In a Nutshell

Twelfth Night

If Shylock in The Merchant of Venice is a thinly-veiled Puritan (see the earlier article in this series), so is Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Maria, in act two of Twelfth Night, describes Malvolio explicitly as “a kind of puritan,” and the critic Leslie Hotson has argued that Malvolio was modeled on the Puritan William Knollys, [...]

If Shylock in The Merchant of Venice is a thinly-veiled Puritan (see the earlier article in this series), so is Malvolio in Twelfth Night. Maria, in act two of Twelfth Night, describes Malvolio explicitly as “a kind of puritan,” and the critic Leslie Hotson has argued that Malvolio was modeled on the Puritan William Knollys, [...]

Hamlet in a Nutshell

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is arguably the greatest play ever written. It is, however, also one of the most misread and misunderstood. One could write a book, or perhaps a whole shelf-full of books, on the way in which the play is misconstrued by critics, or the manner in which it is sacrificed to the latest literary [...]

More than most of Shakespeare’s plays, Julius Caesar begs a good many questions. Who are the heroes? Where are the out and out villains, the machiavels, who are so evident in many of Shakespeare’s other plays? Where are the women? Is their relative absence significant? What does it say about politics and politicians? What does [...]

The original title of this delightful comedy was Sir John Falstaff and the Merry Wives of Windsor. This is hugely significant because the play is largely a vehicle or an excuse for the lampooning of the character of Falstaff, who had made his first appearance in Henry IV, Part 1. In that play, Falstaff’s character [...]

The Merchant of Venice is perhaps the greatest and indubitably the most controversial of Shakespeare’s comedies. It has been misunderstood and misconstrued to such a degree, however, that it is often seen as a tragedy, not a comedy. Such is the critical blindness of the age in which we find ourselves. Prior to a discussion [...]

There are two ways of reading Romeo and Juliet, one of which is correct, in the sense that it is the way that Shakespeare meant it to be read and understood, and the other is incorrect, in the sense that it violates and perverts Shakespeare’s intentions. The incorrect way of reading the play, which is [...]

The author of the late-medieval Arthurian romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is unknown. He was a contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer, which means that he was writing in the late fourteenth century, and he is probably the author of three other works, including the long allegorical poem Pearl.  Although the Gawain Poet was living [...]

The backdrop to The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer is a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Thomas Beckett, one of the most popular pilgrim sites in the whole of Christendom until its destruction by Henry VIII. It consists of a General Prologue, in which Chaucer introduces the fictional characters who are travelling together on [...]

The Divine Comedy is arguably the greatest poem ever written. It is also profoundly Catholic to its theological and philosophical core. Its author, Dante Alighieri, spent over ten years writing it, completing it a year before his death in 1321. It is fitting, therefore, that we should celebrate this finest of poetic masterpieces on the [...]

Beowulf, the Old English epic, probably dates from the early eighth century, a golden age of English Christianity when the land was awash with saints. The Beowulf poet, who was almost certainly a monk, was a contemporary of St. Bede the Venerable, a Doctor of the Church, and St. Boniface, the English apostle to the [...]

Along with The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Aeneid is one of the three epic pillars on which the edifice of western literature rests. These three works are, therefore, foundational. Written by Virgil a few decades before the birth of Christ, and at least seven centuries after the time of Homer, The Aeneid owes its [...]

As we saw in the previous essay in this series, Oedipus Rex presents the riddle of man without offering any solution. It seems to beg innumerable questions on the nature of man and on the mystery of suffering without giving any answers. It would, however, be a gross and grotesque error to conclude from the [...]

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles is more than merely a tragedy. It is a profound meditation on the relationship between fate and free will and on the consequences of that relationship with respect to the mystery and meaning of human suffering. Its plot is convoluted and provocative. Oedipus becomes King of Thebes after answering the riddle [...]

Sophocles is probably the greatest dramatist in the history of civilization, with the obvious exception of Shakespeare. He lived for ninety years, his life spanning almost the entirety of the fifth century B.C., from 496 to 406. During his long life, which seems to have been spent entirely in Athens, he witnessed both the rise [...]

As with The Iliad, Homer begins The Odyssey with a prayer to his Muse, the supernatural spirit of creativity, for the inspiration to tell the story of Odysseus well. He begins by recounting that Odysseus’ men “were destroyed by their own wild recklessness” and then sets the theological scene for the whole epic in the [...]

Sing, Muse, of Achilles’ anger and its devastation…and of the will of Zeus which was accomplished. The opening lines of Homer’s epic The Iliad say it all. In these first few words, the Poet betrays his purpose and unpacks the deepest meaning of his work.  He begins with a prayer to his Muse, the goddess [...]

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