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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Shakespeare on Women

Shakespeare shows that women are noble and virtuous. Hermione is faithful and forgiving even when she is tried for adultery and treason. She forgives Leontes after he falsely accuses, imprisons her, and takes away her child. Paulina stays with the queen and speaks out to the king at the risk of her own life. Finally Perdita is innocent and sweet. She portrays innocence and is unaware of her father’s dispute. In the end each woman rises above the circumstances and displays virtue, courage and nobility.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dr John Faustus - a Machiavellian

Faustus, like Machiavelli, has a power complex. He rejects the Medieval mindset for the wholesale pursuit of power, pleasure, and wealth. At the beginning of the play Faustus has attained the full sum of possible power that he is able without supernatural help. He was learned and accomplished, but he wanted more. As Machiavelli said, “for fortune is a woman and in order to be mastered she must be jogged and beaten.” Faustus wanted fortune and pursued it . By selling his soul to the devil he was taking control of the situation and forcing the hand of fate in his favor. Sadly, once he gains what he believes he wants, absolute power, he looses all the great dreams he had previously. He settles for the entertainment of kings and conjuring tricks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Una and Duessa - Truth and Lies

In Spencer’s Faerie Queen, as in all allegories, the meaning of the text which is important for understanding is difficult to find. Towards the end of Canto One a sensual scene is dreamed by the Knight of the Red Cross. It seems like Una, whose name is first given here, the knight’s lady, is taken to his bed. He wakes up suddenly and finds a false Una in his room. She claims she loves him, but the next morning the enchanter that created the false Una shows her having intercourse with another man. The Knight of the Red Cross is outraged and leaves deserting the real Una who wakes up and goes after him.
Una can mean one and truth. The Knight is called Holinesse. Holiness and truth are both attributes of God. The false Una is named Duessa. She represents the Roman Catholic Church which teaches falsehood emphasizing the appearance of piety rather than the actions of faith. Falsehood, Duessa, fools our knight, Holinesse, into temporarily abandoning truth, Una, to go pursue personal glory.

A Medieval Ideal

Benjamin Franklin once said, “In this world nothing is certain, but death and taxes.” He was wrong. As long as there is life, there is hope. And as long as there is man, there will be war. There are many things you can learn to depend on, but there are few things that are truly dependable. God, in His plan he gives every generation the opportunity to follow Him, depend on Him. Each generation has succeeded in some ways, but failed in others. Speaking cynically, without God, the only thing we can know is that the government will take our money and someday we are going to die, but for Christians who have that hope they can look at the past learn from their mistakes, emulate their successes, and live their lives striving to finish well living according to God’s standards.

Looking back at the Medieval Period when men were men, women were honored, and the Church ruled, God was the center of their culture, unlike now where the Church no longer stands for what is right, but instead yields to the culture, groveling before the Devil, a sycophantic courtesan. Men like Eusebius, Athanatius, Augustine, Boethius, Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin made Christ the ruler of their lives. Eusebius wrote about the lives of those who dedicated themselves to Christ, forsaking all to follow Him even life. Athanatius wrote an entire book on the doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. On the Incarnation centers the focus on the truth simply and succinctly reminding the reader of that amazing mystery of God becoming man maintaining the fullness of each nature. Augustine gives us his own reminder of that place we strive for in City of God. He reminds us of the eternal City that we should be living in our minds where there is no wrong. He discusses the city of man and how no matter how hard we aspire here to get past our fallen world without the grace of God through Jesus Christ, His Son. It is beautiful how this period because of its lack of outside distractions was able to focus on God whole-heartedly in our modern age almost unheard of state.

