random.random()

random.random()

Tag: English Literature

Harvard Classics

July 20 – John Bunyan: The Pilgrim’s Progress

A Cobbler in Jail
John Bunyan, imprisoned for preaching without a license, gave to the world “Pilgrim’s Progress,” the greatest allegory in any language, second only to the Bible.
Read from Bunyan‘s PILGRIM’S PROGRESS Vol. 15, pp. 5969

The narrator defends the story he is about to tell, which is framed as a dream. He explains that he fell asleep in the wilderness and dreamed of a man named Christian, who was tormented by spiritual anguish. A spiritual guide named Evangelist visits Christian and urges him to leave the City of Destruction. Evangelist claims that salvation can only be found in the Celestial City, known as Mount Zion.

Christian begs his family to accompany him, unsuccessfully. On his way, Christian falls into a bog called the Slough of Despond, but he is saved. He meets Worldly Wiseman, who urges him to lead a practical, happy existence without religion. Refusing, Christian is sheltered in Goodwill’s house. Goodwill tells Christian to stop by the Interpreter’s home, where Christian learns many lessons about faith.

Walking along the wall of Salvation, Christian sees Christ’s tomb and cross. At this vision, his burden falls to the ground. One of the three Shining Ones, celestial creatures, hands him a rolled certificate for entry to the Celestial City. Christian falls asleep and loses his certificate. Since the certificate is his ticket into the Celestial City, Christian reproaches himself for losing it. After retracing his tracks, he eventually finds the certificate. Walking on, Christian meets the four mistresses of the Palace Beautiful, who provide him shelter. They also feed him and arm him. After descending the Valley of Humiliation, Christian meets the monster Apollyon, who tries to kill him. Christian is armed, and he strikes Apollyon with a sword and then proceeds through the desert-like Valley of the Shadow of Death toward the Celestial City.

Christian meets Faithful, a traveler from his hometown. Faithful and Christian are joined by a third pilgrim, Talkative, whom Christian spurns. Evangelist arrives and warns Faithful and Christian about the wicked town of Vanity, which they will soon enter. Evangelist foretells that either Christian or Faithful will die in Vanity.

The two enter Vanity and visit its famous fair. They resist temptation and are mocked by the townspeople. Eventually the citizens of Vanity imprison Christian and Faithful for mocking their local religion. Faithful defends himself at his trial and is executed, rising to heaven after death. Christian is remanded to prison but later escapes and continues his journey.

Another fellow pilgrim named Hopeful befriends Christian on his way. On their journey, a pilgrim who uses religion as a means to get ahead in the world, named By-ends, crosses their path. Christian rejects his company. The two enter the plain of Ease, where a smooth talker named Demas tempts them with silver. Christian and Hopeful pass him by.

Taking shelter for the night on the grounds of Doubting Castle, they awake to the threats of the castle’s owner, the Giant Despair, who, with the encouragement of his wife, imprisons and tortures them. Christian and Hopeful escape when they remember they possess the key of Promise, which unlocks any door in Despair’s domain.

Proceeding onward, Christian and Hopeful approach the Delectable Mountains near the Celestial City. They encounter wise shepherds who warn them of the treacherous mountains Error and Caution, where previous pilgrims have died. The shepherds point out travelers who wander among tombs nearby, having been blinded by the Giant Despair. They warn the travelers to beware of shortcuts, which may be paths to hell.

The two pilgrims meet Ignorance, a sprightly teenager who believes that living a good life is sufficient to prove one’s religious faith. Christian refutes him, and Ignorance decides to avoid their company. The travelers also meet Flatterer, who snares them in a net, and Atheist, who denies that the Celestial City exists. Crossing the sleep-inducing Enchanted Ground, they try to stay awake by discussing Hopeful’s sinful past and religious doctrine.

