“Though depending on the context of one’s actions.

this be madness, there is method in it.” Shakespeare’s insightful
words of wisdom stress an important dynamic exploited by authors throughout
literature: madness and power. The goal of this essay is to highlight the link between
madness and power as outlined in three separate works: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” and
Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway.

Madness, as a tool of power, forms the
very heart of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Shakespeare employs the use of a feigned madness in his dynamic protagonist
Hamlet, as he seeks revenge for his father’s murder. Hamlet himself conditions
his madness, his “antic disposition,” as an intentional tool, transforming
himself into an innocuous character who is freed from the need to control his
emotions and behavior, which in turn, permits him the power to discern the
guilty and beseech his allies. Similarly, Hamlet’s feigned madness excused his
manic outbursts toward the newly-crowned King and Queen of Denmark, which, he resolves,
will unearth signs of their guilt. By impersonating insanity, he inherits a
powerful autonomy attained only by the cover of madness. But in true
Shakespeare genius, the audience is left to ponder the authenticity of Hamlet’s condition: does one, by
feigning madness, succumb to genuine madness? This dichotomy between ethereal image
and reality materializes to the reader, especially when he dismisses his horrific
act: the murder of Polonius. The line between genuine madness and wise
foolishness is subject to interpretation, depending on the context of one’s
actions. Indeed, our protagonist, Hamlet gains
much by feigning madness, and Shakespeare, the author, artfully cues the reader
to question the link between madness and power. Whereas Shakespeare pens the
issue in the 17th century, Samuel Taylor Coleridge masterfully depicts
the same dilemma in a new era, that of the 18th century.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s
poem “Kubla Khan” is the manifestation of the Romantic debate, intersecting
madness with creative inspiration; an allegory for the development of poetic creativeness.

Madness has the unyielding power of creativity, and in Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,”
the poet’s absence of madness, in combination with his inability to execute his
work manifests as melancholy. Due to the fragmented nature of the unfinished
poem, the poet deems his handiwork a failure, for he has failed to deliver the imagery
and enchantment of a finished creation. The poet must reconcile his vision for
the poem with the sporadic reality. Unique to Coleridge’s work, madness and the
resultant creativity, is presented as a calculated exploit that occurs when one
is lost in a creative experience so completely that they are not in reach. The
heart of Romantic thinking is the capacity to exploit one’s creativity, derived
from an all-encompassing madness, to create new domains.

A third
illustration of the madness-power link can be found in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The novel’s paramount element
is the dynamic between power and madness, in particular how power and society influence
madness. To depict madness, Woolf crafts the characters of Clarissa Dalloway
and Septimus Warren Smith. She concocts the madness itself to assume a dualistic
quality; an amalgam of illusion and reality that criticizes Britain’s
patriarchal society. For example, her character Septimus Warren Smith, through his
post-traumatic stress disorder and eventual suicide, serves to undermine
society’s illusion that the war is over. Yet clearly the war is far from it, as
war causes delayed, but lingering and real consequences, suicide. The
government uses its power to suppress reality and conceal the actuality of the
war’s aftermath, to preserve the aforementioned power. Woolf intricately creates
the perfect and appropriate setting for madness to expose itself—Mrs. Dalloway’s party. Clarissa
Dalloway, herself a symbol of power and authority, hosts a party with the Prime
Minister, the ultimate symbol of British power and society, as guest of honor. The
event attempts to regulate and neutralize reality, but instead, Smith’s fate uncovers
to the ignorant masses the existence of madness. In summary, Woolf efficaciously uses madness to force reflection,
as if madness by uncovering the truth undermines the society. Through the
characters of Septimus Warren Smith and Clarissa Dalloway, Virginia Woolf is
not only able to investigate the link between madness and power, but also unshackles
the paradigm of madness from stigma.

