Shakespeare’s Fairies as a Force of Nature

This is the final paper from my senior portfolio that I have to post. This was my capstone essay. It was originally written for my Shakespeare class, and I turned it into an entirely different paper for the portfolio.

Honestly, more stress went into this than anything else I’ve ever written, and I still want to go back and edit it even more. I haven’t thought, so this is still the way the essay was in the portfolio.

The word “fairy” calls a specific image to mind for many people. The idea of little, winged people, more often female than male, is a common part of our folklore. They typically sparkle, and while they may have an attitude, they are more good humored than vicious. Fairies are not as prevalent in our literature today as, say, vampires, but they are nonetheless figures that are still very much in society’s communal awareness. There are certain aspects of fairies that we take for granted, but those ideas had to come from somewhere. If someone were asked of their origin, they would point to a time long ago. Fairy mythology feels almost ancient to many people. Surely, fairies have been around since the most prevalent of our fairy tales were first composed, at least. The fairies we have today are a result of the continual development of an idea that has changed over the centuries that it has been continually evoked. Shakespeare himself is credited with fleshing out the modern fairy when he took away the fear that had always been associated with the creatures before (Lewis 253), and his portrayal of them in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a huge source for the present understanding of what creature the term “fairy” is describing. Shakespeare’s portrayal of fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is strongly influenced by the fairies that existed within British mythology before his own time, especially the agrarian fairies of the countryside who were strongly connected to nature. Because of this strong connection between Shakespeare’s fairies and nature, the actions of the fairies within the play can be viewed as nothing more than an extension of the natural forces of the world that are always influencing the human characters of the play without their knowledge.

Surprisingly, whether or not the people of Shakespeare’s time believed in fairies cannot be said for sure. Individual beliefs, it turns out, are not the most concrete idea to pin down. Richard Strier states that “Fairies were notably out of date as objects of belief” during Shakespeare’s time (176). He backs up his claim by acknowledging King James VI who, in 1597, mocked the idea of a fairy king and queen in his writing, and there are other instances of writers of the time period expressing skepticism towards fairies (Strier 176). This points towards the fact that at least some of the well educated writers of the day thought any belief in fairies was ridiculous. Presumably, a belief in witches was still going strong during that same time period, but fairies were far less believable among at least some of the population (Strier 176-7).

However, Emma Wilby claims that fairies were creatures that many people really did believe in during Shakespeare’s time (288). Those two different views are not compatible with each other, but luckily, whether or not everyone believed in fairies is not the important part of what Shakespeare did with them in his play. It is near impossible for every single member of any large population to believe or not believe the exact same thing. It seems logical that there would have been those who both believed and did not believe in fairies during Shakespeare’s time. A person’s level of education, for instance, could have been just one factor that determined what superstitions, if any, people accepted as true. Whichever belief was more prevalent is not the real issue of importance. Even today, one can find people who believe in fairies. Beliefs are almost always diverse among a country’s population.

What is important is the lore surrounding fairies that England had built up over the years. This lore existed whether or not people believed it to be true. It exerted an influence on their perception of the world and what exactly fairies were. Just as we have a mythology handed down to us today from those who came before us, the stories that came before Shakespeare’s time influenced the cultural and mythological atmosphere that Shakespeare was writing in. Shakespeare’s fairies have become influential in our day, but they could not exist without drawing on previous traditions. They are a continuation of the fairies that came before them, and the continual morphing of what characteristics make up a fairy is something that will continue to happen in the future. Shakespeare’s fairies are one part of that continued tradition of building upon the old. They have value within the play, but they also have value outside of it because of their contributions to a collective mythology. Most people today would not express a true belief in fairies, but they can still provide you with a description of one. They have almost certainly encountered fairies in fiction. Fairies are still a valuable aspect of our collective mythology.  This is shown through their continued presence in literature, films, and other works. People in Shakespeare’s time had certain expectations about fairies whenever they read or talked about them. In the same way that we have an idea of what to expect if we go to watch a vampire movie in the theater, the people of Shakespeare’s times had certain beliefs about what was and was not a fairy as well as what was expected of those fairies. These commonly held beliefs were handed down and are present in the stories of the day for entertainment’s sake, if nothing else.

Shakespeare’s fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream move away from some of those commonly held beliefs. Shakespeare played with the idea of fairies and broke out of the mold to create new kinds of fairies that would go on to become part of our own mythology today. This is a mythology that people who both do and do not believe in it continue to participate in just as they did during Shakespeare’s time. Whatever was believed to be true, Shakespeare decided to write an entire play that places fairies in an important role. At the same time, he took the creative license to break out of the expectations that tradition placed on him. As Ronald Miller suggests, the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream are “obviously the most striking feature of the comedy” because of the “indefiniteness” that they emphasize within the play (254). Without the fairies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream’s primary story is about the romantic struggles of four teenagers. The fairies’ presence and their manipulation of the human teenagers creates questions about what romantic feelings those teenagers actually have and what is being forced on them by the fairies. Suddenly, who is in love with who is not as straightforward and how much control an individual has over their emotions becomes a larger question within the play. That ambiguity is nonexistent without the fairies’ interference. Perhaps because his fairies create alluring questions about life, Shakespeare’s version of the fairy world has continued to play a prevalent role in the modern perception of fairies. His version of the creatures stuck with people and took up residence in their minds until they were as important to the collective idea of fairies as any stories about fairies that came before them or possibly even more so.

Before A Midsummer Night’s Dream, fairies were different from the tiny, sparkling, and cheerful creatures we think of today. Fairies were seen as “more destructive than mortals” and creatures one never wants to come across because of the potential danger they posed (Lewis 253). They were not creatures you put into cute stories for little kids, and they were not something little kids asked to dress up as for Halloween. These fairies were not ones you associated with anything fun or joyful. They were creatures that perhaps would have fit better in creepy campfire stories. Meeting a fairy was almost a guarantee of danger, so one was far better off avoiding it. It was believed at the time that fairies “parasitized human households to gain bath water and food, and punished householders who did not maintain impeccable standards of hygiene” (Swann 451). These fairies were associated with the countryside and the domestic. They would have been out of place in a city.

There was another sort of fairy that was closely connected to court (Swann 451). These fairies had a monarchy and were more refined. They looked much different than their agrarian counterparts because of their social hierarchy. These latter fairies call to mind the monarchy present in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In a way, Shakespeare is bringing together both of these types of fairies. Most of the fairies’ scenes take place within a pastoral setting, but they are refined with a clearly organized hierarchy among them as well.

Of course, the depictions of fairy royalty that can be found are quite different from the agrarian fairy beliefs also prevalent in England before Shakespeare’s time. Much like the common people and the aristocracy of England, there seems to have been two different classes of fairy in mythology (Swann 450-1). In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the fairies have a monarchy that is refined, but Puck, who was widely known in earlier mythology for his less than refined ways, is also present. In this way, the two versions of fairies seem to blend together into one. Fairies having their own king and queen sets them apart from the human world that operates under a different ruler. In an absolute monarchy, a king or queen is the ultimate authority. There is no one above them except perhaps God depending on the religious beliefs of those being ruled. Having their own rulers signals that the fairies are under an entirely different system of rules and laws. They do not subscribe to those of the humans.

