Issue #2 – Intertextuality – Full articles

Laura I. H. Beattie

Freie Universität Berlin

Retelling Orpheus: Orpheus in the Renaissance

This paper examines the importance of the Orpheus myth during the English Renaissance. The Orpheus myth was one of the most common mythic intertexts of the period due to the fact that we could see the very story of Orpheus as being imbedded within the idea of the Renaissance itself. The main ambition of the Renaissance humanist was to bring the literature of the ancients back to life via the means of education. In other words, they attempted to bring the dead back to life and Orpheus serves as an embodiment of this ambition due to his ability to bring inanimate objects to life and in his journey to the underworld to rescue Eurydice. We find many different aspects of the Orpheus myth dealt with in Renaissance writing, for example Orpheus as poet, Orpheus as lover and the death of Orpheus being some of the key focal points. This paper, however, will focus specifically on the role of Orpheus as Poet as, due to the Renaissance love for art, rhetoric and eloquence, this seems to be the most popular dimension of the Orpheus myth at that time. We will see how Renaissance writers reinterpret the story of Orpheus, as originally told by Ovid and Virgil, in the Metamorphoses and the Georgics respectively, to show Orpheus as not only as being an archetypal poet but in fact the very first poet whose art is not only responsible for the civilisation of man, but also for the creation of a “Golden Age” in Renaissance England.

 

key words: Orpheus, Metamorphoses, Renaissance

The story of Orpheus is one of those told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, many of which are still well known even today. The myth of Orpheus is no exception.[1] Orpheus, son of the muse Calliope and the god of poetry Apollo, is the paragon of all poets and can move animals, trees and even stones with his singing.[2] Ovid tells us that disaster strikes Orpheus and his young wife Eurydice merely hours after their wedding, when Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus journeys to the underworld, and by the power of his poetry, persuades Hades and Persephone to return Eurydice to him, on the sole condition that he does not look back at her until they have left the underworld. However, Orpheus, unable to restrain himself, “flexit amans oculos” (“in love turned back his eyes”; 10.57) and Eurydice disappears with the single word “vale” (“goodbye”; 10.62).[3] Unable to be consoled, Orpheus traverses the earth singing his song of grief and spurns the love of all women. Rejected, the Maenads tear Orpheus to pieces and his head is carried away down Hebrus’ stream. Meanwhile, the ghost of Orpheus descends to the Underworld and isreunited with his Eurydice. Thus, the story of Orpheus is a multi-faceted one showing, above all, the power of love, death and art and the interaction of these with one another.

Of all the myths encountered in the Metamorphoses, the myth of Orpheus, the paragon of poets, would have particularly captured the Renaissance imagination because of the pre-eminent place that the power of rhetoric and eloquence held in early modern humanist culture.[4] In fact, we may even go so far as to say that the idea of Orpheus is embedded within the very idea of the Renaissance itself. The main ambition of the early modern humanist was to rediscover the literature of the ancients through education. In other words, they attempted to bring the dead back to life. Orpheus serves as an embodiment of this ambition in his ability to bring inanimate objects to life and in his journey to the Underworld to rescue Eurydice.

As well as the Metamorphoses, another major classical source of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth is Book IV of Virgil’s Georgics, written approximately 40 years before Ovid’s version.[5] In fact, it is from Virgil that we first receive an account of the myth as we know it today.[6] Virgil’s and Ovid’s accounts of the myth differ in various aspects and, as a result, they emphasize different themes. Virgil focuses more on the tragedy of Eurydice’s second death and the furor of Orpheus’ love, while Ovid’s account centres more on Orpheus’ poetic talent and its ability to subdue even the King and Queen of Hell. Just as Ovid and Virgil, although telling the same story, pick up on different resonances of the myth so we can see the same process occurring in the literature of the Renaissance. James Neil Brown, in his entry for Orpheus in The Spenser Encyclopedia, tells us that “for Renaissance humanists, Orpheus became a hero of the arts, the archetypal poet” (519). This is the aspect of the myth that we will focus on here because it is the most prominent reading, although it is worth noting that it is not the only one – the roles of Orpheus in the Renaissance are many and diverse including various depictions of Orpheus as lover and also of his death. By focusing on this aspect of the myth, we will see how Renaissance writers reinterpret the story of Orpheus to show him as not only being the archetypal poet but, in fact, the very first poet, whose art has a civilizing effect on mankind as well as creating a “Golden Age” in Renaissance England.

 

Orpheus as Supreme Poet

 

Given the Renaissance love for art, rhetoric and eloquence, the most popular dimension of the Orpheus myth at that time was undoubtedly that of Orpheus as supreme poet, able to move all things, both literally and metaphorically, by the power of his words alone. Neil Rhodes, in his book The Power of Eloquence and English Renaissance Literature, tells us that “the first embodiment of language as power is Orpheus” (3), and indeed, Orpheus’ words are more than just pleasing to the ear – they are performative. They can control the actions of animate and inanimate objects alike. We can see this, for example, in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Proteus, describing to Sir Thurio how he can woo Silvia through the medium of speech, says:

For Orpheus’ lute was strung with poet’s sinews,

Whose golden touch could often soften steel and stones,

Make tigers tame and huge leviathans

Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands. (3.2.77-80)

Not only can Orpheus’ poetry “soften steel and stones” but it can also tame, or in other words “soften,” the nature of living creatures. This idea of the “softening” power of poetry is an important one and one to which we will return, particularly to Proteus’ implication that these “softening” properties can also be extended to human nature (he tells Sir Thurio that it is by the use of words that he will be able to persuade Silvia to give him his heart).Significantly, Shakespeare takes the idea of taming tigers from Virgil’s account (who tells us that Orpheus “mulcentem tigres et agentem carmine quercus” 4.510)[7] but then goes on to add his own example of the “huge leviathans,” emphasizing this miraculous power of Orpheus even further. Leviathans are sea creatures of enormous size, and the fact that even they can be moved by the song of Orpheus to do something that is not only unnatural to them but in fact fatal (dancing on sands), is a great testament to the performative power of his words. It has been said that this passage “is distinguished writing in a play not much known for it” (Martindale 84) and thus perhaps Shakespeare himself has been inspired by the immense poetic power he is writing about. Shakespeare is not the only one to pay tribute to the performative power of Orpheus’ words. We see this also in Campion’s A Relation of the Late Royal Entertainment, Gifford’s A Posie of Gilloflowers and Fletcher’s The Purple Island, to name but a few. It is noticeable that in many of these examples, in particular in Gifford and Fletcher, the writers are especially captivated by Orpheus’ descent into hell and his ability to overcome the inhabitants of the Underworld with his song. Thus, they are following on from Ovid, who greatly expands Virgil’s original catalogue of the inhabitants’ various reactions to Orpheus’ song and indeed details the song itself. This fascination with Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld is surely because Orpheus’ success there reveals that his words have power not only in our world but even over Death himself, the ultimate adversary, and is thus the ultimate proof of the power of his poetry as well as of the fact that the Renaissance humanists, too, can be successful in their mission.

 

Orpheus as First Poet

 

Yet some writers, not being satisfied with depicting Orpheus as the archetypal, exemplary poet, went even to the length of seeing him as, in fact, the very first artist who created and brought many different forms of poetry into being. We see this perhaps most clearly in Sidney’s Apology for Poetry:

Nay, let any historie be brought, that can say any Writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skil, asOrpheus, Linus, and some other are named: who hauing beene the first of that Country, that made pens deliuerers of their knowledge to their posterity, may iustly challenge to bee called their Fathers in learning: for not only in time they had this priority (although in it self antiquity be venerable,) but went beforethem, as causes to drawe with their charming sweetnes, the wild vntamed wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was sayde to moue stones with his Poetrie, to build Thebes. And Orpheus to be listened to by beastes, indeed, stony and beastly people. So among the Romans were Liuius, Andronicus, and Ennius. So in the Italian language, the first that made it aspire to be a Treasure-house of Science, were the Poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch. So in our English were Gower and Chawcer. (96)

Orpheus is one of the “Fathers of learning” because he made “pens deliverers of their knowledge to posterity.” Sidney then emphasizes this point by giving examples from more recent times, using names that all his readers would recognize. Chaucer may be commonly regarded as being “the father of English poetry” and Ennius as the first writer of Latin epic, but Sidney is telling us that, behind all these famous writers of great works of literature, stands Orpheus, without whom the creation of these later works would not have been possible.[8] In the sixteenth century poem, Orpheus and His Journey to Hell, the anonymous author known to us only as R.B. illustrates this point through the means of the poem itself both by mentioning various types of poetry within the poem, including “ditties” (68),[9] “tragicke tunes” (118), “solemne sonnets” (196), “rimes” (484) and “inuectiue ditties” (655), and also by having Orpheus sing not only one song as he does in Ovid but many poems of various genres, thereby representing the fact that “Orpheus ‘founds’ or creates all poetic genres” (DeNeef 22). Moreover, the poem contains many typically Elizabethan elements as well as classical ones, thus proving Gros Louis’ point that “part of the triumph of Orpheus in the sixteenth century is the result of his adaptability to the themes and conventions of the time” (66). For example, although R.B. has already described how Orpheus sings “to delight Euridice his ioy” (92) and other maidens, the first song we actually hear him sing comes after her death, when Orpheus bewails his sorrow to his companions. The song of Orpheus’ “sorrowes” is introduced in the following manner:

Vnto whose musicke flockes the neighboring hilles,

The shadie groves, the pleasant murmuring springs,

And all the plaines with companie now filles,

As beasts and birds, fish, foule, and other things.

And when as euery one had tane his seat,

This Orpheus gins his sorrowes to repeat. (139-44)

Here, the setting of the “neighboring hilles” and the “shadie groves” is a typically pastoral one and is common in Renaissance poetry and literature (we need only think of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, for example). Furthermore, at the very start of the poem, R.B. sets Orpheus unequivocally in the time of the Golden Age, which is often evoked alongside the idea of the pastoral, whereas, implicitly in the Metamorphoses and explicitly in the Georgics, the tale of Orpheus is set in the Iron Age.[10] Thus, R.B. deliberately changes the setting in order that the story might accord more with Elizabethan pastoral conventions. The setting of the Golden Age is also significant because it reveals to us an important aspect of the place held by Orpheus in the Renaissance imagination. For them, the presence of Orpheus, the great poet, within the poem is enough to make sixteenth century England equivalent to the classical Golden Age paradise where the land produces food of its own accord and where it is eternally springtime. As we will see below, some writers go even further and make Orpheus the creator of the Golden Age rather than just a symbol of it.

 

Orpheus as Civilizer

 

This poetic skill, however, was not appreciated by Renaissance humanists on the basis of aesthetic pleasure alone. As Plett says, “in the eyes of the humanists, rhetoric is equivalent to culture as such, the perennial and substantial essence of man” (14). Thus, the most prevalent representation of Orpheus, the great rhetorician and poet, in the Renaissance was that of Orpheus as civilizer, of which there are a vast number of examples.[11] Indeed, if we return to the passage of Sidney quoted above we can see that Orpheus’ power is performative not only in terms of his ability to move trees, tigers and the inhabitants of hell with his song, but also to bring “wild vntamed wits to an admiration of knowledge.” This idea of Orpheus as civilizer first appears in antiquity in Apollonius’ Argonautica, where Orpheus accompanies the Argonauts on their quest and, as Spenser was later to put it in The Faerie Queene, “when strife was growen / Amongst those famous ympes of Greece, did take / His silver Harpe in hand, and shortly friends them make” (2.8-10). This idea is then made even more explicit in Horace’s Ars Poetica:

Silvestris homines sacer interpresque deorum

Caedibus et victu foedo deterruit Orpheus,

Dictus ob hoc lenire tigris rabidosque leones.(391-93)[12]

Significantly, here Horace already begins the tradition in which Orpheus’ ability to tame wild beasts is seen as an allegory of his ability to tame the beast within mankind itself. Renaissance humanists equated the use of rhetoric with power, a trait, as we have already seen above, that is embodied in the person of Orpheus. One of the reasons for their great love of language and rhetoric was the fact that it was language, above all else, that separated the human race from all others, their “greatest ontological privilege” (Plett 14). Thus Orpheus, by using his own power of speech to civilize others and draw them away from their inner bestiality, embodies a key Renaissance ideal. We see Puttenham, in his Art of English Poesie, taking his cue from Horace:

Orpheus assembled the wild beasts to come in herds to hearken to his music, and by that means made them tame, implying thereby, how by his discreet and wholesome lessons uttered in harmony and with melodious instruments, he brought the rude and savage people to a more civil and orderly life, nothing, as it seemeth, more prevailing or fit to redress and edify the cruel and sturdy courage of man than it. (96)

Puttenham’s use of the word “implying” is equivalent to Horace’s dictus ob hoc in setting up Orpheus’ taming of wild beasts as an allegory for bringing “the rude and savage people to a more civil and orderly life.” However, whereas in the Argonautica, Orpheus steps in only in times of strife, in Puttenham’s version, like in Horace’s and Sidney’s, Orpheus’ role is a more permanent and encompassing one. This Orpheus seeks not only to stop savagery in mankind at the very moment when it is about to erupt into a violent struggle, but, in fact, to change the way of life, and the nature of man, permanently. Thus, it is not merely the melody of his poems sung “on a lute strung with poet’s sinews” that enchants the natural world, as it is in Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona, but the melody itself is being used as a means through which to deliver “discreet and wholesome lessons” which have the power to change the entire nature of mankind forever. Indeed, Puttenham believes that there is nothing “more prevailing or fit” to carry out this role than the skill of Orpheus, and thus he is not only emphasizing the Renaissance concern with the civilizing power of language but also with the key role that poetry itself plays in delivering this knowledge.

The mythographer Francis Bacon, in his De Sapientia Veterum, interprets various myths as either political or scientific allegories and as such makes even more explicit Puttenham’s allegorical reading of the Orpheus tale by telling us that the entire tale “may seem to represent the image of Philosophy.” It is important to note that Bacon does not mean philosophy in the sense that we use it today but rather natural philosophy, which we would most likely describe as physics,[13] as well as a kind of moral philosophy. Bacon goes on to say that Orpheus’ descent into hell represents “the preservation of bodies in their estate, detaining them from dissolution and putrefaction,” in other words, the attempt to use science to create human immortality. However, due to the “curious diligence” and “vntimely impatience” of man, represented in Orpheus’ backward glance, this is highly difficult to achieve and philosophy instead:

busies herselfe about humane obiects, and by perswasion and eloquence, insinuating the loue of virtue, equitie, and concord in the minds of men, draws multitudes of people to a society, makes them subiect to lawes, obedient to gouerment, and forgetfull of their vnbridled affections, whilst they give eare to precepts, and submit themselves to discipline, whence follows the building of houses, erecting of townes, and planting of fields and orchards with trees and the like, insomuch that it would not be amisse to say, that even thereby stones and woods were called together, and setled in order. (Sig.Q6r)

Here, Bacon brings Puttenham’s argument to its logical conclusion – that it is the civilizing power of language, as represented by the figure of Orpheus, that is responsible for the formation of “lawes,” “discipline,” “the building of houses” and so on. Making the minds of men “forgetfull of their vnbridled affections” is his way of saying that the nature of man, too, can be tamed, or “softened,” just like that of a tiger, which is highlighted by the use of the word “vnbridled.” Bacon, however, does not stop here. He goes on to say:

Besides euen the very works of wisedome, (although amongst all humane things they doe most excell) doe neuerthelesse meete with their periods. For it happens that (after kingdoms and commonwealths have flourished for a time) euen tumults, and seditions, and warres arise; in the midst of which hurly burlies: first, lawes are silent, men returne to the prauity of their natures, fields and towns are wasted and depopulated, and then, (if this fury contine) learning and philosophy must needs be dismembered, so that a few fragments only, and in some places will bee found like the scattered boords of shipwracke, so as a barbarous age must follow; and the streams of Helicon being hid under the earth vntill (the vicissitude of things passing) they breake out againe and appeare in some other remote nation, though not perhaps in the same climate. (Sig. Q7v)

Just as Orpheus himself is dismembered, so that all that remains are “a few fragments,” so too is that which he represents, philosophy and learning. Noticeably, Bacon’s description of these events as a cyclical process of gradual deterioration and subsequent renewal brings to mind the myth of the Ages of Man where, as it is first described by Hesiod in the Works and Days, the human race initially lives in the Golden Age. The Golden Age, however, comes to an end and the human race then descends down through the Age of Silver, the Age of Bronze, the Age of Heroes, right down to the Iron Age where, as Hesiod tells us, “there will be no help against evil” (105), until, it is hoped, the Golden Age comes again.[14] Thus here, like in Orpheus and His Journey to Hell, the time of Orpheus is seen as being symbolic of the Golden Age of Man. Moreover, Bacon emphasizes that it was Orpheus himself, through his role of poet as civilizer, who was responsible for the creation of this Golden Age from the previous Iron Age by the introduction of these “lawes” whose absence means that the time of the Golden Age, too, disappears. In an anonymous poem published in 1598, the poet also makes it clear that Orpheus was responsible for the creation of the “goodly golden age.”[15] Bacon, however, unlike the author of the anonymous poem, does not pretend that this Golden time of Orpheus can last forever. Eventually, and inevitably, the Iron Age will come again because, after all, the Renaissance, like the Golden Age, cannot and will not last forever. Like the character of Orpheus whom they so admire, the Renaissance humanists will find that it may not be so easy to be successful in their mission as they might have thought. One way or another, however, the song of Orpheus will always be heard.

Works Cited

Apollonius, Rhodius. The Argonautica. Trans. R.C. Seaton. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1955. Print.

Bacon, Francis. The Wisdom of the Ancients. Printed for H. Herringman, R. Scot, R. Chiswell, A. Swalle, and R. Bentley, 1696. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

Campion, Thomas. A Relation of the Late Royal Entertainment. Printed by William Stansby for John Budge, 1613. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

DeNeef, A. L. “The Poetics of Orpheus: The Text and a Study of Orpheus and His Journey to Hell.” Studies in Philology 89.1 (1992): 20-70. Print.

Fletcher, Phineas. The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man. Printed by the Printers to the U of Cambridge, 1633. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Gifford, Henry. A Poesie of Gilloflowers. Printed by Thomas Dawson for John Perin, 1580. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Gros Louis, Kenneth. “The Triumph and Death of Orpheus in the English Renaissance.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 9.1 (1969): 63-80. Print.

Hesiod. Theogony, Works and Days, Testimonia. Ed. G. Most. London: Harvard UP, 2006. Print.

Horace. Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica. Ed. H. Fairclough. London: Harvard UP, 1978.

Kempe, William. The Education of Children in Learning. Printed by Thomas Orwin for Iohn Porter and Thomas Gubbin, 1588. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

Leroy, Louis. On the Interchangeable Course, or the Variety of Things in the Whole World. Printed by Charles Yetsweirt Esq., 1594. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Lodge, Thomas. A Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays. London: Shakespeare Society, 1853. Print.

Martindale, Charles, and Michelle Martindale. Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity: An Introductory Essay. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Miles, Geoffrey. Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

A Most Pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the Kings Sonne of Valentia and Amadine the Kings Daughter of Arragon. Printed for William Iones, dwelling at Holborne conduit, at the signe of the Gunne, 1598. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

“Natural Philosophy.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 3rd Edition. 2003. Web. 17 Dec. 2011.

“Orpheus.” The Spenser Encyclopedia. 1990. Print.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. The Latin Library, n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.

Plett, Heinreich. F. Rhetoric and Renaissance Culture. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004. Print.

Puttenham, George. The Art of English Poesy. Ed. R. Puttenham et. al. New York: Cornell UP, 2007. Print.

Rhodes, Neil. The Power of Eloquence and English Renaissance Literature. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1992. Print.

Root, Robert K. Classical Mythology in Shakespeare. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1903. Print.

Sandys, George. Ovid’s Metamorphoses Englished, Oxford 1632. Oxford: Garland Pub., 1976. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. M. Mahood. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

—. The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Ed. K. Schlueter. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print.

Sidney, Philip. An Apology for Poetry: Or, The Defense of Poesy. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1965. Print.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Printed by Richard Field for William Ponsonbie, 1596. Early English Books Online. Web. 20.Oct. 2011.

Warden, John. Orpheus, the Metamorphoses of a Myth. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982. Print.

Webbe, William. A Discourse of English Poetrie. Printed by Iohn Charlewood for Robert Walley, 1586. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Vaughan, William. The Golden Grove. Printed by Simon Stafford, 1600. Walley, 1586. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Virgil. Virgil: Georgics. Ed. R. Thomas, P. Easterling, and P. Hardie. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

Justyna Dąbrowska

University of Łódź

Subverting the Gaze, Seducing with the Bible: A Study of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé

The present article engages with the eponymous character of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé and focuses on her subversion of the patriarchal rules, and on her attempts at seducing the prophet Jokanaan. Wilde’s Salomé becomes “an erotic symbol of daring, transgression, and perversity” (Sloan 112). She wants to look at Jokanaan, as well as to be touched by him and openly states her great desire for him, using the imagery taken from the biblical Song of Songs to express her passion. Moreover, the Princess skillfully adopts and reverses the male gaze to manipulate others and go beyond the patriarchal constraints at Herod’s court. She becomes aware that the only way to reach her goals is to look actively and evade being a mere object of the male gaze. The article shows that the imagery employed in the eponymous character’s speeches contributes to her portrayal as a seductress, also accentuating her rebellion, and analyzes how the Princess transgresses the patriarchal constraints through appropriating the male gaze.

 

key words: Oscar Wilde, the Bible, Salomé, the male gaze

Oscar Wilde was not only the author of a prominent novel, stories, poems and essays but also a man of the theatre. Unfortunately, one of his plays suffered from censorship as it not only dramatized a biblical story, but also “represented a radical challenge to Victorian concepts of womanhood and sexuality” (Sloan 111). Obviously, the play in question is Salomé. As opposed to the character’s biblical versions from the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Wilde’s Salomé is referred to as “perverse, monstrous in her desire to control her own sexuality, and so challenge a repressive patriarchal culture” (Sloan 113-14). She is aware of her step-father constantly looking lustfully at her, and, to show her disapproval, she adopts the stance of a usurper and wants to look at the Prophet – Jokanaan. She first engages in a solitary stare by gazing at the moon, but then she subverts Herod’s patriarchal gaze and yearns for looking at the mysterious Prophet captured by her step-father. Salomé’s fascination with Jokanaan is so overpowering that she praises him with her lengthy speeches. In her book Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative, Alice Bach convincingly shows the similarities between Salomé’s monologues praising Jokanaan and the biblical Song of Songs. However, she does not reach any conclusions concerning how these similarities work with regard to Salomé. The present article will try to show that the imagery employed in the eponymous character’s speeches contributes to her portrayal as a seductress and also analyze how she transgresses the patriarchal constraints through appropriating the male gaze.

In certain respects, Wilde’s play seems faithful to the Bible. This is most visible in the presentation of Jokanaan, who is fashioned after the biblical figure of John the Baptist, the emissary of God. However, the fragments of biblical gospels concerning the beheading of John the Baptist have nothing in common with Wilde’s Salomé as far as the depiction of its main character is concerned – the heroine flourishes only in the text of the play. In the Bible the name of Herod’s step daughter is not even mentioned, whereas in the play, she is made the eponymous character and plays a major role in the course of the events. In the play it is Salomé who uses the Tetrarch to have Jokanaan killed, partially because the latter condemns her words of praise directed towards him: “[b]ack! Daughter of Babylon! Come not near the chosen of the Lord” (Wilde 725). By contrast, in St. Matthew it is Herodias who tells her daughter to demand Prophet’s head: “[a]nd she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger” (King James Bible, Mt. 14.8; emphasis added). St. Mark also mentions the beheading and gives evidence of Herodias’ role in instructing her daughter and finally having John the Baptist decapitated: “[a]nd she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist” (Mk. 6.24; emphasis added). In the gospel of Luke this story is mentioned only briefly; however, the fact that the daughter of Herodias wanted the Prophet to be beheaded is overtly absent. Unlike the Evangelists, Wilde endows Salomé with her own independent agency.

The article will use the biblical references and the concept of the male gaze to demonstrate that Wilde’s Salomé may be viewed as a seductress. This interpretation may prove to be particularly interesting since such a unique depiction of the character is only to be found in Wilde’s play in spite of the fact that the gospel of Mark, where Salomé is only a tool of her mother and has no personality of her own, appealed to the writer most firmly (Bucknell 504). In his play “she becomes a goddess-like symbol of violent love” (Ellmann qtd. in Bach 239). The Princess is a victim of both Herod’s gaze and her own gaze directed at Jokanaan, but, on the other hand, she also uses her look to manipulate others. As Bach observes, “[a]ll . . . characters in Salomé are described through their attempts to see, a combination of vision and insight, except the prophet, who defines himself by language; his sense is hearing and listening” (235).

Salomé is aware of the looks of others who gaze at her, but strikingly the one who is the most attractive for her is Jokanaan, who avoids looking as well as being looked at and decidedly does not want her to stare at him. In order to seduce the Prophet, the eponymous character subverts the male gaze and follows Herod’s example by engaging in the act of lustful looking. By staring at the Prophet Salomé uses the gaze in a way similar to that in which Herod uses it and reverses the patriarchal rules. It can be claimed that imitating the Tetrarch is Salomé’s way of appropriating his power and manipulating Jokanaan in order to make him yield to her charms.

From the very beginning of the play one may observe that princess Salomé is lonely, and, in a way, abandoned by others. She flies from the banquet as she does not want to “socialize” with other guests. She is clearly withdrawn and chooses a kind of self-imposed solitude:

SALOMÉ: How sweet the air is here! I can breathe here! Within there are Jews from Jerusalem who are tearing each other in pieces over their foolish ceremonies, and barbarians who drink and drink, and spill their wine on the pavement, . . . and Romans, brutal and coarse, with their uncouth jargon. Ah! How I loathe the Romans! They are rough and common. (Wilde 721-22)

It can be argued that she is bored with what surrounds her and that she yearns for a change, for something new. She despises the numerous feasts that Herod and her mother love so much. She disdains the vain people celebrating, eating, drinking and focusing only on bodily pleasures. It is clear that she hankers after something quite different but, unfortunately, having been bred in such an environment, the Princess does not know what spirituality is. The only form of resistance she is capable of consists in engaging in some kind of a gaze, similar to that of the Tetrarch, which serves as a means of manifesting her potential, latent power. At the beginning of the play one may notice such a rebellious look being exercised by Salomé:

[h]ow good to see the moon. She is like a little piece of money, you would think she is a little silver flower. The moon is cold and chaste. I am sure she is a virgin, she has a virgin’s beauty. (Wilde 722)

As Bucknell argues, “she escapes the gaze of Herod in order to engage in a view of her own” (517).

Salomé knows that she is an object of Herod’s gaze, but she is also aware that she can look at something on her own and thus experience pleasure. Initially, it is the moon that becomes the object of her stare. Salomé compares her own features to those of the moon. What is worth noticing is the fact that Salomé is surrounded by earthly things and her similes pertaining to the moon are also of this kind. The moon in Wilde’s play resembles a coin and a silver flower, i.e. precious items which the Princess has in excess. On the other hand, she sees the moon as a virgin, and thus, as one may argue, she identifies with it, because she is also chaste. Bearing these similarities in mind, one may notice the emergence of Salomé’s great desire for spirituality in her speech. She is aware of the debauchery that takes place at Herod’s court, but she wants to oppose it by asserting her virginity and showing her loathing for the banquets.

When referring to the lustful gaze of Herod and its subversion traced in Salomé’s actions, it is important to turn to the concept of the male gaze. By reversing and adopting this kind of look, the eponymous character shows her liberation and freedom, as she demonstrates that she is capable of the look usually associated with the other sex. Feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey identified this way of looking and coined the term “male gaze” to describe it. She developed this concept to convey the idea that only men take the active role while gazing at the representatives of the opposite sex, who are, in consequence, objectified and passive. Invoking Mulvey, Shohini Chaudhuri states that “spectators are encouraged to identify with the look of the male hero and make the heroine a passive object of erotic spectacle” (31). Moreover, in her article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Mulvey herself suggests that the patriarchal society deprives women of the right to function on their own, and subjects them to male actions:

[w]oman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning. (747)

One may, however, argue that, from the theoretical standpoint, it is not the medium that is important but the relation between the viewer – a man – and the object – a woman. Despite the fact that Mulvey writes about the cinema and the audience looking at a woman on the screen, the concept can also be applied to Wilde’s play, since, for Herod, Salomé’s dance of the seven veils is, in fact, a kind of a performance Moreover, her very presence at the court is a peculiar spectacle which definitely places Herod in the position of a member of the audience. Thus, the use of the concept of the male gaze may be justified in the case of the Tetrarch’s look.

The objectifying power discussed by Mulvey imprisons Salomé by the force of its patriarchal constraints and, as Marcovitch claims, “Salome’s actions turn destructive because her limited ability to exert her will causes her power to be perverted” (93). Salomé is held captive at the court and is only “a figure of iconic beauty and an object of sexual desire” (93), especially Herod’s. In this context, one may refer to the term “scopophilia” or “pleasure in looking” coined by Freud. Chaudhuri explains this concept in the following way: “scopophilia involves taking people as objects for sexual stimulation through sight” (34). Thus, a woman is possessed by a man who, by staring continuously at her, makes her an object of his sexual desire. In Wilde’s play, the eponymous character is aware of being a victim of this kind of scopophilic male gaze and of the fact that the only way to flee from the patriarchal constrains and to become a seductress rather than an object, is to adopt the male gaze, despite being a woman.

Garland-Thomson points out that “the male gaze is men doing something to women” (41). Thus, we can say that Salomé is oppressed by the lascivious gaze of Herod and that his “[l]ooking at Salome is an attempt to own Salome, to turn her into the Salome each one who looks at her wants her to be” (Marcovitch 94). However, we should also bear in mind that the eponymous character is partially aware of the fact that Herod feels lust for her and uses this to her advantage. Marcovitch explains that “[b]y treating Salome as an object, Herod neglects the fact that Salome too can see, can desire and can use the power she possesses as princess of the court to her own ends” (96).

Herod is unable to foresee that his lust may be turned against him and, consequently, used to destroy him. As Garland-Thomson argues, the gaze as performed by men does something to women, decidedly something harmful. A powerful woman who does not want to be captured by patriarchal constraints can subvert this look and use the male gaze from a female perspective; this is exactly what Salomé does. What helps her in trying to achieve a position of power and dominance is the imagery alluding to the biblical Song of Songs which she uses in her words addressed to Jokanaan.

The opportunity for a rebellion comes when Salomé hears sounds from the cistern. They are made by Jokanaan, who immediately captures Salomé’s attention. She is aware that the Tetrarch is afraid of him, so she wants to know who this extraordinary man is: “[a]h, the prophet! He of whom the Tetrarch is afraid?” (Wilde 722). She wants to see him, and here for the second time she exercises the act of looking when she induces the Young Syrian to bring Jokanaan from the cistern:

SALOMÉ: You will do this for me, Narraboth. You know that you will do this thing for me. And tomorrow when I pass in my litter by the bridge of the idol-buyers, I will look at you through the muslin veils; I will look at you, Narraboth. (Wilde 723)

Salomé becomes aware that her look can be as powerful as Herod’s, and that she can achieve something with it. She calls the Young Syrian by his name, thus condescending to him while apparently trying to befriend him. The Princess begins to understand that she can manipulate others with her gaze, and, having realized this, she promises Narraboth that she will look at him, at the same time being aware that because of her gaze he will do whatever she wants. Bach states that:

[l]ooking is an aggressive maneuver, seeking to hold the object in its view. Looking must be controlled by the male. Driving the aggressive ownership of the gaze is the fear of becoming an object, that is, a fear of being looked at. I need to look so as not to be looked at. I must control the gaze, lest the gaze control me and engulf me. (167)

As was said previously, Salomé fears Herod’s intense look and wants to escape it. Then, she becomes aware that the best way to flee is to adopt a stance of the usurper and look actively. By doing this, the protagonist subverts and challenges the traditional order of the gaze within which it is men who look at women. Salomé transgresses this constraint, thus reversing power relations and even gender roles. By looking, she adopts the male position. As Tookey contends, the reader “find[s] this confusion – or, at least, a slippery quality to the notions of subject and object, an oscillation between ‘looker’ and ‘looked-at’” (30).

When Salomé encounters Jokanaan for the first time, she “looks at him and steps slowly back” (Wilde 724). She is afraid of him and, at the same time, aware of his oddity. Salomé’s negative attitude deepens when she acknowledges the fact that Jokanaan is speaking a lot of abusive words about her mother. She then exclaims: “[b]ut he is terrible, he is terrible!” (Wilde 724). Notwithstanding her fear or even hatred, she begins to be interested in this strange man and says: “I must look at him closer” (Wilde 725). She wants to come nearer, to look at him from a smaller distance. Jokanaan’s accusations of Herodias’ incest and blasphemy are now for Salomé a proof that the Prophet also objects to the pervading depravity of the court. As Janicka-Świderska argues, “she instinctively draws near to somebody who stands against the court, of whom her step-father is afraid and who is a severe judge of her mother” (120). What is more, Salomé is attracted to Jokanaan also because of the fact that he is unknown to her, that he represents the spirituality which she yearns for, and it is at the moment of their first encounter that she realizes that the Prophet embodies this particular quality which she lacks. As Janicka-Świderska aptly states, “Jokanaan, who is near, appears to her as a model of masculine and spiritual beauty, and consequently becomes the object of her physical and spiritual yearning” (120), and it is evident that in the person of Jokanaan Salomé has finally found what she has been looking for and what has been lacking in her existence. Her yearning for the spiritual world and the sphere of sacrum that Jokanaan represents is later signalled by her use of biblical imagery to praise the Prophet who is, obviously, an envoy of God. Moreover, Salomé “through her longing and desire for him . . . subconsciously expresses her longing for a mystic life” (Janicka-Świderska 123). At this point, the reader/audience are likely to notice that Salomé is much different from her incestuous mother and lustful step-father.

During the first encounter with the Prophet, Salomé starts to praise Jokanaan with her lengthy speeches as she becomes enchanted with what was heretofore so fearful to her, and now she “gets attracted to what is monstrous and terrifying, as in fairy tale” (Janicka-Świderska 120). She wants to establish a closer relationship with Jokanaan, and to achieve this she describes him as similar to herself. As Bucknell argues, “Salomé’s gaze seems to cause a shift in Jokanaan’s gender, and subsequently, she identifies Jokanaan with herself” (517). She uses virginal similes when talking about him: “[t]hy body is white like the lilies of a field that the mower hath never mowed. Thy body is white like the snows that lie on the mountains” (Wilde 725). The use of the colour white as well as the allusions to a never-mowed field, and snow lying very high, never touched by anybody, immediately draw attention to Salomé herself. As was argued before, despite the fact that she is surrounded by iniquities of the court, Salomé is a chaste virgin and describes the Prophet in precisely the same way.

The protagonist’s paeans are not met with approval, nonetheless. Salomé is full of the passion to look, touch and be close to Jokanaan, but he withdraws, even throwing calumnies at her. Salomé praises Jokanaan’s body and hair, but when she notices the rejection on his part, she automatically speaks in derogative terms about the earlier-glorified body parts. Interestingly, it is “only his mouth [that] escapes her ambivalence” (Finney 183). She praises his lips: “[t]hy mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory” (Wilde 726), but when she wants to kiss them, and this obviously meets with a rebuke from Jokanaan, she does not verbally disgrace this part of the Prophet’s body. It can be claimed that Salomé is subconsciously aware that the mouth is a sacred part of Jokanaan’s body, because he is a vessel for the words of God. Such a claim may also be supported by the fact that the tower of ivory invoked by Salomé should, as will later be argued, be viewed as a reference to the biblical Tower of David, one of the most important buildings in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Thus, given her craving for spirituality, Salomé intuitively refrains from attacking and profaning it.

The most interesting aspect of the confrontation between Salomé and Jokanaan is the imagery that the former employs to speak about the latter. Here her lustful look towards the Prophet is very visible and the emotions burst. It is the imagery that she uses that makes her passion so conspicuous. Bach observes: “[a] number of scholars have noted the linguistic parallels between the figure of Salomé and the female lover in the English version of Song of Songs” (Bach 236). However, she immediately notes that, in fact, “Wilde expresses his fondness for character inversion by reassigning the male lover’s descriptions of the female lover in the Song to Salomé’s musings about the beauty of Iohanaan” (236). One may notice that Salomé transgresses gender roles and takes the position of the male lover from the Song of Songs when expressing her desire. However, as was shown before, Salomé’s yearning for intimacy with Jokanaan is unreciprocated. Perhaps, as Bach observes, Salomé wants to kiss Jokanaan without actually desiring to be kissed (236). She thus adopts a stance of the active leader in this strange relationship. What is ironic, though, is the fact that one may observe a “total absence of mutuality” (Bach 236).

As for the similarities between the imagery used by the protagonist and the biblical Song, they are so prominent that Bach easily collates them in the form of a table (237-38). She draws attention to the fact that Salomé compares Jokanaan’s body to lilies and roses, whereas the female lover from the Song of Songs talks about herself as a rose and lily (237).[16] At this point, it is very clear that the Princess presents Jokanaan in feminine terms, and uses the imagery from the biblical Song. What is more, Bach also shows that Salomé’s praises are very similar to those of the male lover from the Song when she collates his animalistic imagery (eyes like doves, hair like goats)[17] with Salomé’s comparison of Jokanaan’s body to a garden of doves.[18] Moreover, as Bach presents it, the male lover describes his lover’s cheeks as halves of pomegranate behind the veil,[19] and Salomé uses exactly the same simile while talking about Jokanaan’s mouth.[20] The muslin veils are also present, but in Salomé it is the title character who will look at the Young Syrian through them, while in the Song the male lover is talking about his beloved’s veils (237). It can be argued that without the biblical imagery taken from the Song, Salomé’s imagery would be far cruder and her sexuality and desire would not be seen as overflowing with such power. Comparing Salomé and the male lover from the Song, Bach also draws attention to the similarity between the uses of the imagery of the tower and fruits. When the male lover is praising his lover’s neck, he talks about the tower of David,[21] whereas for Salomé Jokanaan’s mouth is like a “band of scarlet on a tower of ivory” (Wilde 726).[22] Additionally, the lover from the Bible talks about coming to his garden (to his beloved), eating and drinking wine and milk,[23] and in Salomé’s speeches it is easy to perceive the importance of wine and fruits when she states that they cannot satisfy her desire (Wilde 741).[24] One may conclude that Salomé wanted to render Jokanaan feminine in her eyes, to make him the object of the male gaze, one that may, at the same time, be contemplated (tower of ivory, lilies or doves) and consumed (pomegranate, grapes or wine), and all the similes the Princess adopts from the speeches of the male lover in the Song of Songsstrongly suggest this.

On the other hand, it is worth observing that, when it comes to talking about love and its infinity, Salomé uses the words of the female lover. In her careful considerations of the similarities between Salomé’s speeches and those from the Song of Songs, Bach compares at one point the female lover to Salomé,[25] and she does so when taking into account not only the imagery, but also love and its strength. In her last monologue Salomé says that love is stronger than death and that nothing can destroy it: “[n]either the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion . . . Well I know that thou wouldst have loved me, and the mystery of love is greater that the mystery of death” (Wilde 741).[26]The heroine’s statement resembles that of the female lover from the Song, who says that love is as firm and powerful as death and that floods cannot drown it.[27] Upon noticing that in this passage Salomé does not use the words of the male lover from the Song but those of the female one, one may argue that Salomé is thus not confined by the patriarchal constraints, but strenuously resists them; by speaking the language of not only the male, but also the female lover from the Song of Songs she proves her defiance. She does not allow for the binary opposition of male versus female to limit her; she subverts this dichotomy, being able to take on the language of either lover from the Song. Thus, as Bach aptly observes, she sees herself in the role of both lovers: male and female (236).

What is more, with the help of the biblical Song, it may be argued that Salomé is more than an object of the gaze, and becomes a brilliant seductress who knows what she has to do in order to fulfil her great desire. It is through the similarities with the Song of Songs that this passion is created in the character. These similarities help the protagonist to express herself. Bach has traced some of them but more analogies with the Song than those that she mentions can be observed. When Salomé says: “[s]peak again, Jokanaan. Thy voice is wine to me” (Wilde 725) and when she wants to see him, this is indubitably similar to what the male lover from the Songtells his beloved: “let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song of Sg. 2.14). Subsequently, Salomé expresses her admiration for Jokanaan’s hair: “[t]hy hair is like the cedars of Lebanon, like the great cedars of Lebanon that give their shade to the lions” (Wilde 726). Again, her speech is analogous to that of the male lover from the Bible: “[c]ome with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards” (Song of Sg. 4.8). The passage includes animal imagery: the lions are a symbol of great power, a kingly one, and Salomé may be invoking them in order to show that she reverses the gender hierarchy at the court and is an independent woman, fully aware of her female power.

Furthermore, one may trace some similarities to Herod’s verbal advances towards Salomé in her speech. When the Tetrarch wants to dissuade the Princess from demanding the head of Jokanaan, he offers to give her his greatest treasures: “I have jewels hidden in this place . . . jewels that are marvellous” (Wilde 739). He then talks about amethysts, topazes, moonstones and other precious gems. Like Salomé did earlier, Herod uses the Song of Songs’ imagery: “[t]hy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold ”(Song of Sg. 1.10; emphasis original). It can be argued that Salomé “desires Jokanaan first aesthetically, then sexually, and finally spiritually” (Im 372), and that, in the first two cases, her desire is similar to Herod’s passion towards her. Thus, she is seen to use imagery comparable not only to that from the biblical Song, but also to that used by Herod, which, most interestingly, is similar to the Song of Songs in some aspects. Yet, it needs to be stressed that Herod uses the abovementioned similes to talk about jewellery which serves as a gift for Salomé that could discourage her from having Jokanaan killed, whereas for Salomé the similes are a means of presenting her emotions, spiritual yearning and desires, which is much closer to the idea behind the Song of Songs which is often interpreted as an expression of the love of God towards the people of Israel.

Moreover, as Marcovitch posits, “[s]ince she [i.e. Salomé] is seen as an object of desire, the only actions she knows how to perform are those that stem from desire” (94). Bearing this in mind, it is clear that Salomé’s wooing is firmly connected with her background and with what she has experienced herself. Pursuing this argument further, it may be observed that Jokanaan, being the envoy of God, is a man who longs for truly spiritual experience. Salomé, who in fact wants something more than bodily sensations, is so much governed by them that she does not know how to express her yearning and gives Jokanaan the wrong signals. Furthermore, Marcovitch states that “Salome’s attempted seduction of Jokanaan is an endeavour to find power outside of the court and particularly to find a form of subjective power, one in which her power is not dependent on the gazes of others” (98). As was argued before, Salomé’s seduction is also a way to flee from patriarchal constraints and to show how independent she wants to be. Thus, the claim that she is both a seductress and an object of Herod’s gaze is justified.

