Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Vol.3 (Ch.X to END)

Our discussion of Pride and Prejudice has been broken into multiple parts. You can find the prior discussion here: Volume IVolume II, Volume III to Chapter X. Here we discuss Volume 3 from Chapter X to the end of the novel:

1. The question, “who knows what and when” is an important one in the book because knowledge influences opinion.

When you’re in the business of being happy, opinions matter. Consider that statement in light of Mrs. Bennet’s impression of Darcy on p. 217. Does she know everything she should know in order to form an opinion of Darcy?

2. Is what Mrs. Bennet wants for her children directly tied to what she wants for herself? p. 223.

3. Does Elizabeth ever seem concerned with what her elders think of her? p. 232.

4. What is the novel’s main idea?

Could you make an argument it’s expressed at p. 233 when Elizabeth expresses the touchstone by which she chooses to live her life: “I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.” Does Elizabeth manage to act this way at all times?

5. Does Elizabeth change Darcy, permanently?

At p. 241 Darcy says Elizabeth has “properly humbled” him. In what way? Will the effect of that humbling be permanent? Will it last a life time?

6. Did Pemberley change Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy, and, if so, what about the visit did it? p. 244

I had previously asked whether you thought Elizabeth’s visiting Pemberley would change her opinion of Darcy. On p. 244 she admits as much. A few pages later, on p. 248 there appears to be a contradiction. On p. 248 Elizabeth is not willing to say what changed her opinion of Darcy or when it started to change. How can you explain the contradiction? Is it a matter of who Elizabeth is talking to? Does this present a problem for Elizabeth if she is to live by caring only about her own opinion of herself as opposed to by everyone else’s? How can you reconcile the two positions about when her mind started to change with regard to Darcy?

7. Will Elizabeth and Darcy live “happily ever-after?”

8. Is reading Pride and Prejudice today a form of escapism?

9. Does the fact that Jane Austen would be expected to read her novels at gatherings of family and friends change her approach to writing the novel? Might she be more concealing on certain points? Might she exaggerate certain characters’ traits to avoid having any of her family and friends recognize themselves in the novel?

10. Go back and read the 1st sentence of the novel again. Now, what could we say, after a complete reading of the novel, a woman wants? Does Jane accurately express what a man wants? What is a woman in want of in this novel?

11. What would the world look like if we had all of our needs met? Will we still finds things that worry us enough to fill our days?

Austen seems to be taking on this idea, perhaps because that’s what she knew she could write about with ease. Do you see the novel as a reflection that is still relavent today? Do most of us really live so differently, especially since we’re having this discussion via our private access to computers, cell phones, tablets, etc.? Does the novel have something to say to the modern reader?

Thanks for reading Pride and Prejudice with me. I welcome your thoughts, today, tomorrow, or in the future when you get around to reading this novel. For next time I may have some closing thoughts on Pride and Prejudice, if anything new strikes me by then, but we can start to talk about our next book, too.

In May, I propose we read Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. I’m going to be working with the edition found in The Mrs. Dalloway Reader so I can get some help with the text. For Sunday May 5th, I propose we read from p. 195-275 of The Mrs. Dalloway Reader or, for those with a different edition, until the line “At tea Rezia told him that Mrs. Filmer’s daughter was expecting a baby.” If you have to buy the book, consider buying it used. I found a copy for $2.00 plus shipping at

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume III (to Ch. X)

Previously, we discussed Volume I and Volume II of Pride and Prejudice.

When we left Elizabeth she was heading to Pemberley with the expectation that Darcy would not be present at his estate. Here are some points to ponder as you read the first part of Volume III:

1. Does Elizabeth’s opinion of Darcy shift after her visit to Pemberley? Why?

Elizabeth visits Pemberley and immediately engages in a bit of daydreaming where she imagines herself as the mistress of Pemberley. p. 159. What is the turning point in Elizabeth’s opinion shift on Darcy? Is it this visit to Pemberley or did it start even before this visit?

2. Does Elizabeth’s opinion shift when she hears the kind words Darcy’s servants offer on his behalf? p. 161.

3. Elizabeth and Darcy’s story is interrupted by Lydia’s engagement to Wickham. Is Lydia to blame for her behavior? Does Elizabeth bear any responsibility for not sharing what she knew about Wickham?