Even with this connection to the past, Shakespeare’s fairies are disconnected from the older courtly fairies because of their stronger connection to the capitalist culture of Shakespeare’s day (Swann 451). The population Shakespeare’s time was becoming more urbanized, and along with that, visions of court and city life were changing from what they had been in the past. The Indian child that Oberon and Titania argue over is a key sign of this new capitalist type of fairy that Shakespeare is creating within the play. The child’s connection to India calls to mind the fact that the country was of huge interest for England because of trade (Swann 455), and later, India was to become a colony of England. Capitalism led to turmoil in India, and that led to the boy becoming an orphan. When Titania talks about the boy, she laments his mother’s death and claims to “rear” the boy “for her sake” (2.1.136-7). Her motivations do not appear to come out of any materialism but instead a care for a friend. This keeps Titania connected to the more agrarian fairies as her motivations here are not directly tied to materialism. At the same time, it ties in the story of the fairies with the newer system and places them into a new society that Titania cannot fully escape. She references traders when she speaks and acknowledges that her friend would “fetch me trifles” (2.1.133). The use of “trifles” indicates that the items Titania was receiving were largely worthless, but she gathered them anyway. That sort of mindset connects her to a modern materialism that came along with the rise of capitalism.

Shakespeare’s Titania and Oberon are different that previous English fairies in that they are more commercialized and more materialistic than those before them (Swann 455). Titania and Oberon are both concerned with having the Indian boy, whose status as a symbol of trade with India hints at a larger sense of materialism. For better or worse, these characteristics modernize them by connecting them to the values that would have been held by theater goers in Shakespeare’s day. Even living outside of human society, these fairies have become connected with the new economic reality that the people of Shakespeare’s time were also facing. The king’s and queen’s treatment of “a lovely boy stol’n from an Indian king” is key here (2.1.18-22). Titania’s words about the boy invoke a rejection of the new mercantilism that was spreading during Shakespeare’s day while Oberon’s view of the boy can be read as an embracement of it (Swann 455). Titania mourns the loss of a dear friend that came from the greed of the system, but Oberon is entering into the cycle of demanding new things even though he admits that he does not know what use the boy would have. He wants him for little more than being greedy and wanting what his wife has. His claims of wanting a “henchman” certainly sound colder than Titania’s motherly view of the boy (2.1.490).

Oberon’s incessant need to take the boy from Titania comes across as a stronger embrace for capitalism than Titania shows, and that brings the fairies even further away from their agrarian roots.Oberon is looking to take the boy from Titania as if he were property and little more. Despite Titania voicing her emotional connection to the boy’s mother, Oberon says that he will “torment thee for this injury” (2.1.147). He is so greedy that he would would hurt Titania for choosing to keep a boy that is rightfully hers and that he does not truly care about. Oberon and Titania’s power struggle here is a struggle between both the sexes and the different ways of thinking. Titania is viewing the boy in human terms because of her experience with his mother while Oberon views the boy as property and wants him as a type of wealth. Through this, the fairies are almost modernized and placed in a new setting. These fairies are not in a situation that their ancestors would have found themselves in.

Their views of the boy provide their opposition towards each other for the length of the play without the boy ever being present on stage. The boy himself is not what is truly important here in the context of the plot. What he shows the audience about the fairies seems to be his only purpose. He provides a catalyst for Oberon and Titania’s argument, and that argument becomes an argument between new and old. In a way, this argument is about a new and an old economic system, but it can also be read as an argument between the old fairies of mythology and the new ones of mythology. The fairies of the past had never had to enter into a wider world or economy as Titania and Oberon do by engaging with the Indian boy. By doing this, Shakespeare’s king and queen are connected both to their rural roots and to the new world Shakespeare was bringing them into.

Before A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it was common for the fairy queen to be connected to the Greek goddess Diana, and Titania was actually the name the writer Ovid had used for Diana before Shakespeare (Staton 166). Through the use of the name Titania alone, Shakespeare’s fairies retain a connection to both British and Greek mythological traditions.

Some contend that the current perception of Shakespeare’s fairies comes from the way that later productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream were performed and not from Shakespeare’s own intentions while writing the play (Lewis 253). One example of where this is possible is the moment when Oberon instructs Puck to enchant Demetrius to love Helena (2.1.638-645). A production that played Oberon as more concerned with enchanting these humans for a cruel sport than any sort of compassion towards their struggle would certainly align closer to older fairy mythology (Lewis 253). As it is often portrayed today, the fairies are largely seen as harmless in their interference, which can more easily invoke the brighter view of fairies that we possess today. Cruelty was something that marked fairies as fairies, and a darker Oberon would have harkened back to that much more strongly than one showing any sort of concern for humans.

Whichever way Shakespeare actually intended for the fairies to be portrayed, today they are almost exclusively presented in a more positive light in A Midsummer Night’s Dream than in some older fairy myths. That is the interpretation of the majority of the public. If Shakespeare had intended for them to be darker characters, that has not translated to most modern audiences. However, it is worth noting that this could at least partially be because audiences today bring in their preconceived notions of playful but harmless fairies before they have even encountered Shakespeare’s fairies.

The way fairies came to be characterized after their appearance in A Midsummer Night’s Dream was remarkably different than they had been before. Puck, perhaps Shakespeare’s most memorable fairy in the play, is a great example of this. He alone underwent a huge change in Shakespeare from how he had been presented in older mythology. Herrington refers to Shakespeare as “refining” Robin Goodfellow especially, although his portrayals of all the fairies could really be see as a refinement as well (450). They are a more civilized sort than were found in the older agrarian stories. All of Shakespeare’s fairies answer to a king or queen, just one example of this refinement. Shakespeare’s fairies cannot really be labeled as scary or threatening. They interfere with the humans in the play, and their actions definitely have large consequences. At the same time, no one ever comes to true harm, and the fairies never give any indication of being so much as tempted to take it that far. In fact, many of their actions in the play revolve around setting the situation right after Puck makes his mistake. Such actions show the fairies as caring about the well-being of the humans in some capacity and portray a lack of true maliciousness.

The human characters also never know of the fairies’ presence, so they are not given a chance to show the fear that any fairies might have inspired in them. Bottom is the only exception to this as the one human who sees the fairies over the course of the play. But he does not show any indication of fear when he does so. When Titania introduces herself, Bottom appears to have no awareness of who she is (3.1.126-30), and when introduced to some of the other fairies, all he says are things like, “I cry your worship’s mercy, heartily: I beseech your worship’s name” while calling them “honest gentleman” and “Master” (3.1.161-2, 164, 166). If one only knew of the fairy stories that came before Shakespeare, fear at coming face to face with some would be logical. Although Bottom comes across as oblivious to the fact that he is even speaking to fairies, that still shows a lack of an innate fear set off by the fairies’ presence. They were certainly creatures you wanted to stay away from as they had the potential to turn against humans and do harm. Ultimately, the fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream come across as mostly harmless and do not seem to inspire a large level of fear in Bottom, at least.

The fairy Puck speaks to at the beginning of the scene accuses Puck of messing around with various humans (2.1.32-42). Puck then confirms all of this himself by recounting even more things he has done (2.1.42-58). This conversation refers to the stories of Pucks told in Shakespeare’s time. It is the sort of behavior people expected from such a character and is one instance of Shakespeare using existing ideas of fairies within the play.

Puck may enjoy messing with the humans, but he does not sound much like the hobgoblin species of fairy that was ubiquitous in previous mythology. Shakespeare’s Puck comes from a particular race of fairies called hobgoblins, of which the mischievous Robin Goodfellow was one, but Shakespeare took the entire hobgoblin race and made them into the character of Puck (Schleiner 65). Creatures with “goblin” in their name sound much scarier to us than our perception of fairies. It may be difficult to picture them as similar creatures unless you keep the older depictions of fairies in mind. Our modern versions of goblins certainly sound a lot more like the fear-inducing creatures that hint at some past depictions of fairies.

In contrast to the term “Puck,” Robin Goodfellow, another name Puck uses in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was a specific fairy’s name in older stories, and one that was already believed to be a puck in Shakespeare’s day (Folk-Lore 149). With the character of Puck, Shakespeare is morphing fairy mythology by condensing a whole group of fairies into an individual fairy. The Robin Goodfellow of previous mythology has become the sole member of what had previously been an entire race, and he is not quite as concerned with harming humans as his past incarnations.

