To The Lighthouse

To The Lighthouse Study Guide and Summary


Virginia Woolf was born on January 25, 1882, a descendant of one of Victorian England’s most prestigious literary families. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was the editor of the Dictionary of National Biography and was married to the daughter of the writer William Thackeray. Woolf grew up among the most important and influential British intellectuals of her time, and received free rein to explore her father’s library. Her personal connections and abundant talent soon opened doors for her. Woolf wrote that she found herself in “a position where it was easier on the whole to be eminent than obscure.” Almost from the beginning, her life was a precarious balance of extraordinary success and mental instability.

As a young woman, Woolf wrote for the prestigious Times Literary Supplement, and as an adult she quickly found herself at the center of England’s most important literary community. Known as the “Bloomsbury Group” after the section of London in which its members lived, this group of writers, artists, and philosophers emphasized nonconformity, aesthetic pleasure, and intellectual freedom, and included such luminaries as the painter Lytton Strachey, the novelist E. M. Forster, the composer Benjamin Britten, and the economist John Maynard Keynes. Working among such an inspirational group of peers and possessing an incredible talent in her own right, Woolf published her most famous novels by the mid-1920s, including The Voyage Out, Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, and To the Lighthouse. With these works she reached the pinnacle of her profession.

Woolf’s life was equally dominated by mental illness. Her parents died when she was young—her mother in 1895 and her father in 1904—and she was prone to intense, terrible headaches and emotional breakdowns. After her father’s death, she attempted suicide, throwing herself out a window. Though she married Leonard Woolf in 1912 and loved him deeply, she was not entirely satisfied romantically or sexually. For years she sustained an intimate relationship with the novelist Vita Sackville-West. Late in life, Woolf became terrified by the idea that another nervous breakdown was close at hand, one from which she would not recover. On March 28, 1941, she wrote her husband a note stating that she did not wish to spoil his life by going mad. She then drowned herself in the River Ouse.

Woolf’s writing bears the mark of her literary pedigree as well as her struggle to find meaning in her own unsteady existence. Written in a poised, understated, and elegant style, her work examines the structures of human life, from the nature of relationships to the experience of time. Yet her writing also addresses issues relevant to her era and literary circle. Throughout her work she celebrates and analyzes the Bloomsbury values of aestheticism, feminism, and independence. Moreover, her stream-of-consciousness style was influenced by, and responded to, the work of the French thinker Henri Bergson and the novelists Marcel Proust and James Joyce.

This style allows the subjective mental processes of Woolf’s characters to determine the objective content of her narrative. In To the Lighthouse (1927), one of her most experimental works, the passage of time, for example, is modulated by the consciousness of the characters rather than by the clock. The events of a single afternoon constitute over half the book, while the events of the following ten years are compressed into a few dozen pages. Many readers of To the Lighthouse, especially those who are not versed in the traditions of modernist fiction, find the novel strange and difficult. Its language is dense and the structure amorphous. Compared with the plot-driven Victorian novels that came before it, To the Lighthouse seems to have little in the way of action. Indeed, almost all of the events take place in the characters’ minds.

Although To the Lighthouse is a radical departure from the nineteenth-century novel, it is, like its more traditional counterparts, intimately interested in developing characters and advancing both plot and themes. Woolf’s experimentation has much to do with the time in which she lived: the turn of the century was marked by bold scientific developments. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution undermined an unquestioned faith in God that was, until that point, nearly universal, while the rise of psychoanalysis, a movement led by Sigmund Freud, introduced the idea of an unconscious mind. Such innovation in ways of scientific thinking had great influence on the styles and concerns of contemporary artists and writers like those in the Bloomsbury Group. To the Lighthouse exemplifies Woolf’s style and many of her concerns as a novelist. With its characters based on her own parents and siblings, it is certainly her most autobiographical fictional statement, and in the characters of Mr. Ramsay, Mrs. Ramsay, and Lily Briscoe, Woolf offers some of her most penetrating explorations of the workings of the human consciousness as it perceives and analyzes, feels and interacts.

Plot Overview

Note: To the Lighthouse is divided into three sections: “The Window,” “Time Passes,” and “The Lighthouse.” Each section is fragmented into stream-of-consciousness contributions from various narrators.

“The Window” opens just before the start of World War I. Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay bring their eight children to their summer home in the Hebrides (a group of islands west of Scotland). Across the bay from their house stands a large lighthouse. Six-year-old James Ramsay wants desperately to go to the lighthouse, and Mrs. Ramsay tells him that they will go the next day if the weather permits. James reacts gleefully, but Mr. Ramsay tells him coldly that the weather looks to be foul. James resents his father and believes that he enjoys being cruel to James and his siblings.

The Ramsays host a number of guests, including the dour Charles Tansley, who admires Mr. Ramsay’s work as a metaphysical philosopher. Also at the house is Lily Briscoe, a young painter who begins a portrait of Mrs. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay wants Lily to marry William Bankes, an old friend of the Ramsays, but Lily resolves to remain single. Mrs. Ramsay does manage to arrange another marriage, however, between Paul Rayley and Minta Doyle, two of their acquaintances.

During the course of the afternoon, Paul proposes to Minta, Lily begins her painting, Mrs. Ramsay soothes the resentful James, and Mr. Ramsay frets over his shortcomings as a philosopher, periodically turning to Mrs. Ramsay for comfort. That evening, the Ramsays host a seemingly ill-fated dinner party. Paul and Minta are late returning from their walk on the beach with two of the Ramsays’ children. Lily bristles at outspoken comments made by Charles Tansley, who suggests that women can neither paint nor write. Mr. Ramsay reacts rudely when Augustus Carmichael, a poet, asks for a second plate of soup. As the night draws on, however, these missteps right themselves, and the guests come together to make a memorable evening.

The joy, however, like the party itself, cannot last, and as Mrs. Ramsay leaves her guests in the dining room, she reflects that the event has already slipped into the past. Later, she joins her husband in the parlor. The couple sits quietly together, until Mr. Ramsay’s characteristic insecurities interrupt their peace. He wants his wife to tell him that she loves him. Mrs. Ramsay is not one to make such pronouncements, but she concedes to his point made earlier in the day that the weather will be too rough for a trip to the lighthouse the next day. Mr. Ramsay thus knows that Mrs. Ramsay loves him. Night falls, and one night quickly becomes another.

Time passes more quickly as the novel enters the “Time Passes” segment. War breaks out across Europe. Mrs. Ramsay dies suddenly one night. Andrew Ramsay, her oldest son, is killed in battle, and his sister Prue dies from an illness related to childbirth. The family no longer vacations at its summerhouse, which falls into a state of disrepair: weeds take over the garden and spiders nest in the house. Ten years pass before the family returns. Mrs. McNab, the housekeeper, employs a few other women to help set the house in order. They rescue the house from oblivion and decay, and everything is in order when Lily Briscoe returns.

In “The Lighthouse” section, time returns to the slow detail of shifting points of view, similar in style to “The Window.” Mr. Ramsay declares that he and James and Cam, one of his daughters, will journey to the lighthouse. On the morning of the voyage, delays throw him into a fit of temper. He appeals to Lily for sympathy, but, unlike Mrs. Ramsay, she is unable to provide him with what he needs. The Ramsays set off, and Lily takes her place on the lawn, determined to complete a painting she started but abandoned on her last visit. James and Cam bristle at their father’s blustery behavior and are embarrassed by his constant self-pity. Still, as the boat reaches its destination, the children feel a fondness for him. Even James, whose skill as a sailor Mr. Ramsay praises, experiences a moment of connection with his father, though James so willfully resents him. Across the bay, Lily puts the finishing touch on her painting. She makes a definitive stroke on the canvas and puts her brush down, finally having achieved her vision.

Analysis of Major Characters

Mrs. Ramsay

Mrs. Ramsay emerges from the novel’s opening pages not only as a woman of great kindness and tolerance but also as a protector. Indeed, her primary goal is to preserve her youngest son James’s sense of hope and wonder surrounding the lighthouse. Though she realizes (as James himself does) that Mr. Ramsay is correct in declaring that foul weather will ruin the next day’s voyage, she persists in assuring James that the trip is a possibility. She does so not to raise expectations that will inevitably be dashed, but rather because she realizes that the beauties and pleasures of this world are ephemeral and should be preserved, protected, and cultivated as much as possible. So deep is this commitment that she behaves similarly to each of her guests, even those who do not deserve or appreciate her kindness. Before heading into town, for example, she insists on asking Augustus Carmichael, whom she senses does not like her, if she can bring him anything to make his stay more comfortable. Similarly, she tolerates the insufferable behavior of Charles Tansley, whose bitter attitude and awkward manners threaten to undo the delicate work she has done toward making a pleasant and inviting home.

As Lily Briscoe notes in the novel’s final section, Mrs. Ramsay feels the need to play this role primarily in the company of men. Indeed, Mrs. Ramsay feels obliged to protect the entire opposite sex. According to her, men shoulder the burden of ruling countries and managing economies. Their important work, she believes, leaves them vulnerable and in need of constant reassurance, a service that women can and should provide. Although this dynamic fits squarely into traditional gender boundaries, it is important to note the strength that Mrs. Ramsay feels. At several points, she is aware of her own power, and her posture is far from that of a submissive woman. At the same time, interjections of domesticated anxiety, such as her refrain of “the bill for the greenhouse would be fifty pounds,” undercut this power.

Ultimately, as is evident from her meeting with Mr. Ramsay at the close of “The Window,” Mrs. Ramsay never compromises herself. Here, she is able—masterfully—to satisfy her husband’s desire for her to tell him she loves him without saying the words she finds so difficult to say. This scene displays Mrs. Ramsay’s ability to bring together disparate things into a whole. In a world marked by the ravages of time and war, in which everything must and will fall apart, there is perhaps no greater gift than a sense of unity, even if it is only temporary. Lily and other characters find themselves grasping for this unity after Mrs. Ramsay’s death.

Mr. Ramsay

Mr. Ramsay stands, in many respects, as Mrs. Ramsay’s opposite. Whereas she acts patiently, kindly, and diplomatically toward others, he tends to be short-tempered, selfish, and rude. Woolf fittingly describes him as “lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one,” which conjures both his physical presence and suggests the sharpness (and violence) of his personality. An accomplished metaphysician who made an invaluable contribution to his field as a young man, Mr. Ramsay bears out his wife’s philosophy regarding gender: men, burdened by the importance of their own work, need to seek out the comforts and assurances of women. Throughout the novel, Mr. Ramsay implores his wife and even his guests for sympathy. Mr. Ramsay is uncertain about the fate of his work and its legacy, and his insecurity manifests itself either as a weapon or a weakness. His keen awareness of death’s inevitability motivates him to dash the hopes of young James and to bully Mrs. Ramsay into declaring her love for him. This hyperawareness also forces him to confront his own mortality and face the possibility that he, like the forgotten books and plates that litter the second part of the novel, might sink into oblivion.

Lily BriscoeLily is a passionate artist, and, like Mr. Ramsay, she worries over the fate of her work, fearing that her paintings will be hung in attics or tossed absentmindedly under a couch. Conventional femininity, represented by Mrs. Ramsay in the form of marriage and family, confounds Lily, and she rejects it. The recurring memory of Charles Tansley insisting that women can neither paint nor write deepens her anxiety. It is with these self-doubts that she begins her portrait of Mrs. Ramsay at the beginning of the novel, a portrait riddled with problems that she is unable to solve. But Lily undergoes a drastic transformation over the course of the novel, evolving from a woman who cannot make sense of the shapes and colors that she tries to reproduce into an artist who achieves her vision and, more important, overcomes the anxieties that have kept her from it. By the end of the novel, Lily, a serious and diligent worker, puts into practice all that she has learned from Mrs. Ramsay. Much like the woman she so greatly admires, she is able to craft something beautiful and lasting from the ephemeral materials around her—the changing light, the view of the bay. Her artistic achievement suggests a larger sense of completeness in that she finally feels united with Mr. Ramsay and the rational, intellectual sphere that he represents.

James Ramsay

A sensitive child, James is gripped by a love for his mother that is as overpowering and complete as his hatred for his father. He feels a murderous rage against Mr. Ramsay, who, he believes, delights in delivering the news that there will be no trip to the lighthouse. But James grows into a young man who shares many of his father’s characteristics, the same ones that incited such anger in him as a child. When he eventually sails to the lighthouse with his father, James, like Mr. Ramsay, is withdrawn, moody, and easily offended. His need to be praised, as noted by his sister Cam, mirrors his father’s incessant need for sympathy, reassurance, and love. Indeed, as they approach the lighthouse, James considers his father’s profile and recognizes the profound loneliness that stamps both of their personalities. By the time the boat lands, James’s attitude toward his father has changed considerably. As he softens toward Mr. Ramsay and comes to accept him as he is, James, like Lily, who finishes her painting on shore at that very moment, achieves a rare, fleeting moment in which the world seems blissfully whole and complete.

Themes, Motifs & Symbols


Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

The Transience of Life and Work

Mr. Ramsay and Mrs. Ramsay take completely different approaches to life: he relies on his intellect, while she depends on her emotions. But they share the knowledge that the world around them is transient—that nothing lasts forever. Mr. Ramsay reflects that even the most enduring of reputations, such as Shakespeare’s, are doomed to eventual oblivion. This realization accounts for the bitter aspect of his character. Frustrated by the inevitable demise of his own body of work and envious of the few geniuses who will outlast him, he plots to found a school of philosophy that argues that the world is designed for the average, unadorned man, for the “liftman in the Tube” rather than for the rare immortal writer.

Mrs. Ramsay is as keenly aware as her husband of the passage of time and of mortality. She recoils, for instance, at the notion of James growing into an adult, registers the world’s many dangers, and knows that no one, not even her husband, can protect her from them. Her reaction to this knowledge is markedly different from her husband’s. Whereas Mr. Ramsay is bowed by the weight of his own demise, Mrs. Ramsay is fueled with the need to make precious and memorable whatever time she has on earth. Such crafted moments, she reflects, offer the only hope of something that endures.

Art as a Means of Preservation

In the face of an existence that is inherently without order or meaning, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay employ different strategies for making their lives significant. Mr. Ramsay devotes himself to his progression through the course of human thought, while Mrs. Ramsay cultivates memorable experiences from social interactions. Neither of these strategies, however, proves an adequate means of preserving one’s experience. After all, Mr. Ramsay fails to obtain the philosophical understanding he so desperately desires, and Mrs. -Ramsay’s life, though filled with moments that have the shine and resilience of rubies, ends. Only Lily Briscoe finds a way to preserve her experience, and that way is through her art. As Lily begins her portrait of Mrs. Ramsay at the beginning of the novel, Woolf notes the scope of the project: Lily means to order and connect elements that have no necessary relation in the world—”hedges and houses and mothers and children.” By the end of the novel, ten years later, Lily finishes the painting she started, which stands as a moment of clarity wrested from confusion. Art is, perhaps, the only hope of surety in a world destined and determined to change: for, while mourning Mrs. Ramsay’s death and painting on the lawn, Lily reflects that “nothing stays, all changes; but not words, not paint.”

The Subjective Nature of Reality

Toward the end of the novel, Lily reflects that in order to see Mrs. Ramsay clearly—to understand her character completely—she would need at least fifty pairs of eyes; only then would she be privy to every possible angle and nuance. The truth, according to this assertion, rests in the accumulation of different, even opposing vantage points. Woolf’s technique in structuring the story mirrors Lily’s assertion. She is committed to creating a sense of the world that not only depends upon the private perceptions of her characters but is also nothing more than the accumulation of those perceptions. To try to reimagine the story as told from a single character’s perspective or—in the tradition of the Victorian novelists—from the author’s perspective is to realize the radical scope and difficulty of Woolf’s project.

The Restorative Effects of Beauty

At the beginning of the novel, both Mr. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe are drawn out of moments of irritation by an image of extreme beauty. The image, in both cases, is a vision of Mrs. Ramsay, who, as she sits reading with James, is a sight powerful enough to incite “rapture” in William Bankes. Beauty retains this soothing effect throughout the novel: something as trifling as a large but very beautiful arrangement of fruit can, for a moment, assuage the discomfort of the guests at Mrs. Ramsay’s dinner party.

Lily later complicates the notion of beauty as restorative by suggesting that beauty has the unfortunate consequence of simplifying the truth. Her impression of Mrs. Ramsay, she believes, is compromised by a determination to view her as beautiful and to smooth over her complexities and faults. Nevertheless, Lily continues on her quest to “still” or “freeze” a moment from life and make it beautiful. Although the vision of an isolated moment is necessarily incomplete, it is lasting and, as such, endlessly seductive to her.


Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

The Differing Behaviors of Men and Women

As Lily Briscoe suffers through Charles Tansley’s boorish opinions about women and art, she reflects that human relations are worst between men and women. Indeed, given the extremely opposite ways in which men and women behave throughout the novel, this difficulty is no wonder. The dynamic between the sexes is best understood by considering the behavior of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. Their constant conflict has less to do with divergent philosophies—indeed, they both acknowledge and are motivated by the same fear of mortality—than with the way they process that fear. Men, Mrs. Ramsay reflects in the opening pages of the novel, bow to it. Given her rather traditional notions of gender roles, she excuses her husband’s behavior as inevitable, asking how men can be expected to settle the political and economic business of nations and not suffer doubts. This understanding attitude places on women the responsibility for soothing men’s damaged egos and achieving some kind of harmony (even if temporary) with them. Lily Briscoe, who as a -single woman represents a social order more radial and lenient than Mrs. Ramsay’s, resists this duty but ultimately caves in to it.


In “Time Passes,” brackets surround the few sentences recounting the deaths of Prue and Andrew Ramsay, while in “The Lighthouse,” brackets surround the sentences comprising Chapter VI. Each set of sentences in brackets in the earlier section contains violence, death, and the destruction of potential; the short, stabbing accounts accentuate the brutality of these events. But in Chapter VI of “The Lighthouse,” the purpose of the brackets changes from indicating violence and death to violence and potential survival. Whereas in “Time Passes,” the brackets surround Prue’s death in childbirth and Andrew’s perishing in war, in “The Lighthouse” they surround the “mutilated” but “alive still” body of a fish.


Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

The Lighthouse

Lying across the bay and meaning something different and intimately personal to each character, the lighthouse is at once inaccessible, illuminating, and infinitely interpretable. As the destination from which the novel takes its title, the lighthouse suggests that the destinations that seem surest are most unobtainable. Just as Mr. Ramsay is certain of his wife’s love for him and aims to hear her speak words to that end in “The Window,” Mrs. Ramsay finds these words impossible to say. These failed attempts to arrive at some sort of solid ground, like Lily’s first try at painting Mrs. Ramsay or Mrs. Ramsay’s attempt to see Paul and Minta married, result only in more attempts, further excursions rather than rest. The lighthouse stands as a potent symbol of this lack of attainability. James arrives only to realize that it is not at all the mist-shrouded destination of his childhood. Instead, he is made to reconcile two competing and contradictory images of the tower—how it appeared to him when he was a boy and how it appears to him now that he is a man. He decides that both of these images contribute to the essence of the lighthouse—that nothing is ever only one thing—a sentiment that echoes the novel’s determination to arrive at truth through varied and contradictory vantage points.

Lily’s Painting

Lily’s painting represents a struggle against gender convention, represented by Charles Tansley’s statement that women can’t paint or write. Lily’s desire to express Mrs. Ramsay’s essence as a wife and mother in the painting mimics the impulse among modern women to know and understand intimately the gendered experiences of the women who came before them. Lily’s composition attempts to discover and comprehend Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty just as Woolf’s construction of Mrs. Ramsay’s character reflects her attempts to access and portray her own mother.

The painting also represents dedication to a feminine artistic vision, expressed through Lily’s anxiety over showing it to William Bankes. In deciding that completing the painting regardless of what happens to it is the most important thing, Lily makes the choice to establish her own artistic voice. In the end, she decides that her vision depends on balance and synthesis: how to bring together disparate things in harmony. In this respect, her project mirrors Woolf’s writing, which synthesizes the perceptions of her many characters to come to a balanced and truthful portrait of the world.

The Ramsays’ House

The Ramsays’ house is a stage where Woolf and her characters explain their beliefs and observations. During her dinner party, Mrs. Ramsay sees her house display her own inner notions of shabbiness and her inability to preserve beauty. In the “Time Passes” section, the ravages of war and destruction and the passage of time are reflected in the condition of the house rather than in the emotional development or observable aging of the characters. The house stands in for the collective consciousness of those who stay in it. At times the characters long to escape it, while at other times it serves as refuge. From the dinner party to the journey to the lighthouse, Woolf shows the house from every angle, and its structure and contents mirror the interior of the characters who inhabit it.

The Sea

References to the sea appear throughout the novel. Broadly, the ever-changing, ever-moving waves parallel the constant forward movement of time and the changes it brings. Woolf describes the sea lovingly and beautifully, but her most evocative depictions of it point to its violence. As a force that brings destruction, has the power to decimate islands, and, as Mr. Ramsay reflects, “eats away the ground we stand on,” the sea is a powerful reminder of the impermanence and delicacy of human life and accomplishments.

The Boar’s Skull

After her dinner party, Mrs. Ramsay retires upstairs to find the children wide-awake, bothered by the boar’s skull that hangs on the nursery wall. The presence of the skull acts as a disturbing reminder that death is always at hand, even (or perhaps especially) during life’s most blissful moments.

The Fruit Basket

Rose arranges a fruit basket for her mother’s dinner party that serves to draw the party goers out of their private suffering and unite them. Although Augustus Carmichael and Mrs. Ramsay appreciate the arrangement differently—he rips a bloom from it; she refuses to disturb it—the pair is brought harmoniously, if briefly, together. The basket testifies both to the “frozen” quality of beauty that Lily describes and to beauty’s seductive and soothing quality.




Wuthering Heights

“Wuthering Heights” love and passion, hate and violence

At the beginning of the book we meet Mr Lockwood but soon we realize that he is not one of the main characters. The important things begun thirty years before his visit in Wuthering Hights and the most interesting people from that time are Heathcliff and Cathrine Earnshaw. A reader first get to know them when the are about six years old. Heathcliff is just a boy that Mr Earnshaw found on the street. Cathrine”s brother, Hindley, did not like that at all, he felt that this boy would take away his father”s love. He was not wrong about this, the two boys hated eachother. The story was different when it comes to Cathrine. She liked Heathcliff a lot and soon they become inseparable. For them every minute alone was like a nightmare. They spent long hours running on the moors and they were closest friend. As they grew older, this friendship transformed into love. It was not easy for them with Hindley hating Heathcliff so much and Edgar, their neighbour, that fell in love with Cathrine. The girl knew that although she loved Heathcliff so much it would not be appropriate for her to marry him. She struggled with herself. Heathcliff loved Cathrine as much as she loved him. He could not imagine his live without her. When she decided to marry Edgar he run away and disappeared. When he came back after few years their love was still very strong and very emaciating. When we look at Cathrine”s and Heathcliff”s love it seems true that love is a mental disease. They acted in a strange way, like they loved and hated each other at one time. In one minute they were talking calmly, in another they were arguing and accusing each other of being heartless. It was truly passionate love. When Cathrine died after giving birth to her daughter, Heathcliff could not deal with her absence on this world and cursed her for leaving him alone. He would rather die too or be haunted by her ghost. Cathrine”s and Edgar”s daughter was named after her mother – Cathrine. She was usually called Cathy and she was completely different from her when it comes to character but very similar when it comes to external appearance. She lived with his father in Thrushcross Grange unaware of Heathcliff living so near her. She had a peaceful life but one day it occured that her cousin Linton would live with them. Linton, son of Edgar”s sister Isabella and Heathcliff, was to live in Thrushcross Grange after his mother death. Unfortunately, his father wanted to have him in his house, he used him to gain control of Thrushcross Grange. One day young Cathy met Heathcliff in person and she visited Wuthernig Heights. She met her cousin Linton and she also got to know her another cousin Hareton – son of Hindley. Heathcliff was a crafty person and he knew that marriage between Linton and Cathy would give him profit and after Linton”s death he would be the owner of both mansions. It is interesting how from a boy full of love and passion he transformed into a cruel man without a twinge of conscience. At first, Cathrine liked Linton a lot, she thought she was in love with him. They exchanged some love letters and he wanted her to visit him as often as it is possible. He could not visit her because he was both physically and mentally weak. Cathy did not know that the letters were dictated by Heathcliff and Linton was only doing what he was ordered to do. The only person the boy liked was himself but he was afraid to disobey his father. One day when Cathy came to Wuthering Hights she was forced to stay there and marry Linton. It was awful for her because her father was very ill at that time and he was dying. Cathy married Linton and went to see her father as soon as possible. She got home in time to say goodbye to him. Than she had to go back to her new husband. Linton was also very ill and he died soon after marriage. Cathy was the only person that cared about him in his last days. His own father show no interest in him, after the marriage Linton was completely useless for Hithcliff. Cathrine fet anger and hatred for every person living in Withering Heights. She felt lonely and cheated. Surprisingly, her cousin Hareton occurred to be her friend and she found some peace in their friendship. She learnt him to read and she found a new companion. Heathcliff at first was against this relationship but he was haunted by Cathrine”s ghost and soon he did not care about anything. He died alone, looking for relief in Cathrine”s cold arms. He payed the grave-digger to put his and hers coffin together. Hithcliff and Cathrine could be together once and for all.


Speech Making Tips

Helping With Structure

Write a draft of your speech-you wouldn’t build a house without a plan. To meet the standard, content, structure, and language must be appropriate for your purpose, which is to give a speech to your class.

Structure Your Speech As Follows-a Simple “Skeleton” Approach

  • A brief introduction to your topic and the main points you will make,
  • Several key comments on the topics,
  • Supported by evidence you collected,
  • A brief conclusion.

Annotate the draft of your speech in the 5 centimeter margin, indicating these aspects of structure.
In your speech you will develop ideas logically. As headings, briefly list the main points you will make in order. You will
expend on these in much greater detail in your speech. From the thinking and research and discussions and other sources list key details you will use to support your ideas.