4. Is the loss of female virtue “irretrievable?” p. 187.

Some rather harsh conclusions are drawn about Lydia’s honor after she flees with Wickham. Remember Lydia is just 16 years old. Is it fair to hold any 16 year hold to a permanent fate for making a poor decision? Is Lydia to blame?

5. Wickham is the ultimate proof of the danger of first impressions believed too strongly.

When Wickham first came on to the scene he was charming, handsome, and nearly won Elizabeth’s heart. Impressions of Wickham change by  p. 191 where he is generally viewed as “the wickedest young man in the world.” Can you see the danger in buying too heavily into a first impression of anyone? How could Lydia have safeguarded herself from Wickham’s wicked nature?

6. What role does Darcy play in Lydia’s marriage to Wickham?

For next time, let’s finish the novel. As you read the last part of the novel try to think about whether Austen’s Pride and Prejudice should be taken at face value or whether there is an underlying satirical tone. If you haven’t read the novel before, try to guess how it might turn out between Darcy and Elizabeth and test whether your expectations are met. If you know how the novel ends, try to read it from a different perspective, for example, could you read the novel as social criticism? What is more important to the characters: marriage, or marriage into wealth or class privilege? Can you separate marriage from the financial consequences in the novel or are the two intertwined at every turn?

Phot0: Some rights reserved by jo-h.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume II

Here are some areas to consider as you read, or after you read Volume II of Pride and Prejudice. The story is becoming more and more Elizabeth and Darcy’s story:

1. What is Elizabeth’s chief aim in the novel? What is Darcy’s?

Characters can be motivated by any number of things, but I’ll throw out a few potential suggestions: Marriage, Happiness, Wealth, Class Status. What do you think is motivating Darcy and Elizabeth, understanding their motives may be different. Or, is it unfair to put one motivation on these characters? Are they more complex than that?

2. What external or internal forces work against Elizabeth and Darcy?

Who or what works against Darcy and keeps them from getting what they’re after? Think about this as you read the rest of the novel. Is there anything that stands in the way of Darcy’s happiness? Elizabeth’s?

3. The novel itself asks this question, “…what is the difference in matrimonial affairs, between the mercenary and the prudent motive?” Also, “where does discretion end and avarice begin?” p. 102

This touches on a question we’ve asked already, what are the proper motives for marriage? Is there a line between marrying for prudent reasons, because they set you up for a good life, and greed?

4. It’s funny to read what “nice things” the characters have to say about Lady Catherine.

Words used are: “attentive neighbor;” “respectable;” “sensible.” I get a good laugh hearing what each character has to say about her. Do you think the novel is intentionally funny? p. 105.

5. Elizabeth is a natural contrast to Lady Catherine.

Elizabeth is self-taught for the most part and she is proud of that fact, isn’t she? Is that a healthy form of pride? Contrast that with Lady Catherine. How was she taught? Does she display any particular result of that teaching? p.110.

Is Lady Catherine a social critic, and, if so, is she doing society good through her criticism?

Is Lady Catherine a role model, and, if so, who is she set up to model for? Elizabeth and her sisters?

6. Is Elizabeth justified in her anger at Darcy?

Elizabeth believes Darcy separated Bingley and Jane. Is Elizabeth justified in her anger on this point? Elizabeth also believes Darcy was unfair in his dealings with Wickham. Same question, is the anger justified? p. 123, 127.

7. What is the effect of the 3-page Darcy letter?

The three page letter from Darcy is the most we’ve heard from him by way of explanation or apology. p. 128-134. Does the Darcy letter effect your answer to question 7? Should Elizabeth be ashamed of herself ? She expresses as much on p. 137.

8. What is the effect of Darcy having used the letter to convey his thoughts?

The letter gave Elizabeth a chance to study Darcy’s response at a comfortable distance. p. 140. What other effects did delivering his message by letter have? Was it an effective way to communicate? Does this method of communication particularly suit Darcy?

9. What is the effect on children of marrying for wealth? Love? Happiness? p. 155

10. What is Elizabeth’s primary aim in life? To be happy? Is that a noble aim, alone? p. 157.

11. Will Elizabeth’s visit to Pemberley have any effect on her opinion of Darcy?

We conclude Volume II with Elizabeth going to visit Pemberley. Do you think Pemberley will have an effect, either positive or negative, on how Elizabeth views Darcy? Should it?

12. What is a romantic? Which characters in the novel could you make an argument for being “romantic?” Elizabeth? Charlotte Lucas? Jane? Darcy?