In traditional lore, Puck was “rude and hairy” and different than the “smooth and courtly Puck” that is described in the play (Lamb 302). The old Robin Goodfellow would do household chores for people in the countryside as long as they fed him bread and milk as payment, but if they did not fulfill that requirement, he would turn vicious (Wilby 297). Puck in Shakespeare’s play serves a king that he is obedient to and calls “my lord” (2.1.268). He is not a rogue figure going around creating mischief of his own volition. Despite interfering with humans and referring to the “bickering” it causes as “a sport” (3.2.354), Shakespeare’s Puck is a more dignified figure than the Puck of earlier mythology. He lacks a certain wildness that was an inherent characteristic of his earlier incarnation. This is shown best in the way he obeys his king and does what he is told. By doing so, Puck fits himself into some an organized social hierarchy, and being an obedient servant to another takes away some of the wildness that Puck had previously possessed.

Puck is instead a “light and delicate” figure that conjures an entirely different image than the hobgoblins or pucks of the past (Herrington 450). The new Puck is not wild. He obeys a king and says things like, “Fear not, my lord. Your servant shall do so” (2.1.268). That is a far cry from earlier incarnations of Robin Goodfellow. The image of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is now far more well known than many of the stories that predate it. Shakespeare’s play could almost be seen as creating an entirely new popular culture surrounding fairies (Lamb 279). This new Puck was at the center of a new culture that replaced the old Puck. After Shakespeare, “puck” took on a new meaning.

The fairies are well established as an integral part of the play when Titania declares they will be there “till after Theseus’ wedding day” (2.1.139). Titania’s words connect Theseus’s wedding with the fairies’ presence. Now the audience know that the fairies will be there at least until the wedding, which Theseus’s opening lines of the play have informed the audience is in “Four happy days” (1.1.2). Their effect on the plot remains to be seen, but this is a good indicator that their actions are going to be one of the big factors continually driving the story forward.

The fairies in A Midsummer Night’s Dream exert their biggest influence on the story by becoming tied up in the emotions, namely love, of the human characters. There are a number of ways to create mischief or play with humans, but the fairies choose one of the most manipulative. They do not just interfere with the humans externally; they change their inner most feelings. That is not to say the fairies’ actions are coming from a cruel place; Oberon refers to the love of humans having been a “sport” to him in the past (3.2.390), but he also orders Puck to “take from thence all error” of what they have done (3.2.369). They seem, ultimately, to want to accomplish good, but the invasive methods they use to accomplish that good raises many of the questions that make the play so intriguing.

While the fairies never appear to be outright cruel, having your actions taken away from you is perhaps one of the scariest things that can happen. This is not of much importance to the humans in the play as they are never aware that their feelings have even been tampered with, although the women do suspect that something more is going on. At first, Helena is suspicious that Demetrius’s actions come from a joke that Hermia has encouraged him to perform (3.2.223-4), but the women seem more concerned with accusing each other and the men for what is happening than looking for a magical source. As an outsider who watches it unfold, however, the audience is privy to more information. They get to see the humans’ free will being taken away by the fairies. The humans are no longer entirely in charge of their emotions. Demetrius and Lysander proceed to express such strong feelings of love that perhaps this is a case of them getting closer to nature. Shakespeare’s fairies certainly continue to be associated with the natural, even as Shakespeare recreates them from older ideas of agrarian fairies. None of their magic ever happens in a town or city except for their blessing of the marriages at the end of the play at Theseus’s palace (5.2), which could also be seen as them moving into a more urban area away from their agrarian roots. That alone manages to retain some of the agrarian associations fairies possessed. The most primal expressions of human emotion could also be connected to nature, and this is perhaps why the fairies enjoy this particular form of playing with the humans’ lives. In this interpretation, the humans’ emotions are being manipulated by nature itself. Nature has just taken on the form of fairies.

If nature and fairies are taken as being synonymous within the play, then is it really a problem that the fairies have decided to manipulate humans? Any manipulation on the fairies’ part would be entirely natural. The way the fairies seamlessly stay out of the human teenagers’ awareness over the course of the play means they can easily be viewed as a force of nature in the teenagers’ lives like any other force of nature, whether external or internal, that may have otherwise influenced their emotions. At the end of the play, the teenagers are “full of joy and mirth” (4.2.27). The fairies have righted the situation in the sense, and any love felt by the teenagers is just as natural as anything that would have occurred without the interference of the fairies.

A significant portion of Act II scene one, the first scene in which the fairies appear, is Titania and Oberon, a married couple, fighting. Their marriage is not ideal, and neither one of them appears to be much in love with the other. They are dramatic in their arguing, and that carries over to how they treat the humans. Oberon and Puck decide to start messing around with the humans’ emotions, and while Oberon is motivated to helping them, Puck appears to feel at least some amusement over his own mistake when he says, “Shall we their fond pageant see? / Lord, what fools these mortals be!” (3.2.114-5).

For the human characters of the play, the events they are experiencing are nothing more than nature and their natural emotions. They have no way of knowing that they are being outwardly manipulated. By keeping the fairies as largely separate from the humans, Shakespeare keeps the human world operating as it normally does in the eyes of the characters. Despite comments on the oddness of Demetrius’s and Lysander’s behavior, there is nothing that points towards outward manipulation in the eyes of the humans. Sometimes emotions are strange, and humans do strange things in response to their emotions. Lysander and Demetrius are outside the realm of what is considered logical, but the other characters have no choice but to rationalize what is happening as something that is happening inside of the young men. Helena accuses the others of setting her up on their own without any outward manipulation when she says, “I see you all are bent / To set against me for your merriment” (3.2.146-7).

The fairies here are acting as an agent of nature, at least in the sense that the humans are acknowledging nature as the cause. Only the audience is aware of the full extent of the fairies’ interference. Only they know that any magic has happened at all. Even so, the way the fairies are constantly associated with nature means that they are still capable of being seen as agents of nature instead of magical beings with personal agendas. If the scenes with the fairies were taken out of the play, there would still be a storyline there, but the reasoning behind the characters’ actions would be justified in the same way that they justify the behaviors to themselves in the play. The fairies add another layer to the play, but part of their wonder is that they stay mysterious. Their presence remains ambiguous throughout the play. They are just there out of sight, manipulating things but never revealing themselves.

The four human teenagers are caught up in a confusing situation where everyone loves different people. This is complicated before the fairies become involved, but their situation become even more dramatic upon the entrance of the love potion that Puck has been instructed to put onto the eyes of one of the human boys (2.1.637-46). What was meant to right things instead makes them worse when Puck enchants the wrong boy (2.2.728). After the love potion, the human teenagers do not honestly act much different from how they had been before except Lysander’s affection has shifted to Helena instead of Hermia. However, this change in his feelings prompts confusion which the fairies are entirely responsible for, and this was the sort of behavior that people in the audience of the time would have recognized as typical mischief that fairies caused. In that way, Shakespeare’s fairies were typical of the time. Puck himself can be described as a “prankster” (Miller 254).

Shakespeare’s fairies stay removed from the humans and in their own world even as they interfere with the humans’ lives, but the separation goes further than that in the way that any interaction between fairies and humans is almost nonexistent in the play. Even as they occupy the same space over the course of the play, the fairies choose not to engage with the majority of the humans. Bottom is the only human to interact with the fairies, and afterwards, he chooses not to share his experience because “The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, hot is heart to report what my dream was” (4.2.204-7). To the other characters, fairies remain figures of myth, not fact. They have been given no evidence of the fairies’ existence except Bottom’s experience, which he does not share. It gives the play a sense of ambiguousness over whether or not the fairies shown exist or if they are imagined. The separate world the fairies occupy could almost be a dream world, not the real one of the humans. It almost mirrors the way fairies could have been thought of in England at the time. Are they there or not? Is their world so estranged from the human world that it is actually nonexistent? There are no clear answers, but the fairies’ connection to nature seems to make them a natural force that is always acting out of sight of humans, not just in the events of the play.