Christian and Hopeful gleefully approach the land of Beulah, where the Celestial City is located. The landscape teems with flowers and fruit, and the travelers are refreshed. To reach the gate into the city, they must first cross a river without a bridge. Christian nearly drowns, but Hopeful reminds him of Christ’s love, and Christian emerges safely from the water. The residents of the Celestial City joyously welcome the two pilgrims. In his conclusion to Part I, the narrator expresses hope that his dream be interpreted properly.

Harvard Classics

July 8 – Percy Bysshe Shelley: The Cenci

Italy’s Fair Assassin
When the monstrous Cenci forced his daughter Beatrice into a horrible situation, she revolted and boldly struck for freedom. Shelley tells her pitiful story in one of his best works.
(Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned, July 8, 1822.)
Read from Shelley‘s CENCI Vol. 18, pp. 288300

The Cenci, A Tragedy, in Five Acts (1819) is a verse drama in five acts by Percy Bysshe Shelley written in the summer of 1819, and inspired by a real Italian family, the House of Cenci (in particular, Beatrice Cenci, pronounced CHEN-chee). Shelley composed the play in Rome and at Villa Valsovano near Livorno, from May to August 5, 1819. The work was published by Charles and James Ollier in London in 1819. The Livorno edition was printed in Livorno, Italy by Shelley himself in a run of 250 copies. Shelley told Thomas Love Peacock that he arranged for the printing himself because in Italy “it costs, with all duties and freightage, about half of what it would cost in London.” Shelley sought to have the play staged, describing it as “totally different from anything you might conjecture that I should write; of a more popular kind… written for the multitude.” Shelley wrote to his publisher Charles Ollier that he was confident that the play “will succeed as a publication.” A second edition appeared in 1821, his only published work to go into a second edition during his lifetime.

The play was not considered stageable in its day due to its themes of incest and parricide, and was not performed in public in England until 1922, when it was staged in London. In 1886 the Shelley Society had sponsored a private production at the Grand Theatre, Islington, before an audience that included Oscar Wilde, Robert Browning, and George Bernard Shaw. Though there has been much debate over the play’s stageability, it has been produced in many countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. It was included in the Harvard Classics as one of the most important and representative works of the Western canon.

Act I

The play opens with Cardinal Camillo discussing with Count Francesco Cenci a murder in which Cenci is implicated. Camillo tells Cenci that the matter will be hushed up if Cenci will relinquish a third of his possessions, his property beyond the Pincian gate, to the Church. Count Cenci has sent two of his sons, Rocco and Cristofano, to Salamanca, Spain in the expectation that they will die of starvation. The Count’s virtuous daughter, Beatrice, and Orsino, a prelate in love with Beatrice, discuss petitioning the Pope to relieve the Cenci family from the Count’s brutal rule. Orsino withholds the petition, however, revealing himself to be disingenuous, lustful for Beatrice, and greedy. After he hears the news that his sons have been brutally killed in Salamanca, the Count holds a feast in celebration of their deaths, commanding his guests to revel with him. Cenci drinks wine which he imagines as “my children’s blood” which he “did thirst to drink!” During the feast, Beatrice pleads with the guests to protect her family from her sadistic father, but the guests refuse, in fear of Cenci’s brutality and retribution.

Act II

Count Cenci torments Beatrice and her stepmother, Lucretia, and announces his plan to imprison them in his castle in Petrella. A servant returns Beatrice’s petition to the Pope, unopened, and Beatrice and Lucretia despair over the last hope of salvation from the Count. Orsino encourages Cenci’s son, Giacomo, upset over Cenci’s appropriation of Giacomo’s wife’s dowry, to murder Cenci.

Act III

Beatrice reveals to Lucretia that the Count has committed an unnameable act against her and expresses feelings of spiritual and physical contamination, implying Cenci’s incestuous rape of his daughter. Orsino and Lucretia agree with Beatrice’s suggestion that the Count must be murdered. After the first attempt at patricide fails because Cenci arrives early, Orsino conspires with Beatrice, Lucretia, and Giacomo, in a second assassination plot. Orsino proposes that two of Cenci’s ill-treated servants, Marzio and Olimpio, carry out the murder.

