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Sunday, August 26, 2007

SPM Literature in English (Notes: Plays and Novels)

Posted by Snow

George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was born in Dublin, the son of a civil servant. His education was irregular, due to his dislike of any organized training. After working in an estate agent's office for a while he moved to London as a young man (1876), where he established himself as a leading music and theatre critic in the eighties and nineties and became a prominent member of the Fabian Society, for which he composed many pamphlets. He began his literary career as a novelist; as a fervent advocate of the new theatre of Ibsen (The Quintessence of Ibsenism, 1891) he decided to write plays in order to illustrate his criticism of the English stage. His earliest dramas were called appropriately Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant (1898). Among these, Widower's Houses and Mrs. Warren's Profession savagely attack social hypocrisy, while in plays such as Arms and the Man and The Man of Destiny the criticism is less fierce. Shaw's radical rationalism, his utter disregard of conventions, his keen dialectic interest and verbal wit often turn the stage into a forum of ideas, and nowhere more openly than in the famous discourses on the Life Force, «Don Juan in Hell», the third act of the dramatization of woman's love chase of man, Man and Superman (1903).

In the plays of his later period discussion sometimes drowns the drama, in Back to Methuselah (1921), although in the same period he worked on his masterpiece Saint Joan (1923), in which he rewrites the well-known story of the French maiden and extends it from the Middle Ages to the present.

Other important plays by Shaw are Caesar and Cleopatra (1901), a historical play filled with allusions to modern times, and Androcles and the Lion (1912), in which he exercised a kind of retrospective history and from modern movements drew deductions for the Christian era. In Major Barbara (1905), one of Shaw's most successful «discussion» plays, the audience's attention is held by the power of the witty argumentation that man can achieve aesthetic salvation only through political activity, not as an individual. The Doctor's Dilemma (1906), facetiously classified as a tragedy by Shaw, is really a comedy the humour of which is directed at the medical profession. Candida (1898), with social attitudes toward sex relations as objects of his satire, and Pygmalion (1912), a witty study of phonetics as well as a clever treatment of middle-class morality and class distinction, proved some of Shaw's greatest successes on the stage. It is a combination of the dramatic, the comic, and the social corrective that gives Shaw's comedies their special flavour.

Shaw's complete works appeared in thirty-six volumes between 1930 and 1950, the year of his death.

PYGMALION: Who was He?
In Roman mythology, Pygmalion was the King of Cyprus who had vowed never to marry because he could not find an ideal woman. Being a sculptor, he sculpted a perfect woman out of marble and eventually fell in love with the cold marble statue. He pleaded with Venus, the Goddess of Love to make her into a real person and she granted his wish.

In Shaw's Pygmalion, Professor Higgins tried to turn Eliza Doolitle into what he pictured to be the ideal woman.
  1. Comparison between Prof. Higgins and Colonel Pickering.
  2. How Shaw presents Eliza in the play.
  3. What does the character of Alfred Doolittle contribute to Pygmalion?
Some ideas to consider in this question.
  • Doolitle adds colour and personality to the play.
  • He makes no pretence to be virtuous but is completely honest about his nature.
  • He presents his own philosophy on the idea of 'Undeserving Poor'.
  • The higher he rises in the world, the less happy he becomes.
(Any statement made must be supported by evidence directly from the text through paraphrasing and quoting from the play.)

It has been said that Pygmalion is not a play about turning a flower girl into a duchess, but one about turning a woman into a human. Do you agree?

On a literal and simple level, the audience would view Pygmalion as a play about a flower girl, yet the deeper, cum more accurate point of view would be as the transformation of a young lady into a real, living human. The play Pygmalion is about a street urchin, Eliza Doolittle, who was brought into the bright glare of the high-class society, the world that she was not born to live in, but by a strange twist of destiny was transported into. The bringing of these two worlds together, that of the poverty-stricken society and the superior civilization had thrown a spanner into the works, for in the Victorian society, a person born into the working class remained there and never had the chance to decide their fate. In other words, their birth selected their future for them. However, defying this unspoken law audaciously, this young damsel has showed courage and learnt rapidly, not only about the art of proper speech and etiquette, but also about the underlying reality that she has to face, life. Eliza had a hard lesson to learn, but she learnt it well. She stood up for herself, for her rights, and showed Professor Higgins that she was not an “insect” or “squashed cabbage leaf”, but a human with feelings just like him and everyone else. This courageous maiden had managed to grasp the true meaning of life, that everyone has a right to live, that the gift of life in itself is pride enough to lift the head of the lowliest beggar and shame enough to bow the head of the most powerful king. To be precise, she learnt to be a human, the meaning of life. Eliza Doolittle had found herself at last.