Ultimately, Salomé’s desire cannot be fulfilled and the only way for her to reach her goal is to demand the head of the man with whom she is so enchanted. As the play shows, she succeeds in enforcing the killing of Jokanaan on Herod, and she can finally kiss his now dead lips: “[a]h! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit” (Wilde 740). Notwithstanding the fact that her beloved is dead, she is still full of passion and insatiable desire. Although one can suspect Salomé of being ruthless and devoid of feelings, she admits defeat on her part: “I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire” (Wilde 741). Bucknell points out: “Salomé’s last speeches repeat her earlier blazon. She tells the head, the icon of castration, that it is she who has lost” (523; emphasis original). Thus, she knows that she has failed and that her desire will never be fulfilled. She is aware of her tragic situation, and she does not attempt to hide it. At this point one can argue that she does not succeed as a seductress, because she finally admits her failure; on the other hand, however, it is worth remembering that at this moment it is too late – Jokanaan is dead and it is Salomé’s passion that caused it.

All the aforementioned arguments lead to the conclusion that Salomé looks at Jokanaan lustfully and that her behaviour is, in fact, very similar to what Herod does to her. Her passionate gaze, which acquires the characteristics of the male gaze, subverts the traditional patriarchal order in which it is the men who look at women. She causes the death of the Young Syrian also by promising to gaze at him and she does so in order to look at what she desires most, that is the Prophet. Salomé wants something more than the bodily revels of the court, but she does not fully know how to express it. The imagery that she uses is very similar to that of the Song of Songs and her lengthy speeches, characterized by great sensuality, help her to express herself. On the other hand, however, Salomé’s words to Jokanaan prove that she is a seductress rather than a guiltless object of Herod’s sexual desire and lustful look. The similarities between her monologues and the biblical Song of Songs help Salomé in being a perfect wooer, but it is her desire that causes the death of the Young Syrian, Jokanaan and finally her own. As Marcovitch claims, “Salome’s desire, breaking free from the limits her persona imposed on it, ends up consuming her as well” (100). She admits at the end that she is not a winner but a loser, one who killed her beloved by desiring him too much.

Works Cited

Bach, Alice. Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative. New York: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Bucknell, Brad. “On ‘Seeing’ Salome.” ELH 60.2 (1993): 503-26. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

Chaudhuri, Shohini. “The Male Gaze.” Feminist Film Theorists Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa de Lauretis, Barbara Creed. Ed. Shohini Chaudhuri. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2006. 31-44. Pdf.

Finney, Gail. “Demythologizing the Femme Fatale: Wilde’s Salomé.” The Routledge Reader in Gender and Performance. 1998. Ed. Lizbeth Goodman and Jane de Gay. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2002. 182-86. Pdf.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, [1995]. Print.

Im, Yeeyon. “Oscar Wilde’s Salomé: Disorienting Orientalism.” Comparative Drama. 45.4 (2011): 361-80. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.

Janicka-Świderska, Irena. “Dance in Modernist Drama: Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats.” Dance in Drama. Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, 1992. 117-57. Print.

Marcovitch, Heather. “The Princess, Persona, and Subjective Desire: A Reading of Oscar Wilde’s Salome.” PLL 40.1 (2004): 88-101. Web. 22 Dec. 2012.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism Introductory Readings. 4th ed. Ed Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen and Leo Braudy. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. 746-57. Pdf.

Pismo Święte Starego i Nowego Testamentu, Biblia Tysiąclecia. Ed. Kazimierz Dynarski SAC and Maria Przybył. Poznań: Pallottinum, 2005. Print.

Sloan, John. Oscar Wilde. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

Tookey, Helen. “‘The Fiend that Smites with a Look’: The Monstrous/Menstruous Woman and the Danger of the Gaze in Oscar Wilde’s Salomé.” Literature & Theology 18.1 (2004): 23-37. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

Treat, Jay C. “Song of Songs: To the Reader.” A New English Translation of the Septuagint. Ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 657-61. Electronic Edition of NETS. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Wilde, Oscar. Salomé. The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1997. 717-42. Print.

 

Katarzyna Lisowska

University of Wrocław

Women and Intertextuality: On the Example of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad

The aim of the study is to consider feminist retellings of myths and legends. As an example, Margaret Atwood’s book The Penelopiad is analyzed. The interpretation is situated in a broader context of intertextual practices characteristic of the feminist vision of literature. I present the ideas which Atwood shares with authors engaged in women’s movement. Among these there is Atwood’s understanding of intertextuality (noticeable especially in The Penelopiad). Bibliographical basis of the study comprises books which are fundamental to feminist and gender criticism (e.g. Poetics of Gender, ed. by N. Miller, New York 1986; S. M. Gilbert, S. Gubar The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, New Haven and London 1984). What is more, the study refers to the books which allow considering the notion of intertextuality (G. Allen, Intertextuality, London and New York 2010, J. Clayton. E. Rothstein (eds.), Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History, Wisconsin 1991) and connecting the interpretation with the problems crucial to contemporary literary studies (L. Hutcheon L. A Poetics of Postmodernism. History, Theory, Fiction, New York and London 1988, B. Johnson, A World of Difference, Baltimore and London 1989).

 

key words: Intertextuality, feminist literary criticism, arachnology, reinterpretation, humour

Margaret Atwood’s novel The Penelopiad[28] inspires to reflect upon the relationship between women’s writing and intertextuality. Therefore, I will argue that the book could be situated in the perspective of feminist literary criticism. What is more, some strategies employed in The Penelopiad encourage us to analyze the very notion of intertextuality. Thus, the feminist reading will be combined with methodological observations. I will also concentrate on the comic features of the novel which are, in my opinion, crucial in attempting to characterize the concept of intertextuality presented in the The Penelopiad.

To begin with, I would like to mention the aspects of intertextual theory which will be useful in further analysis. The term “intertextuality” refers to the interaction between (or within) texts.[29] The consequence of this interaction is a situation in which “meanings in one kind of discourse are overlaid with meanings from another kind of discourse” (Cuddon 454). In other words, as Julia Kristeva presents it, intertextuality is the “transposition of one (or several) sign-system(s) into another” (Kristeva, “Revolution in Poetic Language” 111).[30] In fact, many theorists claim that “any one literary text echoes, or is inescapably linked to, other texts” (Abrams 200). Bearing that in mind, I would like to consider Atwood’s novel as an intentional exploration of the potential of intertextual writing (and reading) strategies. It would also be useful to recall Wanda Rulewicz’s remarks on the types of intertextual references. (Rulewicz 232–33).[31] In the analyzed book intertexts “concern the story which already appeared in prior texts” (Rulewicz 232) and add “new dimensions” to the novel (Rulewicz 232).[32]

Intertextuality can also be treated as a “theoretical framework” which is “both hermeneutic and formalistic” (Hutcheon 127) and, therefore, enables one to place literary texts in various contexts. Because of that, Atwood’s novel can be analyzed in textual and semantic terms.[33] What is more, intertextuality is a strategy which settles the book in a broader perspective since through its “critical relation to the ‘world’ of discourse” the critical relation “to society and politics” (Hutcheon 140) is possible too.[34] It is also worth mentioning that in the presented case the differentiation between the notions of intertextuality and influence is not necessary.[35] Furthermore, I believe that the emphasis on the subjective aspect of the writing (telling) process and the revaluation of the agency are connected with the feminist background of the novel. As a consequence, intertextual strategies present in the novel are reformulated by “questions of gender” (Johnson 124) and represent a broader view on intertextuality in which the problems of gender roles and sexual identity are considered[36] (Clayton and Rothstein 26).

At this point some more theoretical specifications are necessary. My observations will refer mainly to Penelope, who is the main performer of the narrative. Unlike in most studies written from the feminist perspective (e.g. in the theory of “arachnology,” cf. latter part of the present text), the reflection upon the author will be replaced with the reflection upon the narrator. This issue will be developed in the latter part of the study. Proceeding to a more detailed analysis of the novel, I would also like to stress that within its narration both segments of the term “intertextuality” are tightly interwoven. As a consequence, they determine their meanings reciprocally. In order to present my ideas clearly, I will begin with the analysis of the dialogical aspect of the book and its relational location.

First of all, it is worth noticing that in the Introductionthe author admits, and at the same time stresses, that the novel is indebted to other texts, which enabled Atwood to create a new story:

Mythic material was originally oral, and also local – a myth would be told in one way in one place and quite differently in another. I have drawn on material other than The Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope’s parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumours circulating about her.[37] (Atwood, Introduction xiv)

It is therefore possible to pose the question of how the novel places itself in the history of literature (Kristeva, “Problemy strukturowania tekstu” 246). Such a reinterpretation of Penelope’s story could be described in terms of female writing strategies. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar associated this procedure with “assaulting and revising, deconstructing and reconstructing . . . images inherited from male literature” (Gilbert and Gubar 75). The tendency to “revise” and “deconstruct” the official narration could be ascribed to the idea underlying the novel, which is to retell the story of the twelve maids hanged by Telemachus:

The maids form a . . . Chorus which focuses on two questions which must pose themselves after any close reading of The Odyssey: what led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story in The Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself. (Atwood, Introduction xv)

Many other passages are also aimed at reformulating Penelope’s story, whose main subject are private feelings of the main character:

And what did I amount to, once the official version gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women. . . . Don’t follow my example, I want to scream in your ears – yes, yours! . . . Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making. I owe it to myself. (P 2­-3; emphasis original)

The same can be observed in the following fragment of the novel, which stresses the role of the character’s individual perspective too (this issue will be raised in the further paragraphs):

The songs say I didn’t notice a thing because Athene had distracted me. If you believe that, you’ll believe all sorts of nonsense. In reality I’d turned my back on the two of them [Odysseus and Eurycleia] to hide my silent laughter at the success of my little surprise. (P 140-41)

The passages quoted represent the feminist idea of “retrieving” (Gilbert and Gubar 75) the lost and forgotten history of women’s participation in culture. A theoretical concept is thus inserted in the literature (Gilbert and Gubar 75). As a consequence, the tragedy, considered as a genre dominated by male authors and characters, is reinterpreted from the female perspective, which is due not only to Penelope, but also to the role other women play in the novel (see e.g.: the maids’ chorus, Eurycleia).

I would like to stress that Penelope reminds the reader that her version is one of many possible presentations of the story. She seems to treat history in general and myth and legends in particular as forms of narration – subjective and prone to transformations. It can be noticed in many metanarrative phrases (see e.g. P 49: “It’s said that in answer I pulled down my veil, being too modest to proclaim in words my desire for my husband . . . There is some truth to this story”). What is more, by comparing the narration with acting, the narrator emphasizes the fictionality and artificiality of the story: “All of this was play-acting: the fiction was that the bride had been stolen, and the consummation of a marriage was supposed to be a sanctioned rape” (P 44). The metanarrative perspective is enhanced by expressions which, apart from enabling us to place the text in a broader intertextual context, incite reflection upon the literary quality itself. This observation refers to the parts in which the collage-like quality[38] of literature is exposed. A particular work is thus considered to be a compilation of other literary texts:

He [i.e. Odysseus] too appeared in the songs and I relished those moments. . . . Needless to say, the minstrels took up these themes and embroidered them considerably. They always sang the noblest versions in my presence – the ones in which Odysseus was clever, brave, and resourceful, and battling supernatural monsters, and beloved by goddesses. (P 81-82; 84)

Also, the final chapters, especially the ones in which “the trail of Odysseus” is described (“XXIV The Chorus Line: An Anthropology Lecture,” 163-68, “XXVI The Chorus Line: The Trail of Odysseus, as Videotaped by the Maids,” 175-84), present the story from “the outside.” Thus the narration becomes an object of reformulations and changeable interpretations (see e.g.: “‘I understand the interpretation of the whole Trojan War episode has changed. . . . Now they think you were just a myth’” (P 187). These strategies question “the relation of language to reality” (Hutcheon 141) and thus, function as a way of deconstructing the official version of Penelope’s story.

Adding personal themes to the narration serves as another mode of deconstruction within the text. Penelope does not hesitate to stress her individual perspective:

What can I tell you about the next ten years? . . . Only sometimes did I think of it [the sun] as the flaming chariot of Helios. . . .We had news of how the war with Troy was going . . . I waited only for news about Odysseus. When would he come back and relieve my boredom? (P 81)

She also devotes some parts of the narration to constructing a description of her relationship with the son, Telemachus. Those parts are humorous and – what is particularly important – based on ordinary activities and rooted in everyday experience:

I resolved to have a word with him [Piraeus] later, and speak to his parents about letting him run so wild. Theoclymenus was a stranger. He seemed nice enough, but I made a mental note to find out what could be his ancestry, because boys the age of Telemachus can so easily get into the wrong company. [/] Telemachus wolfed down the food and knocked back the wine, and I reproached myself for not having taught him better table manners. Nobody could say I hadn’t tried. (P 129)

The act of evoking casual behaviours and problems may be treated as an intertextual signal which connects the novel with the tradition of female writing.[39] Also, the emphasis on personal perspective links the novel with some of the theories of intertextuality elaborated by feminist literary criticism. Nancy Miller’s “arachnology”could be the basic point of reference since it “reintroduces” the woman writer (here: the narrator)[40] into the text (Friedman 158) and presents intertextuality as a writing practice “centered in an embodied and gendered agent” (Clayton and Rothstein 29).

Thus, as I have already mentioned, feminist writing and reading strategies seem to be the basic source of intertextual references in The Penelopiad. Apart from the issues analyzed in the preceding paragraphs, a few important themes should be mentioned. First of all, the act of choosing Penelope’s story as the basis for the novel is, as Gilbert and Gubar would see it, aimed at reaching “toward the woman trapped on the other side of the mirror / text” and helping “her to climb out” (16).

Secondly, the reinterpretations of The Iliad and, more importantly, The Odyssey lead to the reinterpretation of the epic and the tragedy as literary genres. It is thus to be noticed that one of the types of intertextuality is applied here – namely, the strategy based on references to particular literary styles and forms (Sławiński 219).[41] This process could also be treated as “the difficult task of achieving true female literary authority by simultaneously conforming to and subverting patriarchal literary standards” (Gilbert and Gubar 73). The epic is evoked e.g. by the mythological subject of the story, the coexistence of the two dimensions of the action (the world of gods and the human world) and the episodic character of the narration (Sławiński 138–39). The reference to the tragedy is to be noticed e.g. in the significant role of the chorus[42] and the composition of its lines (Sławiński 586). The transformation of the genres traditionally considered as forms typical of “classical humanism” (Kristeva, Word, Dialogue 50) is also of great significance. Therefore, by reinterpreting motifs borrowed from official discourse of culture, Atwood’s novel “not only revises the male tradition, but also invites the male tradition to re-vision itself” (Johnson 133). In the book one may also find references to some well-known and still relevant forms of popular writing.[43] Therefore, intertextual strategies present in female writing in general, and in Atwood’s novel in particular could be seen as important factors which influence the broadly defined literary canon.[44]

“Feminist critical method” (Friedman 158) is also to be revealed in a detailed textual analysis. It is worth noticing that the motive of the shroud woven by Penelope can be associated with Miller’s “arachnology.” It is to be noticed in the following fragment:

Here is what I did. I set up a large piece of weaving on my loom, and said it was a shroud for my father-in-law, Laeartes . . . All day I would work away at my loom, weaving diligently, and saying melancholy things. (P 112-13)

Furthermore, Penelope evokes a fantasy of “enclosure,” which is also a popular motive associated with female writing (Showalter 33):[45] “I spent the whole days in my room – not the room I used to share with Odysseus, no, I couldn’t bear that, but in the room of my own in the women’s quarters” (P 109).[46]

The strong relationship between Penelope and the maids is presented as a bond of sisterhood: “We were almost like sisters” (P 114). This bond is opposed to the official, patriarchal narration: “We told stories as we worked away at our task of deconstruction” (P 114). The process of “assaulting and revising” (Gilbert and Gubar 75) this type of narratives is also manifested in the lexis employed by the author. This is the case with the title of one of the chapters, “Odysseus and Telemachus Snuff the Maids” (P 157), which could be considered as a feminist strategy of “overreading” the text (Miller 288; see also: footnote 19).

What is more, intertextual strategies are also likely to be found in the narrations of all subjects which are “different” and “marginalized” within the “official” literary canon (Hutcheon 130; 134).[47] Therefore, women writers, who have traditionally been included in the group of the excluded, “use and abuse” (Hutcheon 134) conventions borrowed from the canon. In consequence, a monological narration is replaced with a dialogue (Allen 161).[48] Dialogic, and thus intertextual,[49] structure of the text becomes a mode of “exploring the manner in which the writing of women, along with other marginalized groups, is always a mixture of available discursive possibilities” (Allen 160). In The Penelopiad, then, the feminist strategies enable Atwood to construct a specific kind of “the ironic intertextuality” which allows the writer to “set up and challenge male traditions in art” (Hutcheon 134) and reinterpret Penelope’s story.

Nevertheless, the relation between the novel and the feminist literary criticism is by no means that of a simple adaptation. In fact, the references to feminist writing and reading strategies are based on critical reflection. One may actually observe an intertextual dialogue with some ideas of feminist literary criticism. The attitude towards Miller’s theory is a good example. Instead of stressing her “attachment” to the text,[50] the narrator expresses her reluctance to be “entangled” in the process of writing, practically directly referring to the feminist reflection upon the literature:

The shroud itself became a story almost instantly. ‘Penelope’s web’, it was called . . . I did not appreciate the term web. If the shroud was a web, then I was the spider. But I had not been attempting to catch men like flies: on the contrary, I’d merely been trying to avoid entanglement myself. (P 119; emphasis original)

One may also find many conscious references to various literary contexts in the book (cf. Introduction and Notes). It could be read as an opposition to Miller’s call for writing and reading “as it had never been read, as if for the first time” (274).

These issues indicate the role of the “textual” aspect of the strategies present in the novel. The emphasis on the “textuality” is to be noticed in the passages which can be described as autothematic or at least metatextual:“One story has it that I was the payment for service Odysseus had rendered to Tyndareus. . . . But I have another idea, and here it is. . . . Whatever was behind it, Odysseus cheated and won the race” (P 36–37). Such phrases indicate that the text creates the meanings of the story since there is no simple relation between the narration and the reality. A similar function could also be ascribed to “the chorus lines” (see e.g.: “The Chorus Line: If I Was A Princess, A Popular Tune”; “The Chorus Line: The Birth of Telemachus, An Idyll”)– the chapters written as songs to be sung by the twelve maids. I suggest considering these parts of the book as signals of the carnivalesque play with the text, an issue which is to be analyzed in the next paragraphs.

What is more, the dialogue present in the novel is mainly a dialogue with other texts. The use of the feminist idea of deconstructing “the mirror of the male-inscribed literary text” (Gilbert and Gubar 15) is a good example. In other words, “the ‘world’ in which these texts situate themselves is the ‘world’ of discourse, the ‘world’ of texts and intertexts” (Hutcheon 125). Because of that, it seems more appropriate to concentrate on analyzing the utterances given by Penelope as a narrator instead of, as Miller does, “introducing” the author into the novel. In fact, Penelope herself becomes the author defined as “a gendered agent” (Clayton and Rothstein 29) who “breaks into” the myth (Allen 156) to mark her individual perspective. However, referring to Mikhail Bakhtin’s and Kristeva’s remarks, I would like to stress that the texts of the novel is rooted in “cultural” and “social textuality” (Allen 36) too. These categories prevent us from separating The Penelopiad from its historical and social context (Allen 36). Kristeva describes this relations as „an ideologeme” (Allen 37) – that is: a function “which connects the individual utterance with other texts (Kristeva, “Problemy strukturowania tekstu” 247).[51] This observation enables the combination of textually and socially orientated interpretation.

The role of the textual aspect of the narration and the reference to feminist context are two features which characterize intertextual strategies present in The Penelopiad. However, what is specific to the book is its comic character. This feature is to be noticed in the novel’s humorous elements, which allow us to connect it to Bakhtin’s works again. At this point one should recall Bakhtin’s theory of intertextuality since it is an important background to many feminist presentations of the problem.[52] I have already referred to the role that the dialogical orientation of the text plays in these theories. This preference for the dialogue may have been inspired by Bakhtin (Allen 159–64). What is more, the dialogue allows for granting the voice to “the others.” One of the personifications of “the other” in Western culture is the carnivalesque Fool, a figure of prime importance in Bakhtin’s interpretation of the popular-festive forms. In feminist literary criticism there is a tendency to treat the Fool as a “naïve” character who is in the same position as the female characters (Allen 161).[53] In this case the humour meets with the dialogue and the feminist context.[54]

As previously mentioned, there are many comic motives in the book. Apart from the scenes presenting parental cares of Penelope, the character’s ironic comments on figures and stories described in myths also serve as a good example. The following passage contains some humorous remarks on Odysseus’ tricks:

I didn’t let on I knew. It would have been dangerous for him. Also, if a man takes pride in his disguising skills, it would be a foolish wife who would claim to recognize him: it’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness. (P 137)

Penelope’s attitude towards the world of gods is ironic too:

All the rest was just copulation of various kinds . . . , with gods who said they were shepherds and with shepherds who said they were gods. Occasionally a goddess might get mixed up in it too, dabble around in perishable flesh like a queen playing at milkmaids, but the reward for the man was shortened life and often a violent death. (P 23)

According to Bakhtin, laughter was a factor which deconstructed the seriousness of an epic (Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel” 23 ). In Atwood’s novel the same kind of reformulating the traditionally legitimized literary genres is to be observed. What is more, Bakhtin noticed that laughter reduces the distance between the text and the reader, to whom the world is presented as something familiar (Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel” 23 ). The same function could be ascribed to the humorous passages of The Penelopiad, describing everyday life of Penelope and her surroundings. However, such a vision does not imply a well-ordered world. The deconstructive power of laughter “abuses” (Hutcheon 134) the stereotypical views on the real world.[55] The world presented in the novel is thus diverse and “pluralogic” (Steele 285), which places the book in the opposition to the monologism of the classical epic and tragedy too. What is more, the humour replaces “pity and fear” evoked by a tragedy (Aristotle 9). This transformation is to be noticed particularly in the chorus lines which, by combining comic elements with macabre descriptions, create a tragicomic whole.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the intertextual strategies present in The Penelopiad refer to various contexts. These contexts include many theories of intertextuality. Amongst them those introduced by feminist literary criticism play a significant role. What is more, feminist background situates the book in a broader (social and cultural) perspective. However, all the references are transformed and adapted to the structure of the narrative. Therefore, the strategies in question, including the dialogue with literary tradition, become a basic element of the novel’s construction to be found in the text’s realm. In fact, intertextuality provokes a reflection upon the processes of both writing and communicating with the reader. The significant role of humour and laughter indicates that the observed play with the text is intended to give us pleasure. And it is the intertextuality that enables the writer and the reader to combine pleasure with “critical relation to the world” (Hutcheon 140). In The Penelopiad these two qualities are perfectly harmonized.

Works Cited

Abrams, Meyer Howard. A Glossary of Literary Terms. New York: Holt, Reinehart and Winston, 1981. Print.

Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Aristotle. On Poetry and Music. Trans. Samuel H. Butcher. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1985. Print.

Atwood, Margaret. The Penelopiad. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2005. Print.

Atwood, Margaret. Introduction. The Penelopiad. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2005. xiii–xv. Print.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Epic and Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. 3–40. Print.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Print.

Clayton Jay, and Eric Rothstein. “Figures in the Corpus: Theories of Influence and Intertextuality.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 3–60. Print.

Cuddon, John Anthony. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Harmondsworth: Penguin Beds Group, 1992. Print.

Draine, Betsy. “Chronotope and Intertext: The Case of Jean Rhys’s Quartet.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 318-25. Print.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Weavings: Intertextuality and the (Re)birth of the Author.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 148-80. Print.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print.

Głowiński, Michał. Intertekstualność, groteksa, parabola. Szkice ogólne i interpretacje. Kraków: Universitas, 2000. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988. Print.

Johnson, Barbara. A World of Difference. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1989. Print.

Kraskowska, Ewa. Czytelnik jako kobieta: wokół literatury i teorii. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, 2007. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. “Problemy strukturowania tekstu.” Trans. Wiktoria Krzemień. Pamiętnik Literacki 4 (1972): 233–50. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. “Revolution in Poetic Language.” Trans. Margaret Waller. Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. 89–136. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. “Word, Dialogue and Novel.” Trans. Alice Jardine, Thomas Gora and Léon S. Roudiez. Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. 34–61. Print.

Markiewicz, Henryk. Literaturoznawstwo i jego sąsiedztwa. Warszawa: PWN, 1989. Print.

Miller, Nancy. “Arachnologies.” The Poetics of Gender. New York: Columbia UP: 1986. 270-95. Print.

Rajan, Tilottama. “Intertextuality and the Subject of Reading/Writing.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 61-74. Print.

Rulewicz, Wanda. “Intertextuality, Competence, Reader.” Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny 2 (1987): 229–41. Print.

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own. British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977. Print.

Sławiński, Janusz, ed. Słownik terminów literackich. Wrocław: Ossolineum, 2002. Print.

Steele, Jefferey. “The Call of Eurydice: Mourning and Intertxtuality in Margeret Fuller’s Writing.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 271-97. Print.

 

 

Aleksandra Mrówka

Jagiellonian University

The Comic Image of the Courtly Love Ideals in Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

The Arthurian legends have fascinated and inspired people for ages. Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory is one of the best compilations of the stories about King Arthur and his peers. This romance deals with the enchanting world of knightly rituals and the ideals of the chivalric code. It is not a typical romance blindly glorifying the medieval world, though. Written in the time when these ideals are passing, the prose is dominated on the one hand, by melancholy and sentiment, but on the other, by irony and ambiguity. Malory seems to question the chivalric code through inconsistencies of his characters’ behaviour, and absurdity of some situations they are involved in. The paper will focus on the ambivalent and comic picture of the courtly love ideals in Malory’s prose. The main source of failure of some of the Arthurian knights in this aspect of knightly life is the clash between the real chivalric practice and the imagined ideals they pursue.

 

key words: courtly love, Malory, Arthur, knight, satire.

Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1405–1471) is a romance dealing with the world of knightly customs and rituals, as well as the great ideals of the chivalric code. The main themes Malory explores are love and hate, nobility and villainy, and all this is mingled with a pinch of magic and mystery. The author wrote in awhen the great ideals of knighthood were passing, thus his work is dominated by melancholy and sentiment. However, it does not lack irony and humour, which are revealed through inconsistencies in his characters’ behaviour, as well as the absurdity of some situations in which they are involved. Malory is ambivalent about many aspects of knightly life, including courtly love. The romance questions the possibility of putting the courtly love ideals into practice. Malory uses humour not only to entertain the reader, but also to reveal the weaknesses of medieval chivalry. The aim of this article is to show some of the comic qualities of Malory’s portrayal of the Arthurian practice of courtly love.

Courtly love (called in French amour courtois) is a philosophy of love and a code of lovemaking that thrived in chivalric times. Chris Baldick remarks that:

the literary cult of heterosexual love . . . emerged among the French aristocracy from the late eleventh century onwards, with a profound effect on subsequent Western attitudes to love. Poetry converted sexual desire from a degrading necessity of physical life into a spiritually ennobling emotion, almost a religious vocation. An elaborate code of behaviour evolved around the tormented male lover’s abject obedience to a disdainful, idealized lady, who was usually his social superior. (53)

The idea of courtly love quickly became a major theme in medieval romance. Chivalric love came to the fore during feudal times, determining the relationship between a knight and his lady. Poets writing about this type of love adopted and inverted the feudal concept of the relationship between the lord and his vassal. The Lady assumed the role of the Lord, while the knight took the role of the vassal in the love ritual. In courtly literature, and often in reality, women were an inspiration for the practice of chivalric virtues. They encouraged knights to fight in tournaments or even in battles and motivated them to act in a socially accepted manner (Fries 88). Courtly love helped civilize the medieval world. In her essay “The Place of Women in The Morte Darthur,” Elizabeth Archibald observes that “[t]he very sight of a sword [could] inspire wild chivalry. But in the absence of an organizing love, when the knight [had] only his martial prowess, he [had] no culture, no memory, and no sense of himself” (42). Thomas Malory mentions in his prose Sir Peris de Forest Savage, who is notorious for sexually harassing and abusing ladies. He acts like a barbarian until he is killed by Sir Launcelot (Malory 1: 210-12). Literature shows such examples, whereas the literary vision of courtly love was romantic: knights adored their ladies, praised their beauty, fought for their glory and honour and did their best to win their hearts. The ladies, in turn, were to show favour to their knights by charming smiles and small gifts (such as ribbons or handkerchiefs) and to inspire them to glorious and heroic deeds. The idealized literary vision was emulated in reality at the courts in France, where it was developed (Barber 79).

Women play an important role in Le Morte D’Arthur. The female characters are usually damsels, ladies or gentlewomen because courtly love rules were applied only to noble women. The concept of courtly love celebrated the chivalrous knight proving his love to his lady. In Malory’s prose, it becomes clear that some precepts of the code do not always work when they are put into practice. Some English writers, including Sir Thomas Malory (Le Morte D’Arthur), Geoffrey Chaucer (“The Knight’s Tale”) or Marie de France (Lanval), were a little sceptical about the idea of chivalric love. Malory expresses his criticism about the concept explicitly, using the image of Sir Dinadan.[56] In the conversation with Queen Iseult, the knight states: “God defend me . . . for the joy of love is too short, and the sorrow thereof, and what come[s] thereof, dure[s] overlong” (Malory 2:114), which perfectly summarizes his views on amour courtois. Muriel C. Bradbrook sees the reason for the scepticism in the fact that

[t]he elaborate and fanciful code of manners which in theory governed the behavior of courtly lovers, involving the absolute subjection of the knight to the lady, with all the artifice of courtly etiquette, and all the exotic ritual of a mock-religion, was never really acclimatized in England (18).

This state can be viewed as reflected in Malory’s prose. For some of the literary knights, women are not the key to happiness and success in their lives. Sir Dinadan, mentioned above, doubts the idea of courtly love and the role of a woman as a knight’s inspiration for brave deeds. He sees love as madness. In his conversation with Sir Tristram he betrays his view on this overwhelming infatuation saying:

For such a foolish knight as ye are, . . . I saw but late this day lying by a well, and he fared as slept; and there he lay like a fool grinning, and would not speak, and his shield lay by him, and his horse stood by him; and well I wot he was a lover. (Malory 2:109)

The knight does not understand why Tristram and other knights can be so entranced by women. What is more, he does not want to be a lover or have a lady. To prove his point, he puts his words into practice when he refuses to fight three knights for Queen Guinevere (109). On the one hand, Sir Dinadan appears to be clownish because he disregards some of the rules of the chivalric code, although he is a knight like the others, but on the other hand, he is the voice of common sense that Thomas Malory employs to question some of the absurdities of the chivalric code.[57]

According to P.E. Tucker, Malory’s courtly love is often just a game to play (73). The fact that some of the knights fail to remember their ladies as they encounter their adventures serves as a good example that confirms their negligence as lovers. Sir Tristram, although in love with Queen Iseult, nearly forgets about his greatest passion under the influence of beautiful Iseult la Blanche Mains (Malory 1:368). As Malory puts it, “there grew great love betwixt Isoud [la Blanche Mains] and Sir Tristram for that lady was both good and fair, and a woman of noble blood and fame” (368). However, the knight feels guilty. To remain loyal to his queen, the young man does not consummate his marriage, persuading his wife that marital love is nothing more than kissing and cuddling. The woman accepts her husband’s approach towards marriage. Sir Palomides reveals a different attitude toward the love to Queen Iseult. The Saracen knight resigns himself to the loss of his friendship with Sir Tristram (368). However, the initial fierce rivalry for the grace of the same lady gives way to their mutual friendship. For P.E. Tucker, it is friendship, not love that motivates Sir Palomides, who is a pagan, in his decision to be baptized (74-75). In Malory’s prose, the knights often have to choose between their personal happiness and their adherence to the code. If they insist on following the code, they have to select which rule to abide by, as it sometimes happens that obeying one command entails breaking another. The case of Palomides can be analysed as an example of the primacy of knightly fellowship.[58] Friendship triumphs, showing that love is somewhat less important.

The knight should do his best to win the heart of his lady. In the Arthurian world, the roles are reversed at times, and it happens that some ladies fight for their knights’ admiration. The idea of a woman struggling for a knight’s attention could seem comical in the courtly discourse. A good instance exemplifying the phenomenon is Sir Launcelot, who is the most desired knight of all the Knights of the Round Table. Terence McCarthy, when commenting on the figure of the knight, states that “his physical prowess has inevitably earned him a reputation and made him sexually desirable” (22), adding that this “prowess has made him something of a sex symbol” (23). Nonetheless, the knight is not a ladies-man – he gives the impression of being afraid of women; still, ladies long for him. He is kidnapped by Morgan le Fay and three other queens with the use of magic (Malory 2:197). The women know that he is the best knight in the world, so they “[begin] to strive for that knight, every each one [says] they [will] have him to her love” (198).

However, the women’s obsession with the knight can also be preposterous or even terrifying. Some women, unhappily in love, are ready to humiliate themselves. The fair Maid of Astolat, Elaine le Blank, falls in love with Sir Launcelot and wants him to marry her (411-12). When the knight refuses her proposal, she openly admits that being his lover will satisfy her. Because the knight rejects the girl, she dies of love even though the couple have known each other for a very short time.

Launcelot is attractive both alive and dead. The witch Hellawes, Lady of the Castle Nigramous, has loved him, as she claims, for seven years. Knowing that the knight is devoted to Queen Guinevere, she devises a plan to get him “[b]ut sithen [she] may not rejoice [him] to have [his] body alive” (Malory 2:223) she would have him dead. She “would have balmed it and served it, and so have kept it [her] life days, and daily [she] should have clipped [him], and kissed [him]”(223). Thomas Malory, describing the knights’ relationships with females, often tends to exaggerate the qualities of the lovers and the power of their feelings. He often reminds the readers, who might be surprised by this exaggerated vision, that love in the Golden Age of King Arthur’s reign was different than in their own times.

The noble idea of courtly love obliged the knight to help ladies when in need and to protect them. Although Arthurian knights swear the oath in which they promise to guard ladies: “always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen soccour, upon pain, of death” (Malory 1:116), some of them fail as ladies’ protectors. Sir Gawain, together with Sir Marhaus and Sir Uwain, goes in search of adventures, honour and worship (148). They meet three “damosels” (60-, 30- and 15 years old), and each knight takes one woman with him. Sir Gawain is very enthusiastic about his lady because she is young and beautiful. The words he says to Sir Marhaus: “I thank you, for ye have left me the youngest and the fairest, and she is most levest to me” (148), reveal not only his sensitivity to feminine beauty, but also his emotional immaturity. His joy is momentary, however. After many adventures, when they finally come back, “the damosel that Sir Gawain had [can] say but little worship of him” (165) because he has lost her. In the Arthurian world, attachment to women often disappears when adventure is at hand. This lack of commitment is clearly one of the faults Malory sees in the world of Arthurian knights. Thomas C. Rumble remarks that in Le Morte D’Arthur “people are seen for what they are in terms of what they do, and their actions are allowed to stand silently symbolic of the causes which are constantly at work bringing about the ruin of a world that seems so fair” (in Lumiansky 147). Sir Pellinor is another knight who ignores a lady that later turns out to be his daughter (Malory 1:109). At first his hastiness may seem to be a little funny or grotesque, but it very quickly turns out to be more seriously disconcerting. Being so obsessed with looking for adventure, he fails to help the woman and her wounded knight, and although “she crie[s] an hundred times after help” he “[will] not tarry, he [is] so eager in his quest” (110). In consequence, the woman curses him and kills herself with a sword. Some of the knights fail as protectors of women because they appreciate fame, adventure and war more than courtly love (McCarthy 50). In Le Morte D’Arthur, there is a dichotomy between love and adventure, and, as Elizabeth Edwards claims, Malory seems to focus more on adventure – the choice of his characters (38-39). A woman whom a knight meets during his journey is often not the object of his quest but the means to achieve his goal. Even Sir Launcelot, considered “the flower of knights” (Malory 1:224), does not undertake all his adventures in the service of ladies. Malory reports a shameful incident, when the knight agrees to help a lady only after having made sure that she knows his name (206-7).

The ladies asking for help are often unusual and enigmatic themselves. They appear out of the blue at the court of King Arthur, preceded by a group of various animals (98), or arrive bringing marvelous objects with them, such as a great black shield (383-84), to ask one of the knights to go on a quest. They often wander alone in forests waiting for a knight to ask him for a favour. McCarthy ironically comments about this:

None of the knights dreams of compromising his gallantry by even hesitating to help, and as they ride off having immediately and unquestioningly taken the adventure, none of them seems to be wondering what a nice girl like that was actually doing in the forest alone. It would have been rather caddish after all to ask if she was carrying any ID. (15)

Feminine beauty seems to evoke problems in the medieval world. Praising a lady’s beauty is not an easy task, as it can lead to serious quarrels among the Knights of the Round Table. The beauty of women in the Arthurian world is peculiar. The ladies are, as McCarthy notices, “above the norm, but no one is below” (52). Yet, their beauty can be graded in an interesting way. Guinevere seems to be a touchstone of the beauty of others. It happens at times that there is a knight who does not want to accept the queen’s superiority over his lady and an argument starts. Sir Lamorak and Sir Meleagant quarrel over whose lady is more beautiful: Queen Guinevere or Morgawse of Orkney (Malory 1:403-5). A more serious misadventure happens to Sir Tristram and Queen Iseult when they are imprisoned in the so-called Weeping Castle. According to the old custom, the knight has to fight with its lord, Sir Breunor, and the one who is defeated loses his life. His lady is in no better position: if she turns out to be less beautiful than the lady of the castle, she will lose her head (346-49). At first, the way of the knights’ reasoning and justifying their claims sounds very childish, but, at a deeper level, the episode touches upon a more serious problem. Elizabeth Edwards claims that “[i]t is the confusion of objective and subjective categories, that is, whether the fairness of the lady is the source of love, or love the source of fairness, a quality of the beloved or of the loving gaze” (46). On the one hand, the quarrel over the subjectivity of beauty is an instance of a limited understanding of love; on the other hand, it reveals a dangerous power of the feeling. Love has a destructive potential, it can be a starting point of serious military conflicts leading to the downfall both of the whole community and of the individual, not only in their earthly reality, but also in the context of one’s salvation.

Chastity is one of the virtues of the code of chivalry which is Christian in its origin. Some of the Arthurian knights have problems with sexual abstinence and need women only to satisfy their desire. In “The Tale of the Sankgreall: Human Frailty,” Charles Moorman notices that “the Arthurian world is undermined from the beginning by ‘lechery’” (189). To begin with, the conception of King Arthur is highly controversial. His father, Uther Pendragon, a “lusty king and wifeless” man (189), falls in love with Igraine, the wife of the Duke of Cornwall (Malory 1:9-10). He is obsessed by the desire to have sex with her. This obsession makes him fail not only as a knight but also as a Christian. To achieve his goal he wages war on her husband, uses underhand magic methods advised by Merlin and agrees to relinquish his parental right to his son Arthur, who will be conceived in the future. His promise to hand over the royal heir just to satisfy his sexual desire does not make him a reliable and trustworthy king. Uther’s choice is morally and politically questionable. However, the Arthurian world is one with its own peculiar law and logic (McCarthy 6).

King Arthur turns out to be a womanizer like his father. His love affairs result in children born out of wedlock. Liners, a daughter of one of his earls, Samna, “a passing fair damosel” (Malory 1:42), gives him the son Borre, who in the future will be one of the best knights of the Round Table. Queen Morgawse bears Arthur his son Mordred. She is the wife of King Lot of Orkneyand and the mother of his sons; this fact, however, does not discourage the monarch from sleeping with her. Malory reports that “[f]or she was a passing fair lady, therefore the king cast great love unto her, and desired to lie by her” (45). Their relationship is incestuous as “she is his sister, on the mother’s side, Igraine” (45). Despite the fact that Arthur does not know about their family bonds, he will be punished for his sin: “God is displeased with [him], for [he] ha[s] lain by [his] sister, and on her [he] ha[s] gotten a child that shall destroy [him] and all the knights of [his] realm” (47). Looking at the love affairs of some of the knights, one can have an impression that ladies who belong to other men are the most desirable, and there are many examples proving the knights’ interest in married and betrothed women.

Sir Gawain, who has a reputation of a ladies’ man, promises King Pelleas to help him win the heart of his beloved, the proud Lady Ettard. The lady, fed up with Pelleas’ advances, wants him dead (152-55). Gawain visits her castle, claiming he has killed her admirer. The atmosphere of their meeting is so pleasant that they “[sup] in a pavilon, and . . . [go] to bed together” (155), where they are caught red-handed by Sir Pelleas. By this deed, Sir Gawain reveals himself to be a lustful and false knight who breaks his promises easily.

There is only one knight, Sir Gareth, who chooses marriage over adultery. He opts for being a good Christian, violating the rule of courtly love, as this kind of admiration is a pre-marital experience. However, he also has problems with maintaining pre-marital chastity, in fact. When he is finally united with his beloved Lady Lyonesse, the lovers are willing to go to bed together (McCarthy 24). Magic needs to be used to prevent the lovers from consummating their love, thus protecting their honour. The situation is hilarious, because the couple do not give up easily. Sir Gareth fights against a marvelous knight during the two following nights and he becomes severely wounded. However, the fact that the knight has to be protected from sexual misdemeanour makes him “more frankly human” (McCarthy 27). Charles Moorman sees this relationship as Malory’s rebelling against courtly love, which is conventionalized and artificial. “The Tale of Gareth” emphasizes the role of marriage as a natural crowning of real love (169-71).

Launcelot’s relationship with Queen Guinevere on the one hand is nearly perfect, while on the other it is destructive both for them and the kingdom. Sir Launcelot pays a high price for it: the price is his partial failure in the Grail Quest and the loss of fame and honour he has strived for all his life (Dosanjh 64). These failures do not teach him a lesson, however. Malory reports that

Sir Launcelot beg[ins] to resort unto Queen Guinevere again, and forg[ets] the promise and the perfection that he made in the quest. . . . and so they [love] together more hotter than they did toforehand, and ha[ve] such privy draughts together, than many in the court sp[eak] of it. (Malory 2: 373)

Although the affair is presented as very serious, it does not lack humorous and even grotesque elements. Launcelot’s passion leads him to the queen’s chamber. The nature of the relationship between the knight and Queen Guinevere is shrouded in mystery (contrary to that of Tristram and Iseult). Malory does not openly admit whether it was merely platonic. He mysteriously mentions that “love that time was not as it is nowadays [in Malory’s time]” (460). However, the adventure Sir Launcelot has there, having rescued her from Sir Meliagaunt’s hands, is a parody of courtly service (434-41). The couple arranges that the man will come through a barred window looking on a garden when everybody is asleep. Sir Launcelot “set[s] his hands upon the bars of irons, and he pull[s] at them with such a might that he brasts them clean out of the stone walls” (438) cutting his hand severely and enters the chamber. The next day, Sir Meliagaunt finds the queen’s bed stained with blood, in order to hide his own misbehaviour, he accuses her of being unfaithful to King Arthur.

In the quoted examples of lechery, both men and women are to blame. For some couples (Launcelot and Guinevere, Tristram and Iseult) sex is an act of love, for the others just a momentary whim. McCarthy observes that “[j]ust as there are knights . . . who have, but do not deserve the title of a knight, so there are ladies who are ladies in name only” (21). And he is right. Some of the Knights of the Round Table fail at serving ladies, but there are also ladies who are unworthy of being served. The idea of platonic love does not work in the Arthurian world, because the characters presented by Malory are people driven by emotions and feelings. Nevertheless, for the author, as McCarthy notices, “Arthurian chivalry embodied an ideal far superior to anything that survives today” (xiv). It can be assumed that when writing about courtly love and the life of medieval knighthood, Thomas Malory bases his knowledge on his own experience[59] and he tries to incorporate it into the myth about brave warriors.