Act IV

The scene shifts to the Petrella Castle in the Apulian Apennines. Olimpio and Marzio enter Cenci’s bedchamber to murder him, but hesitate to kill the sleeping Count and return to the conspirators with the deed undone. Threatening to kill Cenci herself, Beatrice shames the servants into action, and Olimpio and Marzio strangle the Count and throw his body out of the room off the balcony, where it is entangled in a pine. Shortly thereafter, Savella, a papal legate, arrives with a murder charge and execution order against Cenci. Upon finding the Count’s dead body, the legate arrests the conspirators, with the exception of Orsino, who escapes in disguise.

Act V

The suspects are taken for trial for murder in Rome. Marzio is tortured and confesses to the murder, implicating Cenci’s family members. Despite learning that Lucretia and Giacomo have also confessed, Beatrice refuses to do so, steadfastly insisting on her innocence. At the trial, all of the conspirators are found guilty and sentenced to death. Bernardo, another of Cenci’s sons, attempts a futile last-minute appeal to the Pope to have mercy on his family. The Pope is reported to have declared: “They must die.” The play concludes with Beatrice walking stoically to her execution for murder. Her final words are: “We are quite ready. Well, ’tis very well.”

Harvard Classics

July 7 – Sheridan: The School for Scandal

Scandal That Lurked Behind Lace and Powder
The painted lips of the eighteenth century ladies and gallants vied with one another in whispering scathing gossip, in gleefully furthering the destruction of a good name. Sheridan depicts this gay world with a brilliant spicy pen.
(Sheridan buried in Westminster Abbey, July 7, 1816.)
Read from Sheridan‘s SCHOOL FOR SCANDAL Vol. 18, pp. 115128

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan (30 October 1751 – 7 July 1816) was an Irish satirist, a politician, a playwright, poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre RoyalDrury Lane. He is known for his plays such as The RivalsThe School for ScandalThe Duenna and A Trip to Scarborough. He was also a Whig MP for 32 years in the British House of Commons for Stafford (1780–1806), Westminster (1806–1807), and Ilchester (1807–1812). He is buried at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. His plays remain a central part of the canon and are regularly performed worldwide.

Act I

Scene I: Lady Sneerwell, a wealthy young widow, and her hireling Snake discuss her various scandal-spreading plots. Snake asks why she is so involved in the affairs of Sir Peter Teazle, his ward Maria, and Charles and Joseph Surface, two young men under Sir Peter’s informal guardianship, and why she has not yielded to the attentions of Joseph, who is highly respectable. Lady Sneerwell confides that Joseph wants Maria, who is an heiress, and that Maria wants Charles. Thus she and Joseph are plotting to alienate Maria from Charles by putting out rumours of an affair between Charles and Sir Peter’s new young wife, Lady Teazle. Joseph arrives to confer with Lady Sneerwell. Maria herself then enters, fleeing the attentions of Sir Benjamin Backbite and his uncle, Crabtree. Mrs. Candour enters and ironically talks about how “tale-bearers are as bad as the tale-makers.” Soon after that, Sir Benjamin and Crabtree also enter, bringing a good deal of gossip with them. One item is the imminent return of the Surface brothers’ rich uncle Sir Oliver from the East Indies, where he has been for sixteen years; another is Charles’ dire financial situation.

Scene II: Sir Peter complains of Lady Teazle’s spendthrift ways. Rowley, the former steward of the Surfaces’ late father, arrives, and Sir Peter gives him an earful on the subject. He also complains that Maria has refused Joseph, whom he calls “a model for the young men of the age,” and seems attached to Charles, whom he denounces as a profligate. Rowley defends Charles, and then announces that Sir Oliver has just arrived from the East Indies.