Study Guide and Summary

The Renaissance in Shakespeare’s Time

Broadly speaking, the renaissance movement is used to describe how Europeans moved away from the restrictive ideas of the Middle Ages. The ideology that dominated the Middle Ages was heavily focused on the absolute power of God and was enforced by the formidable Catholic Church.

From the Fourteenth Century onwards, people started to break away from this idea. The renaissance movement did not necessarily reject the idea of God, but rather questioned humankind’s relationship to God – an idea that caused an unprecedented upheaval in the accepted social hierarchy. In fact, Shakespeare himself may have been Catholic.

This focus on humanity created a new-found freedom for artists, writers and philosophers to be inquisitive about the world around them.

Shakespeare: the Renaissance Man

Shakespeare was born towards the end of the renaissance period and was one of the first to bring the renaissance’s core values to the theater.

Shakespeare Embraced the Renaissance in the Following Ways:

  • Shakespeare updated the simplistic, two-dimensional writing style of pre-renaissance drama. He focused on creating “human” characters with psychologically complexity. Hamlet is perhaps the most famous example of this.
  • The upheaval in the accepted social hierarchy allowed Shakespeare to explore the humanity of every character regardless of their social position. Even monarchs are given human emotions and are capable of making mistakes.
  • Shakespeare utilized his knowledge of Greek and Roman classics when writing his plays. Before the renaissance, these texts had been suppressed by the Catholic Church.

Hamlet is the melancholy Prince of Denmark and grieving son to the recently deceased King. Thanks to Shakespeare’s skilful and psychologically-astute characterization, Hamlet is now considered to be the greatest dramatic character ever created.

Hamlet’s Grief

From our very first encounter with Hamlet, he is consumed by grief and obsessed by death. Although he is dressed in black to signify his mourning, his emotions run deeper than his appearance or words can convey. In Act 1, Scene 2, he says to his mother:

‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good-mother,
Nor customary suits of solemn black …
Together with all forms, moods, shows of grief
That can denote me truly. These indeed ‘seem’,
For they are actions that a man might play;
But I have that within which passeth show –
These but the trappings and the suits of woe.

The depth of Hamlet’s emotional turmoil can be measured against the high spirits displayed by the rest of the court. Hamlet is pained to think that everyone has managed to forget his father so quickly – especially his mother, Gertrude. Within a month of her husband’s death, Gertrude has married her brother-in-law. Hamlet cannot comprehend his mother’s actions and considers them to be an act of treachery.

Hamlet and Claudius

Hamlet idealizes his father in death and describes him as “so excellent a king” in his “O that this too too solid flesh would melt” speech in Act 1, Scene 2. It is therefore impossible for the new king, Claudius, to live up to Hamlet’s expectations. In the same scene, he pleads with Hamlet to think upon him as a father – an idea that furthers Hamlet’s contempt:

We pray you to throw to earth
This unprevailing woe, and think of us
As of a father

When the ghost reveals that Claudius killed the king to take the throne, Hamlet vows to avenge his father’s murder. However, Hamlet is emotionally disorientated and finds it difficult to take action. He cannot balance his overwhelming hatred for Claudius, his all-encompassing grief and the evil required to carry out his revenge. Hamlet’s desperate philosophizing leads him into a moral paradox: that he must commit murder to avenge murder. Hamlet’s act of revenge is inevitably delayed amid his emotional turmoil.

Hamlet After Exile

We see a different Hamlet return from exile in Act 5: his emotional turmoil has been replaced by perspective, and his anxiety replaced by cool rationality. By the final scene, Hamlet has come to the realization that killing Claudius is his destiny:

There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.

Perhaps Hamlet’s new-found confidence in fate is little more than a form of self-justification; a way to rationally and morally distance himself from the murder he is about to commit.

It is the complexity of Hamlet’s characterization that has made him so enduring. Today, it is difficult to appreciate how revolutionary Shakespeare’s approach to Hamlet was because his contemporaries were still penning two-dimensional characters. Hamlet’s psychological subtlety emerged in a time before the concept of psychology had been invented – a truly remarkable feat.

Hamlet Summary (Short)

Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, is visited by a mysterious ghost resembling his recently deceased father, the King of Denmark. The ghost tells Hamlet that his father was murdered by Claudius, the King’s brother, who then took the throne and married Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude. The ghost encourages Hamlet to avenge his father’s death by killing Claudius.