One of the most different things from our state and the medieval era is the treatment of others courteously, chivalrously. Every knight had a law of chivalry he had to take. It reminded him to live with honor, respect others weaker than him, and to die with courage. Knights such as Roland, relentless, who stood strong in the face of defeat, and died with honor, or the Knight in Chaucer’s tales, who told the tale of two men who in love the same woman fight for her, treating her with honor and dignity. In Shakespeare’s Henry the V, King Henry acts courteously and honorably inspiring others to do the same at the battle of Agincourt. These men always strive to act chivalrously to one another. The best example of knighthood and chivalry in a medieval setting would be Sir Gawain. The poet who penned Sir Gawain and the Green Knight spent a substantial amount of time on the armor and most specifically the shield of Sir Gawain. On the shield was a five-pointed star that represented the Pentangle, a list of things he had to assist him on his quest. He had religion in the five joys of Mary and the five wounds of Christ. He had his natural gifts that all men possess with the five senses and his five fingers. The last point on the Pentangle represented the five virtues: generosity, chivalry, chastity, courtesy, and piety. When he reaches the Castle of Sir Bercilak de Hautdesert, he abandons his religion until he feels guilty for keeping the girdle. Also he lets down his guard and lays around for the better part of his stay, showing that his senses are not as keen and his hand is not at work to promote good. This opens up his five virtues to intense scrutiny. Two of his virtues are pitted against each other in the form of his host’s wife. She requires him to be courteous to her, which would require giving into her will, but this jeopardizes his chastity. He, acting chivalrously, plays innocent to her advances, and strives to maintain her purity and honor and his chivalry as a knight. The chivalry he shows is a purity of thought toward any man, woman, or child always acting in the way that would edify those around him.

Every period in history sets the stage for the next one. We find our own roots in the Middle Ages, a time where men were beginning to develop a more centralized government introducing a new era. The old era of courtly knighthood and chivalry is seen as outdated as a new era is ushered in to its place. Don Quixote, a man who lived after the era of knights errant, in insanity sought to become a knight in a world dead to all forms of romance. Is he insane to follow a high code of conduct and strive to follow it no matter the cost to himself or is he the only sane one in a world of deranged lunatics? The values of our modern state have grossly dilapidated since the end of those times because man has become self- centered and self-serving uncaring for fellow man. Machiavelli wrote his treatise to the Medici lord of Florence telling him how to best control his state and build a larger one in a dictatorial way setting the scene for the great tyrants of our age, Hitler, Stalin, and Tse-Tung. It is not all bad, however. This period opened up literacy to a certain extent, one could get an education as part of the Church and this set the stage for colleges and schools in the following centuries.

As states were being moved and developed there was an increased awareness of the arts and a focus on beauty as an ideal. It was not exclusive to just the murals of DaVinci or the statues of Michaelangelo, but also including the plays of Shakespeare, the tales of Chaucer, and Spencer’s Faerie Queen. Where before beauty was hidden and rarely shown because of the strong ideas of idolatry, now it was displayed for all to see. Authors portrayed outer beauty as a gift from God and gave great importance to it. Spencer’s Gloriana was beautiful even though the woman who inspired her was not physically stunning, Shakespeare’s heroines are described as beautiful, Juliet, Katherine, Cleopatra, Beatrice, Hero, Desdemona, and Lady Macbeth. Dante focuses on the beauty of his lady Beatrice and then in vivid terms describes the beauty of heaven.

Humanism is the idea that the human body and intellect should be the main focus of life. It was depicted in the Art, religion, and literature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are many things both good and bad that came out of this worldview, but anything taken to an extreme is sinful. It can be found in many works, but Paradise Lost, Utopia, and the Damnable Deeds and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus give an excellent taste of humanism.
Mankind has always been egocentric, but at the beginning of the Renaissance in the sixteenth century humanism flourished as Greek ideology was resurrected. Humanism brings about an acute realization of mankind and when used for good our flawed nature. Men like Michelangelo were able to portray the beauty of the human body in an ideal form while showing at the same time the corruption of mankind (The Last Judgment). But on the other end men deified the human mind and body making man the ultimate standard. In Paradise Lost humanism is shown in a good way when God creates man in His own image and sets him as a ruler over all. Milton portrays the body as good and useful for the purpose God created it, but during the fall secular humanism begins with Eve wanting to be a god unto herself and Adam sees the evil actions of men toward others as something to be honored. Michael explains that this is not the case, but many like Adam will see it as such. Also Adam is warned not to worship Eve or deify her, for there is but one God and He is Lord.
In Utopia the search for the ideal society is found. Men want to create a society where they are able to be a law unto themselves and be good in and of themselves. The men who go there are very impressed with the ideal society that verges on making intellect king. These men share the Gospel and the native Utopians accept this and recount that before they had come they had known most of what was told them through there own logic.
In the Damnable Deeds and Deserved Death of Doctor John Faustus humanism itself is shown as unfulfilling. Faustus knows everything there is to know. He is a lawyer, a scientist, a doctor, and a well studied, well respected, well known man, but the lack of fulfillment is shown when he continues to seek more. He knows he is going to Hell, so He does not seek to change his status with God, but rather become a powerful Lord of the world. He seeks the apex of humanism without God, to be a God unto himself. When he sells his soul to the Devil, he realizes that in the end that egocentric worldview has subjugated him even more than before. Each of these works of literature portrays the hopelessness of uncontrolled humanism, but it is not humanism itself that is evil, but rather what our corrupted sin nature does with humanism. Humanism is good when it causes us to give God more honor, praise and glory, but like anything else when made a religion is condemning.