Research/Evidence/Detail-Backing Up Points Made

3 aspects of research, evidence, statistics, factual material to support your ideas/comments.

Linking Words And Phrases-moving From One Point To The Next

They help you move one comment/point you make and onto the  next. Also note in the 5 centimeter margin.

Delivery Techniques-once Written, Find Ways To Improve Delivery

To meet the standard you need to use following delivery techniques in a sustained and appropriate way.


Use of voice: use of pace, pitch, Intonation, variation in volume, stress or emphasis, pause and rhythm


Use of body language: use of gesture, facial expression, stance, eye contact and movement.
Use of audio visual aids: use of posters, OHT, power point presentations or other examples.

Language Features-add Vigor, Vitality And Interest To Your Words

Annotate the draft of your speech in the 5 centimeter margin, indicating these other aspects delivery which helps to
make the speech more appealing to the audience. Language features like the ones discussed in class, heard and seen in
speeches you have studied in the course of the class work. These lists are also available in the standard activity sheet
and template.

Practice-Makes Perfect

Complete an initial read-through of your speech. Adapt content if necessary, and experiment with delivery techniques.

Helping Meet The Requirements Of The Standard Sheet

After the initial read-through to help you focus on the key aspects of your speech, fill in these details.

  • Point 1: Detail used to support point 1
  • Point 2: Detail used to support point 2
  • Point 3: Detail used to support point 3

Delivery Techniques

From each of the column below select at least three delivery techniques that you intend to use. Circle them.


  • Volume
  • Pause
  • Rhythm
  • Pitch
  • Pace
  • Emphasis
  • Intonation
  • Props


  • Eye contact
  • Movement
  • Facial expression
  • Stance
  • Gesture
  • Audio visual aids
  • Posters/OHT
  • Power point presentation

Speech Rehearsal

As a final step before delivering the speech to the class, rehears your speech in front of a partner. Give your partner
a copy of the details you filled out in structure above and a draft of your speech. Ask your partner as they observe your rehearse to tick the key points about content, structure, language, and delivery techniques. You partner should identify aspects they feel are successful as well as less successful.
Read your speech to parents, relations and siblings to help in the process of refining and improving your speech. Your teacher may observe you as you rehearse. It is possible to meet the standard for using appropriate content, structure, language and delivery techniques at the rehearsal stage.

Delivery To The Class-courage In The Face Of Fear

Deliver your speech to the class. This delivery gives you another opportunity to meet the standard. Give your teacher
a copy of the speech, the sheets you filled in from above and the cover sheet properly completed. Make sure your 5cm
has the features required completed. Color code if you want to make things clearer. Your teacher will use this as cue to
observe the structure and delivery of your speech.

Evaluation-Learn From The Good And Bad Things We Do

Following your delivery write a short evaluation and attach it your final draft. What other way could you has delivered your speech? Suggest another possible a interpretation, and compare it to the way you delivered your interpretation.
Focus on at least two delivery techniques you used and comment on their effectiveness, suggest some possible improvements that could be made and explain why you make them.

By: Aqsa Riaz


Electra Study Guide and Summary


Paedagogus, Orestes’ old tutor, has returned to the royal palace in Mycenae. Before the play began Clytemnestra murdered Orestes’ father, Agamemnon, and now Orestes has returned to avenge his death. Orestes tells Paedagogus that the Delphic oracle has told him how he should be revenged on those who murdered his father. Orestes tells Paedagogus to falsely report Orestes’ death. In the meantime, Orestes and Pylades will visit Agamemnon’s grave, and, when they return to the palace with an urn (which they will say contains Orestes’ remains), no one will be expecting them to strike against Clytemnestra and Aegisthus.

A cry is heard from inside the house, and Orestes and Paedagogus exit. Electra enters, making a long prayer to “Holy Light”. She is in constant mourning for her father’s death, hardly sleeps, dresses in unsightly and poor clothes, and refuses to stop calling on the gods to bring vengeance. The Chorus argue that she should mourn within normal limits, and no more, and Electra rejects their argument. She longs for Orestes to return to avenge her father’s death. It is impossible for her to behave moderately, she says, when she is surrounded by evil.

Chrysothemis, Electra’s sister, enters with burial offerings. She asks Electra why she is still shouting publicly about her father and her longing for vengeance. Then, Chrysothemis continues, she herself would be openly angry if she had strength. She, however, chooses to be deliberately silent – a decision which Electra then scorns. Chrysothemis argues that Electra’s fury will be the undoing of her, only for Electra to reply that she would welcome death.

Chrysothemis is taking burial offerings from her mother to Agamemnon’s grave. Clytemnestra has sent the offerings after being frightened by a dream in which she saw Agamemnon revived. Electra persuades Chrysothemis not to take Clytemnestra’s offerings to the grave.

The Chorus predict Justice coming and “foreshadowing a just victory”. Clytemnestra enters, surprised to see Electra walking outside, and an argument ensures between mother and daughter. Clytemnestra says that she was just to murder her husband, as he sacrificed her daughter Iphigenia. Electra then launches into a long speech, which tells another version of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, and interrogates the “eye for an eye” logic that Clytemnestra puts forward. This rant becomes increasingly more personal, with Electra even eventually telling Clytemnestra that she would have Orestes kill her if she could. Clytemnestra, left alone, makes a prayer to the gods, hoping that all will be well for her.

Paedagogus, disguised as a messenger, comes in and tells a long story about Orestes’ supposed death. Electra is devastated, and Clytemnestra torn between being delighted and mournful. Clytemnestra goes into the house with Paedagogus. Electra resolves to bring about her own death: without Orestes, she has nothing to live for. The Chorus try to comfort her. Chrysothemis enters, having found Orestes’ hair on Agamemnon’s grave, to tell Electra that Orestes has come to the palace. Electra tries and fails to persuade Chrysothemis to help her murder Aegisthus. Electra resolves to do the deed alone.

Orestes enter disguised, and reveals himself to Electra, proving with Agamemnon’s signet ring that he is indeed Orestes. He then goes inside to murder Clytemnestra, and Electra goes inside the house. The Chorus begin an ode, which is interrupted by Electra running back outside. Clytemnestra is heard screaming from inside the palace, and Electra shouts encouragement to Orestes from outside.

Orestes enters from the palace, and Electra asks him if all is well. Orestes replies that all is well, if Apollo prophesied well. At that, Aegisthus approaches, Orestes goes inside, and Electra greets Aegisthus. Bringing on a covered body (Orestes in disguise again), they tell Aegisthus it is the dead Orestes, though when it is uncovered, it is in fact the murdered Clytemnestra. Aegisthus is taken inside the palace to be murdered by Orestes, and – before we see or hear the deed – the Chorus end the play.

About Electra by Sophocles

As with many extant Greek tragedies, we have no exact date for the the writing of Electra, though scholars have argued that some of its stylistic features suggest it was written towards the end of Sophocles’ life.

The story of Orestes’ revenge is a fascinating one, not least because it is perhaps the only story for which we have a complete surviving treatment from each of the three major Greek dramatists: Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides. Homer delves briefly into the story of Orestes’ matricide in the Odyssey, but it is not until Aeschylus’ Oresteia, a play against which Electra must be read to unlock its full richness, that the Orestes story is really explored in depth. Aeschylus’ play has Orestes, after the death of Clytemnestra, pursued by Furies (personifications of the anger of the dead) and eventually brought to trial before Athene, a trial in which the rights and wrongs of what he has done are weighed and considered. Euripides’ version is markedly different from Aeschylus’ and Sophocles’ treatments — though it shares Sophocles’ name, Electra. Euripides’ play pokes fun at Homer, and (it seems) at previous versions of the myth, though it is important to note that scholars do not know whether Sophocles’ or Euripides’ version came first.

When compared to Aeschylus’ Oresteia and Euripides’ Electra, Sophocles’ treatment of the story is unusual for several reasons. First, it takes a story which Aeschylus had centered around Orestes, and entirely changes its focus to Electra. Thus, the play as Sophocles writes it becomes less about patterns of vengeance and abstract (or divine) ideals of justice and revenge, and more about humans. What we see most clearly through Sophocles’ focus on Electra herself is the product of the unpleasant circumstances she has been forced to live through.

Second, Sophocles omits Aeschylus’ justice from his play, and makes no final arbitration about whether or not Orestes’ matricide is just or justified. There are no Furies, no final trial, and no vote by the jurors or by Athene. The gods, indeed, are reduced to simple Oracles and prophecies, and make no direct appearance. This is a tragedy on a particularly human scale, even to the extent that the final judgment must be made by the audience, not by the gods. Sophocles asks questions, but provides no answers.

Third, and perhaps most significant, Sophocles’ Electra is a strikingly different character from her counterparts in Aeschylus and Euripides. She is bitter, angry, furious, and decidedly “unfeminine” in the traditional ancient Greek sense. She spends the whole play outside, refusing to go inside the house. She is, it has often be argued, not a sympathetic protagonist, but one still somehow admirable if only by the sheer force of her will. She is Electra recast as a Sophoclean protagonist: extreme in nature, refusing to compromise or back down, and willing to pursue her desires to the very end, regardless of the cost to herself or the morality of the outcome. The other characters, as David Grene has written, are included “principally so that we should know more about [Electra] when we see her dealing with them”. Sophocles’ is thus a personal play, rather than a play about events; yet – like all great drama – its themes touch both broad and intimate subjects. It is, Grene goes on to argue, “the best-constructed and most unpleasant play that Sophocles wrote.”

Character List


Electra is the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and the title character of the play. In Aeschylus’ Oresteia Electra sings songs of mourning, prays, and goes meekly inside when it comes to the moment of Orestes’ murdering Clytemnestra. Aeschylus’ Electra is, in the words of Simon Goldhill, “a good girl”.

Sophocles’ Electra is quite a different prospect. She is furiously angry and bitter about the way her mother has murdered her father and partnered with Aegisthus. She refuses to cease mourning, and is prone to huge, bellowing cries of grief and rage. She is desperate for her brother Orestes to return. Significantly, she trusts nothing and no one, and believes in deeds rather than words – which is perhaps why her own language is so painfully raw and stripped back.

She is the central character of Sophocles’ treatment of this story, though interestingly, not of the story itself. The other characters in the play, alway catalysts of the plot to a greater degree, seem to pale in insignificance when compared with her: for sheer force of will, and force of hatred, she is – in this play, as well as in many other extant tragedies – simply unmatchable.


Agamemnon was the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. He was murdered by Clytemnestra before the play began, and the play documents Orestes’ vengeance on his mother for that act. He does not appear in Sophocles’ Electradirectly, but is still in many ways a key character.


A pedagogue – a tutor – as suggested by his name, now old, who looked after Orestes when he was younger. He narrates the false story of Orestes’ death in a chariot race, and, as he and Orestes plan early in the play, no-one recognises him as he now has grey hair. Paedagogus is not a major character in the play, though he does, at several key moments, try to push the plot out of words and towards action. It seems likely that – as he does not appear later in the play – the actor playing him doubled another role (perhaps Aegisthus).


The son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, and the brother of Electra and Chrysothemis. Orestes, in other retellings of this same story, is undoubtedly the principal character: certainly in Homer, and also in the Oresteia (a trilogy which, notably, bears his name!). Not so in this play. Electra is very much central to Sophocles’ conception of this play, though Orestes is still important.

Moreover, Orestes is important largely because he does not seem the hero we might expect from other versions of the same story. This is an Orestes who is more than prepared to use false words, so long as they get the right outcome: the means, in other words, are absolutely justified by the end. David Grene describes him as “cautious and rather colourless”.

Orestes returns to the House of Atreus to revenge his father’s murder by killing his mother, and, at the end of this play, kills Clytemnestra and is about to kill her lover, Aegisthus.


A group of women of Mycenae, who look onto events, and attempt to advise Electra. The most unusual choral moment in the play comes when Electra interrupts their ode (of only twelve lines) by coming out of the palace, and back onstage to commentate on Orestes’ murdering Clytemnestra.


Mother of Orestes, Electra and Chrysothemis. Previously married to Agamemnon (before she murdered him!) and now married to Aegisthus.

Clytemnestra in the Oresteia is quite a terrifying prospect: savage, murderous and totally unashamed of what she has done. Sophocles takes this savage, terrifying woman and, without reducing her fury , gives her a human streak. This Clytemnestra suffers from nightmares and, when she appears and justifies her killing of Agamemnon (by recourse to the Iphigenia story) she seems somewhat more reasonable than Electra!

Clytemnestra has a central argument in the middle of the play with Electra, whose fury knows no bounds towards her, before she is eventually murdered in her palace by Orestes.


Sister of Electra and Orestes, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Chrysothemis’ role is a similar one to Ismene in Antigone: she advises Electra to be cautious, not to make things worse unnecessarily, and to try and keep her feelings under wraps.

Chrysothemis says at one point in the play that she feels as angry and upset as Electra does – only she doesn’t go around making it quite so clear because she wants life to be as bearable as possible. She is, in the apt words of David Grene, ‘timid, sensible, and unattractive’, and she has disappeared from the play by the time the murder takes place.


Husband of Clytemnestra, and a descendant of the House of Atreus. Aegisthus only makes one appearance in this play, late towards the end, where Sophocles establishes him as a bully and a self-regarding tyrant. He taunts and mocks Orestes even when he is about to die, and before that, spends most of his time handing out brisk orders to anyone who will listen. He is not a major character in the play, but important to anyone looking closely at the circumstances which have created Electra.


Daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, sister to Orestes, Chrysothemis and Electra. Iphigenia was sacrificed by Agamemnon, her father, to appease the wrath of the goddess Artemis – an act which provoked Clytemnestra to kill Agamemnon. She does not appear in Sophocles’ Electra, but is nevertheless an important motivating factor for its events.


A friend of Orestes. Stays by his side and assists him with Clytemnestra’s killing.

Glossary of Terms


An Ancient Greek playwright, most famous for writing the Oresteia, and whose work influenced Sophocles.


The Greek god of the truth, light, and the sun. Orestes goes to Apollo’s Oracle at Delphi in order to find out how he should be revenged on Clytemnestra earlier in the play, and the Oracle gives him a message from the god.


the capital of Greece today, and a hugely important city in Ancient Greece.


Atreus was Agamemnon’s grandfather (and Pelops’ father). Thyestes, brother to Atreus (and son of Pelops), was the father of Aegisthus. Therefore the conflict between Agamemnon and Aegisthus plays out within one family – and indeed, the House of Atreus (it is the palace of Atreus in front of which the play takes place) is cursed to destroy itself. The curse on the House of Atreus is the starting point for many of the stories contained in Greek drama.

Delphic oracle

An oracle is someone or something supposed to be able to give infallible information. The Oracle at Delphi gave out prophecies inspired by the god Apollo – and, in the Electra story, the Oracle is usually supposed to have ordered Orestes to go home and avenge his father’s death. Sophocles’ play opens with Orestes recounting what the Oracle told him.


a sombre, melancholy song, usually associated with being sung on the occasion of a death, or at a funeral.


A libation was a ritual pouring of liquids, as a form of worship of, or an offering to, a god (or gods). Clytemnestra is usually supposed to pour libations at line 636 of Sophocles’ play.


A settlement south-west of Athens, in Greece. In the Ancient world, Mycenae was one of the major centres of Greek civilization, and a military stronghold.


Pelops wanted to win the horse race that would decide whether he got to marry Hippodameia. He went to Myrtilus, and asked him to hinder his opponent, Oenamaus, and allow him to win the race: in return, Myrtilus would be allowed the first night with Hippodameia.

Myrtilus replaced Oenamaus’ bronze chariot pins with beeswax, which meant that, as the race took place, they overheated, melted, and in the accident which followed, killed Oenamaus, who cursed Myrtilus with his dying breath.

Myrtilus tried to seduce Hippodameia, but she repelled his advances, and Pelops then murdered Myrtilus by throwing him into the sea.


Greek word for ‘household’, but can also mean ‘family’ or ‘bloodline’


in Greek, literally means “dancing space”). The central, circular area of the Greek stage, usually flat, and a space on which the chorus would perform.


A trilogy of plays by Aeschylus that dramatise the events before Agamemnon’s murder right up until Orestes’ acquittal by a court of the crime of matricide. The first play, Agamemnon, shows Clytaemestra killing her husband Agamemnon on his return home.

The second play, Libation Bearers dramatises the same part of the story as Sophocles’ Electra: Orestes’ killing of Clytaemestra in revenge for his father’s murder.

The third play, Eumenides deals with Orestes being pursued by the Furies for the matricide he has committed, and his trial for matricide in front of Athena and a jury, where he is eventually acquitted.


the adjective meaning “from Phocis”. Phocis was an important district in Ancient Greece.


the Greek for a ‘signet’: it is Agamemnon’s signet which Orestes uses to help Electra recognise him in this play. A signet was a seal associated with only one person.


a song, sung by the Chorus, standing still – usually after they have taken up their place in the orchestra.


A kind of vase, usually without handles, often with a wider center, with a narrow neck and narrow bottom. In classical times, urns were often specifically associated with funerals: and the urn which Orestes brings with him in this play is supposed to contain his ashes.

Major Themes


This is a key word in this play, and for this story in all of its representations. What is right? Is it just to revenge, or is it better to just to let nature – and the gods – take its course?

Justice is a word closely related to “judgment” and “judge”, and a key question of the play is “who has the right to judge?” Should Clytemnestra have killed Agamemnon? Should Orestes kill Clytemnestra? Should Electra be bound to kill Clytemnestra and/or Aegisthus if Orestes were dead? What is the right thing to do? Many characters, Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Electra among them claim that they are acting in the interests of justice. In the end though, with no trial and no divine intervention, Sophocles finally leaves the question of justice with his audience.

Cause and effect

How does one thing lead to another? What should our reaction to events be? How can a group of circumstances create specific results?

These are all questions central to Sophocles’ play, which is a close examination of cause and effect — the very stuff of drama, maybe, but here problematized and questioned. The death of Iphigenia leads to the death of Agamemnon, which leads to the death of Clytemnestra; as the play ends, it seems the death of Aegisthus will follow. Moreover, Electra herself has often been read as the product of her unhappy circumstances: someone turned bitter and angry as the result of a horrible situation. It is an interesting theme to trace through the play, examining how one thing might be ascribed to its result.


Electrais deeply concerned with the idea of vengeance, particularly with an examination of “eye for an eye” logic. If someone hurts you, should you hurt them back? Does one death justify another? When – and this is a significant question for the play as a whole – does revenge end? Surely an “eye for an eye” will leave the whole world blind? One murder leads to another, and, by locating the Aegisthus murder just outside of his play, Sophocles creates the impression that the line of deaths might stretch out forever.


Gender roles are given specific prominence by Sophocles from the moment he decides to call his treatment of the Oresteia story not after the man, Orestes, but after Electra.

Chrysothemis specifically challenges Electra in their final argument that she cannot even consider killing Aegisthus herself, as she is a woman and not a man. Indeed, throughout the play, Sophocles explores the idea of Electra as a woman with a man’s heart and a man’s fury: like her mother before her, she refuses to behave in the way society expects a woman to behave.

Sophocles explores our expectation of men and women, and interrogates the nature of both roles. Why should a man be allowed to do something that a woman is not allowed to do?

Blood and bloodlines

The play explores the bloodline of the House of Atreus, and Agamemnon and Aegisthus, both of whom have a common ancestor in Atreus. It is easy to forget sometimes that when characters talk about “blood”, they often refer to “bloodline”. To kill one’s mother is not just a crime in blood but a crime in bloodline: it stops the continuance of the family name. Blood in Sophocles is a key idea: it is both a reality and a metaphor for the family line stretching out, backward and forward, and is thus inextricably tied to “eye for an eye” logic.Disguise

This is announced very early on as a key theme, when Orestes resolves that his words are going to be false – and that it does not matter, so long as he ultimately achieves his intention. It is an interesting logic, and the first clue toward a theme that resounds throughout the play: that the truth can easily be disguised.

Everyone apart from Electra in the play could be accused of role-playing, either literally – like Paedagogus or Orestes, both of whom literally assume false roles – or metaphorically – like Chrysothemis, who despite her anger is still prepared to play the part of the meek, mild girl.

This is a play which constantly juxtaposes truth and falsehood, but which never truly tells us what lies behind the mask (itself, naturally, a key symbol in the ancient theater). Trust nothing, interrogate everything.

Familial v. civic duties

Very often in Sophocles, starting with Oedipus Rex, and continuing on to several of his protagonists, there is a tension between the duties one owes to one’s family and the duties one owes to one’s country. In this play, for example, Electra tells Clytemnestra that she in no way could ever be justified in murdering her husband, because of her wifely duty. On the other hand, Clytemnestra felt she was duty-bound to revenge her daughter. Familial duty against familial duty – and that is even before one even poses the question of whether murder can ever not be morally wrong.

It is famously true of tragedy that a protagonist can find him/herself caught between two “wrong” options: whichever way he/she goes, he/she will be in the wrong according to one or another set of duties. It is well worth examining the patterns of familial and bloodline duties against broader ideas of right and wrong – and asking whether there is any “right road” that Sophocles’ characters could have or should have taken.

Quotes and Analysis


    Before a man leaves his house, sets foot on the path,

    let us hold our parley. We are where

    we must not shrink. It is high time for action.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.20-2

    This is Paedagogus’ incitement to action. Talking is over, he says, and it is time to “do”. It is the first explicit mention of action in the play, and yet, it is ironic that it is spoken – not, as it were, “done”. Throughout the play, Sophocles explores the relationship between doing and saying, and how words can dissemble in ways actions never can.


    When I came to Pytho’s place of prophecy

    to learn to win revenge

    for my father’s murder on those that did the murder,

    Phoebus spoke to me the words I tell you now…

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.33-6

    Orestes has been to the Oracle to ask the gods’ advice. Yet, as Greek tragedy shows everywhere, you have to be very careful how you phrase your question, and what Orestes has asked is “how should I be revenged?”, not, as he seems to assume, “should I be revenged?” Do the gods approve of his matricide; is that implicit? Or has he just asked the wrong question?


    In such a state, my friends, one cannot

    be moderate and restrained nor pious either.

    Evil is all around me, evil

    is what I am compelled to practice.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.306-9

    Here Electra announces her unwillingness to be moderate in her grief, and that she will know no bounds when it comes to her mourning. Moreover, and more problematically, she announces the “eye for an eye” retribution logic of the play: because of the evil which surrounds her (in the persons of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra) she herself will also be evil. It is, to say the least, a problematic moral standpoint, and one which will animate the rest of the drama.


    For if he that is dead

    is earth and nothing,

    poorly lying,

    and they shall never in their turn

    pay death for death in justice,

    then shall all shame be dead

    and all men’s piety.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.243-9

    Electra here combines two key ideas of the play: “death for death” – in other words, the “eye for an eye” logic of vengeance – and the promise of “justice” – a word which resounds throughout the play and which never receives a satisfactory definition. Even Electra’s own conception of justice is never made clear, for, though she advocate Clytemnestra’s death, she rejects the fact that Agamemnon’s death was meant to avenge Iphigenia’s.


    There is no denial in me. Justice,

    Justice it was that took him, not I alone.

    You would have served the cause of Justice if

    you had been right-minded.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.526-9

    Clytemnestra throws Electra’s accusations back in her face, claiming that it was “Justice” (one of the play’s key words) that she murdered her husband, as he had so cruelly sent Iphigenia to her death. Clytemnestra herself argues that she personally takes no blame for the murder: she wasn’t acting as an individual, but abstractly in the interests of justice. This is a key question of the play: can the circumstances of a killing – the justification for it – affect how we morally look at the killer?


    My son, my son,

    pity your mother!


    You had none for him,

    nor for his father that begot him.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.1410-3

    This is the key moment of Clytemnestra’s murder, and a moment which creates a real frisson when held up against Aeschylus’ Oresteia. Clytemnestra asks for pity from Orestes, just as she does in Libation Bearers – yet her begging does not prompt a pause from Orestes to consider the morality of what he is doing. Instead, Electra screams back at her mother from outside the house (the murder is taking place inside the house), arguing that she didn’t pity Orestes or Agamemnon. It is, quite literally, Aeschylus’ moment of pause transformed into a brutal avowal of “eye for an eye” logic.


    Oh! I am struck!


    If you have strength – again!

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.1415

    This is perhaps the most unusual thing that Sophocles could have had a female character say on stage: not only is Electra (unlike her Aeschylus counterpart) onstage for the murder, rather than offstage, but she is shouting encouragement to her brother to kill her mother. Moreover, it is not just that she wants Clytemnestra dead, but she wants her dead in the most brutal way possible: shouting to her brother to stab her again.


    Orestes, how have you fared?


    In the house, all

    is well, if well Apollo prophesied.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.1423-4

    This is the key moment, and one of the key ifs in all of drama. Is it complete? Electra asks. Have we been revenged for our father’s murder? The audience familiar with Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers may well be waiting for the Furies, the spirits of revenge, to come creeping after Orestes – for he himself has now committed matricide. But nothing happens. And even Orestes’ answer is deeply ambiguous: everything is fine, if the Oracle made a correct prophecy. And, as the first quote in this section shows, whether or not the Oracle’s prophecy should be interpreted as Orestes interprets it is another source of ambiguity.


    Spare me all superfluity of speech.

    Tell me not how my mother is villainous

    nor how Aegisthus drains my father’s wealth

    by luxury or waste. Words about this

    will shorten time and opportunity.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.1288-92

    Here again, language is cast aside in favor of action – though, ironically enough, through the means of dialogue. The play tantalizes the audience with the promise of action, but a key question is whether it really delivers it – the double murder Orestes intends is only half done as the play ends.

  10. CHORUS

    O race of Atreus, how many sufferings

    were yours before you came at last so hardly

    to freedom, perfected by this day’s deed.