The task before Hamlet weighs heavily upon him. Hamlet’s uncertainty is what makes the character so believable – he is arguably one of literature’s most psychologically complex characters. He is slow to take action, but when he does it is rash and violent. We can see this in the famous “curtain scene” when Hamlet kills Polonius.

Hamlet’s Love

Polonius’ daughter, Ophelia, is in love with Hamlet, but their relationship has broken down since Hamlet learned of his father’s death. Ophelia is instructed by Polonius and Laertes to spurn Hamlet’s advances. Ultimately, Ophelia commits suicide as a result of Hamlet’s confusing behavior towards her.

A Play-within-a-play

In Act 3, Scene 2, Hamlet organizes for players to re-enact his father’s murder at the hands of Claudius in order to gauge Claudius’ reaction. He confronts his mother about his father’s murder and hears someone behind the arras – believing it to be Claudius, Hamlet stabs the man with his sword. It transpires that he has actually killed Polonius.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Claudius realizes that Hamlet is out to get him and professes that Hamlet is mad. Claudius arranges for Hamlet to be shipped to England with his former friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who have been informing the king about Hamlet’s state of mind.

Claudius has secretly sent orders for Hamlet to be killed on arrival in England, but Hamlet escapes from the ship and swaps his death order for a letter ordering the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

“To Be or Not To be …”

Hamlet arrives back in Denmark just as Ophelia is being buried which prompts him to contemplate life, death and the frailty of the human condition.

Tragic Ending

Laertes returns from France to avenge the death of Polonius, his father. Claudius plots with him to make Hamlet’s death appear accidental and encourages him to anoint his sword with poison – putting a cup of poison aside in case the sword is unsuccessful.

In the action, the swords are swapped and Laertes is mortally wounded with the poisoned sword. He forgives Hamlet before he dies.

Gertrude dies by accidentally drinking the cup of poison. Hamlet stabs Claudius but is himself fatally wounded. Hamlet’s revenge is finally complete. In his dying moments, he bequeaths the throne to Fortinbras.

Hamlet Summary (Scene By Scene)

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 1

Francisco, Barnardo, Horatio and Marcellus are guarding the castle. A ghost appears dressed in armor resembling Hamlet the King (Hamlet’s father), who recently died. They try to encourage the ghost to speak its purpose, but it does not. They decide to inform Prince Hamlet about the strange event.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 2

Claudius is the new King of Denmark – he explains that after the death of his brother, he has taken over the throne and married King Hamlet’s recently widowed wife, Gertrude. Claudius speaks of young Fortinbras who has written to him demanding the land that King Hamlet won from Fortinbras’ father.

It is evident that Hamlet disapproves of Claudius. Hamlet explains that mourning for his father is normal, implying that everyone else has got over his death too quickly. This is a pointed remark to his mother who has married her dead husband’s brother only a month after his death. In a soliloquy, Hamlet explains his disgust for his mother’s actions but understands that he must hold his tongue. Horatio, Marcellus and Barnardo tell Hamlet about the apparition.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3

Laertes is leaving for France. He warns Ophelia that Hamlet’s love for her may be fleeting and inconstant. Polonius enters to bid farewell to his son and wants to know what they were discussing. Polonius also suggests that Hamlet’s professed love for her may not be genuine.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 4

Hamlet, Horatio and Marcellus are looking for the ghost. As midnight comes, the ghost appears to them. Horatio and Marcellus cannot discourage Hamlet from following the ghost and consider the specter to be a bad omen for Denmark. This scene kick-starts the main story that drives ‘Hamlet’.

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5

The ghost explains to Hamlet that he is the spirit of his father who cannot rest until revenge is taken upon his murderer. It is revealed that Claudius poured poison into the King’s ear while he was sleeping. Horatio and Marcellus enter and Hamlet explains that Claudius is a villain.

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 1

Ophelia claims that Hamlet came to her bedchamber, took hold of her, stared into her eyes and then left. She confirms to Polonius that she has sent back Hamlet’s love letters and refused to meet with him. Polonius believes that this may has angered Hamlet.