For next time let’s read to p. 208, or Volume III, Chapter X for those with another edition.

Slow-Read Sunday: Pride and Prejudice, Volume I

This was due for discussion yesterday, but I got wrapped up in Easter activities. I hope you’ll accept my apologies for my tardiness. We’ll still have plenty of time to discuss the novel throughout April. Here’s a stab at some areas to consider from Volume I, to page 89:

1. What does the opening line set us up for?

The opening line of Pride and Prejudice is one of the most famous in literature. In fact, you could read the first two sentences and get a pretty fair idea of what the entire book’s about. So, what does the opening sentence set us up for? Marriage, obviously, will play a major role. p. 3.

2. How long does it take to truly know someone?

The discussion on p. 5 near the end of the page relates to how long you must be acquainted with someone before you really know anything about them. A fortnight is mentioned. Do you think you can truly know someone in 2 weeks?

3. Is a daughter’s marriage a valid goal for a parent?

Who doesn’t want their daughter to marry well? But what does Mrs. Bennet mean when she says she wants her daughters to marry well? Is marrying well related to happiness or wealth? Is Mrs. Bennet well-intentioned with her wish? Do you find her wish for her daughters endearing or do you find that her wish limits her daughters? Would a similar wish in our society be tolerated? p. 7.

4.  What is pride?

The first discussion of pride takes place on p. 14. How do you define pride? Is pride a bad thing? Does your definition of pride differ from Mary’s?

5. How is one’s social status defined in the novel?

For certain characters, having an occupation other than that of estate Lord is viewed as a negative in terms of one’s social status. Look for other ways the characters determine social status. Wealth? Occupation? Marriage? p. 25.

6. Are first impressions ever fair?

First impressions and one’s judgment of people play an important role in the novel. One view is that first impressions are rarely fair because people change so much over time. p. 30. Another view is that first impressions are an important part of the social “game.” Can you understand someone the first time you meet them? Is it a fault to establish a first impression of someone and then rigidly adhere to it? Do you find yourself making early impressions of people and then refusing to move away from that initial impression despite evidence to the contrary? Is that a kind of prejudice? See also p. 64.

7. Is it fair to feign interest in a particular activity so as to make yourself more appealing to the opposite sex?

On p. 37 we see Miss Bingley reading, but more than reading, she’s watching Mr. Darcy read. It seems she is pretending to enjoy the activity so as to make herself more attractive to Mr. Darcy. Is that a fair way to behave? Is there any danger in acting that way? On one hand it’s endearing to care enough about someone to want to please them by engaging in activities they enjoy. On the other, I worry whether Miss Bingley is prepared to keep that up for the rest of her life. p. 37. What’s the danger in acting like someone you’re not to obtain a marriage proposal?

8. Are there certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others?

On p. 57 certain types of pride are defined. We’ve already considered whether pride is a bad thing, but do you think there are certain types of pride that are more acceptable than others? What is the most endearing form of pride you can imagine?

9. What are the “right” reasons to marry?

Reading Pride and Prejudice has us consider what the proper or “right” motivation is when it comes to marriage. Cultural differences explain why certain societies might prefer one motivation over another. Do you believe there is a universally “right” motivation to marry? p. 72. What is the goal of the institution of marriage?

10. What does the entail stand for?

The entail is defined on p. 19. What is it? What does it stand for the novel?

For next time: Let’s read to  p. 158, the end of Volume II.

If you care to share, I’d love to hear what you found interesting about Volume I.

Photo: Some rights reserved by simononly.

Slow-Read Sunday: Hamlet, Final Thoughts

Previously, I proposed some questions to ponder as you read the play: Acts 1 and 2; Acts 3 and 4; Act 5. What follows are some final thoughts on the play. I recognize the exercise of saying something “final” about Hamlet is absurd because the play has been criticized every year since its creation, but for what it’s worth here is one way you might conclude a discussion of one person’s reading of Hamlet in 2013, which, of course, is subject to change upon a future reading. How’s that for a disclaimer?

Hamlet was influenced by its predecessors, but it is ultimately Shakespeare’s creation.

We tend to view reading as an activity where the “blank slate” of the reader’s mind is filled by the contents of what we’ve read. We tend to view reading as an information dump from the page to the brain. This view of reading sets us up for failure because we’re not computers. We’ll never read enough, learn enough, understand enough to make reading in this way pleasurable. There are few literary works that make this point better than Hamlet.

