept us who we are, or they are the “popular” people. We fight and we altercate, and we become selfish creatures that are unwilling to compromise. It is as if we are giants walking among mortals.

But what do we do when failures shatter our illusions? What do we do when relationships become broken? And what do we do when reality comes knocking on our door?