The Medieval Era brings us many good things, ideals, beauty, chivalry, a new focus on God and His will, but it also brings other things like new worldview and standard a set up for today’s fallen society.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

True Love

Shakespear is seen as the bard of the English language second only to Milton and even that is debated. In his sonnets he presents one idea of love. He sees love as “the marriage of true minds” and one that time can not ravage. It begins as an admirer of a beauty and grace that it does not wish time to touch and completes itself in a deep connection where the effects of time do not matter. True love pulls through hard times and difficulties not unsinged, but refined.

The Utopian Ideal

Utopian ideals depended on the same principles that held Camelot together; that all man is basically good. This is wrong. Even though a society may discard gold and silver using them only as latrines other things will replace the traditional perceived evils. Marriage is not based on the trust of two people and their belief in God, but it is immediately believed that both are trying to hide something. If a man and a woman can not trust each other, how is the marriage supposed to stick together. Utopians try to suppress the noral tendencies of man by either trying to control the object of desire through devaluation or by allowing the evil to progress to a certain extent. Either way fulfills the lusts of the heart.

Why Camelot fell...

10/3/09
• The ideals of King Arthur’s court crumble in the reality of human nature. Arthur’s ideals depend on the honor of his nights who are in short human and thus flawed. Agravain and Mordred are victims of their own lust for power and Lancelot a victim of his lust for Guinevere. Arthur was an unwise king. He was warned by Merlin when he originally asked to marry her that this woman would destroy his court. The job of the king was to take care of his people, not being self-centered. Because of Arthur’s choice he lost his wife, his friends, and his own life.

Julian of Norwich - Radical or True Follower

9/30/09
• Julian of Norwich called herself a devotee to God, but did she really serve him or was she really serving herself? At one point in her book she describes a hazelnut. She mentions that God is a lover because he cares for the nut. Later she says that the only way to reach fulfilling rest is to reject the love of others and go only to God. This is untrue. God has placed people on this earth in order that His glory may be revealed to them. Locking oneself away from the world to which we are called to minister is both sinful and a bad representation of who Christians are. Sinful, because it wastes the time God has given us to glorify Him and a horrible example because we are told to be in the world, but not of the world. We are called to go out minister to the weak and sick, orphans, widows, and aliens, not seclude ourselves and keep to ourselves the joy of the Lord.

Xenia

9/25/09
• Was Lord Hautdesert truly hospitable? Throughout history there have been many examples of hospitality, but none surpass that of the Greeks xenia. Xenia was a Olympian law that required the Greeks to be hospitable to the point of giving up safety and comfort. In the Iliad, Glaucus and Diomedes not only refused to fight each other, but exchanged there armor because their families had shared bread and xenia. In the Odyssey, the son of Odysseus extended xenia to a complete stranger, Mentor, who was the goddess Athena in disguise, while his household was falling apart.
• Lord Hautdesert did extend hospitality to Gawain, but it was not at the level of xenia. His hospitality only extended to the first night. He fed, clothed, and boarded Gawain in comfort and luxury. The next three days, however, tell a different tale. The lord did not protect his guest from the wiles of his wife, he tested Gawain without cause, and he led Gawain to believe that the lord was someone who he was not. Lord Bercilak even went as far as having all of his peasant try to dissuade Gawain from visiting the Green Knight, who, unknown to Gawain, was Lord Bercilak.