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are instructed by King Claudius and Queen Gertrude to draw Hamlet out of his melancholy. Polonius suggests that Hamlet is upset because he has been rejected by Ophelia.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 1

Polonius and Claudius arrange to secretly watch a meeting between Hamlet and Ophelia. When they meet, Hamlet denies any affection for her which further confuses Polonius and Claudius. They decide that either Gertrude can get to the root of Hamlet’s “madness” or he will be sent to England.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 2

Hamlet directs the actors in a play to depict his father’s murder – he hopes to study Claudius’ reaction to this. Claudius and Gertrude leave during the performance. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern inform Hamlet that Gertrude wants to speak to him.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 3

Polonius arranges to secretly listen to the conversation between Hamlet and Gertrude. When alone, Claudius speaks of his conscience and guilt. Hamlet enters from behind and draws his sword to kill Claudius but decides that it would be wrong to kill a man while praying.

Hamlet Act 3, Scene 4

Hamlet is about reveal Claudius’ villainy to Gertrude when he hears someone behind the curtain. Hamlet thinks it is Claudius and thrusts his sword through the arras – he has killed Polonius. Hamlet reveals all and speaks to the ghost. Gertrude, who cannot see the apparition, is now convinced of Hamlet’s madness.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 1

Claudius decides to send Hamlet to England when he hears of Polonius’ death.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 2

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ask Hamlet what he has done with Polonius’ body because they want to take it to the chapel. Hamlet scorns them for their loyalty to Claudius.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 3

Claudius demands that Hamlet reveals the location of Polonius’ body and informs him that he will soon be traveling to England. The King hopes that the English authorities will obey the orders he has sent with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 4

Fortinbras sends a message to Claudius that he will be marching on his land. He encounters Hamlet who considers humanity’s capacity for violence. Hamlet decides to be more brutal in his revenge.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 5

Ophelia is behaving strangely, singing a song about death. Claudius thinks that Ophelia is suffering from grief following the death of her father. Laertes also discovers that his father is dead.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 6

A sailor gives Horatio a letter from Hamlet explaining that he has been captured by pirates reroute to England.

Hamlet Act 4, Scene 7

Laertes wants to avenge the death of his father and strikes a deal with Claudius. Laertes is to stab him with a poisoned rapier and Claudius is to have a standby cup of poison prepared. Gertrude reports that Ophelia has drowned herself.

Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1

At Ophelia’s freshly dug grave, Hamlet contemplates the lives belonging to the graveyard’s skulls and their dignity in life compared to their apparent treatment in death. Hamlet addresses the skull of Yorick, the King’s jester, who he once knew.

The funeral procession enters to bury Ophelia. Hamlet, observing, realizes who they are burying and confronts Laertes. As Hamlet professes his love for Ophelia, Claudius announces that Hamlet is mad.

Hamlet Act 5, Scene 2

Hamlet tells Horatio that Claudius had ordered his death in England. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern unsuspectingly carried the orders in a letter; which he replaced with an order for their deaths.

A duel between Laertes and Hamlet is fought. Hamlet fights well, so Claudius offers him the poison cup – which he refuses. Unknowingly, Gertrude drinks from the cup. In the fight, Laertes and Hamlet swap rapiers and Laertes is injured with his own rapier. He dies from the poison. In his dying moments, Laertes informs Hamlet of Claudius’ plan and forgives him for killing his father.

A fatally wounded Hamlet kills Claudius before drinking the poison to take the agony out of his death. Fortinbras, whose army has invaded Denmark, enters just as Hamlet is dying. Hamlet bequeaths the throne to Fortinbras and is promised a soldier’s send off by the new King.

Hamlet Themes


It is interesting that Hamlet is a revenge tragedy driven by a protagonist unable to commit to the act of revenge. In the story, it is Hamlet’s inability to avenge the murder of his father that drives the plot forwards and the deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern all result from Hamlet’s delay.

Action verses Inaction

To highlight Hamlet’s inability to take action, Shakespeare includes a number of other characters capable of taking resolute and headstrong revenge as required. Fortinbras travels many miles to take his revenge and ultimately succeeds in conquering Denmark; Laertes plots to kill Hamlet to revenge the death of his father, Polonius.

Compared to these characters, Hamlet’s revenge is ineffectual. Once he decides to take action, he delays any action until the end of the play. It should be noted that this is not uncommon in Elizabethan revenge tragedies. What makes Hamlet a unique piece of writing is the remarkable way in which Shakespeare uses the delay to build Hamlet’s emotional and psychological complexity.