To conclude, Le Morte D’Arthur is not an example of comic literature; however, it contains comic elements. The author often uses humour and irony in his representation of courtly love. The image of the noble relationship between the knight and his lady is ambivalent because there is a clash between literary ideals and real life. Malory’s view on Arthurian chivalry is not naive: being fully aware of its flaws he does not try to hide the imperfection of some of the knights. The comic discourse he applies aims at revealing the typically human aspect of medieval chivalry.

Works Cited

Archibald, Elizabeth and Anthony Stockwell Garfield Edwards, eds. A Companion to Malory. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996. Print.

Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.

Barber, Richard W. The Reign of Chivalry. Woodbridge: The Boydell P, 2005. Print.

Bradbrook, Muriel C. Sir Thomas Malory. London: Longmans Green, 1958. Print.

Dosanjh, Kate. “Rest in Peace: Launcelot’s Spiritual Journey in Le Morte Darthur.” Arthuriana, 16.2 (2006): 64. JSTOR. Web. 1 March 2013.

Edwards, Elizabeth. “The Place of Women in the Morte Darthur.A Companion to Malory. Eds. Elizabeth Archibald and Anthony Stockwell Garfield Edwards. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996. Print.

Lumiansky, Robert M., ed. Malory’s Originality. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins P, 1964. Print.

Fries, Maureen. “Indiscreet Objects of Desire: Malory’s Tristram and the Necessity of Deceit.” Studies in Malory. Ed. James W. Spisak, Michigan: Kalamazoo, 1985. Print.

Malory, Thomas. Le Morte D’Arthur. 2. Ed. Janet Cowen, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969. Print.

McCarthy, Terence. An Introduction to Malory. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1988. Print.

Moorman, Charles. “Courtly Love in Malory.” ELH: English Literary History 27 (1960): 169-71. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Nagy, Gergely. “A Fool of a Knight, a Knight of a Fool: Malory’s Comic Knights.” Arthuriana, 14.4 (2004): 68. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Sanders, Charles R, and Charles E. Ward. The Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Malory. An Abridgement with an Introduction. New York: F.S. Crofts, 1940. Print.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A New Translation. Ed. Marie Borroff. New York: W.W. Norton, 1967. Print.

Tucker, P.E. “Chivalry in Morte.” Essays on Malory. Ed. Jack A.W. Bennet, Oxford: Clarendon P, 1963. Print.

Witalisz, Władysław. “A (Crooked) Mirror for Knights – the Case of Dinadan.” Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 44 (2008): 457-62. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.


Martyna Paśnik

University of Łódź

Intertextual Adaptability of the Character of Sherlock Holmes from Literature to Film Production

This study explores the theme of intertextuality and adaptation between literature and film on the basis of Sherlock Holmes, the 19th/20th century character conceived by Arthur Conan Doyle. It shows how the character has been adapted from literature into the cinematic domain on the basis of three modern TV series, including Dr. House (Heel & Toe Films/Fox, 2004), Sherlock (Hartswood Films/BBC, 2010), and Elementary (Hill of Beans/CBS, 2012). Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in 1887, was originally featured in four novels and 56 short stories. However, since that time Holmes has been adapted for over 240 movies exploiting enormous popularity of this character in a variety of settings. The paper analyzes prototypical, basic features of Sherlock Holmes underlying its intertextual adaptability. As discussed in this study, there are four prototypical features of Sherlock Holmes, i.e. (1) outstanding powers of perception combined with intellect; (2) unconventionality in social behaviour; (3) helpful partner; and (4) ability to use scientific achievements. The paper demonstrates that Sherlock Holmes conceptualized in such a basic manner can act as successfully in modern cinematic productions as it did in the late 19th century literature.

 

key words: Sherlock Holmes; Arthur Conan Doyle; detective story; science of deduction, unconventional methods of investigation

This article elaborates on the adaptability of the character of Sherlock Holmes and on his reinvention in three modern TV series: Sherlock, Elementary and House M.D. In 2004 David Shore, the creator of the hit series House M.D., about a doctor who solves medical cases, which refers to the stories about Sherlock Holmes, has initiated the craze for film versions of the detective’s adventures. The eight seasons of the American production with the British actor Hugh Laurie in the leading role has gained immense popularity and has attracted the attention of other screenwriters to still intriguing stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Thus, soon there have appeared on the cinema screens two full length films of Guy Ritchie – Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) – and on the TV screens two modern series, productions of BBC and CBS – Sherlock (2010) and Elementary (2012). Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the creators of Sherlock and Robert Doherty, the creator of Elementary,just like David Shore, changed the scenario and set the main protagonists in modern times but simultaneously they kept the original concept of the leading character. There are more and more adaptations of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who in some way evolves but, at the same time, preserves some typical, perhaps necessary, traits. In this study I attempt to focus on this evolution and try to enquire into what features of the hero cannot be changed as they compose the figure of Sherlock Holmes.

The first association that comes to mind when one thinks of Sherlock Holmes would probably be the silhouette of a detective clad in a deerstalker cap who smokes a pipe, walks with a stick, plays the violin and is, of course, a master of scientific deduction. This image is mainly ascribed to Sherlock Holmes, although it is Poe’s Dupin that is considered the pioneer among the gentlemen with meerschaum pipes and deductive skills. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a fervent admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, to whom he “ascribed the monstrous progeny of writers on the detection of crime” (Chapman). There is no doubt that Poe’s fictional detective, Chevalier August Dupin, became an inspiration for Conan Doyle in creating the figure of Sherlock Holmes, the protagonist of 56 short stories and 4 novels. The connection between the two sleuths is marked by Watson’s words: “You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories” (Doyle 18).

Poe is the initiator of many traits which are typical of a detective story. His most significant invention is without a doubt the creation of the amateur detective and his assistant, the narrator of the story, who is not as brilliant and cunning as the main hero. The writer formed the basic narratological structure of a detective story, which involves the news of a baffling crime, its description, the investigation, the unexpected solution of a mystery, and the unmasking of the perpetrator. Apart from these elements, one can also enumerate such features of Poe’s literary detective as the nature of a loner, a recondite turn of mind, a condescending attitude towards the police, outstanding deductive skills and even lack of interest in women, traits which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle replicated and gave to the protagonist of his stories (Chapman).

However, as time elapsed, the image of Sherlock Holmes, inspired by Poe’s Dupin, has altered. Modern TV series present a sleuth living in the modern world. The deerstalker cap has disappeared (at least in Elementary and House M.D.), and the pipe has changed into a cigarette. London, the city where the adventures of Sherlock Holmes originally take place, is no longer the first choice of the directors of some TV series: CBS’s Elementary is set in New York, and House M.D. in New Jersey. Only BBC’s production, Sherlock, takes place in the British capital.

Another element that, apparently, can be taken away from the protagonist is his profession and name, although not entirely. Sherlock Holmes remains Sherlock Holmes, the world’s one and only consulting detective in both Sherlock and Elementary, but in House M.D. he takes the name of Dr Gregory House and is a diagnostician. Therefore, the consulting detective translates into the consulting doctor who, instead of solving criminal cases, deals with medical mysteries. As for the name, it has not changed that much. The word “Holmes,” pronounced /həʊmz/, resembles in articulation the word “home,”/həʊm/, which is the synonym for “house.” Also, the names exhibit a similar position of the vowels “o” and “e”; ShErlOck HOlmEs – GrEgOry HOusE (Mamatas 111).

It should not be surprising that the figure of Dr Gregory House is based on the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. As Nick Mamatas notes in his article, there are, in fact, a number of parallels between the two characters when one takes into account all the seasons of the series. In “Whac-A-Mole,” there appears an envelope with an inscription “The Game’s An Itchy Foot,” while for Holmes it is characteristic to say, “The game’s afoot!” (Doyle 527). Just like Holmes, House is nearly killed by a man named Moriarty (Holmes’s mortal enemy) in an episode entitled “No Reason.” Moreover, both Holmes and House are drug addicts. Holmes is addicted to cocaine, and House to vicodin. Even House’s address resembles the famous Baker Street 221B. The episode “Hunting”shows that the number of House’s place is also 221B. What is more, both the detective and the doctor have a constant issue with the law and both have only one friend, John Watson and James Wilson, respectively, both of whom were married more than once and care a lot about the protagonists, trying to help them overcome their addiction to drugs. Both protagonists also share a flat with their best friends and both have a walking stick, with which they sometimes hit their opponents (Mamatas 112). Finally, in a way similar to that in which Sherlock Holmes arranges his death in “The Final Problem,” House pretends to be dead in “Everybody Dies,” the very last episode of the TV series.

House M.D., similarly to Elementary and Sherlock, is a study of the figure of Sherlock Holmes transferred into the twenty-first century. The series presents the reinvented, evolved version of the literary character. Although the protagonist does not play the violin any more (in House M.D.), leaves London (in House M.D. and Elementary) and adopts a different name (in House M.D.), he is still gifted with deductive skills and he suffers from what his friend Wilson calls “Rubik’s Complex” – an obsessive need to solve every intriguing mystery: “You know how some doctors have the Messiah complex; they need to save the world? You’ve got the Rubik’s complex; you need to solve the puzzle” (House M.D., “DNR”). Therefore, what remains is his outstanding powers of perception combined with an astounding intellect, unconventionality in social behaviour, a helpful partner and the ability to make use of scientific achievements. These are the necessary components of this literary figure which help to identify Sherlock Holmes.

In all the three TV series under discussion, Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as a creative individual with unique traits, one who has a revolutionary attitude towards the principles, moral code, laws and mores which are usually followed by the rest of his co-workers. Holmes’s constant issue with the law, breaking into people’s houses, deceptions and lies (in the case of House fabricating prescriptions and not wearing the typical white outfit) shows him as a nonconformist with regard to the rules of Scotland Yard (and of the Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital).

His rebellious nature influences his unorthodox methods of investigation, which are one of the crucial elements of the stories about Sherlock Holmes and their adaptations, and it is impossible not to mention them. Although the protagonist is generally known for his deductive skills, he uses miscellaneous creative and effective techniques at work. For example, he is keen on working “under cover.” His disguise and acting are the vehicle for gathering new information. This is perfectly illustrated in one of the episodes of BBC’s Sherlock, “Scandal in Belgravia” in which Holmes disguises himself as a priest and pretends to be mobbed only to get access to Irene Adler’s apartment.

Apart from that, Holmes frequently uses methods that are commonly disapproved of and often illegal. One of them is, of course, the break-in technique, which may be justified on utilitarian grounds: from this perspective wrong deeds may be vindicated if they help to do greater good and avert serious damage. The break-in method facilitates the sleuth’s unmasking  of the criminal (and when it comes to House, it helps to identify the disease), preventing misfortune (Abrams 69). In order to get more new clues which can be useful for solving the case, Holmes also tends to mistreat corpses. Before he has had the chance to get to know the detective, Watson hears from his acquaintance, Stamford, about Holmes’s “passion for definite and exact knowledge,” which is expressed in such eccentricities as “beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick to verify how far bruises may be produced after death” (Doyle 14), a phrase quoted in the first episode of Sherlock, “A Study in Pink.”

There is a certain scheme in the way Holmes enquires into every mystery.At first, he analyzes the clues, using his deductive reasoning and then excludes the solutions that do not fit until he is left with only one option, which must be correct. He follows the rule that says: “when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” (Doyle 90). This scheme is well pictured in filmic adaptations of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, even in House M.D., which is rather loosely based on the books of Conan Doyle. In cooperation with his teammates, the doctor also analyzes the symptoms of the disease, creates a list of possible afflictions and then carefully narrows it down and chooses the most probable answer and the most apt method of treatment.

The remedy for a problem sometimes occurs to Holmes’s mind during an unconscious processing of information. Hence, it is possible that Holmes’s habit of playing the violin shown in Sherlock, or attending meetings for drug addicts in Elementary,or even watching soap operas and taking a nap during office hours in House M.D.,is an integral part of the hero’s success.

What makes Sherlock Holmes unconventional in social behaviour is his nature of a loner. Except for his sidekick John Watson (in House M.D. it is James Wilson and in CBS’s Elementary Joan Watson), he has no friends. The emotional relation between him and Watson is relevant in the protagonist’s life, because his best friend, who “by cunning questions and ejaculations of wonder could elevate Holmes’s simple art, which is but systematized common sense, into a prodigy” (Doyle 635), is the first reviewer of the detective’s opinions and a sort of a link to the real world. Hence, the presence of this character is crucial – he prevents the protagonist from self-destruction.

Holmes would also not be Holmes without his misogynist approach to women. Originally, Sherlock found relationships and matrimony more of a hindrance at work than a key to bliss. Such an attitude is manifested in his discrediting females and perceiving them as irrational. His lack of interest in females is well presented in BBC’s Sherlock. The only woman that draws the hero’s attention is Irene Adler, who is the only one that manages to outwit him.

In Elementary and House M.D. the protagonist’s misogyny is depicted in a slightly different way. In both cases it is a consequence of previous relationships and is significantly more marked than in the BBC’s series, for House and CBS’s Sherlock frequently meet with prostitutes and treat women instrumentally. Theydo not restrain themselves from sexual intercourses with females, as they find sex a natural physiological need. It is essential that in Elementary Watsonis a woman, for she is the only female (but for Irene Adler, Holmes’s ex-girlfriend) whom the consulting detective actually respects. The CBS’s Sherlock does not hurl abuses at women, however. He is not this kind of a misogynist. House, on the other hand, is constantly churlish and unpleasant towards everybody, regardless of their sex. He insults those who have had the bad luck to meet him face to face, and makes disgusting sexual allusions to women. He behaves like this even towards the women he cares for – his ex-wife and his superior, Lisa Cuddy (the counterpart of Irene Adler in House M.D.).

House is more of a parody of the literary Sherlock Holmes, as he takes the distanced approach to people that is typical of Holmes to extreme proportions. The TV seriesis filled with the doctor’s acridity. There is hardly any episode in which he does not insult people around him. In “Unplanned Parenthood,” he even calls his boss’s two-year-old daughter an idiot because she ate a coin: “She opened up a Chinese food bag to eat money. What an idiot.”

Just like House, the protagonists of BBC’s and CBS’s series are rude to those with whom they have contact. Their comments, filled with sarcasm and irony, usually make their co-workers feel self-conscious and unintelligent, “Dear God, what is it like in your funny little brains, it must be so boring” (Sherlock,“A Study in Pink”). When CBS’s Sherlock meets Joan Watson for the first time, he refers to her as “a helper monkey” and “a personal valet,” dismissing her as another person less intelligent than him (Elementary,“Pilot”). The arrogant behaviour of Sherlock Holmes is presented in all three of the TV series based on Sir Conan Doyle’s stories asthe literary Sherlock Holmes also does not treat his partners in investigation with much respect. He often talks about Scotland Yard officers with irony: “There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it” (Doyle43). The hero seems to perceive the policemen as unintelligent. The solitary exception is George Lestrande, about whom he says to Watson: “he is as tenacious as a bulldog when he once understands what he has to do” (Doyle 43).

Taking into account Holmes’s complicated character and demeanour, one can draw the conclusion that he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Difficulties in maintaining social interaction and accepting changes as well as engrossing oneself in obsessive interests are the symptoms of this disorder (Gillberg 631-38). Such a diagnosis could explain Holmes’s tendency to keep almost everybody at a distance, his lack of interest in women and his habit of beating corpses with a stick.

The hero’s harsh attitude towards others may result from his arrogance. His opinion about his own profession is very high. The sleuth perceives himself as the last resort for unsolvable crimes, as he finds himself more intelligent than and superior to other professionals: “I’m a consulting detective . . . Here in London we have lots of government detectives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault, they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent” (Doyle 18). He puts an emphasis on the fact that he is a “consulting detective,” and not a “private detective,” which means that he is extraordinary. Similarly, the television alter egos of Holmes also brag about their profession, “I’m a consulting detective, the only one in the world. I invented the job… It means whenever the police are out of their depth – which is always – they consult me” (Sherlock, “A Study in Pink”). In “Control,” House tells openly that he is “the big poobah” and “the go-to guy.”

Self-admiration is in these cases wholly justified, as the hero notices details that others tend to overlook, often because he is an expert in certain areas. Just like the literary Sherlock Holmes, the BBC and CBS Sherlocks are authorities in the knowledge of human anatomy, botany, chemistry and different types of tobacco or cigarette ash. As for House, the protagonist specializes mainly in rare diseases.

Holmes is, without doubt, a troubled but ingenious character. This combination of features seems to be connected with Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of “Übermensch,” the notion translated as the “Overman” or a “Superman” (Goldblatt 42). “Über” signifies “over” in the sense of high position in hierarchy and may suggest elevation. Holmes’s loneliness and pain are his “elevation,” for they allow him to climb to levels unattainable for ordinary mortals (Goldblatt 48). They are connected with his deductive skills and the ability to solve mysteries. According to Nietzsche, the Übermensch is a higher living being, higher than man: “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman” (qtd. in Spinks 120). Holmes’s marvellous ability of deduction singles him out from the society he lives in and marks the fact that he is extraordinary. In the episode of House M.D. entitled “House vs. God,” Watson compares House’s skills to almost divine qualities, which puts him again on the top of social hierarchy, above other doctors and ordinary members of community.

Apparently, outstanding deductive skills along with such traits as the nature of a loner, a sceptical attitude towards the police and misogyny are the necessary elements for Sherlock Holmes to be the Sherlock Holmes. However, all of these features were already to be found in the figure of August Dupin. The stories about Sherlock Holmes replicated these traits and gave rise to a literary tradition, which was, in turn, later continued by Agatha Christie and her Hercule Poirot, which shows that, apparently, the evolution of the fictional detective is still in progress. Conceived by E.A. Poe, C. Auguste Dupin, the pioneer among the gentlemen with meerschaum pipes and extraordinary moustaches who solve criminal cases thanks to their high intelligence, was the basis for Sherlock Holmes, who in turn became an inspiration to such screenwriters as Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Robert Doherty in reinventing the character of Sherlock Holmes and to Shore in creating the figure of Dr Gregory House.

Works Cited

Abrams, Jerold J. “Logika zgadywania w opowieściach o przygodach Sherlocka Holmesa i w serialu Dr House.” Dr House i Filozofia. Wszyscy kłamią. Ed. William Irwin and Henry Jacoby. Gliwice: Helion, 2009. 67-83. Print.

Chapman, Paul M. “The Dark Beginnings of Detective Fiction.” twbooks.co.uk. n.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes.London: CRW, 2005. Print.

Elementary. Dir. Michael Cuesta and John David Coles. Perf. Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill and Natalie Dormer. CBS, 2012. DVD.

Gillberg, Christopher. “Asperger Syndrome—Some Epidemiological Considerations: Research Note.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 30.4: 631-38. July 1989. Web. 15 July 2013.

Goldblatt, David. “Czy House jest Supermenem?: Perspektywa Nietzschego.” Dr House i Filozofia. Wszyscy kłamią. Ed. William Irwin and Henry Jacoby. Gliwice: Helion, 2009. 41-50. Print.

House M.D. Dir. David Shore. Perf. Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Lisa Edelstein, Omar Epps and Jesse Spencer. Tim Film Studio, 2010. DVD.

Mamatas, Nick. “Dlaczego uwielbiamy Holmesa i uwielbiamy nienawidzić House’a.” Dr House całkowicie bez autoryzacji. Ed. Leah Wilson. Warszawa: Prószyński i S-ka, 2009. 111-119 Print.

  1. Dir. Coky Giedroyc and Paul McGuigan. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Andrew Scott, Una Stubbs, Louise Brealey and Mark Gattis. BBC, 2010.DVD.

Spinks, Lee. Friedrich Nietzsche (Routledge Critical Thinkers). London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

 

Magdalena Popłońska

University of Łódź

Whodunit to Irene Adler? From “the Woman” to “the Dominatrix” – on the Transformation of the Heroine in the Adapting Process and Her Representation in the Sherlock Miniseries

One of the peculiar characteristics of the Sherlock Holmes fandom is that it has always had a tendency to blow innuendos in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories out of proportion. One might argue that such is the case of Irene Adler, the most recognisable female character from the Sherlock Holmes canon. Although we are not given much information on her in the original story and she hardly speaks in her own voice, for the community of readers she has become the most significant woman that Sherlock Holmes had ever encountered. Thus, the creators who adapted her for the screen also treated the heroine of “A Scandal in Bohemia” symbolically, allowing themselves to freely portray her presence in their versions of the story. For certain reasons, Irene Adler has been interpreted in pop-culture differently at various times: as the woman who beat Holmes with her wit, the detective’s romantic interest, his nemesis or a femme fatale figure. This tendency seems to be pushed to the extreme recently and the adaptations of the heroine in question gravitate towards a sexually confident, overtly self-aware, as well as dominant (both sexually and mentally) rival to Holmes.

The idea behind this paper is to investigate the transformation of Irene Adler’s character from the originally debatably scandalous adventuress to her modern portrayal as a dominatrix in the BBC miniseries, Sherlock. Hence, I will concentrate on this most recent take on the woman in the episode “A Scandal in Belgravia,” attempting to analyse in what ways the creators of the show go back to the roots and succeed in capturing the essence of Irene Adler’s figure, and conversely – in what measure does this adaptation epitomize the changes done to the character over the years of reinterpreting and diverting from its literary counterpart.

 

key words: Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes, adaptation, appropriation, reinterpretation, transmedia fandom, fan fiction

When we think of Sherlock Holmes, the most famous of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary inventions, the first thing which springs to our minds is, most probably, his astounding, invincible wit. This is, however, not an entirely accurate picture, for Holmes was outmaneuvered a number of times, and once by a woman. In fact, she should be called “the woman,” as this is the honourable title with which Holmes endowed Irene Adler (Doyle 161), the most notable heroine from the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Even though she was initially a mere object of his investigation, she managed to win the detective’s respect with her intelligence and personality. In “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891) she is revealed to be a former mistress of a Bohemian king, who feels threatened by her since she still has the photograph of the two, and might use it for blackmail. The “consulting detective” spectacularly fails to recover the compromising photograph, and, at the same time, realizes he was on the wrong side all along, as the woman kept the photograph merely for the purpose of protecting herself against the monarch. Holmes, who in the previous stories appears to be indifferent as far as the fair sex is concerned, requests a different photograph of Adler (which the woman left behind) in lieu of payment from the king of Bohemia, and he keeps it as a keepsake.

This brief appearance of Irene Adler in the canon – for she featured only in one story – was enough to make her the single female character the readers now immediately associate with Sherlock Holmes. Along with the popularity of the character, various peculiar interpretations started to spring. Soon, the avid readers of Doyle linked the sleuth and the woman romantically, apparently ignoring the fact that the canonical Irene Adler had a husband with whom she escaped from England to live happily undisturbed in America. As it turned out, this was just the tip of the iceberg of the numerous changes that the heroine was subjected to in later adaptations, reinventions, and derivative fan work.

For quite a long time Holmesian criticism had been preoccupied with trifles regarding the heroine’s character. Questions were asked and answered as to, for instance, who was the “real” Irene Adler, the woman behind the fictional heroine – names ranging from Sarah Bernhardt to Helena Modrzejewska were proposed (both established in the belle époque as serious dramatic actresses, of French and Polish origin respectively) (Redmond 41; Polatynska and Polatynska). Nonetheless, what has been gradually coming into focus is the feminist approach to interpreting the role of “the woman” in the Sherlock Holmes Canon, as well as her representations in the adaptations of “A Scandal in Bohemia” and appropriations of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures – the analyses often going side by side with and influenced by the growing interest of the feminist theory in Victorian and neo-Victorian texts (see, for example, “Sherlock’s Progress through History: Feminist Revisions of Holmes” by Sabine Vanacker in Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi-Media Afterlives).

One of the recent takes on “the woman” is an episode of the BBC miniseries Sherlock, in which the heroine is portrayed by Lara Pulver.In a way, it epitomizes the transformation of Irene Adler over the years of retelling, and the interpretative problems that arise from these modifications. The structural premise of the whole series is a mix and match approach to the canon. When the creators of the show take ideas from Doyle, they do not simply adapt individual stories, but combine motifs and plot points from different works. They usually twist them or reverse them in a counter-intuitive way – that is, different from what the viewer familiar with the canon might expect. Moreover, Sherlock, being a modernization of the stories, moves their action to the 21st century and gets rid of the anachronisms, such as the character of the king of Bohemia or the very kingdom of Bohemia; hence, the title of the episode featuring Irene Adler was rewritten to “A Scandal in Belgravia” (2012). The episode is, therefore, conspicuously set in the fashionable parts of London (as is most of the series), which neatly corresponds with the context of the original story – one mentioning a distant and somewhat mysterious kingdom, and involving higher circles (namely, the Bohemian monarch). Taking all these changes into consideration, the Sherlock series has to be analyzed as more of an appropriation than an adaptation. However interesting the ways in which the plot of “A Scandal in Belgravia” deviates from Doyle’s original are, this article will be more concerned with scrutinizing the character and the representation of Irene Adler as she appears in the episode, rather than examining different techniques in which the creators of the television series adapted the story itself.

As mentioned earlier, if Irene Adler were to appear in an adaptation, it would be very likely to include some sort of a romantic motif involving Sherlock Holmes and the heroine. This has been most probably intended to indulge the target audience: “most readers, it seems, have preferred to see her as the woman Sherlock Holmes loved and lost (or, in a minority view, loved and later won)” (Redmond 41). The creators of the Sherlock television drama seemingly resist this tendency, even up to the point of reversing it. In the original story Adler and Holmes showed mutual respect for each other, while in the series the attitude of the woman towards the detective, and vice versa, is cold and calculated almost until the end of the episode. It would be inaccurate to say that they do not appreciate each other’s intellects, but, indeed, Irene uses Sherlock instrumentally to get the information she needs, whereas Sherlock ridicules Irene in the climactic scene for being too emotional and overplaying her flirtatious act: “Oh, enjoying the thrill of the chase is fine, craving the distraction of the game – I sympathize entirely – but sentiment? Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.” In the original story, Holmes did not mock the emotionality of Adler, which shows particularly in his respect for the woman’s decision to elope with her husband to America. In “A Scandal in Belgravia,” however, emotionality is for Sherlock not a thing of admiration but scorn, and, in his view, a weakness which allows him to see through Adler, and defeat her. His emotional detachment may be softened by the fact that he appears to be emotional, too, when he rescues Irene in the last scene. On the other hand (and this is not even as complicated as it gets), this is incidentally the same scene for which the writer of the episode, Steven Moffat, has been widely criticized,[60] due to its alleged sexism and not staying true to the character. After all, the canonical Irene Adler escapes from the king of Bohemia unaided, thus rescuing herself. In the episode, instead, she has to be rescued by Sherlock, or else she would die. The memorable quote from the story, “Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes” (Doyle 173), was uttered by Adler when she successfully got away and did not need nor wanted Holmes (or anyone) to follow her. In comparison, Irene from “A Scandal in Belgravia” texts: “Goodbye Mr Holmes” when she is about to be beheaded, as she has found herself captured by a terrorist cell in Karachi. She does not know yet that the man standing behind her is not the executioner but Sherlock in disguise, waiting for the right moment to save Irene from the terrorists. The notion of Irene’s inability to survive without help from men was met with the disapproval of many critics and viewers[61], but – leaving aside this vexing problem for the time being – what should now be stressed is that the whole situation is, inarguably, a sign of sentiment on Sherlock’s part, in spite of his declaration of being emotionally reserved. After all, there is no other conceivable reason why he would need to rescue Irene for his own purposes.

There are many other instances in the episode when Sherlock could be perceived as somewhat sentimental about Irene. Most significantly, he keeps her phone as a keepsake, just as the canonical Holmes did with the photograph. Thus, although throughout the episode we are led to believe that Sherlock and Irene are pitted against each other, and that their relationship is founded on the question of who will outsmart who, there is a great deal of tenderness between the characters, although not necessarily of the romantic kind.

The innuendos from “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the original story, not only gave life to the speculations about romantic possibilities between Holmes and Adler, but also whipped up interest as to the sexuality of the woman. She is described by the king of Bohemia as “a well-known adventuress” (Doyle 165), which can either mean that she was a foreigner, travelled all over the world and was courted by men of upper class, or it may simply suggest she was a courtesan (Redmond 41). Either way, over the years she became much more sexualized than she appeared in the story to begin with.[62] In the BBC Sherlock seriesthis feature of Adler is pushed to the extreme – she is presented as “the dominatrix.” Be that as it may, the heroine is not a prostitute, just as she was not in the story. Much like her literary counterpart, her reputation may be disputable but she stays right on the edge of respectability, never appearing as a fallen woman. She is also presented as someone who takes advantage of her ambiguous position in the society. Irene uses her sexuality not only as her livelihood, but also as a weapon. She knows people’s desires and vulnerabilities, and learns how to play them; “I make my way in the world. I misbehave,” she says.

Much as sheer sexuality would not be a successful weapon against Sherlock, who is not baffled by anything that would turn other men’s ears red, Irene still knows how to play her sex against someone who seems to be immune to embarrassment. When Sherlock poses as a beaten up clergyman to get into Irene’s home, she surprises him by entering the room completely stripped. While Sherlock’s costume in the episode is a direct reference to the story, in which Holmes indeed dressed up as a vicar, the nakedness of Irene – to which she refers as her “battle dress” – might be seen as an exploitation of the original. In the canon, admittedly, Adler also dresses up, at the end of the story, however not in the nude but in a man’s costume. It would be an easy way out to explain why Steven Moffat put Irene in such a controversial position by pointing to the fact that Sherlock is a modern adaptation and that it has already become all-too-popular to sexualize Adler excessively. But if one would, instead, focus on the context in which Moffat places the character, they would find an entirely different answer to the question. The writer of the episode makes Irene a dominatrix, a sex worker who uses her sexuality for power play. In Doyle, Adler put on a male costume for the freedom and advantage it gave her over men (Krumm 194-95), and this was as subversive as it could get. In a modern version, cross-dressing would not be subversive at all, not to mention that it would not fool anyone. Instead, the use of her female sexuality in such a crude way as in the show allowed Irene to get the upper hand over the confused Sherlock. While a woman’s naked body is usually associated with being an object of the male gaze, here the nakedness of Irene is a weapon against the detective. The male gaze works against Sherlock. However, that is not to say that his mind gets sidetracked by the presence of a naked female body because it is an object of arousal. Rather, it should be underlined that since Irene Adler had almost nothing[63] about her person, the detective had no information to deduce from, or to put it more precisely – he had difficulties in concentrating on an “object” he did not expect to be met with. Thus, Irene beat him at his own game. Sherlock from the series is unable to decode the woman’s naked body,[64] just as Holmes from the books did not recognize the woman in the male costume.

The nakedness of Irene underlines yet another motif inspired by the canon – namely, that of Adler being Holmes’s counterpart. In relation to sexuality, this works as a binary opposition: the heroine sneeringly refers to Sherlock as “the Virgin,” whereas for her, sexuality serves as a means of empowerment. Besides, she shares sexual ambiguity with him. We know that Sherlock claims to be married to his work but, other than that, we know nothing about the reasons why he is indifferent to the sexual sphere of life (he never stated to be asexual, which would have explained a lot). Irene, on the other hand, claims to be homosexual, although the previous scenes reveal that she had an affair with a man. Whether it was just a part of her work or she is, in fact, bisexual, is not clarified. Nonetheless, regardless of its validity, the statement on her sexual orientation itself seems to be a concept that, yet again, reflects the canon in a distorted mirror; in the story Adler is unavailable to other men because she becomes a married woman, whereas in the modern adaptation labelling herself “gay” makes her unreachable.

The idea of Irene and Sherlock being each other’s counterparts is also visible in their being portrayed as intellectual equals. Doyle described Adler as having “the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men” (Doyle 166) and made her the only woman ever to beat Holmes. Likewise, in the television series Irene is clever enough to predict that with a man such as Sherlock her allure would not be of much use, and that she has to play his hubris against him, instead. However, this turns out to be a double-edged sword, and the power play between Irene and Sherlock in the show turns the other way round than in the canon: in Doyle, Holmes is outwitted by Adler, largely due to the fact that he did not expect a woman to be smart enough to do so; in Moffat’s appropriation, on the other hand, Sherlock defeats Irene who overplayed the game and gave herself away.

The combination of beauty and intellect contributed to the tendency to picture Irene Adler in derivative works as Holmes’s nemesis or, subsequently, as a femme fatale. The latter one was especially cherished by those who were looking for a romance between the two characters and preferred to ascribe the lack of it in the canon to the motif of Holmes’s unfulfilled love. In fact, the heroine from the original story might  already be seen an example of such a literary archetype; as Pascale Krumm notes, Adler “quite literally epitomized the nineteenth-century myth of the femme fatale” (194). Such a presentation of Adler as “the fatal woman” became a growing trend in cinematic depictions. In the 1946 Dressed to Kill (also known under the working title, Prelude to Murder), starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, the ruthless woman, Mrs Courtney (played by Patricia Morison), the brains behind a criminal gang, may be interpreted as an Adler-like character, since the film makes several references to “A Scandal in Bohemia,” most prominently in Mrs Courtney using a bogus fire to reveal the whereabouts of a hidden item – a neat reversal of events from Doyle’s story, in which it was Holmes who used the same ploy on Adler (although the heroine in her own right is mentioned in the dialogue between Holmes and Watson, as a tongue-in-cheek intertextual reference). More recently, the heroine was portrayed by Rachel McAdams in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and later sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), as a sexually and socially liberated femme fatale, a temptress, a “world-class thief” and a scandalous trouble-maker, employed and manipulated by the detective’s greatest adversary in order to destroy the famous Sherlock Holmes, with whom the woman is infatuated. Irene Adler is also presented as an even more mysterious and menacing antagonist of Sherlock Holmes in the CBS television series, Elementary (2013).

As the examples provided above suggest, Irene Adler depicted as a femme fatale also paved the way for the demonization of the character, making her a rival to Holmes, or even bestowing her with villainous qualities. In the BBC Sherlock series Steven Moffat took advantage of these associations, already well-rooted in the collective imagination, and he also went one step further by linking the character of Irene with the detective’s arch-villain, Moriarty.[65] He might have as well related her to the devil himself because there is no better personification of pure evil in the canon. The relationship between Irene and Moriarty ultimately benefits both: the woman is given the advice on “how to play the Holmes boys” (meaning Sherlock and his brother, Mycroft), for which she provides Moriarty with the information she manipulatively gets out of Sherlock. Associating Irene with the antihero and thus making her a villain by extension is, perhaps, the best example of how much this character has been changed over time in comparison with the original story. After all, in Doyle, the men who pursued the woman, the king and Holmes himself, turn out to be “the villains” since they were wrong about Irene Adler’s true intentions.

Considering all the changes made to the character, conveniently expressed in various ways in the BBC Sherlock miniseries, the question arises whether Irene has really become as strong and dominant a character as she appears to be. On the one hand, the modern Irene Adler escapes the unjust categorisation of “woman as either a harlot or a housewife” (Krumm 194). In Doyle’s story she might be seen as both, since Adler, a former actress and opera singer (professions back then already implying an ill repute), leaves her past “of dubious and questionable memory” (Doyle 161) behind in want of escaping with her newly-wed husband. In comparison, in the modern version Irene’s reputation is also questionable but not, as we might expect, due to her profession (which makes her rather more ambiguous than unrespectable), but because of her scheming and plotting, let alone the connection with the “consulting criminal,” Moriarty. Still, even if Irene is no longer definedon the basis of her relationship with men, she fails to be truly her own person, since she is not independent from the criminal mastermind, after all – a man. She turns out to be even more dependent on men in the last scene, when Sherlock saves her from execution. She has previously been outsmarted by Sherlock, contrary to the original story, in which Holmes was defeated by the woman. In the episode, however, her position is, eventually, the one of a typical “damsel in distress.” Therefore, modern Irene may have escaped one pair of Victorian labels but she fell back into a yet more outdated feminine role – a step backwards even from Doyle’s original.[66] The argument that could somehow balance out this disparity of power between the man and the woman was put forward by the author of the episode himself in an interview for The Guardian:

Everyone else gets it that Irene wins. When Sherlock turns up to save her at the end it’s like Eliza Dolittle [sic!] coming back to Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady: ‘OK, I like you, now let me hack up these terrorists with a big sword.’

After all, if Sherlock turned up to rescue Irene, this must be indicative of his sentiment towards her, a sentiment, in his own words, “found in the losing side.” Also, since we have already mentioned the issue of “labelling” Irene, it should be pointed out that in the last line of the episode, Sherlock fondly refers to her as “The woman. The woman,” thus coming full circle to the original story.

Finally, the term “transmedia storytelling” – a concept discussed at large in the publications of Henry Jenkins – is worth mentioning to explain an idea of how the transformation of Irene Adler in later works could be perceived. Transmedia storytelling expects us to build our knowledge of the fictional world by looking not merely at the original or primary source, but also at information on the story’s universe across different works and media. It proposes an idea that the totality of derivative work is as important in comprehending such transmedia stories as the original source on which they are based. As expressed by Jenkins:

This process of world-building encourages an encyclopedic impulse in both readers and writers. We are drawn to master what can be known about a world which always expands beyond our grasp. This is a very different pleasure than we associate with the closure found in most classically constructed narratives, where we expect to leave the theatre knowing everything that is required to make sense of a particular story.

This might as well be applied to the Sherlock series, or – more precisely – the series falls within the body of fan work of a larger transmedia fandom. The method with which the creators of the showtackled the canon has already been discussed, but it has not yet been mentioned that because of such a casual, although not dismissive, attitude towards the original and the mix and match approach presupposing fan-based knowledge of viewers, this adaptation is, in many ways, similar to fan fiction. As in the case of fan fiction, the original story is not the only source of inspiration for Steven Moffat’s reinvention of Irene Adler. Actually, there is no definite end to the references that might be included in a transmedia story, of which the Sherlock series is clearly an example. This probably accounts for the phenomenon of fandoms flourishing on the Internet, a place where a fanbase has the best possible means of encompassing (although collectively rather than individually) the totality of the fictional universe. As fandoms grow larger than ever before due to the Internet’s availability in this day and age, their members become the intended audience of derivative works, such as adaptations. Not only are they well-acquainted with the canon, which enables them to spot all the subtleties and allusions, but they also indirectly shape the content of the new work, as the authors like to play with their expectations. Therefore, the relationship between the fandom and the authors of derivative works evolves gradually into the one of interdependence. Also, because of the fans’ “encyclopaedic knowledge,” the notion of the canon itself changes, which has an influence on the new adaptations as well. For instance, what should be treated as the Canon in the case of the Sherlock Holmes fandom is no longer a question with an easy answer. Although there still exists some kind of hierarchy, placing the original Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories at the top, the boundaries between thus understood canon and the well-known pastiches or adaptations become blurred. A good representation of this process is the currently popular distinction in the Internet-based communities between the original canon (Doyle’s canon) and the Sherlock canon (meaning the information on the characters and their adventures which one could gather just from the series, and which obviously departs to a great extent from Doyle’s canon), among other so-called “canons.” What is more, for some of the readers and viewers these derivative works, not the original stories, become the first source of encounter with the characters, thus inevitably shaping their initial impressions and assumptions about the fictional universe. In point of fact, Irene Adler – like many other literary characters who have been absorbed by popular culture – has not truly belonged to her original creator for a long time. Nor is she “owned” by the subsequent authors, who reinterpret Irene Adler for the new age. Her shape is ultimately determined by what she became, and is to become, in the collective consciousness of the recipients of culture. This approach also enables the character, now larger than the story itself, to endlessly transform according to the changing times, and gives an opportunity to reboot the heroine, instead of sending her on a literary exile.

The idea of fan fiction is to let your imagination run rampant, explore the possibilities of the characters, fill the gaps left by the original creator and approach the “what if” questions that arose over the years of reinterpreting, adapting and retelling the original. Indeed, Arthur Conan Doyle left enough gaps in “A Scandal in Bohemia” to raise speculations which, perhaps even more than the story itself, contributed to the heroine’s perception in the collective imagination. It may be that the writers of the Sherlock series are as much indebted to the pop-cultural image of Irene Adler and the expectations of the fandom as they are to the Doyle’s canon.

Works Cited

Doyle, Arthur Conan. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes.Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985. 161-175. Print.

Dressed to Kill. Dir. Roy William Neill. Perf. Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Patricia Morison. Universal Pictures, 1946. Film.

“Heroine.” Elementary. Dir. John Polson. Perf. Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Natalie Dormer. CBS. 16 May. 2013. Television.

Jeffries, Stuart. “‘There is a Clue Everybody’s Missed’: Sherlock Writer Steven Moffat Interviewed.” The Guardian. guardian.co.uk. 20 Jan 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. henryjenkins.org. 22 Mar. 2007. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

—. “Transmedia 202: Further Reflections.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. henryjenkins.org. 1 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Jones, Jane Clare. “Is Sherlock Sexist? Steven Moffat’s Wanton Women.” The Guardian. guardian.co.uk. 3 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Klinger, Leslie S. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.New York, London: Norton, 2005. Print.

Krumm, Pascale. “‘A Scandal In Bohemia’ And Sherlock Holmes’s Ultimate Mystery Solved.” English Literature In Transition, 1880-1920 39.2 (1996): 193-203. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Polatynska, Joanna, and Catharina Polatynska. “A Few Words about Theatres in Warsaw or Where Sang Irene Adler.” diogenes-club.com. 2000. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Redmond, Christopher. A Sherlock Holmes Handbook. Toronto: Dundurn, 2009. Print.

“A Scandal in Belgravia.” Sherlock. Dir. Paul McGuigan. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Lara Pulver. BBC Wales/Hartswood Films. BBC One. 1 Jan. 2012. Television.

Sherlock Holmes. Dir. Guy Ritchie. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams. Warner Bros, 2009. Film.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Dir. Guy Ritchie. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams. Warner Bros, 2011. Film.

Syme, Holger. “Steven Moffat, Sherlock, and Neo-Victorian Sexism.” dispositio. dispositio.net. 2 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

“Taming the Woman: Irene Adler and the Male Gaze.” 3chicGeeks. 3chicgeeks.com. 23 May 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

“The Woman.” Elementary. Dir. Seith Mann. Perf. Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Natalie Dormer. CBS. 16 May. 2013. Television.

Vanacker, Sabine. “Sherlock’s Progress through History: Feminist Revisions of Holmes.” Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi-Media Afterlives. Eds. Sabine Vanacker, Catherine Wynne. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 93-108. Print.

 

 

Magdalena Zegarlińska

­University of Gdańsk

Intertextuality of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle

The Chronicles of Narnia has an established position in the canon of children’s literature. However, what on the surface is a fairy tale involving adventures and magic; with children, kings, talking beasts, and wood spirits as main protagonists; is, in fact, a set of stories deeply rooted in Christian and chivalric traditions, containing elements of beast fable and morality tale. The story, according to Madeline L’Engle, depending on the reader’s cultural knowledge and experience, may be understood on various levels, from the literal one of an adventure story for children, through the moral and allegorical levels, eventually reaching the anagogical level. While reading The Chronicles, one is able to notice various references to other written works, interwoven into the text, with the Bible, chivalric romances and beast fables being the most prominent sources of intertextual allusions. In The Last Battle Lewis attempts to answer John Donne’s question, “What if this present were the world’s last night?” (Holy Sonnet XIII) and presents a comprehensive image of Narnian apocalypse and life after death in Aslan’s country. The following paper will present the most noteworthy intertextual references in the final volume of The Narniad.