    Electra (trans. Grene) l.1508-10

    These are the final words of the play, spoken by the Chorus. They predict, as you can see, after a long line of sufferings, that the house of Atreus (who was Agamemnon’s father) has finally come to “freedom”. Where has this “freedom” suddenly come from? From the deed of that day: from the murder of Clytemnestra. For any readers of Aeschylus, it is a very uneasy resolution. Where is the trial from the final play of the Oresteia to decide whether Orestes has committed a crime? Where are the Furies – and Orestes’ profession of guilt for what he has done? How can the play end so suddenly, and without tying up so many of its strands? These questions are, characteristically for Sophocles, left unanswered.

History Of English Language

English Present and Future

The history of English language a cultural subject
He was the remarkable chronicler of  twelfth century. He was Henry of Huntington who observed that the interest in the past was a very outstanding quality of a man as compared to the other animals. When the cultivated man and woman is conscious about his deficiencies of education without having much known about the past he was urged  to discover even his mother tongue. The ways of his communication Science, Philosophy or Poetry is surely the worthy of  study. But it is also not sure that all the people follow these things. Also not all even the educated person should really know about  his language. He is known in the world by his communication status to the other cultures and regions.
Influence at work on language
The today’s English language is the development of many centuries ago English. The politics and sociology have darkly effected the English and the people in their life. The great change of religion in 597 in Britain brought the change in the language and connected English to the other cultures. This change resulted in the mixture of two different people and their languages.
In 1066 the English was so much changed and gained the supremacy over all languages. The English language reflected in the nation development of the English people.
Growth and Decay
English is also the subject to the constant growth and decay of the people like all other  languages but we can not language as the matter of life all the languages change  but the language which do not change we call the dead language like classical language. The regular change in the language is seen through vocabulary. Some words finishes some new words creates and some change the meaning. The pronunciation also change like “Stan has become stone”, “cu has become cow”. It is also a spelling. This is the gradual phonetic modification or grammatical change. The changing of forms of the verb “analogy” also effects the language.
The importance of a language
The language is live till when its users are present. When the users of the language are important the language is also important like English, French, German and nowadays Chinese.For this reason the language is studied widely outside its basic region.Sometimes the language gain so much importance that it stays importance along time after loosing its greatness.
The importance of English language
The  English language is naturally very great more then 340 million people speaks it in the northern and western countries.It is the mostly speaking of the some important countries.But the importance of the language is not only the highest number of its native speakers it also depends on the importance of people who speak it.The importance of language is automatically fixed in the minds of people around the world.The importance of language is related to the importance the people and the importance of people is related with their contribution to the progress of the world.

Articles Short Stories

“The Guiding Dream” By M.S. Dogar

“How are you feeling?”

Shahid sounded and went into his cabin. Hira felt some extra warmth in his words, looked unsure and filled with spirit. She wanted to hear the deep understanding of his words but daily routine work could not allow her. She became busy.

While she was on her coffee break, she went out of her cabinet,  knowing that Shahid would follow her. He did,but it was a moment of change, she heard the very words which she never wanted to have, but never wanted to miss.”I like you Hira” sounded like a cold thing which pressed her skull and she could not help leaving.
Shahid, being a person belonging to a village, never looked as shy as the people of village used to be.
He was smart, handsome, well mannered and the most important was very caring for Hira. For many a time, she thought that he had feelings but she never was sure. even after hearing it, it was hard for her to believe.

All the way from office to home, she kept thinking what was that? why did he say this being an engaged fellow. Some thought regarding the nature of boys for having friendship with girls just for gup-shup and fun, but her heart never attested them. Every time she inquired the answer the question “was he true to his words?”, she found the answer “yea” , as she had found a certificate of surety found his eyes.

“Accepted, he is true to his words” what I should do now? “was the last thought which was wandering in her mind before leaving for the splendid and sweet valley of sleep.

As she slept, she saw a dream, a wonderful dream it was! a guiding dream……

She found herself in front of two mirrors during the dream.

” Hira, get the chance avail, don’t be late.” Sounded the figure from first mirror

” Don’t be selfish, knowing that he is of someone else as being engaged, you want make him yours……this  is selfishness.” voice came from the second mirror.

” How it can be a selfishness from your side, it was he himself who had revealed his love, it is your right to get the love which he has for you, so get it at once……” spoke the first mirror.

” True, well, it was he, but don’t you think that he is making a mistake by ignoring all the affections of his near and dears……would you like to be a part of his guilt. He would have a mother who would have always planned to have her nephew as her daughter in law……same would be with the others……would you ignore the right of all the other in-order to find yours.” Second mirror sounded.

“Whatever! don’t be silly, lucky is the person who has a person who loves him/her, Since your a lucky one, so don’t miss the chance. These kind of chances hardly come.” Voiced the first mirror.

” Human heart always sacrifice its own pleasure for the sake of others smile. You should do the same. Think about his mother, think about the girl who would always thought him as her OWN.” Second Mirror

” Its nonsense, he loves you, he wants to have you for forever, he would take care of you…..suppose you sacrifice here, but if you would nor get the person so caring as he is, then would you ever forgive yourself for making the mistake ? No,never, you would always repent, so its better to get the chance. It is fair and just to get your own part from this world.” First Mirror.

” Trust in God, If you will make happy some one else at your expense, God will also not leave you dejected. In HIS garden, the flowers are for those who leave the shade of their part for someone Else’s. ” Second Mirror

Upon this, she awoke up, being impressed by the last sentences, she make up her mind to follow it……She believed that it was guiding dream by the nature ass it lives here, loves us and guides……

By: M.S. Dogar

Plays Shakespeare

All’s Well That Ends Well


The setting of All’s Well That Ends Well begins in Rousillon, which is in southwest France. The setting alternates between Rousillon, Paris, and Florence, Italy.


Major Characters


The heroine and orphaned daughter of the famous physician, Gerard de Narbon. She loves Bertram and is determined to marry him in spite of the vast difference in their social rank.

Bertram, Count of Rousillon

The young Count of Rousillon, whose father has also recently passed away. Bertram is forced to marry Helena on the insistence of the King. He dreams of great military honors and values his high social rank as extremely important. He is young and very impetuous.

King of France

The ailing King who is suffering from painful, incurable ulcerous sores. He is physically weak until he is cured by Helena’s potion. In return, he tells Helena to select any lord she likes as husband and says that he will force him to marry her. As King, he has absolute reign over his subjects and does not take kindly to disobedience. He is a strong believer in personal virtue’s superiority to inherited rank.

Countess of Rousillon

Bertram’s mother and Helena’s guardian. She is a powerful woman who is sometimes ashamed of her immature and often dishonorable son. She thinks lovingly of Helena.

Minor Characters

Lafeu, an old Lord

A sagacious old lord who is the confidante of the King of France and the Countess of Rousillon. He cautions Bertram to be careful of Parolles. He displays fatherly feelings towards both Bertram and Helena.

Parolles, a follower of Bertram

Bertram’s confidante and flatterer. He is a mercenary soldier, a braggart, and a liar. He is disliked by the other characters who seek to expose his true character.


A clown who was formerly employed by Bertram’s late father. He is now a dependent of the Countess. He is a sometimes sarcastic, sometimes melancholy, court-jester.


She is an old woman of Florence with whom Helena lodges. She accepts a large sum of money to help Helena trick Bertram.

Duke of Florence

A duke that is involved in the Florentine wars. He welcomes the French Lords who offer him their help. He appoints Bertram general of his army and provides him with letters of commendation for his bravery in the war.


The daughter of the widow of Florence with whom Helena lodges. She is named after the virgin goddess of hunting and moon. She is a spunky young woman so incensed by Bertram’s behavior toward his wife that she willingly helps Helena trick him and vows never to marry.


A young Florentine girl who is solicited by Parolles. She warns Diana against the visiting Frenchmen and tells her to beware of their false promises and oaths.



Helena is the chief protagonist of the play. In love with Bertram, she is determined to marry him in spite of the huge difference in their social scales. After she cures the King of France of his ulcerous sores, she claims Bertram as her fee. Critics see her as the representative of the “clever wench” of folklore, a girl who is able to fulfill the seemingly impossible conditions imposed on her by an alienated and uncaring husband. She bribes her way into Bertram’s bed, pretending to be Diana. She, therefore, meets the conditions set by Bertram. The audience is made to like her immensely and wants her to persevere over every obstacle placed in her way.


Bertram functions as Helena’s antagonist. The greatest complication in the play arises from Bertram’s refusal to accept Helena as his wife, since he considers it a degrading alliance. He sends Helena a letter in which he states that he will not consummate their marriage until she can obtain the ring he always wears on his finger and beget a child by him. The action of the play chronicles how Helena manages to fulfill these impossible conditions. In the end, there is some attempt, however unconvincing, to make Bertram become a normal fellow and to see his union with Helena as the traditional, happy ending to a normal comedy. Since the play ends well and on a happy note, his bad qualities are set aside.

It could be argued that Bertram himself is a victim of the true antagonist, which is social rank. Bertram’s biggest problem with marrying Helena is that he sees such a union as too lowly for him. All his hopes and aspirations revolve around high class and superiority. If it were not for the importance of these things in human nature, perhaps Bertram would prove himself a worthy mate for Helena and be better liked by the audience.


The play’s action rises to a rapid-fire, inevitable climax in Act V, when all the characters are in the Court at Rousillon, and Bertram is at the center of enormous accusations. In a brilliant upstaging, Helena presents herself, confounds the court, and explains the events that have led to the chaos. She presents Bertram’s ring that she has schemed to possess and tells everyone she is pregnant with his child. Since she has met his requirements, he must now truly take her as his wife.


On the textual level, the play ends happily. Helena finally wins Bertram, who at last declares he is prepared to “love her dearly, ever, ever dearly,” and the King’s closing words are “All yet seems well “. The play, indeed, appears to end with mirth and hope for the future. Realistically, however, this “comedy” does not have a traditional ending. The audience cannot help but be a little skeptical of Bertram, since he has continued to lie and deceive. This dichotomy is at the heart of the “problem” in this Shakespearean comedy.


Helena, the orphaned daughter of the celebrated physician Gerard de Narbon, is in love with the Countess’s son, Bertram, but despairs of ever winning his affection because of the vast difference in their social rank. Bertram leaves his mother’s home to present himself to the King for service, and Helena, despairing, thinks of a way to win his love. She will use her father’s medicine to cure the King of France, and in return, will ask for a husband of her choosing. When the King is restored to health, Helena chooses Bertram, who vehemently objects to what he thinks is a humiliating alliance. Social rank is extremely important to Bertram, and he is too proud to have Helena for a wife, despite the fact that she is loved by all. Bertram finally agrees to marry Helena because he is afraid of displeasing the King. But with the encouragement of Parolles, Bertram decides to leave for Paris immediately after the wedding, abandoning his new bride before consummating their union.

In his letter declaring that he is leaving her, Bertram agrees to consummate his marriage with Helena if she can do two things: first, she must obtain the family ring that he always wears around his finger, and second, she must have his child. Clearly, neither is feasible since he has run away and refuses to sleep with her. The King and Bertram’s mother are incensed at his abandonment and vow to disown him. Helena is hurt by the fact that she has caused Bertram’s flight to Paris.

She disguises herself as a pilgrim and sets out for the shrine of Saint Jaques le Grand, hoping to trick Bertram into returning home. Helena learns on her arrival in Florence, that Bertram has attempted to seduce a young woman named Diana, who lives with her widowed mother. Helena convinces the widow that she is Bertram’s wife and promises a generous reward to the two ladies if they will help her carry out a plan to win Bertram. She asks Diana to pretend to yield to Bertram’s entreaties, then demand from him the ring on his finger. Then Diana is to fix a time for Bertram to come to her bed, and there, in the dark, Helena will take her place.

Bertram, after sleeping with “Diana” and promising to marry her when his wife is dead, learns that Helena is dead (it is a rumor spread by Helena herself). Bertram abandons the “virgin” he thinks he has taken, and returns to France. In France, everyone is prepared to forgive Bertram, and Lafeu, an aging Lord and good family friend, even offers his child as a second wife for Bertram, to help mend the wounds of the past months. Bertram agrees to the proposal and, as a favor for his bride-to-be, gives Lafeu the ring he had received from the woman he thought was Diana.

The King immediately recognizes the ring as the one which he had given to Helena and, suspecting Bertram of plotting Helena’s murder, orders him to be arrested. Diana arrives with her mother and accuses Bertram of seducing her and violating his promise to marry her after his wife’s death. Bertram replies by lying and trying to smear her reputation. When all seems chaotic and confusing, Helena appears, quite alive, and very pregnant. She tells Bertram she has fulfilled his conditions, and he, seeing that she has indeed, answers that he is prepared to “love her dearly, ever, ever dearly.”


Major Theme

The play is a fairy tale of a poor girl’s love for a handsome courtier of noble birth. The main theme of the play is the contrast between a person’s honor and a person’s birthright. In this play, Shakespeare shows that virtuous actions are clearly more important than virtuous birth.

Minor Themes

Several minor Themes pervade the play, lending it real complexity. There is a juxtaposition between youth and age, appearance and reality, idealism and cynicism, and moral culpability of the young compared to the moral steadfastness of the older generation.


The mood of this play varies from mourning to hopefulness, from possibility to devastation, and defeat to victory over great odds. For the most part, the mood follows Helena’s actions. When she is grieving, the mood is somber. When she feels guilty, the mood is uneasy. When she is victorious, the mood is jubilant.



Bertram is young, awkward, and inexperienced. He is impressionable and primarily influenced, unfortunately, by Parolles. He desperately wants to find honor for himself, but he has no idea what true honor is. At Parolles’ urging, he goes off to be a soldier in Florence, even though he is too young by the King’s decree. He deserts his wife Helena, who has been given to him by the King, because he believes she is not his social equal. Throughout the course of the play, Bertram displays a despicable nature as he lies, deceives, and attempts to seduce a young virgin. Even his mother, the Countess, is disgusted with his immature behavior.

Throughout the early scenes, both she and the King, however, express their hopes that Bertram will turn into a responsible and honorable adult. He does have the potential to become a good person, for he has the right background and upbringing, but he is not one yet Unfortunately, the character of Bertram is one of the most questionable aspects of the play. It is difficult to believe that Bertram has truly become a good person by the end of the play; in fact, it is difficult to believe that this immature and despicable young man is even on his way toward becoming a good person. Even in the very last scene of the play, he still lies and connives. The only redeeming thing about Bertram is the fact that Helena loves him passionately.

In the end, this is his only saving grace–the only thing that allows one to believe that all is well with Bertram. Helena is a true heroine in the play, and she has succeeded in overcoming Bertram, by beating him at his own games of deception. There is little, if any, evidence that Bertram has truly gotten his due.


Helena is the protagonist and true heroine of the play. She is a truly ambitious and dedicated character who, it could be argued, does not deserve what she gets when she finally wins Bertram. She begins her role as the “clever wench,” a girl who is able to fulfill the impossible conditions imposed on her by an alienated husband. At the onset of the action, she appears as the typical fairy-tale heroine in love with a handsome courtier. She is so much in love with Bertram that she has even forgotten her father: “What was he like? / I have forgot him; my imagination / Carries no favor in’t but Bertram’s”. The tears that she sheds are not for her late father, but for her true love, who is leaving for Paris. She knows the vanity of her love for Bertram and remarks that “he is so above me / In his bright radiance and collateral light / Must be comforted, not in his sphere”.

At this stage, it is possible to say that Helena’s love is selfless and she does not aspire to possess Bertram. She secretly adores Bertram and remarks “Religious in mine error, I adore / The sun, that looks upon his worshipper, / But knows of him no more.” Her absolute love drives her to Paris, where she hopes to cure the King and elevate herself in the eyes of the world. It could be argued that Helena’s curing of the King is part of an elaborate plan to gain Bertram. The lines “Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to heaven” could be taken as an indication of her intentions. She lays her plan quite well and executes it perfectly. Unlike Bertram, Helena knows what she wants and needs advice from no one in order to gain it. She is self-fulfilling in every sense.

Helena presents herself to the King, a young female, and convinces him she can cure him of an illness that he is sure will soon kill him. If she fails, she confidently promises her own life; if she wins, she will be allowed to choose a husband from the court. Amazingly, her arguments and confidence are strong enough that the King accepts her offer. When she is successful in the cure, thanks to the medicines of her late father, she, of course, picks Bertram as her husband.

Bertram is horrified that he has to marry Helena, for he thinks she is way below him on the social scale. He is too young and immature to realize her true worth. As a result, he quickly deserts her and says he will never return to her until she is able to obtain his family ring, which he always wears, and carries his child. Both conditions seem like total impossibilities. The clever and doggedly determined Helena, however, is not discouraged. She dresses herself as a pilgrim and journeys to Florence, the city to where Bertram has fled to become a soldier. In Florence, Helena comes up with a fantastic scheme to meet Bertram’s conditions. She convinces Diana to pretend to accept Bertram’s advances and plan a tryst. Helena, however, takes Diana’s place at the meeting and obtains the ring and becomes pregnant with his child.

Helena defeats incredible odds in her fight to win Bertram’s fidelity and heart. In this way, she attracts the complete sympathy of the audience. She is a feminist heroine who upsets the patriarchal order by asserting her right to choose her own husband. She is the most liberated of Shakespeare’s heroines. Her role combines hard nosed determination to achieve her desires with a poignant fear that she may fail in her endeavors and a vulnerable heart that is truly injured by Bertram’s coldness toward her. But Helena never gives up. On the whole, Helena is an extraordinary character who finally manages to transcend the constraints imposed upon her by the men of society, especially Bertram. Her “victory”, in the end, is sweet simply because she gets what she has wanted, regardless of what the audience thinks she, or Bertram, deserves.

The King of France

At the beginning of the play, the King is an ailing monarch who still manages to exert complete control over his people. He acts as the voice of authority, promising rewards when due, and punishment when deserved. His primary role in the play is that of patriarch. He makes things happen in the play, such as a forced marriage, a trial, a reconciliation. His character, however, is of extreme importance to the plot movement in this play. If Helena had not cured the ailing King, she would never have been able to marry Bertram and the plot could not have existed.


Lafeu is the trusted confidante of the King of France and the Countess of Rousillon. He is among the older characters of the play, a wise man with fatherly love for Bertram and for Helena. Lafeu is the first to warn Bertram that Parolles is not to be trusted. He is also among those who condemn Bertram early on for his treatment of Helena. Lafeu is a peacemaker and a trusted person who constantly seeks to protect and pacify those in need, and put an end to all troubles. Lafeu’s commitment to peace is most evident in the final scenes, when he offers his daughter as a second bride to Bertram, in order that forgiveness might be complete and life might go on as before.


Parolles, though base and deceitful, is also a genuinely comic character. He is the evil angel who tempts Bertram and is generally disliked by all the other characters. Parolles seems to have been intended by Shakespeare as a contrast to Bertram. He enables the audience to view Bertram’s misdoings with less intensity, since they are but a minor duplication of Parolles’ actions and lies.

Some critics have suggested that he functions as an alternative to Helena on the level of a morality play. He is Bertram’s confidante and flatterer. His name Parolles means “words,” and he is a mercenary soldier who lives by his wits. He is a braggart and a liar. At the opening of the play, Helena says of him, ” I know him a notorious liar, / Think him a great way fool, solely a coward”. All the characters detest him and the First Lord summarizes him as “a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality worthy your lordship’s entertainment”.

Still, Parolles does provide some laughter in the play. His exposure is comic and provides great entertainment. Thinking that he is alone, Parolles sets out to formulate a plan not to recover the drum lost to the enemy. He is bent upon turning everything to his advantage and thinks about self-inflicting wounds to provide a credible story. But he refrains from doing so, owing to his cowardly nature. After he has been exposed and thoroughly humiliated, Parolles still says, ” There’s a place and means for every man alive”. Although Parolles is a fool and a knave, in the end even Lafeu forgives him. Parolles is assured of “place and means”, “drink and sleep”.

Shakespeare finds it difficult to villainize a character completely, especially in a comedy. By the end of the play, Parolles seems to have been fully reconciled to Lafeu, even offering his handkerchief to the elder Lord. And Lafeu, for his part, offers Parolles a home, so that all can end well.

Countess of Rousillon

The Countess, though Bertram’s mother, spends much of the play sympathizing with Helena and voicing displeasure with Bertram. She is merely an accessory most of the time, facilitating Helena’s plans in the beginning, observing the chaos in the end, and occasionally verifying some fact or recounting some opinion.


The major theme of the play finds expression in the Helena – Bertram story. Helena, who is the daughter of a poor physician, is in love with Bertram, who is a Count and a ward of the King of France. This is a traditional feature of the fairy tale, when the hero and heroine are kept apart by familial or social differences. Helena recognizes that she can never get what she wants because of the vast difference in their social scale. She herself confesses, “I know I love in vain, strive against hope; / Yet in this captious sieve / I still pour in the waters of my love”.

Despite this recognition, she is unable to accept it and is driven by her love to Paris where she hopes to cure the King and elevate herself in the eyes of the world. The contrast between inherent and inherited virtue is spoken by many characters, including Bertram’s own mother, who believes Helena has inherent virtue and who suspects that though Bertram has inherited honor, he has not virtue. The King laments the fact that many noblemen are unable to see beyond class differences. Even the soldiers whom Bertram fights with think his military honor is meaningless when compared to his personal dishonor.

The theme of the contrast between the inherited honor of Bertram and the intrinsic virtue of Helena pervades the play. The King delivers a long and surprisingly democratic speech in Act II, Scene III, about the two distinct kinds of honor. The King upholds personal virtue as more desirable than merely inherited qualities. He states that inherited rank unsupported by virtuous action cannot produce true honor. He proclaims “… honors thrive / When rather from our acts we them derive / Than our foregoers”.

Another theme of the play is the contrast between youth and age. The older characters, including the Countess, her late husband, Helena’s father, Lafeu, and the King, are set in distinct contrast to the young characters consisting of Bertram, Helena, Diana, Parolles, the clown, and the two French Lords. The aged characters constantly refer to a happy past, while the young characters appear to be an unsatisfied lot yearning for something out of their reach. The older characters worry about the youth and hope that the present generation will inherit the traits of their fathers.

In Act I, the Countess expresses hope that Bertram will succeed his father “in manners as in shape!” In Act II, the King remarks on Bertram’s striking physical resemblance to his late father and wishes that he also inherits his “father’s moral parts”. Similarly, in Act I, as Lafeu bids Helena farewell, he says, ” Farewell, pretty lady; you must hold the credit of your father”. Thus, the youth is seen as the preserver of the father’s reputation. This is linked to a related theme of the juxtaposition between the moral culpability of youth and the moral steadfastness of the older generation.

Appearance vs. reality is also a key theme in the play. Throughout the play, deception reigns supreme, and much of what appears to be is not really fact. Bertram, who is the son of the Count, has been highly born and well trained. It would seem that he would be the picture of pride and honor; in reality, he is a despicable and immature young man, given to selfish causes. Parolles, dressed impeccably in his finery, appears to be a gentleman, but is truly the evil tempter of the play. Helena pretends to be dead and disguises herself as a pilgrim, in order to trick Bertram, who has deserted her. Bertram pretends to be in love with Diana, when he is simply eager to have her body. Helena, in turn, pretends to be Diana and allows herself to be seduced by her own husband so she can trick him out of his ring. In truth, the entire plot of the play is built on deceptions and appearances.

There is also an underlying religious theme in the play. Helena is the representative of heavenly grace, and Bertram is symbolic of fallen man. This viewpoint holds Helena as a specially favored divine agent on earth, almost a Christ figure. She cures the King because of “divine” powers and saves Bertram from his fallen state. Such religious interpretation of the play strikes two major points. The first is the Biblical doctrine of man’s depravity, which requires divine grace for redemption, and it seems only Helena, the Christ-like figure, is capable of saving Bertram. The second is the belief that sin will ultimately be revealed and answered, just as Parolles and Bertram are finally exposed for their wicked ways.

All’s Well That Ends Well can also be analyzed as a morality play with a contest between good and evil forces. The pure Helena is the symbol of goodness, while Bertram represents the fallen prince. The forces of evil are clearly represented by Parolles, who constantly tempts Bertram. Ultimately, the good triumphs when Parolles is exposed and defeated and the good Helena wins Bertram.



William Shakespeare is usually considered the greatest dramatist and finest poet the world has ever known. No other writer’s plays and poetry have been produced so many times or in so many countries or translated into so many languages. One of the major reasons for Shakespeare’s popularity is the variety of rich characters that he successfully creates, from drunkards and paid murderers to princes and kings and from inane fools and court jesters to wise and noble generals. Each character springs vividly to life upon the stage and, as they speak their beautiful verse or prose, the characters remind the viewers of their own personalities, traits, and flaws. Shakespeare also made his characters very realistic. The dramatist had an amazing knowledge of a wide variety of subjects, and his well-developed characters reflect this knowledge, whether it be about military science, the graces of royalty, seamanship, history, the Bible, music, or sports.

In Shakespeare’s time, few biographies were written, and none of the literary men of the Elizabethan Age was considered important enough to merit a book about his life. The first portfolio of his works, collected as a memorial to Shakespeare by members of his own acting company, was not published until 1623, seven years after his death. His first biography was written one hundred years later. As a result, many of the facts of Shakespeare’s life are unknown. It is known that he was born in Stratford-on-Avon in England, sometime in early 1564, for his Baptism is recorded on April 26 of that year. His mother Mary had eight children, with William being the third. His father, John Shakespeare, was a fairly prosperous glovemaker and trader who owned several houses in Stratford and became the town’s mayor when Shakespeare was a boy. The young Shakespeare probably studied in the local grammar school and hunted and played sports in the open fields behind his home.

The next definite information about William Shakespeare is that the young man, at age 18, married Anne Hathaway, who was 26, on November 28, 1582. In 1583, it is recorded that Anne gave birth to their oldest child, Susanna, and that twins, Hamnet and Judith, were born to the couple in 1585. By 1592, the family was living in London, where Shakespeare was busy acting in plays and writing his own dramas. From 1592 to 1594, the plague kept most London theaters closed, so the dramatist turned to writing poetry during this period, and his poems, which were actually published unlike his plays, became popular with the masses and contributed to his good reputation as a writer. From 1594 to the end of his career, Shakespeare belonged to the same theatrical company, known first as Lord Chamberlain’s Men and then as the King’s Company. It is also known that he was both a leader and stockholder in this acting organization, which became the most prosperous group in London, and that he was meeting with both financial success and critical acclaim.