  1. Look for scenes in the play when Romeo rushes into things without thinking. Identify at least five.
  2. What are the results of each of his actions?
(Please post your comments on the above if you'd like to share it with others.)

Essay question
With close reference to the text, discuss Romeo's impulsive nature and how it leads to his tragic end. (Your essay should not be less than 500 words.)

An Example of How You Can Start This Essay:
In Romeo and Juliet, there are several instances when the audience sees Romeo displaying his impulsive nature. Romeo proposed to Juliet the same night that they met. Juliet would have preferred that their wedding be arranged the right way which would have been through their respective family members. Romeo was hasty in not wanting to wait. He wanted them to be married immediately. So when they parted at daybreak, he went to see Friar Lawrence to make arrangements. The outcome? The marriage had to be kept a secret and Juliet had to fake her death to get out of marrying Paris. This resulted in the tragic ending to this play.

Religious imagery in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet
There are different types of imagery used in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. One of them is the use of religious imagery.

Christianity was the religion that everyone was expected to follow during Shakespeare’s time and this explains why the imagery used is related to Christianity.

In the play, Romeo expresses his desire to kiss Juliet’s hand which he refers to as a ‘holy shrine’ and his own lips as ‘two blushing pilgrims’. The audience, being familiar with the religious connotation is made to feel that Juliet is linked with a divine existence, that is, God. This scene which takes place in Act 1 scene 5 (95-96) is the young lovers’ first meeting when Romeo turns up uninvited at Capulet’s masquerade party. Juliet plays along, responds to Romeo by referring to him as ‘good pilgrim’ and comparing him with ‘holy palmers’, the pilgrims who have returned from Jerusalem with a palm leaf as a token.

Romeo wants their lips to ‘do what hands do: They pray ...’ The touching of their lips in a kiss is likened to hands which are pressed together in prayer. The use of religious imagery elevates the relationship to a higher plane beyond that of ordinary mortals. The language used is very romantic, poetic and written in the form of a sonnet which sets this scene and the lovers apart from the ordinary characters in the rest of the play.

In Act 2 scene 2, Romeo speaks of her sacredness, recalling the holy motif of their first conversation together. She is his ‘bright angel’; she is like a winged messenger of heaven‘, a ‘dear saint’, and he vows to be ‘new baptiz’d’ for her. The balcony scene expresses the feelings of youth and passion. It makes anyone watching the play realise that young love does not have its feet on the ground. This explains Romeo and Juliet’s perception of love as a heavenly and religious experience.

As God’s intermediary, Friar Lawrence plays a very important role in propagating this perception as he is the one who gives official recognition of their love by marrying them. This implies divine recognition of their union.

The use of religious imagery is crucial to the audience’s acceptance of the events that take place in the play as destiny lies in the hands of God. Romeo and Juliet are not meant to be together on earth. It is only in death that they will be together as husband and wife.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Golding's Lord of the Flies is about struggle for survival and the conflict between good and evil. The characters in the novel are children who are stranded on an uninhabited island after their plane crashes, killing the pilot. In an untamed environment, the children are left to fend for themselves and in the process, form a society with a hierarchy not much different from that in the civilised world.

Readers should consider the following question:
What is the message concerning human nature in Golding's Lord of the Flies?

The Dark Side of Human Nature in 'Lord of the Flies'.
Golding wanted to illustrate in this novel the dark side of human nature and to make the point that each member of humankind has this dark side. The boys blame the source of all the evil and savagery as a beast, some sort of animal or supernatural creature that inhabits the island. In actual fact there is no external beast. When they act on their animal impulses, the boys themselves take on the persona of the beast.
(At this point, SPM students writing their examination essays should display knowledge of text by referring to specific events in the novel.)

Golding places supposedly innocent schoolboys in the protected environment of an uninhabited tropical island to illustrate a point: that savagery is not confined to certain people in particular environments but exists in everyone. Even the smallest boys act out, in innocence, the same cruel desire for mastery shown by Jack and his tribe while hunting pigs and, later, Ralph. The former schoolboys discovered within themselves the urge to inflict pain and enjoyed the accompanying rush of power.
(Refer closely to an event in the novel to support this.)

When confronted with a choice between reason's civilising influence and animalistic savagery, the boys choose to abandon the values of civilisation that Ralph represents.
(Again, support this statement with close reference to the chain of events in the novel. Paraphrasing - that is, putting appropriate quotes into your sentences, is an effective way of showing knowledge and understanding of the novel.)
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  1. "In Roman mythology, Pygmalion was the King of Cyprus who had vowed never to marry because he could not find an ideal woman. Being a sculptor, he sculpted a perfect woman out of marble and eventually fell in love with the cold marble statue. He pleaded with Venus, the Goddess of Love to make her into a real person and she granted his wish."