Hamlet’s revenge is delayed in three significant ways:

  1. Hamlet must first establish Claudius’ guilt, which he does in Act 3, Scene 2 by presenting the murder of his father in a play. When Claudius storms out during the performance, Hamlet becomes convinced of his guilt.
  2. Hamlet then intellectualizes his revenge, contrasting with the rash actions of Fortinbras and Laertes. For example, Hamlet has the opportunity to kill Claudius in Act 3, Scene 3. He draws his sword, but is concerned that Claudius will go to heaven if killed while praying.
  3. After killing Polonius, Hamlet is sent to England making it impossible for him to gain access to Claudius and carry out his revenge. During his trip, he decides to become more headstrong in his desire for revenge.

Although he does ultimately kill Claudius in the final scene of the play, we cannot credit Hamlet with plotting the revenge – rather, it is Claudius’ plan to kill Hamlet that backfires.

Perhaps if Hamlet had acted earlier, lives could have been saved?


Death permeates Hamlet right from the opening scene of the play, where the ghost of Hamlet’s father introduces the idea of death and its consequences. The ghost represents a disruption to the accepted social order – a theme also reflected in the volatile socio-political state of Denmark and Hamlet’s own indecision.

This disorder has been triggered by the “unnatural death” of Denmark’s figurehead, soon followed by a raft of murder, suicide, revenge and accidental deaths.

Hamlet is fascinated by death throughout the story. Although this is deeply rooted in his character, it could be a product of his grief. Hamlet’s most potent consideration of death comes in Act 4, Scene 3. His almost morbid obsession with the idea is revealed when asked by Claudius where he has hidden Polonius’ body.

At supper … Not where he eats, but where a is eaten. A certain convocation of politic worms are e’en at him. Your worm is your only emperor for diet. We fat all creatures else to fat us, and we fat ourselves for maggots. Your fat king and your lean beggar is but variable service – two dishes, but to one table. That’s the end.

Hamlet is describing the life-cycle of human existence. In other words: we eat in life; we are eaten in death. The frailty of human existence haunts Hamlet throughout the play and it’s a theme he returns to in Act 5, Scene 1: the iconic graveyard scene. Holding Yorick’s skull, he explores the brevity and futility of the human condition and the inevitability of death:

HAMLETNo, faith, not a jot; but to follow him thither with modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it, as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop at a beer-barrel?

This sets the scene for Ophelia’s funeral where she too will be returned to the ground.

The idea of suicide also emerges from Hamlet’s preoccupation with death. Although he seems to consider this is an option, he does not act. Similarly, he does not act when he has the opportunity to kill Claudius and avenge the murder of his father in Act 3, Scene 3. Ironically, it is this lack of action on Hamlet’s part that ultimately leads to his death at the end of the play.

Alongside Hamlet’s main themes, like death, revenge and Hamlet’s inability to act, a number of sub-themes emerge in the play:

The State of Denmark

The political and social condition of Denmark is referred to throughout the play and the ghost is an embodiment of Denmark’s growing social unrest. This is because the blood-line of the monarchy has been unnaturally disrupted by Claudius, an immoral and power-hungry king.

At the time this play was written, Queen Elizabeth was 60 and there was concern about who would inherit the throne. Mary Queen of Scots’ son was an heir, but had the potential to ignite the political tension between Britain and Scotland. Therefore, the state of Denmark in Hamlet could be a reflection of Britain’s own social unrest.

Sexuality and Incest

Gertrude’s incestuous relationship with her bother-in-law plagues Hamlet more that his father’s death. In Act 3, Scene 4, he accuses his mother of living “In the rank sweat of an enseamed bed, / Stewed in corruption, honeying and making love / Over the nasty sty.”

Gertrude has destroyed Hamlet’s faith in women, which is perhaps why his feelings towards Ophelia become ambivalent.

Yet, Hamlet is not so angered by his uncle’s incest – it is Gertrude, not Claudius that he blames. Perhaps the reason for this is a combination of women’s passive role in society and Hamlet’s overpowering (maybe even verging on incestuous) passion for his mother.

Ophelia’s sexuality is also controlled by the men in her life. Laertes and Polonius are overbearing guardians and insist that she rejects Hamlet’s advances, despite her love for him.


In Hamlet, Shakespeare uses uncertainty more like a dramatic device than a theme. The uncertainties of the unfolding plot are what drive the actions of each character.

From the very beginning of the play, the ghost poses a great deal of uncertainty for Hamlet. He (and we) are uncertain about the ghost’s purpose – is it a sign of Denmark’s socio-political instability, a manifestation of Hamlet’s own conscience, an evil spirit provoking him to murder, or his father’s spirit unable to rest?