Madness, once shunned, ignored, and held in contempt by the masses is
brought to light as a powerful tool in literature through the works of Shakespeare,
Coleridge, and Woolf. Madness and power are intertwined…


Jane Schmidt

Emma Wilson


December 13, 2017

Essay Two: Family


J. Fox once said, “Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” To
contest the importance of family is difficult; our relationships with family—or the lack thereof—can immensely impact our lives.

The same goes for literary characters. Their beliefs about family, or its
substitutes, strongly challenges, reshapes, or reaffirms them throughout the
journeys that the author conjures in developing the plot of a story. The goal
of this essay is to feature how Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, and Christina
Rossetti designated the family unit as a crucial influence in their respective

In Geoffrey Chaucer’s The
Canterbury Tales, the idea of existing within a company substitutes for the
family unit. Working class individuals devised membership in a company to be an
equalizing conceit, with the goal of minimizing nobility’s power and influence
and maximizing their own. Though not the typical embodiment of a company, for they
each embody different social classes, the twenty-nine pilgrims unite as one joint
and equal company on the pilgrimage. What united such a diverse collection?
Their jobs as storytellers and the Host escorting them on their journey. After
welcoming and complimenting the company, the Host cunningly proposes a way to
pass the time: each pilgrim will tell stories on their journey, and ultimately the
best storyteller, decided by the Host, will receive a complementary meal at the
journey’s end paid for by the others.  Acting
as both guide and judge, the Host quickly inserts himself as their sovereign. Throughout
the story, the Host acts as a pseudo-parent, playing the role of peacekeeper,
and even reprimanding both the Friar and Manciple on separate occasions for slinging
insults at their fellow company men. Distinctively, The Canterbury Tales differs from the other two specified works in its
use of a family substitute—a company of individuals—rather than blood relations.

In Jane Austen’s Pride
and Prejudice, the family unit is of utmost importance: responsible for both
the intellectual and moral development of children, and for establishing fundamental
roles in the British society. Marriage fortified the proper breeding between
families, often constraining men and women to marry not for love, but for
wealth and status, as evidenced by the marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr.

Collins. It is this idea—espousing for family prestige— that Elizabeth Bennet,
the protagonist, abhors and mocks throughout the novel. Yet, Austen portrays
true love as a conqueror, separate from society, with the power to prevail over
all other circumstances, as demonstrated by Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage. The
familial relationships at work within the Bennet household perfectly showcase British
society’s ideas of family. Moreover, Austen adeptly exposes the fashioning of
each distinctive character within the family. For example, Lydia Bennet’s foolish
elopement, a disgrace that threatened the entire Bennet family, is the
consequence of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s failure to provide their daughters with a
suitable education. In spite of their parents’ negligence, Elizabeth and Jane
Bennet manage to cultivate virtue and shrewdness, a notable outcome of the substitute
parents found within the extended family, the Gardiners. Austen’s work
chronicles the classic family role of well-to-do society in poignant and
profound ways.

Christina Rossetti conveys sisterhood as the dominating
force in her poem, “Goblin Market.” The tradition of sisterhood, a specific subset
of familial role and captured by the sisterly characters of Lizzie and Laura,
carries major significance throughout the poem as a method to help women
overcome societal limitations and gain liberation. Rossetti invents in her poem
a domain devoid of masculinity, where women are interdependent for nurture,
protection, and support. The cautionary example of Jeanie’s
interaction with the goblins, and her ensuing deterioration, displays the consummation
of women deprived of sisterhood’s support, figuratively and literally. Additionally, as Laura falls victim to
the goblins’ schemes of material distractions, Lizzie, emboldened by her love
for her sister, heroically emancipates her sister from corrosion by sacrificing
herself. Rossetti effectively uses the familial role
of sisterhood as a literary devise to emphasize the importance of family. In
the words of Laura, “there is no friend like a sister.”

            Throughout the history of literature, authors have stressed
the significance of the institution of family perhaps as autobiographical
demonstrations, or perhaps in recognition of a societal truth, or maybe only as
a reflection of daily life. No matter the reason, the impact is clear as
evidenced by these three works. Fox was right—family is everything.


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