Think of the story–it was borrowed from Norse folk literature and then further adapted from a Spanish revenge-tragedy–but Shakespeare’s Hamlet is only related to its predecessors through basic plot elements. We’ve lost the original “Ur-Hamlet” written by Kyd which is believed to be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. We can’t make a line-by-line comparison. What we can do, though, is, like a good reader, imagine Shakespeare’s Hamlet as being a derivative of his intense reading, study, and contemplation of Kyd’s tragedy.

How might Shakespeare have read Hamlet’s predecessors? He would have asked a series of questions like the ones we ask when we read his play. He might have seen the play and wondered what was going on in Hamlet’s mind as the events were unfolding. He might have written some thoughts or questions and tried to resolve them from his own personal experience. He might have found that he could answer some, but others he could not. He might have studied his own internal state to try to understand what Hamlet’s must’ve been like. He might have drawn on his own personal experience to create something completely new.

Sometimes great works of literature act as scaffolds for us to use as we construct our own original works. I like to think of Hamlet as a massive scaffold.

We all have something to offer in our interpretation of Hamlet because we’ve all brought something different to our reading.

Who is Hamlet? Is Hamlet mad? What makes one mad? Are there acceptable levels of madness? Does Hamlet love his mother? Ophelia? His father? Hamlet becomes, through the questions it raises, a guide to critical self-analysis. Hamlet shows us that not all questions have certain answers, both in the play and in life. Shakespeare recognizes that our answers to these questions are informed by what we bring to our reading or viewing of the play. Hamlet is a windsock, but Shakespeare recognizes he was not in control of how the wind fills it. Neither Shakespeare nor I can control your reading of Hamlet. Neither Shakespeare nor I can control what experiences you re-live when you read it. We all bring something to our reading of the play, and for centuries people have seen enough in Hamlet to keep coming back. Why?

In Hamlet there are at least three worlds. There is the physical world, the world of external realities. There is also Hamlet’s internal reality. We see it in his soliloquies. Those two worlds are at times in harmony, but at other times they clash together like weather fronts competing for the same atmospheric space. But, the third world is the world of experience that we bring to the play. Our reading of Hamlet is dictated as much by the third world as any other. Shakespeare’s brilliance is that he leaves space for this world to exist. He creates questions and then leaves them open to interpretation. He shows us how the first worlds collide and then leaves it to us to resolve the inconsistencies, or, if we can’t resolve them, to contemplate them.

If we were content to have a play act on us and answer everything for us and fill our brain like empty beakers then we would likely have long forgotten Hamlet. Since we are not content to have our internal thoughts completely dictated to us, though, we find ourselves coming back to works like Hamlet to test how much we’ve grown, to evidence how much we still can grow, and to show us that our reading is as much a product of us as it is of the author. The best things to read are things that leave space for us to react to them and for us to inform them as much as they inform us. Hamlet proves this point to me every time I read it.

Looking Ahead to Pride and Prejudice

Reminder: In April we’re reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’ll be using the Norton Critical Edition. We’ll discuss the first chunk on March 31st. Try to read to Volume 1, through page 89 by March 31st. If you don’t make it, don’t worry. You can always come back to the discussion when it’s convenient for you.

Slow-Read Sunday: Hamlet, Act 5

If you missed the discussion of Acts 1 and 2 you can catch up here. If you missed the discussion of Acts 3 and 4 you can catch up here.

I’ll have some final thoughts next week on Hamlet, but for now here are some questions you could ask as you read Act 5, the play’s conclusion:

1. Is Hamlet a man of action? Is Ophelia a woman of action?

The gravedigger tells us an “act hath three branches.” He goes on to say that those three branches are, “to act, to do, to perform.” Act 5, Sc. 1, lines 10-15. We can certainly see where Ophelia has acted on her grief. She appears to have taken her own life. Has Hamlet acted on his grief at this stage in the play?

2. How did Hamlet become mad?

The question is somewhat unanswered in the play. Hamlet, talking with the gravedigger, asks the same question in Act 5. Sc.1, lines160-165. The gravedigger never gives much of an answer, aside from “strangely.” If you were to have to answer that question how might you try to answer it?