Hamlet’s uncertainty delays him from taking action, ultimately causing the unnecessary deaths of Polonius, Laertes, Ophelia, Gertrude, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Even at the end of the play, we are left with a feeling of uncertainty when Hamlet bequeaths the throne to the rash and violent Fortinbras. In the closing moments of the play, Denmark’s future looks less certain than it did at the beginning.


Source: http://shakespeare.about.com/od/hamlet/a/hamlet_guide.htm



‘Macbeth’ Study Guide

Macbeth Summary

King Duncan hears of Macbeth’s heroics at war and bestows the title Thane of Cawdor on him. The current Thane of Cawdor has been deemed a traitor and the king orders that he be killed.

The Three Witches

Unaware of this, Macbeth and Banquo meet three witches on a heath who predict that Macbeth will inherit the title and eventually become king. They tell Banquo that he will be happy and that his sons will inherit the throne.

Macbeth is then informed that he has been named Thane of Cawdor and his belief in the witches’ prophecy is confirmed.

King Duncan’s Murder

Macbeth contemplates his fate and Lady Macbeth encourages him to act to ensure the prophecy is realized.

A feast is organized to which King Duncan and his sons are invited. Lady Macbeth hatches a plot to kill King Duncan while he sleeps and encourages Macbeth to carry out the plan.

After the murder, Macbeth is full of regret. Lady Macbeth scorns him for his cowardly behavior. When Macbeth realizes that he has forgotten to leave the knife at the scene of the crime, Lady Macbeth takes over and completes the deed.

Macduff finds the dead King and Macbeth accuses the Chamberlains of murder. King Duncan’s sons flee in fear of their lives.

Banquo’s Murder

Banquo questions the witches’ predictions and wants to discuss them with Macbeth. Macbeth sees Banquo as a threat and employs murderers to kill him and his son, Fleance. The murderers botch the job and only manage to kill Banquo. Fleance flees the scene and is blamed for his father’s death.

Banquo’s Ghost

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth host a feast to lament the death of the King. Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost sitting in his chair and his concerned guests soon disperse. Lady Macbeth urges her husband to rest and forget his wrongdoings, but he decides to meet with the witches again to discover his future.


When Macbeth meets the three witches, they concoct a spell and conjure apparitions to answer his questions and predict his fate. A bodiless head appears and warns Macbeth to fear Macduff. Then a bloody child appears and assures him that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” A third apparition of a crowned child with a tree in his hand tells Macbeth that he will not be vanquished until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.”

Macduff’s Revenge

Macduff travels to England to help Malcolm (King Duncan’s son) avenge his father’s death and overthrow Macbeth. By this time, Macbeth has already decided that Macduff is his enemy and kills his wife and son.

Lady Macbeth’s Death

The doctor observes Lady Macbeth’s strange behavior. Every night she acts out washing her hands in her sleep as if trying to wash away her guilt. She dies shortly after.

Macbeth’s Final Battle

Malcolm and Macduff have assembled an army at Birnam Wood. Malcolm suggests the soldiers each cut down a tree in order to advance on the castle unseen. Macbeth is warned that the wood seems to be moving. Scoffing, Macbeth feels confident that he will be victorious in battle as his predicted invincibility that “none of woman born shall harm him” will protect him.

Macbeth and Macduff finally confront each other. Macduff reveals that he was ripped from his Mother’s womb in an untimely manner, so the “none of woman born” prophesy does not apply to him. He kills Macbeth and holds his head aloft for all to see before declaring Malcolm’s rightful place as king.


Characters Analysis


At the beginning of the play Macbeth is celebrated as a brave soldier and is rewarded with a new title from the king. He becomes the Thane of Cawdor as predicted by the three Macbeth witches, whose scheming helps drive Macbeth’s Ambition and transform him into a murderer and tyrant.

Our perception of Macbeth as a brave soldier is eroded when we see how easily he is manipulated by Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth is soon overwhelmed with ambition and self-doubt. Although he constantly questions his own actions, he is also compelled to commit further atrocities in order to cover up his previous wrong-doings.

Is Macbeth Evil?

It is difficult to view Macbeth as an inherently evil character because it is clear that he lacks strength of character. The events of the play also affect his mental stability – his guilt causes him a great deal of mental anguish and leads to hallucinations. In this respect, Macbeth has more in common with Hamlet than with Shakespeare’s other out-and-out villains like Othello’s Iago. However, unlike Hamlet, Macbeth is quick to act in order to fulfill his desires.