 

key words: Narnia, chronicles, intertextuality, apocalypse, Bible, chivalric, beast, fable, Arthur, Roland.

In his essay “On Criticism,”Lewis stated that:

The meaning of a book is the series of systems of emotions, reflections, and attitudes produced by reading it . . . This product differs with different readers . . . The ideally true or right meaning would be that shared by the largest number of the best readers after repeated and careful readings over several generations, different periods, nationalities, moods, degrees of alertness, private preoccupations, states of health, spirits, and the like cancelling one another out when . . . they cannot be fused so as to enrich one another. (56)

The Chronicles of Narnia, a fairy tale about kings, talking beasts, magic, with children as main protagonists is, in fact, a set of stories deeply rooted in Christian and chivalric traditions which, depending on the reader’s cultural knowledge and experience, may be understood on various levels. The following paper will discuss the most prominent intertextual allusions including references to the Bible, and the Book of Revelation in particular; the most popular chivalric romances: Le Morte d’Arthur and The Song of Roland; and finally beast fable represented by Aesop’s The Ass in the Lion’s Skin.

 

1. Main Biblical references

 

Paul F. Ford praises Lewis for “the successful attempt to remythologize the Christian creed,” which means that through his stories Lewis succeeds in providing a new meaning to the well-known doctrines (353). Allusions to the Bible are numerous, starting with the Great Lion called Aslan who is the counterpart of Jesus Christ. The similarities are multifarious: he sacrifices his life for a traitor; he is praised by the Narnians as their God; all believers go to his country after death and, eventually, he returns to Narnia in its final day to pass the last judgment on all creatures (138; 140). A huge lion, both terrible and beautiful, with golden luminous mane and radiant fur, and equal in size to a young elephant (138; 154), he is “the epitome of the majestic, the glorious and the numinous” (55). His breath is not only able to resurrect, e.g. the creatures turned into stone by the White Witch, but also to comfort and give courage. The motif of “holy breath” or “the breath of life” is deeply rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and associated with the Holy Spirit. In St John’s Gospel, when Jesus visits his apostles after the resurrection, he breathes on them: “then said Jesus to them again, peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (20: 21-22). Aslan’s breath plays the same role, which one may notice in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, when he forgives Edmund his treason and breathes on him in order to fill him with grace. The creation of Narnia is another significant moment when Aslan’s breath is described in terms of “the breath of life.” When he breathes, animals receive his grace and become talking beasts. Such properties of the Holy Spirit are mentioned in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (3:18). Aslan is merciful and loves all Narnians exactly like Jesus loves all people. He addresses his worshippers using phrases like “dear child,” “son,” or “beloved” (154, 155) which is reminiscent of the Gospel of Matthew, where God rewards faithful servants with equivalent words (25: 21-23).At the same time, Aslan’s great Father – a God figure – is called The-Emperor-beyond-the-sea. He is omnipotent, thus he resurrects Aslan the day after he is killed, which is an obvious allusion to Jesus’ crucifiction and resurrection. Prior to the apocalypse, Aslan’s name becomes mispronounced as Tashlan (by mixing it with Tash, the name of the Calormene god) to prove that they are in fact one and the same creature, which may serve as an allusion to the philosophy of Universalism.[67] Tash, Aslan’s antagonist,[68] is presented in such a way that he may be considered a counterpart of the devil, with an appearance of a demon or a monster. The High King Peter dismisses this creature from Aslan’s world to “his own place” (125), which suggests that since he is not allowed to stay in heaven, it is hell that he comes from.

Narnian chronology is similar to the Biblical one. It starts with the world’s creation, continues with Aslan sacrificing his life on the stone table, his resurrection, and eventually the description of the apocalypse, the last judgment, and the afterlife in Aslan’s country. This eschatological vision is presented as the reversal of the act of creation.[69] Plants and trees are eaten by monster lizards and dragons, and when there is no life left, everything becomes covered with water, even the stars that had previously fallen from the sky. Ultimately, at Aslan’s command the sun absorbs the moon and is squeezed by Father Time which signals the advent of eternal darkness. Everything, including time, ceases to exist (148). The majority of those motifs may be encountered in St John’s Apocalypse, e.g. the destruction of the sky, the Moon’s death, and the rain of stars: “There was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (Revelation 6: 12-14). Also, the lands’ demolition is present in the Book of Revelation: “And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (16:20). In both Lewis’s and Biblical visions of the apocalypse the dominating atmosphere is the one of fear and chaos. Also, the Last Judgement is conducted in an analogous manner. In the Bible people are obliged to stand in front of God and wait to be judged (Revelation 16: 11-18; 20:12) and so are the inhabitants of Narnia when they face Aslan before entering his country. Prior to the Apocalypse, some of the Narnians, on seeing evil that is being performed in the name of their God, are disheartened and lose faith in Aslan: “would it not be better to be dead than to have this horrible fear that Aslan has come and is not like the Aslan we believed in and longed for?, they cry” (29). Those who convert are allowed to pass into the Aslan’s country, others are annihilated in the dying world.

The stable around which the main plot of The Last Battle is concentrated is a very mysterious place. A wooden hut on the outside, it contains an enormous land without borders inside (132). Drawing conclusions from Lucy’s utterance, “in our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” (132), one may assume that she refers to the place where Christ was born in Bethlehem. Lucy emphasizes God’s greatness by remarking that what is inside the stable is beyond the material and the human. Similarly, the hill called Aslan’s How, where the Lion once sacrificed his life and rose from the dead, evokes immediate association with Calvary where Christ was crucified. Ford, in addition, suggests that the hill resembles Celtic burial places (96).

After the apocalypse believers are saved behind the stable door in the land called “the Real Narnia” (159), which is another clear allusion to the Bible: “and I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1). The description of this land is an extended metaphor. Spring and nature bursting with colours are, in the majority of world mythologies including Christian beliefs, associated with life, festivity, joy and God’s grace, whereas winter, darkness and emptiness left outside clearly allude to death, decay, and hell (Ford 246). Those two worlds are separated by the locked door – a metaphor of death, a border between life and the afterlife. In Aslan’s country one cannot experience fear even if one desires to, because it is the land of love and grace (162; 163). A similar motif can be found in the New Testament with regard to heaven (1 John 4:18). Another Biblical motif are fruit trees. One can find them as early as in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, up to the description of the Apocalypse: “On either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). Again, Lewis repeats this motif in both the first and the last volume of the series. While travelling across Aslan’s country, the characters reach the garden where the Tree of Protection grows (128), which is an immediate allusion to the Biblical garden of Eden: “and the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). The garden has exactly the same properties as the stable: it appears to be far larger inside than it seems to be from the outside. The fact that people in Narnia are called sons of Adam and daughters of Eve is an obvious Biblical reference as well.

 

2. Philosophy

 

Apart from Christian beliefs, Lewis notably often alludes to Platonic philosophy. “To lose what I owe Plato and Aristotle,” he once said, “would be like an amputation of a limb. Hardly any lawful price seems to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek” (32). The references to Plato’s theories recur throughout the saga with a spectacular climax in The Last Battle, when Lord Digory exclaims, “it’s all in Plato, all in Plato!” (160). This statement gives the reader a clear clue as to the correct way of interpreting the final scene of The Narniad. In accordance with the Platonic tradition, all material objects on the earth are merely images or imitations of the transcendent ideas existing in “a higher, more perfect, spiritual reality” (Ford 339). In Narnia this “overworld of self- subsisting ideas” (Ford 339) is Aslan’s eternal country. The world outside, the disappearing Narnia, is referred to by Aslan as “The Shadowlands” (171), which, again, is a reinterpretation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where all that people could see were merely shadows of things. Although Narnia is destroyed, it is only shadows that are gone and not the genuine country. Another reference to the Allegory of the Cave is the situation of the renegade dwarfs locked in an imaginary stable (140). Because of their lack of faith and stubbornness, they mentally do not enter Aslan’s country but stay imprisoned. “They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out,” says Aslan (140).

As I have remarked, Aslan’s land has one unusual property: it is far larger inside that it seems to be from the outside. While the characters move “Further up and further in!,” the world around them becomes more and more real, bigger and flawless and they experience greater and greater beauty and perfection. The landscapes are almost identical to the ones in the old Narnia but somehow deeper and more real. Such a situation was discussed by St. Thomas Aquinas and referred by Ford to the Narnian situation thus: “Were one able to go ‘further up and further in’ – into the very mind and being of God – one would find not an utterly new reality but something strangely familiar, something ‘like’ the world one had always known before, only supremely better” (340). The protagonists, being unable to comprehend the new situation, initially do not see the resemblance, yet with time they learn to notice it.

Another concept drawn from Plato and St Augustine is the “ascent of the soul,” which Lewis in his Pilgrim’s Regress defines as “a restless piercing desire for the unlimited source of all reality and perfection” which has been commenced by God’s creation (7). The creature that embodies the concept in The Last Battle is Jewel the Unicorn, who exclaims upon arrival to Alan’s country: “I have come home at last! This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now” (161). “Platonic quest for reality” becomes realized when all believers eventually find their place in Aslan’s world and their souls make a full circle returning to the place where they were created (Ford 341).

 

3. Chivalric Romance and The Middle Ages

 

“Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book,” Lewis defined his concepts of adventure prose in Letters to Malcolm (54). The Middle Ages is an epoch that strongly influenced the writer, thus references and allusions to this period are fairly explicit in his works. The Chronicles of Narnia bear a particularly strong resemblance to chivalric romance, The Song of Roland and Arthurian Legends being perfect examples. Similarities are connected with plots, events and descriptions of places. The setting evokes the one that dominated in chivalric stories. Narnian topography is very European and may be compared to the Northern and Western areas of the continent. Lewis “recovers a medieval worldview of a Narnia-centered universe,” professes Ford (104). The protagonists wear mediaeval robes and armour and use bows and swords in combat. Narnian clothes are made of natural fabrics in earth colours, which may be a reference to Celtic robes. The food is also simple: meat, cheese, bread or wine are a major source of sustenance. The fact that Narnia is a pre-industrial world is not a matter of coincidence; Ford claims that Lewis archaised the temporal plane of the series in order to overcome the “increasing separation of humanity from nature” (424).

 

3.1 Royal references

Narnia is a monarchy; hence various elements of courtly life are described, including customs, knightly courtesy, duels, coronations and oaths of allegiance to the crown. The story is centred on Cair Paravel[70] and its inhabitants, but does not take place in the castle itself. Tirian, the last king of Narnia, cultivates the tradition of his ancestors and follows royal commitments. He attaches great importance to observing virtue and the code of chivalry. When he kills a Calormene soldier without previously challenging him to a fight, he feels ashamed and unworthy of being a king, says, “I who was king of Narnia and am now a dishonoured knight” (29). Moral obligation forces him to surrender to the enemy, since, “to seek honour unselfishly and to behave honourably may be said to be one definition of a true Narnian” (Ford 251). Even facing danger in battle, Tirian behaves like a warrior. He urges Jill not to weep or at least to protect the bow against her tears (116), and he reminds Eustace to clean his sword every time it is stained with blood (75). Regardless of being a king, Tirian does not hide in the castle giving commands, but bravely fights alongside his faithful servants to save Narnia. Being a skilful knight, he instructs the children in the basic principles of warcraft (58; 59). Although Narnia has not recently been involved in any conflicts with neighbouring countries, the king attaches great importance to keeping up all the military buildings prepared to serve as a shelter in case of danger (53). The king’s courtesy reveals itself in his noble manners. “I have done thee some discourtesy, soldier, but such was my need” (63), he says, and rebukes Eustace for his swearing at the dwarfs, “no warrior scolds. Courteous words or else hard knocks are his only language” (116).

 

3.2 Allusions to the Song of Roland and Le Morte d’Arthur

The most striking similarities between The Last Battle and The Song of Roland begin with their inclusion of the battle as the main event (The Last Battle 108; Song of Roland, Stanza 123). In the latter, the Frankish army of Chalermagne tries to force the Muslims, led by king Marsilla, to leave Christian Europe (Stanzas 123, 124). In Narnia, the reader is able to notice a parallel situation: the Narnians bravely fight with dark-skinned Calormenes, Tash’s followers (108-25). The culture of the invaders clearly resembles Arabic traditions, as presented in Arabian Nights. Similar clothes, weapons and a highly sophisticated manner of speaking, (“Know, O Warlike Kings, and you, o ladies whose beauty illuminates the universe, that I am Emeth of the city of Tehishbaan” [152]), leave no doubt as to the correct interpretation. The last battle of Narnia is very cruel. Lewis does not restrain himself from picturing violence, but shows it together with a specific reaction of the characters, such as Jill’s weeping on seeing cruel treatment of Narnian horses and Eustace’s gallantry in battle. He realizes that wars and battles were an inseparable part of medieval reality and there is no war without blood and suffering. In The Song of Roland the descriptions of combat are also quite detailed. For instance, Roland’s death and his physical injuries are meticulously described (Stanzas 135; 168).

The presence of a traitor is another common feature of both literary works. Ganelon and Shift,[71] though for different reasons, both act against their fatherland (The Last Battle 15; Stanzas 80, 272). The traitors become punished and die a painful death: Shift is devoured by Tash (109, 135) and Ganelon is torn into pieces by galloping horses (Stanza 289).

Although in both cases the opposing forces substantially outnumber Roland and Tirian’s armies, the leaders bravely face the invaders, regardless of the consequences. Most of the warriors sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, including Roland whose death has become one of the most memorable images of chivalric literature and Tirian who leaves earthly life behind entering Aslan’s country through the stable door (124). In both stories a magical horn is used at the end. In The Song of Roland it is supposed to bring help when there is no hope of winning (Stanza 135). In The Last Battle Father Time, on Aslan’s command, blows the horn to make the world end and throws the instrument into the sea afterwards (141).

Le Morte d’Arthur contains many elements parallel to The Narniad as well. The protagonist is a king who is a young man: Tirian clearly echoes Arthur (17). Moreover, magic is a crucial constituent of both texts. In the case of Narnia the representatives of black and white magic are The White Witch and Aslan (Ford 304). Lewis gives more priority to prayer than to magical practices and presents Alsan’s power theologically (Ford 301). When Aslan is killed and resurrected, he explains that there is magic more powerful and older than everything in the world, which clearly refers to God and his omnipotence (Ford 305). In Arthurian legends Merlin the wizard is Arthur’s tutor. He represents a traditional medieval archetype of an alchemist and a magician (White 114).

Connected to magic is the presence of supernatural creatures. Most of them are taken from the world’s mythologies,[72] especially the Greek and Celtic ones. In Narnia they peacefully coexist with people and talking beasts, being legitimate citizens of Narnia, and their aim is to “be the symbols for qualities present in our own world” and “to convey psychology and character type to a wider audience than lengthy novels will reach” (White 71). The forests are inhabited by dryads, sprites, fauns, centaurs and dwarfs. Each of the “species” is unique and plays a different role in the Narnian hierarchy. Jewel the Unicorn deserves special attention. He is an outstanding figure, an embodiment of a knightly ethos, “a heraldic figure, almost too noble to be true” (Ford 265). “In Christian mythology a Unicorn is a symbol of the Word of God,” argues Ford, drawing attention to the fact that a duel between a lion and a unicorn can be found in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (265). In The Chronicles, however, Jewel should by no means be associated with Aslan’s foe; on the contrary, he is the one who keeps the faith in Aslan until the end.

The motif of the holy blood is another common element of both stories. Aslan’s blood is shed to save Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and in Le Morte d’Arthur the story of the Holy Grail, the legendary goblet that was supposed to be used during the Last Supper and later on to hold Christ’s blood, is told (Ford 101). In both cases readers experience the mysticism connected with sacredness, and the aura of mystery accompanying both Aslan and Christ. The motif of a sword, characteristic of chivalric romance, also reappears in the Narniad. In The Song of Roland and Le Morte d’Arthur the warriors posses wonderful steel weapons, one of them being the mythical Excalibur; in The Narniad the sacred sword, or rather a big knife, is made of stone and used to kill Aslan on the stone table (Ford 410). The knife is later left on the magical table on Ramandu Island as a holy relic (Ford 411).

Literary works discussed above present similar problems: what it means to be a good knight and a good ruler, the consequences of following or disregarding knightly morality, and the coexistence of the supernatural with the earthly. What is highly valued are “the three theological virtues of both medieval thought and Christian theology: faith, hope and love” (Ford 254).

4. Beast fable elements and their didactic purpose

 

As far as literary genres are concerned, The Last Battle is deeply indebted to beast fable conventions. Encyclopædia Britannica defines this kind of literature as “a prose or verse fable or short story that usually has a moral. In beast fables animal characters are represented as acting with human feelings and motives” (“Beast Fable”). One may begin enumerating the resemblances by stating that most of the protagonists in Narnia are talking beasts which in the book embody various human features. They are bigger than ordinary animals, often walk straight using two legs (or, in fact, hoofs or paws) and are “anthropomorphized to a high degree” (Ford 420). Narnia is a beast land, the only representatives of “Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve” (The Last Battle 169) are members of the royal family and English children summoned by Aslan. The neighbouring countries, Calormene and Archenland are, in contrast, mainly inhabited by people.

In accordance with beast fable conventions, Lewis equips each of his animal characters with certain features of human personality, which is often echoed by the choice of their names or species they belong to. He uses them as hieroglyphs of human features, which is in a perfect way illustrated by his poem entitled “Impertinence”:

Why! All cry out to be used as symbols,

Masks for Man, cartoons, parodies by Nature

Formed to reveal us

Each to each, not fiercely but in her gentlest

Vein of household laughter” (27).

Shift, the Ape, was created as an embodiment of greed and avarice, and as a miscreant who exploits others, including Puzzle, a donkey being “a hieroglyph of the stubborn, foolish, braying person” (Ford 174). This character must have been inspired by Aesop’s tale entitled “The Ass in the Lion’s Skin,”which is a story of a donkey that finds a lion’s skin, wears it and wanders through the woods, trying to frighten other animals. What betrays him is his bray being heard by a fox, who reprimands the ass, saying: “Clothes may disguise a fool, but his words will give him away”(Aesop). Asimilar motif can be found in one of the Indian traditional fables of the same title. Its plot is, however, slightly different. Here, a hawker, which wanders from village to village with his ass, dresses the animal in the lion’s skin and lets it graze in a barley field. People who see it mistake the donkey for a real lion and attack it. Their rage even increases when they hear the beast’s bray and they kill the creature. The future Buddha being a witness of this occurrence, comments on the situation in the following way:

Long might the ass, clad in a lion’s skin,

Have fed on the barley green. But he brayed!

And that moment he came to ruin. (Jacobs)

In both fables the moral is exactly the same: no matter how good one’s disguise is, a single sound is enough to betray the impostor; hence, one’s true nature cannot be hidden.

The fact that Shift is an ape is meaningful. Although all Narnian inhabitants are anthropomorphized and intelligent, they usually possess features associated with their particular species, i.e. foxes are sly, owls are clever, and horses are hard-working. The primates are human’s closest relatives possessing the best developed minds of all animals, which may suggest that they are clever and cunning enough to contrive a plot having such horrible consequences as Shift’s malicious plan had. Moreover, the Ape, probably to emphasize his usurped authority, renounces his animal descent and claims to be an old wise man (32). He is definitely the most repellent creature of those who take part in the Narnian apocalypse. His relationship with Puzzle is rather like the one of a master and servant, since Shift is selfish and unconcerned with anything but himself (11). He degenerates more and more as his power increases and becomes an alcoholic dressed up in silly, gaudy clothes and a paper crown, calling himself, “lord Shift, the mouthpiece of Aslan” (30). On every occasion he takes advantage of his position and makes all creatures serve him. This feature of his personality reveals itself when he makes a series of Freudian slips, such as “I want – I mean Aslan wants” (31).

Among all the other beasts that participate in the events preceding the end of Narnia, one creature, namely a lamb, deserves special attention. The author equips the lamb with wisdom and moral courage and makes him “a hieroglyph of innocence” (Ford 281). Undoubtedly, the immediate association with the Christian symbol of a lamb as Christ the Redeemer ought to appear in readers’ minds.

Beast fable conventionally possesses a didactic tone and a moral at the end which is usually very explicit and clear – the good characters are rewarded, the bad ones punished, and the reader draws his or her conclusions from the situation described. Węgrodzka comments on this feature as follows: “didactic purpose evidently and palpably dominates . . . with focus on such didactic conventions as saint’s legends . . . or moral manuals” (16). Fables often end with an aphorism conveying some general truth about the world. In The Last Battle the situation is parallel. The author quite distinctly specifies what the moral is: traitors and villains pay for their wickedness, whereas good deeds are rewarded by Aslan. The lesson is that decent and honest behaviour is always profitable. Lang specifies the role of tales claiming that they ought to “unobtrusively teach the true lessons of our wayfaring in a world of perplexities and obstructions” (52).

 

5. Conclusion

 

Reading The Chronicles of Narnia is a unique experience. Each chapter makes the reader more and more involved in the story and eventually one begins to believe that Narnia truly exists, right at the back of one’s wardrobe. Lewis created the land so real and so perfectly organized that one finds it hard to resist the feeling that Narnia really exists somewhere. The Narnian saga was constructed in such a way that it embeds serious religious and philosophical considerations into children’s fiction and thus the multiplicity of levels on which the story can be understood makes the Narniad suitable for readers of all ages. Węgrodzka encourages adult readers to appreciate the intricacies of children’s literature in the following way: “The inherent complexity of communicative situation should be a warning against dismissing children’s literature per se as unworthy of critical attention” (20). Lewis emphasizes in The Chronicles the significance of remaining childlike and innocent, and tells the stories from a child’s point of view, though enriched with serious mature considerations (Ford 140-41). Most readers begin their acquaintance with Lewis when they are children, becoming familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia. What is revealed to them at that time is a series of very interesting adventure stories, with wide spectrum of various kinds of protagonists. With increasing awareness of the world, which is acquired in the process of growing up, they reach for the book once again. During this second reading certain intertextual references and allusions come into view. But only as a mature reader, acquainted with other Lewis’ works, is one able to fully appreciate the complexity of his Narnian saga.

Works Cited

Aesop. “The Ass in Lion’s skin.” classiclit.about.com. about.com. n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

“Beast fable.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2008. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia: A Complete Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.Rev. ed. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005. Print.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. New York: American Bible Society,1999. Print.

Jacobs, Joseph. “The Ass in the Lion’s Skin.” Sacred Texts. n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Lang, Andrew. “Modern Fairy Stories.” C. S. Lewis. Ed. Green. London: The Bodley Head, 1963. Print.

Lewis C.S. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964. Print.

—. “Impertinence.” Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. Print.

—. “On Criticism.” Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966.Print.

—. The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958. Print.

—. The Last Battle. Glasgow: William Collins, 1987. Print.

The Song of Roland. Ed. James Burrow.London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2000. Print.

Węgrodzka, Jadwiga. Patterns of Enchantment: E. Nesbit and the Traditions of Children’s Literature. Sopot: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego, 2007. Print.

White, William L. The Image of Man in C. S. Lewis. New York: Abingdon Press, 1969. Print.

 

 

 

Notes on Contributors

 

Having graduated from the University of St Andrews with an MA Hons degree in English and Latin, Laura Beattie will soon complete a Master’s degree in English Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin where her research interests lie in the fields of Renaissance literature, particularly Shakespeare, classical mythology and its reception, Victorian literature and the American novel.

 

Justyna Dąbrowska is an MA student of English Philology at the University of Łódź. She completed her BA thesis entitled “‘Neither at things, nor at people should one look’: the Gaze Chain in Oscar Wilde’s Salomé” at the Department of Drama and Pre-1800 English Literature at the University of Łódź, and earned a distinction for it. Her main academic interests include modern Irish drama (especially the work of Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats), contemporary Irish drama and the broadly defined concept of visuality. She is also interested in the portrayal of women in drama and in the Bible. She is the president of The Geoffrey Chaucer Student Society at the Department of Drama and Pre-1800 English Literature at the University of Łódź.

 

Katarzyna Lisowska is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Polish Philology at the University of Wrocław. The subjects of her interest are Gender Studies, especially such currents as: Men’s Studies, Queer Theory, Gay and Lesbian Studies. In her doctoral thesis she is considering different kinds of metaphors in gender discourse. She published essays and reviews in e.g.: “Przegląd Humanistyczny,” “Zagadnienia Rodzajow Literackich,” and “Czas Kultury.” She was a participant of a number of conferences, e.g. International Interdisciplinary Conference „Kinds and Styles of Criticism,” „Pogranicza płci” (Katowice, 19.11.2012), VI Międzynarodowa Konferencja Doktorantów Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego (Szczecin, 25.10.2013), Interdyscyplinarna Konferencja Naukowa „Teksty kultury uczestnictwa” (Warszawa, 07.11.2013).

 

Aleksandra Mrówka is a doctoral candidate at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, where she is a member of  the Department of the 20th and 21st-Century British Literature and Culture in the Institute of English Philology. English medieval romance, with emphasis on the Celtic legend about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, belongs to the scope of her academic interests. Her PhD dissertation is a research on the female experience of magic and the supernatural in this fascinating literary genre.

 

Martyna Paśnik is a graduate of English Philology at the University of Łódź and a member of The Geoffrey Chaucer Student Society. As an active member of the Open Boat Students’ Society she is a cotranslator for the literary journal Dekadentzya. She is interested in British and American literature, mainly in children’s and young adult literature and the period of the 19th century, which is visible in both of her already written theses, her BA thesis, entitled “Human Gods and Their Imperfect Perfection: Dr House as a Descendant of Sherlock Holmes and Auguste Dupin” and her MA thesis “The Secrets of Popularity and The Universal Appeal of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.” Currently, she is studying German Philology at the University of Łódź and writing her BA Thesis on the influence of age over language acquisition.

 

Magdalena Popłońska earned her bachelor’s degree in English Philology at the University of Łódź. Her thesis, entitled “From the Streets of London to the Great Detective – the Role of the City in the Sherlock Holmes Canon,” received a distinction. From the very beginning of her studies she has taken active part in the projects of The Geoffrey Chaucer Student Society. Her research interests include: the Sherlock Holmes Canon, history, society and cultural life of Victorian London, nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, classic literature adaptations, popular culture, media audiences and fandoms, digital culture, intertextuality, metafiction, meta analysis, as well as the theory of memory and perspective. She is currently working on her MA dissertation, which will revolve around the topics of memory and perspective in Michael Frayn’s drama, Copenhagen.

 

Magdalena Zegarlińska is a senior year graduate student at the University of Gdansk. She is an author of various articles devoted to film studies and British literature, and a member of research groups conducting research in the area of dreams, memory and imagination, and minorities. Her PhD dissertation is devoted to film studies and various manifestations of duality in David Lynch’s films as a source of Freudian “uncanny.” The title of her MA dissertation was: “A passage to Ridleyville: A comparative analysis of visual and auditory elements in “Alien,” “Blade Runner” “Legend,” “Black Rain,” “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down,” directed by Ridley Scott.” The subject of her BA research was congruent with the title of the article published in the present journal, i.e. “Intertextuality of The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.” Her personal interests include film studies, psychoanalysis, British Victorian literature, and British children’s literature.

 

[1] Some modern interpretations of the Orpheus myth include, for example, Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Carol Ann Duffy’s “Eurydice.”For a selective history of the Orpheus myth from Apollonius’ Argonautica to A.D. Hope’s “Orpheus” (1991) see G. Miles 61-195.

[2] Throughout this essay I will be using the terms “poetry” and “song” interchangeably when referring to Orpheus’ art because the Latin word carmen used by Ovid and Virgil can be used to mean both.

[3] All quotations from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are taken from the Latin text accessed online via http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/ovid.html.

[4] For an enlightening discussion of the importance of eloquence in the Renaissance see N. Rhodes, The Power of Eloquence and English Renaissance Literature (St. Martin’s Press, 1992).

[5] I mention the Metamorphoses first over the Georgics because Ovid was read more, and by a wider audience in the Renaissance than Virgil and so was more likely to be where Renaissance readers first encountered the story of Orpheus. (See, for example Root 3-4 or Miles 9).

[6] See Warden 4.

[7] Translation: Orpheus was “charming tigers and leading oak trees with his song.”

[8] Sandys, in his commentary on Ovid’s Metamorphoses (479) and Puttenham in his Art of English Poesie (99) make similar points, specifying that it was hymns in particular whose creation Orpheus was responsible for.

[9] All quotations from R.B. Gent, Orpheus and His Journey to Hell are taken from the text given in A. Leigh DeNeef, ‘The Poetics of Orpheus: The Text and a Study of Orpheus His Journey to Hell (1595)’, Studies in Philology 89.1 (Jan. 1992):20-70.

[10] In Georgics Book 1 Virgil tells us that the Golden Age is over and Jupiter has now instigated the Iron Age by predarique lupos iussit pontumque moveri (commanding the wolves to predate and the seas to become rough 1.130) while in the Metamorphoses, the human race becomes so depraved that Jupiter must send down the flood in order that all sin be purged (see 1.231-61).

[11] There is a vast number of examples of this representation of Orpheus. Some of these include William Kempe’s The Education of Children in Learning, Thomas Lodge’s A Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays, Louis Leroy’s Of the Interchangeable Course, or the Variety of Things in the Whole World, William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, William Vaughan’s The Golden Grove, William Webbe’s A Discourse of English Poetrie.

[12] Translation: “Orpheus, the holy interpreter of the gods, prevented wild men from massacres and barbaric living. On account of this, he was said to have softened the natures of tigers and mad lions.”

[13] The Oxford English Dictionary defines “natural philosophy” as “the study of natural bodies and the phenomena connected with them; natural science; (in later use) spec. physical science, physics” (“Natural Philosophy”).

[14] Ovid’s version of the Ages of Man, as related in the Metamorphoses (1.89-150), does not contain the Age of Heroes.

[15] Anonymous, A Most Pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the Kings Sonne of Valentia and Amadine the Kings Daughter of Arragon (Printed for William Iones, dwelling at Holborne conduit, at the signe of the Gunne, 1598) Sig. O2v.

[16] This may also be found in Song of Sg. 2.1-2

[17] Song of Sg. 4.1

[18] “Thy body was a column of ivory set on a silver socket. It was a garden full of doves and of silver lilies” (Wilde 741).

[19] Song of Sg. 4.3

[20] “It is like a pomegranate cut with a knife of ivory” (Wilde 726).

[21] Song of Sg. 4.4

[22] Cf. Bach 237

[23] Song of Sg. 5.1

[24] Cf. Bach 237

[25] Jay C. Treat notes that “[i]n the Song of Songs, gender-neutral language can confuse the reader . . . Without a[n] . . . aid for the reader in English, it is sometimes difficult to tell who is speaking to whom at various points in the text” (661). Here, the Polish translation of the Bible is of a great help, as it makes it possible to determine the gender of the speakers in the Song of Songs.

[26] Bach also uses this quote in her table, but she does not say anything about the particulars of Salomé’s similarity to the female lover from the Song.

[27] Song of Sg. 8.6, 8.7

[28] All citations come from the edition listed in the Works Cited section and are marked by the abbreviation “P” with a page number.

[29] Writing about Stéphane Mallarmé’s poetry, Barbara Johnson differentiated the play between texts from the play within texts: “Mallarmé internalizes intertextual heterogeneity and puts it to work not as a relation between texts but as a play of intervals within texts” (121; emphasis original). However, in the broad perspective on intertextuality which I would like to present, these two modes of textual interaction can be combined.

[30] I owe this reference to remarks presented by Henryk Markiewicz in the text “Odmiany intertekstualności” (see: Markiewicz 199).

[31] Such typologies are to be found in many works which take up the problem of intertextuality. Although it would be impossible to refer to all of them, I would like to mention the remarks of Michał Głowiński who argues that intertextual references could be considered as a structural element of a particular text, a relation to the literary genres or a problem of literary evolution (Głowiński 33). Similar conclusions were presented by Julia Kristeva in Séméiotikè: recherches pour une sémanalyse (Paris, 1969).

[32] In the second type of intertextual strategies “certain elements” and “motifs” from other texts are “freely developed,” while in the third group “intertexts are abstracted literary kinds, styles and various types of aesthetics” (Rulewicz 233).

[33] As Głowiński emphasizes, an intertextual relation requires treating the reference to the prior text as an element of a semantic construction of the new text (Głowiński 13).

[34] In other words, it allows us “to see intertextuality as the mutual displacement of the literary and the historical or social by each other” (Rajan 63).

[35] Friedman argues that: “The discourse of intertextuality blends and clashes with the discourse of influence” (154).

[36] Clayton and Rothstein associate this perspective with “two schools, Rezeptionsästetik and critics associated with Michael Foucault” (26). Here, the second one is the most important since it combines intertextuality theory with questions of “race, class, and in its most recent manifestations, gender” (26).

[37] In the “Notes” (P 197) Atwood refers to Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths and the authors mentioned by him (e.g. Herodotus, Pausanias, Apollodorus, Hyginus). Still, the basis of The Penelopiad is Homer’s The Odyssey.

[38] This issue is crucial to the problem of intertextuality. Kristeva argues that “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the ‘absorption and transformation of another’” (Kristeva, “Word, Dialogue and Novel”37).

[39] Elaine Showalter argues that this tendency is typical of “female realism,” defined as “a broad, socially informed exploration of the daily lives and values of women within the family and the community” (29). Although Showalter associated this trend with the nineteenth century novel (29), many of its features can be found in contemporary female writing, including The Penelopiad. My reference to Showalter was inspired by Kraskowska (21).

[40] Although Miller’s theory refers to the situation of the author, as already mentioned, the specificity of Atwood’s novel allows one to replace the term “author” with the term “narrator.”

[41] According to Głowiński, references to some literary and social styles are an important intertextual strategy too (Głowiński 8).

[42] See: “The Chorus, too, should be regarded as one of the actors; it should be an integral part of the whole and share in the action” (Aristotle 25).

[43] A comprehensive exploration of the issue is to be found in Mikhail Bakhtin’s works. See: “the system of popular-festive images was developed and went on living over thousands years. . . . But in its basic line this system grew and was enriched; it acquired a new meaning, absorbed the new hopes and thoughts of the people. It was transformed into the crucible of the people’s new experience. The language of images developed new and more refined nuances.” (Bakhtin, Rabelais 211).

[44] Thus, as Johnson noticed, intertextuality “can teach us to rewrite its history all over again from the beginning” (133).

[45] See also: “women writers had explored and extended these fantasies of enclosure. After 1900 in dozens of novels . . . the secret room, the suffragette cell came to stand for a separate world” (Showalter 33).

[46] It is also worth noticing that the quoted phrase refers to Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own – a text of great significance for feminist literary theory.

[47] See: “the different comes to be defined in particularizing terms such as those of nationality, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation. Intertextual parody of canonical American and European classics is one mode of appropriating and reformulating – with significant change – the dominant white, male, middle-class, heterosexual, Eurocentric culture” (Hutcheon 130).

[48] See: “Both female character and feminist reader question the monological discourse dominant in society and articulated by specific characters, and thus move . . . to an exposure of resistant, un-official, alternative discourses and subject positions” (Allen 161).

[49] “The resistance [to patriarchal monologism] centres on a recognition of ‘othering’ which is clearly connected to notions of intertextuality and the double-voiced discourse” (Allen 162).

[50] See: “The goal of overreading, of reading for the signature, is to put one’s finger – figuratively – on the place of the production that marks the spinner’s attachment to the web” (Miller 288).

[51] It is also important that an ideologeme is to be found on the different planes of the text (Kristeva, “Problemy strukturowania tekstu” 247).

[52] Apart from the issues described in the paragraphs above, another question raised both by Bakhtin and feminist critics is the problem of agency and subject’s dependence upon the world of discourses. See: “A return to Bakhtin recovers the possibility of honoring . . . the power of discourses that inhabit the writing subject, while also recognizing that discourses develop and clash within history and that the act of writing requires the exercise of dominion over contending discourses” (Draine 325).

[53] Graham Allen refers to the works of Mary Russo and Dale M. Bauer (161).

[54] See: “for those characters who are alienated and ‘confused’ by society, who find themselves in the position of the carnivalesque ‘Fool’, it becomes crucial to interpret that discourses and discursive structures which others in positions of power take as monologically unquestionable” (Allen 161).

[55] Here, Bakhtin’s description of the perspective called ”the mirror of comedy” is worth quoting: “Abuse reveals the other, true face of the abused, it tears off his disguise and mask. Abuse is death, it is former youth transformed into old age, the living body turned into a corpse” (Bakhtin, Rabelais 197).

[56] Cf. Nagy, ”A Fool of a Knight, a Knight of a Fool: Malory’s Comic Knights” (68). Sir Dinadan is a Knight of
the Round Table in the Arthurian legends. He is the son of Sir Brunor and Roslyn of Camelot. He is a brother
of Sir Breunor le Noir and Sir Daniel and a close friend of Sir Tristram.

[57] Cf. Witalisz, “A (Crooked) Mirror for Knights – the Case of Dinadan” (457-62).

[58] Cf. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines: 625-33.

[59] There are three people named Sir Thomas Malory taken into account as far as the authorship of the book is
concerned. The most likely candidate for the real Malory was born c. 1400 and was a soldier and a Member of
Parliament for Warwickshire. He was charged with breaking into the Abbey at Coombe, insulting the abbot
and the monks, stealing money, organizing violent robberies and raping a woman (Ch. R. Sanders, Ch. E.
Ward, The Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Malory. An Abridgement with an Introduction, New York 1940, p.
ix-xxii).

[60] The debate was heated up in the mainstream media by The Guardian journalist, Jane Clare Jones, who has published her piece online two days after the episode was broadcast for the first time, concluding that it was “politically, really quite regressive” and stating: “you’ve got to worry when a woman comes off worse in 2012 than in 1891” (“Is Sherlock Sexist?”).

[61] For instance, consider how in “Steven Moffat, Sherlock, and Neo-Victorian Sexism” by Holger Syme Irene’s role is summed up as an “angel at the hearth redux.”

[62] For further reference, see: “Taming the Woman: Irene Adler and the Male Gaze,” paying special attention to what the author wrote about Rachel McAdams’ portrayal of the woman in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009) as “a hyper-sexualized character.” Although the tendency towards presenting Adler in recent adaptations as being in charge of her sexuality is also discussed, her character is judged as still merely “function[ing] as an element of spectacle” and her sexual awareness evaluated as “play[ing] straight into male fantasy.”

[63] Apart from her earrings, make-up, and shoes. Interestingly, when we take a look at the deductions Sherlock makes about other people (as in, for instance, about John Watson, his flatmate and companion, in the very same scene), it seems quite obvious that he is able to derive information merely on the basis of skin condition or the state of somebody’s fingernails. This comparison would suggest that the nakedness per se actually played an important part in taking Sherlock aback. Then again, it might just as well be an inconsistency in the script, allowed for the sake of making the plot point work.

[64] Sherlock eventually overcomes his confusion and successfully deduces relevant information from Irene’s appearance, although not before the woman gives him a decisive clue: “I’d tell you the code right now but you know what? I already have. Think.”

[65] As a matter of fact, Steven Moffat was not the first to come up with the idea of linking Irene Adler with Moriarty, but the collaboration between the two in other adaptations was often associated with Adler’s unawareness of certain facts about Holmes’s arch-villain, or vaguely drawn desperate situation which brought her to be Moriarty’s pawn. Irene from Sherlock, on the other hand, appears to be quite informed as to Moriarty’s nature, and as sinister as him: “I had all this stuff, never knew what to do with it. Thank God for the consulting criminal . . . Didn’t even ask for anything. I think he just likes to cause trouble. Now that’s my kind of man.” Admittedly, though, the most recent take on the heroine, in the series’ finale of the CBS Elementary (2013), provides us with even more immediate association between the two.

[66] At this point, it might be relevant to mention one of the other possible interpretations of the final scene. Due to its fragmentary nature and the fact that it is stylistically different from how the rest of the episode is shot, some of the viewers read “the rescuing scene” as Sherlock’s dream-like fantasy (with a variety of possibilities of what actually happened to the heroine). This assumption, however, does not make up for the fact that in the previous scene Irene was beaten by Sherlock in the mind-game they were playing against each other, which ended up in her begging him for mercy. Thus, even in this interpretation the heroine does not escape the role of “a damsel in distress.”

[67] Universalism: “The belief that all religions are basically the same and thus one is as good as another” (Ford 444).

[68] Tash is “a Scottish dialectical word for blemish, stain, fault or vice” (Ford 423).

[69] Described in the chronologically first volume entitled The Magician’s Nephew.

[70]“The etymological derivation of Cair Paravel is probably from kaer, which is an old British word for city and paravail, from the Old French par aval, meaning down, and Latin ad vallem meaning to the valley. Thus Cair Paravel is a city in the valley” (Ford 126).

[71] “Shift is indicative of his manipulative personality: He is ‘shifty’ – underhanded, sneaky, and a liar; and he has a great facility for shifting meaning – he redefines the meaning of freedom to suit his purposes” (Ford 398).

[72] Lewis defines myth as a “nonincarnate history” and “not unlikely tale” (White 38).

Laura I. H. Beattie

Freie Universität Berlin

Retelling Orpheus: Orpheus in the Renaissance

This paper examines the importance of the Orpheus myth during the English Renaissance. The Orpheus myth was one of the most common mythic intertexts of the period due to the fact that we could see the very story of Orpheus as being imbedded within the idea of the Renaissance itself. The main ambition of the Renaissance humanist was to bring the literature of the ancients back to life via the means of education. In other words, they attempted to bring the dead back to life and Orpheus serves as an embodiment of this ambition due to his ability to bring inanimate objects to life and in his journey to the underworld to rescue Eurydice. We find many different aspects of the Orpheus myth dealt with in Renaissance writing, for example Orpheus as poet, Orpheus as lover and the death of Orpheus being some of the key focal points. This paper, however, will focus specifically on the role of Orpheus as Poet as, due to the Renaissance love for art, rhetoric and eloquence, this seems to be the most popular dimension of the Orpheus myth at that time. We will see how Renaissance writers reinterpret the story of Orpheus, as originally told by Ovid and Virgil, in the Metamorphoses and the Georgics respectively, to show Orpheus as not only as being an archetypal poet but in fact the very first poet whose art is not only responsible for the civilisation of man, but also for the creation of a “Golden Age” in Renaissance England.

 

key words: Orpheus, Metamorphoses, Renaissance

The story of Orpheus is one of those told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, many of which are still well known even today. The myth of Orpheus is no exception.[1] Orpheus, son of the muse Calliope and the god of poetry Apollo, is the paragon of all poets and can move animals, trees and even stones with his singing.[2] Ovid tells us that disaster strikes Orpheus and his young wife Eurydice merely hours after their wedding, when Eurydice is bitten by a snake and dies. Orpheus journeys to the underworld, and by the power of his poetry, persuades Hades and Persephone to return Eurydice to him, on the sole condition that he does not look back at her until they have left the underworld. However, Orpheus, unable to restrain himself, “flexit amans oculos” (“in love turned back his eyes”; 10.57) and Eurydice disappears with the single word “vale” (“goodbye”; 10.62).[3] Unable to be consoled, Orpheus traverses the earth singing his song of grief and spurns the love of all women. Rejected, the Maenads tear Orpheus to pieces and his head is carried away down Hebrus’ stream. Meanwhile, the ghost of Orpheus descends to the Underworld and isreunited with his Eurydice. Thus, the story of Orpheus is a multi-faceted one showing, above all, the power of love, death and art and the interaction of these with one another.

