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MSND: Theseus Slide Show ENGL 640 Dr. Fike. Montrose on Theseus “Shakespeare uses Plutarch as his major source of Theseus-lore but does so highly selectively,

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Presentation on theme: "MSND: Theseus Slide Show ENGL 640 Dr. Fike. Montrose on Theseus “Shakespeare uses Plutarch as his major source of Theseus-lore but does so highly selectively,"— Presentation transcript:

1 MSND: Theseus Slide Show ENGL 640 Dr. Fike

2 Montrose on Theseus “Shakespeare uses Plutarch as his major source of Theseus-lore but does so highly selectively, excluding those events ‘not sorting with the nuptial ceremony’ (v.1.55) nor with a comedy. … Thus, sedimented within the verbal texture of A Midsummer Night’s Dream are traces of those forms of sexual and familial violence which the play would suppress: acts of bestiality and incest, or parricide, uxoricide, filicide, and suicide; sexual fears and urges erupting in cycles of violent desire—from Pasiphae and the Minotaur to Phaedra and Hippolitus. The seductive and destructive powers of women figure centrally in Theseus’ career; and his habitual victimization of women, the chronicle of his rapes and disastrous marriages, is a discourse of anxious misogyny which persists as an echo within Shakespeare’s text, no matter how much it has been muted or transformed” (493-94).

3 Theseus in the Renaissance My major source, which qualifies Montrose’s wholly negative view of Theseus: D’Orsay W. Pearson, “’Unkinde’ Theseus: A Study in Renaissance Mythography.” English Literary Renaissance 4 (1974):

4 Positive View of Theseus Theseus dealt with villains in ways that mimicked their own unjust treatment of others (e.g., the Procrustean bed, named after Procrustes, a mythical giant who shortened or stretched people to fit his bed).

5 More Positives Theseus defeated the Minotaur (King Minos + taur or bull of Minos) in the Cretan labyrinth. –Minos, the King of Crete, exacted a toll of Athenian young people for the death of his son in Athens. –Labyrinth parallels the woods. –Minotaur parallels Bottom-as-ass.

6 The Minotaur

7 Images of the Minotaur aur&hl=en&lr=&sa=X&oi=images&ct=titlehttp://images.google.com/images?q=Minot aur&hl=en&lr=&sa=X&oi=images&ct=title

8 Still More Positives Theseus was a great civic leader who established democracy in Athens and gave the city a name, a currency, and a class system. He was a friend to Oedipus, Hercules, Jason, and Pirithous. He was the husband of Hippolyta/Antiope (same person, different names).

9 The Point So Far Theseus was an emblem of friendship, virtue, and reason’s triumph over sensuality.

10 Negative View of Theseus Infidelity: He abandoned Ariadne on Naxos. Later he married her sister, Phaedra. While Theseus was away, Phaedra hit on her stepson, Hippolytus, in a letter. He rejected her and destroyed her letter. She later told Theseus that the young man had tried to rape her. As a result, Theseus had Poseidon destroy his son (chariot accident on the beach).

11 See the handout from FQ I.v.36ff. What connection can you make between this passage and MSND?

12 The Point Hippolytus is the “issue” of Theseus’s marriage to Hippolyta: MSND : “And the issue they create / Ever shall be fortunate.” Not so much!

13 Moreover… Theseus was responsible for his father Aegeus’s suicide—Theseus did not change sails before returning from Crete, and his father assumed the worst. Also, he and his buddy, Pirithous, decided to “get them” a couple of wives. Theseus wanted Helen, so they abducted her when she was 10 years old. Pirithous wanted Persephone, so while they were sojourning in hell, they left Helen with Theseus’s mother. Helen’s people rescued her and enslaved Theseus’s mother. Meanwhile, Hades trapped the two guys in chairs of forgetfulness (the model for C.S. Lewis’s silver chair in The Silver Chair, FYI). Hercules, while in hell to deal with Cerberus, rescued Theseus but not Pirithous.

14 And the point is… Theseus is responsible for his mother’s abduction and slavery and for the loss of his friend Pirithous in hell. Theseus is a failed harrower of hell.

15 Virgil’s Theseus Virgil places Theseus among the monstrous criminals in Hades—those characterized by unkind and unnatural behavior.

16 AND… Theseus was an absent leader who lost the throne to a usurper named Menestheus. Theseus was ultimately a murder victim— Lycomedes pushed him off a cliff.

17 Summary On the one hand, Theseus is a crime fighter, monster slayer, civic leader, friend, and good husband. On the other, he is a poor husband, an unfaithful lover, an abandoner of women, an unnatural father, a lousy son, and a sex offender.

18 What about Theseus in MSND? Theseus’s opening speech—impatience for sex like a greedy son who wants the last third of his inheritance. Emphasis on law over compassion. The marriage of Theseus and Hippolyta will NOT live up to Oberon’s blessing.

19 Further Points Tension between surface and depth. Bedford 162: Re. the principle of “complementarity”: “Shakespeare seems to have been drawn to stories and persons that were susceptible to plural and even contradictory readings.” Theseus is a good example of this principle.

20 Discussion Let’s read together what Theseus says about the imagination. See questions on next slide.

21 Theseus and Hippolyta Discuss the Imagination at What is Theseus’s basic point in response to Hippolyta’s statement? Are there differences between the poet and the lunatic or the lover? What does the poet DO? How does Theseus contradict himself? What is his attitude toward art, as manifested in his selection of playlet? What is Hippolyta’s attitude toward art? Toward the story that the lovers have told about their night in the woods? What is the role of imagination in viewing the playlet?

22 Pyramus and Thisbe Why does Theseus choose P&T? How does the playlet comment on the story of the young lovers? What does it teach us about romantic love? How do we view the wedding party? P&T:court characters::court characters:audience::audience:_______? Whose dream IS it? Is there a connection to Puck’s epilogue?


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