Macbeth’s Downfall

Macbeth is never happy with his actions, even when they have earned him his prize, because he is acutely aware of his own tyranny. At the end of the play there is a sense of relief when the soldiers are at his gate. However, he continues to remain foolhardily confident – perhaps due to his unerring belief in the witches’ predictions.

The play ends where it began: with a battle. Although Macbeth is killed as a tyrant, there is a sense that his soldier status is reinstated in the final scenes of the play. Throughout the course of the play Macbeth comes full circle.

Lady Macbeth

Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most infamous female characters because she exerts a great deal of influence over the events of the play and is the main instigator in the plot to kill the king.

In many respects, Lady Macbeth is a classic femme fatal. She is more ambitious and power hungry than Macbeth, her husband, and when he tries to back out of the murder she has plotted, she calls his manhood into question.

A Misogynistic Character?

This presentation of Lady Macbeth has attracted accusations of misogyny from critics because the women in the play (Lady Macbeth and the witches) are manipulative and evil. Lady Macbeth is equally as ambitious as her husband but is unable to take action herself – perhaps because of the social constraints of the time. She therefore cajoles her husband to act on her behalf.

Masculinity is defined in the play by ambition and power – two qualities that Lady Macbeth possesses in abundance. By constructing the character in this way, Shakespeare challenges our preconceived views of masculinity and femininity. But what exactly was Shakespeare suggesting? On one hand it was a radical idea to present a dominant female character, but on the other hand she is presented negatively.


Lady Macbeth’s guilt soon overwhelms her. She has nightmares and tries to wash the blood from her hands. By the end of her life, guilt has replaced her incredible ambition in equal measure. We are lead to believe that her guilt ultimately leads to her suicide.

Lady Macbeth is therefore a victim of her own ambition – and also possibly of her sex. As a woman, she is not resilient enough to deal with such strong emotions, whereas Macbeth fights on to the very end despite his misgivings.

The Macbeth Witches

Shakespeare used a number of devices to create a sense of otherness and malevolence for the Macbeth witches (also referred to as the “weird sisters”). For example:

  • The Macbeth witches speak in rhyming couplets which distinguishes them from all other characters in the play
  • The Macbeth witches are said to have beards, making them difficult to gender
  • They are always accompanied by storms and bad weather

During the play, the Macbeth witches make five key predictions:

  1. Macbeth will become Thane of Cawdor
  2. Banquo’s children will become kings
  3. They advise Macbeth to “beware Macduff”
  4. Macbeth cannot be harmed by anyone “of woman born”
  5. Macbeth cannot be beaten until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane shall come”

Four of these predictions are realized; one is not. Although Banquo’s children do not become Kings during the course of the play, Banquo’s children do escape murder and could return at some point in the future. At the end of the play it is left for the audience to decide whether or not they believe the Macbeth witches.

But are the witch’s prophesies preordained? Or do they simply encourage Macbeth to become active in constructing his own fate? It is perhaps part of Macbeth’s character to shape his life according to the predictions – whereas Banquo does not. This might explain why the only prophesy not realized by the end of the play relates directly to Banquo and cannot be shaped by Macbeth (although Macbeth would also have little control over the “Great Birnam Wood” prediction).

By writing the Macbeth witches in this manner, Shakespeare is asking an age old question: are our lives already mapped out for us or do we have a hand in what happens to us? Therefore, at the end of the play the audience is forced to consider the extent to which the characters have control over their own lives.

‘Macbeth’ Themes

Macbeth: Ambition

Macbeth’s ambition is driven by a number of factors including:

  • Prophesy: The Macbeth witches prophesize that Macbeth will become King. Macbeth believes them and the various prophesies are realized throughout the play. However, it is unclear whether these prophesies are preordained or self fulfilling.
  • Lady Macbeth: his wife is the driving force that encourages Macbeth to overcome his strong sense of guilt and take action on the prophesies.

Macbeth’s ambition soon spirals out of control and forces him to murder again and again to cover up his previous wrongdoings. Macbeth’s first victims are the Chamberlains who are blamed and killed by Macbeth for the murder of King Duncan. Banquo’s murder soon follows once Macbeth fears that the truth could be exposed.


Ambition has series consequences in the play: Macbeth is slain as a tyrant and Lady Macbeth commits suicide. Shakespeare does not give either character the opportunity to enjoy what they have achieved – perhaps suggesting that it is more satisfying to achieve your goals fairly than to achieve them through corruption.