In 1954, Shakespeare was popular enough as an actor to perform before Queen Elizabeth. By 1596, he owned considerable property in London and bought one of the finest houses in Stratford, known as New Place, in 1597. A year later, in 1598, he bought ten percent of the stock in the Globe Theatre, where his plays were produced. In 1608, he and his colleagues also purchased The Blackfriars Theatre, where they began to hold productions during the winter, returning to the Globe during the summer months.

Throughout the rest of his life, Shakespeare continued to purchase land, homes, and businesses. He obviously was a busy man between handling his business ventures, performing on the stage, and writing or collaborating on the thirty-seven plays that are credited to him.

Shakespeare’s most productive years were from 1594 to 1608, the period in which he wrote all of his great tragedies, such as Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet. During these fourteen years, he furnished his acting company with approximately two plays annually. After 1608, it appears he went into semi-retirement, spending more time in Stratford and creating only five plays before his death on April 23, 1616. He was buried before the altar in the Stratford Church, where his body still lies today. Many literary students and visitors make a pilgrimage to this shrine each year in order to honor William Shakespeare, still recognized after 400 years as the world’s greatest poet and dramatist.


The Source of the Play

All’s Well That Ends Well finds a great deal of its origin in the ninth Novella of the third day in Boccaccio’s Decameron. This is the story of Beltramo de Rossiglione and Giglietta de Narbone, young lovers kept apart by social differences. It is a plot from which many fairy tales have originated, and Shakespeare probably read it in translation in William Painter’s Palace of Pleasure.

The play was first printed in the Folio of 1623, and most, if not all, editions have been derived from that source.




The play begins in the Countess’ palace at Rousillon, where all the characters are in mourning. Bertram, his mother (the Countess), and Lafeu (her confidante), all mourn for the recently deceased Count of Rousillon, and young Helena mourns for her recently deceased father. Bertram announces that he must leave for Paris and present himself to the King for service. His mother expresses sorrow over his eminent departure, especially in her period of mourning, but is encouraged by Lafeu, who reminds her of the King’s good will toward them all.

Lafeu’s words comfort the Countess, who then inquires about the King’s ailing health. She is told that the King has abandoned all hope of getting well. The Countess remarks that Helena’s late father, the famous Gerard de Narbon, was a greatly skilled and honest physician who would surely have been able to cure the King. She speaks with maternal affection about young Helena, who is genuinely touched by the tenderness and begins to weep.

In the meantime, Bertram asks his mother for permission to leave for France. The Countess lets him go, expressing her hope that he will someday be as great a man as his father. She gives him a lot of advice and asks Lafeu to watch over Bertram since he is young and inexperienced. Her son and the lord depart, and the Countess retires.

When Helena is alone, she speaks to herself about her present feelings. She sighs that she no longer thinks about her father and admits that she has quite forgotten him and that her imagination is transfixed by Bertram. Her tears are, in fact, due to Bertram’s departure, for she cannot imagine life without him. She is in love with him, deeply in love, but thinks they are too far apart in social status for her love to ever be recognized.

Helena notices Parolles, Bertram’s friend, approaching. Though she feels a fondness for Parolles because Bertram has chosen him as friend, she believes he is a “notorious liar,” a “fool,” and “a coward”. She believes evil is an inborn part of his character. Still, she greets him. Parolles mockingly prompts a discussion with Helena on virginity, trying to shock her; but Helena, not shrinking from the conversation, tells Parolles that a woman need not always protect her virginity. She might lose it to her own liking. A page interrupts, carrying a message that Bertram is waiting for Parolles.

As Parolles takes his leave of Helena, she reminds him that she has had the last word in their verbal exchange. Unable to compete with her in a battle of wits, Parolles retreats, promising that he would have outdone her had he more time.

Alone again, Helena reflects that the current situation is bleak, but that remedies lie within human beings themselves and not in the stars under which they were born. She believes that she is the architect of her own fate, that she can win Bertram by her own efforts.


This expository scene serves to introduce many of the main characters and thematic concerns of the play. The opening of the play reveals the mourning at Rousillon, the eminent departure of Bertram, the Countess’ affection for Helena, and the significance of her late father the doctor. The revelation of Helena’s feelings for Bertram is also introduced and provides a springboard for the entire action of the play. The idea that virtue is something one possesses independent of social rank is a theme that will often resound. It is this battle, between personal virtue and inherited rank, that will define the relationship between the protagonist and the antagonist of the play.

In terms of mood, the scene opens with the Countess expressing sadness at the loss of her husband and Bertram’s imminent departure. The mood of mourning is furthered when the Countess mentions that Helena, too, has lost a loved one and has been left all alone. These feelings of sadness are directly contrasted with Bertram’s own impatient and eager plans to go away to Paris and further his own desires. Oblivious to the sadness of the two women, he can only think of how quickly he can depart. Of course, he expresses his deep feelings for his dead father, but quickly insists that he must leave for Paris at once since he is bound by his duty to the King. His espousal of loyalty sounds false when viewed in the context of the entire play, since Bertram’s actions show no deference to the King’s authority and mostly preference for his own personal advancement.

A very important plot construct is also introduced in the opening scene; the King is very ill and has given up hope of ever being better. The King’s doctors have been unable to cure him with all their treatments and medicines. Then the Countess reveals that Helena might be the only hope of curing the King, if only she possesses some of her father’s skill.

The thematic relationship of parent to child is not limited to Helena and her late father; it also includes Bertram’s legacy, or lack thereof, from his father. When the Countess bids farewell to Bertram, she expresses hope that he will be like his father and says “succeed thy father/In manners as in shape!” The Countess’ anxious hopes and constant advice reveal that she is not certain of Bertram’s character and only hopes he will prove himself worthy of his rank. When she asks Lafeu to guide Bertram, she seems acutely aware that Bertram is stepping out into the real world for the first time and may not be able to handle it or himself.

When Bertram departs for Paris, Helena is terribly grieved, but not by the loss of her father. Her love for Bertram is absolute and all consuming. Her own revelation of the depths of her feelings, even while she ought to be grieving for her father, alerts the audience that she is consumed by this love. She cannot bear the thought of living away from him. At the same time she confesses her ideal love of Bertram, she also expresses her awareness of the impossibility of their union since he belongs to a higher class. She herself says, “`twere all one / That I should love a bright particular star / And think to wed it, he is so above me”. Helena, however, is not simply thwarted by social differences. Bertram seems to be unaware and indifferent to her feelings. His parting comment to her is coldly distant, as he says, “Be comfortable to my mother, your mistress, and make much of her”. He has no thoughts for the young girl, other than perfunctory social niceties. As a result, Helena’s love for Bertram has two obstacles: class and his total indifference to her.

In the loud and bawdy conversation with Parolles regarding the subject of virginity, which seems an abrupt change in tone to the early part of the scene, Helena shows excellent argumentative powers, proving herself to be more than a naive, lovesick girl. Even before the discussion, when Helena recognizes Parolles as a liar, she shows perceptive insight that Bertram seems to lack. Helena swiftly defeats Parolles in their verbal battle and proves herself to be a competent conversationalist, both quick and witty.

After Parolles is called away by Bertram, Helena is once again left to her thoughts and decides her love must not be wasted. If she is to save it, she must act. She states that “our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, / Which we ascribe to heaven.” This philosophy of self-reliance underlines all of Helena’s actions to come. She observes that the unlikeliest things can be achieved if a person only works toward them. Helena resolves to go to Paris and cure the King of his ailment. She feels that she can win Bertram if she tries hard enough and sees this act as her best chance of determining her fate.




This scene shifts to Paris. There is a flourish as the King of France enters clutching letters in his hand. He is accompanied by lords and other nobles. The King says that both the Florentines and Senoys have fought equally well and are continuing to fight a brave battle. He indicates that he considers this war a mere training exercise for the many young soldiers who are eager to gain experience and valor in battle. At this moment Bertram, Lafeu, and Parolles enter.

The aging and sickly King affectionately welcomes Bertram to Paris. The King comments on Bertram’s striking physical resemblance to his father and hopes that he has inherited his father’s morality as well. The King wishes that he were as physically fit as in the days when he, along with Bertram’s father, first tried his hand at being a soldier. He reminisces of the bygone days and praises Bertram’s father for his courage and valor. He says that talking about Bertram’s father soothes his falling spirits. He observes that such a man would serve as an excellent role model for the young generation of soldiers in his command.


The opening conversation between the King and the nobles provides the relevant background for the Florentine war. France has decided to deny Florence aid but will not restrain individual nobles and lords from serving the Duke. In fact, the war will be welcomed by the young lords who are starved for action and eager to head towards Italy in search of military glory. Their excitement and youthful vitality provides a striking contrast to the ailing King’s physical frailty. While the lords are brimming with confidence, the King seeks refuge in days of bygone glory with his thoughtful reminiscence. The scene does much to establish the theme of youth vs. age.

The King welcomes Bertram heartily and comments on the striking physical resemblance he bears to his father. The King expresses hope that Bertram has also inherited his “father’s moral parts”. Like the Countess in the preceding scene, the King expresses hope, rather than conviction, that Bertram will inherit his father’s moral steadfastness and virtuous qualities. The entire action assesses Bertram’s capacity to fulfill this hope. An important and recurring theme of the play focuses on the moral frailty of the youth as contrasted with the steadfastness of the older generation.

The King feels a genuine sense of loss by Bertram’s father’s death. He eulogizes the late Count’s character as one nearly perfect and praises his valor in warfare. Ironically, it is the late Count’s ability to interact comfortably with men of varying social classes which receives the King’s highest praise. The late Count made everyone feel as if they were his equals. He had the knack of treating his social inferiors with deference. The King sighs that he might have served as “a copy to these younger times” had he lived longer. The King’s eulogy speaks pointedly to the difference between Bertram’s father, who was blind to class issues, and Bertram, who will slowly prove himself to be quite arrogant and class conscious.



This scene takes place once again at Rousillon, where the Countess meets with her steward and the clown Lavache. The clown requests the Countess’ permission to marry because he is driven to do so by the desires of the flesh. In the course of the ensuing quibble, the clown sings a song with the words “your marriage comes by destiny”. The Countess impatiently tells him to leave.

When they are left alone, the Steward informs the Countess that he has overheard Helena musing to herself that she loves Bertram. The Countess dismisses the Steward, asking him to keep the matter to himself. Helena enters and the Countess remarks that she appears to be sick with love, then confides she feels like a mother to Helena, who protests. The Countess asks her why she does not want to be thought of as a daughter, and Helena explains that to be the Countess’ daughter would make her Bertram’s sister, and she feels more than brotherly toward him. The Countess says she now realizes the mystery of Helena’s loneliness and her frequent tears, knowing that Helena loves her son. Helena begs forgiveness from the Countess for daring to love Bertram with her poor, but honest, love. She is surprised to discover that the Countess does not disapprove.

The Countess then asks Helena whether she intends to go to Paris. Helena answers that she wishes to help the King. Her father has left her with some rare prescriptions. Among these there is a remedy to cure the disease plaguing the King. The Countess asks her if this is her only reason for going to Paris, and Helena truthfully replies that Bertram’s departure for Paris has also been an influence. The Countess gives Helena her permission and support.


The scene opens with a curious conversation between the Countess and the clown, in which the clown describes the use that he will make of his wife Isbel to create friends for himself. The implication is that voluntary cuckoldry can create a natural bond among men. When the Countess remonstrates him for his foolishness and tells him that such friends are in fact enemies, the clown argues that the person who “comforts my wife is the cherisher of my life and blood; he who loves my flesh and blood is my friend; ergo, he who kisses my wife is my friend”. This frank sexual discussion, shortly following Helena’s graphic exchange with Parolles, is a good suggestion of the highly sexual nature of things to come in the play.

When the Countess learns that Helena is in love with Bertram, she recalls her own youthful days. She sees love as the prerogative of the young. Once again, the older characters view the younger with some nostalgia and yearning. Interestingly, the Countess has high expectations of Helena and is convinced of her worthiness. This is in distinct contrast to her hesitant expectations for her own son, Bertram. She asserts of Helena that “there is more owing to her than paid, and more shall be paid than she’ll demand”.

The Countess, in this moment of nostalgia, allows Helena to speak without any restraint about her desires. Helena confesses that “I know I love in vain, strive against hope. Yet, in this captious sieve, I still pour in the waters of my love”. Helena hopes to deserve Bertram’s love, despite her lowly status. The Countess, realizing that Helena’s worth has little to do with her class or social bearing, promises to help in every way she can. When Helena reveals her plan of curing the King in an effort to elevate herself in the eyes of the world, the Countess supports her decision. It is more than evident she considers Helena a suitable daughter-in-law, despite the difference in their social statures. She also feels certain Helena can accomplish the task that she has set before herself: winning Bertram’s love.



This scene opens in the King’s palace in Paris. The King is accompanied by Bertram, Parolles, and several young lords who are ready to leave for the Florentine wars. The King exhorts them to fight valiantly in the true French spirit; in a lighter vein, he tells them to watch out for Florentine girls. Bertram, who is not allowed to accompany the lords to battle because of his youth, decides, at the urging of Parolles and others, to sneak off to war.

Parolles and Bertram leave in pursuit of the departing lords after Parolles decides it might be a good idea for them to ingratiate themselves with the other soldiers. In the meantime, Lafeu enters. He kneels before the King and tells him a lady doctor has arrived who believes she can cure him. The King agrees to see her, and Lafeu re-enters with Helena. After Lafeu leaves, Helena introduces herself as the daughter of the famous physician Gerard de Narbon. She tells the King she can cure him with her father’s remedy. The King is doubtful that she can succeed, especially when she proposes to cure him within the space of twenty-four hours. Helena strikes a deal with the King that if she is unable to cure him, he can kill her on the spot. But if she succeeds, he must allow her to choose a husband from among the noble bachelors of the court as payment for her services.


This scene is important mostly for the way it depicts first the hero, then the heroine, of the play. The scene opens with Bertram denied a chance at military victory because of his youth. He is petulant, eager, and enthusiastic. He feels left out and rejected by the lords and the King who are used to valors in life. This young impressionability in Bertram is further heightened in the way that Parolles counsels him, advises him, seeks to shape him into the kind of man he would like to be. Parolles, acting as a tempter, persuades Bertram that youth should not stop him; instead he tells his friend to take matters into his own hands and sneak off to battle. Bertram, utterly impressionable and spineless, does everything Parolles tells him to do.

In direct contrast, young, confident, and determined Helena boldly petitions the King for a chance to prove herself. She comes before him, not only young but also a woman, and proposes that he allow her an honest chance to cure him. After some persuading, Helena succeeds in speaking for herself honestly and openly. She strikes up a bold and confident deal with the king, proving that she is not in need of flattering counselors and false praises and suggestions in order to achieve what she wants. If she cures the King, she will be able to choose anyone she wants for a husband; of course, she has Bertram in mind.

Throughout this scene, Helena proves herself to be self-driven, ambitious, and doggedly determined; she knows what she wants and is not afraid to go after it. In sharp contrast, Bertram is weak, easily led, and in need of both confidence and direction; he has no idea of what he really wants in life, but allows Parolles to influence all his decisions.

It is important to notice the importance that Parolles places on clothing and fashion. He is the main character in the play to establish the theme of appearance vs. reality. He always seeks to be perfectly dressed, as if to hide his very imperfect being. The audience, however, can easily see right through his appearance to his rotten core. At the end of the drama, when his true self has been revealed to all, including Bertram, he will be shabbily dressed.



This brief scene moves back to Rousillon. The Countess jests with the clown, then commands him to deliver a letter to Helena and bring back her reply.


This short scene provides a lull in the action and a humorous entertainment before the events unravel that lead to the central climactic moment of the play. It is frequent in Shakespeare’s drama for the lowly characters to make the most perceptive comments. In this scene, the clown’s silliness is almost entirely directed at the affectations of the court. He mocks the way in which members of the court speak and act. His clowning is a stab at the high-class world, which is so elevated and all-important to many in the world of the play, especially Bertram.



The setting once again returns to Paris. Bertram, Lafeu, and Parolles enter in amazement that Helena has cured the King. The King enters along with Helena and his attendants, one of whom he instructs to assemble all his noblemen. Gently addressing Helena as his “preserver,” he renews his commitment to fulfill his part of the bargain. As several lords enter, the King tells Helena to freely choose a husband from among them, telling her no one may turn her down.

Helena claims Bertram, who protests that he should be allowed to choose his own wife and that he considers a match with Helena degrading to his noble birth. The King sternly admonishes Bertram for his arrogant defiance. He says that he can elevate Helena’s title. In a long speech, the King states that it is astounding that social differences are so important to Bertram when human blood is quite indistinguishable from one class to another and is the same color. The King argues that Bertram should not compare social status but actions. Helena’s lowly status is dignified by her virtuous deeds. The King exhorts Bertram to accept Helena, but Bertram is adamant. He insists he cannot love her, nor will he even try. The King admonishes Bertram for his reply and warns Bertram that if he refuses to accept Helena, he will be disowned by the King. Fearful of such a public dishonor, Bertram finally agrees to marry Helena.

Out of earshot of Bertram, Lafeu reminds Parolles that he now has a new mistress. Parolles denies Bertram’s authority; he tells Lafeu that Bertram is his lord, but his master is God. Lafeu ridicules Parolles by saying that his master is the devil. He rebukes Parolles for his airs and declares that if he were but two hours younger, he would beat Parolles. He denounces Parolles as a “general offense,” who is a liar and a coward. Parolles protests that Lafeu’s censure is hard and undeserved. Before leaving, Lafeu impatiently states that he has no more words to waste on Parolles.

In the meantime, Bertram laments his misfortune. He tells Parolles that although he has married Helena, he will never consummate their union. Instead he will go away to Florence. Parolles encourages him, saying it is unmanly to stay behind in the arms of his wife when he should be proving his valor on the battlefield. In essence, Parolles feeds the impressionable Bertram with nonsense.

Bertram decides that he will send Helena to his house with a letter to his mother stating how he detests his forced bride. In addition, he will sneak off to Florence without even telling the King. Parolles approves of Bertram’s decision and encourages him to execute it, subtly insinuating that the King has wronged Bertram by forcing him to marry Helena.


The scene opens with the idea of divine agency–that is, individuals empowered by God to do great things. Lafeu sees young Helena as aided by the grace of heaven which has enabled her to cure the King. He is convinced of the possibility of divine intervention in the state of human affairs. Helena’s curing of the King is seen by all as a miracle and a wonder. Helena herself reinforces the divine theme of the play when she acknowledges that “heaven hath through me restored the King to health”. She sees herself as the agent of great things. She, with the help of God, has gotten what she wanted. Once again, she asserts her control of her own fate.

One note of historical significance involves the authority of the King to arrange marriages. From the modern standpoint, the King’s imperial dominance over his subjects might seem more like tyranny, but one must remember that this play is written in the context of the Renaissance age when the King enjoyed absolute power over his subjects. It was very common for a King to arrange marriages without possibility of dispute. Understandably, the people are horrified at Bertram’s insolent and immature response to the King’s command.

As far as character development is concerned, this scene reiterates Helena’s complete and utter submission to Bertram, whom she loves unquestioningly. When Helena selects Bertram as her husband, she reveals her own sense of modesty and unworthiness with her choice of words. She does not say that she takes Bertram as her reward; rather, she surrenders herself to him, saying, ” I give/ Me and my service, ever whilst I live,/ Into your guiding power.” Bertram’s rejection of Helena because she is “a poor physician’s daughter” is in extreme bad taste and reinforces the picture already painted of his weak character. When Bertram complains about marrying Helena, the King asks him, “Know’st thou not, Bertram,/What she has done for me ?”. Bertram’s reply is rude and insolent, “Yes, my good lord, /But never hope to know why I should marry her.” Bertram quite explicitly states that to marry Helena would be to endure dishonor because of her inferior social status. This is a clear expression of one of the dominant thematic concerns of the play: the contrast between inherited rank and intrinsic virtue. Clearly Bertram holds that personal virtues are worthless and social status is all important.

It is also important to notice that this scene also contains the unmasking of Parolles by Lafeu. Lafeu sees through Parolles’ disguise and recognizes him as a tempter and an inconstant friend to Bertram. This is significant, since Bertram is unable to see the true nature of Parolles. He will continue to confide in him and follow his advice. Bertram’s lack of perception and his faulty judgment are all the more evident when Parolles encourages him to steal away to Florence. Rather than see through Parolles, Bertram allows himself to be led astray by the poor advice of an unfaithful “friend”.



Parolles interrupts a paradoxical conversation between Helena and Lavache, the clown. The clown begins insulting Parolles, whom he calls a wise man who says nothing, does nothing, knows nothing, and has nothing. Parolles dismisses the clown as annoying and turns to Helena. He tells her that Bertram has been called away on important business and cannot consummate the marriage. Furthermore, he tells the young bride she is to leave at once and carry a letter from Bertram to his mother. She is not to tell the King where or why she is going. Unsuspecting of any dishonorable actions, Helena agrees.


This short scene serves to enhance even further the characterizations of Parolles and Helena. While the clown’s trivial banter provides yet again a welcome relief from the disturbing events in the play, it also serves to illuminate that even the clown thinks Parolles is no good and worthy of contempt.

Helena’s unquestioning submission to Bertram’s commands reinforces the depth of her devotion to him. Her passive acceptance and fulfillment of all of Bertram’s wishes is remarkable, if not pathetic. And the fact that she herself must carry the letter that declares her an unwanted wife is quite ironic and creates great sympathy for her plight.



Once again, this short scene takes place in Paris. Lafeu is trying to persuade Bertram of Parolles’ true nature, but Bertram continues to defend his “friend”. Lafeu leaves Bertram with a warning about Parolles: “the soul of the man is his clothes”, meaning he has not depth of character. His personality is as changeable as his garments. Bertram then asks Parolles whether he and Lafeu have fallen out, but Parolles pretends not to know why there is a problem between him and Lafeu.

Helena approaches and tells Bertram that she will obey his commands. Bertram gives Helena the vicious letter and tells her to leave. Helena willingly complies, asking only for a farewell kiss, which Bertram coldly refuses. After Helena leaves, Bertram muses that he will never go home as long as Helena is alive. Then Bertram and Parolles set out for Florence


The scene is significant because Lafeu has seen through Parolles’ disguise and warns Bertram not to trust him in matters of grave importance. The audience has already seen Lafeu’s unmasking of Parolles. He now shrewdly tells Bertram that “the soul of this man is his clothes”, a truth that will soon become evident. But Bertram remains blind to Parolles’ hypocrisy and insists that he “is very great in knowledge, and accordingly valiant”. This provides a telling comment on Bertram’s inexperience and his faulty judgment. He does not possess the quality of discernment and cannot see through the obviously disloyal Parolles.

This scene clearly illustrates how coldly Bertram chooses to treat Helena, though she is utterly obedient and unquestionably loyal in a way Parolles will never be. When Helena approaches, Bertram remarks with disdain, ” Here comes my clog”. Bertram also shows himself to be a liar, in addition to being a feckless, impressionable youth. Bertram does not possess the strength of character to tell Helena on her face that he is abandoning her so he takes the coward’s way out and steals away to Florence on the pretext of serving in a war, sending his wife home with a letter designed to insult her. Bertram’s behavior makes it very difficult for the audience to sympathize with him and see him as anything more than cruel and self-absorbed.



This scene shifts to Florence. The Duke enters accompanied by two French lords and soldiers who are discussing the imminent war. The Duke expresses his astonishment at the French King’s refusal to help. The First Lord refuses to divulge the reasons for the French King’s refusal, but the Second Lord quips that the younger lords will soon come to Florence to exercise their talents in military exploits.


This brief scene provides the necessary background to the Florentine wars. The setting shifts to Florence, a necessary move for the coming action of the play, in which Bertram tries to escape his wife. Helena, with plans of her own, sets out on a pilgrimage for Florence.

The scene also reiterates the theme of military honor, which Bertram so eagerly seeks. He will arrive here because he values the honor he thinks military exploits will bring. Several young lords echo his feeling, giving the impression that the eagerness for war belongs to the young and inexperienced..



This scene shifts back to Rousillon and opens with a conversation between the Countess and the clown. The Countess expresses satisfaction at the way things have turned out. Her only grudge is that Bertram is not accompanying Helena home. The clown says that Bertram had appeared to be very melancholic. Taking up Bertram’s letter, the Countess remarks that she will read what he has written and find out when he intends to come home. The clown remarks that he has dropped his intentions of marrying Isbel since he has been at court, for he has found a great difference between the Isbels of the country and Isbels of the court.

The clown leaves while the Countess is reading the letter. The contents of the letter shock the Countess, who is afraid Bertram’s foolish actions will anger the King. The clown re-enters with the news that Bertram has run away. As the clown leaves, Helena enters along with some gentlemen. She has already heard about her abandonment and is heartbroken. One of the gentlemen attempts to console Helena. The Countess tells her to be patient. She says that she has experienced so many situations of grief and joy that they have lost the capacity to move her excessively. Then she asks the gentlemen if they know where Bertram has gone.

The Countess is told that Bertram has gone off to serve the Duke of Florence in battle. Helena shows her the letter she has received, in which Bertram states that he will never be her husband until she can obtain the ring that he always wears on his finger and becomes pregnant with his child. He also tells her he will never return to France as long as she is alive. The gentlemen who have brought this letter express their apology for its sorrowful contents and inform the Countess that Parolles is accompanying and advising Bertram. The Countess is incensed at Bertram’s conduct and says that he does not deserve to have Helena’s love. The Countess further denounces Parolles as a “tainted fellow, full of wickedness” who is corrupting her son by encouraging him in his waywardness. The Countess asks the gentlemen, who are returning to Florence, to tell Bertram that he will never regain the honor that he has lost by abandoning his wife. She gives them a letter for Bertram in which she disowns him.