The fairies present in A Midsummer Night’s Dream build upon older fairy traditions to create a new sort of fairy that has continued to influence our mythology today. With his fairies, Shakespeare creates a race of magical beings closely tied to nature just like the agrarian fairies that had come before them. This connection to the pastoral countryside creates fairies that are strongly connected to nature. In fact, Shakespeare’s fairies can be read as an extension of nature as much as they can magical beings acting out of their own autonomy. While the fairies do manipulate the lives of the human characters in the play, they so in a way that keeps them outside of what is happening, and none of the humans learn of how their emotions have been manipulated. Because of this, the fairies actions have no stronger outcome than any other force of nature would have over the characters’ lives, and the emotions the characters experience over the course of the play are as natural as if the fairies had not interfered at all.

Works Cited

“Folk-Lore of Drayton. Part V. Fairies (Continued)., The.” The Folk-Lore Journal 3.2 (1885): 134-155. JSTOR. 3 Sept. 2015.

Herrington, H.W. “Witchcraft and Magic in the Elizabethan Drama.” The Journal of American Folklore 32.126 (Oct.-Dec. 1919): 447-485. JSTOR. 5 Sept. 2015.

Lamb, Mary Ellen. “Taken by the Fairies: Fairy Practices and the Production of Popular Culture in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Shakespeare Quarterly 51.3 (Autumn 2000): 277-312. JSTOR. 8 Sept. 2015.

Lewis, Allan. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Fairy Fantasy or Erotic Nightmare?” Educational Theater Journal 21.3 (Oct. 1969): 251-258. JSTOR. 4 Sept. 2015.

Miller, Ronald F. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Fairies, Bottom, and the Mystery of Things.” Shakespeare Quarterly 26.3 (Summer 1975): 254-268. JSTOR. 8 Sept. 2015.

Schleiner, Winifried. “Imaginative Sources for Shakespeare’s Puck.” Shakespeare Quarterly 36.1 (Spring 1985): 65-68. JSTOR. 7 Sept. 2015.

Shakespeare, William. A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Norton Shakespeare. New York: Norton, 2008. 849-96. Print.

Staton, Jr,, Walter F. “Ovidian Elements in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Huntington Library Quarterly 26.2 (Feb. 1963): 165-178. JSTOR. 5 Sept. 2015.

Strier, Richard. “Shakespeare and the Skeptics.” Religion & Literature 32.2 (Summer 2000): 171-196. JSTOR. 4 Sept. 2015.

Swann, Marjorie. “The Politics of Fairylore in Early Modern English Literature.” Renaissance Quarterly 53.2 (Summer 2000): 449-473. JSTOR. 6 Sept. 2015.

Wilby, Emma. “The Witch’s Familiar And The Fairy In Early Modern England And Scotland.” Folklore 111.2 (2000): 283-305.Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

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Viewing Writing as Art

I’m continuing to post papers that I included in my senior portfolio. This paper was written over the course of a year. Kind of. Brainstorming the paper took place over one semester, and writing the paper took another semester. It was for Responding to Student Writing, a class for English education double majors.

Introduction

Walking into each new English classroom throughout my secondary school career meant a new teacher but little else. How we were given writing assignments was formulaic and predictable to us at the start of each school year. There was always the persuasive paper, the narrative, and the research paper which was sure to be the final paper of the year. That was the one all of us dreaded right through to the end. The fact that the research paper filled most of us with complete dread may have been a bit of a worry since a Stanford study found that research papers are one of the types of writing most commonly done by college students (Addison 156). The build up to something terrifying that I experienced in middle and high school classrooms was not the best way to think about those types of papers.

While I can recall doing some creative writing in fourth grade and one piece of creative writing in eighth grade, that is it. The only piece of writing I did that broke away from the essay mold in high school was one haiku that we wrote over one night sophomore year. Over the years, I came to associate school writing with formulaic writing where we followed sets of rules in order to achieve the grade we wanted. They were tedious papers that no one would choose to write in their free time, but getting through them was a right of passage for moving on the the next grade and graduating. They served no other purpose to us.

I was lucky in that I managed to retain an enjoyment of writing that I watched so many of my classmates lose. Even I did not entirely escape the feeling. As much as I enjoyed certain aspects of writing, motivating myself to write a lot of the papers we did was hard because they felt pointless in the grand scheme of things. I was not alone. Joanne Addison and Sharon James McGee found that almost half of high school students reported enjoying writing for their personal enjoyment even though they disliked school writing assignments (166). As the years went on, it felt like more and more of my classmates were writing to fit the rubric of a particular assignment more than to say anything worth saying. Even I failed to think about most of my papers as anything more than a means to get a grade.

The largest contributing factor to my continued enjoyment of writing that I can see is the fact that I was continuously writing outside of class. This was creative writing with no stakes other than pleasing myself. It allowed me to see some of the potential writing had outside of the classroom, and not many of my classmates got that viewpoint too. Despite the seemingly uncreative writing we were doing in class, I never lost the mindset that any type of writing relies heavily on creativity. That idea helped spur my thinking about how teaching writing would be different if students and teachers both looked at the writing done in class through the lens of creativity and the artistry that goes into the process.

Literature Review

W.E. Coles, Jr. said it well when he wrote, “The teaching of writing as writing is the teaching of writing as art” (111). Sometimes it is easy for students and even teachers to lose sight of that fact. Eventually, students stop seeing their writing assignments as art and only see them as assignments. If students saw their writing assignments as art, would they be more engaged? If students could draw comparisons between the writing process and the process a visual artist might go through to get a finished product, would it have an effect on their writing? If teachers were cognizant while responding to student writing of the fact that, on some level, a student’s paper is a creative work, would that have an effect on how they viewed the student’s efforts?

There may be limitations to this if a writing teacher does not have a teacher of another subject with whom to collaborate, but that does not mean that the writing teacher cannot pull in other subjects to the writing classroom on their own. Art, for instance, is a subject already closely connected to writing and can have an important place in the writing classroom.

One of the biggest roadblocks towards seeing academic writing as creative is the fact that almost all of the writing upper level students do in the classroom is nonfiction. Students reach a certain level in school where they are no longer given creative writing assignments, and a divide is created in their mind between creative writing and academic writing. One has creative in its name and leads to the literature they also read in class, but it is not what is expected of them in school. In their minds, they are only expected to do the “uncreative” writing in class. This writing relies on dry facts that apparently has no use for the creative.

While it is also important for students to realize that any sort of writing stems from creativity in some way, there is no doubt that the actual form of creative writing is typically overlooked in classrooms. Teachers, understandably, see other forms of writing as more important for the students to learn. While few people would contest students needing to learn academic writing, it can be a shame that students do not get more experience with creative writing while in school.

Patrick Bizzaro writes about poets, dramatists, etc. resisting creative writing becoming established in academics because they see it as “an evil to be avoided” (295), and maybe that is why creative writing is rarely focused on or maybe it is not. However, this means that many creative writers lack any formal training in their field (Bizzaro 295). Giving students some sort of exposure to creative writing in their English classes could be helpful. After all, the literature they are reading is most likely going to be literature that came out of creative writing.

Douglas Hesse calls for more emphasis on creative writing in composition studies and calls to mind the “commonalities” that all writing shares (49). This may be an idea that never even occurs to students, and being able to show students that all forms of writing are writing and therefore creative, could be helpful in changing students’ views as to the purpose of all of the writing they do in class. Just opening up a dialogue about creative writing could help students jumpstart their creativity. After all, as Jean-Pierre Changeux has hypothesized humans may have a predisposition for art (199). Francis L. Fennell also wrote that seeing “writing as an art should encourage us” because viewing writing as an art proves that it can be taught unlike what some believe (177). This is an important view for writing teachers since the idea that writing skills are innate and unteachable would present quite a problem for writing classes.

