Mortal Thoughts, a new book on Shakespeare and religion, York University’s Brian Cummings investigates what he calls “the condition of soliloquy”. And he discovers that Shakespeare’s agonised individuals are in fact deeply rooted in Christian culture.
By Eleanor Winn
In 2011, Warner Brothers announced that they were beginning production on a 3D film of Milton’s Paradise Lost. Bradley Cooper was cast as Satan, and several other high profile actors were recruited. However, in February the next year, when pre-production was well underway, the film was dropped indefinitely.
By Stephen Fender
In 1960, when Harper Lee produced To Kill a Mockingbird, the novel became a sensation almost from the beginning. Within two years it had been translated into ten languages, won a Pulitzer Prize, been adapted as an Oscar winning movie, and spent 88 weeks on the American bestseller lists. It has never been out of print; by now world sales have climbed to well over 30 million copies.
This week we were delighted to visit St Paul’s Girls’ School to present Eleanor with her prize: a cheque for £500, a full set of Connell Guides, and a £50 gift card for our online shop. The winner of this year’s Connell Guides Essay Prize was Eleanor Winn, a sixth form pupil at St Paul’s Girls’ School, who was chosen by our judge and award-winning novelist Philip Pullman for her piece on Jez Butterworth’s play, Jerusalem.
Shakespeare was the first writer to create characters who talk to themselves; his characters were the first to have complicated inner lives characterised by self-questioning, division, confusion, contradiction. Today, we think of this as just what people are. But in Shakespeare’s day, Bloom says, this was a radical new understanding of humanity; people simply did not experience life like that before Shakespeare.
More specifically, Shakespeare was the first writer to show characters changing as a result of talking to themselves. “Literary character before Shakespeare is relatively unchanging; women and men are represented as aging and dying, but not as changing because their relationship to themselves, rather than to the gods or God, has changed. In Shakespeare, characters develop rather than unfold, and they develop because they reconceive themselves. Sometimes this comes about because they overhear themselves talking, whether to themselves or to others. Self-overhearing is their royal road to individuation…”
How to interpret Animal Farm has long divided critics, but Peter Davidson’s newly published George Orwell: Life in Letters includes a letter that directly addresses this issue. Orwell’s friend Dwight Macdonald asked him for the final word on the topic, and Orwell responded by writing:
Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves. If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right … What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictat[or]ship.”
Orwell’s intentions, then, were clear enough. That, however, hasn’t deterred the critics so far and is unlikely to do so now.