The Countess and the gentlemen leave together. Helena, left alone, begins to cry. She blames herself for Bertram’s being in the war. She prays for his safety and expresses her belief that if Bertram is killed in battle, it will be her fault. She desperately wants Bertram to return to Rousillon, away from battle. Since it is her presence in France that keeps him away, she decides to sneak away at night, hoping he will consider it safe, and return.


The central event in this scene is the delivery of Bertram’s letter. It is important to note that while Helena is deeply hurt by Bertram’s callous behavior, she does not show any resentment towards him. Instead of feeling anger at her shoddy treatment, she is driven by a sense of guilt and blames herself for his departure. She even worries about him being killed, which would be her fault, and thinks, “Whoever shoots at him, I set him there; Whoever charges on his forward breast; I am the caitiff that do hold him to’t; And though I kill him not, I am the cause; His death was so effected”. Her concern for him and lack of regard for the way she has been treated are almost pathetic.

There is a distinct contrast between the reactions of the Countess and Helena to Bertram’s letter. While Helena blames herself for driving Bertram away, the Countess is explicit in her denunciation of her son. Like many others, she refers to her son as a boy, indicating his extreme immaturity. She is angry that he does not follow the King’s desires and honor Helena. She remarks furiously, “Nothing in France until he have no wife! / There’s nothing here that is too good for him / But only she, and she deserves a lord / That twenty such rude boys might tend upon / And hourly call mistress”. The Countess is deeply shocked by Bertram’s rash behavior and makes the statement that Bertram cannot hope to win back the honor that he has lost by mistreating his wife, not even as a hero of war. Her words reiterate Lafeu’s earlier idea — that virtuous deeds are more important that noble birth, and that noble birth can never make up for virtue-less actions. Several other characters also spout this view at various points in the play.

The terms of the riddling letter are cruelly blunt but do provide a clear and decisive course of action for the impetuous and determined Helena. As a result of Bertram’s letter, Helena formulates her plan to steal away in the cover of darkness. Perhaps this will bring Bertram back to France. Once again, she makes her own destiny.



There is a flourish and sounding of trumpets and drums as the Duke, Bertram, and Parolles enter the court at Florence, along with the soldiers. The Duke appoints Bertram the general of the cavalry and says that he invests his trust and love in him. Bertram courteously replies that although it is a heavy responsibility, he will endeavor to discharge it to the best of his ability and will venture to the very edge of danger. The Duke is satisfied by Bertram’s reply and wishes him good fortune in his endeavors. Bertram appeals to Mars, the god of war, and remarks that from this day onward, he will be a lover of the drums of war and “hater of love”.


This brief scene shows Bertram’s arrival in Florence. The duke appoints him the general of his army, the first step toward the military glory Bertram is certain will make him great.

It is important to remember that Bertram was not supposed to go off to fight. Once again he shows disobedience to the King and furthers the theme of deception in the play.



In Rousillon, the Countess enters along with the Steward, upset over Helena’s midnight departure. In a farewell letter, Helena tells the Countess she is responsible for the entire mess and hopes now Bertram will feel free to come home. She says she has gone off on a pilgrimage, never to return. The Countess is incensed by Bertram’s conduct and the hurt she can sense in Helena’s words. She tells the Steward to write to Bertram about Helena’s departure and to choose his words appropriately so as to do justice to Helena’s worthiness and the Countess’ grief. She hopes that Bertram will return as Helena suspects, and that Helena herself, after hearing of his arrival, may be drawn back to Rousillon by her pure love.


This scene is in perfect contrast to the one immediately preceding it. Blameless Helena, deeply troubled and sorrowful, presents herself as a calm, noble figure while Bertram, who truly is to blame for a bad situation, carelessly pursues his military career with no thought to the suffering of others. Once again, the Countess shows her fondness for Helena and recognizes that she is a more noble character than her own son. She is hopeful that the couple will somehow make amends in the future.



The scene opens outside the walls of Florence. A Florentine widow, her daughter Diana, and a girl named Marianna enter with some citizens. Mariana urges the young Diana to be cautious of the great French Count, Bertram, who is pursuing her. The widow tells Marianna that the Count and his companion, Parolles, have been coming around. She says that Parolles seems to be influencing the young Count to act in a way less than gentlemanly. She also cautions Diana to beware and reminds her that a maiden’s honor is her unsullied name. The widow tells Mariana that she knows that she has been solicited by a gentleman companion of the Count. Mariana replies that the man is Parolles.

As the ladies are talking, a pilgrim, who is Helena in disguise, comes asking for a place to stay. The widow directs her to a lodge at Saint Francis. They are interrupted by the sound of marching in the distance. The widow offers to escort Helena to St. Francis after the soldiers come through the town. She tells Helena a noble and valiant Count from France will be among them. When Diana informs Helena that the count is Bertram, Helena pretends not to know who he is, only to have heard of him. Diana tells Helena the rumor that Bertram has come to Florence to escape from an arranged marriage and wife he detests, and Helena says she has heard the story and knows it is true. Diana sighs that it must be terrible to be a detested wife. The widow sympathetically remarks that his wife must have a heavy heart and be in need of help. Then she tells Helena that Bertram has attempted to seduce her daughter, but Diana has kept her guard.

A section of the Florentine army, headed by Bertram and Parolles, enters to the sound of drumbeats. The widow points out Antonio, the Duke’s eldest son, and Escalus. Diana identifies Bertram and remarks that it is a pity that a man so gallant is not honest. She blames Parolles, “that jack-an-apes with scarfs” for leading the Count astray. Helena thanks the widow for directions and invites them all to dinner that night, an offer they accept.


The significant aspect of this scene is that while there is public praise for Bertram’s military achievements, in private many citizens deride the “hero’s” treatment of his wife. Even though Bertram has received the honor he so desperately wanted, his lack of character has stripped him of true respect. Also, Parolles is once again suspected by many of being inconstant and shifty.

Helena humbles herself, dressing as a holy pilgrim; it is an appropriate disguise for this character who seems willing to sacrifice all for love. It also furthers the theme of deception. When the disguised Helena arrives in Florence, she hears all about her husband and remains calm, not revealing her true identity. She learns that Bertram has been trying to seduce the widow’s daughter. As a result, a plan begins to formulate in Helena’s quick and competent mind. She invites the ladies to dinner to gather more information.

It is important to note that this scene is filled with dramatic irony. The audience, of course, knows that the pilgrim is really Bertram’s wife Helena. As a result, there is double meaning in much of what transpires throughout the scene, for the three ladies have no idea that they are talking to Bertram’s spouse.



This scene shifts to a camp outside Florence. Bertram enters along with two French Lords. They are determined to expose to Bertram the true character of the despicable Parolles, who is disliked by them for his bragging and posturing. Listening to his fellow officers, Bertram begins to wonders if he has been deceived by his friend, Parolles.

The First Lord denounces Parolles as a “most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar” and “an hourly promise-breaker” who does not possess a single good quality. The Second Lord suggests a plan to expose Parolles so that Bertram will see the error in the friendship before something terrible happens. Bertram wonders on what particular charges could Parolles be tried. The Second Lord proposes that Parolles should be allowed to recapture the drum taken by the enemy in a recent battle.

The First Lord suggests that he will suddenly surprise Parolles with a troop of Florentines and pretend to be the enemy. They will blind and hoodwink him and lead him to believe that he is being carried to the enemy camp when he is actually placed in their own tents. Bertram is asked to be present during Parolles’ examination. The First Lord is confident that Parolles will betray Bertram and reveal important information to the people he assumes are his enemies. The Second Lord enthusiastically supports this proposal, thinking it will convince Bertram and also be very funny. He reminds them how Parolles always boasts he has strategies for recovering the drum and says this will give him his chance.

At this moment Parolles enters. Bertram and the two Lords hint around that recovering the drum would surely be a great achievement, a cause for heroic celebrations. As expected, Parolles takes the bait, boasting that he alone can get the drum back. Parolles leaves and the Lords comment on his confidence. Bertram is unworried, thinking Parolles’ confidence is just a sign of his good intentions and honest capabilities. The fact that Parolles is a boaster and liar does not seem real to him. The First Lord says that he must prepare the trap for Parolles and leaves. Bertram tells the Second Lord about the young virgin Diana, whom he is relentlessly pursuing. He tells the Lord the girl’s chief fault is her honesty, because she keeps turning him down. Bertram invites the Lord to accompany him on his next visit to Diana.


This scene lays important groundwork for the downfall of Parolles, setting up what will soon prove to be a set of very complicated farce-like scenes. The scene also develops the Themes of the play. The scheming to entrap Parolles is furthers the deception that is rampant in the play. The importance of honor is also emphasized. Bertram wants to belief that Parolles is honorable, but he accepts the fact that what Parolles appears to be to him may not be reality. To find out the truth, Bertram assents to a plan that will essentially prove the honesty or dishonesty of his friend. It is ironic that Parolles’ honesty seems important to him, yet he sees Diana’s honesty as her chief failing.

It is also ironic that Bertram has a preoccupation with honor. He stakes his life on the battlefield to win honor for himself, but he attempts to steal the honor away from Diana, a pure and honest virgin. He is concerned with Parolles’ honesty, but he himself has acted dishonestly throughout the play, betraying both the Kind and Helena. This inconsistency makes Bertram a very unusual and disliked character.



This scene moves to the widow’s house in Florence. Helena is trying to convince the widow that she is Bertram’s wife. She is exasperated and says that she does not know how else to assure the widow that she is telling the truth. The widow is suspicious and does not want to get involved in Helena’s plan to win Bertram back.

Helena offers the widow a purse of gold coins in exchange for her help with additional payment when the plan is finished. Helena tells the widow that when Bertram comes around again, Diana should pretend to yield to his advances and demand from him the ring that he always wears on his finger. Since the ring is a family heirloom that has been handed down from one generation to another, Bertram will be reluctant to part with it but will eventually do so in order to win Diana. Diana should fix a time and place for a secret meeting between the two, and when Bertram arrives, Helena will take the girl’s place in bed with Bertram.


In this scene, the clever Helena reveals her deceptive plan for winning Bertram back. By offering monetary payment, she convinces the widow to help her; she also convinces her that the deceitful actions have an honorable result, for a wife and husband will be together as they should. This is one of the first times Helena alludes to her apparent philosophy that all is truly well as long as it ends well.

It is important to realize that the audience is supportive of, rather than appalled by, all the deception happening on the stage. The deceptive scheme against Parolles is meant to reveal his truly detestable nature, and the deceptive scheme against Bertram is to win him over to Helena.



The scene opens outside the Florentine camp. The Lords enter, prepared to ambush. Parolles then enters, talking to himself. The Lords listen as Parolles confesses first that he knows he is a liar, and second, that it seems everyone else is beginning to notice. He is, of course, too frightened to go after the drum, so he begins concocting lies about why he does not have it. The Lords marvel at Parolles’ self-awareness that he is a cad. Finally, the Lords capture Parolles, cover his eyes, and begin to talk in a nonsense language to him. Frightened, Parolles does exactly as predicted and promises to betray Bertram and all his other comrades if only his “captors” will not hurt him. They take him away and go to find Bertram, so that he can hear for himself.


In this scene, the Lords marvel that Parolles is aware of his own deceitful nature, and yet he does nothing to change it. This further convinces them of his despicable nature, and they are glad they have a plan to expose his true self to Bertram. The Lords know that any honorable man who recognizes weaknesses in himself would try to improve; but Parolles has no desire to better himself.

Although Bertram has been much like the despicable Parolles in the early part of the play, Bertram, unlike his friend, finally comes to his senses and realizes how terribly he has been acting. While Parolles is a flat character who never changes, Bertram, in contrast, has some measure of redemption later in the play.



In this scene, Bertram pursues Diana, who appears to succumb to his flirtations. She asks him for his ring. At first he declines to give it to her since it is a token of family pride and honor; but Diana insists, saying she will only give herself to him if he gives her the ring. She then makes plans to meet him after dark for one hour. She sets the condition that he is not to speak to her during that hour. Then, she promises to give him her virginity.


Bertram’s character is further degraded in this scene. He debases himself by seducing Diana and giving away his family heirloom to supposedly win her body. His courtship is obviously marked by shallow sentiment as opposed to true affection. He states that “love is holy,” but ironically urges Diana to satisfy his “sick desires”.

Diana’s mother has warned her all about Bertram and told her of the plan she has made with Helena. As a result, Diana holds the wicked Bertram in complete contempt and remarks after he leaves that my mother told me just how he would woo, / As if she sat in’s heart”.

When Diana remains aloof to his advances, Bertram becomes more pressing in his protestations of love. He explains to her that he was forced to marry Helena and never loved her. At the same time, the hypocritical man asserts his undying love for Diana while knowing all the time that he just intends to make temporary use of her. To satisfy his own desires of the flesh, he lies openly to her by pledging, “I love thee / By love’s own sweet constraint, and will for ever / Do thee all rights of service.” Diana knows better than to believe him. She claims that his pledges and swearing are just a common trick used by men trying to seduce women. Bertram insists that he is innocent and that his “integrity n’er knew the crafts / That you do charge men with”.

This scene moves the plot of the play towards its resolution. In accordance with Helena’s plan, Diana pretends to yield to Bertram and demands his ring. At first Bertram is reluctant to part with it because it is a symbol of his family honor and faith. Diana retorts that her chastity is a precious jewel that demands a high price. Finally, Bertram agrees and says, “Here take my ring ; / My house, mine honor, yea, my life be thine, / And I’ll be bid by thee”. Bertram is such a cunning seducer that he even promises to marry Diana after his wife’s death, showing that he is devoid of honor and honesty.



The two French Lords, who are brothers, enter the Florentine camp talking about the supposed death of Bertram’s wife, Helena. Both of them condemn Bertram, claiming that his actions have totally dishonored him, and no amount of military valor can ever make up for that. At this point, Bertram enters boasting about his exploits and his tryst with Diana. He feels hopeful that he will soon be restored to the King’s good graces. The other soldiers listen with disgust as he lists his many successes in a boastful and proud manner.

After he is finished praising himself, Bertram tells the men he is ready to listen to Parolles being questioned. Bertram is still quite certain that his blindfolded friend will not betray him. The First Lord asks his questions in a strange language. The first soldier is acting as the “interpreter” and tells Parolles that he is going to have him tortured until he confesses. Parolles, eager to save his own skin, replies that he will reveal all that he knows without any limitations. He begins to recount a number of secrets about his own comrades, many of whom are in the room. He then tells about Bertram and even calls him a fool. The men allow Parolles to betray everyone as thoroughly as possible; then they take off the blindfold and reveal that they have tricked him into showing his true self. Unabashed, Parolles simply says there is a place and means for every man alive.


There are no surprises in this scene, for both Parolles and Bertram act as expected. Bertram enters in a proud and boastful way, bragging about his military successes and his tryst with Diana. Ironically, the soldiers have just judged Bertram as a weak person for the dishonor he has dealt his “dead wife”. Bertram does not know yet that his military heroism means little next to his personal acts of deceit and dishonor.

Parolles continues to reveal his low moral character. When threatened with torture, he reveals everyone’s secrets, including those of Bertram; he even calls Bertram a fool. When his blindfold is removed, he discovers that several people that he has betrayed are in the room, including Bertram. Amazingly, Parolles shows no remorse or guilt; he simply says there is a place for everyone in the world.

Bertram is totally shocked by the behavior of his good friend. Being despicable himself, he has been unable to see Parolles’ lack of honor. Instead, he has judged him as worthy and has mimicked Parolles’ base deeds to only a slightly lesser degree.



In Florence, Helena thanks the widow for her help and assures her she will be greatly rewarded for it. Turning to Diana, Helena tells her she must do a little more on her behalf, and Diana replies she will do anything to help Helena bring Bertram down to size, because she herself thinks his actions have been despicable. The scene comes to an end with Helena musing that time will heal all the wounds suffered on her behalf, uttering the title words that all is well that ends well.


At this point in the play, chaos reigns. Helena is supposed to be dead, Bertram is poised to spoil Diana’s chastity, and Parolles is tricked into revealing his base character. The confident Helena believes that the greater plan at work will more than justify all the confusion. All will be well when it ends well. This theme is not only the title of the play, it is also at the very heart of the action, for throughout the play the ends justify the means.



The Countess enters Rousillon with Lafeu and the clown. Lafeu insists that Parolles has been responsible for leading Bertram astray. He tells the Countess that her daughter-in-law Helena would be alive were it not for the interference of the “red-tailed humble-bee”. The Countess mourns the death of Helena and praises her as the “most virtuous gentlewoman” ever born. Lafeu then informs the Countess that since hearing the news of Helena’s death and Bertram’s return to France, he has spoken to the King about offering his own daughter as Bertram’s second wife. Lafeu says that the King himself had proposed the match, when both his daughter and Bertram were children. The Countess agrees to the marriage, hoping this will make things well again. Lafeu tells her the King is coming from Marseilles and will arrive the next day, as will Bertram. They decide to propose the marriage sometime after that.


In this scene, Lafeu blames Parolles for misleading Bertram and describes him as “a snipped – taffeta fellow … whose villainous saffron would have made all the unbak’d and doughy youth of a nation in his color”. Interestingly enough, the Countess and Lafeu have already devised a plan to forgive Bertram and reinstate him to good graces. Lafeu’s daughter will be offered as a bride to Bertram, since his first wife is supposedly dead. At the same time, they place nearly all the blame on Parolles’ bad influence. In essence, Parolles must pay for his poor moral character, but it almost seems as if Bertram will get away with his.




Juno and the Paycock Study Guide and Summary

Juno and the Paycock

An Introduction

The writer of Juno and the Paycock, Sean O’Casey was born in 1818 and died in 1964. So it makes him a contemporary of T. S. Eliot. The play has been written on the background of Irish Civil War, which has been going for centuries. There are many faction involved in the play

(i) There are the free staters,
(ii) There are also those who demand have ruled Ireland within the authority of English parliament
(iii) There are the unionists, who want unity with min Ireland.

Main Ireland got independence after the 1st World War. Ireland is divided into Southern and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is now called Ulster. The people of main Ireland are Roman Catholic. The majority of Ulster is Anglican. So there is political and religious problem.

(i)Either to unite with main Ireland
(ii)To unite with England
(iii)To be total independent was the main problem or enigma.

In 1916, there was a great uprising and many people were killed. O’Casey felt sorry for them. O’Casey was basically a pacifist (peaceful). He looks for independence but not at the cost of peace and life. This approach is also like that of W. B. Yeats. Both feel sorry for human causalities. To both, war is an evil, fought under any pretext, (excuse). Reality is more important than ideology. Man is more important than patriotism and religious fanaticism. O’Casey is down to earth a realist. He is similar to Shaw and is strongly anti-war writer. He is an anti-war, anti-class, anti-patriotism, anti-fanaticism, anti-trade unionism, anti-dogmatism, anti-ideology and anti-false aristocracy. He is a feministic writer.

O’Casey has taken the characters of “Juno and the Paycock” from Greek mythology. One very important aspect of European literature is their interest in classical mythology. O’Neill wrote “Electra”, Shaw wrote “Pygmalion”, Yeats wrote about “Byzantium”, Ibsen has created his own myth “Wild Duck” influenced by Greek mythology.

The European writers want to write on contemporary themes. They want to write on mundane level, but now modern themes are trivial. As in this play, though the domestic problems do not have heroic dimensions. Therefore, modern writers refer to classical myths to give a colour of sublimity to their subject. The other reason is that due to contemporary chaos communications have become difficult because there is no share of feelings. Therefore, modern writers seek for some focal point which would be equally meaningful to various people. So, when we talk with reference to the myths of Oedipus, Hamlet, Pygmalion, Byzantium, Electra, the communication becomes easy. In a disintegrated society, myths provide a focus and a centrifugal face. Some writers create their own myths as in the Later Romantic period and in Early Modern period. As Shelley creates the myth of “West Wind”, Keats creates the myth of “Hyperion and Psyche”. Ibsen makes the myth of “Wild Duck” and then O’Casey also uses Greek mythology in the play “Juno and the Paycock”.

Juno is the goddess of household in Greek mythology. She has been presented on riding a chariot driven by peacocks. Juno’s husband was Jove, Jupiter or Zeus, the president of Olympian gods, but here he stands for Paycock i.e. showy and vain. He was the master of the world and he looked after the world but here Juno’s husband Captain Boyle is a very irresponsible and an idle person. This is O’Casey’s art of caricature. On the other hand, Juno is called “Juno” because she was born in June, married in June and begot a child in June.

Juno’s husband, Captain Boyle, has aristocratic airs about him. He hates manual work. He enjoys the company of courtiers like companion and of some sycophant who adores him in flattery and always praises him. Captain Boyle represents the old aristocracy of Ireland which is now in the bas state because of the political upheaval in Ireland. Many English and Scottish interpretive have come to settle in Ireland. They now control the economy of Ireland. Therefore, the real Irish aristocracy hates them. This hatred is primarily for the reason that they are foreign exploiter and the second reason is that they lack Irish culture. Thirdly, they are destroying the culture and the civilization of Ireland. Therefore, they start to hate them and do not want to work under their control.

People like Captain Boyle think that if they work under them, they will be promoting the interest of the foreign exploiters. That’s why they degenerate even more. In the play Boyle’s family consists of four persons; Captain Boyle, Juno Boyle, their son “Johnny” and their daughter “Mary”. The son has been crippled in the war. The daughter works in a factory and the factory workers are on strike. She is very much active in trade union. Therefore, now she is jobless. Se has been deceived by her companion and has become pregnant. Boyle also does not work. Thus, the whole burden is on Juno. Juno runs the house. She also symbolizes “Juno” the goddess of household. She is a conventional wife. She has an interesting relationship with her husband. Since she is the earning hand of the family, she dominates and scolds her husband but as a good wife, she also considers her husband as a lord and wishes to serve him. All this creates a very interesting situation. In a way this is a feministic play that Juno struggles handedly to serve her family. She suffers most of all. So, women are weakest of the weak and exploited of the exploits. One very great feature of the play is the realistic depiction of the slump life in Dublin.

Technically, the play is considered one of the most effective plays in English literature. Handling of the myth and contemporary themes is matchless. This has heightened the tragic effects and made trivial family story a great tragedy. The play is very humorous and very tragic at same time. O’Casey is the master of creating humour in tragedy and tragedy in humour. In this art, he is very close to Shakespeare.

Juno and the Paycock: Tragoi-comedy


Tragi-comedy is a kind of writing in which comedy is hovering on the brinks of tragedy. O’Casey’s “Juno and the Paycock” is a tragi-comedy although, on the whole, it is a serious and somber play having much destruction and violence. But there are a number of comic elements in the play which would not fit into the pattern of a tragedy. On the other hand, as the comic elements do not outweigh the tragic ones, it would be inappropriate to label the play as a comedy. It means there is a co-existence in the play of tragic and comic elements and so, the best course is to treat it as a tragi-comedy.

The play starts with a graphic description of Boyle’s household. The setting reflects the poverty of the dwellers. Then the news of murder of Robbie Tancred is also very gloomy. Johnny’s neurotic condition adds to the tension of the play. But suddenly the mood of the play changes when Captain Boyle and Joxer Daly come in. The description of Mr. Boyle and Joxer’s physiognomy creates laughter. They are in fact grotesques. Mr. Boyle’s neck is short and his head looks like a stone ball on top of a gatepost. He carries himself with the upper part of his body slightly thrust forward. His walk is a slow consequential thrust.

We again burst into laughter when we see Juno hiding herself to catch Joxer and Captain Boyle as they make themselves at home. Joxer’s repetition of the words “a darling man, a darling man”, “a darling thing, a darling thing”; his attempt to escape from the situation at the sight of Juno; Mr. Boyle’s pretension that he is searching for a job sincerely, are all funny indeed. When jerry Devine enters, the situation becomes more ludicrous. Mr. Boyle is not willing to accept the job opportunity brought by Jerry. His lame excuses produce nothing but laughter.

“Won’t it be a climbin’ job? How d’ye expect me to be able to go up a ladder with these legs? An’, if I get up a self, how am I goin’ to get down agen?”

We are also much amused when Captain Boyle is interrupted while singing first by sewing machine man’s entry and then by the thundering knocks at the door. And when Boyle invites Joxer to a cup of tea Joxer says:

“I’m afraid the missus ud pop in on us agen before we’d know where we are, somethin’s tellin’ me to go at wanst.”

And to this Boyle replies:

“Don’t be superstitious, man; we’re Dublin men, ……”

We are also greatly amused when we find Joxer Daly and Mr. Boyle discussing about books and history. But their mock-intellectual discussion is interrupted by the voice of a coal vender. Again we burst into laughter when Joxer flies out of the window at learning the voice of Juno.

In fact, this whole episode is very humorous and funny. But in this fun and ludicrous description there is a tinge of pathos as well. For example, at one place, Juno says to Boyle:

“Here, sit down an’ take your breakfast – it may be the last you’ll get, for I don’t know where the next is going to come from.”

Then when there is knocking at the door and Boyle asks Joxer to tuck this head out of the window and see who is there, Joxer replies:

“An, mebbe get a bullet in the kisser?”

Apparently, this remark may be funny but underneath there is a grim tragedy in it … the tragedy of Ireland destroyed and wasted by civil war. Boyle’s remark that:

“… the clergy always had too much power over the people in this unfortunate country.”

This again shows the grim situation of Ireland. Thus here we have an intermingling of light and serious elements of a mixture of comedy and pathos.

In act II, too, we have much laughter. For example the changed attitude of Boyle at the prospect of false will, the singing of Juno and Mary, Mrs. Madigan and especially Joxer and Mr. Boyle are amusingly funny. In fact this whole episode is a merry comedy, although on the background we can also perceive the tensions of the funeral.

In act III, where there are much sufferings and destruction even then we find some comic situation there. Joxer’s behaviour at the downfall of Mr. Boyle is very funny. He instigates Nugent, the tailor, to get his suit away from Mr. Boyle. He also stoles away a bottle of brandy from the table and Boyle’s indignation at the moment creates laughter.