Joanne Addison and Sharon James McGee have written that there is “a declining state of literacy among high school and college students” (147). This fact is rather alarming, especially when most people today think of literacy as being better than it has ever been. If there is better access to information than ever before, then how can literacy be declining? Addison and McGee were two people who wondered that as well and studied trends in writing discussion in order to find a cause. What they found was not that writing teachers are terrible at their jobs. However, “writing in the disciplines and beyond the academy” has become more important for developing students’ writing skills (169), and these are factors that are not necessarily under the control of the writing teacher. They come to several recommendations in their article, and one of those is an interdisciplinary focus on writing that helps incorporate other fields of study (170). Such a focus would help give students a deeper understanding of the importance of writing to them.

A view of writing as art indicates how neuroscience can be incorporated into the writing classroom. The study of neuroscience has spawned a lot of research in recent years on the most effective ways of learning, and much of this research has focused on the role of creativity in learning.

In “Art and Neuroscience”, Jean-Pierre Changeux wrote that humans are predisposed to art (199). Brains did not change in order to accommodate art, but art instead comes naturally to humans (199). This implies that art is something that can come naturally to people at least to a certain extent. In fact, creativity may be connected to physical health. John Mirowsky and Catherine E. Ross wrote about the idea that “the creativity of one’s work or activities may be as important to health as the autonomy of it, and perhaps even more important” (385). The basis of their idea is that performing work that allows someone to be creative can be more beneficial than that person performing work that they are fully in charge of (386). They also mention, however, that some autonomy is necessary for something to be creative, which makes the two go hand-in-hand and is important to keep in mind in a classroom (386).

Researchers at the University of Greifswald conducted experiments that showed increased brain activity when participants used creativity while writing instead of just copying down what they were told (Zimmer). This increased brain activity is important for anyone who hopes to retain information and not just lose it after the next paper is completed or next test is taken. This research shows that the more creativity students use on any given writing assignment, the more they will be using their brain’s capabilities. The less creativity their writing assignments take, the more they can make it through an assignment without really working their brain. This is why art and creativity in the classroom has become an important topic among neuroscientists and teachers who want to use neuroscience techniques.

Presenting Writing as Art to Students

Students are used to thinking about their writing assignments as almost mechanical instead of creative. Even narrative pieces are sometimes presented to students in a way where they see them as essays, not stories, and students may be prone to thinking of essays as inherently uncreative while stories and fiction, which many students may mistake as the same thing, as being the only types of writing that can be creative. Getting students to realize that any form of writing requires creativity on their part is the first step towards them viewing their work as a type of art.

This can be something teachers suffer from as well. So much of the writing students do is laid out for both students and teachers. Students are given a formula for writing their papers that they are expected to stick to. Everyone knows about the five paragraph essay and what each paragraph is supposed to include. At times it can make papers feel more like plugging the missing information into a set formula than creating anything that could be deemed creative.

Students are often give the false notion that academic writing is almost inherently uncreative. They see it as a form where less exploration is available to them instead of one where they can explore with different ways to get their argument across. Something needs to happen to awaken students’ awareness that academic writing has it’s own sense of creativity just like creative writing. The similarities between the types of writing need to be emphasized in ways that will benefit students. After all, many students are likely to respond when they are consciously being creative than when they are writing to be as standardized as possible, which is how many students appear to view academic writing.

Students need an expanded view of their academic writing beyond the narrow one many of them have developed. They can be creative while still following certain standards. Correctness in grammar and mechanics should not impede creativity. It should be a way to express creativity. Too often students see grammar and mechanics as limiting when that is not how they should be viewed at all. Shifting their focus will give them a new outlook. Getting students writing at least partially for themselves is the only way to create new writers instead of people who only write when it is a necessity for school or work, although those are also important functions of writing. It has been found that “two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies” have responsibilities that involve writing (Addison 151). Preparing students for those responsibilities is also incredibly important, since not having the appropriate level of writing skills can prevent promotions and about three billion dollars a year is spent trying to teach employees to write (Addison 151), but so is their own engagement is what they are being asked to write.

There are reasons why concepts such as the five paragraph essay become such a huge deal in the classroom. Students need to learn different types of writing, and having a structured idea of what they need to accomplish in a paper provides a starting point for that. Having a very structured starting point for creating a paper is what many beginning writers need. However, students need to eventually feel like they have complete control over what they are writing if they are going to grow as writers. They have to feel like they have agency over the contents of their papers, or they’re never going to be able to do much writing outside of heavily structured classroom papers. In other words, they need to be taught how to write more like how they would be taught art in an art classroom.

After all, there was a time when the arts were not separated into different fields like they are today. They were “integrated with each other and life” and had a “wholeness and interfunctionality” (Anderson 10). Keeping the idea that the different art fields all have much in common can change how the teaching of them all is viewed. Anderson is not alone either in thinking about what the modern separation of the arts into fields means. Irwin and Reynolds wrote about teaching while “making connections between and among the visual arts and other subject areas” (13). While this is different than just viewing writing as a type of art, it does help shed light on how connected different disciplines can be, especially when each discipline centers around a form of art.

There are certain things an artist has to do in order to wind up with a completed painting, but most art students know that they have creative control over what exactly that finished painting looks like. Writing students need that same sort of mindset towards their papers. There are certain rules that need to be followed to achieve the intended type of paper, but they are the ones who have control over what and how that paper accomplishes what it needs to accomplish. In the end, it is their paper, not the teacher, and that may be something both students and teachers forget without realizing it.

Many students would not think to make a connection between the writing they are doing in class and art. Some of them may not think of any sort of writing as art because they have never really heard the term “art” used when discussing writing. Denise Cassano had her students analyze a painting in order to hone their creative writing skills. Just doing that and connecting it to a piece of literature is a good start for getting your students thinking about possible connections between writing and visual art.

If teachers keep in mind that each student paper is a work of art created by that student, they will be better able to keep that in mind. That is not to say that student papers are going to be masterpieces that are too perfect to be critiqued. No one would ever believe that. Few art students are creating pieces that are worthy of being hung in the Louvre. Still, having that sort of mindset can help give a bit more control over to the student. When a paper is looked at as art, it is more likely to also be looked at as a way to express oneself. Students do not always think of their academic papers the same way. They are not doing it for expression. They’re doing it for a grade. A student does not typically choose a topic they are very passionate about, or if they do, it is because it happens to go along with the assignment, not because they had a particular desire to write about it. They are more concerned with writing what they think should go into a paper and nothing more, which is a mindset that can make any paper dull. Instead, if students look at a paper as art, they may focus more on the ability to explore that writing gives them and write about their topics in a more engaged way that focuses on expressing their own thoughts on the subject.

A student will get far more out of a paper that they feel is their own and something that they have worked hard to create than one that was formulaic and created only for a teacher. Students who know how to write papers only under incredibly strict guidelines will only be able to go so far with writing once they are out of high school. Teachers give students assignments in the hope that one day students will be able to write on their own without any sort of assignment. There will not be a rubric for the writing students do after college. There may not even be a strict form that they must follow. It will all be on them to determine what the paper needs and how to do that.

How does this tie in with viewing student writing as art? I think art students always have a sense of ownership over their artwork that not all writing students experience. Art done by students may be hung up for others to admire while the only people who are likely to see a student’s paper are the student and people who will critique it. This alone could create a sense of the writing not being all that important in the grand scheme of things. The art students create may be worthy of admiration even if it is not a masterpiece, but the writing is not.