3. Did Hamlet love Ophelia?

Hamlet tells us he loved Ophelia in Act 5. Sc. 1, lines 284-288. Can you trust him? Do you believe he loved Ophelia? Why did he act the way he did to her near the end of her life? Is it enough to say, he was mad, and excuse Hamlet for the way he treated Ophelia?

4. Is Hamlet his madness or is the madness separate from him in some way?

When Hamlet talks to Laertes after Ophelia’s death he takes the position that he is in some way divorced from his madness. Hamlet sets up “madness” as a kind of third-party that influences him. Act 5. Sc. 2, lines 240-258. Do you see Hamlet as separated from his madness? Is the madness acting on Hamlet or has Hamlet become his madness? Do you see madness as a parasite in search of a host?

Next Sunday, I’ll have some closing thoughts on Hamlet and we’ll wrap up our discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Hamlet, whether you find this post today, or at some point in the future you find yourself reading Hamlet.

Looking Ahead to Pride and Prejudice

With our reading of Hamlet concluded we can start to look forward to our next book. We need some balance. Having read two male authors I think now is a good time to read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I’ll be using the Norton Critical Edition. This is my first time reading Pride and Prejudice, so I’m excited to take it on with any of you that have the time. Even though this is technically our pick for April, I propose we discuss the first chunk on March 31st. That will give us five Sundays to break down the text. Let’s try to read to Volume 1, through page 89 by March 31st.

For a great introduction to Pride and Prejudice I recommend you read Amarie’s post on the book. As she points out, this really is the perfect year to read Pride and Prejudice, whether you’ve read it 10 times or none at all.

Photo: Some rights reserved by KalinaSoftware.

Slow-Read Sunday: Hamlet, Acts 3 and 4

If you missed the discussion of Acts 1 and 2 you can catch up here.

In Acts 3 and 4 we see Hamlet express his grief as a rational genius when he sets up the play to catch the King and confirm his suspicions about the circumstances of his father’s demise. We also see Hamlet senselessly kill Polonius. Who is Hamlet? Is he a rational man capable of  being judge, jury, and executioner on behalf of his father? Or is Hamlet instead a vulnerable man driven by his emotions to ignore reason? Can Hamlet be both? Are we, like Hamlet, able to exhibit flashes of rational brilliance in one moment only to be swept up and carried by our emotions and forced to ignore good reason in the next?

1. “To be or not to be….”

Is Hamlet’s consideration of suicide evidence of madness? Act 3. Sc. 1 lines 64-98.

2. Hamlet blames Opehlia for his madness.

What is it that makes Hamlet say, “It hath made me mad,” to Ophelia. What of her actions have made Hamlet mad? Is it a fair statement from Hamlet? Act 3. Sc. 1 lines 154-162.

3. Is melancholy the same as madness?

Claudius uses the word melancholy when talking about Hamlet in Act 3. Sc. 1 line 179. Do you think Cladius is using the word as a symptom of madness, a cause of madness, or something else?

4. Is Hamlet “not guilty by reason of insanity” under our modern use of the defense when he kills Polonius? Act. 3 Sc.4 lines 25-35.

Imagine yourself on the jury in Hamlet’s murder trial. Would you send Hamlet to a mental institute or to prison for killing Polonius? Can Hamlet be rehabilitated? Is Hamlet a murderer? Is Hamlet a danger to himself and others? If he is a danger to others, is he a danger to everyone?

5. The Queen can not see her dead husband’s ghost.

The Queen tells Hamlet that the ghost is “the very coinage of [his] brain.” She thinks he’s made it up, but this is after he’s already killed Polonius. Does Hamlet’s mother think he’s mad before this point? Act 3. Sc. 4 line 157.

6. Would an English audience want Hamlet dead?

Shakespeare brilliantly includes the audience and draws them into the play to judge Hamlet when Claudius announces he’s sending Hamlet to England to be killed. Act 4. Sc. 4 lines 70-77. How would the English audience feel about doing Claudius’ dirty work? Would the English audience want to be responsible for Hamlet’s death?

7. Compare Ophelia’s reaction to her father’s death to Hamlet’s.

Do Hamlet and Ophelia handle their fathers’ deaths in similar ways? Do they handle their fathers’ deaths differently? Act 4. Sc. 5. What does Shakespeare accomplish by this juxtaposition?

We’re one act away from an epic finish. We’ll discuss Act Five next Sunday.

Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for more on Hamlet, here’s a good starting point. There are several free pieces of literary criticism linked there.

Slow-Read Sunday: Hamlet, Acts 1 and 2

To get the idea behind “Slow-Read Sunday” you can read this introductory post.

There are as many ways to read Hamlet as there are people, as there are backgrounds, as there are experiences. It is a play of infinite renderings.

I tend to read Hamlet with an emphasis on Hamlet’s madness. That’s not to say you should, too. Consider it, instead, a bit of a disclaimer. You’re reading doesn’t have to lean so far in that direction. In fact, maybe you can have me consider a new way to read the play. I’m open to it.

What is madness? Madness is a bit difficult to get a handle on because we don’t really use the term anymore. It’s a word that’s out of favor in clinical psychology, but psychology is the field that could best help us come to a definition because, if madness can be defined by limitation, then it is an internal state. Is madness the same as mental illness? Is madness the same as depression? Is madness a manifestation of anxiety?

Have you ever been accused of being mad? Have you ever suffered through the loss of a loved one? Have you ever been depressed, anxious, or felt like you couldn’t control your own thoughts? If you answered yes to any of these questions then you may see some of yourself in Hamlet.

Here is a series of questions you could use in your reading of Hamlet, Acts 1-2, and, of course, I suggest you come up with your own questions as you read.

1. In Act 1. Sc.1 does a ghost appear?

Horatio seems to be unsure at line 28: “Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy.” On the first page of the play, therefore, we are asked to consider whether the ghost is real or just in the characters’ imaginations. What do you think, is the ghost real?

You could follow up with these questions: Why does the ghost leave at dawn when the cock crows? Why does the ghost refuse to speak when asked the first couple of times?

2. What are Hamlet’s first words of the play? Act 1. Sc.2.

At line 67 we hear Hamlet finally speak and he seems clever, doesn’t he? How would you describe his first words? Are they morose? Are they critical? If so, of who? Does he seem mad to you at this stage in the play? He does talk to the King in a way that a commoner in England would not, but he is a prince after all, and related to the King, too.

3. Does the King choose an odd way to try to cheer up Hamlet? Act 1. Sc. 2.

The King attempts to cheer up Hamlet by explaining that everyone must die and that he should just get over his father’s death after a month’s time. Lines 90-100. Is it the King that drives Hamlet mad?

4. Hamlet wants to leave to go to school, but he is persuaded by his mother to stay, can you imagine how his life might have been different had he been allowed to leave? Act 1. Sc. 2 lines 120-125.

5.  Does one person’s experience encourage another’s with regard to the ghost? Act 1. Sc. 2.

Even before the ghost appeared, Hamlet admits to having seen his father in his “mind’s eye.” Act 1. Sc. 2 lines 190-195. Horatio then admits that he has also seen him, but he doesn’t mention that he may be imagining the whole thing this time. Do you think he is persuaded by Hamlet’s mention of having seen his father to believe his own experience with the ghost? Do you get the impression that madness may be contagious in a sense?

6. Laertes thinks Hamlet is mad long before the ghost ever appears, do you agree with him?

It’s interesting to play the game of trying to identify when Hamlet shows signs of “madness.” To Laertes it’s before the ghost has visited Hamlet. Act 1. Sc.3 lines 15-25. Laertes believes Hamlet can no longer control his will. What might be the cause of Hamlet’s madness at this point? Do you believe Hamlet is mad at this stage in the play?

7. Why does the ghost come at all? Act 1. Sc.4.

Can you tell why the ghost comes? Can Hamlet tell why the ghost comes? Hamlet asks this question at Act 1. Sc.4, lines 41-50.

8. Will the ghost make Hamlet mad or is he already mad? Act 1. Sc. 4. lines 77-86.

Horatio suggests the ghost may deprive Hamlet of his “sovereignty of reason” and “draw [Hamlet] into madness.” Do you agree with Horatio? Again, if Hamlet is ever mad, when does he become mad? What is the source of his madness? How does the madness express itself externally, if at all?

9. Is Hamlet’s father in purgatory?

In one of my favorite lines of the play, the ghost says to Hamlet, “I am thy father’s spirit.” The ghost goes on to describe some of the physical symptoms of continued existence. Some, including Greenblatt, have suggested Shakespeare is exploring the idea of purgatory in this play. Do you agree?