Of all the myths encountered in the Metamorphoses, the myth of Orpheus, the paragon of poets, would have particularly captured the Renaissance imagination because of the pre-eminent place that the power of rhetoric and eloquence held in early modern humanist culture.[4] In fact, we may even go so far as to say that the idea of Orpheus is embedded within the very idea of the Renaissance itself. The main ambition of the early modern humanist was to rediscover the literature of the ancients through education. In other words, they attempted to bring the dead back to life. Orpheus serves as an embodiment of this ambition in his ability to bring inanimate objects to life and in his journey to the Underworld to rescue Eurydice.

As well as the Metamorphoses, another major classical source of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth is Book IV of Virgil’s Georgics, written approximately 40 years before Ovid’s version.[5] In fact, it is from Virgil that we first receive an account of the myth as we know it today.[6] Virgil’s and Ovid’s accounts of the myth differ in various aspects and, as a result, they emphasize different themes. Virgil focuses more on the tragedy of Eurydice’s second death and the furor of Orpheus’ love, while Ovid’s account centres more on Orpheus’ poetic talent and its ability to subdue even the King and Queen of Hell. Just as Ovid and Virgil, although telling the same story, pick up on different resonances of the myth so we can see the same process occurring in the literature of the Renaissance. James Neil Brown, in his entry for Orpheus in The Spenser Encyclopedia, tells us that “for Renaissance humanists, Orpheus became a hero of the arts, the archetypal poet” (519). This is the aspect of the myth that we will focus on here because it is the most prominent reading, although it is worth noting that it is not the only one – the roles of Orpheus in the Renaissance are many and diverse including various depictions of Orpheus as lover and also of his death. By focusing on this aspect of the myth, we will see how Renaissance writers reinterpret the story of Orpheus to show him as not only being the archetypal poet but, in fact, the very first poet, whose art has a civilizing effect on mankind as well as creating a “Golden Age” in Renaissance England.

 

Orpheus as Supreme Poet

 

Given the Renaissance love for art, rhetoric and eloquence, the most popular dimension of the Orpheus myth at that time was undoubtedly that of Orpheus as supreme poet, able to move all things, both literally and metaphorically, by the power of his words alone. Neil Rhodes, in his book The Power of Eloquence and English Renaissance Literature, tells us that “the first embodiment of language as power is Orpheus” (3), and indeed, Orpheus’ words are more than just pleasing to the ear – they are performative. They can control the actions of animate and inanimate objects alike. We can see this, for example, in Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, when Proteus, describing to Sir Thurio how he can woo Silvia through the medium of speech, says:

For Orpheus’ lute was strung with poet’s sinews,

Whose golden touch could often soften steel and stones,

Make tigers tame and huge leviathans

Forsake unsounded deeps to dance on sands. (3.2.77-80)

Not only can Orpheus’ poetry “soften steel and stones” but it can also tame, or in other words “soften,” the nature of living creatures. This idea of the “softening” power of poetry is an important one and one to which we will return, particularly to Proteus’ implication that these “softening” properties can also be extended to human nature (he tells Sir Thurio that it is by the use of words that he will be able to persuade Silvia to give him his heart).Significantly, Shakespeare takes the idea of taming tigers from Virgil’s account (who tells us that Orpheus “mulcentem tigres et agentem carmine quercus” 4.510)[7] but then goes on to add his own example of the “huge leviathans,” emphasizing this miraculous power of Orpheus even further. Leviathans are sea creatures of enormous size, and the fact that even they can be moved by the song of Orpheus to do something that is not only unnatural to them but in fact fatal (dancing on sands), is a great testament to the performative power of his words. It has been said that this passage “is distinguished writing in a play not much known for it” (Martindale 84) and thus perhaps Shakespeare himself has been inspired by the immense poetic power he is writing about. Shakespeare is not the only one to pay tribute to the performative power of Orpheus’ words. We see this also in Campion’s A Relation of the Late Royal Entertainment, Gifford’s A Posie of Gilloflowers and Fletcher’s The Purple Island, to name but a few. It is noticeable that in many of these examples, in particular in Gifford and Fletcher, the writers are especially captivated by Orpheus’ descent into hell and his ability to overcome the inhabitants of the Underworld with his song. Thus, they are following on from Ovid, who greatly expands Virgil’s original catalogue of the inhabitants’ various reactions to Orpheus’ song and indeed details the song itself. This fascination with Orpheus’ journey to the Underworld is surely because Orpheus’ success there reveals that his words have power not only in our world but even over Death himself, the ultimate adversary, and is thus the ultimate proof of the power of his poetry as well as of the fact that the Renaissance humanists, too, can be successful in their mission.

 

Orpheus as First Poet

 

Yet some writers, not being satisfied with depicting Orpheus as the archetypal, exemplary poet, went even to the length of seeing him as, in fact, the very first artist who created and brought many different forms of poetry into being. We see this perhaps most clearly in Sidney’s Apology for Poetry:

Nay, let any historie be brought, that can say any Writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skil, asOrpheus, Linus, and some other are named: who hauing beene the first of that Country, that made pens deliuerers of their knowledge to their posterity, may iustly challenge to bee called their Fathers in learning: for not only in time they had this priority (although in it self antiquity be venerable,) but went beforethem, as causes to drawe with their charming sweetnes, the wild vntamed wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was sayde to moue stones with his Poetrie, to build Thebes. And Orpheus to be listened to by beastes, indeed, stony and beastly people. So among the Romans were Liuius, Andronicus, and Ennius. So in the Italian language, the first that made it aspire to be a Treasure-house of Science, were the Poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch. So in our English were Gower and Chawcer. (96)

Orpheus is one of the “Fathers of learning” because he made “pens deliverers of their knowledge to posterity.” Sidney then emphasizes this point by giving examples from more recent times, using names that all his readers would recognize. Chaucer may be commonly regarded as being “the father of English poetry” and Ennius as the first writer of Latin epic, but Sidney is telling us that, behind all these famous writers of great works of literature, stands Orpheus, without whom the creation of these later works would not have been possible.[8] In the sixteenth century poem, Orpheus and His Journey to Hell, the anonymous author known to us only as R.B. illustrates this point through the means of the poem itself both by mentioning various types of poetry within the poem, including “ditties” (68),[9] “tragicke tunes” (118), “solemne sonnets” (196), “rimes” (484) and “inuectiue ditties” (655), and also by having Orpheus sing not only one song as he does in Ovid but many poems of various genres, thereby representing the fact that “Orpheus ‘founds’ or creates all poetic genres” (DeNeef 22). Moreover, the poem contains many typically Elizabethan elements as well as classical ones, thus proving Gros Louis’ point that “part of the triumph of Orpheus in the sixteenth century is the result of his adaptability to the themes and conventions of the time” (66). For example, although R.B. has already described how Orpheus sings “to delight Euridice his ioy” (92) and other maidens, the first song we actually hear him sing comes after her death, when Orpheus bewails his sorrow to his companions. The song of Orpheus’ “sorrowes” is introduced in the following manner:

Vnto whose musicke flockes the neighboring hilles,

The shadie groves, the pleasant murmuring springs,

And all the plaines with companie now filles,

As beasts and birds, fish, foule, and other things.

And when as euery one had tane his seat,

This Orpheus gins his sorrowes to repeat. (139-44)

Here, the setting of the “neighboring hilles” and the “shadie groves” is a typically pastoral one and is common in Renaissance poetry and literature (we need only think of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, for example). Furthermore, at the very start of the poem, R.B. sets Orpheus unequivocally in the time of the Golden Age, which is often evoked alongside the idea of the pastoral, whereas, implicitly in the Metamorphoses and explicitly in the Georgics, the tale of Orpheus is set in the Iron Age.[10] Thus, R.B. deliberately changes the setting in order that the story might accord more with Elizabethan pastoral conventions. The setting of the Golden Age is also significant because it reveals to us an important aspect of the place held by Orpheus in the Renaissance imagination. For them, the presence of Orpheus, the great poet, within the poem is enough to make sixteenth century England equivalent to the classical Golden Age paradise where the land produces food of its own accord and where it is eternally springtime. As we will see below, some writers go even further and make Orpheus the creator of the Golden Age rather than just a symbol of it.

 

Orpheus as Civilizer

 

This poetic skill, however, was not appreciated by Renaissance humanists on the basis of aesthetic pleasure alone. As Plett says, “in the eyes of the humanists, rhetoric is equivalent to culture as such, the perennial and substantial essence of man” (14). Thus, the most prevalent representation of Orpheus, the great rhetorician and poet, in the Renaissance was that of Orpheus as civilizer, of which there are a vast number of examples.[11] Indeed, if we return to the passage of Sidney quoted above we can see that Orpheus’ power is performative not only in terms of his ability to move trees, tigers and the inhabitants of hell with his song, but also to bring “wild vntamed wits to an admiration of knowledge.” This idea of Orpheus as civilizer first appears in antiquity in Apollonius’ Argonautica, where Orpheus accompanies the Argonauts on their quest and, as Spenser was later to put it in The Faerie Queene, “when strife was growen / Amongst those famous ympes of Greece, did take / His silver Harpe in hand, and shortly friends them make” (2.8-10). This idea is then made even more explicit in Horace’s Ars Poetica:

Silvestris homines sacer interpresque deorum

Caedibus et victu foedo deterruit Orpheus,

Dictus ob hoc lenire tigris rabidosque leones.(391-93)[12]

Significantly, here Horace already begins the tradition in which Orpheus’ ability to tame wild beasts is seen as an allegory of his ability to tame the beast within mankind itself. Renaissance humanists equated the use of rhetoric with power, a trait, as we have already seen above, that is embodied in the person of Orpheus. One of the reasons for their great love of language and rhetoric was the fact that it was language, above all else, that separated the human race from all others, their “greatest ontological privilege” (Plett 14). Thus Orpheus, by using his own power of speech to civilize others and draw them away from their inner bestiality, embodies a key Renaissance ideal. We see Puttenham, in his Art of English Poesie, taking his cue from Horace:

Orpheus assembled the wild beasts to come in herds to hearken to his music, and by that means made them tame, implying thereby, how by his discreet and wholesome lessons uttered in harmony and with melodious instruments, he brought the rude and savage people to a more civil and orderly life, nothing, as it seemeth, more prevailing or fit to redress and edify the cruel and sturdy courage of man than it. (96)

Puttenham’s use of the word “implying” is equivalent to Horace’s dictus ob hoc in setting up Orpheus’ taming of wild beasts as an allegory for bringing “the rude and savage people to a more civil and orderly life.” However, whereas in the Argonautica, Orpheus steps in only in times of strife, in Puttenham’s version, like in Horace’s and Sidney’s, Orpheus’ role is a more permanent and encompassing one. This Orpheus seeks not only to stop savagery in mankind at the very moment when it is about to erupt into a violent struggle, but, in fact, to change the way of life, and the nature of man, permanently. Thus, it is not merely the melody of his poems sung “on a lute strung with poet’s sinews” that enchants the natural world, as it is in Shakespeare’s Two Gentleman of Verona, but the melody itself is being used as a means through which to deliver “discreet and wholesome lessons” which have the power to change the entire nature of mankind forever. Indeed, Puttenham believes that there is nothing “more prevailing or fit” to carry out this role than the skill of Orpheus, and thus he is not only emphasizing the Renaissance concern with the civilizing power of language but also with the key role that poetry itself plays in delivering this knowledge.

The mythographer Francis Bacon, in his De Sapientia Veterum, interprets various myths as either political or scientific allegories and as such makes even more explicit Puttenham’s allegorical reading of the Orpheus tale by telling us that the entire tale “may seem to represent the image of Philosophy.” It is important to note that Bacon does not mean philosophy in the sense that we use it today but rather natural philosophy, which we would most likely describe as physics,[13] as well as a kind of moral philosophy. Bacon goes on to say that Orpheus’ descent into hell represents “the preservation of bodies in their estate, detaining them from dissolution and putrefaction,” in other words, the attempt to use science to create human immortality. However, due to the “curious diligence” and “vntimely impatience” of man, represented in Orpheus’ backward glance, this is highly difficult to achieve and philosophy instead:

busies herselfe about humane obiects, and by perswasion and eloquence, insinuating the loue of virtue, equitie, and concord in the minds of men, draws multitudes of people to a society, makes them subiect to lawes, obedient to gouerment, and forgetfull of their vnbridled affections, whilst they give eare to precepts, and submit themselves to discipline, whence follows the building of houses, erecting of townes, and planting of fields and orchards with trees and the like, insomuch that it would not be amisse to say, that even thereby stones and woods were called together, and setled in order. (Sig.Q6r)

Here, Bacon brings Puttenham’s argument to its logical conclusion – that it is the civilizing power of language, as represented by the figure of Orpheus, that is responsible for the formation of “lawes,” “discipline,” “the building of houses” and so on. Making the minds of men “forgetfull of their vnbridled affections” is his way of saying that the nature of man, too, can be tamed, or “softened,” just like that of a tiger, which is highlighted by the use of the word “vnbridled.” Bacon, however, does not stop here. He goes on to say:

Besides euen the very works of wisedome, (although amongst all humane things they doe most excell) doe neuerthelesse meete with their periods. For it happens that (after kingdoms and commonwealths have flourished for a time) euen tumults, and seditions, and warres arise; in the midst of which hurly burlies: first, lawes are silent, men returne to the prauity of their natures, fields and towns are wasted and depopulated, and then, (if this fury contine) learning and philosophy must needs be dismembered, so that a few fragments only, and in some places will bee found like the scattered boords of shipwracke, so as a barbarous age must follow; and the streams of Helicon being hid under the earth vntill (the vicissitude of things passing) they breake out againe and appeare in some other remote nation, though not perhaps in the same climate. (Sig. Q7v)

Just as Orpheus himself is dismembered, so that all that remains are “a few fragments,” so too is that which he represents, philosophy and learning. Noticeably, Bacon’s description of these events as a cyclical process of gradual deterioration and subsequent renewal brings to mind the myth of the Ages of Man where, as it is first described by Hesiod in the Works and Days, the human race initially lives in the Golden Age. The Golden Age, however, comes to an end and the human race then descends down through the Age of Silver, the Age of Bronze, the Age of Heroes, right down to the Iron Age where, as Hesiod tells us, “there will be no help against evil” (105), until, it is hoped, the Golden Age comes again.[14] Thus here, like in Orpheus and His Journey to Hell, the time of Orpheus is seen as being symbolic of the Golden Age of Man. Moreover, Bacon emphasizes that it was Orpheus himself, through his role of poet as civilizer, who was responsible for the creation of this Golden Age from the previous Iron Age by the introduction of these “lawes” whose absence means that the time of the Golden Age, too, disappears. In an anonymous poem published in 1598, the poet also makes it clear that Orpheus was responsible for the creation of the “goodly golden age.”[15] Bacon, however, unlike the author of the anonymous poem, does not pretend that this Golden time of Orpheus can last forever. Eventually, and inevitably, the Iron Age will come again because, after all, the Renaissance, like the Golden Age, cannot and will not last forever. Like the character of Orpheus whom they so admire, the Renaissance humanists will find that it may not be so easy to be successful in their mission as they might have thought. One way or another, however, the song of Orpheus will always be heard.

Works Cited

Apollonius, Rhodius. The Argonautica. Trans. R.C. Seaton. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1955. Print.

Bacon, Francis. The Wisdom of the Ancients. Printed for H. Herringman, R. Scot, R. Chiswell, A. Swalle, and R. Bentley, 1696. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

Campion, Thomas. A Relation of the Late Royal Entertainment. Printed by William Stansby for John Budge, 1613. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

DeNeef, A. L. “The Poetics of Orpheus: The Text and a Study of Orpheus and His Journey to Hell.” Studies in Philology 89.1 (1992): 20-70. Print.

Fletcher, Phineas. The Purple Island, or the Isle of Man. Printed by the Printers to the U of Cambridge, 1633. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Gifford, Henry. A Poesie of Gilloflowers. Printed by Thomas Dawson for John Perin, 1580. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Gros Louis, Kenneth. “The Triumph and Death of Orpheus in the English Renaissance.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 9.1 (1969): 63-80. Print.

Hesiod. Theogony, Works and Days, Testimonia. Ed. G. Most. London: Harvard UP, 2006. Print.

Horace. Satires, Epistles and Ars Poetica. Ed. H. Fairclough. London: Harvard UP, 1978.

Kempe, William. The Education of Children in Learning. Printed by Thomas Orwin for Iohn Porter and Thomas Gubbin, 1588. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct. 2011.

Leroy, Louis. On the Interchangeable Course, or the Variety of Things in the Whole World. Printed by Charles Yetsweirt Esq., 1594. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Lodge, Thomas. A Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays. London: Shakespeare Society, 1853. Print.

Martindale, Charles, and Michelle Martindale. Shakespeare and the Uses of Antiquity: An Introductory Essay. London: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Miles, Geoffrey. Classical Mythology in English Literature: A Critical Anthology. London: Routledge, 1999. Print.

A Most Pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the Kings Sonne of Valentia and Amadine the Kings Daughter of Arragon. Printed for William Iones, dwelling at Holborne conduit, at the signe of the Gunne, 1598. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

“Natural Philosophy.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 3rd Edition. 2003. Web. 17 Dec. 2011.

“Orpheus.” The Spenser Encyclopedia. 1990. Print.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. The Latin Library, n.d. Web. 8 Nov. 2011.

Plett, Heinreich. F. Rhetoric and Renaissance Culture. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2004. Print.

Puttenham, George. The Art of English Poesy. Ed. R. Puttenham et. al. New York: Cornell UP, 2007. Print.

Rhodes, Neil. The Power of Eloquence and English Renaissance Literature. New York: St. Martin’s P, 1992. Print.

Root, Robert K. Classical Mythology in Shakespeare. New York: H. Holt and Company, 1903. Print.

Sandys, George. Ovid’s Metamorphoses Englished, Oxford 1632. Oxford: Garland Pub., 1976. Print.

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Ed. M. Mahood. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003. Print.

—. The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Ed. K. Schlueter. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990. Print.

Sidney, Philip. An Apology for Poetry: Or, The Defense of Poesy. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1965. Print.

Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. Printed by Richard Field for William Ponsonbie, 1596. Early English Books Online. Web. 20.Oct. 2011.

Warden, John. Orpheus, the Metamorphoses of a Myth. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1982. Print.

Webbe, William. A Discourse of English Poetrie. Printed by Iohn Charlewood for Robert Walley, 1586. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Vaughan, William. The Golden Grove. Printed by Simon Stafford, 1600. Walley, 1586. Early English Books Online. Web. 20 Oct 2011.

Virgil. Virgil: Georgics. Ed. R. Thomas, P. Easterling, and P. Hardie. Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

Justyna Dąbrowska

University of Łódź

Subverting the Gaze, Seducing with the Bible: A Study of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé

The present article engages with the eponymous character of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé and focuses on her subversion of the patriarchal rules, and on her attempts at seducing the prophet Jokanaan. Wilde’s Salomé becomes “an erotic symbol of daring, transgression, and perversity” (Sloan 112). She wants to look at Jokanaan, as well as to be touched by him and openly states her great desire for him, using the imagery taken from the biblical Song of Songs to express her passion. Moreover, the Princess skillfully adopts and reverses the male gaze to manipulate others and go beyond the patriarchal constraints at Herod’s court. She becomes aware that the only way to reach her goals is to look actively and evade being a mere object of the male gaze. The article shows that the imagery employed in the eponymous character’s speeches contributes to her portrayal as a seductress, also accentuating her rebellion, and analyzes how the Princess transgresses the patriarchal constraints through appropriating the male gaze.

 

key words: Oscar Wilde, the Bible, Salomé, the male gaze

Oscar Wilde was not only the author of a prominent novel, stories, poems and essays but also a man of the theatre. Unfortunately, one of his plays suffered from censorship as it not only dramatized a biblical story, but also “represented a radical challenge to Victorian concepts of womanhood and sexuality” (Sloan 111). Obviously, the play in question is Salomé. As opposed to the character’s biblical versions from the gospels of Mark and Matthew, Wilde’s Salomé is referred to as “perverse, monstrous in her desire to control her own sexuality, and so challenge a repressive patriarchal culture” (Sloan 113-14). She is aware of her step-father constantly looking lustfully at her, and, to show her disapproval, she adopts the stance of a usurper and wants to look at the Prophet – Jokanaan. She first engages in a solitary stare by gazing at the moon, but then she subverts Herod’s patriarchal gaze and yearns for looking at the mysterious Prophet captured by her step-father. Salomé’s fascination with Jokanaan is so overpowering that she praises him with her lengthy speeches. In her book Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative, Alice Bach convincingly shows the similarities between Salomé’s monologues praising Jokanaan and the biblical Song of Songs. However, she does not reach any conclusions concerning how these similarities work with regard to Salomé. The present article will try to show that the imagery employed in the eponymous character’s speeches contributes to her portrayal as a seductress and also analyze how she transgresses the patriarchal constraints through appropriating the male gaze.

In certain respects, Wilde’s play seems faithful to the Bible. This is most visible in the presentation of Jokanaan, who is fashioned after the biblical figure of John the Baptist, the emissary of God. However, the fragments of biblical gospels concerning the beheading of John the Baptist have nothing in common with Wilde’s Salomé as far as the depiction of its main character is concerned – the heroine flourishes only in the text of the play. In the Bible the name of Herod’s step daughter is not even mentioned, whereas in the play, she is made the eponymous character and plays a major role in the course of the events. In the play it is Salomé who uses the Tetrarch to have Jokanaan killed, partially because the latter condemns her words of praise directed towards him: “[b]ack! Daughter of Babylon! Come not near the chosen of the Lord” (Wilde 725). By contrast, in St. Matthew it is Herodias who tells her daughter to demand Prophet’s head: “[a]nd she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist’s head in a charger” (King James Bible, Mt. 14.8; emphasis added). St. Mark also mentions the beheading and gives evidence of Herodias’ role in instructing her daughter and finally having John the Baptist decapitated: “[a]nd she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist” (Mk. 6.24; emphasis added). In the gospel of Luke this story is mentioned only briefly; however, the fact that the daughter of Herodias wanted the Prophet to be beheaded is overtly absent. Unlike the Evangelists, Wilde endows Salomé with her own independent agency.

The article will use the biblical references and the concept of the male gaze to demonstrate that Wilde’s Salomé may be viewed as a seductress. This interpretation may prove to be particularly interesting since such a unique depiction of the character is only to be found in Wilde’s play in spite of the fact that the gospel of Mark, where Salomé is only a tool of her mother and has no personality of her own, appealed to the writer most firmly (Bucknell 504). In his play “she becomes a goddess-like symbol of violent love” (Ellmann qtd. in Bach 239). The Princess is a victim of both Herod’s gaze and her own gaze directed at Jokanaan, but, on the other hand, she also uses her look to manipulate others. As Bach observes, “[a]ll . . . characters in Salomé are described through their attempts to see, a combination of vision and insight, except the prophet, who defines himself by language; his sense is hearing and listening” (235).

Salomé is aware of the looks of others who gaze at her, but strikingly the one who is the most attractive for her is Jokanaan, who avoids looking as well as being looked at and decidedly does not want her to stare at him. In order to seduce the Prophet, the eponymous character subverts the male gaze and follows Herod’s example by engaging in the act of lustful looking. By staring at the Prophet Salomé uses the gaze in a way similar to that in which Herod uses it and reverses the patriarchal rules. It can be claimed that imitating the Tetrarch is Salomé’s way of appropriating his power and manipulating Jokanaan in order to make him yield to her charms.

From the very beginning of the play one may observe that princess Salomé is lonely, and, in a way, abandoned by others. She flies from the banquet as she does not want to “socialize” with other guests. She is clearly withdrawn and chooses a kind of self-imposed solitude:

SALOMÉ: How sweet the air is here! I can breathe here! Within there are Jews from Jerusalem who are tearing each other in pieces over their foolish ceremonies, and barbarians who drink and drink, and spill their wine on the pavement, . . . and Romans, brutal and coarse, with their uncouth jargon. Ah! How I loathe the Romans! They are rough and common. (Wilde 721-22)

It can be argued that she is bored with what surrounds her and that she yearns for a change, for something new. She despises the numerous feasts that Herod and her mother love so much. She disdains the vain people celebrating, eating, drinking and focusing only on bodily pleasures. It is clear that she hankers after something quite different but, unfortunately, having been bred in such an environment, the Princess does not know what spirituality is. The only form of resistance she is capable of consists in engaging in some kind of a gaze, similar to that of the Tetrarch, which serves as a means of manifesting her potential, latent power. At the beginning of the play one may notice such a rebellious look being exercised by Salomé:

[h]ow good to see the moon. She is like a little piece of money, you would think she is a little silver flower. The moon is cold and chaste. I am sure she is a virgin, she has a virgin’s beauty. (Wilde 722)

As Bucknell argues, “she escapes the gaze of Herod in order to engage in a view of her own” (517).

Salomé knows that she is an object of Herod’s gaze, but she is also aware that she can look at something on her own and thus experience pleasure. Initially, it is the moon that becomes the object of her stare. Salomé compares her own features to those of the moon. What is worth noticing is the fact that Salomé is surrounded by earthly things and her similes pertaining to the moon are also of this kind. The moon in Wilde’s play resembles a coin and a silver flower, i.e. precious items which the Princess has in excess. On the other hand, she sees the moon as a virgin, and thus, as one may argue, she identifies with it, because she is also chaste. Bearing these similarities in mind, one may notice the emergence of Salomé’s great desire for spirituality in her speech. She is aware of the debauchery that takes place at Herod’s court, but she wants to oppose it by asserting her virginity and showing her loathing for the banquets.

When referring to the lustful gaze of Herod and its subversion traced in Salomé’s actions, it is important to turn to the concept of the male gaze. By reversing and adopting this kind of look, the eponymous character shows her liberation and freedom, as she demonstrates that she is capable of the look usually associated with the other sex. Feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey identified this way of looking and coined the term “male gaze” to describe it. She developed this concept to convey the idea that only men take the active role while gazing at the representatives of the opposite sex, who are, in consequence, objectified and passive. Invoking Mulvey, Shohini Chaudhuri states that “spectators are encouraged to identify with the look of the male hero and make the heroine a passive object of erotic spectacle” (31). Moreover, in her article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Mulvey herself suggests that the patriarchal society deprives women of the right to function on their own, and subjects them to male actions:

[w]oman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning. (747)

One may, however, argue that, from the theoretical standpoint, it is not the medium that is important but the relation between the viewer – a man – and the object – a woman. Despite the fact that Mulvey writes about the cinema and the audience looking at a woman on the screen, the concept can also be applied to Wilde’s play, since, for Herod, Salomé’s dance of the seven veils is, in fact, a kind of a performance Moreover, her very presence at the court is a peculiar spectacle which definitely places Herod in the position of a member of the audience. Thus, the use of the concept of the male gaze may be justified in the case of the Tetrarch’s look.

The objectifying power discussed by Mulvey imprisons Salomé by the force of its patriarchal constraints and, as Marcovitch claims, “Salome’s actions turn destructive because her limited ability to exert her will causes her power to be perverted” (93). Salomé is held captive at the court and is only “a figure of iconic beauty and an object of sexual desire” (93), especially Herod’s. In this context, one may refer to the term “scopophilia” or “pleasure in looking” coined by Freud. Chaudhuri explains this concept in the following way: “scopophilia involves taking people as objects for sexual stimulation through sight” (34). Thus, a woman is possessed by a man who, by staring continuously at her, makes her an object of his sexual desire. In Wilde’s play, the eponymous character is aware of being a victim of this kind of scopophilic male gaze and of the fact that the only way to flee from the patriarchal constrains and to become a seductress rather than an object, is to adopt the male gaze, despite being a woman.

Garland-Thomson points out that “the male gaze is men doing something to women” (41). Thus, we can say that Salomé is oppressed by the lascivious gaze of Herod and that his “[l]ooking at Salome is an attempt to own Salome, to turn her into the Salome each one who looks at her wants her to be” (Marcovitch 94). However, we should also bear in mind that the eponymous character is partially aware of the fact that Herod feels lust for her and uses this to her advantage. Marcovitch explains that “[b]y treating Salome as an object, Herod neglects the fact that Salome too can see, can desire and can use the power she possesses as princess of the court to her own ends” (96).

Herod is unable to foresee that his lust may be turned against him and, consequently, used to destroy him. As Garland-Thomson argues, the gaze as performed by men does something to women, decidedly something harmful. A powerful woman who does not want to be captured by patriarchal constraints can subvert this look and use the male gaze from a female perspective; this is exactly what Salomé does. What helps her in trying to achieve a position of power and dominance is the imagery alluding to the biblical Song of Songs which she uses in her words addressed to Jokanaan.

The opportunity for a rebellion comes when Salomé hears sounds from the cistern. They are made by Jokanaan, who immediately captures Salomé’s attention. She is aware that the Tetrarch is afraid of him, so she wants to know who this extraordinary man is: “[a]h, the prophet! He of whom the Tetrarch is afraid?” (Wilde 722). She wants to see him, and here for the second time she exercises the act of looking when she induces the Young Syrian to bring Jokanaan from the cistern:

SALOMÉ: You will do this for me, Narraboth. You know that you will do this thing for me. And tomorrow when I pass in my litter by the bridge of the idol-buyers, I will look at you through the muslin veils; I will look at you, Narraboth. (Wilde 723)

Salomé becomes aware that her look can be as powerful as Herod’s, and that she can achieve something with it. She calls the Young Syrian by his name, thus condescending to him while apparently trying to befriend him. The Princess begins to understand that she can manipulate others with her gaze, and, having realized this, she promises Narraboth that she will look at him, at the same time being aware that because of her gaze he will do whatever she wants. Bach states that:

[l]ooking is an aggressive maneuver, seeking to hold the object in its view. Looking must be controlled by the male. Driving the aggressive ownership of the gaze is the fear of becoming an object, that is, a fear of being looked at. I need to look so as not to be looked at. I must control the gaze, lest the gaze control me and engulf me. (167)

As was said previously, Salomé fears Herod’s intense look and wants to escape it. Then, she becomes aware that the best way to flee is to adopt a stance of the usurper and look actively. By doing this, the protagonist subverts and challenges the traditional order of the gaze within which it is men who look at women. Salomé transgresses this constraint, thus reversing power relations and even gender roles. By looking, she adopts the male position. As Tookey contends, the reader “find[s] this confusion – or, at least, a slippery quality to the notions of subject and object, an oscillation between ‘looker’ and ‘looked-at’” (30).

When Salomé encounters Jokanaan for the first time, she “looks at him and steps slowly back” (Wilde 724). She is afraid of him and, at the same time, aware of his oddity. Salomé’s negative attitude deepens when she acknowledges the fact that Jokanaan is speaking a lot of abusive words about her mother. She then exclaims: “[b]ut he is terrible, he is terrible!” (Wilde 724). Notwithstanding her fear or even hatred, she begins to be interested in this strange man and says: “I must look at him closer” (Wilde 725). She wants to come nearer, to look at him from a smaller distance. Jokanaan’s accusations of Herodias’ incest and blasphemy are now for Salomé a proof that the Prophet also objects to the pervading depravity of the court. As Janicka-Świderska argues, “she instinctively draws near to somebody who stands against the court, of whom her step-father is afraid and who is a severe judge of her mother” (120). What is more, Salomé is attracted to Jokanaan also because of the fact that he is unknown to her, that he represents the spirituality which she yearns for, and it is at the moment of their first encounter that she realizes that the Prophet embodies this particular quality which she lacks. As Janicka-Świderska aptly states, “Jokanaan, who is near, appears to her as a model of masculine and spiritual beauty, and consequently becomes the object of her physical and spiritual yearning” (120), and it is evident that in the person of Jokanaan Salomé has finally found what she has been looking for and what has been lacking in her existence. Her yearning for the spiritual world and the sphere of sacrum that Jokanaan represents is later signalled by her use of biblical imagery to praise the Prophet who is, obviously, an envoy of God. Moreover, Salomé “through her longing and desire for him . . . subconsciously expresses her longing for a mystic life” (Janicka-Świderska 123). At this point, the reader/audience are likely to notice that Salomé is much different from her incestuous mother and lustful step-father.

During the first encounter with the Prophet, Salomé starts to praise Jokanaan with her lengthy speeches as she becomes enchanted with what was heretofore so fearful to her, and now she “gets attracted to what is monstrous and terrifying, as in fairy tale” (Janicka-Świderska 120). She wants to establish a closer relationship with Jokanaan, and to achieve this she describes him as similar to herself. As Bucknell argues, “Salomé’s gaze seems to cause a shift in Jokanaan’s gender, and subsequently, she identifies Jokanaan with herself” (517). She uses virginal similes when talking about him: “[t]hy body is white like the lilies of a field that the mower hath never mowed. Thy body is white like the snows that lie on the mountains” (Wilde 725). The use of the colour white as well as the allusions to a never-mowed field, and snow lying very high, never touched by anybody, immediately draw attention to Salomé herself. As was argued before, despite the fact that she is surrounded by iniquities of the court, Salomé is a chaste virgin and describes the Prophet in precisely the same way.

The protagonist’s paeans are not met with approval, nonetheless. Salomé is full of the passion to look, touch and be close to Jokanaan, but he withdraws, even throwing calumnies at her. Salomé praises Jokanaan’s body and hair, but when she notices the rejection on his part, she automatically speaks in derogative terms about the earlier-glorified body parts. Interestingly, it is “only his mouth [that] escapes her ambivalence” (Finney 183). She praises his lips: “[t]hy mouth is like a band of scarlet on a tower of ivory” (Wilde 726), but when she wants to kiss them, and this obviously meets with a rebuke from Jokanaan, she does not verbally disgrace this part of the Prophet’s body. It can be claimed that Salomé is subconsciously aware that the mouth is a sacred part of Jokanaan’s body, because he is a vessel for the words of God. Such a claim may also be supported by the fact that the tower of ivory invoked by Salomé should, as will later be argued, be viewed as a reference to the biblical Tower of David, one of the most important buildings in the Holy City of Jerusalem. Thus, given her craving for spirituality, Salomé intuitively refrains from attacking and profaning it.

The most interesting aspect of the confrontation between Salomé and Jokanaan is the imagery that the former employs to speak about the latter. Here her lustful look towards the Prophet is very visible and the emotions burst. It is the imagery that she uses that makes her passion so conspicuous. Bach observes: “[a] number of scholars have noted the linguistic parallels between the figure of Salomé and the female lover in the English version of Song of Songs” (Bach 236). However, she immediately notes that, in fact, “Wilde expresses his fondness for character inversion by reassigning the male lover’s descriptions of the female lover in the Song to Salomé’s musings about the beauty of Iohanaan” (236). One may notice that Salomé transgresses gender roles and takes the position of the male lover from the Song of Songs when expressing her desire. However, as was shown before, Salomé’s yearning for intimacy with Jokanaan is unreciprocated. Perhaps, as Bach observes, Salomé wants to kiss Jokanaan without actually desiring to be kissed (236). She thus adopts a stance of the active leader in this strange relationship. What is ironic, though, is the fact that one may observe a “total absence of mutuality” (Bach 236).

As for the similarities between the imagery used by the protagonist and the biblical Song, they are so prominent that Bach easily collates them in the form of a table (237-38). She draws attention to the fact that Salomé compares Jokanaan’s body to lilies and roses, whereas the female lover from the Song of Songs talks about herself as a rose and lily (237).[16] At this point, it is very clear that the Princess presents Jokanaan in feminine terms, and uses the imagery from the biblical Song. What is more, Bach also shows that Salomé’s praises are very similar to those of the male lover from the Song when she collates his animalistic imagery (eyes like doves, hair like goats)[17] with Salomé’s comparison of Jokanaan’s body to a garden of doves.[18] Moreover, as Bach presents it, the male lover describes his lover’s cheeks as halves of pomegranate behind the veil,[19] and Salomé uses exactly the same simile while talking about Jokanaan’s mouth.[20] The muslin veils are also present, but in Salomé it is the title character who will look at the Young Syrian through them, while in the Song the male lover is talking about his beloved’s veils (237). It can be argued that without the biblical imagery taken from the Song, Salomé’s imagery would be far cruder and her sexuality and desire would not be seen as overflowing with such power. Comparing Salomé and the male lover from the Song, Bach also draws attention to the similarity between the uses of the imagery of the tower and fruits. When the male lover is praising his lover’s neck, he talks about the tower of David,[21] whereas for Salomé Jokanaan’s mouth is like a “band of scarlet on a tower of ivory” (Wilde 726).[22] Additionally, the lover from the Bible talks about coming to his garden (to his beloved), eating and drinking wine and milk,[23] and in Salomé’s speeches it is easy to perceive the importance of wine and fruits when she states that they cannot satisfy her desire (Wilde 741).[24] One may conclude that Salomé wanted to render Jokanaan feminine in her eyes, to make him the object of the male gaze, one that may, at the same time, be contemplated (tower of ivory, lilies or doves) and consumed (pomegranate, grapes or wine), and all the similes the Princess adopts from the speeches of the male lover in the Song of Songsstrongly suggest this.

On the other hand, it is worth observing that, when it comes to talking about love and its infinity, Salomé uses the words of the female lover. In her careful considerations of the similarities between Salomé’s speeches and those from the Song of Songs, Bach compares at one point the female lover to Salomé,[25] and she does so when taking into account not only the imagery, but also love and its strength. In her last monologue Salomé says that love is stronger than death and that nothing can destroy it: “[n]either the floods nor the great waters can quench my passion . . . Well I know that thou wouldst have loved me, and the mystery of love is greater that the mystery of death” (Wilde 741).[26]The heroine’s statement resembles that of the female lover from the Song, who says that love is as firm and powerful as death and that floods cannot drown it.[27] Upon noticing that in this passage Salomé does not use the words of the male lover from the Song but those of the female one, one may argue that Salomé is thus not confined by the patriarchal constraints, but strenuously resists them; by speaking the language of not only the male, but also the female lover from the Song of Songs she proves her defiance. She does not allow for the binary opposition of male versus female to limit her; she subverts this dichotomy, being able to take on the language of either lover from the Song. Thus, as Bach aptly observes, she sees herself in the role of both lovers: male and female (236).

What is more, with the help of the biblical Song, it may be argued that Salomé is more than an object of the gaze, and becomes a brilliant seductress who knows what she has to do in order to fulfil her great desire. It is through the similarities with the Song of Songs that this passion is created in the character. These similarities help the protagonist to express herself. Bach has traced some of them but more analogies with the Song than those that she mentions can be observed. When Salomé says: “[s]peak again, Jokanaan. Thy voice is wine to me” (Wilde 725) and when she wants to see him, this is indubitably similar to what the male lover from the Songtells his beloved: “let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song of Sg. 2.14). Subsequently, Salomé expresses her admiration for Jokanaan’s hair: “[t]hy hair is like the cedars of Lebanon, like the great cedars of Lebanon that give their shade to the lions” (Wilde 726). Again, her speech is analogous to that of the male lover from the Bible: “[c]ome with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, from the mountains of the leopards” (Song of Sg. 4.8). The passage includes animal imagery: the lions are a symbol of great power, a kingly one, and Salomé may be invoking them in order to show that she reverses the gender hierarchy at the court and is an independent woman, fully aware of her female power.

Furthermore, one may trace some similarities to Herod’s verbal advances towards Salomé in her speech. When the Tetrarch wants to dissuade the Princess from demanding the head of Jokanaan, he offers to give her his greatest treasures: “I have jewels hidden in this place . . . jewels that are marvellous” (Wilde 739). He then talks about amethysts, topazes, moonstones and other precious gems. Like Salomé did earlier, Herod uses the Song of Songs’ imagery: “[t]hy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold ”(Song of Sg. 1.10; emphasis original). It can be argued that Salomé “desires Jokanaan first aesthetically, then sexually, and finally spiritually” (Im 372), and that, in the first two cases, her desire is similar to Herod’s passion towards her. Thus, she is seen to use imagery comparable not only to that from the biblical Song, but also to that used by Herod, which, most interestingly, is similar to the Song of Songs in some aspects. Yet, it needs to be stressed that Herod uses the abovementioned similes to talk about jewellery which serves as a gift for Salomé that could discourage her from having Jokanaan killed, whereas for Salomé the similes are a means of presenting her emotions, spiritual yearning and desires, which is much closer to the idea behind the Song of Songs which is often interpreted as an expression of the love of God towards the people of Israel.

Moreover, as Marcovitch posits, “[s]ince she [i.e. Salomé] is seen as an object of desire, the only actions she knows how to perform are those that stem from desire” (94). Bearing this in mind, it is clear that Salomé’s wooing is firmly connected with her background and with what she has experienced herself. Pursuing this argument further, it may be observed that Jokanaan, being the envoy of God, is a man who longs for truly spiritual experience. Salomé, who in fact wants something more than bodily sensations, is so much governed by them that she does not know how to express her yearning and gives Jokanaan the wrong signals. Furthermore, Marcovitch states that “Salome’s attempted seduction of Jokanaan is an endeavour to find power outside of the court and particularly to find a form of subjective power, one in which her power is not dependent on the gazes of others” (98). As was argued before, Salomé’s seduction is also a way to flee from patriarchal constraints and to show how independent she wants to be. Thus, the claim that she is both a seductress and an object of Herod’s gaze is justified.

Ultimately, Salomé’s desire cannot be fulfilled and the only way for her to reach her goal is to demand the head of the man with whom she is so enchanted. As the play shows, she succeeds in enforcing the killing of Jokanaan on Herod, and she can finally kiss his now dead lips: “[a]h! thou wouldst not suffer me to kiss thy mouth, Jokanaan. Well! I will kiss it now. I will bite it with my teeth as one bites a ripe fruit” (Wilde 740). Notwithstanding the fact that her beloved is dead, she is still full of passion and insatiable desire. Although one can suspect Salomé of being ruthless and devoid of feelings, she admits defeat on her part: “I was a princess, and thou didst scorn me. I was a virgin, and thou didst take my virginity from me. I was chaste, and thou didst fill my veins with fire” (Wilde 741). Bucknell points out: “Salomé’s last speeches repeat her earlier blazon. She tells the head, the icon of castration, that it is she who has lost” (523; emphasis original). Thus, she knows that she has failed and that her desire will never be fulfilled. She is aware of her tragic situation, and she does not attempt to hide it. At this point one can argue that she does not succeed as a seductress, because she finally admits her failure; on the other hand, however, it is worth remembering that at this moment it is too late – Jokanaan is dead and it is Salomé’s passion that caused it.