Going even further than that, art students make a number of artistic decisions that come purely from the knowledge that they need to make a piece the best it can possibly be. Writing students, on the other hand, are more concerned with meeting the requirements for a paper than making decisions that will lead to the best paper possible. Toby Fulwiler writes about how teaching writing is synonymous with teaching a liberal art and reminds readers that “learning to write is the most direct way of learning to reflect” (9-10). Learning how to write thrives on “critical and creative engagement” which will only be achieved by students who feel that they can exercise control over their papers and make them their own (Fulwiler 10). Students who feel their writing lacks creativity, are going to be disengaged and internalize less about writing.

Imagine an art classroom where students are given a rubric for a painting they are meant to paint. This rubric turns the painting into little more than a paint-by-numbers. The student is not going to feel like their work is actually theirs when all they have done is fill in the correct colors wherever they were told to. As the Center for Best Practices in Early Childhood lays out, “Children do not need preprinted pictures to trace and color” (“Relationship”). Allowing them to create their own art is much more valuable. In order for the painting to be worth anything to them, both personally and educationally, they have to decide what colors go where for themselves. A certain amount of guidance is also necessary, but they have to learn what leads to a great painting by experimenting with the process themselves.

Paint-by-numbers assignments are not going to be enough to encourage art students to be artists. They may be useful as some sort of start, but eventually the lack of creativity will just make them tedious and nothing more worthwhile. Writing will be the same way for students. Students have to use their creativity or they will not be writers, not in the classroom and certainly not out of it.

Methods for Teaching Writing as Art

Neuroscience is getting a lot of attention in the education community lately because understanding how the brain works is sure to lead to the development of education techniques that are effective. Those well-versed in neuroscience are very aware of how ineffective a paint-by-numbers assignment would be. Creativity happens to be a big deal in neuroscience, and writing teachers are in a prime position to capitalize on it. When students are creative, their brains are going through a “dynamic interplay of these large-scale networks” (Kauffman). This means that students are using more parts of their brain and that these parts are interacting with each other, not working alone. Even someone who is not a neuroscientist can guess that getting students to use as much of their brain as possible is a good thing. An emphasis on the creativity of writing is a surefire way to do this.

To emphasize how important it is to stimulate a student’s creativity in their writing, consider a study done by the University of Greifswald. This study aimed to measure the brain activity of writers both when just copying text and while writing creatively. Not only did they measure more brain activity during creative writing than during copying, but more areas of the brain were involved as well (Zimmer). Hopefully, your students will always be doing more than just copying texts, but if writing assignments are not emphasizing creativity as much as they can, then students still are not using as much of their brain as they can, and by extension, are not making as many connections as is possible for them.

That being said, repetition is also important according to neuroscience. Once information is in the brain, it “needs to be activated multiple times” in order to “increase its durability” (Willis). This concept helps support the practice of having students write the same sorts of papers throughout the years, but it is important to keep this concept in mind along with the concept of creativity as an important aspect of learning. The most effective method here would seem to be combining both creativity and repetition. Teachers can find ways for students to experience different types of writing multiple times while still keeping creativity involved.

Brainstorming activities may be one way to really help students realize the creative aspects of writing. There are many ways to use visual aids in brainstorming that will help show students the connection that writing has to art. Exploring ways to use visual art, such as drawings, for brainstorming may help students see their writing in an entirely different light. It helps fit writing and visual art alongside each other and helps create more connections in the student’s mind. The students will have to make connections with the visuals as well as text in their brains, which will require them to use different parts of their brains than they would through text alone.

Just exploring graphic novels may produce similar effects as students again are able to see writing being used along with another form of art. Going a step further, students could be asked create their own comic. Creating some form visual art that also tells the same story as their words helps show that the two art forms are closely entwined. Afterwards, students can see writing as a form of art in a way they perhaps had not before. Such a project could cause them to continue to view they’re writing in similar ways. It could be a natural development to begin exploring how they could create images through words alone and no drawings. It may seem more setting of creative writing, but potentially, students could expand the understanding to academic writing.

In fact, getting students to think about academic papers using visual art could be a great way to get them engaged while showing connections between the fields. Propaganda could be a great example of the way visual arts can be used for the same purpose as persuasive papers, and students can see how different persuasive techniques are also used visually. Students may have an easier time seeing visual propaganda as art despite its uses than they would a persuasive paper on the same topic. That is just one method of ways to open up a dialogue about writing, even academic writing, as art to students. Art of wildlife or landscapes or scientific models can all relate back to some of the options students would have for research papers.

Conclusion

Getting students thinking about writing as a form of art towards the beginning of the year or semester could help a lot with continuing that mindset for the rest of the year, even if the visual is not brought into every writing assignment they do throughout the year. If students are thinking of their papers almost as an art project, then they may feel less constricted and more at ease in exploring what they can do with their writing. The papers they turn in will be products they are excited to share with the world because they are an expression of the students and what they think rather than something written down to adhere to rules and please a teacher, nothing more.

Students are going to be aware that their paper will be graded and to write with that in mind. It has been strongly ingrained in them to expect that outcome, but the writing students, in particular, need to develop the courage to keep moving forward with their writing and develop their skills further instead of quitting once they have achieved the grade they wanted or will settle for. An art student might have been fine with coloring books when she was young, but as she goes through art classes, she has to be willing to continuously develop skills that allow her to create unique works of her own, not just filling in the outlines of someone else’s.

Writing is the same way. Students have to be given ownership and creative control of what goes into their papers if they are going to take away anything that will help them in the long run. They have to feel like they are actually learning their own writing process and creating works of worth and not just following an expected format where they fill in the blanks and have a paper. Teaching them to write to an assignment may get them through school, but it may not be much help afterwards when they have no assignments to follow and instead must create their own “assignments” and “rubrics” for themselves. That is when the true test of whether or not they learned to write will come, and their own sense of creativity will play a huge role. Emphasizing that creativity while they are in school will help prepare them. Maybe then they will feel confident enough to call themselves writers.

Works Cited

Addison, Joanne and Sharon James McGee. “Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions.” College Composition and Communication 62.1 Sep. 2010: 147-179. JSTOR. Web. 4 Feb. 2015.

Anderson, Tom. “Rediscovering the Connection Between the Arts.” Arts Education Policy Review 96.4 (1995): 10. Academic Search Premiere. Web. 26 Jan. 2015.

Bizzaro, Patrick. “Research and Reflection in English Studies: The Special Case of Creative Writing.” College English 66.3 (2004): 294-309. JSTOR. Web. 16 March 2015.

Cassano, Denise M. “Inspire Thoughtful Creative Writing Through Art.” Edutopia. George Lucas Educational Foundation, 7 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.

Changeux, Jean-Pierre. “Art and Neuroscience.” Leonardo 27.3 (1994): 189-201. JSTOR. Web. 16 March 2015.

Coles, Jr., W. E. “The Teaching of Writing as Writing.” College English 29.2 (Nov. 1967): 111-116. JSTOR. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.

Fennell, Francis L. “Writing as Art.” College Communication and Composition 26.2 (May 1975): 177-82. JTOR. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.

Fulwiler, Toby. “Teaching Writing as a Liberal Art: Ideas That Made the Difference.” University of Minnesota, 1999. Web. 24 Jan. 2015.

Hesse, Douglas. “The Place of Creative Writing in Composition Studies.” Boston University, 2010. Web. 30 Jan. 2015

Holzman, Michael. “Writing as Technique.” College English 44.2 (Feb. 1982): 129-34. JSTOR. Web. 13 Feb. 2015.

Irwin, Rita L., and J. Karen Reynolds.  “Integration As A Strategy For Teaching The Arts As Disciplines.” Arts Education Policy Review 96.4 (1995): 13. Academic Search Premier. Web. 7 Feb. 2015.

Kaufman, Scott Barry. “The Real Neuroscience of Creativity.” The Scientific American. Nature America, Inc. 19 Aug. 2013. Web. 16 March 2015.