Actually, on the whole, farce in the play, is verbal – the repartee, the comic catchphrases, the cumulative comedy of repetition. There is the comedy of dialect and mispronunciation; of pompous phrases misused; of ludicrous images. Inflation and deflation both are comic. Captain Boyle’s inflation of his fantasies with invention, exaggeration, rhetoric and bombastic and Juno’ facility in knocking him down etc all are comic.

But, despite, so much laughter and comedy, the play is predominantly tragic in theme. For example, the ignorance that prompts Joxer’s and Captain Boyle’s mistake makes us laugh at first but is fundamentally tragic; their idleness, drunkenness and deviousness give numerous opportunities for comedy, but are in themselves wasteful and destructive. Tenement life gives rise to farcical situations but is in reality grim. Thus the superficialities of certain circumstances of Dublin life make an audience laugh, whereas, these are tragic if examined in full e.g. heroes become cowards, nationalism becomes jingoism, labour, humanitarianism becomes inhumanity. These are the tragedies of the play, which are mingled with comedy.

The pith and marrow of all this discussion is that, comedy is here, in fact, hovering on the brink of tragedy and so we are apt and just when we call “Juno and the Paycock” a tragi-comedy.

Juno and the Paycock: A Feministic Play

Like Ibsen and Shaw, Sean O’Casey is also a feminist playwright. His play “End of the Beginning”, “The Shadow of the Gunman” and “Juno and the Paycock” are the three extreme examples of feminism. The reason of his feministic approach is O’Casey’s great admiration for his mother. He led a very miserable life with is mother in slums. His mother nursed him in very poor circumstances. In return he loved her mother very much. Many of his heroines have glimpses of his mother and they are based on the personality of his mother while facing the adversity. O’Casey advocates that we have to give an equal status to women to progress in the modern world.

Like other plays of O’Casey “Juno and the Paycock” also projects the theme of feminism that traditionally man flatters woman. In this play Mary and Juno are flattered and dragged down by their circumstances caused by the men. Both worked hard to make both ends meet. While men are irresponsible, careless, coward and drunkard, they are not at all ready to pick up any responsibility or to do any betterment for the sake of home rather they are becoming the case of degeneracy for the home and are adding fuel to the fire.

Captain Boyle, the husband of Juno, is a drunkard, careless, irresponsible and a man of straw, having no conscience at all. He has never worked in his life and his only business is to peacock about the clubs and pubs with his friend Joxer Daly. They together boast of nationalism but they never bother about their homes. Captain Boyle is a typical aristocratic figure who does not care about his wife and children. Whenever Juno instigates him and laments him to do work at least for his own sake, he always makes lame excuses and complaints about pain in his legs – the legs with which he can wander round the day.

“Won’t it be a climbin’ job? How d’ye expect me to be able to go up a ladder with these legs? An’, if I get up a self, how am I goin’ to get down agen?”

Men in O’Casey world are impotent and dreamers. They are not realist rather escapist and scared while women are very much realistic and disillusioned. Johnny and Mr. Boyle think that one day Ireland must be free and the days of prosperity will come but women characters, now in the worst circumstance caused by war, suffers most of all in the time of calamity. They have to see … their husband … and sons killed and slaughtered and their lovers burned down. When Robbie Tancred is murdered, it is Mrs. Tancred who suffers behind him. The words of Mrs. Tancred’s lamentation on the death of her son always hurts Juno and she already prays for the life of Johnny.

“Blessed Virgin, … … Sacred Heart o’ Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone, an’ give us hearts of flesh!”

Juno has to suffer on different grounds. She has a husband who keeps on strutting about from morning till night whereas she has to carry the burden to her whole family. Her son Johnny has lost an arm and has a hip shattered in the war. The daughter, who has turned rebel and is on strike, ultimately gives birth to a child by a schoolteacher, her fiancée. Amid the hell of circumstances Juno has to bear the sufferings of existence, but unlike Captain Boyle, she does not romanticize her son’s exploitation when Johnny drags on his sacrifice for Ireland by saying that he would sacrifice his other arm too because “a principle’s a principle”. Juno speaks bitterly:

“Ah, you lost your best principle, my boy, when you lost your arm:”

Thus O’Casey very beautifully portrays the high status of woman that woman are more realist in their approach to life in general and to war in particular. Here we see, though Juno is an uneducated woman, yet she holds her dignity and shatters the web of idealism attached to war and trade unionism. When Mary emphasizes that “a principle’s a principle” and tries to justify her call on strike, Juno remarks very realistically:

“When the employers sacrifice wan victim, the Trades Unions go wan betther be sacrificin’ a hundred.”

In the country like Ireland which is poverty stricken and war ridden one cannot afford any idealism. Rather the poor have to have the practical approach and must work hard in order to survive and break down the barriers of slavery. We see only Juno is conscious of this fact, when she ask Mary, what will the shopkeeper say when she says to him “a principle’s a principle”.

Juno is very conscious of the fact that the miseries of the Irish people are not because of their stars but they are because of their carelessness, misdeeds, romanticism and idealism. That’s why she asks Mary:

“Ah, what can God do agen the’ stupidity o’ men!”

In the play we see that Mary’s suffering are also caused by men. She rejects Jerry Devin because she realizes the fact that Jerry is not a type of man who will stand by her through thick and thin. She realizes Charley Banthem but he deceives her and leaves her desolate and pregnant. Boyle’s so called questions of honour awaken only on this movement and he frightens Juno of dangerous consequences if Mary does not leave the house. But in all these circumstances it is only Juno who stands besides her. This shows O’Casey feminine independence.

All these leads us to conclude that women in “Juno and the Pacycock” are realist and wiser than men. They have the awareness of life which men lack. This assumption of O’Casey is not based on lie or any idealism. In fact O’Casey wants to stress and evoke women to follow their instinctive feminine good sense and to play their part in the domain of modern life.


Juno and the Paycock: Jingois

Sean O’Casey was born in 1818 and died in 1964. So it makes him a contemporary of T. S. Eliot. The play has been written on the background of Irish Civil War, which has been going for centuries. There are many faction involved in the play

(i) There are the free staters,
(ii) There are also those who demand have ruled Ireland within the authority of English parliament
(iii) There are the unionists, who want unity with min Ireland.

Main Ireland got independence after the First World War Ireland is divided into Southern and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is now called Ulster. The people of main Ireland are Roman Catholic. The majority of Ulster is Anglican. So there is political and religious problem.

(i)Either to unite with main Ireland
(ii)To unite with England
(iii)To be total independent was the main problem or enigma.

“Juno and the Paycock” also has, like O’Casey’s other plays, war at its background. O’Casey is very much against the war fought under any pretext. He closely observed how war affects the society and the individuals, how war crushes the economy and the system, how war disintegrates the family structure, how it demolishes the psychology of the people and how it creates generation gap. Thus O’Casey condemns the exploitation of man-by-man, man’s inhuman treatment towards man, man’s barbarity against man.

The play begins with Mary’s reading a newspaper. The very first information we get form the play is of a gruesome murder.

“On a little bye-road, out beyant Finglas, he was found.”

O’Casey evidently has sympathies for the poverty stricken and war ridden Irish society. There is nothing predicable in Ireland. Everyone is in extreme danger. They are hanging between life and death.

There are lots of references in the play regarding Ireland‘s religious and political history. Irish makes many attempts to shake off the foreign yoke. Foreigners are very inhuman to them. In 1916, hundred of casualties and the execution of the leaders are faultless examples of that.

But this inhumanity is not just caused by foreigners. The real problem arises with the killing of Irishman by Irishman. War, or to be more exact, a civil war has no solution to man’s problem; rather it aggravates the miseries of victims. The civil war is not confined to two fractions rather it expands to the whole Ireland. The death of Robbie Tancred and Johnny Boyle are perfect examples of that.

Johnny, who has lost an arm and has a hip shattered in a fight, is at the end dragged away and shot by his former republican commanders because he betrayed comrade Tancred. All this shows that Ireland is preying on herself. Earlier Johnny had undoubtedly behaved heroically but the hellish civil war compelled him to betray his comrade. This means the stupid civil war is turning into traitors because of its nothingness and hollownesspurposelessness.

Juno emerges as a great humanist and realist. She is a true pacifist and is against man’s inhumanity against man. She has an acute observation and knows about the truth of things. She is very realist and anti-idealist. When Mary emphasizes that one ought to stand by one’s principle being “a principle’s a principle” and tries to justify her call of strike, Juno very realistically remarks:


“When the employers sacrifice wan victim, the Trades Unions go wan betther be sacrificin’ a hundred.”

Being a realist, she has a firm belief in the idea that the fault does not lie with the stars but with the people themselves. She says:

“Ah, what can God do agen the’ stupidity o’ men!”

The opportunist class represented by Nugent has also been condemned. According to O’Casey this opportunist class is more harmful than even the combatants. They themselves become the cause of civil war and play a double role. Nugent wants other to respect “Irish people national regard for the dead” but stitches suits for the civil guards at night.

The domestic tragedy, which mainly springs out form pregnancy, is due to the inhumanity of the male. That male chauvinist society cannot tolerate a mistake by a young girl. Whereas on the other hand the idiots like captain Boyle and Joxer Daly are left unaccountable.

Hope for a good time is only due to the courage of women. They are very humane and cooperative. O’Casey’s criticism of life is conveyed through the repetition of significance of deep dialogues. The words of Mrs. Tancred lamentation are pungently recorded by Juno, when she too, is mourning over a slain son.

“Sacred Heart of the Crucified Jesus, take away our hearts o’ stone……’ give us
hearts o’ flesh! ……..Take away this murdherin’ hate … an’ give us Thine own eternal love!”

Against the vanity and moral bankruptcy of masculine character, O’Casey elevates the mother figure when Juno plans to work for Mary and her unborn child. Juno suffers the pain of existence but she sustains life.

Thus, we see O’Casey very beautifully depicts man’s inhumanity towards man. O’Casey is at heart a humanist and a pacifist. He considers life mere inevitable and all idealism is subservient to it. He condemns all principles and gives one and the only principle to live all the days of life peacefully.


Plot Summary

The play is set in the Dublin slums or tenements in the years of the Iris Civil War 1922 and 1923. The whole play centers on the Boyle family. Juno Boyle is married to Boyle who calls himself Captain Boyle. Boyle is a useless and irresponsible drunkard who shuns the reality of work at every stage in the play, and spends his time in the pub drinking with his friend Joxer Daly.

The Boyles have two children Johnny and Mary. Johnny is a sickly individual who has been involved in the Republican movement but he ended up betraying a comrade by the name of Tancred. Johnny spends his days locked up in the house fearful of his life.

His mother Juno is a selfless character who is concerned all the time about other people. Juno’s daughter Mary is deeply concerned about appearances. She is a shallow character who seems to judge people and things from the outside. When we meet her at the beginning of the play, we learn she is on strike because of the dismissal of a young girl called Jenny Claffey. Yet we are told from Juno how Mary never had a good word to say about Jenny Claffey in her whole life.

The family are told that they will inherit money from a distant relative who has died. Bentham is the solicitor who informs them of this fact. He begins to have a relationship with Mary and she becomes pregnant. Bentham shortly after this abandons her. The Boyles begin to borrow money and accumulate a great deal of debts.

The legacy never materializes, and the Boyles are forced to return the borrowed goods. Johnny is dragged off to be shot for the betrayal of Tancred. Juno finally realizes that Boyle will never take on his responsibilities as father and breadwinner and so she leaves him and sets up home with Mary.



This theme dominates the play at every level. The whole play highlights the cruel irony that while many people were fighting for ideals and principles there were others who were suffering from the debilitating effects of the poverty. Because of the negative effects generated by poverty escapism assumes a major and dramatic element in the lives of characters. Mary’s tragic situation occurs because of poverty. When it becomes clear that the Boyles will not inherit any legacy, Bentham disappears forever abandoning Mary alone to have her baby.

Jerry Devine standards of what are essential features in a husband are set out in terms of money. At one stage he tells Mary how the job is worth 3 50
Juno who is the only character rooted in the harsh practical everyday world of necessity realizes that money, hard work, and responsible social commitment are stronger and more realistic values in this world than principles and ideals. Her pragmatic stance on how principles won’t pay butchers is in striking contrast to the incessant evasion from reality inherent in all of the other characters.


The theme of Religion is also a dominant feature in the play. The play is set against a strong Catholic background. O Casey makes frequent use of images of Our Lady and the votive light to project an air of realism and authenticity in the play. There are also a variety of different religions, and attitudes expressed throughout the play. One of O Casey’s chief mottos in the play seems to show the co-existence of strong religious convictions, together with a sincere and humane commitment to one’s fellowman.

Juno’s faith is sincere, authentic, and traditional. She believes on Johnny’s death that God can do nothing against the stupidity of men, that her husband should be praying novenas for a job, and that what Ireland needs is more piety. On the other hand, Bentham espouses a religion by the name of Theosophy. This is projected as vague and abstract and certainly seems to be compatible with his own shallow commitment to people.

Reality and Fantasy

The play dramatizes the conflict between the dream world and the world of reality and shows what happens when a character is stripped of his illusions and forced to face reality. Boyle the ‘poseur’ or Paycock struts throughout the world of the play on a false and imaginary sense of his own self- importance. His whole life and career consist in fabricating dreams of his gallant years as a captain fighting heroic feats and sailing the oceans of the world. The news of the legacy provides another outlet to Boyle’s habitual evasion of reality, he sees himself as a potential investor on the Stock Exchange. His whole life is a lie. His pains, which are invented for the sake of shirking and avoiding work, become real to him. His refuses to face up to the truth and reality about Bentham and the deception surrounding the news of the will. When reality invades at the conclusion of the play in the form of Mary’s pregnancy and the actual removal of his material possessions, Boyle is unable to cope. His final entrance dramatized in a drunken fragmentary soliloquy is tragic. His habitual escape into fantasy is pathetically expressed through his drunken pose – ‘ Commandant Kelly died….in them arms…..Tell me Volunteer Bullies says he that I died for Ireland’.

Mary who represents the younger generation also falls victim to illusion. On her first appearance in the play, she is shown to be on strike for a principle. The oppressive and stifling atmosphere generated by the tenement life forces her to seek escape through Bentham. For her he represents another way of life and values outside the restricting and debilitating atmosphere within the two-roomed tenement.

She falls victim to the subtle deception of Bentham’ middle-class gentility. She is blinded by external appearances and ends up a tragic victim of Bentham’s hypocrisy and selfishness At the conclusion of the play, she is forced to return to the reality of the slum life with Juno in spite of all her attempts to escape through learning and books.

Juno and the Paycock
Juno and the Paycock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Man and Superman Study Guide and Summary



Arguably George Bernard Shaw’s most profound play, Man and Superman blends social satire with a fascinating philosophy. Today, the comedy continues to make readers and audiences laugh and think – sometimes simultaneously.

Man and Superman tells the story of two rivals: John Tanner (a wealthy, politically-minded intellectual who values his freedom) and Ann Whitefield (a charming, scheming hypocritical young woman who wants Tanner as a husband). Once Tanner realizes that Miss Whitefield is hunting for a spouse (and that he is the only target), he attempts to flee, only to find out that his attraction to Ann is too overwhelming to escape.

Re-inventing Don Juan:

Although many of Shaw’s plays were financial successes, not all of the critics admired his work. While many reviewers were intrigued by Shaw’s ideas, they did not appreciate his lengthy scenes of dialogue with little-to-no conflict. One such critic, Arthur Bingham Walkley once said that Shaw is “no dramatist at all.” In the late 1800s, Walkley suggested that Shaw should write a Don Juan play. Beginning in 1901, Shaw accepted the challenge; in fact, he wrote an extensive albeit sarcastic dedication to Walkley, thanking him for the inspiration.

In the preface of Man and Superman, Shaw discusses the way Don Juan has been portrayed in other works, such as Mozart’s opera or Lord Byron’s poetry. Traditionally, Don Juan is a pursuer of women, an adulterer, and an unrepentant scoundrel. At the end of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Don Juan is dragged to Hell, leaving Shaw to wonder: What happened to Don Juan’s soul? Man and Superman provides an answer to that question. The spirit of Don Juan lives on in the form of Juan’s distant-descendant John Tanner. Instead of a pursuer of women, Tanner is a pursuer of truth. Instead of an adulterer, Tanner is a revolutionary. Instead of a scoundrel, Tanner defies social-norms and old fashioned traditions in hopes of leading the way to a better world.

Yet, the theme of seduction – typical in all incarnations of Don Juan stories – is still present. Through each act of the play, the female lead, Ann Whitefield, aggressively pursues her prey. Below is a brief summary of the play.

Man and Superman – Act One Summary:

Ann Whitefield’s father has passed away. Mr. Whitefield’s will indicate that his daughter’s guardians shall be two gentlemen:


  • Roebuck Ramsden: The steadfast (and rather old-fashioned) friend of the family.
  • John Tanner: A controversial author and “Member of the Idle Rich Class”The problem: Ramsden cannot stand Tanner’s morals, and Tanner cannot stand the idea of being Ann’s guardian. To complicate things, Tanner’s friend Octavius “Tavy” Robinson is head over heels in love with An. He hopes that the new guardianship will improve his chances of winning her heart.Ann flirts harmlessly whenever she is around Tavy. However, when she is alone with John Tanner (AKA “Jack”) her intentions become obvious to the audience. She wants Tanner. Whether she wants him because she loves him, or because she is infatuated with him, or merely because desires his wealth and status is entirely up to the viewer’s opinion.When Tavy’s sister Violet enters, a romantic sub-plot is introduced. Rumor has it that Violet is pregnant and unmarried. Ramsden and Octavius are outraged and ashamed. Tanner congratulates Violet. He believes that she is simply following life’s natural impulses, and he approves the instinctive way Violet has pursued her goals despite society’s expectations.

    Violet can tolerate the moral objections of her friends and family. She cannot, however, abide Tanner’s praise. She admits that she is legally married, but that the identity of her groom must remain secret. Act One of Man and Superman concludes with Ramsden and the others apologizing. Jack Tanner is disappointed; he wrongly thought that Violet has shared his moral/philosophical outlook. Instead, realizes the bulk of society is not ready to challenge traditional institutions such as marriage.

    The last line of Act One:


    Tanner: You must cower before the wedding ring like the rest of us, Ramsden. The cup of our ignominy is full.


Man and Superman is a battle-of-the-sexes comedy by George Bernard Shaw. Set in turn-of-the-century England, the play pokes fun of Britain’s various social classes, and casts a satirical gaze at romantic relationships and the institution of marriage. Act One of Man and Superman establishes the main characters: the independent, rebellious bachelor, John Tanner (AKA Jack) and the attractive, intelligent, and scheming Ann Whitefield (who plans to ensnare Jack into matrimony).

Plot Summary of Act Two:

Act Two of Man and Superman takes place in the park of a country home near Richmond, England. Jack’s chauffeur, Straker, is trying to fix a mechanical problem. Jack Tanner’s car is a newfangled device that frightens him because of its incredible speed (but keep in mind, since this is the early 1900s, the vehicle probably cannot get past 40 mph).

Jack’s friend Octavius (“Tavy” for short) enters the scene. Jack introduces his chaffeur, claiming that Straker represents the “New Man.” Unlike those who attend universities such as Oxford where one learns to be a gentleman, Straker prides educational background of boarding schools and technical colleges. Straker can also be considered a “New Man” (meaning: an individual who represents a positive advance in the human race) because he is more insightful than the intellectual Jack Tanner. For example, Straker sees that Ann Whitefield is obviously pursuing Tanner with romantic fervor. But Tanner is clueless until Straker finally spells it out for him at the end of Act Two.

Tavy loves Ann:

Tavy and Jack discuss the nature of Love. Tavy reaffirms his passionate devotion to Ann. Jack, as usual, pokes fun. He states that Jack does not understand because he has never been in love. Jack claims that he has always been in love (even with Ann) but he seems to be talking about a mild, perhaps platonic form of universal love — because he argues that he will never let Love control his thoughts and actions. Then, Tavy gives Jack a note from Rhoda, Ann’s younger sister.

Ann Wants Jack:

The note reveals that Ann has forbidden Rhoda to go on a motor ride with him. This infuriates Jack, but when he confronts Ann on the subject, she offers a different explanation. Ann claims that she has no moral qualms with Jack Tanner, but that her mother objects to the political manifesto written by Jack (The Revolutionist’s Handbook).

This new information sends Jack into a “sociological rage” as he declares that adult children must cut ties with their parents to develop their own soul. Jack says that she could break her chains by defying her mother. He suggests that Ann could whisk away on a road trip across Europe. Much to his surprise, Ann accepts the invitation. He is now very nervous about the idea of being alone with her for an extended period of time.

Other characters enter the scene, halting Ann and Jack’s conversation. In addition to Roebuck Ramsden and Ann’s mother, a new character is introduced: Hector Malone. He is from the east coast of America and, according to Shaw, “not at all ashamed of his nationality.” Ann explains that they are all going on the road trip to Nice, France.

Hector and Violet Are Secretly Married:

Hector offers to escort Tavy’s sister Violet, but the group becomes embarrassed and explains that it would be inappropriate for Hector to ride alone with Violet. She has recently been married, and her husband’s identity remains secret. Once Hector has a moment alone with Violet, their dialogue reveals that Hector is actually the secret husband! They have kept the marriage clandestine because Hector’s wealthy father would strongly disapprove (and probably cut off his inheritance). Hector would rather expose the truth, but Violet is disgusted at the thought of her husband having to work for a living.

Jack Can’t Handle the Truth:

As Jack and Straker return to the scene, Hector and Violet exit to discuss their upcoming cross-country trip. Jack suggests that during the trip they leave Ann and Tavy alone together to increase Tavy’s romantic opportunities. Straker responds by mysteriously whistling.

When Jack insists that Straker explain why he is whistling so smugly, Straker finally explains what is painfully obvious to him but completely unseen by Jack: Ann is intent on marrying Jack Tanner.

STRAKER: Why, it’s as plain as the nose on your face. If you ain’t spotted that, you don’t know much about these sort of things. Excuse me, you know, Mr. Tanner; but you asked me as man to man; and I told you as man to man.

TANNER: Then I – I am the bee, the spider, the marked down victim, the destined prey.

STRAKER: I dunno about the bee and the spider. But the marked down victim, that’s what you are and no mistake.

Once Jack realizes that Ann is pursuing him romantically, he tells Straker to hop in their automobile. Jack plans to drive away as fast as he can to get as much distance between himself and his seductress, Ann Whitefield. Act Two ends with his desperately comical escape.

 Themes and Concepts

Ingrained within George Bernard Shaw’s humorous play Man and Superman is a perplexing yet fascinating philosophy about the potential future of mankind. During Act Three, an awesome debate between Don Juan and the Devil takes place. Many sociological issues are explored, not the least of which is the concept of the Superman.

What is a Superman?

First of all, don’t get the philosophical idea of the “Superman” mixed up with the comic book hero who flies around in blue tights and red shorts – and who looks suspiciously like Clark Kent! That Superman is bent on preserving truth, justice and the American way. The Superman from Shaw’s play possesses the following qualities:


  • Superior intellect
  • Cunning and intuition
  • Ability to defy obsolete moral codes
  • Self-defined virtues

Shaw’s Examples of Supermen:

Shaw selects a few figures from history who display some of the Superman’s traits:


  • Julius Caesar
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Oliver Cromwell

Each person is a highly influential leader, each with his own amazing capabilities. Of course, each had significant failings. Shaw argues that the fate of each of these “casual supermen” was caused by the mediocrity of humanity. Because most people in society are unexceptional, the few Supermen who happen to appear on the planet now and then face a nearly impossible challenge. They must try to either subdue the mediocrity or to raise the mediocrity up to the level of Supermen.Therefore, Shaw does not simply want to see a few more Julius Caesars crop up in society. He wants mankind to evolve into an entire race of healthy, morally-independent geniuses.

Nietzsche and the Origins of the Superman

Shaw states that the idea of the Superman has been around for millennia, ever since the myth of Prometheus. Remember him from Greek mythology? He was the titan who defied Zeus and the other Olympian gods by bringing fire to mankind, thereby empowering man with a gift meant only for deities. Any character or historical figure who, like Prometheus, endeavors to create his own destiny and strive towards greatness (and perhaps leading others toward those same godlike attributes) can be considered a “superman” of sorts.

However, when the Superman is discussed in philosophy classes, the concept is usually attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche. In his 1883 book Thus Spake Zarathustra Nietzsche provides a vague description of an “Ubermensch” – loosely translated into Overman or Superman. He states, “man is something which ought to be overcome,” and by this he seems to mean that mankind will evolve into something far superior to contemporary humans.

Because the definition is rather unspecified, some have interpreted a “superman” to be someone who is simply superior in strength and mental ability. But what really makes the Ubermensch out of the ordinary is his unique moral code.

Nietzsche stated that “God is dead.” He believed that all religions were false and that by recognizing that society was built upon fallacies and myths, mankind could then reinvent itself with new morals based upon a godless reality.

Some believe that Nietzsche’s theories were meant to inspire a new golden age for the human race, like the community of geniuses in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. In practice, however, Nietzsche’s philosophy has been blamed (albeit unfairly) as one of the causes of 20th century fascism. It is easy to connect Nietzsche’s Ubermensch with the Nazi’s insane quest for a “master race,” a goal that resulted in wide-scaled genocide. After all, is a group of so-called Supermen are wiling and able to invent their own moral code, what is to stop them from committing countless atrocities in pursuit of their version of social perfection?

In contrast to some of Nietzsche’s ideas, Shaw’s Superman exhibits socialist leanings which the playwright believed would benefit civilization.

Shaw’s Superman and “The Revolutionist’s Handbook”

Shaw’s Man and Superman can be supplemented by “The Revolutionist’s Handbook,” a political manuscript written by the protagonist of the play, John (AKA Jack) Tanner. (Of course, Shaw actually did the writing – but when writing a character analysis of Tanner, students should view the handbook as an extension of Tanner’s personality.)