10. Why does Hamlet swear an oath to never speak of the ghost they’ve seen? Why does the ghost encourage the oath?

In Act 1. Sc. 5 lines 170-190 both Hamlet and the ghost encourage Marcellus and Horatio to swear an oath to never talk about what they’ve seen. Why is this important to the play?

11. Does Polonius believe Hamlet is mad? What does he believe to be the cause of his madness? Act 2. Sc.1 lines 88-95.

Polonius’s perception of Hamlet’s madness is different than the King’s and the Queen’s. In fact, almost every character has a different perception of what is causing Hamlet to act mad. Do any of the character’s perceptions line up with your own perception. I ask again, at this stage in the play, do you think Hamlet is mad? If so, why?

12. What is madness? Act 2. Sc.2. lines 95-102.

Polonius is convinced Hamlet is mad, but he is unable to “define true madness.” Can anyone define madness throughout the play to your satisfaction?

Polonius even attempts to describe the changes to Hamlet’s moods. Act 2. Sc.2. lines 150-160. Are you convinced he’s captured Hamlet’s madness through these outwardly appearing stages?

Polonius tries to make sense of Hamlet’s madness by finding a “method in’t.” Act 2. Sc. 2 lines 223-224. Does he succeed?

13. Hamlet admits to being mad, but only a transient madness. Act 2. Sc. 2. lines 402-403.

“I am but mad north-north-west.” Hamlet says. Act 2. Sc. 2. lines 402-403. Which means he admits to madness, but only when the wind blows a certain direction, only sometimes. As a reader, we’re left to determine at which times he is mad. We’re also left to determine what the source of that madness is. But, can you trust Hamlet to know when he’s mad? Are mad people aware of their own madness?

14. Shakespeare uses a play’s speech to wake Hamlet’s reason. Act 2. Sc.2 lines 575-605.

The play’s speech inspires Hamlet to consider his own actions and emotions and duty to his father. Hamlet seems to be awakened by the speech and put on track to exact revenge. Is Hamlet’s plan evidence of madness or is it  a beautiful logical trap and evidence of his clever rational mind? Act 2. Sc.2 lines 610-634.

For next Sunday let’s read Acts 3 and 4. As always, I’m open to any comment or discussion on the play. You need not limit yourself to the questions I present.

Editor’s Note: Here are a couple of additional posts that might relate to this one:



Slow-Read Sunday: The Brothers Karamazov, Part IV and Epilogue

Discuss the three previous parts here: Part OnePart Two and Part Three. I recommend these sites for more information on The Brothers KaramazovDartmouth Resources for The Brothers KaramazovMiddlebury Study Guide.

The major plot event of Part IV is Dmitri’s trial, but in Part IV and the Epilogue we see Dostoevsky give his novel’s closing argument, too. Here are a few areas where you could focus your attention:

1. Alyosha and the children.

At the start of Part IV we see Alyosha interacting with children again. Can you see any evidence that the themes of the novel repeat themselves during the opening of Part IV? Is Kolya like Ivan in some ways?  In Kolya like Dmitri in some ways?

2. Has Alyosha changed since we’ve seen him last?

We see some of the ways he’s changed explicitly mentioned on p. 533. Can you find other ways that Alyosha has changed?

3. Similarities to the Book of Job.

I see the similarities to the Book of Job most clearly on p. 562 when we see the captain scream about “not wanting another boy.” If you’re familiar with the Book of Job, can you see parallels between this section and that book of the Bible?

4. Does a devil visit Ivan?

In Book IX, Ivan hallucinates and becomes ill. Do you see evidence that Dostoevsky is striving for medical accuracy? Do you see evidence that Ivan has been visited by a devil? Is Smerkyadov a devil or someone upon whom the devil has acted?

What would be the purpose of the devil’s visit?

5. Do the closing arguments of the trial work to sum-up the major themes of the novel?

What parts of the closing arguments of the novel are fact? p. 692. What parts are inference? Are there any parts that are sheer fantasy?

Do you get the impression that Dostoevsky is making a point by having the evidence stacked against Dmitri?

6. What is the significance of having Alyosha surrounded by children in the Epilogue?

Alyosha gives a spontaneous speech to the children. p. 775. Many of the themes of the novel are again summed-up. What do you think Dostoevsky intended to leave as our last impression of the novel? Is the final message overtly Christian? Is the final message universally true? Is the final message based in life or in theory?