All the aforementioned arguments lead to the conclusion that Salomé looks at Jokanaan lustfully and that her behaviour is, in fact, very similar to what Herod does to her. Her passionate gaze, which acquires the characteristics of the male gaze, subverts the traditional patriarchal order in which it is the men who look at women. She causes the death of the Young Syrian also by promising to gaze at him and she does so in order to look at what she desires most, that is the Prophet. Salomé wants something more than the bodily revels of the court, but she does not fully know how to express it. The imagery that she uses is very similar to that of the Song of Songs and her lengthy speeches, characterized by great sensuality, help her to express herself. On the other hand, however, Salomé’s words to Jokanaan prove that she is a seductress rather than a guiltless object of Herod’s sexual desire and lustful look. The similarities between her monologues and the biblical Song of Songs help Salomé in being a perfect wooer, but it is her desire that causes the death of the Young Syrian, Jokanaan and finally her own. As Marcovitch claims, “Salome’s desire, breaking free from the limits her persona imposed on it, ends up consuming her as well” (100). She admits at the end that she is not a winner but a loser, one who killed her beloved by desiring him too much.

Works Cited

Bach, Alice. Women, Seduction, and Betrayal in Biblical Narrative. New York: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print.

Bucknell, Brad. “On ‘Seeing’ Salome.” ELH 60.2 (1993): 503-26. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

Chaudhuri, Shohini. “The Male Gaze.” Feminist Film Theorists Laura Mulvey, Kaja Silverman, Teresa de Lauretis, Barbara Creed. Ed. Shohini Chaudhuri. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2006. 31-44. Pdf.

Finney, Gail. “Demythologizing the Femme Fatale: Wilde’s Salomé.” The Routledge Reader in Gender and Performance. 1998. Ed. Lizbeth Goodman and Jane de Gay. London: Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2002. 182-86. Pdf.

Garland-Thomson, Rosemarie. Staring: How We Look. New York: Oxford UP, 2009. Print.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, [1995]. Print.

Im, Yeeyon. “Oscar Wilde’s Salomé: Disorienting Orientalism.” Comparative Drama. 45.4 (2011): 361-80. Web. 14 Dec. 2012.

Janicka-Świderska, Irena. “Dance in Modernist Drama: Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats.” Dance in Drama. Łódź: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Łódzkiego, 1992. 117-57. Print.

Marcovitch, Heather. “The Princess, Persona, and Subjective Desire: A Reading of Oscar Wilde’s Salome.” PLL 40.1 (2004): 88-101. Web. 22 Dec. 2012.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism Introductory Readings. 4th ed. Ed Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen and Leo Braudy. New York: Oxford UP, 1992. 746-57. Pdf.

Pismo Święte Starego i Nowego Testamentu, Biblia Tysiąclecia. Ed. Kazimierz Dynarski SAC and Maria Przybył. Poznań: Pallottinum, 2005. Print.

Sloan, John. Oscar Wilde. New York: Oxford UP, 2003. Print.

Tookey, Helen. “‘The Fiend that Smites with a Look’: The Monstrous/Menstruous Woman and the Danger of the Gaze in Oscar Wilde’s Salomé.” Literature & Theology 18.1 (2004): 23-37. Web. 16 Nov. 2012.

Treat, Jay C. “Song of Songs: To the Reader.” A New English Translation of the Septuagint. Ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin G. Wright. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. 657-61. Electronic Edition of NETS. Web. 11 Feb. 2013.

Wilde, Oscar. Salomé. The Collected Works of Oscar Wilde. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth, 1997. 717-42. Print.

 

Katarzyna Lisowska

University of Wrocław

Women and Intertextuality: On the Example of Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad

The aim of the study is to consider feminist retellings of myths and legends. As an example, Margaret Atwood’s book The Penelopiad is analyzed. The interpretation is situated in a broader context of intertextual practices characteristic of the feminist vision of literature. I present the ideas which Atwood shares with authors engaged in women’s movement. Among these there is Atwood’s understanding of intertextuality (noticeable especially in The Penelopiad). Bibliographical basis of the study comprises books which are fundamental to feminist and gender criticism (e.g. Poetics of Gender, ed. by N. Miller, New York 1986; S. M. Gilbert, S. Gubar The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, New Haven and London 1984). What is more, the study refers to the books which allow considering the notion of intertextuality (G. Allen, Intertextuality, London and New York 2010, J. Clayton. E. Rothstein (eds.), Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History, Wisconsin 1991) and connecting the interpretation with the problems crucial to contemporary literary studies (L. Hutcheon L. A Poetics of Postmodernism. History, Theory, Fiction, New York and London 1988, B. Johnson, A World of Difference, Baltimore and London 1989).

 

key words: Intertextuality, feminist literary criticism, arachnology, reinterpretation, humour

Margaret Atwood’s novel The Penelopiad[28] inspires to reflect upon the relationship between women’s writing and intertextuality. Therefore, I will argue that the book could be situated in the perspective of feminist literary criticism. What is more, some strategies employed in The Penelopiad encourage us to analyze the very notion of intertextuality. Thus, the feminist reading will be combined with methodological observations. I will also concentrate on the comic features of the novel which are, in my opinion, crucial in attempting to characterize the concept of intertextuality presented in the The Penelopiad.

To begin with, I would like to mention the aspects of intertextual theory which will be useful in further analysis. The term “intertextuality” refers to the interaction between (or within) texts.[29] The consequence of this interaction is a situation in which “meanings in one kind of discourse are overlaid with meanings from another kind of discourse” (Cuddon 454). In other words, as Julia Kristeva presents it, intertextuality is the “transposition of one (or several) sign-system(s) into another” (Kristeva, “Revolution in Poetic Language” 111).[30] In fact, many theorists claim that “any one literary text echoes, or is inescapably linked to, other texts” (Abrams 200). Bearing that in mind, I would like to consider Atwood’s novel as an intentional exploration of the potential of intertextual writing (and reading) strategies. It would also be useful to recall Wanda Rulewicz’s remarks on the types of intertextual references. (Rulewicz 232–33).[31] In the analyzed book intertexts “concern the story which already appeared in prior texts” (Rulewicz 232) and add “new dimensions” to the novel (Rulewicz 232).[32]

Intertextuality can also be treated as a “theoretical framework” which is “both hermeneutic and formalistic” (Hutcheon 127) and, therefore, enables one to place literary texts in various contexts. Because of that, Atwood’s novel can be analyzed in textual and semantic terms.[33] What is more, intertextuality is a strategy which settles the book in a broader perspective since through its “critical relation to the ‘world’ of discourse” the critical relation “to society and politics” (Hutcheon 140) is possible too.[34] It is also worth mentioning that in the presented case the differentiation between the notions of intertextuality and influence is not necessary.[35] Furthermore, I believe that the emphasis on the subjective aspect of the writing (telling) process and the revaluation of the agency are connected with the feminist background of the novel. As a consequence, intertextual strategies present in the novel are reformulated by “questions of gender” (Johnson 124) and represent a broader view on intertextuality in which the problems of gender roles and sexual identity are considered[36] (Clayton and Rothstein 26).

At this point some more theoretical specifications are necessary. My observations will refer mainly to Penelope, who is the main performer of the narrative. Unlike in most studies written from the feminist perspective (e.g. in the theory of “arachnology,” cf. latter part of the present text), the reflection upon the author will be replaced with the reflection upon the narrator. This issue will be developed in the latter part of the study. Proceeding to a more detailed analysis of the novel, I would also like to stress that within its narration both segments of the term “intertextuality” are tightly interwoven. As a consequence, they determine their meanings reciprocally. In order to present my ideas clearly, I will begin with the analysis of the dialogical aspect of the book and its relational location.

First of all, it is worth noticing that in the Introductionthe author admits, and at the same time stresses, that the novel is indebted to other texts, which enabled Atwood to create a new story:

Mythic material was originally oral, and also local – a myth would be told in one way in one place and quite differently in another. I have drawn on material other than The Odyssey, especially for the details of Penelope’s parentage, her early life and marriage, and the scandalous rumours circulating about her.[37] (Atwood, Introduction xiv)

It is therefore possible to pose the question of how the novel places itself in the history of literature (Kristeva, “Problemy strukturowania tekstu” 246). Such a reinterpretation of Penelope’s story could be described in terms of female writing strategies. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar associated this procedure with “assaulting and revising, deconstructing and reconstructing . . . images inherited from male literature” (Gilbert and Gubar 75). The tendency to “revise” and “deconstruct” the official narration could be ascribed to the idea underlying the novel, which is to retell the story of the twelve maids hanged by Telemachus:

The maids form a . . . Chorus which focuses on two questions which must pose themselves after any close reading of The Odyssey: what led to the hanging of the maids, and what was Penelope really up to? The story in The Odyssey doesn’t hold water: there are too many inconsistencies. I’ve always been haunted by the maids and, in The Penelopiad, so is Penelope herself. (Atwood, Introduction xv)

Many other passages are also aimed at reformulating Penelope’s story, whose main subject are private feelings of the main character:

And what did I amount to, once the official version gained ground? An edifying legend. A stick used to beat other women. . . . Don’t follow my example, I want to scream in your ears – yes, yours! . . . Now that all the others have run out of air, it’s my turn to do a little story-making. I owe it to myself. (P 2­-3; emphasis original)

The same can be observed in the following fragment of the novel, which stresses the role of the character’s individual perspective too (this issue will be raised in the further paragraphs):

The songs say I didn’t notice a thing because Athene had distracted me. If you believe that, you’ll believe all sorts of nonsense. In reality I’d turned my back on the two of them [Odysseus and Eurycleia] to hide my silent laughter at the success of my little surprise. (P 140-41)

The passages quoted represent the feminist idea of “retrieving” (Gilbert and Gubar 75) the lost and forgotten history of women’s participation in culture. A theoretical concept is thus inserted in the literature (Gilbert and Gubar 75). As a consequence, the tragedy, considered as a genre dominated by male authors and characters, is reinterpreted from the female perspective, which is due not only to Penelope, but also to the role other women play in the novel (see e.g.: the maids’ chorus, Eurycleia).

I would like to stress that Penelope reminds the reader that her version is one of many possible presentations of the story. She seems to treat history in general and myth and legends in particular as forms of narration – subjective and prone to transformations. It can be noticed in many metanarrative phrases (see e.g. P 49: “It’s said that in answer I pulled down my veil, being too modest to proclaim in words my desire for my husband . . . There is some truth to this story”). What is more, by comparing the narration with acting, the narrator emphasizes the fictionality and artificiality of the story: “All of this was play-acting: the fiction was that the bride had been stolen, and the consummation of a marriage was supposed to be a sanctioned rape” (P 44). The metanarrative perspective is enhanced by expressions which, apart from enabling us to place the text in a broader intertextual context, incite reflection upon the literary quality itself. This observation refers to the parts in which the collage-like quality[38] of literature is exposed. A particular work is thus considered to be a compilation of other literary texts:

He [i.e. Odysseus] too appeared in the songs and I relished those moments. . . . Needless to say, the minstrels took up these themes and embroidered them considerably. They always sang the noblest versions in my presence – the ones in which Odysseus was clever, brave, and resourceful, and battling supernatural monsters, and beloved by goddesses. (P 81-82; 84)

Also, the final chapters, especially the ones in which “the trail of Odysseus” is described (“XXIV The Chorus Line: An Anthropology Lecture,” 163-68, “XXVI The Chorus Line: The Trail of Odysseus, as Videotaped by the Maids,” 175-84), present the story from “the outside.” Thus the narration becomes an object of reformulations and changeable interpretations (see e.g.: “‘I understand the interpretation of the whole Trojan War episode has changed. . . . Now they think you were just a myth’” (P 187). These strategies question “the relation of language to reality” (Hutcheon 141) and thus, function as a way of deconstructing the official version of Penelope’s story.

Adding personal themes to the narration serves as another mode of deconstruction within the text. Penelope does not hesitate to stress her individual perspective:

What can I tell you about the next ten years? . . . Only sometimes did I think of it [the sun] as the flaming chariot of Helios. . . .We had news of how the war with Troy was going . . . I waited only for news about Odysseus. When would he come back and relieve my boredom? (P 81)

She also devotes some parts of the narration to constructing a description of her relationship with the son, Telemachus. Those parts are humorous and – what is particularly important – based on ordinary activities and rooted in everyday experience:

I resolved to have a word with him [Piraeus] later, and speak to his parents about letting him run so wild. Theoclymenus was a stranger. He seemed nice enough, but I made a mental note to find out what could be his ancestry, because boys the age of Telemachus can so easily get into the wrong company. [/] Telemachus wolfed down the food and knocked back the wine, and I reproached myself for not having taught him better table manners. Nobody could say I hadn’t tried. (P 129)

The act of evoking casual behaviours and problems may be treated as an intertextual signal which connects the novel with the tradition of female writing.[39] Also, the emphasis on personal perspective links the novel with some of the theories of intertextuality elaborated by feminist literary criticism. Nancy Miller’s “arachnology”could be the basic point of reference since it “reintroduces” the woman writer (here: the narrator)[40] into the text (Friedman 158) and presents intertextuality as a writing practice “centered in an embodied and gendered agent” (Clayton and Rothstein 29).

Thus, as I have already mentioned, feminist writing and reading strategies seem to be the basic source of intertextual references in The Penelopiad. Apart from the issues analyzed in the preceding paragraphs, a few important themes should be mentioned. First of all, the act of choosing Penelope’s story as the basis for the novel is, as Gilbert and Gubar would see it, aimed at reaching “toward the woman trapped on the other side of the mirror / text” and helping “her to climb out” (16).

Secondly, the reinterpretations of The Iliad and, more importantly, The Odyssey lead to the reinterpretation of the epic and the tragedy as literary genres. It is thus to be noticed that one of the types of intertextuality is applied here – namely, the strategy based on references to particular literary styles and forms (Sławiński 219).[41] This process could also be treated as “the difficult task of achieving true female literary authority by simultaneously conforming to and subverting patriarchal literary standards” (Gilbert and Gubar 73). The epic is evoked e.g. by the mythological subject of the story, the coexistence of the two dimensions of the action (the world of gods and the human world) and the episodic character of the narration (Sławiński 138–39). The reference to the tragedy is to be noticed e.g. in the significant role of the chorus[42] and the composition of its lines (Sławiński 586). The transformation of the genres traditionally considered as forms typical of “classical humanism” (Kristeva, Word, Dialogue 50) is also of great significance. Therefore, by reinterpreting motifs borrowed from official discourse of culture, Atwood’s novel “not only revises the male tradition, but also invites the male tradition to re-vision itself” (Johnson 133). In the book one may also find references to some well-known and still relevant forms of popular writing.[43] Therefore, intertextual strategies present in female writing in general, and in Atwood’s novel in particular could be seen as important factors which influence the broadly defined literary canon.[44]

“Feminist critical method” (Friedman 158) is also to be revealed in a detailed textual analysis. It is worth noticing that the motive of the shroud woven by Penelope can be associated with Miller’s “arachnology.” It is to be noticed in the following fragment:

Here is what I did. I set up a large piece of weaving on my loom, and said it was a shroud for my father-in-law, Laeartes . . . All day I would work away at my loom, weaving diligently, and saying melancholy things. (P 112-13)

Furthermore, Penelope evokes a fantasy of “enclosure,” which is also a popular motive associated with female writing (Showalter 33):[45] “I spent the whole days in my room – not the room I used to share with Odysseus, no, I couldn’t bear that, but in the room of my own in the women’s quarters” (P 109).[46]

The strong relationship between Penelope and the maids is presented as a bond of sisterhood: “We were almost like sisters” (P 114). This bond is opposed to the official, patriarchal narration: “We told stories as we worked away at our task of deconstruction” (P 114). The process of “assaulting and revising” (Gilbert and Gubar 75) this type of narratives is also manifested in the lexis employed by the author. This is the case with the title of one of the chapters, “Odysseus and Telemachus Snuff the Maids” (P 157), which could be considered as a feminist strategy of “overreading” the text (Miller 288; see also: footnote 19).

What is more, intertextual strategies are also likely to be found in the narrations of all subjects which are “different” and “marginalized” within the “official” literary canon (Hutcheon 130; 134).[47] Therefore, women writers, who have traditionally been included in the group of the excluded, “use and abuse” (Hutcheon 134) conventions borrowed from the canon. In consequence, a monological narration is replaced with a dialogue (Allen 161).[48] Dialogic, and thus intertextual,[49] structure of the text becomes a mode of “exploring the manner in which the writing of women, along with other marginalized groups, is always a mixture of available discursive possibilities” (Allen 160). In The Penelopiad, then, the feminist strategies enable Atwood to construct a specific kind of “the ironic intertextuality” which allows the writer to “set up and challenge male traditions in art” (Hutcheon 134) and reinterpret Penelope’s story.

Nevertheless, the relation between the novel and the feminist literary criticism is by no means that of a simple adaptation. In fact, the references to feminist writing and reading strategies are based on critical reflection. One may actually observe an intertextual dialogue with some ideas of feminist literary criticism. The attitude towards Miller’s theory is a good example. Instead of stressing her “attachment” to the text,[50] the narrator expresses her reluctance to be “entangled” in the process of writing, practically directly referring to the feminist reflection upon the literature:

The shroud itself became a story almost instantly. ‘Penelope’s web’, it was called . . . I did not appreciate the term web. If the shroud was a web, then I was the spider. But I had not been attempting to catch men like flies: on the contrary, I’d merely been trying to avoid entanglement myself. (P 119; emphasis original)

One may also find many conscious references to various literary contexts in the book (cf. Introduction and Notes). It could be read as an opposition to Miller’s call for writing and reading “as it had never been read, as if for the first time” (274).

These issues indicate the role of the “textual” aspect of the strategies present in the novel. The emphasis on the “textuality” is to be noticed in the passages which can be described as autothematic or at least metatextual:“One story has it that I was the payment for service Odysseus had rendered to Tyndareus. . . . But I have another idea, and here it is. . . . Whatever was behind it, Odysseus cheated and won the race” (P 36–37). Such phrases indicate that the text creates the meanings of the story since there is no simple relation between the narration and the reality. A similar function could also be ascribed to “the chorus lines” (see e.g.: “The Chorus Line: If I Was A Princess, A Popular Tune”; “The Chorus Line: The Birth of Telemachus, An Idyll”)– the chapters written as songs to be sung by the twelve maids. I suggest considering these parts of the book as signals of the carnivalesque play with the text, an issue which is to be analyzed in the next paragraphs.

What is more, the dialogue present in the novel is mainly a dialogue with other texts. The use of the feminist idea of deconstructing “the mirror of the male-inscribed literary text” (Gilbert and Gubar 15) is a good example. In other words, “the ‘world’ in which these texts situate themselves is the ‘world’ of discourse, the ‘world’ of texts and intertexts” (Hutcheon 125). Because of that, it seems more appropriate to concentrate on analyzing the utterances given by Penelope as a narrator instead of, as Miller does, “introducing” the author into the novel. In fact, Penelope herself becomes the author defined as “a gendered agent” (Clayton and Rothstein 29) who “breaks into” the myth (Allen 156) to mark her individual perspective. However, referring to Mikhail Bakhtin’s and Kristeva’s remarks, I would like to stress that the texts of the novel is rooted in “cultural” and “social textuality” (Allen 36) too. These categories prevent us from separating The Penelopiad from its historical and social context (Allen 36). Kristeva describes this relations as „an ideologeme” (Allen 37) – that is: a function “which connects the individual utterance with other texts (Kristeva, “Problemy strukturowania tekstu” 247).[51] This observation enables the combination of textually and socially orientated interpretation.

The role of the textual aspect of the narration and the reference to feminist context are two features which characterize intertextual strategies present in The Penelopiad. However, what is specific to the book is its comic character. This feature is to be noticed in the novel’s humorous elements, which allow us to connect it to Bakhtin’s works again. At this point one should recall Bakhtin’s theory of intertextuality since it is an important background to many feminist presentations of the problem.[52] I have already referred to the role that the dialogical orientation of the text plays in these theories. This preference for the dialogue may have been inspired by Bakhtin (Allen 159–64). What is more, the dialogue allows for granting the voice to “the others.” One of the personifications of “the other” in Western culture is the carnivalesque Fool, a figure of prime importance in Bakhtin’s interpretation of the popular-festive forms. In feminist literary criticism there is a tendency to treat the Fool as a “naïve” character who is in the same position as the female characters (Allen 161).[53] In this case the humour meets with the dialogue and the feminist context.[54]

As previously mentioned, there are many comic motives in the book. Apart from the scenes presenting parental cares of Penelope, the character’s ironic comments on figures and stories described in myths also serve as a good example. The following passage contains some humorous remarks on Odysseus’ tricks:

I didn’t let on I knew. It would have been dangerous for him. Also, if a man takes pride in his disguising skills, it would be a foolish wife who would claim to recognize him: it’s always an imprudence to step between a man and the reflection of his own cleverness. (P 137)

Penelope’s attitude towards the world of gods is ironic too:

All the rest was just copulation of various kinds . . . , with gods who said they were shepherds and with shepherds who said they were gods. Occasionally a goddess might get mixed up in it too, dabble around in perishable flesh like a queen playing at milkmaids, but the reward for the man was shortened life and often a violent death. (P 23)

According to Bakhtin, laughter was a factor which deconstructed the seriousness of an epic (Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel” 23 ). In Atwood’s novel the same kind of reformulating the traditionally legitimized literary genres is to be observed. What is more, Bakhtin noticed that laughter reduces the distance between the text and the reader, to whom the world is presented as something familiar (Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel” 23 ). The same function could be ascribed to the humorous passages of The Penelopiad, describing everyday life of Penelope and her surroundings. However, such a vision does not imply a well-ordered world. The deconstructive power of laughter “abuses” (Hutcheon 134) the stereotypical views on the real world.[55] The world presented in the novel is thus diverse and “pluralogic” (Steele 285), which places the book in the opposition to the monologism of the classical epic and tragedy too. What is more, the humour replaces “pity and fear” evoked by a tragedy (Aristotle 9). This transformation is to be noticed particularly in the chorus lines which, by combining comic elements with macabre descriptions, create a tragicomic whole.

In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the intertextual strategies present in The Penelopiad refer to various contexts. These contexts include many theories of intertextuality. Amongst them those introduced by feminist literary criticism play a significant role. What is more, feminist background situates the book in a broader (social and cultural) perspective. However, all the references are transformed and adapted to the structure of the narrative. Therefore, the strategies in question, including the dialogue with literary tradition, become a basic element of the novel’s construction to be found in the text’s realm. In fact, intertextuality provokes a reflection upon the processes of both writing and communicating with the reader. The significant role of humour and laughter indicates that the observed play with the text is intended to give us pleasure. And it is the intertextuality that enables the writer and the reader to combine pleasure with “critical relation to the world” (Hutcheon 140). In The Penelopiad these two qualities are perfectly harmonized.

Works Cited

Abrams, Meyer Howard. A Glossary of Literary Terms. New York: Holt, Reinehart and Winston, 1981. Print.

Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. London: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Aristotle. On Poetry and Music. Trans. Samuel H. Butcher. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1985. Print.

Atwood, Margaret. The Penelopiad. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2005. Print.

Atwood, Margaret. Introduction. The Penelopiad. Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2005. xiii–xv. Print.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Epic and Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination. Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981. 3–40. Print.

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Trans. Hélène Iswolsky Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984. Print.

Clayton Jay, and Eric Rothstein. “Figures in the Corpus: Theories of Influence and Intertextuality.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 3–60. Print.

Cuddon, John Anthony. The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Harmondsworth: Penguin Beds Group, 1992. Print.

Draine, Betsy. “Chronotope and Intertext: The Case of Jean Rhys’s Quartet.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 318-25. Print.

Friedman, Susan Stanford. “Weavings: Intertextuality and the (Re)birth of the Author.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 148-80. Print.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale UP, 1984. Print.

Głowiński, Michał. Intertekstualność, groteksa, parabola. Szkice ogólne i interpretacje. Kraków: Universitas, 2000. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988. Print.

Johnson, Barbara. A World of Difference. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 1989. Print.

Kraskowska, Ewa. Czytelnik jako kobieta: wokół literatury i teorii. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM, 2007. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. “Problemy strukturowania tekstu.” Trans. Wiktoria Krzemień. Pamiętnik Literacki 4 (1972): 233–50. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. “Revolution in Poetic Language.” Trans. Margaret Waller. Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. 89–136. Print.

Kristeva, Julia. “Word, Dialogue and Novel.” Trans. Alice Jardine, Thomas Gora and Léon S. Roudiez. Kristeva Reader. Ed. Toril Moi. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. 34–61. Print.

Markiewicz, Henryk. Literaturoznawstwo i jego sąsiedztwa. Warszawa: PWN, 1989. Print.

Miller, Nancy. “Arachnologies.” The Poetics of Gender. New York: Columbia UP: 1986. 270-95. Print.

Rajan, Tilottama. “Intertextuality and the Subject of Reading/Writing.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 61-74. Print.

Rulewicz, Wanda. “Intertextuality, Competence, Reader.” Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny 2 (1987): 229–41. Print.

Showalter, Elaine. A Literature of Their Own. British Women Novelists from Brontë to Lessing. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1977. Print.

Sławiński, Janusz, ed. Słownik terminów literackich. Wrocław: Ossolineum, 2002. Print.

Steele, Jefferey. “The Call of Eurydice: Mourning and Intertxtuality in Margeret Fuller’s Writing.” Influence and Intertextuality in Literary History. Ed. Jay Clayton and Eric Rothstein. Wisconsin: U of Wisconsin P, 1991. 271-97. Print.

 

 

Aleksandra Mrówka

Jagiellonian University

The Comic Image of the Courtly Love Ideals in Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory

The Arthurian legends have fascinated and inspired people for ages. Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory is one of the best compilations of the stories about King Arthur and his peers. This romance deals with the enchanting world of knightly rituals and the ideals of the chivalric code. It is not a typical romance blindly glorifying the medieval world, though. Written in the time when these ideals are passing, the prose is dominated on the one hand, by melancholy and sentiment, but on the other, by irony and ambiguity. Malory seems to question the chivalric code through inconsistencies of his characters’ behaviour, and absurdity of some situations they are involved in. The paper will focus on the ambivalent and comic picture of the courtly love ideals in Malory’s prose. The main source of failure of some of the Arthurian knights in this aspect of knightly life is the clash between the real chivalric practice and the imagined ideals they pursue.

 

key words: courtly love, Malory, Arthur, knight, satire.

Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory (c. 1405–1471) is a romance dealing with the world of knightly customs and rituals, as well as the great ideals of the chivalric code. The main themes Malory explores are love and hate, nobility and villainy, and all this is mingled with a pinch of magic and mystery. The author wrote in awhen the great ideals of knighthood were passing, thus his work is dominated by melancholy and sentiment. However, it does not lack irony and humour, which are revealed through inconsistencies in his characters’ behaviour, as well as the absurdity of some situations in which they are involved. Malory is ambivalent about many aspects of knightly life, including courtly love. The romance questions the possibility of putting the courtly love ideals into practice. Malory uses humour not only to entertain the reader, but also to reveal the weaknesses of medieval chivalry. The aim of this article is to show some of the comic qualities of Malory’s portrayal of the Arthurian practice of courtly love.

Courtly love (called in French amour courtois) is a philosophy of love and a code of lovemaking that thrived in chivalric times. Chris Baldick remarks that:

the literary cult of heterosexual love . . . emerged among the French aristocracy from the late eleventh century onwards, with a profound effect on subsequent Western attitudes to love. Poetry converted sexual desire from a degrading necessity of physical life into a spiritually ennobling emotion, almost a religious vocation. An elaborate code of behaviour evolved around the tormented male lover’s abject obedience to a disdainful, idealized lady, who was usually his social superior. (53)

The idea of courtly love quickly became a major theme in medieval romance. Chivalric love came to the fore during feudal times, determining the relationship between a knight and his lady. Poets writing about this type of love adopted and inverted the feudal concept of the relationship between the lord and his vassal. The Lady assumed the role of the Lord, while the knight took the role of the vassal in the love ritual. In courtly literature, and often in reality, women were an inspiration for the practice of chivalric virtues. They encouraged knights to fight in tournaments or even in battles and motivated them to act in a socially accepted manner (Fries 88). Courtly love helped civilize the medieval world. In her essay “The Place of Women in The Morte Darthur,” Elizabeth Archibald observes that “[t]he very sight of a sword [could] inspire wild chivalry. But in the absence of an organizing love, when the knight [had] only his martial prowess, he [had] no culture, no memory, and no sense of himself” (42). Thomas Malory mentions in his prose Sir Peris de Forest Savage, who is notorious for sexually harassing and abusing ladies. He acts like a barbarian until he is killed by Sir Launcelot (Malory 1: 210-12). Literature shows such examples, whereas the literary vision of courtly love was romantic: knights adored their ladies, praised their beauty, fought for their glory and honour and did their best to win their hearts. The ladies, in turn, were to show favour to their knights by charming smiles and small gifts (such as ribbons or handkerchiefs) and to inspire them to glorious and heroic deeds. The idealized literary vision was emulated in reality at the courts in France, where it was developed (Barber 79).

Women play an important role in Le Morte D’Arthur. The female characters are usually damsels, ladies or gentlewomen because courtly love rules were applied only to noble women. The concept of courtly love celebrated the chivalrous knight proving his love to his lady. In Malory’s prose, it becomes clear that some precepts of the code do not always work when they are put into practice. Some English writers, including Sir Thomas Malory (Le Morte D’Arthur), Geoffrey Chaucer (“The Knight’s Tale”) or Marie de France (Lanval), were a little sceptical about the idea of chivalric love. Malory expresses his criticism about the concept explicitly, using the image of Sir Dinadan.[56] In the conversation with Queen Iseult, the knight states: “God defend me . . . for the joy of love is too short, and the sorrow thereof, and what come[s] thereof, dure[s] overlong” (Malory 2:114), which perfectly summarizes his views on amour courtois. Muriel C. Bradbrook sees the reason for the scepticism in the fact that

[t]he elaborate and fanciful code of manners which in theory governed the behavior of courtly lovers, involving the absolute subjection of the knight to the lady, with all the artifice of courtly etiquette, and all the exotic ritual of a mock-religion, was never really acclimatized in England (18).

This state can be viewed as reflected in Malory’s prose. For some of the literary knights, women are not the key to happiness and success in their lives. Sir Dinadan, mentioned above, doubts the idea of courtly love and the role of a woman as a knight’s inspiration for brave deeds. He sees love as madness. In his conversation with Sir Tristram he betrays his view on this overwhelming infatuation saying:

For such a foolish knight as ye are, . . . I saw but late this day lying by a well, and he fared as slept; and there he lay like a fool grinning, and would not speak, and his shield lay by him, and his horse stood by him; and well I wot he was a lover. (Malory 2:109)

The knight does not understand why Tristram and other knights can be so entranced by women. What is more, he does not want to be a lover or have a lady. To prove his point, he puts his words into practice when he refuses to fight three knights for Queen Guinevere (109). On the one hand, Sir Dinadan appears to be clownish because he disregards some of the rules of the chivalric code, although he is a knight like the others, but on the other hand, he is the voice of common sense that Thomas Malory employs to question some of the absurdities of the chivalric code.[57]

According to P.E. Tucker, Malory’s courtly love is often just a game to play (73). The fact that some of the knights fail to remember their ladies as they encounter their adventures serves as a good example that confirms their negligence as lovers. Sir Tristram, although in love with Queen Iseult, nearly forgets about his greatest passion under the influence of beautiful Iseult la Blanche Mains (Malory 1:368). As Malory puts it, “there grew great love betwixt Isoud [la Blanche Mains] and Sir Tristram for that lady was both good and fair, and a woman of noble blood and fame” (368). However, the knight feels guilty. To remain loyal to his queen, the young man does not consummate his marriage, persuading his wife that marital love is nothing more than kissing and cuddling. The woman accepts her husband’s approach towards marriage. Sir Palomides reveals a different attitude toward the love to Queen Iseult. The Saracen knight resigns himself to the loss of his friendship with Sir Tristram (368). However, the initial fierce rivalry for the grace of the same lady gives way to their mutual friendship. For P.E. Tucker, it is friendship, not love that motivates Sir Palomides, who is a pagan, in his decision to be baptized (74-75). In Malory’s prose, the knights often have to choose between their personal happiness and their adherence to the code. If they insist on following the code, they have to select which rule to abide by, as it sometimes happens that obeying one command entails breaking another. The case of Palomides can be analysed as an example of the primacy of knightly fellowship.[58] Friendship triumphs, showing that love is somewhat less important.

The knight should do his best to win the heart of his lady. In the Arthurian world, the roles are reversed at times, and it happens that some ladies fight for their knights’ admiration. The idea of a woman struggling for a knight’s attention could seem comical in the courtly discourse. A good instance exemplifying the phenomenon is Sir Launcelot, who is the most desired knight of all the Knights of the Round Table. Terence McCarthy, when commenting on the figure of the knight, states that “his physical prowess has inevitably earned him a reputation and made him sexually desirable” (22), adding that this “prowess has made him something of a sex symbol” (23). Nonetheless, the knight is not a ladies-man – he gives the impression of being afraid of women; still, ladies long for him. He is kidnapped by Morgan le Fay and three other queens with the use of magic (Malory 2:197). The women know that he is the best knight in the world, so they “[begin] to strive for that knight, every each one [says] they [will] have him to her love” (198).

However, the women’s obsession with the knight can also be preposterous or even terrifying. Some women, unhappily in love, are ready to humiliate themselves. The fair Maid of Astolat, Elaine le Blank, falls in love with Sir Launcelot and wants him to marry her (411-12). When the knight refuses her proposal, she openly admits that being his lover will satisfy her. Because the knight rejects the girl, she dies of love even though the couple have known each other for a very short time.

Launcelot is attractive both alive and dead. The witch Hellawes, Lady of the Castle Nigramous, has loved him, as she claims, for seven years. Knowing that the knight is devoted to Queen Guinevere, she devises a plan to get him “[b]ut sithen [she] may not rejoice [him] to have [his] body alive” (Malory 2:223) she would have him dead. She “would have balmed it and served it, and so have kept it [her] life days, and daily [she] should have clipped [him], and kissed [him]”(223). Thomas Malory, describing the knights’ relationships with females, often tends to exaggerate the qualities of the lovers and the power of their feelings. He often reminds the readers, who might be surprised by this exaggerated vision, that love in the Golden Age of King Arthur’s reign was different than in their own times.

The noble idea of courtly love obliged the knight to help ladies when in need and to protect them. Although Arthurian knights swear the oath in which they promise to guard ladies: “always to do ladies, damosels, and gentlewomen soccour, upon pain, of death” (Malory 1:116), some of them fail as ladies’ protectors. Sir Gawain, together with Sir Marhaus and Sir Uwain, goes in search of adventures, honour and worship (148). They meet three “damosels” (60-, 30- and 15 years old), and each knight takes one woman with him. Sir Gawain is very enthusiastic about his lady because she is young and beautiful. The words he says to Sir Marhaus: “I thank you, for ye have left me the youngest and the fairest, and she is most levest to me” (148), reveal not only his sensitivity to feminine beauty, but also his emotional immaturity. His joy is momentary, however. After many adventures, when they finally come back, “the damosel that Sir Gawain had [can] say but little worship of him” (165) because he has lost her. In the Arthurian world, attachment to women often disappears when adventure is at hand. This lack of commitment is clearly one of the faults Malory sees in the world of Arthurian knights. Thomas C. Rumble remarks that in Le Morte D’Arthur “people are seen for what they are in terms of what they do, and their actions are allowed to stand silently symbolic of the causes which are constantly at work bringing about the ruin of a world that seems so fair” (in Lumiansky 147). Sir Pellinor is another knight who ignores a lady that later turns out to be his daughter (Malory 1:109). At first his hastiness may seem to be a little funny or grotesque, but it very quickly turns out to be more seriously disconcerting. Being so obsessed with looking for adventure, he fails to help the woman and her wounded knight, and although “she crie[s] an hundred times after help” he “[will] not tarry, he [is] so eager in his quest” (110). In consequence, the woman curses him and kills herself with a sword. Some of the knights fail as protectors of women because they appreciate fame, adventure and war more than courtly love (McCarthy 50). In Le Morte D’Arthur, there is a dichotomy between love and adventure, and, as Elizabeth Edwards claims, Malory seems to focus more on adventure – the choice of his characters (38-39). A woman whom a knight meets during his journey is often not the object of his quest but the means to achieve his goal. Even Sir Launcelot, considered “the flower of knights” (Malory 1:224), does not undertake all his adventures in the service of ladies. Malory reports a shameful incident, when the knight agrees to help a lady only after having made sure that she knows his name (206-7).

The ladies asking for help are often unusual and enigmatic themselves. They appear out of the blue at the court of King Arthur, preceded by a group of various animals (98), or arrive bringing marvelous objects with them, such as a great black shield (383-84), to ask one of the knights to go on a quest. They often wander alone in forests waiting for a knight to ask him for a favour. McCarthy ironically comments about this:

None of the knights dreams of compromising his gallantry by even hesitating to help, and as they ride off having immediately and unquestioningly taken the adventure, none of them seems to be wondering what a nice girl like that was actually doing in the forest alone. It would have been rather caddish after all to ask if she was carrying any ID. (15)

Feminine beauty seems to evoke problems in the medieval world. Praising a lady’s beauty is not an easy task, as it can lead to serious quarrels among the Knights of the Round Table. The beauty of women in the Arthurian world is peculiar. The ladies are, as McCarthy notices, “above the norm, but no one is below” (52). Yet, their beauty can be graded in an interesting way. Guinevere seems to be a touchstone of the beauty of others. It happens at times that there is a knight who does not want to accept the queen’s superiority over his lady and an argument starts. Sir Lamorak and Sir Meleagant quarrel over whose lady is more beautiful: Queen Guinevere or Morgawse of Orkney (Malory 1:403-5). A more serious misadventure happens to Sir Tristram and Queen Iseult when they are imprisoned in the so-called Weeping Castle. According to the old custom, the knight has to fight with its lord, Sir Breunor, and the one who is defeated loses his life. His lady is in no better position: if she turns out to be less beautiful than the lady of the castle, she will lose her head (346-49). At first, the way of the knights’ reasoning and justifying their claims sounds very childish, but, at a deeper level, the episode touches upon a more serious problem. Elizabeth Edwards claims that “[i]t is the confusion of objective and subjective categories, that is, whether the fairness of the lady is the source of love, or love the source of fairness, a quality of the beloved or of the loving gaze” (46). On the one hand, the quarrel over the subjectivity of beauty is an instance of a limited understanding of love; on the other hand, it reveals a dangerous power of the feeling. Love has a destructive potential, it can be a starting point of serious military conflicts leading to the downfall both of the whole community and of the individual, not only in their earthly reality, but also in the context of one’s salvation.

Chastity is one of the virtues of the code of chivalry which is Christian in its origin. Some of the Arthurian knights have problems with sexual abstinence and need women only to satisfy their desire. In “The Tale of the Sankgreall: Human Frailty,” Charles Moorman notices that “the Arthurian world is undermined from the beginning by ‘lechery’” (189). To begin with, the conception of King Arthur is highly controversial. His father, Uther Pendragon, a “lusty king and wifeless” man (189), falls in love with Igraine, the wife of the Duke of Cornwall (Malory 1:9-10). He is obsessed by the desire to have sex with her. This obsession makes him fail not only as a knight but also as a Christian. To achieve his goal he wages war on her husband, uses underhand magic methods advised by Merlin and agrees to relinquish his parental right to his son Arthur, who will be conceived in the future. His promise to hand over the royal heir just to satisfy his sexual desire does not make him a reliable and trustworthy king. Uther’s choice is morally and politically questionable. However, the Arthurian world is one with its own peculiar law and logic (McCarthy 6).

King Arthur turns out to be a womanizer like his father. His love affairs result in children born out of wedlock. Liners, a daughter of one of his earls, Samna, “a passing fair damosel” (Malory 1:42), gives him the son Borre, who in the future will be one of the best knights of the Round Table. Queen Morgawse bears Arthur his son Mordred. She is the wife of King Lot of Orkneyand and the mother of his sons; this fact, however, does not discourage the monarch from sleeping with her. Malory reports that “[f]or she was a passing fair lady, therefore the king cast great love unto her, and desired to lie by her” (45). Their relationship is incestuous as “she is his sister, on the mother’s side, Igraine” (45). Despite the fact that Arthur does not know about their family bonds, he will be punished for his sin: “God is displeased with [him], for [he] ha[s] lain by [his] sister, and on her [he] ha[s] gotten a child that shall destroy [him] and all the knights of [his] realm” (47). Looking at the love affairs of some of the knights, one can have an impression that ladies who belong to other men are the most desirable, and there are many examples proving the knights’ interest in married and betrothed women.

Sir Gawain, who has a reputation of a ladies’ man, promises King Pelleas to help him win the heart of his beloved, the proud Lady Ettard. The lady, fed up with Pelleas’ advances, wants him dead (152-55). Gawain visits her castle, claiming he has killed her admirer. The atmosphere of their meeting is so pleasant that they “[sup] in a pavilon, and . . . [go] to bed together” (155), where they are caught red-handed by Sir Pelleas. By this deed, Sir Gawain reveals himself to be a lustful and false knight who breaks his promises easily.

There is only one knight, Sir Gareth, who chooses marriage over adultery. He opts for being a good Christian, violating the rule of courtly love, as this kind of admiration is a pre-marital experience. However, he also has problems with maintaining pre-marital chastity, in fact. When he is finally united with his beloved Lady Lyonesse, the lovers are willing to go to bed together (McCarthy 24). Magic needs to be used to prevent the lovers from consummating their love, thus protecting their honour. The situation is hilarious, because the couple do not give up easily. Sir Gareth fights against a marvelous knight during the two following nights and he becomes severely wounded. However, the fact that the knight has to be protected from sexual misdemeanour makes him “more frankly human” (McCarthy 27). Charles Moorman sees this relationship as Malory’s rebelling against courtly love, which is conventionalized and artificial. “The Tale of Gareth” emphasizes the role of marriage as a natural crowning of real love (169-71).

Launcelot’s relationship with Queen Guinevere on the one hand is nearly perfect, while on the other it is destructive both for them and the kingdom. Sir Launcelot pays a high price for it: the price is his partial failure in the Grail Quest and the loss of fame and honour he has strived for all his life (Dosanjh 64). These failures do not teach him a lesson, however. Malory reports that

Sir Launcelot beg[ins] to resort unto Queen Guinevere again, and forg[ets] the promise and the perfection that he made in the quest. . . . and so they [love] together more hotter than they did toforehand, and ha[ve] such privy draughts together, than many in the court sp[eak] of it. (Malory 2: 373)

Although the affair is presented as very serious, it does not lack humorous and even grotesque elements. Launcelot’s passion leads him to the queen’s chamber. The nature of the relationship between the knight and Queen Guinevere is shrouded in mystery (contrary to that of Tristram and Iseult). Malory does not openly admit whether it was merely platonic. He mysteriously mentions that “love that time was not as it is nowadays [in Malory’s time]” (460). However, the adventure Sir Launcelot has there, having rescued her from Sir Meliagaunt’s hands, is a parody of courtly service (434-41). The couple arranges that the man will come through a barred window looking on a garden when everybody is asleep. Sir Launcelot “set[s] his hands upon the bars of irons, and he pull[s] at them with such a might that he brasts them clean out of the stone walls” (438) cutting his hand severely and enters the chamber. The next day, Sir Meliagaunt finds the queen’s bed stained with blood, in order to hide his own misbehaviour, he accuses her of being unfaithful to King Arthur.