In Act One of the play, the stuffy, old-fashioned character Roebuck Ramsden despises the unconventional views within Tanner’s treatise. He throws “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” into the wastebasket without even reading it. Ramsden’s action represents society’s general revulsion toward unorthodoxy. Most citizens take comfort in all things “Normal”, in long-held traditions, customs, and manners. When Tanner challenges those age-old institutions such as marriage and property ownership, mainstream thinkers (such as ol’ Ramsden) label Tanner as immoral.

“The Revolutionist Handbook” is broken into ten chapters, each one verbose – at least by today’s standards. It can be said of Jack Tanner that he loves to hear himself talk. This was undoubtedly true of the playwright as well – and he certainly enjoys expressing his loquacious thoughts on every page. There’s a lot of material to digest – much of which can be interpreted in different ways. But here’s a “nutshell” version of Shaw’s key points:

“On Good Breeding”

Shaw believes that mankind’s philosophical progression has been minimal at best. In contrast, mankind’s ability to alter agriculture, microscopic organisms, and livestock has proven to be revolutionary. Humans have learned how to generically engineer nature (yes, even during Shaw’s time). In short, man can physically improve upon Mother Nature – why then should he not use his abilities to improve upon Mankind? (This makes me wonder what Shaw would have thought of cloning technology?)

Shaw argues that humanity should gain more control over its own destiny. “Good breeding” could lead to the improvement of the human race. What does he mean by “good breeding”? Basically, he contends that most people get married and have children for the wrong reasons. They should be partnering with a mate that exhibits physical and mental qualities that are likely to produce beneficial traits in the pair’s offspring. (Not very romantic, is it?)

“Property and Marriage”

According to the playwright, the institution of marriage slows down the evolution of the Superman. Shaw perceives marriage as old-fashioned and far too similar to the acquisition of property. He felt that it prevented many people of different classes and creeds from copulating with one another. Keep in mind, he wrote this in the early 1900s when pre-marital sex was scandalous.

Shaw also hoped to remove property ownership from society. Being a member of the Fabian Society (a socialist group who advocated gradual change from within the British government), Shaw believed that landlords and aristocrats had an unfair advantage over the common man. A socialist model would provide an equal playing field, minimizing class prejudice and broadening the variety of potential mates.

Sounds strange? I think so too. But “The Revolutionist’s Handbook” provides an historic example to illustrate his point.

“The Perfectionist Experiment at Oneida Creek”

The third chapter in the handbook focuses on an obscure, experimental settlement established in upstate New York around 1848. Identifying themselves as Christian Perfectionists, John Humphrey Noyes and his followers broke away from their traditional church doctrine and launched a small community based upon morals that differed greatly from the rest of society. For example, the Perfectionists abolished property ownership. No material possessions were coveted. (I wonder if they shared each other’s toothbrush? Blah!)

Also, the institution of traditional marriage was dissolved. Instead they practiced “complex marriage.” Monogamous relationships were frowned upon; every man was supposedly married to every female. The communal life did not last forever. Noyes, before his death, believed that the commune would not function properly without his leadership; therefore, he dismantled the Perfectionist community, and the members eventually integrated back into mainstream society.

Back to the Characters: Jack and Ann

Similarly, Jack Tanner relinquishes his unorthodox ideals and ultimately gives in to Ann’s mainstream desire to be married. And it’s no coincidence that Shaw (several years before writing Man and Superman gave up his life as an eligible bachelor and married Charlotte Payne-Townshend, with whom he spent the next forty five years until her death. So, perhaps revolutionary life is pleasant pursuit in which to dabble – but it is difficult for non-Supermen to resist the pull of traditional values.

So, which character in the play comes closest to the Superman? Well, Jack Tanner is certainly the one who hopes to attain that lofty goal. Yet, it’s Ann Whitefield, the woman who chases after Tanner – she’s the one who gets what she wants and follows her own instinctive moral code to achieve her desires. Maybe she’s the Superwoman.

Character and Theme Analysis of “Man and Superman”

“Jack Tanner and the Fabian Society” (Student Essay by Elliot Staudt)

The comedy Man and Superman depicts a microcosm of English convention in the early 20th century. It is an adaptation of the Don Juan epic touching on the philosophy of Nietzsche’s ubermensch. The play’s social commentary is strongly influenced by these topics, but it contains undertones that speak to a more specific topic on the implementation of social revolution. Framed in this way, the play is a platform for concepts embodied in the socialist rhetoric of the Fabian Society. During the late 19th Century and Early 20th century, George Bernard Shaw was an active member often using his dramatic works as a vessel by which he could communicate his political views. In the setting of Man and Superman, Shaw uses the metamorphosis of the protagonist as a metaphor for the type of social revolution sought by the Fabian Society.

Jack Tanner is an unconventional character in a time when convention dictated action. He is wealthy, middle-aged, and unattached. As a confirmed bachelor he preaches free love and constantly decries the institution of marriage. Most notably he is the author of The Revolutionist’s Handbook. This book details opinions on many controversial topics from the overthrowing of governments to the role of women in the daily life. The type of person that he represents is not readily accepted among his peers.

In the eyes of Roebuck Ramsden, Jack Tanner is initially viewed in a negative light. Ramsden describes Tanner’s book as “the most infamous, the most scandalous, the most mischievous, the most black guardly book that ever escaped burning at the hands of the common hangman” (337). Ramdsen’s views are significant. He is an older gentleman that holds an important position in society. He is introduced as, “more than a highly respectable man: he is marked out as a president of highly respectable men” (333). It is therefore not unreasonable to think that the views of Ramsden might also be the views held by other important gentlemen in society.

Ramsden’s views are shared by like-minded characters in the play. After defending Violet for the circumstances in which she is having a child, Tanner finds himself apologizing to her. Violet says, “I hope you will be more careful in the future about the things you say. Of course one does not take them seriously; but they are very disagreeable, and rather in bad taste” (376). Regardless of her own motivations at that time, she wanted nothing to do with Tanner’s support. This is in stark contrast to the reception one typically gets as a lone defender.

These reactions to Tanner are generated from the way in which Tanner views himself. He says to Ann, “I have become a reformer, and like all reformers, an iconoclast. I no longer break cucumber frames and burn gorse bushes: I shatter creeds and demolish idols” (367). This is a extreme stance from which to approach life. It is understandable then that people might by offended, or even threatened, by what he represents. Tanner is unrealistic in his ideas on how to change society. In order to affect these changes in a direct manner, one would truly have to be a superman.

Were Tanner to be an ubermensch by the definition of Nietzsche, it is conceivable that he might have been able to pull off a social revolution without subtlety. The main characteristic of the ubermensch is that he/she acts in accordance with his or her desires. However, he repeatedly demonstrates that this is not the case. He is conflicted over his feelings for Ann. Even though he claims that he disliked her, he somehow always attends to her. He claims to be an intellectual but is corrected by his chauffer when quoting Beaumarchais. He freely admits he is a slave to the car and his chauffer by extension. He admits that he is intimidated by women and needs protection from at least one, namely Ann. Thought he gives a long winded diatribe to Ramsdem that claims is almost without shame and almost never regrets his actions, he clearly contradicts himself.

In the third act, Tanner dreams he is Don Juan, choosing whether he belongs in heaven or hell. Of course, this is the Shaw version of Heaven and hell rather than the traditional version in which the Devil punishes the wicked. Don Juan describes Heaven as a place in which “you live and work instead of playing and pretending. You face things as they are; you escape nothing but glamour; and your steadfastness and your peril are your glory” (436). If hell is a place in which you don’t face reality, then that has a clear connection to the state Jack Tanner finds himself in at the beginning of the third act. He is shirking responsibility in his personal life as well as avoiding the feelings he has for Ann.

In choosing to go to heaven at the end of the third act, Jack Tanner subconsciously chooses the life he has been avoiding. This is the life that accepts Ann. This is also the life that does not avoid convention, but embraces it. Heaven is a place where one contemplates the true nature of the universe. In this case, Jack chooses to contemplate the true nature of his world rather than live an existence only concerned with self-gratification.

Here again, Ramsden’s view of Tanner is significant. When Tanner has professed his love for Ann at the end of the play, Ramsden is congratulatory. He says, “you are a happy man, Jack Tanner, I envy you” (506). This is the first such supportive remark offered by Ramsden. Until this point, they had remained at odds with each other. Tanner’s engagement to Ann probably suggests he has a reasonable nature. Since Ramsden is an influential person, this changed view of Tanner will extend to Ramsden’s sphere of influence. In this light, Tanner has the opportunity to be a much more influential person.

We have a clear example of the effectiveness of this kind of man in Ramsden. Ramsden was appalled to hear that Tanner considered him, “an old man with obsolete ideas” (341), but Ramsden was just like Tanner in his youth. He says to Octavius, “I have stood for equality and liberty of conscience while they were trucking to the Church and to the aristocracy. Whitefield and I lost chance after chance through our advanced opinions” (339). In his day, his opinions were advanced enough to lose him favor in eyes of his contemporaries. Mendoza, an acquaintance they met in Spain, reported that Ramsden, “used to supper with several different ladies” (471). This is something Ramsden staunchly disagreed with in Tanner’s personal life. It is clear that a change occurred in Ramsden. It must also be true that a change occurred in society in order for a man with such radical opinions to become a man of honor.

This suggests that Tanner evolved in the same way that Ramsden did. Their views became milder as did their lifestyles. This is similar to the method of affecting change that was espoused by the Fabian Society. The Fabian Society was and still is a socialist organization that encourages the advancement of socialist principles through gradual rather than revolutionary means. Here, it is implied that Ramsden and now Tanner became more effective at advancing their own principles after adopting their milder lifestyles.

When he says, “construction cumbers the ground with institutions made by busybodies. Destruction clears it and gives us breather space and liberty” (367), Tanner did not realize that these words would apply to his own circumstance. His old life, which he thought was liberated, was actually holding him back. It was only in the destruction of that life that he was able to liberate himself. The taming of his radical nature caused his influence to expand. The Fabian Society believed that the destruction of state created national, political, and moral character. Tanner’s change is a metaphor for this creation of character. Tanner believed he had strong moral passion, but this passion was undirected. Instead, he had the foundation for a strong moral character. In submitting to Ann and accepting the traditional Victorian lifestyle, he gained a springboard from which to extend his social ideas. In so doing, he developed a stronger moral fiber, the moral fiber of a leader rather than an eccentric.

Scene from “Man and Superman” (Act Four)

Jack Tanner and Ann Whitefield

Man and Superman by George Bernard Shaw is a remarkably long yet fascinating comedy. Running about four hours, it is not nearly as popular as Shaw’s romantic-comedy Pygmalion. Yet, Man and Superman is my personal favorite of Shaw’s vast body of work. Although it was written over one hundred years ago, the play offers a great deal of insight into the thoughts of men and women.

The following two-person scene (from Act IV) is the final battle between the two main characters, Jack Tanner and Ann Whitefield. Throughout the play Ann has been seductively luring Jack into marriage. He has been resisting as much as possible, but he is about to give in!

ANN. Violet is quite right. You ought to get married.

TANNER. (explosively) Ann: I will not marry you. Do you hear? I won’t, won’t, won’t, won’t, WON’T marry you.

ANN. (placidly) Well, nobody asked you, sir she said, sir she said, sir she said. So that’s settled.

TANNER. Yes, nobody has asked me; but everybody treats the thing as settled. It’s in the air. When we meet, the others go away on absurd pretexts to leave us alone together. Ramsden no longer scowls at me: his eye beams, as if he were already giving you away to me in church. Tavy refers me to your mother and gives me his blessing. Straker openly treats you as his future employer: it was he who first told me of it.

ANN. Was that why you ran away?

TANNER. Yes, only to be stopped by a lovesick brigand and run down like a truant schoolboy.

ANN. Well, if you don’t want to be married, you needn’t be (she turns away from him and sits down, much at her ease).

TANNER (following her) Does any man want to be hanged? Yet men let themselves be hanged without a struggle for life, though they could at least give the chaplain a black eye. We do the world’s will, not our own. I have a frightful feeling that I shall let myself be married because it is the world’s will that you should have a husband.

ANN. I daresay I shall, someday.

TANNER. But why me—me of all men? Marriage is to me apostasy, profanation of the sanctuary of my soul, violation of my manhood, sale of my birthright, shameful surrender, ignominious capitulation, acceptance of defeat. I shall decay like a thing that has served its purpose and is done with; I shall change from a man with a future to a man with a past; I shall see in the greasy eyes of all the other husbands their relief at the arrival of a new prisoner to share their ignominy. The young men will scorn me as one who has sold out: to the women I, who have always been an enigma and a possibility, shall be merely somebody else’s property—and damaged goods at that: a secondhand man at best.

ANN. Well, your wife can put on a cap and make herself ugly to keep you in countenance, like my grandmother.

TANNER. So that she may make her triumph more insolent by publicly throwing away the bait the moment the trap snaps on the victim!

ANN. After all, though, what difference would it make? Beauty is all very well at first sight; but who ever looks at it when it has been in the house three days? I thought our pictures very lovely when Papa bought them; but I haven’t looked at them for years. You never bother about my looks: you are too well used to me. I might be the umbrella stand.

TANNER. You lie, you vampire: you lie.

ANN. Flatterer. Why are you trying to fascinate me, Jack, if you don’t want to marry me?

TANNER. The Life Force. I am in the grip of the Life Force.

ANN. I don’t understand in the least: it sounds like the Life Guards.

TANNER. Why don’t you marry Tavy? He is willing. Can you not be satisfied unless your prey struggles?

ANN (turning to him as if to let him into a secret) Tavy will never marry. Haven’t you noticed that that sort of man never marries?

TANNER. What! a man who idolizes women! who sees nothing in nature but romantic scenery for love duets! Tavy, the chivalrous, the faithful, the tenderhearted and true! Tavy, never marry! Why, he was born to be swept up by the first pair of blue eyes he meets in the street.

ANN. Yes, I know. All the same, Jack, men like that always live in comfortable bachelor lodgings with broken hearts, and are adored by their landladies, and never get married. Men like you always get married.

TANNER (smiting his brow) How frightfully, horribly true! It has been staring me in the face all my life; and I never saw it before.

ANN. Oh, it’s the same with women. The poetic temperament’s a very nice temperament, very amiable, very harmless and poetic, I daresay; but it’s an old maid’s temperament.

TANNER. Barren. The Life Force passes it by.

ANN. If that’s what you mean by the Life Force, yes.

TANNER. You don’t care for Tavy?

ANN (looking round carefully to make sure that Tavy is not within earshot) No.

TANNER. And you do care for me?

ANN (rising quietly and shaking her finger at him) Now, Jack! Behave yourself.

TANNER. Infamous, abandoned woman! Devil!

ANN. Boa-constrictor! Elephant!

TANNER. Hypocrite!

ANN (softly) I must be, for my future husband’s sake.

TANNER. For mine! (Correcting himself savagely) I mean for his.

ANN (ignoring the correction) Yes, for yours. You had better marry what you call a hypocrite, Jack. Women who are not hypocrites go about in rational dress and are insulted and get into all sorts of hot water. And then their husbands get dragged in too, and live in continual dread of fresh complications. Wouldn’t you prefer a wife you could depend on?

TANNER. No: a thousand times no: hot water is the revolutionist’s element. You clean men as you clean milk-pails, by scalding them.

ANN. Cold water has its uses too. It’s healthy.

TANNER (despairingly) Oh, you are witty: at the supreme moment the Life Force endows you with every quality. Well, I too can be a hypocrite. Your father’s will appointed me your guardian, not your suitor. I shall be faithful to my trust.

ANN (in low siren tones) He asked me who I would have as my guardian before he made that will. I chose you!

TANNER. The will is yours then! The trap was laid from the beginning. 324

ANN (concentrating all her magic) From the beginning—from our childhood—for both of us—by the Life Force.

TANNER. I will not marry you. I will not marry you.

ANN. Oh, you will, you will.

TANNER. I tell you, no, no, no.

ANN. I tell you, yes, yes, yes.


ANN (coaxing—imploring—almost exhausted) Yes. Before it is too late for repentance. Yes.

TANNER (struck by the echo from the past) When did all this happen to me before? Are we two dreaming?

ANN (suddenly losing her courage, with an anguish that she does not conceal) No. We are awake; and you have said no: that is all.

TANNER (brutally) Well?

ANN. Well, I made a mistake: you do not love me.

TANNER (seizing her in his arms) It is false: I love you. The Life Force enchants me: I have the whole world in my arms when I clasp you. But I am fighting for my freedom, for my honor, for my self, one and indivisible.

ANN. Your happiness will be worth them all.

Man and Superman, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) and 2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night




An Elaborate Production of George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman

Elijah Alexander and Susannah Livingston

California Shakespeare Theatre is presenting George Bernard Shaw’s classic Man and Superman as its second production at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda through July 29th. Director Jonathan Moscone’s intricate presentation, which is subtitled A Comedy and a Philosophy, is a sparkling comedy of manners that includes Don Juan in Hell.

Jonathan Moscone has trimmed acts one, two and four to include the play within the play, Don Juan in Hell.  The comedy-drama runs approximately three and a half hours with just one intermission. Even with the cold and fog descending on the open air stage, it was well worth the time. There is wonderful interaction of metamorphosis, theoretical and sexual politics in this battle of the sexes comedy. Thanks to the magnetism of the director’s dramatization, the ability of the actors and the wit of George Bernard Shaw, this is a brilliant production.

This marks the third time I have seen the classic, not including the Paul Gregory production where the producer only presented a “concert” version of Don Juan in Hell with Charles Boyer and Charles Laughton. There has been so much written about Man and Superman and one wonders if it is a play in the light of today’s theatrical genre. It is very popular with persons who love the flow of words with Shavian wit coming from the characters.  Shaw is one of the great wordsmiths of the 20th century. He can take ideals and place them side by side with the realism of ordinary life.

In Man and Superman, the characters give long speeches on their thoughts on capitalism, social reform, and male and female roles in courtship. The speeches resemble operatic arias and, indeed, Jonathan Moscone uses arias from Mozart’s Don Giovanni to cover the scene changes.  The actors lip-sync snippets of the opera. The comedy is basically a light-hearted Victorian parlor play where the playwright’s idea of the Life Force drives women to chase a mate in order to produce a Superman.   The first act centers on Jack Tanner (Elijah Alexander), a revolutionary young man who has written a book in which he propagates views that are foreign to Victorian society. He is a celibate philosopher of sexual freedom and is actually talking about Shaw’s philosophy regarding the mores of the era. Tanner’s words are full of wit, such as, “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it,” “There is no love sincerer than the love of food” and “Marriage is popular because it combines the maximum of temptation with the maximum of opportunity.”

Ann Whitefield (Susannah Livingston) is Jack’s loves nemesis and she is out to snare him.  She is the eternal hunter pursuing her predestined prey and she safely secures her misogynist philanderer despite all his wriggling. They are the Beatrice and Benedict of the Victorian age. There are delightful subplots involving Hector Malone Jr. (T. Edward Webster), son of industrious American Irishman, Hector Malone Sr. (Steve Irish); and Violet Robinson (Delia McDougall).

The second act opens in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Spain where Mendoza (Andy Murray), the “president” of the brigands, captures Jack and Ann along with their liberal intelligent chauffeur, Straker (Dan Haitt). That scene suddenly morphs into Shaw’s version of hell where Andy Murray plays a very swinging devil dressed like Hugh Hefner. There is a scene in which a nun wonders why she is in hell, where people drink Tab and Heineken among illuminated rocks. This scene contains brilliant discussions of philosophical views of morality.  There is a highly structured excursion into Nietzschean philosophy that can be described as much more than a very witty and exhilarating piece of topsy-turvy comedy. The hell scene ends with a disco party.  The last act is a typical Victorian comedy scene (that will appeal to Oscar Wilde fans) involving the marriage of Hector and Violet.

Jonathan Moscone has assembled a sterling cast of actors who should receive nothing less than warm praise for their performances. Elijah Alexander is superb as a person who is impetuous, perceptive and comically naïve. His long dissertations on the progression of more exceptional humans are witty and stimulating with pleasure.

Susannah Livingston gives a strong performance as the sparring partner of Jack. He is no match for her resolutely focused Ann. Andy Murray is outstanding, matching wits with Jack and Don Juan in wonderful critiques of self-satisfaction and repugnance at human cruelty. Dan Haitt is very droll as Jack’s liberal speaking chauffeur Straker. Steve Irish is properly pompous as the nouveau riche father of Hector Malone. T. Edward Webster is charming as the son who does not care about his father’s money. L. Peter Callender is a splendid Roebuck Ramsden, a pillar of society and a blue nose character. Delia MacDougall is imposing as Violet Robinson. Ben Livingston is excellent as the disingenuous Octavius Robinson.

Annie Smart provides well-designed, simple sets with a pair of curlicues providing a sort of a proscenium. The trees and hills are fully visible and lit beautifully by Russell H. Champa when it grows dark.  The lighting designer also gives a great vision of hell with red lights flooding the amphitheatre.

Man and Superman plays through July 29th at the Bruns Amphitheater in Orinda.  The next production will be Pierre Marivaux’s 18th century French comedy The Triumph of Love, which opens on August 8 and run through September 2nd.

Photo: Kevin Berne
A Side-Splitting Night with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) at Marin Shakespeare Festival

Jarion Monroe, Darren Bridgett
and Ryan Schmidt

Those wild and crazy guys are at it again playing three of the most fanatical characters you are bound to see on stage.  Darren Bridgett, Jarion Monroe and Ryan Schmidt are currently hurling themselves and the audience through an infectiously hilarious, laugh-filled evening that touches on all of Shakespeare’s plays. There are gags that veer between sophisticated and low humor.  There is a lot of slapstick and ribald humor plus many sexual innuendos, such as “how to love Willy.” The two-hour plus uproarious production is on stage at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre on the campus of the Dominican University of California in San Rafael through August 12.

These three zanies present an irreverent interpretation of the Bard’s 37 plays.  There is the wonderful schoolboy-like sidekick (Darren Bridgett) who goes completely off the wall in many of the scenes. He draws the line at performing Coriolanus (“come on now,” he tells the other two, “are you really interested in a play with an anus in its title?”).  Darren the is goofiest looking drag that you will ever see on any stage.  His take on Ophelia in Hamlet is hysterical.  He is also droll when giving out the biography of The Bard that somehow gets into Rudolph Hess in World War II.

Jarion Monroe as the professor who thinks he knows all about the plays of William Shakespeare is priceless in many of the skits. His ribald humor is outstanding in the fast-paced scenes.  His Scottish portrayal of one of the characters in the “Scottish Play” (Macbeth) is uproarious. Covered with blood as a chef in a cooking show, he is ludicrous in the scene from Titus Andronicus. The character is cooking the man who raped and mutilated his daughter. Darren comes out onto the stage wearing an outlandish drag outfit straight from Goodwill with bloody stumps for hands.  Jarion tells the audience the food is “finger licking good” and goes to the first row with a pan of the vittles, saying ” I wantcha to try this.”

A newcomer to the Bay Area, Ryan Schmidt is wonderful in the opening dialogue in the style of Robin Williams.  His take on Hamlet is mirthful (he comes into the opening scene of Hamlet saying “It is I, Omelet the Cheese Danish”).  His take on “To Be or Not To Be” is jovial.

The hilarious three do a rap version of Othello (“Here’s the story of a brother by the name of Othello. He liked white women and he liked … green … Jell-O”). The killing scene of Julius Caesar is done in campy style as the Soothsayer saysm “Beware the Ides of March” to which Caesar replies, “What the hell is the Ides of March” and the sayer says, “It is the fifteenth of March” and Caesar replies, “Why, that’s today.”

All of the histories of the Bard are done as a football game with the British Crown as the football. There is a lot of audience participation in this fast-paced farce.  The three throw in a lot of recent jokes on Hilton Paris, George Bush and other topical items.  Rebecca Redmond has found costumes from a second hand garment store that add to the merriment.  There are great props by Joel Eis that include “white hard beans” that Darren uses to vomit into the first three rows. Robert S. Currier helms this off-the-wall farce, and many of the zingers are improved between the three.

The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) runs through August 12 at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California, Grand Ave, San Rafael. For tickets call 415-499-4488 or go on line at Their next production is Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and Part 2 playing on separate dates with several marathon days on which one can catch Part 1 in the afternoon and Part 2 in the evening.

Photo: Ron Severdia
What do 2 Boys on a Cold Winter’s Night Do????

Scott Douglas Cunningham and Paul Lekakis

Playwright James Edwin Parker tells what two men do after sex on a cold winter’s night in Manhattan. The sexually explicit play is at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre through July 29th.  The 75-minute drama set in the mid 1980s premiered in New York in 1995, and the gay community found the play provocative and enticing. It played in many cities across the United States, including a San Francisco production at the New Conservatory Theatre Center in 1996.  London, Athens and Melbourne audiences also saw productions of this insightful drama.

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night takes place around 5 a.m. during the winter of 1987 in a threadbare apartment in Chelsea. The two guys have met in a pick-up bar and just had a wild night of sex. The hunky boys have a psychological joust with each other after the sex acts are over. There is much discussion in real time of their first sex acts when they were young. We find that Peter (Paul Lekakis) is a wild and crazy guy who just loves sex for the moment. Daryl (Scott Douglas Cunningham) is looking for a life partner. You get the impression “this ain’t gonna happen” with these two guys. Yes, the old saying opposites attract opposites does not go with Peter and Daryl.

Both Scott Douglas Cunningham and Paul Lekakis are believable in their performances.  Since they are in the buff a lot of the time, we can see that both have good bodies for 30-somethings. Lekakis brings a lot of charm to his role while Cunningham is excellent as a person looking for true love.  His character does have a dark side that I won’t divulge. The shock ending is not all that shocking since it involves AIDS which was prevalent with plays taking place in the ’80s.

Director David Drake keeps the play moving along swiftly. He also makes use of the emotional comic moments in the text. One should state that heterosexuals will find it interesting since they have also experienced one night stands, especially here in San Francisco or Los Angeles. It’s a good provocative drama to see on a foggy cold summer night in San Francisco.

2 Boys in a Bed on a Cold Winter’s Night plays at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter Street, San Francisco through July 29th.  For tickets call 866-468-3399 or go to for more information and tickets.