Ambition and Morality

In testing Macduff’s loyalty, Malcolm outlines the difference between ambition and morality by pretending to be greedy and power hungry. He wants to see if Macduff believes these are good qualities for a King to posses. Macduff does not and therefore demonstrates that a moral code is more important in positions of power than blind ambition.

At the end of the play, Malcolm is the victorious King and Macbeth’s burning ambition has been extinguished. But is this really the end to over-reaching ambition in the kingdom? The audience is left to wonder if Banquo’s heir will eventually become king as prophesized by the Macbeth witches. Will he act on his own ambition or will fate play a part in realizing the prophesy? Or were the witches’ predictions wrong?

Macbeth: Guilt

Macbeth’s guilt prevents him from fully enjoying his ill gotten gains. At the start of the play he is described as a hero and this quality is still present even in his darkest moments. Shakespeare suggests this idea by engendering Macbeth with a strong sense of guilt.

For example, Macbeth is visited by the ghost of Banquo, who he murdered to protect his secret. The apparition embodies Macbeth’s guilt and therefore causes Macbeth to nearly reveal the truth about King Duncan’s murder.

However, Macbeth’s guilt is not enough to discourage him from murder. This perhaps indicates a lack of morality – Macbeth’s key character failing.

Lady Macbeth’s Guilt

Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind her husband’s actions. In fact, Macbeth’s strong sense of guilt suggests that he would not have realized his ambitions without Lady Macbeth there to encourage him.

Unlike Macbeth’s conscious guilt, Lady Macbeth’s guilt is subconsciously expressed through her dreams. By presenting her guilt in this way Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that we are unable to escape guilt for wrongdoing.

By the end of the play Lady Macbeth’s guilt becomes untenable and she eventually kills herself. Evidently, the intensity of her guilt and shame was stronger than anything she consciously conveyed.


Source: http://shakespeare.about.com/od/macbeth/tp/Macbeth_Study_Guide.htm

Antigone Study Guide and Summary

Plot Overview

The Chorus introduces the players. Antigone is the girl who will rise up alone and die young. Haemon, Antigone’s dashing fiancé, chats with Ismene, her beautiful sister. Though one would have expected Haemon to go for Ismene, he inexplicably proposed to Antigone on the night of a ball. Creon is king of Thebes, bound to the duties of rule. Next to the sisters’ sits the Nurse and Queen Eurydice. Eurydice will knit until the time comes for her to go to her room and die. Finally three Guards play cards, indifferent to the tragedy before them.

The Chorus recounts the events leading to Antigone’s tragedy. Oedipus, Antigone and Ismene’s father, had two sons, Eteocles and Polynices. Upon Oedipus’ death, it was agreed that each would take the throne from one year to the next. After the first year, however, Eteocles, the elder, refused to step down. Polynices and six foreign princes marched on Thebes. All were defeated. The brothers killed each other in a duel, making Creon king. Creon ordered Eteocles buried in honor and left Polynices to rot on the pain of death.

It is dawn, and the house is still asleep. Antigone sneaks in and the Nurse appears and asks where she has been. Suddenly Ismene enters, also asking where Antigone has been. Antigone sends the Nurse away for coffee. Ismene declares that they cannot bury Polynices and that she must understand Creon’s intentions. Antigone refuses and bids Ismene to go back to bed. Suddenly Haemon enters and Antigone asks Haemon to hold her with all his strength. She tells him that she will never be able to marry him. Stupefied, Haemon departs. Ismene returns, terrified that Antigone will attempt to bury Polynices despite the daylight. Antigone reveals that she has already done so.

Later that day, the nervous First Guard enters and informs Creon that someone covered Polynices’s body with a little dirt last night. He orders the guards to uncover the body and keep the matter secret. The Chorus appears and announces that the tragedy is on. Its spring is wound, and it will uncoil by itself. Unlike melodrama, tragedy is clean, restful, and flawless. In tragedy, everything is inevitable, hopeless, and known. All are bound to their parts.

The Guards enter with the struggling Antigone. The First proposes that they throw a party. Creon appears, and the First explains that Antigone was found digging Polynices’ grave by hand in broad daylight. Creon sends the guards out. Once he is certain no one saw Antigone arrested, he orders her to bed, telling her to say that she has been ill. Antigone replies that she will only go out again tonight. Creon asks if she thinks her being Oedipus’s daughter puts her above the law. Like Oedipus, her death must seem the “natural climax” to her life. Creon, on the other hand, devotes himself only to the order of the kingdom. Antigone’s marriage is worth more to Thebes than her death.