In the quoted examples of lechery, both men and women are to blame. For some couples (Launcelot and Guinevere, Tristram and Iseult) sex is an act of love, for the others just a momentary whim. McCarthy observes that “[j]ust as there are knights . . . who have, but do not deserve the title of a knight, so there are ladies who are ladies in name only” (21). And he is right. Some of the Knights of the Round Table fail at serving ladies, but there are also ladies who are unworthy of being served. The idea of platonic love does not work in the Arthurian world, because the characters presented by Malory are people driven by emotions and feelings. Nevertheless, for the author, as McCarthy notices, “Arthurian chivalry embodied an ideal far superior to anything that survives today” (xiv). It can be assumed that when writing about courtly love and the life of medieval knighthood, Thomas Malory bases his knowledge on his own experience[59] and he tries to incorporate it into the myth about brave warriors.

To conclude, Le Morte D’Arthur is not an example of comic literature; however, it contains comic elements. The author often uses humour and irony in his representation of courtly love. The image of the noble relationship between the knight and his lady is ambivalent because there is a clash between literary ideals and real life. Malory’s view on Arthurian chivalry is not naive: being fully aware of its flaws he does not try to hide the imperfection of some of the knights. The comic discourse he applies aims at revealing the typically human aspect of medieval chivalry.

Works Cited

Archibald, Elizabeth and Anthony Stockwell Garfield Edwards, eds. A Companion to Malory. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996. Print.

Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.

Barber, Richard W. The Reign of Chivalry. Woodbridge: The Boydell P, 2005. Print.

Bradbrook, Muriel C. Sir Thomas Malory. London: Longmans Green, 1958. Print.

Dosanjh, Kate. “Rest in Peace: Launcelot’s Spiritual Journey in Le Morte Darthur.” Arthuriana, 16.2 (2006): 64. JSTOR. Web. 1 March 2013.

Edwards, Elizabeth. “The Place of Women in the Morte Darthur.A Companion to Malory. Eds. Elizabeth Archibald and Anthony Stockwell Garfield Edwards. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1996. Print.

Lumiansky, Robert M., ed. Malory’s Originality. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins P, 1964. Print.

Fries, Maureen. “Indiscreet Objects of Desire: Malory’s Tristram and the Necessity of Deceit.” Studies in Malory. Ed. James W. Spisak, Michigan: Kalamazoo, 1985. Print.

Malory, Thomas. Le Morte D’Arthur. 2. Ed. Janet Cowen, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1969. Print.

McCarthy, Terence. An Introduction to Malory. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 1988. Print.

Moorman, Charles. “Courtly Love in Malory.” ELH: English Literary History 27 (1960): 169-71. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Nagy, Gergely. “A Fool of a Knight, a Knight of a Fool: Malory’s Comic Knights.” Arthuriana, 14.4 (2004): 68. JSTOR. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.

Sanders, Charles R, and Charles E. Ward. The Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Malory. An Abridgement with an Introduction. New York: F.S. Crofts, 1940. Print.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A New Translation. Ed. Marie Borroff. New York: W.W. Norton, 1967. Print.

Tucker, P.E. “Chivalry in Morte.” Essays on Malory. Ed. Jack A.W. Bennet, Oxford: Clarendon P, 1963. Print.

Witalisz, Władysław. “A (Crooked) Mirror for Knights – the Case of Dinadan.” Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 44 (2008): 457-62. Web. 1 Feb. 2013.


Martyna Paśnik

University of Łódź

Intertextual Adaptability of the Character of Sherlock Holmes from Literature to Film Production

This study explores the theme of intertextuality and adaptation between literature and film on the basis of Sherlock Holmes, the 19th/20th century character conceived by Arthur Conan Doyle. It shows how the character has been adapted from literature into the cinematic domain on the basis of three modern TV series, including Dr. House (Heel & Toe Films/Fox, 2004), Sherlock (Hartswood Films/BBC, 2010), and Elementary (Hill of Beans/CBS, 2012). Sherlock Holmes, who first appeared in 1887, was originally featured in four novels and 56 short stories. However, since that time Holmes has been adapted for over 240 movies exploiting enormous popularity of this character in a variety of settings. The paper analyzes prototypical, basic features of Sherlock Holmes underlying its intertextual adaptability. As discussed in this study, there are four prototypical features of Sherlock Holmes, i.e. (1) outstanding powers of perception combined with intellect; (2) unconventionality in social behaviour; (3) helpful partner; and (4) ability to use scientific achievements. The paper demonstrates that Sherlock Holmes conceptualized in such a basic manner can act as successfully in modern cinematic productions as it did in the late 19th century literature.

 

key words: Sherlock Holmes; Arthur Conan Doyle; detective story; science of deduction, unconventional methods of investigation

This article elaborates on the adaptability of the character of Sherlock Holmes and on his reinvention in three modern TV series: Sherlock, Elementary and House M.D. In 2004 David Shore, the creator of the hit series House M.D., about a doctor who solves medical cases, which refers to the stories about Sherlock Holmes, has initiated the craze for film versions of the detective’s adventures. The eight seasons of the American production with the British actor Hugh Laurie in the leading role has gained immense popularity and has attracted the attention of other screenwriters to still intriguing stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Thus, soon there have appeared on the cinema screens two full length films of Guy Ritchie – Sherlock Holmes (2009) and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) – and on the TV screens two modern series, productions of BBC and CBS – Sherlock (2010) and Elementary (2012). Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the creators of Sherlock and Robert Doherty, the creator of Elementary,just like David Shore, changed the scenario and set the main protagonists in modern times but simultaneously they kept the original concept of the leading character. There are more and more adaptations of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, who in some way evolves but, at the same time, preserves some typical, perhaps necessary, traits. In this study I attempt to focus on this evolution and try to enquire into what features of the hero cannot be changed as they compose the figure of Sherlock Holmes.

The first association that comes to mind when one thinks of Sherlock Holmes would probably be the silhouette of a detective clad in a deerstalker cap who smokes a pipe, walks with a stick, plays the violin and is, of course, a master of scientific deduction. This image is mainly ascribed to Sherlock Holmes, although it is Poe’s Dupin that is considered the pioneer among the gentlemen with meerschaum pipes and deductive skills. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a fervent admirer of Edgar Allan Poe, to whom he “ascribed the monstrous progeny of writers on the detection of crime” (Chapman). There is no doubt that Poe’s fictional detective, Chevalier August Dupin, became an inspiration for Conan Doyle in creating the figure of Sherlock Holmes, the protagonist of 56 short stories and 4 novels. The connection between the two sleuths is marked by Watson’s words: “You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin. I had no idea that such individuals did exist outside of stories” (Doyle 18).

Poe is the initiator of many traits which are typical of a detective story. His most significant invention is without a doubt the creation of the amateur detective and his assistant, the narrator of the story, who is not as brilliant and cunning as the main hero. The writer formed the basic narratological structure of a detective story, which involves the news of a baffling crime, its description, the investigation, the unexpected solution of a mystery, and the unmasking of the perpetrator. Apart from these elements, one can also enumerate such features of Poe’s literary detective as the nature of a loner, a recondite turn of mind, a condescending attitude towards the police, outstanding deductive skills and even lack of interest in women, traits which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle replicated and gave to the protagonist of his stories (Chapman).

However, as time elapsed, the image of Sherlock Holmes, inspired by Poe’s Dupin, has altered. Modern TV series present a sleuth living in the modern world. The deerstalker cap has disappeared (at least in Elementary and House M.D.), and the pipe has changed into a cigarette. London, the city where the adventures of Sherlock Holmes originally take place, is no longer the first choice of the directors of some TV series: CBS’s Elementary is set in New York, and House M.D. in New Jersey. Only BBC’s production, Sherlock, takes place in the British capital.

Another element that, apparently, can be taken away from the protagonist is his profession and name, although not entirely. Sherlock Holmes remains Sherlock Holmes, the world’s one and only consulting detective in both Sherlock and Elementary, but in House M.D. he takes the name of Dr Gregory House and is a diagnostician. Therefore, the consulting detective translates into the consulting doctor who, instead of solving criminal cases, deals with medical mysteries. As for the name, it has not changed that much. The word “Holmes,” pronounced /həʊmz/, resembles in articulation the word “home,”/həʊm/, which is the synonym for “house.” Also, the names exhibit a similar position of the vowels “o” and “e”; ShErlOck HOlmEs – GrEgOry HOusE (Mamatas 111).

It should not be surprising that the figure of Dr Gregory House is based on the fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes. As Nick Mamatas notes in his article, there are, in fact, a number of parallels between the two characters when one takes into account all the seasons of the series. In “Whac-A-Mole,” there appears an envelope with an inscription “The Game’s An Itchy Foot,” while for Holmes it is characteristic to say, “The game’s afoot!” (Doyle 527). Just like Holmes, House is nearly killed by a man named Moriarty (Holmes’s mortal enemy) in an episode entitled “No Reason.” Moreover, both Holmes and House are drug addicts. Holmes is addicted to cocaine, and House to vicodin. Even House’s address resembles the famous Baker Street 221B. The episode “Hunting”shows that the number of House’s place is also 221B. What is more, both the detective and the doctor have a constant issue with the law and both have only one friend, John Watson and James Wilson, respectively, both of whom were married more than once and care a lot about the protagonists, trying to help them overcome their addiction to drugs. Both protagonists also share a flat with their best friends and both have a walking stick, with which they sometimes hit their opponents (Mamatas 112). Finally, in a way similar to that in which Sherlock Holmes arranges his death in “The Final Problem,” House pretends to be dead in “Everybody Dies,” the very last episode of the TV series.

House M.D., similarly to Elementary and Sherlock, is a study of the figure of Sherlock Holmes transferred into the twenty-first century. The series presents the reinvented, evolved version of the literary character. Although the protagonist does not play the violin any more (in House M.D.), leaves London (in House M.D. and Elementary) and adopts a different name (in House M.D.), he is still gifted with deductive skills and he suffers from what his friend Wilson calls “Rubik’s Complex” – an obsessive need to solve every intriguing mystery: “You know how some doctors have the Messiah complex; they need to save the world? You’ve got the Rubik’s complex; you need to solve the puzzle” (House M.D., “DNR”). Therefore, what remains is his outstanding powers of perception combined with an astounding intellect, unconventionality in social behaviour, a helpful partner and the ability to make use of scientific achievements. These are the necessary components of this literary figure which help to identify Sherlock Holmes.

In all the three TV series under discussion, Sherlock Holmes is portrayed as a creative individual with unique traits, one who has a revolutionary attitude towards the principles, moral code, laws and mores which are usually followed by the rest of his co-workers. Holmes’s constant issue with the law, breaking into people’s houses, deceptions and lies (in the case of House fabricating prescriptions and not wearing the typical white outfit) shows him as a nonconformist with regard to the rules of Scotland Yard (and of the Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital).

His rebellious nature influences his unorthodox methods of investigation, which are one of the crucial elements of the stories about Sherlock Holmes and their adaptations, and it is impossible not to mention them. Although the protagonist is generally known for his deductive skills, he uses miscellaneous creative and effective techniques at work. For example, he is keen on working “under cover.” His disguise and acting are the vehicle for gathering new information. This is perfectly illustrated in one of the episodes of BBC’s Sherlock, “Scandal in Belgravia” in which Holmes disguises himself as a priest and pretends to be mobbed only to get access to Irene Adler’s apartment.

Apart from that, Holmes frequently uses methods that are commonly disapproved of and often illegal. One of them is, of course, the break-in technique, which may be justified on utilitarian grounds: from this perspective wrong deeds may be vindicated if they help to do greater good and avert serious damage. The break-in method facilitates the sleuth’s unmasking  of the criminal (and when it comes to House, it helps to identify the disease), preventing misfortune (Abrams 69). In order to get more new clues which can be useful for solving the case, Holmes also tends to mistreat corpses. Before he has had the chance to get to know the detective, Watson hears from his acquaintance, Stamford, about Holmes’s “passion for definite and exact knowledge,” which is expressed in such eccentricities as “beating the subjects in the dissecting-rooms with a stick to verify how far bruises may be produced after death” (Doyle 14), a phrase quoted in the first episode of Sherlock, “A Study in Pink.”

There is a certain scheme in the way Holmes enquires into every mystery.At first, he analyzes the clues, using his deductive reasoning and then excludes the solutions that do not fit until he is left with only one option, which must be correct. He follows the rule that says: “when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” (Doyle 90). This scheme is well pictured in filmic adaptations of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, even in House M.D., which is rather loosely based on the books of Conan Doyle. In cooperation with his teammates, the doctor also analyzes the symptoms of the disease, creates a list of possible afflictions and then carefully narrows it down and chooses the most probable answer and the most apt method of treatment.

The remedy for a problem sometimes occurs to Holmes’s mind during an unconscious processing of information. Hence, it is possible that Holmes’s habit of playing the violin shown in Sherlock, or attending meetings for drug addicts in Elementary,or even watching soap operas and taking a nap during office hours in House M.D.,is an integral part of the hero’s success.

What makes Sherlock Holmes unconventional in social behaviour is his nature of a loner. Except for his sidekick John Watson (in House M.D. it is James Wilson and in CBS’s Elementary Joan Watson), he has no friends. The emotional relation between him and Watson is relevant in the protagonist’s life, because his best friend, who “by cunning questions and ejaculations of wonder could elevate Holmes’s simple art, which is but systematized common sense, into a prodigy” (Doyle 635), is the first reviewer of the detective’s opinions and a sort of a link to the real world. Hence, the presence of this character is crucial – he prevents the protagonist from self-destruction.

Holmes would also not be Holmes without his misogynist approach to women. Originally, Sherlock found relationships and matrimony more of a hindrance at work than a key to bliss. Such an attitude is manifested in his discrediting females and perceiving them as irrational. His lack of interest in females is well presented in BBC’s Sherlock. The only woman that draws the hero’s attention is Irene Adler, who is the only one that manages to outwit him.

In Elementary and House M.D. the protagonist’s misogyny is depicted in a slightly different way. In both cases it is a consequence of previous relationships and is significantly more marked than in the BBC’s series, for House and CBS’s Sherlock frequently meet with prostitutes and treat women instrumentally. Theydo not restrain themselves from sexual intercourses with females, as they find sex a natural physiological need. It is essential that in Elementary Watsonis a woman, for she is the only female (but for Irene Adler, Holmes’s ex-girlfriend) whom the consulting detective actually respects. The CBS’s Sherlock does not hurl abuses at women, however. He is not this kind of a misogynist. House, on the other hand, is constantly churlish and unpleasant towards everybody, regardless of their sex. He insults those who have had the bad luck to meet him face to face, and makes disgusting sexual allusions to women. He behaves like this even towards the women he cares for – his ex-wife and his superior, Lisa Cuddy (the counterpart of Irene Adler in House M.D.).

House is more of a parody of the literary Sherlock Holmes, as he takes the distanced approach to people that is typical of Holmes to extreme proportions. The TV seriesis filled with the doctor’s acridity. There is hardly any episode in which he does not insult people around him. In “Unplanned Parenthood,” he even calls his boss’s two-year-old daughter an idiot because she ate a coin: “She opened up a Chinese food bag to eat money. What an idiot.”

Just like House, the protagonists of BBC’s and CBS’s series are rude to those with whom they have contact. Their comments, filled with sarcasm and irony, usually make their co-workers feel self-conscious and unintelligent, “Dear God, what is it like in your funny little brains, it must be so boring” (Sherlock,“A Study in Pink”). When CBS’s Sherlock meets Joan Watson for the first time, he refers to her as “a helper monkey” and “a personal valet,” dismissing her as another person less intelligent than him (Elementary,“Pilot”). The arrogant behaviour of Sherlock Holmes is presented in all three of the TV series based on Sir Conan Doyle’s stories asthe literary Sherlock Holmes also does not treat his partners in investigation with much respect. He often talks about Scotland Yard officers with irony: “There is no crime to detect, or, at most, some bungling villainy with a motive so transparent that even a Scotland Yard official can see through it” (Doyle43). The hero seems to perceive the policemen as unintelligent. The solitary exception is George Lestrande, about whom he says to Watson: “he is as tenacious as a bulldog when he once understands what he has to do” (Doyle 43).

Taking into account Holmes’s complicated character and demeanour, one can draw the conclusion that he suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Difficulties in maintaining social interaction and accepting changes as well as engrossing oneself in obsessive interests are the symptoms of this disorder (Gillberg 631-38). Such a diagnosis could explain Holmes’s tendency to keep almost everybody at a distance, his lack of interest in women and his habit of beating corpses with a stick.

The hero’s harsh attitude towards others may result from his arrogance. His opinion about his own profession is very high. The sleuth perceives himself as the last resort for unsolvable crimes, as he finds himself more intelligent than and superior to other professionals: “I’m a consulting detective . . . Here in London we have lots of government detectives and lots of private ones. When these fellows are at fault, they come to me, and I manage to put them on the right scent” (Doyle 18). He puts an emphasis on the fact that he is a “consulting detective,” and not a “private detective,” which means that he is extraordinary. Similarly, the television alter egos of Holmes also brag about their profession, “I’m a consulting detective, the only one in the world. I invented the job… It means whenever the police are out of their depth – which is always – they consult me” (Sherlock, “A Study in Pink”). In “Control,” House tells openly that he is “the big poobah” and “the go-to guy.”

Self-admiration is in these cases wholly justified, as the hero notices details that others tend to overlook, often because he is an expert in certain areas. Just like the literary Sherlock Holmes, the BBC and CBS Sherlocks are authorities in the knowledge of human anatomy, botany, chemistry and different types of tobacco or cigarette ash. As for House, the protagonist specializes mainly in rare diseases.

Holmes is, without doubt, a troubled but ingenious character. This combination of features seems to be connected with Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of “Übermensch,” the notion translated as the “Overman” or a “Superman” (Goldblatt 42). “Über” signifies “over” in the sense of high position in hierarchy and may suggest elevation. Holmes’s loneliness and pain are his “elevation,” for they allow him to climb to levels unattainable for ordinary mortals (Goldblatt 48). They are connected with his deductive skills and the ability to solve mysteries. According to Nietzsche, the Übermensch is a higher living being, higher than man: “Man is a rope, fastened between animal and Superman” (qtd. in Spinks 120). Holmes’s marvellous ability of deduction singles him out from the society he lives in and marks the fact that he is extraordinary. In the episode of House M.D. entitled “House vs. God,” Watson compares House’s skills to almost divine qualities, which puts him again on the top of social hierarchy, above other doctors and ordinary members of community.

Apparently, outstanding deductive skills along with such traits as the nature of a loner, a sceptical attitude towards the police and misogyny are the necessary elements for Sherlock Holmes to be the Sherlock Holmes. However, all of these features were already to be found in the figure of August Dupin. The stories about Sherlock Holmes replicated these traits and gave rise to a literary tradition, which was, in turn, later continued by Agatha Christie and her Hercule Poirot, which shows that, apparently, the evolution of the fictional detective is still in progress. Conceived by E.A. Poe, C. Auguste Dupin, the pioneer among the gentlemen with meerschaum pipes and extraordinary moustaches who solve criminal cases thanks to their high intelligence, was the basis for Sherlock Holmes, who in turn became an inspiration to such screenwriters as Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat and Robert Doherty in reinventing the character of Sherlock Holmes and to Shore in creating the figure of Dr Gregory House.

Works Cited

Abrams, Jerold J. “Logika zgadywania w opowieściach o przygodach Sherlocka Holmesa i w serialu Dr House.” Dr House i Filozofia. Wszyscy kłamią. Ed. William Irwin and Henry Jacoby. Gliwice: Helion, 2009. 67-83. Print.

Chapman, Paul M. “The Dark Beginnings of Detective Fiction.” twbooks.co.uk. n.p., n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2011.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes.London: CRW, 2005. Print.

Elementary. Dir. Michael Cuesta and John David Coles. Perf. Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Aidan Quinn, Jon Michael Hill and Natalie Dormer. CBS, 2012. DVD.

Gillberg, Christopher. “Asperger Syndrome—Some Epidemiological Considerations: Research Note.” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 30.4: 631-38. July 1989. Web. 15 July 2013.

Goldblatt, David. “Czy House jest Supermenem?: Perspektywa Nietzschego.” Dr House i Filozofia. Wszyscy kłamią. Ed. William Irwin and Henry Jacoby. Gliwice: Helion, 2009. 41-50. Print.

House M.D. Dir. David Shore. Perf. Hugh Laurie, Robert Sean Leonard, Lisa Edelstein, Omar Epps and Jesse Spencer. Tim Film Studio, 2010. DVD.

Mamatas, Nick. “Dlaczego uwielbiamy Holmesa i uwielbiamy nienawidzić House’a.” Dr House całkowicie bez autoryzacji. Ed. Leah Wilson. Warszawa: Prószyński i S-ka, 2009. 111-119 Print.

  1. Dir. Coky Giedroyc and Paul McGuigan. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Rupert Graves, Andrew Scott, Una Stubbs, Louise Brealey and Mark Gattis. BBC, 2010.DVD.

Spinks, Lee. Friedrich Nietzsche (Routledge Critical Thinkers). London: Routledge, 2003. Print.

 

Magdalena Popłońska

University of Łódź

Whodunit to Irene Adler? From “the Woman” to “the Dominatrix” – on the Transformation of the Heroine in the Adapting Process and Her Representation in the Sherlock Miniseries

One of the peculiar characteristics of the Sherlock Holmes fandom is that it has always had a tendency to blow innuendos in Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories out of proportion. One might argue that such is the case of Irene Adler, the most recognisable female character from the Sherlock Holmes canon. Although we are not given much information on her in the original story and she hardly speaks in her own voice, for the community of readers she has become the most significant woman that Sherlock Holmes had ever encountered. Thus, the creators who adapted her for the screen also treated the heroine of “A Scandal in Bohemia” symbolically, allowing themselves to freely portray her presence in their versions of the story. For certain reasons, Irene Adler has been interpreted in pop-culture differently at various times: as the woman who beat Holmes with her wit, the detective’s romantic interest, his nemesis or a femme fatale figure. This tendency seems to be pushed to the extreme recently and the adaptations of the heroine in question gravitate towards a sexually confident, overtly self-aware, as well as dominant (both sexually and mentally) rival to Holmes.

The idea behind this paper is to investigate the transformation of Irene Adler’s character from the originally debatably scandalous adventuress to her modern portrayal as a dominatrix in the BBC miniseries, Sherlock. Hence, I will concentrate on this most recent take on the woman in the episode “A Scandal in Belgravia,” attempting to analyse in what ways the creators of the show go back to the roots and succeed in capturing the essence of Irene Adler’s figure, and conversely – in what measure does this adaptation epitomize the changes done to the character over the years of reinterpreting and diverting from its literary counterpart.

 

key words: Irene Adler, Sherlock Holmes, adaptation, appropriation, reinterpretation, transmedia fandom, fan fiction

When we think of Sherlock Holmes, the most famous of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary inventions, the first thing which springs to our minds is, most probably, his astounding, invincible wit. This is, however, not an entirely accurate picture, for Holmes was outmaneuvered a number of times, and once by a woman. In fact, she should be called “the woman,” as this is the honourable title with which Holmes endowed Irene Adler (Doyle 161), the most notable heroine from the Sherlock Holmes Canon. Even though she was initially a mere object of his investigation, she managed to win the detective’s respect with her intelligence and personality. In “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891) she is revealed to be a former mistress of a Bohemian king, who feels threatened by her since she still has the photograph of the two, and might use it for blackmail. The “consulting detective” spectacularly fails to recover the compromising photograph, and, at the same time, realizes he was on the wrong side all along, as the woman kept the photograph merely for the purpose of protecting herself against the monarch. Holmes, who in the previous stories appears to be indifferent as far as the fair sex is concerned, requests a different photograph of Adler (which the woman left behind) in lieu of payment from the king of Bohemia, and he keeps it as a keepsake.

This brief appearance of Irene Adler in the canon – for she featured only in one story – was enough to make her the single female character the readers now immediately associate with Sherlock Holmes. Along with the popularity of the character, various peculiar interpretations started to spring. Soon, the avid readers of Doyle linked the sleuth and the woman romantically, apparently ignoring the fact that the canonical Irene Adler had a husband with whom she escaped from England to live happily undisturbed in America. As it turned out, this was just the tip of the iceberg of the numerous changes that the heroine was subjected to in later adaptations, reinventions, and derivative fan work.

For quite a long time Holmesian criticism had been preoccupied with trifles regarding the heroine’s character. Questions were asked and answered as to, for instance, who was the “real” Irene Adler, the woman behind the fictional heroine – names ranging from Sarah Bernhardt to Helena Modrzejewska were proposed (both established in the belle époque as serious dramatic actresses, of French and Polish origin respectively) (Redmond 41; Polatynska and Polatynska). Nonetheless, what has been gradually coming into focus is the feminist approach to interpreting the role of “the woman” in the Sherlock Holmes Canon, as well as her representations in the adaptations of “A Scandal in Bohemia” and appropriations of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures – the analyses often going side by side with and influenced by the growing interest of the feminist theory in Victorian and neo-Victorian texts (see, for example, “Sherlock’s Progress through History: Feminist Revisions of Holmes” by Sabine Vanacker in Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi-Media Afterlives).

One of the recent takes on “the woman” is an episode of the BBC miniseries Sherlock, in which the heroine is portrayed by Lara Pulver.In a way, it epitomizes the transformation of Irene Adler over the years of retelling, and the interpretative problems that arise from these modifications. The structural premise of the whole series is a mix and match approach to the canon. When the creators of the show take ideas from Doyle, they do not simply adapt individual stories, but combine motifs and plot points from different works. They usually twist them or reverse them in a counter-intuitive way – that is, different from what the viewer familiar with the canon might expect. Moreover, Sherlock, being a modernization of the stories, moves their action to the 21st century and gets rid of the anachronisms, such as the character of the king of Bohemia or the very kingdom of Bohemia; hence, the title of the episode featuring Irene Adler was rewritten to “A Scandal in Belgravia” (2012). The episode is, therefore, conspicuously set in the fashionable parts of London (as is most of the series), which neatly corresponds with the context of the original story – one mentioning a distant and somewhat mysterious kingdom, and involving higher circles (namely, the Bohemian monarch). Taking all these changes into consideration, the Sherlock series has to be analyzed as more of an appropriation than an adaptation. However interesting the ways in which the plot of “A Scandal in Belgravia” deviates from Doyle’s original are, this article will be more concerned with scrutinizing the character and the representation of Irene Adler as she appears in the episode, rather than examining different techniques in which the creators of the television series adapted the story itself.

As mentioned earlier, if Irene Adler were to appear in an adaptation, it would be very likely to include some sort of a romantic motif involving Sherlock Holmes and the heroine. This has been most probably intended to indulge the target audience: “most readers, it seems, have preferred to see her as the woman Sherlock Holmes loved and lost (or, in a minority view, loved and later won)” (Redmond 41). The creators of the Sherlock television drama seemingly resist this tendency, even up to the point of reversing it. In the original story Adler and Holmes showed mutual respect for each other, while in the series the attitude of the woman towards the detective, and vice versa, is cold and calculated almost until the end of the episode. It would be inaccurate to say that they do not appreciate each other’s intellects, but, indeed, Irene uses Sherlock instrumentally to get the information she needs, whereas Sherlock ridicules Irene in the climactic scene for being too emotional and overplaying her flirtatious act: “Oh, enjoying the thrill of the chase is fine, craving the distraction of the game – I sympathize entirely – but sentiment? Sentiment is a chemical defect found in the losing side.” In the original story, Holmes did not mock the emotionality of Adler, which shows particularly in his respect for the woman’s decision to elope with her husband to America. In “A Scandal in Belgravia,” however, emotionality is for Sherlock not a thing of admiration but scorn, and, in his view, a weakness which allows him to see through Adler, and defeat her. His emotional detachment may be softened by the fact that he appears to be emotional, too, when he rescues Irene in the last scene. On the other hand (and this is not even as complicated as it gets), this is incidentally the same scene for which the writer of the episode, Steven Moffat, has been widely criticized,[60] due to its alleged sexism and not staying true to the character. After all, the canonical Irene Adler escapes from the king of Bohemia unaided, thus rescuing herself. In the episode, instead, she has to be rescued by Sherlock, or else she would die. The memorable quote from the story, “Good-night, Mister Sherlock Holmes” (Doyle 173), was uttered by Adler when she successfully got away and did not need nor wanted Holmes (or anyone) to follow her. In comparison, Irene from “A Scandal in Belgravia” texts: “Goodbye Mr Holmes” when she is about to be beheaded, as she has found herself captured by a terrorist cell in Karachi. She does not know yet that the man standing behind her is not the executioner but Sherlock in disguise, waiting for the right moment to save Irene from the terrorists. The notion of Irene’s inability to survive without help from men was met with the disapproval of many critics and viewers[61], but – leaving aside this vexing problem for the time being – what should now be stressed is that the whole situation is, inarguably, a sign of sentiment on Sherlock’s part, in spite of his declaration of being emotionally reserved. After all, there is no other conceivable reason why he would need to rescue Irene for his own purposes.

There are many other instances in the episode when Sherlock could be perceived as somewhat sentimental about Irene. Most significantly, he keeps her phone as a keepsake, just as the canonical Holmes did with the photograph. Thus, although throughout the episode we are led to believe that Sherlock and Irene are pitted against each other, and that their relationship is founded on the question of who will outsmart who, there is a great deal of tenderness between the characters, although not necessarily of the romantic kind.

The innuendos from “A Scandal in Bohemia,” the original story, not only gave life to the speculations about romantic possibilities between Holmes and Adler, but also whipped up interest as to the sexuality of the woman. She is described by the king of Bohemia as “a well-known adventuress” (Doyle 165), which can either mean that she was a foreigner, travelled all over the world and was courted by men of upper class, or it may simply suggest she was a courtesan (Redmond 41). Either way, over the years she became much more sexualized than she appeared in the story to begin with.[62] In the BBC Sherlock seriesthis feature of Adler is pushed to the extreme – she is presented as “the dominatrix.” Be that as it may, the heroine is not a prostitute, just as she was not in the story. Much like her literary counterpart, her reputation may be disputable but she stays right on the edge of respectability, never appearing as a fallen woman. She is also presented as someone who takes advantage of her ambiguous position in the society. Irene uses her sexuality not only as her livelihood, but also as a weapon. She knows people’s desires and vulnerabilities, and learns how to play them; “I make my way in the world. I misbehave,” she says.

Much as sheer sexuality would not be a successful weapon against Sherlock, who is not baffled by anything that would turn other men’s ears red, Irene still knows how to play her sex against someone who seems to be immune to embarrassment. When Sherlock poses as a beaten up clergyman to get into Irene’s home, she surprises him by entering the room completely stripped. While Sherlock’s costume in the episode is a direct reference to the story, in which Holmes indeed dressed up as a vicar, the nakedness of Irene – to which she refers as her “battle dress” – might be seen as an exploitation of the original. In the canon, admittedly, Adler also dresses up, at the end of the story, however not in the nude but in a man’s costume. It would be an easy way out to explain why Steven Moffat put Irene in such a controversial position by pointing to the fact that Sherlock is a modern adaptation and that it has already become all-too-popular to sexualize Adler excessively. But if one would, instead, focus on the context in which Moffat places the character, they would find an entirely different answer to the question. The writer of the episode makes Irene a dominatrix, a sex worker who uses her sexuality for power play. In Doyle, Adler put on a male costume for the freedom and advantage it gave her over men (Krumm 194-95), and this was as subversive as it could get. In a modern version, cross-dressing would not be subversive at all, not to mention that it would not fool anyone. Instead, the use of her female sexuality in such a crude way as in the show allowed Irene to get the upper hand over the confused Sherlock. While a woman’s naked body is usually associated with being an object of the male gaze, here the nakedness of Irene is a weapon against the detective. The male gaze works against Sherlock. However, that is not to say that his mind gets sidetracked by the presence of a naked female body because it is an object of arousal. Rather, it should be underlined that since Irene Adler had almost nothing[63] about her person, the detective had no information to deduce from, or to put it more precisely – he had difficulties in concentrating on an “object” he did not expect to be met with. Thus, Irene beat him at his own game. Sherlock from the series is unable to decode the woman’s naked body,[64] just as Holmes from the books did not recognize the woman in the male costume.

The nakedness of Irene underlines yet another motif inspired by the canon – namely, that of Adler being Holmes’s counterpart. In relation to sexuality, this works as a binary opposition: the heroine sneeringly refers to Sherlock as “the Virgin,” whereas for her, sexuality serves as a means of empowerment. Besides, she shares sexual ambiguity with him. We know that Sherlock claims to be married to his work but, other than that, we know nothing about the reasons why he is indifferent to the sexual sphere of life (he never stated to be asexual, which would have explained a lot). Irene, on the other hand, claims to be homosexual, although the previous scenes reveal that she had an affair with a man. Whether it was just a part of her work or she is, in fact, bisexual, is not clarified. Nonetheless, regardless of its validity, the statement on her sexual orientation itself seems to be a concept that, yet again, reflects the canon in a distorted mirror; in the story Adler is unavailable to other men because she becomes a married woman, whereas in the modern adaptation labelling herself “gay” makes her unreachable.

The idea of Irene and Sherlock being each other’s counterparts is also visible in their being portrayed as intellectual equals. Doyle described Adler as having “the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men” (Doyle 166) and made her the only woman ever to beat Holmes. Likewise, in the television series Irene is clever enough to predict that with a man such as Sherlock her allure would not be of much use, and that she has to play his hubris against him, instead. However, this turns out to be a double-edged sword, and the power play between Irene and Sherlock in the show turns the other way round than in the canon: in Doyle, Holmes is outwitted by Adler, largely due to the fact that he did not expect a woman to be smart enough to do so; in Moffat’s appropriation, on the other hand, Sherlock defeats Irene who overplayed the game and gave herself away.

The combination of beauty and intellect contributed to the tendency to picture Irene Adler in derivative works as Holmes’s nemesis or, subsequently, as a femme fatale. The latter one was especially cherished by those who were looking for a romance between the two characters and preferred to ascribe the lack of it in the canon to the motif of Holmes’s unfulfilled love. In fact, the heroine from the original story might  already be seen an example of such a literary archetype; as Pascale Krumm notes, Adler “quite literally epitomized the nineteenth-century myth of the femme fatale” (194). Such a presentation of Adler as “the fatal woman” became a growing trend in cinematic depictions. In the 1946 Dressed to Kill (also known under the working title, Prelude to Murder), starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, the ruthless woman, Mrs Courtney (played by Patricia Morison), the brains behind a criminal gang, may be interpreted as an Adler-like character, since the film makes several references to “A Scandal in Bohemia,” most prominently in Mrs Courtney using a bogus fire to reveal the whereabouts of a hidden item – a neat reversal of events from Doyle’s story, in which it was Holmes who used the same ploy on Adler (although the heroine in her own right is mentioned in the dialogue between Holmes and Watson, as a tongue-in-cheek intertextual reference). More recently, the heroine was portrayed by Rachel McAdams in Sherlock Holmes (2009) and later sequel, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), as a sexually and socially liberated femme fatale, a temptress, a “world-class thief” and a scandalous trouble-maker, employed and manipulated by the detective’s greatest adversary in order to destroy the famous Sherlock Holmes, with whom the woman is infatuated. Irene Adler is also presented as an even more mysterious and menacing antagonist of Sherlock Holmes in the CBS television series, Elementary (2013).

As the examples provided above suggest, Irene Adler depicted as a femme fatale also paved the way for the demonization of the character, making her a rival to Holmes, or even bestowing her with villainous qualities. In the BBC Sherlock series Steven Moffat took advantage of these associations, already well-rooted in the collective imagination, and he also went one step further by linking the character of Irene with the detective’s arch-villain, Moriarty.[65] He might have as well related her to the devil himself because there is no better personification of pure evil in the canon. The relationship between Irene and Moriarty ultimately benefits both: the woman is given the advice on “how to play the Holmes boys” (meaning Sherlock and his brother, Mycroft), for which she provides Moriarty with the information she manipulatively gets out of Sherlock. Associating Irene with the antihero and thus making her a villain by extension is, perhaps, the best example of how much this character has been changed over time in comparison with the original story. After all, in Doyle, the men who pursued the woman, the king and Holmes himself, turn out to be “the villains” since they were wrong about Irene Adler’s true intentions.

Considering all the changes made to the character, conveniently expressed in various ways in the BBC Sherlock miniseries, the question arises whether Irene has really become as strong and dominant a character as she appears to be. On the one hand, the modern Irene Adler escapes the unjust categorisation of “woman as either a harlot or a housewife” (Krumm 194). In Doyle’s story she might be seen as both, since Adler, a former actress and opera singer (professions back then already implying an ill repute), leaves her past “of dubious and questionable memory” (Doyle 161) behind in want of escaping with her newly-wed husband. In comparison, in the modern version Irene’s reputation is also questionable but not, as we might expect, due to her profession (which makes her rather more ambiguous than unrespectable), but because of her scheming and plotting, let alone the connection with the “consulting criminal,” Moriarty. Still, even if Irene is no longer definedon the basis of her relationship with men, she fails to be truly her own person, since she is not independent from the criminal mastermind, after all – a man. She turns out to be even more dependent on men in the last scene, when Sherlock saves her from execution. She has previously been outsmarted by Sherlock, contrary to the original story, in which Holmes was defeated by the woman. In the episode, however, her position is, eventually, the one of a typical “damsel in distress.” Therefore, modern Irene may have escaped one pair of Victorian labels but she fell back into a yet more outdated feminine role – a step backwards even from Doyle’s original.[66] The argument that could somehow balance out this disparity of power between the man and the woman was put forward by the author of the episode himself in an interview for The Guardian:

Everyone else gets it that Irene wins. When Sherlock turns up to save her at the end it’s like Eliza Dolittle [sic!] coming back to Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady: ‘OK, I like you, now let me hack up these terrorists with a big sword.’

After all, if Sherlock turned up to rescue Irene, this must be indicative of his sentiment towards her, a sentiment, in his own words, “found in the losing side.” Also, since we have already mentioned the issue of “labelling” Irene, it should be pointed out that in the last line of the episode, Sherlock fondly refers to her as “The woman. The woman,” thus coming full circle to the original story.

Finally, the term “transmedia storytelling” – a concept discussed at large in the publications of Henry Jenkins – is worth mentioning to explain an idea of how the transformation of Irene Adler in later works could be perceived. Transmedia storytelling expects us to build our knowledge of the fictional world by looking not merely at the original or primary source, but also at information on the story’s universe across different works and media. It proposes an idea that the totality of derivative work is as important in comprehending such transmedia stories as the original source on which they are based. As expressed by Jenkins:

This process of world-building encourages an encyclopedic impulse in both readers and writers. We are drawn to master what can be known about a world which always expands beyond our grasp. This is a very different pleasure than we associate with the closure found in most classically constructed narratives, where we expect to leave the theatre knowing everything that is required to make sense of a particular story.

This might as well be applied to the Sherlock series, or – more precisely – the series falls within the body of fan work of a larger transmedia fandom. The method with which the creators of the showtackled the canon has already been discussed, but it has not yet been mentioned that because of such a casual, although not dismissive, attitude towards the original and the mix and match approach presupposing fan-based knowledge of viewers, this adaptation is, in many ways, similar to fan fiction. As in the case of fan fiction, the original story is not the only source of inspiration for Steven Moffat’s reinvention of Irene Adler. Actually, there is no definite end to the references that might be included in a transmedia story, of which the Sherlock series is clearly an example. This probably accounts for the phenomenon of fandoms flourishing on the Internet, a place where a fanbase has the best possible means of encompassing (although collectively rather than individually) the totality of the fictional universe. As fandoms grow larger than ever before due to the Internet’s availability in this day and age, their members become the intended audience of derivative works, such as adaptations. Not only are they well-acquainted with the canon, which enables them to spot all the subtleties and allusions, but they also indirectly shape the content of the new work, as the authors like to play with their expectations. Therefore, the relationship between the fandom and the authors of derivative works evolves gradually into the one of interdependence. Also, because of the fans’ “encyclopaedic knowledge,” the notion of the canon itself changes, which has an influence on the new adaptations as well. For instance, what should be treated as the Canon in the case of the Sherlock Holmes fandom is no longer a question with an easy answer. Although there still exists some kind of hierarchy, placing the original Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories at the top, the boundaries between thus understood canon and the well-known pastiches or adaptations become blurred. A good representation of this process is the currently popular distinction in the Internet-based communities between the original canon (Doyle’s canon) and the Sherlock canon (meaning the information on the characters and their adventures which one could gather just from the series, and which obviously departs to a great extent from Doyle’s canon), among other so-called “canons.” What is more, for some of the readers and viewers these derivative works, not the original stories, become the first source of encounter with the characters, thus inevitably shaping their initial impressions and assumptions about the fictional universe. In point of fact, Irene Adler – like many other literary characters who have been absorbed by popular culture – has not truly belonged to her original creator for a long time. Nor is she “owned” by the subsequent authors, who reinterpret Irene Adler for the new age. Her shape is ultimately determined by what she became, and is to become, in the collective consciousness of the recipients of culture. This approach also enables the character, now larger than the story itself, to endlessly transform according to the changing times, and gives an opportunity to reboot the heroine, instead of sending her on a literary exile.

The idea of fan fiction is to let your imagination run rampant, explore the possibilities of the characters, fill the gaps left by the original creator and approach the “what if” questions that arose over the years of reinterpreting, adapting and retelling the original. Indeed, Arthur Conan Doyle left enough gaps in “A Scandal in Bohemia” to raise speculations which, perhaps even more than the story itself, contributed to the heroine’s perception in the collective imagination. It may be that the writers of the Sherlock series are as much indebted to the pop-cultural image of Irene Adler and the expectations of the fandom as they are to the Doyle’s canon.

Works Cited

Doyle, Arthur Conan. “A Scandal in Bohemia.” The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes.Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985. 161-175. Print.

Dressed to Kill. Dir. Roy William Neill. Perf. Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Patricia Morison. Universal Pictures, 1946. Film.

“Heroine.” Elementary. Dir. John Polson. Perf. Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Natalie Dormer. CBS. 16 May. 2013. Television.

Jeffries, Stuart. “‘There is a Clue Everybody’s Missed’: Sherlock Writer Steven Moffat Interviewed.” The Guardian. guardian.co.uk. 20 Jan 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. henryjenkins.org. 22 Mar. 2007. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

—. “Transmedia 202: Further Reflections.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. henryjenkins.org. 1 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Jones, Jane Clare. “Is Sherlock Sexist? Steven Moffat’s Wanton Women.” The Guardian. guardian.co.uk. 3 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Klinger, Leslie S. The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes.New York, London: Norton, 2005. Print.

Krumm, Pascale. “‘A Scandal In Bohemia’ And Sherlock Holmes’s Ultimate Mystery Solved.” English Literature In Transition, 1880-1920 39.2 (1996): 193-203. Academic Search Complete. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

Polatynska, Joanna, and Catharina Polatynska. “A Few Words about Theatres in Warsaw or Where Sang Irene Adler.” diogenes-club.com. 2000. Web. 24 Mar. 2014.

Redmond, Christopher. A Sherlock Holmes Handbook. Toronto: Dundurn, 2009. Print.

“A Scandal in Belgravia.” Sherlock. Dir. Paul McGuigan. Perf. Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman, Lara Pulver. BBC Wales/Hartswood Films. BBC One. 1 Jan. 2012. Television.

Sherlock Holmes. Dir. Guy Ritchie. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams. Warner Bros, 2009. Film.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Dir. Guy Ritchie. Perf. Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams. Warner Bros, 2011. Film.