Lardner, Ted. “Locating the Boundaries of Composition and Creative Writing.” College Composition and Communication 51.1 (1999): 72-77. JSTOR. Web. 15 March 2015.

Leahy, Anna and Catherine Brady. “Comments on the Issue of Creative Writing in the Twenty-first Century.” College English 72.2 (2009): 199-201. JSTOR. Web. 15 March 2015.

Mirowsky, John and Catherine E. Ross. “Creative Work and Health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 48.4 (Dec. 2007): 385-403. JSTOR. Web. 12 April 2015.

Penner, Erin Kay. “Making No Apologies for Difficulty: Putting Modernist Form at the Center of Classroom Discussions.” Journal of Modern Literature 37.2 (2014): 1-19. Project Muse. Web. 23 Jan. 2015.

“Relationship Between Writing and Art.” West Illinois University. Web. 31 Jan. 2015.

Ruffin, Paul. “Teaching Creative Writing.” Mississippi Review 19.1 (1990): 320-321. JSTOR. Web. 17 March 2015.

Willis, Judy. “A Primer: Neuroscience and Teaching Strategies.” Edge. ASCD. Web. 11 April 2016.

Zimmer, Carl. “This Is Your Brain on Writing.” The New York Times. The New York Times. 20 June 2014. Web. 16 March 2015.

Feminist Literary Criticism and Harry Potter

I’m posting some of the papers from my senior portfolio. This is a paper that I wrote for my British literature class during the fall of my junior year. Since we would ideally take that class before literary criticism, we studied different literary theories in less detail to prepare us. I had actually already taken lit crit.

When we were given the option to write about any book we wanted using any theory we wanted, my choice is probably unsurprising, and when I was choosing which papers to include in my portfolio, I couldn’t resist having something about Harry Potter in it.

Feminist literary criticism explores the use of gender in literary works, although there are numerous different branches of feminist criticism that focus on different aspects of works. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling may not be immediately thought of from the perspective of feminist criticism because of its male protagonist, but gender can provide an interesting way to look at the Harry Potter series even if some allowances have to be made that it is not a perfect way of looking at the series.

Although some critics are hesitant to focus on an author when studying a work, feminist critics might find it interesting that the Harry Potter series is written by a woman who chose to write about a male protagonist. This could provide an interesting perspective to study as the story is told by a female perspective even though the main character is male and should have a male perspective. American feminist critics, in particular, might be interested in this as they often focus on female authorship (Bressler 154). If the critic was really willing to bring in outside information, they could also explore the fact that J.K. Rowling decided to go by initials because her publishers did not think boys would buy her books if they knew they were written by a woman. That raises interesting questions over how female authorship of a story such as the Harry Potter series is viewed.

Of the three main characters of the series, two are male and one is female. Feminist critics might be interested in studying the differences between the three characters, especially considering Hermione, the female, is the one who is considered smart and “uptight” about following the rules while Ron and Harry, the males, are more easygoing about both school and breaking the rules. A cultural feminist critic could analyze whether any of these differences in personality were a result of gender (Bressler 158).

Going outside of the main characters, feminist critics could study the gender of those in power in the novels through Kate Millett’s idea of sexual politics (Bressler 150). Many of the most powerful figures in the novel are male. Harry is “the Chosen One” who is tasked with defeating “the Dark Lord” who is also male. There are multiple Ministers of Magic during the series, and every single one of them is male. There are two headmasters of Hogwarts during the series that are male, although McGonagall takes over as Headmistress at the very end of the last novel. Feminist critics might find these positions of power interesting to study.

Expanding on that, there are female characters who are in positions of power underneath the males. McGonagall is deputy headmistress underneath Dumbledore. Umbridge has an important position at the Ministry of Magic and is very loyal to the Minister of Magic Fudge. Bellatrix is one of the Death Eaters that Voldemort seems to keep close, and she is fiercely loyal to him to the point that it is basically an obsession. All of these women are in relatively powerful positions, but they all answer to men. That would help deepen an analysis of the Harry Potter series that discussed sexual politics.

While few women are in top positions of power in the series, there is one position that is given great importance in the series and dominated by women: motherhood. The love of mothers is a powerful image through the Harry Potter series. Lily Potter died in order to save Harry’s life, and her sacrifice becomes a key aspect of Harry finally defeating Voldemort. Feminist critics might be interested in studying why Rowling decided to use Harry’s mother for this position instead of his father.

In addition to Lily Potter, feminist critics might be interested in studying Molly Weasley. Molly is a stay-at-home mother who is fiercely dedicated to her children. Although she does not have a job, she does join the Order of the Phoenix in the fifth novel, but her job there seems to largely revolve around making sure Grimmauld Place runs smoothly. Readers witness her fight for the Order, but it never seems to be her primary goal in the organization. Her position as a mother is her most note-worthy characteristic and what defines her throughout the series, which opens up even more the discussion of mothers within the Harry Potter series. Arthur Weasley is portrayed in a very different way, which could also contribute to the contrast between mothers and fathers throughout the series.

Magic itself could also contribute to an interesting discussion amongst feminist critics. Amazon feminism asserts that women and men are equal physically and would probably be interesting in studying the differences between men and women fighting in a war (Bressler 157). In Harry Potter, the war is fought with magic alone. There is no physical aspect. Whether or not men and women are physically equal becomes more or less irrelevant because physical strength is not how they overpower each other. This would no doubt provide an interesting way to compare the world in Harry Potter to reality.

At the same time, there are also a few problems with studying the Harry Potter series using feminist criticism. The biggest is that the series takes place in a fictional world with a social structure entirely different from real social structures. The culture in Harry Potter has no doubt been influenced by our own culture because of the author, but readers of the series cannot know the entire history and social context of that world. While it is true that most of the powerful leaders in the novel are male, maybe that just happens to be a coincidence. Maybe there have been plenty of females in power before but there just are not at the time of the novels. It may seem unlikely, but no one can really know for sure. There is no certainty that the wizarding world holds the same view on women in power that is common in our own culture.

While there may be a few cautions to keep in mind, studying Harry Potter using feminist criticism can provide valuable insight into the text. A female author writing about a male protagonist automatically opens up questions about the role gender plays in the series, and there are plenty of aspects of gender throughout the series that could easily be explored. Doing so could greatly enrich any interpretation of the novels.

Works Cited

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Boston: Longman, 2011. Print

Fragmentation in “A Rose for Emily”

I’ve been posting some of the essays that I included in my senior portfolio. This particular essay was written in the spring semester of my sophomore year of college for my American literature class.

The events in “A Rose for Emily” are not told in sequential order. Instead, readers receive bits and pieces of events that occurred and have to piece together what order they happened in on their own. This creates suspense in the story and keeps readers actively thinking about the information they are being given. Readers have to piece together the events that they read in order to figure out what is happening with Emily.

The story starts out by stating that Emily, or Miss Grierson, has died. This is also the last event in the story. Right off the bat readers know that this story is focused on Emily’s death. They are not going to be surprised by the death later on in the story. However, the story goes on to recount different parts of Emily’s life before coming back to her death. Throughout the story readers are already aware that they are reading about a dead woman, even though it is not focused on again until the end of the story.

It is possible that readers will have a different response to Emily as a character if they know she is dead. Often times, people will feel more sympathy for someone after their death than they did while that person was living. “A Rose for Emily” presents Emily as an eccentric woman who is described as an “obligation” for the town as opposed to someone that people have fond feelings for. Without knowing her fate, readers might view her as a town nuisance and possibly find her an annoying person they would not want to associate with, but knowing that she is dead from the very beginning, readers may be more apt to care about Emily and feel concern, even as they find out about more unsavory aspects of her as a character.