Gawain's Pentangle

9/23/09
• The poet who penned Sir Gawain and the Green Knight spent a substantial amount of time on the armor and most specifically the shield of Sir Gawain. On the shield was a five-pointed star that represented the Pentangle, a list of things he had to assist him on his quest. He had religion in the five joys of Mary and the five wounds of Christ. He had his natural gifts that all men possess with the five senses and his five fingers. The last point on the Pentangle represented the five virtues: generosity, chivalry, chastity, courtesy, and piety.
• When he reaches the Castle of Sir Bercilak de Hautdesert, he abandons his religion until he feels guilty for keeping the girdle. Also he lets down his guard and lays around for the better part of his stay, showing that his senses are not as keen and his hand is not at work to promote good. This opens up his five virtues to intense scrutiny. Two of his virtues are pitted against each other in the form of his host’s wife. She requires him to be courteous to her which would require giving into her will, but this jeopardizes his chastity.

Chaucer cont.

9/22/09
• A seller of indulgences or pardoner was one of the most important positions in the Catholic Church. It was thought necessary to go through a pardoner in order to be forgiven of sins and thus go to heaven. Therefore pardoners did preach on sins and judgment, but the irony in this tale by one of that office is that the sin he is censuring is the sin that he is committing. He speaks out against greed and avarice, but does not first check himself for it.
• He tells the tale of three ‘friends’ who end up murdering each other because of gold lust, but first he tells exactly how he would tell the tale in a church and how the money would come in after words. By ‘allowing’ the poor church folk to be free of their greed he feeds his own. The pardoner even goes as far as to offer indulgences to his companions upon the completion of his story.

The personalities of Chaucer

I find it interesting that Chaucer gives the tellers of his stories such defined personalities. Most of those are contrary to what their occupation entails. The wife of Bath has gone through five husbands and been on three pilgrimages, she was considered a lovely Christian woman, but she later expresses the unbiblical thought that women should rule over men. The Monk is more focused on hunting and sees studying as something that would make him crazy.
There are two that stand out as being true to their occupation. The Parson is specifically said to follow what he teaches before he tells others to do so as well. The Knight is chivalrous, full of integrity, gentle, and honorable.
The character of the pilgrims is sadly lacking in true God honoring Christians. This is especially ironic because they are on a pilgrimage, which is a trip to a holy place in order to bring someone closer to God, not a time for the telling of ribald tales.

Thoughts on Beowulf

Many themes present themselves in Beowulf, but the one that stands out the most is fate. Just before Beowulf fights Grendel he states, “Fate often saves an undoomed man when his courage is good.” Fate is mentioned and appealed to before Beowulf fights Grendel’s Mother and the dragon, and finally in Wiglaf’s speech at Beowulf’s funeral pyre.
In each of these instances the outcome of a situation will change the outcome of the story. If fate did not side with Beowulf during his fight with Grendel’s Mother by revealing the sword of the giants he would have lost. Not only would Hrothgar’s hall have been destroyed, but also the dragon would have ravaged Beowulf’s country.
Fate is the Dane’s term for an unexplainable force that drives all events. The author reveals and we know that fate is the providential hand of God guiding all things for his own glory.

1 Abrams, M.H.,ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th ed. New York: Norton, 1993.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Modern Church's Importance in Society

While the Church has been very active in the past as an authority over the kings and rulers and a power over the people, in our new millennium, new century, new decade, the ancient power of the Church has been made decidedly irrelevant. The Church no longer takes an active part in standing up for the metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics of our Christian worldview, the core beliefs and presuppositions of our faith, making it no longer a strong force in society. As it goes along with a dilapidating society, the Church morphs into whatever the culture dictates. Is there a solution?