My closing thoughts on the book:

This is my third time reading The Brothers Karamazov. I’ve never studied it as formally as I have over the past month, and even then, not so formally. In the past I’ve spent more time analyzing “The Grand Inquisitor” than on any other part of the novel. To read “The Grand Inquisitor” as the major message of the novel is a mistake, though. It was a mistake I made the first time I read the novel.

Dostoevsky, above everything, was trying to take us back to the core message of Christianity. Whether you’re a Christian or not (I’m not going to get into my personal beliefs) there seems to be something universal at the heart of this novel which is similar to the message Jesus espoused, or that the authors of the various books of the Bible espoused using Jesus as their hero. If Dostoevsky had not gone out of his way to remind us that Alyosha was the novel’s hero we might have found our hero in Ivan, but Dostoevsky announces his intention on numerous occasions. The intent, therefore, was not to tear things down by revealing the negative aspects of the Church, alone. Dostoevsky tried to work, through Alyosha, to build a new way to live.

Do you think Dostoevsky ultimately succeeded or does the novel read as only the beginning of Alyosha’s journey?

I’m always open to hearing your thoughts on the book. Even if you didn’t make it through in February and find yourself reading the book many months or years down the road I’d love to hear your comments.

In March, for Slow-Read Sunday, I’ll be going through Hamlet. If you’d like to follow along I’ll be referring to this edition, but I think there are many free editions that will work. Next Sunday I’ll put up some thoughts about Acts 1 and 2. You’ll find Hamlet much less intense in terms of the number of pages you’ll need to read each week. If you can find the time to listen to the audiobook, watch the play, or watch a cinematic take on the play, I think you’ll get much more out of it.

Slow-Read Sunday: The Brothers Karamazov, Part Three

Discuss the two previous parts here: Part One and Part Two. I recommend these sites for more information on The Brothers KaramazovDartmouth Resources for The Brothers KaramazovMiddlebury Study Guide.

If the past sections were about philosophy/ideas/religion then Part Three is where plot takes over. You can see Dostoevsky’s mastery of the murder-mystery genre.

Your reading of Parts Three and Four will be informed by the groundwork laid in the earlier parts. All the work you put in the previous parts comes to fruition as we see Dmitri put on trial. Part Three, in particular, is filled with death and debauchery.

Here are some areas for special consideration:

1. Why do those as devout as Alyosha still weep at the loss of men like Elder Zosima?

Alyosha weeps at the loss of Elder Zosima. p. 329. Has Alyosha’s faith been shaken? Does the odor change his perception of Elder Zosima? p. 329.

2. Alyosha leaves the monastery without permission, without caring what the monks thought.

Alyosha leaves because he had a sudden awakening to a “higher justice” which he believed “had been violated.” p. 339. What higher justice has Alyosha woken up to?

3. Alyosha’s rebellion

How does a Russian monk rebel? By eating vodka and sausage, of course. Bad joke, I know. I apologize.

4. The scene involving Grushenka and the onion fable.

Grushenka tells a fable about an onion. p. 352. What does the fable mean with regard to Grushenka? Alyosha? Mankind? Why might this fable have been so important for Dostoevsky?

Take this is a step further and you could try to analyze how the entire novel is like an onion. What evidence could you point to from this part that shows this is a novel of layers? Are the layers all connected in some way to the whole?

5. Dmitri’s comedy of errors.

We see the case made against Dmitri in two ways in this part. First, we see the debauchery unfold in real-time. Next, we see the same acts through the eyes of the investigators. When Dmitri is finally charged with killing his father it’s no surprise to the reader that they’d make that deductive leap. p. 444. It must have been important for Dostoevsky to lay out the case and have us understand it. Why was it so important for us to see how a deductive exercise like an investigation can fall short of finding the truth?

6. The image of the suffering peasant child.

Dmitri has a dream about a peasant child. p. 507. After this he gives a speech about how we’re all guilty, but maintains his innocence related to his father’s death. During this dream, Dmitri seems to be like Job. Bad things are happening in the world and it seems that he’s just now woken up to suffering other than his own. We see it when Dmitri asks, “why are the people poor…why is the steppe bare…why are they blackened with such black misery..why don’t they feed the wee one?” p. 507. After this dream, Dmitri’s face is “lit up with joy.” Why do you think he has this reaction to his dream?

Next Sunday I’ll point out what was important to me from Part IV and the epilogue.