Syme, Holger. “Steven Moffat, Sherlock, and Neo-Victorian Sexism.” dispositio. dispositio.net. 2 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2013.

“Taming the Woman: Irene Adler and the Male Gaze.” 3chicGeeks. 3chicgeeks.com. 23 May 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2014.

“The Woman.” Elementary. Dir. Seith Mann. Perf. Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, Natalie Dormer. CBS. 16 May. 2013. Television.

Vanacker, Sabine. “Sherlock’s Progress through History: Feminist Revisions of Holmes.” Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle: Multi-Media Afterlives. Eds. Sabine Vanacker, Catherine Wynne. Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 93-108. Print.

 

 

Magdalena Zegarlińska

­University of Gdańsk

Intertextuality of C.S. Lewis’ The Last Battle

The Chronicles of Narnia has an established position in the canon of children’s literature. However, what on the surface is a fairy tale involving adventures and magic; with children, kings, talking beasts, and wood spirits as main protagonists; is, in fact, a set of stories deeply rooted in Christian and chivalric traditions, containing elements of beast fable and morality tale. The story, according to Madeline L’Engle, depending on the reader’s cultural knowledge and experience, may be understood on various levels, from the literal one of an adventure story for children, through the moral and allegorical levels, eventually reaching the anagogical level. While reading The Chronicles, one is able to notice various references to other written works, interwoven into the text, with the Bible, chivalric romances and beast fables being the most prominent sources of intertextual allusions. In The Last Battle Lewis attempts to answer John Donne’s question, “What if this present were the world’s last night?” (Holy Sonnet XIII) and presents a comprehensive image of Narnian apocalypse and life after death in Aslan’s country. The following paper will present the most noteworthy intertextual references in the final volume of The Narniad.

 

key words: Narnia, chronicles, intertextuality, apocalypse, Bible, chivalric, beast, fable, Arthur, Roland.

In his essay “On Criticism,”Lewis stated that:

The meaning of a book is the series of systems of emotions, reflections, and attitudes produced by reading it . . . This product differs with different readers . . . The ideally true or right meaning would be that shared by the largest number of the best readers after repeated and careful readings over several generations, different periods, nationalities, moods, degrees of alertness, private preoccupations, states of health, spirits, and the like cancelling one another out when . . . they cannot be fused so as to enrich one another. (56)

The Chronicles of Narnia, a fairy tale about kings, talking beasts, magic, with children as main protagonists is, in fact, a set of stories deeply rooted in Christian and chivalric traditions which, depending on the reader’s cultural knowledge and experience, may be understood on various levels. The following paper will discuss the most prominent intertextual allusions including references to the Bible, and the Book of Revelation in particular; the most popular chivalric romances: Le Morte d’Arthur and The Song of Roland; and finally beast fable represented by Aesop’s The Ass in the Lion’s Skin.

 

1. Main Biblical references

 

Paul F. Ford praises Lewis for “the successful attempt to remythologize the Christian creed,” which means that through his stories Lewis succeeds in providing a new meaning to the well-known doctrines (353). Allusions to the Bible are numerous, starting with the Great Lion called Aslan who is the counterpart of Jesus Christ. The similarities are multifarious: he sacrifices his life for a traitor; he is praised by the Narnians as their God; all believers go to his country after death and, eventually, he returns to Narnia in its final day to pass the last judgment on all creatures (138; 140). A huge lion, both terrible and beautiful, with golden luminous mane and radiant fur, and equal in size to a young elephant (138; 154), he is “the epitome of the majestic, the glorious and the numinous” (55). His breath is not only able to resurrect, e.g. the creatures turned into stone by the White Witch, but also to comfort and give courage. The motif of “holy breath” or “the breath of life” is deeply rooted in the Judaeo-Christian tradition and associated with the Holy Spirit. In St John’s Gospel, when Jesus visits his apostles after the resurrection, he breathes on them: “then said Jesus to them again, peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (20: 21-22). Aslan’s breath plays the same role, which one may notice in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, when he forgives Edmund his treason and breathes on him in order to fill him with grace. The creation of Narnia is another significant moment when Aslan’s breath is described in terms of “the breath of life.” When he breathes, animals receive his grace and become talking beasts. Such properties of the Holy Spirit are mentioned in the Second Letter to the Corinthians (3:18). Aslan is merciful and loves all Narnians exactly like Jesus loves all people. He addresses his worshippers using phrases like “dear child,” “son,” or “beloved” (154, 155) which is reminiscent of the Gospel of Matthew, where God rewards faithful servants with equivalent words (25: 21-23).At the same time, Aslan’s great Father – a God figure – is called The-Emperor-beyond-the-sea. He is omnipotent, thus he resurrects Aslan the day after he is killed, which is an obvious allusion to Jesus’ crucifiction and resurrection. Prior to the apocalypse, Aslan’s name becomes mispronounced as Tashlan (by mixing it with Tash, the name of the Calormene god) to prove that they are in fact one and the same creature, which may serve as an allusion to the philosophy of Universalism.[67] Tash, Aslan’s antagonist,[68] is presented in such a way that he may be considered a counterpart of the devil, with an appearance of a demon or a monster. The High King Peter dismisses this creature from Aslan’s world to “his own place” (125), which suggests that since he is not allowed to stay in heaven, it is hell that he comes from.

Narnian chronology is similar to the Biblical one. It starts with the world’s creation, continues with Aslan sacrificing his life on the stone table, his resurrection, and eventually the description of the apocalypse, the last judgment, and the afterlife in Aslan’s country. This eschatological vision is presented as the reversal of the act of creation.[69] Plants and trees are eaten by monster lizards and dragons, and when there is no life left, everything becomes covered with water, even the stars that had previously fallen from the sky. Ultimately, at Aslan’s command the sun absorbs the moon and is squeezed by Father Time which signals the advent of eternal darkness. Everything, including time, ceases to exist (148). The majority of those motifs may be encountered in St John’s Apocalypse, e.g. the destruction of the sky, the Moon’s death, and the rain of stars: “There was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places” (Revelation 6: 12-14). Also, the lands’ demolition is present in the Book of Revelation: “And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found” (16:20). In both Lewis’s and Biblical visions of the apocalypse the dominating atmosphere is the one of fear and chaos. Also, the Last Judgement is conducted in an analogous manner. In the Bible people are obliged to stand in front of God and wait to be judged (Revelation 16: 11-18; 20:12) and so are the inhabitants of Narnia when they face Aslan before entering his country. Prior to the Apocalypse, some of the Narnians, on seeing evil that is being performed in the name of their God, are disheartened and lose faith in Aslan: “would it not be better to be dead than to have this horrible fear that Aslan has come and is not like the Aslan we believed in and longed for?, they cry” (29). Those who convert are allowed to pass into the Aslan’s country, others are annihilated in the dying world.

The stable around which the main plot of The Last Battle is concentrated is a very mysterious place. A wooden hut on the outside, it contains an enormous land without borders inside (132). Drawing conclusions from Lucy’s utterance, “in our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” (132), one may assume that she refers to the place where Christ was born in Bethlehem. Lucy emphasizes God’s greatness by remarking that what is inside the stable is beyond the material and the human. Similarly, the hill called Aslan’s How, where the Lion once sacrificed his life and rose from the dead, evokes immediate association with Calvary where Christ was crucified. Ford, in addition, suggests that the hill resembles Celtic burial places (96).

After the apocalypse believers are saved behind the stable door in the land called “the Real Narnia” (159), which is another clear allusion to the Bible: “and I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Revelation 21:1). The description of this land is an extended metaphor. Spring and nature bursting with colours are, in the majority of world mythologies including Christian beliefs, associated with life, festivity, joy and God’s grace, whereas winter, darkness and emptiness left outside clearly allude to death, decay, and hell (Ford 246). Those two worlds are separated by the locked door – a metaphor of death, a border between life and the afterlife. In Aslan’s country one cannot experience fear even if one desires to, because it is the land of love and grace (162; 163). A similar motif can be found in the New Testament with regard to heaven (1 John 4:18). Another Biblical motif are fruit trees. One can find them as early as in the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis, up to the description of the Apocalypse: “On either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). Again, Lewis repeats this motif in both the first and the last volume of the series. While travelling across Aslan’s country, the characters reach the garden where the Tree of Protection grows (128), which is an immediate allusion to the Biblical garden of Eden: “and the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed” (Genesis 2:8). The garden has exactly the same properties as the stable: it appears to be far larger inside than it seems to be from the outside. The fact that people in Narnia are called sons of Adam and daughters of Eve is an obvious Biblical reference as well.

 

2. Philosophy

 

Apart from Christian beliefs, Lewis notably often alludes to Platonic philosophy. “To lose what I owe Plato and Aristotle,” he once said, “would be like an amputation of a limb. Hardly any lawful price seems to me too high for what I have gained by being made to learn Latin and Greek” (32). The references to Plato’s theories recur throughout the saga with a spectacular climax in The Last Battle, when Lord Digory exclaims, “it’s all in Plato, all in Plato!” (160). This statement gives the reader a clear clue as to the correct way of interpreting the final scene of The Narniad. In accordance with the Platonic tradition, all material objects on the earth are merely images or imitations of the transcendent ideas existing in “a higher, more perfect, spiritual reality” (Ford 339). In Narnia this “overworld of self- subsisting ideas” (Ford 339) is Aslan’s eternal country. The world outside, the disappearing Narnia, is referred to by Aslan as “The Shadowlands” (171), which, again, is a reinterpretation of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where all that people could see were merely shadows of things. Although Narnia is destroyed, it is only shadows that are gone and not the genuine country. Another reference to the Allegory of the Cave is the situation of the renegade dwarfs locked in an imaginary stable (140). Because of their lack of faith and stubbornness, they mentally do not enter Aslan’s country but stay imprisoned. “They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out,” says Aslan (140).

As I have remarked, Aslan’s land has one unusual property: it is far larger inside that it seems to be from the outside. While the characters move “Further up and further in!,” the world around them becomes more and more real, bigger and flawless and they experience greater and greater beauty and perfection. The landscapes are almost identical to the ones in the old Narnia but somehow deeper and more real. Such a situation was discussed by St. Thomas Aquinas and referred by Ford to the Narnian situation thus: “Were one able to go ‘further up and further in’ – into the very mind and being of God – one would find not an utterly new reality but something strangely familiar, something ‘like’ the world one had always known before, only supremely better” (340). The protagonists, being unable to comprehend the new situation, initially do not see the resemblance, yet with time they learn to notice it.

Another concept drawn from Plato and St Augustine is the “ascent of the soul,” which Lewis in his Pilgrim’s Regress defines as “a restless piercing desire for the unlimited source of all reality and perfection” which has been commenced by God’s creation (7). The creature that embodies the concept in The Last Battle is Jewel the Unicorn, who exclaims upon arrival to Alan’s country: “I have come home at last! This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now” (161). “Platonic quest for reality” becomes realized when all believers eventually find their place in Aslan’s world and their souls make a full circle returning to the place where they were created (Ford 341).

 

3. Chivalric Romance and The Middle Ages

 

“Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book,” Lewis defined his concepts of adventure prose in Letters to Malcolm (54). The Middle Ages is an epoch that strongly influenced the writer, thus references and allusions to this period are fairly explicit in his works. The Chronicles of Narnia bear a particularly strong resemblance to chivalric romance, The Song of Roland and Arthurian Legends being perfect examples. Similarities are connected with plots, events and descriptions of places. The setting evokes the one that dominated in chivalric stories. Narnian topography is very European and may be compared to the Northern and Western areas of the continent. Lewis “recovers a medieval worldview of a Narnia-centered universe,” professes Ford (104). The protagonists wear mediaeval robes and armour and use bows and swords in combat. Narnian clothes are made of natural fabrics in earth colours, which may be a reference to Celtic robes. The food is also simple: meat, cheese, bread or wine are a major source of sustenance. The fact that Narnia is a pre-industrial world is not a matter of coincidence; Ford claims that Lewis archaised the temporal plane of the series in order to overcome the “increasing separation of humanity from nature” (424).

 

3.1 Royal references

Narnia is a monarchy; hence various elements of courtly life are described, including customs, knightly courtesy, duels, coronations and oaths of allegiance to the crown. The story is centred on Cair Paravel[70] and its inhabitants, but does not take place in the castle itself. Tirian, the last king of Narnia, cultivates the tradition of his ancestors and follows royal commitments. He attaches great importance to observing virtue and the code of chivalry. When he kills a Calormene soldier without previously challenging him to a fight, he feels ashamed and unworthy of being a king, says, “I who was king of Narnia and am now a dishonoured knight” (29). Moral obligation forces him to surrender to the enemy, since, “to seek honour unselfishly and to behave honourably may be said to be one definition of a true Narnian” (Ford 251). Even facing danger in battle, Tirian behaves like a warrior. He urges Jill not to weep or at least to protect the bow against her tears (116), and he reminds Eustace to clean his sword every time it is stained with blood (75). Regardless of being a king, Tirian does not hide in the castle giving commands, but bravely fights alongside his faithful servants to save Narnia. Being a skilful knight, he instructs the children in the basic principles of warcraft (58; 59). Although Narnia has not recently been involved in any conflicts with neighbouring countries, the king attaches great importance to keeping up all the military buildings prepared to serve as a shelter in case of danger (53). The king’s courtesy reveals itself in his noble manners. “I have done thee some discourtesy, soldier, but such was my need” (63), he says, and rebukes Eustace for his swearing at the dwarfs, “no warrior scolds. Courteous words or else hard knocks are his only language” (116).

 

3.2 Allusions to the Song of Roland and Le Morte d’Arthur

The most striking similarities between The Last Battle and The Song of Roland begin with their inclusion of the battle as the main event (The Last Battle 108; Song of Roland, Stanza 123). In the latter, the Frankish army of Chalermagne tries to force the Muslims, led by king Marsilla, to leave Christian Europe (Stanzas 123, 124). In Narnia, the reader is able to notice a parallel situation: the Narnians bravely fight with dark-skinned Calormenes, Tash’s followers (108-25). The culture of the invaders clearly resembles Arabic traditions, as presented in Arabian Nights. Similar clothes, weapons and a highly sophisticated manner of speaking, (“Know, O Warlike Kings, and you, o ladies whose beauty illuminates the universe, that I am Emeth of the city of Tehishbaan” [152]), leave no doubt as to the correct interpretation. The last battle of Narnia is very cruel. Lewis does not restrain himself from picturing violence, but shows it together with a specific reaction of the characters, such as Jill’s weeping on seeing cruel treatment of Narnian horses and Eustace’s gallantry in battle. He realizes that wars and battles were an inseparable part of medieval reality and there is no war without blood and suffering. In The Song of Roland the descriptions of combat are also quite detailed. For instance, Roland’s death and his physical injuries are meticulously described (Stanzas 135; 168).

The presence of a traitor is another common feature of both literary works. Ganelon and Shift,[71] though for different reasons, both act against their fatherland (The Last Battle 15; Stanzas 80, 272). The traitors become punished and die a painful death: Shift is devoured by Tash (109, 135) and Ganelon is torn into pieces by galloping horses (Stanza 289).

Although in both cases the opposing forces substantially outnumber Roland and Tirian’s armies, the leaders bravely face the invaders, regardless of the consequences. Most of the warriors sacrifice their lives on the battlefield, including Roland whose death has become one of the most memorable images of chivalric literature and Tirian who leaves earthly life behind entering Aslan’s country through the stable door (124). In both stories a magical horn is used at the end. In The Song of Roland it is supposed to bring help when there is no hope of winning (Stanza 135). In The Last Battle Father Time, on Aslan’s command, blows the horn to make the world end and throws the instrument into the sea afterwards (141).

Le Morte d’Arthur contains many elements parallel to The Narniad as well. The protagonist is a king who is a young man: Tirian clearly echoes Arthur (17). Moreover, magic is a crucial constituent of both texts. In the case of Narnia the representatives of black and white magic are The White Witch and Aslan (Ford 304). Lewis gives more priority to prayer than to magical practices and presents Alsan’s power theologically (Ford 301). When Aslan is killed and resurrected, he explains that there is magic more powerful and older than everything in the world, which clearly refers to God and his omnipotence (Ford 305). In Arthurian legends Merlin the wizard is Arthur’s tutor. He represents a traditional medieval archetype of an alchemist and a magician (White 114).

Connected to magic is the presence of supernatural creatures. Most of them are taken from the world’s mythologies,[72] especially the Greek and Celtic ones. In Narnia they peacefully coexist with people and talking beasts, being legitimate citizens of Narnia, and their aim is to “be the symbols for qualities present in our own world” and “to convey psychology and character type to a wider audience than lengthy novels will reach” (White 71). The forests are inhabited by dryads, sprites, fauns, centaurs and dwarfs. Each of the “species” is unique and plays a different role in the Narnian hierarchy. Jewel the Unicorn deserves special attention. He is an outstanding figure, an embodiment of a knightly ethos, “a heraldic figure, almost too noble to be true” (Ford 265). “In Christian mythology a Unicorn is a symbol of the Word of God,” argues Ford, drawing attention to the fact that a duel between a lion and a unicorn can be found in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass (265). In The Chronicles, however, Jewel should by no means be associated with Aslan’s foe; on the contrary, he is the one who keeps the faith in Aslan until the end.

The motif of the holy blood is another common element of both stories. Aslan’s blood is shed to save Edmund in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and in Le Morte d’Arthur the story of the Holy Grail, the legendary goblet that was supposed to be used during the Last Supper and later on to hold Christ’s blood, is told (Ford 101). In both cases readers experience the mysticism connected with sacredness, and the aura of mystery accompanying both Aslan and Christ. The motif of a sword, characteristic of chivalric romance, also reappears in the Narniad. In The Song of Roland and Le Morte d’Arthur the warriors posses wonderful steel weapons, one of them being the mythical Excalibur; in The Narniad the sacred sword, or rather a big knife, is made of stone and used to kill Aslan on the stone table (Ford 410). The knife is later left on the magical table on Ramandu Island as a holy relic (Ford 411).

Literary works discussed above present similar problems: what it means to be a good knight and a good ruler, the consequences of following or disregarding knightly morality, and the coexistence of the supernatural with the earthly. What is highly valued are “the three theological virtues of both medieval thought and Christian theology: faith, hope and love” (Ford 254).

4. Beast fable elements and their didactic purpose

 

As far as literary genres are concerned, The Last Battle is deeply indebted to beast fable conventions. Encyclopædia Britannica defines this kind of literature as “a prose or verse fable or short story that usually has a moral. In beast fables animal characters are represented as acting with human feelings and motives” (“Beast Fable”). One may begin enumerating the resemblances by stating that most of the protagonists in Narnia are talking beasts which in the book embody various human features. They are bigger than ordinary animals, often walk straight using two legs (or, in fact, hoofs or paws) and are “anthropomorphized to a high degree” (Ford 420). Narnia is a beast land, the only representatives of “Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve” (The Last Battle 169) are members of the royal family and English children summoned by Aslan. The neighbouring countries, Calormene and Archenland are, in contrast, mainly inhabited by people.

In accordance with beast fable conventions, Lewis equips each of his animal characters with certain features of human personality, which is often echoed by the choice of their names or species they belong to. He uses them as hieroglyphs of human features, which is in a perfect way illustrated by his poem entitled “Impertinence”:

Why! All cry out to be used as symbols,

Masks for Man, cartoons, parodies by Nature

Formed to reveal us

Each to each, not fiercely but in her gentlest

Vein of household laughter” (27).

Shift, the Ape, was created as an embodiment of greed and avarice, and as a miscreant who exploits others, including Puzzle, a donkey being “a hieroglyph of the stubborn, foolish, braying person” (Ford 174). This character must have been inspired by Aesop’s tale entitled “The Ass in the Lion’s Skin,”which is a story of a donkey that finds a lion’s skin, wears it and wanders through the woods, trying to frighten other animals. What betrays him is his bray being heard by a fox, who reprimands the ass, saying: “Clothes may disguise a fool, but his words will give him away”(Aesop). Asimilar motif can be found in one of the Indian traditional fables of the same title. Its plot is, however, slightly different. Here, a hawker, which wanders from village to village with his ass, dresses the animal in the lion’s skin and lets it graze in a barley field. People who see it mistake the donkey for a real lion and attack it. Their rage even increases when they hear the beast’s bray and they kill the creature. The future Buddha being a witness of this occurrence, comments on the situation in the following way:

Long might the ass, clad in a lion’s skin,

Have fed on the barley green. But he brayed!

And that moment he came to ruin. (Jacobs)

In both fables the moral is exactly the same: no matter how good one’s disguise is, a single sound is enough to betray the impostor; hence, one’s true nature cannot be hidden.

The fact that Shift is an ape is meaningful. Although all Narnian inhabitants are anthropomorphized and intelligent, they usually possess features associated with their particular species, i.e. foxes are sly, owls are clever, and horses are hard-working. The primates are human’s closest relatives possessing the best developed minds of all animals, which may suggest that they are clever and cunning enough to contrive a plot having such horrible consequences as Shift’s malicious plan had. Moreover, the Ape, probably to emphasize his usurped authority, renounces his animal descent and claims to be an old wise man (32). He is definitely the most repellent creature of those who take part in the Narnian apocalypse. His relationship with Puzzle is rather like the one of a master and servant, since Shift is selfish and unconcerned with anything but himself (11). He degenerates more and more as his power increases and becomes an alcoholic dressed up in silly, gaudy clothes and a paper crown, calling himself, “lord Shift, the mouthpiece of Aslan” (30). On every occasion he takes advantage of his position and makes all creatures serve him. This feature of his personality reveals itself when he makes a series of Freudian slips, such as “I want – I mean Aslan wants” (31).

Among all the other beasts that participate in the events preceding the end of Narnia, one creature, namely a lamb, deserves special attention. The author equips the lamb with wisdom and moral courage and makes him “a hieroglyph of innocence” (Ford 281). Undoubtedly, the immediate association with the Christian symbol of a lamb as Christ the Redeemer ought to appear in readers’ minds.

Beast fable conventionally possesses a didactic tone and a moral at the end which is usually very explicit and clear – the good characters are rewarded, the bad ones punished, and the reader draws his or her conclusions from the situation described. Węgrodzka comments on this feature as follows: “didactic purpose evidently and palpably dominates . . . with focus on such didactic conventions as saint’s legends . . . or moral manuals” (16). Fables often end with an aphorism conveying some general truth about the world. In The Last Battle the situation is parallel. The author quite distinctly specifies what the moral is: traitors and villains pay for their wickedness, whereas good deeds are rewarded by Aslan. The lesson is that decent and honest behaviour is always profitable. Lang specifies the role of tales claiming that they ought to “unobtrusively teach the true lessons of our wayfaring in a world of perplexities and obstructions” (52).

 

5. Conclusion

 

Reading The Chronicles of Narnia is a unique experience. Each chapter makes the reader more and more involved in the story and eventually one begins to believe that Narnia truly exists, right at the back of one’s wardrobe. Lewis created the land so real and so perfectly organized that one finds it hard to resist the feeling that Narnia really exists somewhere. The Narnian saga was constructed in such a way that it embeds serious religious and philosophical considerations into children’s fiction and thus the multiplicity of levels on which the story can be understood makes the Narniad suitable for readers of all ages. Węgrodzka encourages adult readers to appreciate the intricacies of children’s literature in the following way: “The inherent complexity of communicative situation should be a warning against dismissing children’s literature per se as unworthy of critical attention” (20). Lewis emphasizes in The Chronicles the significance of remaining childlike and innocent, and tells the stories from a child’s point of view, though enriched with serious mature considerations (Ford 140-41). Most readers begin their acquaintance with Lewis when they are children, becoming familiar with The Chronicles of Narnia. What is revealed to them at that time is a series of very interesting adventure stories, with wide spectrum of various kinds of protagonists. With increasing awareness of the world, which is acquired in the process of growing up, they reach for the book once again. During this second reading certain intertextual references and allusions come into view. But only as a mature reader, acquainted with other Lewis’ works, is one able to fully appreciate the complexity of his Narnian saga.

Works Cited

Aesop. “The Ass in Lion’s skin.” classiclit.about.com. about.com. n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

“Beast fable.” Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 2008. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia: A Complete Guide to the Magical World of C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.Rev. ed. San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 2005. Print.

The Holy Bible: King James Version. New York: American Bible Society,1999. Print.

Jacobs, Joseph. “The Ass in the Lion’s Skin.” Sacred Texts. n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

Lang, Andrew. “Modern Fairy Stories.” C. S. Lewis. Ed. Green. London: The Bodley Head, 1963. Print.

Lewis C.S. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964. Print.

—. “Impertinence.” Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1967. Print.

—. “On Criticism.” Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories. Ed. Walter Hooper. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1966.Print.

—. The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason and Romanticism. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1958. Print.

—. The Last Battle. Glasgow: William Collins, 1987. Print.

The Song of Roland. Ed. James Burrow.London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2000. Print.

Węgrodzka, Jadwiga. Patterns of Enchantment: E. Nesbit and the Traditions of Children’s Literature. Sopot: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego, 2007. Print.

White, William L. The Image of Man in C. S. Lewis. New York: Abingdon Press, 1969. Print.

 

 

 

Notes on Contributors

 

Having graduated from the University of St Andrews with an MA Hons degree in English and Latin, Laura Beattie will soon complete a Master’s degree in English Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin where her research interests lie in the fields of Renaissance literature, particularly Shakespeare, classical mythology and its reception, Victorian literature and the American novel.

 

Justyna Dąbrowska is an MA student of English Philology at the University of Łódź. She completed her BA thesis entitled “‘Neither at things, nor at people should one look’: the Gaze Chain in Oscar Wilde’s Salomé” at the Department of Drama and Pre-1800 English Literature at the University of Łódź, and earned a distinction for it. Her main academic interests include modern Irish drama (especially the work of Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats), contemporary Irish drama and the broadly defined concept of visuality. She is also interested in the portrayal of women in drama and in the Bible. She is the president of The Geoffrey Chaucer Student Society at the Department of Drama and Pre-1800 English Literature at the University of Łódź.

 

Katarzyna Lisowska is a Ph.D. student in the Institute of Polish Philology at the University of Wrocław. The subjects of her interest are Gender Studies, especially such currents as: Men’s Studies, Queer Theory, Gay and Lesbian Studies. In her doctoral thesis she is considering different kinds of metaphors in gender discourse. She published essays and reviews in e.g.: “Przegląd Humanistyczny,” “Zagadnienia Rodzajow Literackich,” and “Czas Kultury.” She was a participant of a number of conferences, e.g. International Interdisciplinary Conference „Kinds and Styles of Criticism,” „Pogranicza płci” (Katowice, 19.11.2012), VI Międzynarodowa Konferencja Doktorantów Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego (Szczecin, 25.10.2013), Interdyscyplinarna Konferencja Naukowa „Teksty kultury uczestnictwa” (Warszawa, 07.11.2013).

 

Aleksandra Mrówka is a doctoral candidate at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, where she is a member of  the Department of the 20th and 21st-Century British Literature and Culture in the Institute of English Philology. English medieval romance, with emphasis on the Celtic legend about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, belongs to the scope of her academic interests. Her PhD dissertation is a research on the female experience of magic and the supernatural in this fascinating literary genre.

 

Martyna Paśnik is a graduate of English Philology at the University of Łódź and a member of The Geoffrey Chaucer Student Society. As an active member of the Open Boat Students’ Society she is a cotranslator for the literary journal Dekadentzya. She is interested in British and American literature, mainly in children’s and young adult literature and the period of the 19th century, which is visible in both of her already written theses, her BA thesis, entitled “Human Gods and Their Imperfect Perfection: Dr House as a Descendant of Sherlock Holmes and Auguste Dupin” and her MA thesis “The Secrets of Popularity and The Universal Appeal of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.” Currently, she is studying German Philology at the University of Łódź and writing her BA Thesis on the influence of age over language acquisition.

 

Magdalena Popłońska earned her bachelor’s degree in English Philology at the University of Łódź. Her thesis, entitled “From the Streets of London to the Great Detective – the Role of the City in the Sherlock Holmes Canon,” received a distinction. From the very beginning of her studies she has taken active part in the projects of The Geoffrey Chaucer Student Society. Her research interests include: the Sherlock Holmes Canon, history, society and cultural life of Victorian London, nineteenth and twentieth-century literature, classic literature adaptations, popular culture, media audiences and fandoms, digital culture, intertextuality, metafiction, meta analysis, as well as the theory of memory and perspective. She is currently working on her MA dissertation, which will revolve around the topics of memory and perspective in Michael Frayn’s drama, Copenhagen.

 

Magdalena Zegarlińska is a senior year graduate student at the University of Gdansk. She is an author of various articles devoted to film studies and British literature, and a member of research groups conducting research in the area of dreams, memory and imagination, and minorities. Her PhD dissertation is devoted to film studies and various manifestations of duality in David Lynch’s films as a source of Freudian “uncanny.” The title of her MA dissertation was: “A passage to Ridleyville: A comparative analysis of visual and auditory elements in “Alien,” “Blade Runner” “Legend,” “Black Rain,” “Gladiator” and “Black Hawk Down,” directed by Ridley Scott.” The subject of her BA research was congruent with the title of the article published in the present journal, i.e. “Intertextuality of The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis.” Her personal interests include film studies, psychoanalysis, British Victorian literature, and British children’s literature.

 

[1] Some modern interpretations of the Orpheus myth include, for example, Rilke’s Die Sonette an Orpheus, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Rushdie’s The Ground Beneath Her Feet and Carol Ann Duffy’s “Eurydice.”For a selective history of the Orpheus myth from Apollonius’ Argonautica to A.D. Hope’s “Orpheus” (1991) see G. Miles 61-195.

[2] Throughout this essay I will be using the terms “poetry” and “song” interchangeably when referring to Orpheus’ art because the Latin word carmen used by Ovid and Virgil can be used to mean both.

[3] All quotations from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are taken from the Latin text accessed online via http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/ovid.html.

[4] For an enlightening discussion of the importance of eloquence in the Renaissance see N. Rhodes, The Power of Eloquence and English Renaissance Literature (St. Martin’s Press, 1992).

[5] I mention the Metamorphoses first over the Georgics because Ovid was read more, and by a wider audience in the Renaissance than Virgil and so was more likely to be where Renaissance readers first encountered the story of Orpheus. (See, for example Root 3-4 or Miles 9).

[6] See Warden 4.

[7] Translation: Orpheus was “charming tigers and leading oak trees with his song.”

[8] Sandys, in his commentary on Ovid’s Metamorphoses (479) and Puttenham in his Art of English Poesie (99) make similar points, specifying that it was hymns in particular whose creation Orpheus was responsible for.

[9] All quotations from R.B. Gent, Orpheus and His Journey to Hell are taken from the text given in A. Leigh DeNeef, ‘The Poetics of Orpheus: The Text and a Study of Orpheus His Journey to Hell (1595)’, Studies in Philology 89.1 (Jan. 1992):20-70.

[10] In Georgics Book 1 Virgil tells us that the Golden Age is over and Jupiter has now instigated the Iron Age by predarique lupos iussit pontumque moveri (commanding the wolves to predate and the seas to become rough 1.130) while in the Metamorphoses, the human race becomes so depraved that Jupiter must send down the flood in order that all sin be purged (see 1.231-61).

[11] There is a vast number of examples of this representation of Orpheus. Some of these include William Kempe’s The Education of Children in Learning, Thomas Lodge’s A Defence of Poetry, Music and Stage Plays, Louis Leroy’s Of the Interchangeable Course, or the Variety of Things in the Whole World, William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, William Vaughan’s The Golden Grove, William Webbe’s A Discourse of English Poetrie.

[12] Translation: “Orpheus, the holy interpreter of the gods, prevented wild men from massacres and barbaric living. On account of this, he was said to have softened the natures of tigers and mad lions.”

[13] The Oxford English Dictionary defines “natural philosophy” as “the study of natural bodies and the phenomena connected with them; natural science; (in later use) spec. physical science, physics” (“Natural Philosophy”).

[14] Ovid’s version of the Ages of Man, as related in the Metamorphoses (1.89-150), does not contain the Age of Heroes.

[15] Anonymous, A Most Pleasant Comedie of Mucedorus the Kings Sonne of Valentia and Amadine the Kings Daughter of Arragon (Printed for William Iones, dwelling at Holborne conduit, at the signe of the Gunne, 1598) Sig. O2v.

[16] This may also be found in Song of Sg. 2.1-2

[17] Song of Sg. 4.1

[18] “Thy body was a column of ivory set on a silver socket. It was a garden full of doves and of silver lilies” (Wilde 741).

[19] Song of Sg. 4.3

[20] “It is like a pomegranate cut with a knife of ivory” (Wilde 726).

[21] Song of Sg. 4.4

[22] Cf. Bach 237

[23] Song of Sg. 5.1

[24] Cf. Bach 237

[25] Jay C. Treat notes that “[i]n the Song of Songs, gender-neutral language can confuse the reader . . . Without a[n] . . . aid for the reader in English, it is sometimes difficult to tell who is speaking to whom at various points in the text” (661). Here, the Polish translation of the Bible is of a great help, as it makes it possible to determine the gender of the speakers in the Song of Songs.

[26] Bach also uses this quote in her table, but she does not say anything about the particulars of Salomé’s similarity to the female lover from the Song.

[27] Song of Sg. 8.6, 8.7

[28] All citations come from the edition listed in the Works Cited section and are marked by the abbreviation “P” with a page number.

[29] Writing about Stéphane Mallarmé’s poetry, Barbara Johnson differentiated the play between texts from the play within texts: “Mallarmé internalizes intertextual heterogeneity and puts it to work not as a relation between texts but as a play of intervals within texts” (121; emphasis original). However, in the broad perspective on intertextuality which I would like to present, these two modes of textual interaction can be combined.

[30] I owe this reference to remarks presented by Henryk Markiewicz in the text “Odmiany intertekstualności” (see: Markiewicz 199).

[31] Such typologies are to be found in many works which take up the problem of intertextuality. Although it would be impossible to refer to all of them, I would like to mention the remarks of Michał Głowiński who argues that intertextual references could be considered as a structural element of a particular text, a relation to the literary genres or a problem of literary evolution (Głowiński 33). Similar conclusions were presented by Julia Kristeva in Séméiotikè: recherches pour une sémanalyse (Paris, 1969).

[32] In the second type of intertextual strategies “certain elements” and “motifs” from other texts are “freely developed,” while in the third group “intertexts are abstracted literary kinds, styles and various types of aesthetics” (Rulewicz 233).

[33] As Głowiński emphasizes, an intertextual relation requires treating the reference to the prior text as an element of a semantic construction of the new text (Głowiński 13).

[34] In other words, it allows us “to see intertextuality as the mutual displacement of the literary and the historical or social by each other” (Rajan 63).

[35] Friedman argues that: “The discourse of intertextuality blends and clashes with the discourse of influence” (154).

[36] Clayton and Rothstein associate this perspective with “two schools, Rezeptionsästetik and critics associated with Michael Foucault” (26). Here, the second one is the most important since it combines intertextuality theory with questions of “race, class, and in its most recent manifestations, gender” (26).

[37] In the “Notes” (P 197) Atwood refers to Robert Graves’s The Greek Myths and the authors mentioned by him (e.g. Herodotus, Pausanias, Apollodorus, Hyginus). Still, the basis of The Penelopiad is Homer’s The Odyssey.

[38] This issue is crucial to the problem of intertextuality. Kristeva argues that “any text is constructed as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the ‘absorption and transformation of another’” (Kristeva, “Word, Dialogue and Novel”37).

[39] Elaine Showalter argues that this tendency is typical of “female realism,” defined as “a broad, socially informed exploration of the daily lives and values of women within the family and the community” (29). Although Showalter associated this trend with the nineteenth century novel (29), many of its features can be found in contemporary female writing, including The Penelopiad. My reference to Showalter was inspired by Kraskowska (21).

[40] Although Miller’s theory refers to the situation of the author, as already mentioned, the specificity of Atwood’s novel allows one to replace the term “author” with the term “narrator.”

[41] According to Głowiński, references to some literary and social styles are an important intertextual strategy too (Głowiński 8).

[42] See: “The Chorus, too, should be regarded as one of the actors; it should be an integral part of the whole and share in the action” (Aristotle 25).

[43] A comprehensive exploration of the issue is to be found in Mikhail Bakhtin’s works. See: “the system of popular-festive images was developed and went on living over thousands years. . . . But in its basic line this system grew and was enriched; it acquired a new meaning, absorbed the new hopes and thoughts of the people. It was transformed into the crucible of the people’s new experience. The language of images developed new and more refined nuances.” (Bakhtin, Rabelais 211).

[44] Thus, as Johnson noticed, intertextuality “can teach us to rewrite its history all over again from the beginning” (133).

[45] See also: “women writers had explored and extended these fantasies of enclosure. After 1900 in dozens of novels . . . the secret room, the suffragette cell came to stand for a separate world” (Showalter 33).

[46] It is also worth noticing that the quoted phrase refers to Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own – a text of great significance for feminist literary theory.

[47] See: “the different comes to be defined in particularizing terms such as those of nationality, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation. Intertextual parody of canonical American and European classics is one mode of appropriating and reformulating – with significant change – the dominant white, male, middle-class, heterosexual, Eurocentric culture” (Hutcheon 130).

[48] See: “Both female character and feminist reader question the monological discourse dominant in society and articulated by specific characters, and thus move . . . to an exposure of resistant, un-official, alternative discourses and subject positions” (Allen 161).

[49] “The resistance [to patriarchal monologism] centres on a recognition of ‘othering’ which is clearly connected to notions of intertextuality and the double-voiced discourse” (Allen 162).

[50] See: “The goal of overreading, of reading for the signature, is to put one’s finger – figuratively – on the place of the production that marks the spinner’s attachment to the web” (Miller 288).

[51] It is also important that an ideologeme is to be found on the different planes of the text (Kristeva, “Problemy strukturowania tekstu” 247).

[52] Apart from the issues described in the paragraphs above, another question raised both by Bakhtin and feminist critics is the problem of agency and subject’s dependence upon the world of discourses. See: “A return to Bakhtin recovers the possibility of honoring . . . the power of discourses that inhabit the writing subject, while also recognizing that discourses develop and clash within history and that the act of writing requires the exercise of dominion over contending discourses” (Draine 325).

[53] Graham Allen refers to the works of Mary Russo and Dale M. Bauer (161).

[54] See: “for those characters who are alienated and ‘confused’ by society, who find themselves in the position of the carnivalesque ‘Fool’, it becomes crucial to interpret that discourses and discursive structures which others in positions of power take as monologically unquestionable” (Allen 161).

[55] Here, Bakhtin’s description of the perspective called ”the mirror of comedy” is worth quoting: “Abuse reveals the other, true face of the abused, it tears off his disguise and mask. Abuse is death, it is former youth transformed into old age, the living body turned into a corpse” (Bakhtin, Rabelais 197).

[56] Cf. Nagy, ”A Fool of a Knight, a Knight of a Fool: Malory’s Comic Knights” (68). Sir Dinadan is a Knight of
the Round Table in the Arthurian legends. He is the son of Sir Brunor and Roslyn of Camelot. He is a brother
of Sir Breunor le Noir and Sir Daniel and a close friend of Sir Tristram.

[57] Cf. Witalisz, “A (Crooked) Mirror for Knights – the Case of Dinadan” (457-62).

[58] Cf. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, lines: 625-33.

[59] There are three people named Sir Thomas Malory taken into account as far as the authorship of the book is
concerned. The most likely candidate for the real Malory was born c. 1400 and was a soldier and a Member of
Parliament for Warwickshire. He was charged with breaking into the Abbey at Coombe, insulting the abbot
and the monks, stealing money, organizing violent robberies and raping a woman (Ch. R. Sanders, Ch. E.
Ward, The Morte Darthur by Sir Thomas Malory. An Abridgement with an Introduction, New York 1940, p.
ix-xxii).

[60] The debate was heated up in the mainstream media by The Guardian journalist, Jane Clare Jones, who has published her piece online two days after the episode was broadcast for the first time, concluding that it was “politically, really quite regressive” and stating: “you’ve got to worry when a woman comes off worse in 2012 than in 1891” (“Is Sherlock Sexist?”).

[61] For instance, consider how in “Steven Moffat, Sherlock, and Neo-Victorian Sexism” by Holger Syme Irene’s role is summed up as an “angel at the hearth redux.”

[62] For further reference, see: “Taming the Woman: Irene Adler and the Male Gaze,” paying special attention to what the author wrote about Rachel McAdams’ portrayal of the woman in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009) as “a hyper-sexualized character.” Although the tendency towards presenting Adler in recent adaptations as being in charge of her sexuality is also discussed, her character is judged as still merely “function[ing] as an element of spectacle” and her sexual awareness evaluated as “play[ing] straight into male fantasy.”

[63] Apart from her earrings, make-up, and shoes. Interestingly, when we take a look at the deductions Sherlock makes about other people (as in, for instance, about John Watson, his flatmate and companion, in the very same scene), it seems quite obvious that he is able to derive information merely on the basis of skin condition or the state of somebody’s fingernails. This comparison would suggest that the nakedness per se actually played an important part in taking Sherlock aback. Then again, it might just as well be an inconsistency in the script, allowed for the sake of making the plot point work.

[64] Sherlock eventually overcomes his confusion and successfully deduces relevant information from Irene’s appearance, although not before the woman gives him a decisive clue: “I’d tell you the code right now but you know what? I already have. Think.”

[65] As a matter of fact, Steven Moffat was not the first to come up with the idea of linking Irene Adler with Moriarty, but the collaboration between the two in other adaptations was often associated with Adler’s unawareness of certain facts about Holmes’s arch-villain, or vaguely drawn desperate situation which brought her to be Moriarty’s pawn. Irene from Sherlock, on the other hand, appears to be quite informed as to Moriarty’s nature, and as sinister as him: “I had all this stuff, never knew what to do with it. Thank God for the consulting criminal . . . Didn’t even ask for anything. I think he just likes to cause trouble. Now that’s my kind of man.” Admittedly, though, the most recent take on the heroine, in the series’ finale of the CBS Elementary (2013), provides us with even more immediate association between the two.

[66] At this point, it might be relevant to mention one of the other possible interpretations of the final scene. Due to its fragmentary nature and the fact that it is stylistically different from how the rest of the episode is shot, some of the viewers read “the rescuing scene” as Sherlock’s dream-like fantasy (with a variety of possibilities of what actually happened to the heroine). This assumption, however, does not make up for the fact that in the previous scene Irene was beaten by Sherlock in the mind-game they were playing against each other, which ended up in her begging him for mercy. Thus, even in this interpretation the heroine does not escape the role of “a damsel in distress.”

[67] Universalism: “The belief that all religions are basically the same and thus one is as good as another” (Ford 444).

[68] Tash is “a Scottish dialectical word for blemish, stain, fault or vice” (Ford 423).

[69] Described in the chronologically first volume entitled The Magician’s Nephew.

[70]“The etymological derivation of Cair Paravel is probably from kaer, which is an old British word for city and paravail, from the Old French par aval, meaning down, and Latin ad vallem meaning to the valley. Thus Cair Paravel is a city in the valley” (Ford 126).

[71] “Shift is indicative of his manipulative personality: He is ‘shifty’ – underhanded, sneaky, and a liar; and he has a great facility for shifting meaning – he redefines the meaning of freedom to suit his purposes” (Ford 398).

[72] Lewis defines myth as a “nonincarnate history” and “not unlikely tale” (White 38).

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s