Photo: Holly McDade
Cheers – and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

– Richard Connema









Plays Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet



Romeo is son and heir of Montague and Lady Montague. He’s a handsome man of about sixteen who falls easily in and out of love demonstrating his immaturity.

At the beginning of the play he is hopelessly in love with Rosaline but immediately falls in love with Juliet at first sight – Could this be fate? Shakespeare encourages us to question Romeo’s feelings towards Juliet. However, Romeo proves his love through his integrity and actions and he secretly marries Juliet with the help of his friend and confident Friar Lawrence.

Romeo is not interested in the on-going feud between his family and the Capulets – he is not a violent man. Tybalt tries to provoke Romeo into fighting him but, true to character, Romeo is not drawn in. However, when his close friend is killed by Tybalt, Romeo retaliates and kills in a fit of rage and grief.


Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet, is the daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. At thirteen, Juliet is beautiful and at a marriageable age. Before meeting Romeo, Juliet has thought little about love and marriage. Her parents are keen to marry her to a husband with good prospects and have the County Paris in mind for a husband – he has expressed his interest in Juliet.

However, Juliet soon stumbles upon her fate when she meets Romeo and instantly falls in love with him, despite him being the son of her family’s enemy. “My only love sprung from my only hate,” she exclaims.

Like many women in Shakespeare’s plays, Juliet has very little freedom, but she is connected to the outside world through her closest friend, the Nurse. However, Juliet is prepared to abandon the Nurse entirely when she turns against Romeo. Juliet matures throughout the plot of the play and is eventually prepared to abandon her family in order to be with Romeo.


The House of Montague in Romeo and Juliet is one of “fair Verona’s” two feuding families – the other being the House of Capulet. Montague’s son, Romeo, falls in love with the daughter of Capulet and they elope much to the anger of their respective families.

This guide provides commentary on all the main characters in the House of Montague. Commentary on the House of Capulet is also available.

House of Montague

  • Montague: Father to Romeo and married to Lady Montague. Head of Montague clan, he is locked in a bitter and on-going feud with the Capulets. He is concerned that Romeo is melancholy at the beginning of the play.
  • Lady Montague: Mother to Romeo and married to Montague. She dies in grief when Romeo is banished.
  • Romeo Montague: Romeo is son and heir of Montague and Lady Montague. He’s a handsome man of about sixteen who falls easily in and out of love demonstrating his immaturity. You can read a more detailed analysis in our Romeo Character Study.
  • Benvolio: Montague’s nephew and Romeo’s cousin. Benvolio is a loyal friend to Romeo who tries to counsel him in his love life – he attempts to distract Romeo from thinking about Rosaline. He avoids and tries to defuse violent encounters, but it is implied by Mercutio that he does have a temper in private.
  • Balthasar: Romeo’s serving man. When Romeo is in exile, Balthasar brings him news of Verona. He unwittingly informs Romeo of Juliet’s death, but is not being aware that she has taken a substance to only appear dead.
  • Abraham: Montague’s serving man. He fights Capulet’s serving men Samson and Gregory in Act 1, Scene 1, establishing the discord between the families.


The House of Capulet in Romeo and Juliet is one of “fair Verona’s” two feuding families – the other being the House of Montague. Capulet’s daughter, Juliet, falls in love with the son of Montague and they elope much to the anger of their respective families.

This guide provides commentary on all the main characters in the House of Capulet. Commentary on the House of Montague is also available.

The House of Capulet

  • Capulet: Head of the Capulet clan, married to Lady Capulet and father to Juliet. Capulet is locked in an on-going, bitter and unexplained dispute with the Montague family. Capulet is very much in charge and demands respect. He is prone to rage if he does not get his own way. Capulet loves his daughter very much but is out of touch with her hopes and dreams. He believes that she should marry Paris.
  • Lady Capulet: Married to Capulet and mother to Juliet. Lady Capulet appears distanced from her daughter, Juliet. It is interesting to note that Juliet receives most of her moral guidance and affection from the Nurse. Lady Capulet, who also married young, believes it was high time Juliet was married off and believes Paris to be the most appropriate candidate.
  • Juliet Capulet: Daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. At thirteen, Juliet is beautiful and about to be married to Paris. However, Juliet soon stumbles upon her fate when she meets Romeo and instantly falls in love with him, despite him being the son of her family’s enemy. You can read a more detailed analysis in our Juliet Character Study.
  • Tybalt: Lady Capulet’s Nephew and Juliet’s cousin. Tybalt is antagonistic and has a deep hatred of the Montagues. He has a short temper and is quick to draw his sword when his ego is in danger of being damaged. Tybalt has a vindictive nature and is feared.
  • Juliet’s Nurse: A loyal maternal figure and friend to Juliet, who provides moral guidance and practical advice having breast fed and brought Juliet up from birth. She knows Juliet better than any other and provides comic relief in the play with her bawdy sense of humor. The Nurse does not really understand Juliet’s desire to be taken over completely by love but despite this, assists her in attaining it. The Nurse has a disagreement with Juliet near the end of the play which demonstrates her lack of understanding about the intensity of Juliet’s feelings.
  • Samson: Serving man of the Capulets. After the Chorus, he is the first character to speak and establishes the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues.
  • Gregory: Serving man of the Capulets. Along with Samson, he discusses the tension in the Montague household.
  • Peter: A serving man of the Capulets, illiterate and a bad singer. Peter invites guests to the Capulets’ feast and escorts the Nurse to meet with Romeo.

Other Characters

  • Friar Lawrence: A religious man and friend to both Romeo and Juliet. The Friar is intent on negotiating a friendship between the Montagues and Capulets in order to restore peace to Verona. He believes that the joining of Romeo and Juliet in marriage could establish this friendship and performs their marriage in secret to this end. The Friar is resourceful and has a plan for every occasion. He also has medical knowledge and uses herbs and potions. It is the Friar’s idea that Juliet administers a potion in order that she may appear dead until Romeo can return to Verona to rescue her.
  • Mercutio: The Prince’s kinsman and a close friend to Romeo. Mercutio is a colorful character who enjoys word-play and double entendres particularly of a sexual nature. He does not understand Romeo’s desire for romantic love believing that sexual love is sufficient. Mercutio can be easily provoked and hates people who are pretentious or vain. Mercutio is one of Shakespeare’s best loved characters. On standing up for Romeo against Tybalt, Mercutio is slain, uttering the famous line, “A plague on both your houses.” This prophecy is realized as the plot unfolds.
  • Paris: The County Paris is a kinsman to the Prince. Paris expresses his interest in Juliet as a prospective wife. Capulet believes that Paris is an appropriate husband for his daughter and encourages him to propose. With Capulet’s backing Paris arrogantly believes that Juliet is his and behaves accordingly.
  • Prince of Verona: The political leader of Verona and kinsman to Mercutio and Paris. The Prince is intent on keeping peace in Verona and as such has a vested interest in establishing a truce between the Montagues and Capulets.
  • Friar John: A holy man employed by Friar Lawrence to deliver a message to Romeo about Juliet’s faked death. Fate causes the Friar to be delayed in a quarantined house and, as a result, the message does not reach Romeo.
  • Rosaline: Never appears onstage but is the object of Romeo’s initial infatuation. Renowned for her beauty and vow of lifelong chastity she cannot (or will not) return Romeo’s love.


Act 1

  • Scene 1: Samson and Gregory, Capulet’s men, discuss strategies to provoke a fight with the Montagues – banter between the two sides soon starts. Benvolio encourages peace among the families just as Tybalt enters and challenges him to a duel for being a cowardly Montague. Montague and Capulet soon enter and are encouraged by the Prince to keep the peace. Romeo is feeling dejected and forlorn – he explains to Benvolio that he is in love, but that his love is unrequited.
  • Scene 2: Paris asks Capulet if he may approach Juliet for her hand in marriage – Capulet approves. Capulet explains that he is holding a feast at which Paris could woo his daughter. Peter, a serving man, is dispatched to give out invitations and unwittingly invites Romeo. Benvolio encourages him to attend because Rosalind (Romeo’s love) will be present.
  • Scene 3: Capulet’s wife informs Juliet of Paris’ desire to marry her. The Nurse also encourages Juliet.
  • Scene 4: A masked Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio enter the Capulet celebration. Romeo tells of a dream he had about the consequences for attending the celebration: the dream foretold “untimely death”.
  • Scene 5: Capulet welcomes the masked revelers and invites them to dance. Romeo notices Juliet among the guests and instantly falls in love with her. Tybalt notices Romeo and informs Capulet of his presence offering to remove him. Capulet allows Romeo to stay in order to preserve the peace. Meanwhile, Romeo has located Juliet and the couple kisses.

Act 2

  • Scene 1: Upon leaving the Capulet grounds with his kinsman, Romeo has run off and hid himself in the trees. Romeo sees Juliet on her balcony and overhears her profess her love for him. Romeo responds in kind and they decide to marry the next day. Juliet is called away by her Nurse and Romeo bids her farewell.
  • Scene 2: Romeo asks Friar Lawrence to marry him to Juliet. The Friar chastises Romeo for being fickle and asks what happened to his love for Rosalind. Romeo dismisses his love for Rosalind and explains the urgency of his request.
  • Scene 3: Mercutio informs Benvolio that Tybalt has threatened to kill Mercutio. The Nurse ensures that Romeo is serious about his love for Juliet and warns him of Paris’ intentions.
  • Scene 4: The Nurse delivers the message to Juliet that she is to meet and marry Romeo in Friar Lawrence’s cell.
  • Scene 5: Romeo is with Friar Lawrence as Juliet hastily arrives. The Friar resolves to marry them quickly.

Act 3

  • Scene 1: Tybalt challenges Romeo, who attempts to pacify the situation. A fight breaks out and Tybalt kills Mercutio – before dying he wishes “a plague on both your houses.” In an act of revenge, Romeo kills Tybalt. The Prince arrives and banishes Romeo.
  • Scene 2: The Nurse explains that her cousin, Tybalt, has been killed by Romeo. Confused, Juliet questions Romeo’s integrity but then decides that she loves him and wants him to visit her before he is exiled. The Nurse goes to find him.
  • Scene 3: Friar Lawrence informs Romeo that he is to be banished. The Nurse enters to pass on Juliet’s message. Friar Lawrence encourages Romeo to visit Juliet and fulfill their marriage contract before going to exile. He explains that he will send a message when it is safe for Romeo to return as Juliet’s husband.
  • Scene 4: Capulet and his wife explain to Paris that Juliet is too upset about Tybalt to consider his marriage proposal. Capulet then decides to arrange for Juliet to marry Paris the following Thursday.
  • Scene 5: Romeo bids Juliet an emotional farewell after spending the night together. Lady Capulet believes that Tybalt’s death is the cause of her daughter’s misery and threatens to kill Romeo with poison. Juliet is told that she is to marry Paris on Thursday. Juliet refuses much to her father’s distain. The Nurse encourages Juliet to marry Paris but she refuses and decides to go to Friar Lawrence for advice.

Act 4

  • Scene 1: Juliet and Paris discuss the marriage and Juliet makes her feeling clear. When Paris leaves Juliet threatens to kill herself if the Friar cannot think of a resolution. The Friar offers Juliet a potion in a vial which will make her appear dead. She will be placed in the family vault where she is to wait for Romeo to take her to Mantua.
  • Scene 2: Juliet begs her father’s forgiveness and they discuss Paris’ marriage proposal.
  • Scene 3: Juliet asks to spend the night alone and swallows the potion with a dagger by her side in case the plan does not work.
  • Scene 4: The Nurse discovers Juliet’s lifeless body and the Capulets and Paris grieve her death. The Friar takes the family and Juliet’s seemingly dead body to church. They hold a ceremony for Juliet.

Act 5

  • Scene 1: Romeo receives news from Balthasar about Juliet’s death and is determined to die by her side. He buys some poison from an apothecary and makes the return journey to Verona.
  • Scene 2: The Friar finds out that his letter explaining the plan about Juliet’s faked death was not delivered to Romeo.
  • Scene 3: Paris is in Juliet’s chamber grieving her death when Romeo arrives. Romeo is apprehended by Paris and Romeo stabs him. Romeo kisses Juliet’s body and takes the poison. The Friar arrives to find Romeo dead. Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead and no poison left for her, she uses the dagger to kill herself in grief.

When the Montagues and Capulets arrive, the Friar explains the events leading to the tragedy. The Prince pleads with the Montagues and Capulets to bury their grievances and acknowledge their losses. The Montague and Capulet families finally lay their feud to rest.



Shakespeare’s treatment of love in the play is complex and multifaceted. He uses love in its many guises to thread together the key relationships in the play.

Fickle Love

Some characters fall in and out of love very quickly in Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is in love with Rosaline at the start of the play, which is presented as an immature infatuation. Today, we might use the term “puppy love” to describe this. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is shallow and nobody really believes that it will last, including Friar Laurence:

Romeo. Thou chid’st me oft for loving Rosaline.
Friar Laurence. For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.

Similarly, Paris’ love for Juliet is borne out of tradition, not passion. He has identified her as a good candidate for a wife and approaches her father to arrange the marriage. Although this was the tradition at the time, it also says something about Paris’ staid attitude towards love. He even admits to Friar Laurence that in his haste to rush the wedding through he hasn’t discussed it with his bride-to-be:

Friar Laurence. On Thursday, sir? the time is very short.
Paris. My father Capulet will have it so;
And I am nothing slow to slack his haste.
Friar Laurence. You say you do not know the lady’s mind:
Uneven is the course, I like it not.
Paris. Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt’s death,
And therefore have I little talked of love;

Romantic Love

Our classic idea of romantic love is embodied in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare presents this as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends societal conventions. This idea is established in the play’s prologue with the line “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”

Perhaps Romeo and Juliet’s love is fate – there love is given cosmic significance which can therefore overturn the social boundaries of “fair Verona.” Their love is disallowed by the Capulet and Montague households, and Juliet is to marry Paris – Yet, they inevitably find themselves drawn together.

Other Types of Love

Many of the friendships in the play are as sincere as Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another. The close relationships between Juliet and her Nurse, and between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are meaningful and heartfelt. They care deeply for another and protect each others honor – this ultimately costs Mercutio his life.

This platonic love is offset by the sexual innuendos made by some characters – particularly Juliet’s Nurse and Mercutio. Their view of love is earthy and purely sexual, creating an effective contrast with Romeo and Juliet’s romanticism.

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.”

Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene V


In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare explores the theme of fate by allowing the audience to be party to his characters’ destiny. In the opening lines of the play the audience is told what is going to happen to the lovers: “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.” Throughout the story, the audience is put in an omnipotent, god-like position from the start encouraging them to think about fate and to what extent our actions are free.

Because we know Romeo and Juliet’s fate from the outset we are constantly hoping that they will take a different course – perhaps that Romeo will arrive just after Juliet has woken. However, their fate is sealed and we are forced to question our own destiny and ability to make free choices.

When Mercutio shouts “a plague on both your houses” in Act 3, Scene 1, we are reminded of the protagonists’ fate. This bloody scene in which characters are killed gives us a glimpse of what fate has in store, marking the beginning of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic downfall.

Fate permeates the events and speeches in the play. Is it fate that Friar Lawrence’s plan to inform Romeo of Juliet’s faked death is not realized due to unforeseen circumstances? Is it fate that Romeo kills himself when he does?

Romeo and Juliet see omens throughout the play, continually reminding the audience of their fate. Their death is a catalyst for change in Verona: the dueling families are united in their grief creating a political shift in the city. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet were fated to love and die for the greater good of Verona.

“O, I am fortune’s fool!”

—Romeo, Act III Scene I

Duality (light and dark)

Scholars have long noted Shakespeare’s widespread use of light and dark imagery throughout the play. Caroline Spurgeon considers the theme of light as “symbolic of the natural beauty of young love” and later critics have expanded on this interpretation. For example, both Romeo and Juliet see the other as light in a surrounding darkness. Romeo describes Juliet as being like the sun, brighter than a torch, a jewel sparkling in the night, and a bright angel among dark clouds. Even when she lies apparently dead in the tomb, he says her “beauty makes This vault a feasting presence full of light.” Juliet describes Romeo as “day in night” and “Whiter than snow upon a raven’s back.”This contrast of light and dark can be expanded as symbols—contrasting love and hate, youth and age in a metaphoric way. Sometimes these intertwining metaphors create dramatic irony. For example, Romeo and Juliet’s love is a light in the midst of the darkness of the hate around them, but all of their activity together is done in night and darkness, while all of the feuding is done in broad daylight. This paradox of imagery adds atmosphere to the moral dilemma facing the two lovers: loyalty to family or loyalty to love. At the end of the story, when the morning is gloomy and the sun hiding its face for sorrow, light and dark have returned to their proper places, the outward darkness reflecting the true, inner darkness of the family feud out of sorrow for the lovers. All characters now recognise their folly in light of recent events, and things return to the natural order, thanks to the love of Romeo and Juliet. The “light” theme in the play is also heavily connected to the theme of time, since light was a convenient way for Shakespeare to express the passage of time through descriptions of the sun, moon, and stars.

“O brawling love, O loving hate,
O any thing of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!”

Romeo–Act I


Time plays an important role in the language and plot of the play. Both Romeo and Juliet struggle to maintain an imaginary world void of time in the face of the harsh realities that surround them. For instance, when Romeo swears his love to Juliet by the moon, she protests “O swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb, / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.” From the very beginning, the lovers are designated as “star-cross’d” referring to an astrologic belief associated with time. Stars were thought to control the fates of humanity, and as time passed, stars would move along their course in the sky, also charting the course of human lives below. Romeo speaks of a foreboding he feels in the stars’ movements early in the play, and when he learns of Juliet’s death, he defies the stars’ course for him.

Another central theme is haste: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet spans a period of four to six days, in contrast to Brooke’s poem’s spanning nine months. Scholars such as G. Thomas Tanselle believe that time was “especially important to Shakespeare” in this play, as he used references to “short-time” for the young lovers as opposed to references to “long-time” for the “older generation” to highlight “a headlong rush towards doom”. Romeo and Juliet fight time to make their love last forever. In the end, the only way they seem to defeat time is through a death that makes them immortal through art.

Time is also connected to the theme of light and dark. In Shakespeare’s day, plays were often performed at noon in broad daylight. This forced the playwright to use words to create the illusion of day and night in his plays. Shakespeare uses references to the night and day, the stars, the moon, and the sun to create this illusion. He also has characters frequently refer to days of the week and specific hours to help the audience understand that time has passed in the story. All in all, no fewer than 103 references to time are found in the play, adding to the illusion of its passage.
“These times of woe afford no time to woo.”
—Paris, Act III Scene IV

Criticism and interpretation

Critical history

The earliest known critic of the play was diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote in 1662: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.” Poet John Dryden wrote 10 years later in praise of the play and its comic character Mercutio: “Shakespear show’d the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forc’d to kill him in the third Act, to prevent being killed by him.” Criticism of the play in the 18th century was less sparse, but no less divided. Publisher Nicholas Rowe was the first critic to ponder the theme of the play, which he saw as the just punishment of the two feuding families. In mid-century, writer Charles Gildon and philosopher Lord Kames argued that the play was a failure in that it did not follow the classical rules of drama: the tragedy must occur because of some character flaw, not an accident of fate. Writer and critic Samuel Johnson, however, considered it one of Shakespeare’s “most pleasing” plays.

In the later part of the 18th and through the 19th century, criticism centred on debates over the moral message of the play. Actor and playwright David Garrick’s 1748 adaptation excluded Rosaline: Romeo abandoning her for Juliet was seen as fickle and reckless. Critics such as Charles Dibdin argued that Rosaline had been purposely included in the play to show how reckless the hero was, and that this was the reason for his tragic end. Others argued that Friar Laurence might be Shakespeare’s spokesman in his warnings against undue haste. With the advent of the 20th century, these moral arguments were disputed by critics such as Richard Green Moulton: he argued that accident, and not some character flaw, led to the lovers’ deaths.

Dramatic structure

In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare employs several dramatic techniques that have garnered praise from critics; most notably the abrupt shifts from comedy to tragedy (an example is the punning exchange between Benvolio and Mercutio just before Tybalt arrives). Before Mercutio’s death in Act three, the play is largely a comedy. After his accidental demise, the play suddenly becomes serious and takes on a tragic tone. When Romeo is banished, rather than executed, and Friar Laurence offers Juliet a plan to reunite her with Romeo, the audience can still hope that all will end well. They are in a “breathless state of suspense” by the opening of the last scene in the tomb: If Romeo is delayed long enough for the Friar to arrive, he and Juliet may yet be saved. These shifts from hope to despair, reprieve, and new hope, serve to emphasise the tragedy when the final hope fails and both the lovers die at the end.

Shakespeare also uses sub-plots to offer a clearer view of the actions of the main characters. For example, when the play begins, Romeo is in love with Rosaline, who has refused all of his advances. Romeo’s infatuation with her stands in obvious contrast to his later love for Juliet. This provides a comparison through which the audience can see the seriousness of Romeo and Juliet’s love and marriage. Paris’ love for Juliet also sets up a contrast between Juliet’s feelings for him and her feelings for Romeo. The formal language she uses around Paris, as well as the way she talks about him to her Nurse, show that her feelings clearly lie with Romeo. Beyond this, the sub-plot of the Montague–Capulet feud overarches the whole play, providing an atmosphere of hate that is the main contributor to the play’s tragic end.


Shakespeare uses a variety of poetic forms throughout the play. He begins with a 14-line prologue in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, spoken by a Chorus. Most of Romeo and Juliet is, however, written in blank verse, and much of it in strict iambic pentameter, with less rhythmic variation than in most of Shakespeare’s later plays. In choosing forms, Shakespeare matches the poetry to the character who uses it. Friar Laurence, for example, uses sermon and sententiae forms, and the Nurse uses a unique blank verse form that closely matches colloquial speech. Each of these forms is also moulded and matched to the emotion of the scene the character occupies. For example, when Romeo talks about Rosaline earlier in the play, he attempts to use the Petrarchan sonnet form. Petrarchan sonnets were often used by men to exaggerate the beauty of women who were impossible for them to attain, as in Romeo’s situation with Rosaline. This sonnet form is used by Lady Capulet to describe Count Paris to Juliet as a handsome man. When Romeo and Juliet meet, the poetic form changes from the Petrarchan (which was becoming archaic in Shakespeare’s day) to a then more contemporary sonnet form, using “pilgrims” and “saints” as metaphors. Finally, when the two meet on the balcony, Romeo attempts to use the sonnet form to pledge his love, but Juliet breaks it by saying “Dost thou love me?” By doing this, she searches for true expression, rather than a poetic exaggeration of their love. Juliet uses monosyllabic words with Romeo, but uses formal language with Paris. Other forms in the play include an epithalamium by Juliet, a rhapsody in Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, and an elegy by Paris.Shakespeare saves his prose style most often for the common people in the play, though at times he uses it for other characters, such as Mercutio. Humour, also, is important: scholar Molly Mahood identifies at least 175 puns and wordplays in the text. Many of these jokes are sexual in nature, especially those involving Mercutio and the Nurse.

Psychoanalytic criticism

Early psychoanalytic critics saw the problem of Romeo and Juliet in terms of Romeo’s impulsiveness, deriving from “ill-controlled, partially disguised aggression”, which leads both to Mercutio’s death and to the double suicide. Romeo and Juliet is not considered to be exceedingly psychologically complex, and sympathetic psychoanalytic readings of the play make the tragic male experience equivalent with sicknesses. Norman Holland, writing in 1966, considers Romeo’s dream as a realistic “wish fulfilling fantasy both in terms of Romeo’s adult world and his hypothetical childhood at stages oral, phallic and oedipal” – while acknowledging that a dramatic character is not a human being with mental processes separate from those of the author. Critics such as Julia Kristeva focus on the hatred between the families, arguing that this hatred is the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s passion for each other. That hatred manifests itself directly in the lovers’ language: Juliet, for example, speaks of “my only love sprung from my only hate” and often expresses her passion through an anticipation of Romeo’s death. This leads on to speculation as to the playwright’s psychology, in particular to a consideration of Shakespeare’s grief for the death of his son, Hamnet.

Feminist criticism

Feminist literary critics argue that the blame for the family feud lies in Verona’s patriarchal society. For Coppélia Kahn, for example, the strict, masculine code of violence imposed on Romeo is the main force driving the tragedy to its end. When Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo shifts into this violent mode, regretting that Juliet has made him so “effeminate”. In this view, the younger males “become men” by engaging in violence on behalf of their fathers, or in the case of the servants, their masters. The feud is also linked to male virility, as the numerous jokes about maidenheads aptly demonstrate. Juliet also submits to a female code of docility by allowing others, such as the Friar, to solve her problems for her. Other critics, such as Dympna Callaghan, look at the play’s feminism from a historicist angle, stressing that when the play was written the feudal order was being challenged by increasingly centralised government and the advent of capitalism. At the same time, emerging Puritan ideas about marriage were less concerned with the “evils of female sexuality” than those of earlier eras, and more sympathetic towards love-matches: when Juliet dodges her father’s attempt to force her to marry a man she has no feeling for, she is challenging the patriarchal order in a way that would not have been possible at an earlier time.

Queer theory

Critics utilizing queer theory have examined the sexuality of Mercutio and Romeo, comparing their friendship with sexual love. Mercutio, in friendly conversation, mentions Romeo’s phallus, suggesting traces of homoeroticism. An example is his joking wish “To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle … letting it there stand / Till she had laid it and conjured it down.” Romeo’s homoeroticism can also be found in his attitude to Rosaline, a woman who is distant and unavailable and brings no hope of offspring. As Benvolio argues, she is best replaced by someone who will reciprocate. Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets describe another young man who, like Romeo, is having trouble creating offspring and who may be seen as being a homosexual. Gender critics believe that Shakespeare may have used Rosaline as a way to express homosexual problems of procreation in an acceptable way. In this view, when Juliet says “…that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, she may be raising the question of whether there is any difference between the beauty of a man and the beauty of a woman.