The fragmentation of the story also provides suspense to readers. They are only being given bits and pieces of the story, and what they are getting do not flow together. This method means that readers cannot passively read through the story without thinking much about it. Instead, readers are forced to think critically about what they are reading in order to follow the events. They have to constantly be trying to figure out what order the events came in and what it all means. This keeps readers engaged in the story and more focused on what is happening.

Because of the fragmentation, readers are most likely forming predictions about the end of the story. Once they reach the conclusion, many will be surprised at what they find because they did not piece together that this ending is what the rest of the story was building up to. Not many would have expected an elderly woman to have a man’s dead body lying around her house, even if there had been an odd smell around her house. Now though readers can go back and reread in order to see all of the hints throughout the story that led to the ending. They are now encouraged to reread the story in order to place the pieces of information together even more accurately than before.

In a way it almost seems to represent Emily’s life. She was not well understood by most of the people in her town, just as the story cannot be easily understood by those who do not take the time to read it carefully. The people of the town only received bits and pieces about her, and it is these bits and pieces that readers receive through the narration of a townsperson. The fragmentation helps show how disconnected Emily was from everyone, and how she never seemed to have anyone who really understood her. Emily was a person who took time to understand, and no one in the town took the time.

“A Rose for Emily” is not a story that readers can easily skim through and expect to fully understand. The fragmentation helps show the complexity of the story of Emily’s life and leads to more careful reading. Readers are pulled in by the challenge presented to them to figure out what is going on and, after discovering that, to see how well it all fit together.

Beliefs About Dating in Sure Thing

Note: I’ve decided to post some of the essays from my senior portfolio here. This is the one paper to make it into the portfolio that is from my first semester of college. It was written for my Written Analysis of Literature class. It’s unchanged from that class (except for the citation, which I had to change the URL for).

Sure Thing by David Ives is about Bill and Betty’s first attempts at getting to know each other.  They play illustrates how easy it is for things to go wrong when two people are getting to know each other.  Bill and Betty have to start over multiple times and correct their mistakes before they reach the point where they decide to leave the café together.

As the play progresses, Bill and Betty get farther and farther in their conversation before one of them makes a mistake.  At the beginning, Betty seems entirely uninterested.  The first several do-overs are the result of her not even letting Bill take the seat beside her.  Bill asks “Is this taken?” (1) multiple times and is turned down by Betty. Once she finally does allow him to sit beside her, it still takes several times before Bill is successfully able to get Betty to stop reading her book and focus on him.  Ives is showing that for anything to happen, two people have to at least be interested in each other.  In the beginning of Sure Thing, Betty does not seem to want to interact with Bill at all, and because of this, nothing can happen between them.

Once Betty finally begins to really talk to Bill, there is still a lot of room for each of them to make mistakes.  At first, the mistakes center around Bill asking Betty about what book she is reading.  The first time he asks, Bill responds, “Oh, Hemingway” (2) once Betty tells him that it is The Sound and the Fury.  A mistake as simple as getting the author of a book wrong requires that the two back track.  This shows how fragile things are at the very beginning of a relationship.  Bill and Betty have just met, and the slightest mistake can ruin things.

Ives seems to be showing how picky women can be about the men they are willing to give a chance when Bill is forced to start over several times after Betty asks about college.  It is not until Bill responds “Harvard” (3) that Ives does not make Bill start over again.  A simple thing such as that makes Bill lose his chances with Betty, and it is not until he tells her that he attended one of the best universities in the United States that the conversation continues.

Even once they have been talking for a while, small things still manage to derail Bill and Betty’s conversation.  Later in the play they have both gotten into the conversation, but when one of them says just one thing that the other does not like, the bell sounds and they are forced to start again.  Ives shows how important first impressions are because even once the conversation has started to come easily, mistakes can still be made.

By the end of the play, Bill and Betty have finally managed to make it through a whole conversation.  Betty responds, “Sure thing” (11) to Bill’s invitation that they go to the movies together.  After many times of starting over, the couple has finally managed to say all of the right things, and Ives has shown readers how easy it is to mess up an initial conversation with someone.  There are many chances to say the wrong things when meeting someone new, and this is shown in Sure Thing.

Works Cited

Ives, David.  Sure Thing.  <http://blanckd.yolasite.com/resources/Sure%20Thing%20(Ives).pdf>  27 May 2016.

My Senior Letter of Reflection

Last semester (roughly five months ago) I had to present my senior portfolio to my committee. Since I did pass my defense, I’d like to think that I achieved the purpose of showing my growth through the portfolio. Because this portfolio is the best representation of my growth as a writer throughout college, I’ve decided that I’d like to share at least some of it here.

I’m starting with my letter of reflection, the first document in the portfolio. The professors on my committee told me that I was too hard on myself in this letter, but I think having to re-read all your freshman papers will put anyone in that mindset. Whether I was too hard on myself or not (or whether I’d write this letter differently just several months later), this is that letter as it appeared in my portfolio.

In grade school, I was always considered a strong writer, but regardless of any real writing skills I may or may not have possessed, what the term actually meant was that I was the student that other students came for to receive input on the grammar and mechanics of their papers. I began to focus on those areas of writing far more than anything else as well because I came to believe that that alone was what qualified my papers as “good.”

As I went through high school, the situation stayed more or less the same. My love of both reading and writing was the same as it had been as a kid, and I was drawn to the honors English classes and, eventually, AP English. Even though my writing was always treated as “good,” I still felt self-conscious about my writing. I was scared of having any mistakes in my writing, but I was more worried about my classmates seeing those mistakes than my teacher. In my mind, my classmates finding my mistakes meant that my supposed writing skills would be seen as a sham.

I was still very much in that mindset when I started college at Marian. The idea of others reading what I wrote felt like a necessary evil in the classroom. I did not doubt it being necessary either. I knew it was an important part of growing as a writer, and I wanted that. There was a strong desire to better my writing skills through listening and learning from others. It was just that allowing people to actually read my writing was stressful, especially if I had to be anywhere near them while they did so. I always had this worry that my writing was worse than everyone else’s in the class, and although I knew it was an illogical fear, I struggled to shake it. That fear has been alleviated quite a bit over my years at Marian. The idea of others reading my writing can still make me a bit nervous, but it is nothing like I felt as a freshmen.

Now that I look back over my older papers, I think about how I felt while writing them.  I know there were so many times where I censored myself or did not take risks specifically because I worried how what I wrote would be perceived by anyone else who happened to read it. No doubt many of those things I could have done would have been a bad idea anyway, but some of them could have been good ones. I am always trying to not let my fear of writing something keep me from actually writing it. That is something that I am better at on certain occasions than I am at others.

Of course, I would like to think that my writing has grown in a number of ways while at Marian. Looking back at my papers, there are a number of things I wish I could change, but making each of the mistakes I have has helped me learn. That act of learning and growing many different ways as a writer is part of what has led to me being more comfortable with people reading my writing. I am not comfortable because I think my writing is so wonderful that the people who read it will not find mistakes. I am just more comfortable making those mistakes because I have internalized even more than in high school that writing is a process for everyone. I am never going to write something that would not face any criticism. Nothing I ever write will be incapable of being improved. I think that is the biggest lesson I have received as a writer from my time at Marian.

I chose to re-write the critical essay that I did because I was not satisfied with the way it was before. It was more than just the grade it got on it. I felt like there was something there that I could explore more than I already had, and I wanted to revisit A Midsummer Night’s Dream and try it. Over the course of re-writing the paper, I changed my thesis and kept almost nothing of the original paper. It was very challenging for me, but I am glad I did it even though I am still frustrated knowing that the paper could be better. I am not sure that I would have gone the route I did as a freshmen. The path of scrapping almost an entire paper for something like this would have felt too intimidating. Back then, I looked at papers that had been graded as finished projects, and even if I was going to revise one, going as far as to almost start over again felt next to impossible. My time here at Marian helped give me the drive to do things like that and challenge myself more in my writing.