Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Selfish Compassion: Freedom in Henry IV

To be free or not to be free, that is the question posed in Shakespeare's play Henry IV. In this iconic history, two types of freedoms are presented. The characters must choose between freedom and pay the consequences, or be in bondage and continue the life they were living. Every character yearned to be free from something, yet each freedom came with a price. What were the character's in Henry IV willing to pay to gain their freedom and control over themselves?

Though uneasy to see, Falstaff was a nobleman. Most noblemen at that time period had responsibilities and duties to carry out for the royal court, yet Falstaff didn't and almost refused to do so. Instead he was a drunk, thief, a liar, and any other type of person a nobleman should not be. He wanted to escape from his responsibilities and the pressures society had on him. Prince Hal describes Falstaff's nature by saying "thou art fat-witted with drinking of old sack, and unbuttoning thee after supper, and sleeping upon benches after noon, that thou hast forgotten to demand that truly which thou wouldst know." (Shakespeare 13) Hal accuses Falstaff as being a lazy, fat, drunk that cannot take enough initiative or time to actually achieve what he wants. Falstaff however, responds with an uncaring attitude, portraying that he has already achieved his freedom from his responsibilities. He payed the price, which was to act as a lowlife, thief, who had no substance, which incidentally worked out for Falstaff in the long run. His heedless attention to responsibilities turned out for the better for him in the end. He did not have the same pressures to gain honor or die for the men around him. He says, "the better part of valor is discretion, in which better part I have saved my life," (219). Through this line, he illustrates his almost selfish view of valor, in which one who cares only for himself, also has valor. He chose not to give his life to something that he knew would kill him, which he argues is having honor. This brings up the question that in order to be completely free from outside control, does one have to remain entirely invested upon themselves? Falstaff's lack of compassion and need to help or even die for anyone else, led to his ability to be free from his responsibilities and the pressure honor has on a nobleman.

Unlike Falstaff, Hotspur was unable to gain complete freedom from the standard honor set for him, or even the authoritative power that beset him. He died for his people, though he didn't have to. He feels it was his duty to lead these people and even die for them so they may have a better life. He says of death "If we die, brave death, when princes die with us... Let each man do his best," (202-3). He is so blinded by the glory and honor that war could bring him. Hotspur is trying to free himself and his people from the "tyrannical" rule of King Henry, yet he couldn't see what he really needed to achieve freedom from; himself. He could not free himself from the expectations he had of himself, and the honor he expected to attain. He was trapped by honor until the moment he died. He states "I better brook the loss of brittle life, than those proud titles thou hast won of me," (215). Even in his last breaths of life, he brings up the honors and titles Prince Henry will achieve because he killed Hotspur. He is so obsessed with honor and making his people proud that he cannot free himself from the shackles that bind him to an imminent death. Though Hotspur is fighting for the freedom from King Henry IV's rule, who Hotspur thinks is tyrannical and corrupt, he is leading himself more into the grasps of the consequences of his own obsession of honor, that leads to his ultimate fall. Hotspur was willing to pay the ultimate price to gain his independence from the King, his life, yet he couldn't pay the price for honor; pure humility.

These two contrasting characters only serve as examples for the price the other characters had to pay to be free. When looking at the nature of the two characters, Falstaff is the one who no one thought would win. His traits led to the audience belief that he would fall. Yet his selfish desires led him to being the only character that was truly free of the ailments all around him. Hostpur was the strongwilled, brave warrior that was in everyone's bets. Yet his obsession with honor led to the downfall of himself, and ultimately the people and cause he was fighting for. Through the characters of Falstaff, who was free, and Hotspur, who couldn't free himself, Shakespeare is trying to portray that in order for a character to be free, there has to be an innate selfish desire that drives that character like Falstaff, yet a balance of compassion for the people around him, like Hotspur.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Can Wuthering Heights be free?

Each character in Wuthering Heights is running from something.In most cases it was Heathcliff. For Edgar it was the influence of Heathcliff, for Isabella it was her marriage to Heathcliff. For Linton it was the fear of what Heathcliff would do to him if he didn't do as his father asked. Those characters are just few examples of the influence and captivity Heathcliff brought to the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcrosh Grange. His looming evil was so vast that in order to truly escape his grasp, characters would have to die to be free. This ties in my big question. What were the characters in Wuthering Heights willing to pay to be free from Heathcliff? 

Isabella described Heathcliff by asking "Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?" Before she truly discovered the darkness in Heathcliff's heart, Isabella was nothing less that infactuated with Heathcliff's mysterious countenance. However, she soon found that she was captive to his influence and could not rid herself from his control. She had to question herself. What was she willing to pay to be free from the ever looming Heathcliff? She ran away from Wuthering Heights and moved into the city. In doing so she risked her own life along with the posibility of the lives of her loved ones. Isabella was willing to pay a large price in order to be free from her past with Heathcliff and Heathcliff in general.