    In the myth, the ending is romantic.
    But in Shaw's play, the ending is far less romantic but certainly interseting.
    Most of the evidence are in Act 5.

    If you think that that Eliza and Higgins were evident in ending this drama romantically, please debate on this matter(I will surely be againts it). So points can be brought out.


  2. The original Pygmalion myth was merely stated as a point of interest in order to make a comparison between the play and the myth.

    We are a very long way from the original Pygmalion. In Shaw's version, 'Galatea never does quite like Pygmalion; his relation to her is too godlike to be altogether agreeable.'

    Shaw's sequel to the original 1916 printed text insists that Liza did not marry Higgins but married Freddy instead. A highly amusing history of their attempts to run a flower shop together is given.

    She is immensely interested in Higgins, as Shaw put it. Nevertheless, he is a mere fancy, a character in her imagination. In reality where life is not made of dreams and fantasy. Liza likes Freddy and the Colonel, she does not like Higgins and Mr. Doolittle.

    Nevertheless, the sequel is not required at SPM level. In literature, there is no particular right or wrong as long as valid reasons are given. It is merely a matter of perspective.

  3. So, that means the ending is as it is in Act 5.

    The ending is left to our own imaginations,isnt it?

    Well then, what if one would argue that Higgins liked Eliza (as how the Roman emperor loved his statue?)

    He says in the end that he grew accustomed to her face and voice, etc., etc...

    but still insists that she returns with him to Wimpole Street.
    Is it because he needs her just as a mere "secretary" or as a companion?

    How do you define romance, by the way?

    what i found out was:


    Definition: sentimental, idealistic


  4. Pygmalion is often called "A Romance in Five Acts". The romance within this play refers to the seemingly exceedingly improbable transfiguration it records.

    People usually assume that as the heroine of a romance, she must have married the hero. Neverheless, it would not hold true for anyone who has a a sense of human nature in general and especially of feminine instinct.

    The ending is not technically left to our own imaginations due to the sequel written by Shaw. However, it is not required at SPM level and therefore it would be quite possible to argue that Higgins and Eliza ended up together. A candidate who wishes to take this view could probably argue about the affection between them.

    A version of Eliza and Higgins ending up romantically involved would be the 1950 musical adaption, My Fair Lady, Eliza is made to come back noiselessly as a forlorn Higgins sits there listenning to her voice on his records. He looks up to see Eliza standing there and asks softly, "Eliza, where the devil are my slippers?" There are tears in Eliza's eyes. She understands.

    It isn't exactly advisable to argue in favour of Eliza and Higgins ending up romantically involved considering Shaw was very insistent on the subject to the extent of writing a sequel in order to prevent his masterpiece being exposed to "misguided interpretations".

    The three different personalities - Eliza, Higgins and Freddy - have to be compared.
    Would a character like Eliza want a lifetime of fetching Higgin's slippers instead of a lifetime of Freddy fetching her's? "Not bloody likely."

    Then again, as I repeat, there is no particular right or wrong as long as one has sufficient textual evidence and reasons since the sequal isn't included at SPM level.

  5. In the 1950 musical, My Fair Lady, a more romanticly inclined person may most probably conclude that the show ends with Eliza marrying Prof. Higgins. Nevertheless, one could infer otherwise:

    The posibility of Eliza remaining as a secretary/companion/personal asistant to the Prof is debatable.

    Shaw's sequel is an ideal one in my opinion when you consider the need to defend Eliza's previous resolve to marry or, at least, be with Freddy.

    On the other hand Colonel Pickering could be brought romanticly into the picture if you prefer shocking romantic endings...

    Regardless of all that, viewing SPM qeustions as those which require reasoning skills rather than straight-from-the-textbook answers, one might venture to argue it any way they wish. This has to be supported by sufficient reasoning or evidence tough. [unless the student wishes to fail]

    So to all SPM students, don't push yourselves. Practically anyone with reasonable reasoning skills can get through SPM English Lit.

  6. Hi, I'm looking for some notes and tips on the novel Frankenstein. Would really appreciated it if you could give me some..


  7. Flora,
    Sorry, I don't believe I have any Frankenstein notes on my computer, nor do I have a scanner. Am trying to get around that problem. I'll type them out but I'm busy with exams too and SPM will probably end before my exams do. X.x


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