Linton was the child of Heathcliff and Isabella. Heathcliff hated him. He used him for the sole purpose of revenge on Edgar, Isabella and in a round about way everyone who kept him away from his love Catherine. Linton was literally a prisoner to Heathcliff. He was forced to do whatever his father wanted him to do. Heathcliff wanted Linton to marry Cathy for whatever motive, so Linton set off to try to get Cathy to marry him. Linton expresses his innate fear of what Heathcliff will do to him if he doesn't fufill his orders. He says to Cathy "'I cannot bear it! Catherine, Catherine, I am a traitor, too, and I dare not tell you! But leave me, and I shall be killed! But leave me and I shall be killed! Dear Catherine, my life is in your hands: and you have said you loved me, and if you did, it wouldn't harm you." p. 321 Linton succumbs to the demands of Heathcliff, in doing so he sacrifices his pride, peace of mind, and eventually his life in hopes that one day he will be free from the puppet strings Heathcliff holds over him.

Though Heathcliff was the cause of the containment of many of the characters in Wuthering Heights, he himself was trapped and had to pay a heavy price to be free. His love for Catherine was so vast. He could hardly control himself. Though Catherine loved him, she said she would never marry him because he would always be there. He attempted to be free from her hold. He left his home and his "family" for three years. He paid the price of losing a home and the woman he loved in order to be free. However, his freedom didn't last and some could argue didn't exist at all.He was back to be with the one he loved in a matter of years He was always in Catherine's grasp and continued to be until the day he died. Heathcliff was not willing to pay the price in order to be free.

Freedom became almost unreachable in this novel. No matter how hard the characters tried, they could never be free. Isabella's son returned to the terrors of her husband. Linton died in captivity. Heathcliff couldn't leave Catherine and constantly acted in her name. Even when she was dead, he continued to be haunted by her ghost. No matter how much the characters wanted to leave and be free and were willing to pay the price in cost to leave, they couldn't. It was the pull of Wuthering Heights. No one could be free from the influence of the house. It wasn't Heathcliff or Catherine that was holding the people captive; it was the house. The only person who could have truly left was Lockwood, and even he came back. No matter the price one is willing to pay, some freedom cannot be bought. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Price Oedipus Paid

In the play Oedipus Rex, the main character was a slave to fate. As a baby his parents were told their son would kill his father and marry his mother. In an attempt to avoid that fate, they gave their baby away to be killed. Oedipus survived and became the prince of Corinth. Oedipus then traveled back to Thebes and fulfilled his terrible fate. He unintentionally killed his father Laius out of self-defense and married his mother Jocasta. Years later he needed to find who killed King Laius to save his people from the turmoil they were enduring and in doing so he found he killed Laius which led to the discovery that his wife/mother's prophesy came true. Because he committed a serious sin of incest his family was forever cursed. He nobly left his city and sacrificed his pride and happiness for his people. Though it truly was not his fault, he accepted his fate and the consequences that came with it, but only at the end. When he first heard the possibility that he (though unintentionally) committed incest, he fought it. He tried everything in his power to take out the prophet who told him his fate, Tiresias, and the man who advised him to see the prophet, Creon. He did not accept his fate and fought against it. However, he then realized he was not willing to pay the full price to escape his fate, and accepted it. As the country of Thebes soon found out what he had done, Oedipus' guilt was unbearable. He was entrapped by his conscious and guilt. He the prayed the heavy price, and left the children and country he loved, to escape the bonds of guilt.
Oedipus found that some freedom costs too much to pay. He could not pay the price to free from his fate. It may not even be possible to flee from one's fate. However, he did pay the price to no longer be captive to his immense guilt. I suppose, when it comes to freedom, some freedoms are worth paying the price. To no longer feel the embarrassment and guilt Oedipus felt, he gave up his family. But he dealt with the binds of fate. He paid the varied price for freedom from himself and sacrificed things and people he loved in the meantime. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What are we willing to pay to be free? In today's day and age, nothing is for free. Our founding fathers payed the heavy price for America's freedom. They suffered and revolted for their seed to be free in generations to come. However, are we still free? Do we value security over freedom? Should we?
Freedom means different things in literature. Sometimes it's freedom from our past, or our guilt. Or freedom from authoritative guidance and control. What are characters willing to pay to choose for themselves and be "free?" That's what I'm looking to discover. But the question does not stop with literary characters I study this year. I want to know at what point do people say enough is enough when it comes to fighting for their freedom. Are they willing to sacrifice their life? Or just some land to make choices for themselves. This type of struggle is occurring all over the world and I'm going to study it and determine what freedom means to the human race today. What are YOU willing to pay to be free?