Antigone insists that he cannot save her. Enraged, Creon seizes her arm and twists her to his side. Antigone remarks that Creon is squeezing her arm too tightly, but his grasp no longer hurts. Creon releases her. He knows his reign makes him loathsome but he has no choice. Antigone rejoins that he should have said no; she can say no to anything she thinks vile. While ruined, she is a queen. Because Creon said yes, he can only sentence her to death. Creon asks her to pity him then and live. Antigone replies that she is not here to understand, only to say no and die.

Creon makes a final appeal, saying that Antigone needs to understand what goes on in the wings of her drama. As a child, she must have known her brothers made her parents unhappy. Polynices was a cruel, vicious voluptuary. Being too cowardly to imprison him, Oedipus let him join the Argive army. As soon as Polynices reached Argos, the attempts on Oedipus’ life began. But Eteocles, Thebes’ martyr, too plotted to overthrow his father. Both were gangsters. When Creon sent for their bodies, they were found mashed together in a bloody pulp. He had the prettier one brought in.

Dazed, Antigone moves to go her room. Creon urges her to find Haemon and marry quickly. She must not waste her life and its happiness. Antigone challenges his servile happiness. She is of the tribe that asks questions and hates man’s hope. A distraught Ismene rushes in, begging Antigone’s forgiveness and promising to help her. Antigone rejects her, but she does not deserve to die with her. Ismene swears she will bury Polynices herself then. Antigone calls on Creon to have her arrested, warning him that her disease is catching. Creon relents. The Chorus protests. Haemon enters and begs his father to stop the guards. Creon replies that the mob already knows the truth, and he can do nothing.

Antigone sits before the First Guard in her cell; his is the last face she will see. The Guard rambles about his pay, rations, and professional quibbles. Antigone interrupts him, pointing out that she is soon to die. She asks how she is to be executed. The Guard informs her that she is to be immured. The Guard asks if he can do anything for her. She asks if he could give someone a letter, offering him her ring. Reluctant to endanger his job, the Guard suggests that she dictate her letter and he write it in his notebook in case they search his pockets. Antigone winces but accepts. She recites her letter, “Forgive me, my darling. You would all have been so happy except for Antigone.” Suddenly a drum roll is heard, and the Guards lead Antigone out.

The Chorus enters, announcing that it is Creon’s turn. The Messenger delivers the news: Antigone had just been immured, when the crowd heard Haemon’s moan from within. Creon howled for the slaves to remove the stones. Antigone had hung herself. Haemon then stabbed himself and lay beside Antigone in a pool of blood. Upon being told of Haemon’s death, Eurydice finished her row of knitting, climbed to her room, and cut her throat. Creon is alone. The Chorus notes that truly if it had not been for Antigone, all would have been at peace. All who had to die have now died. Only the Guards are left, and the tragedy does not matter to them.

Analysis of Major Characters


Antigone is the play’s tragic heroine. In the first moments of the play, Antigone is opposed to her radiant sister Ismene. Unlike her beautiful and docile sister, Antigone is scrawny, sallow, withdrawn, and recalcitrant brat. Like Anouilh’s Eurydice, the heroine of his play Eurydice, and Joan of Arc, Antigone has a boyish physique and curses her girlhood. She is the antithesis of the melodramatic heroine, the archetypal blond ingénue as embodied in Ismene. Antigone has always been difficult, terrorizing Ismene as a child, always insisting on the gratification of her desires, refusing to “understand” the limits placed on her. Her envy of Ismene is clear. Ismene is entirely of this world, the object of all men’s desires. Thus she will at one point rob Ismene of her feminine accoutrements to seduce her fiancé Haemon. She fails, however, as such human pleasures are not meant for her.

Generally audiences have received Anouilh’s Antigone as a figure for French Resistance, Antigone appearing as the young girl who rises up alone against state power. Anouilh’s adaptation strips Antigone’s act of its moral, political, religious, and filial trappings, allowing it to emerge in all its gratuitousness. In the end, Antigone’s tragedy rests in her refusal to cede on her desire. Against all prohibitions and without any just cause, she will bury her brother to the point of her own death. As we learn in her confrontation with Creon, this insistence on her desire locates her in a line of tragic heroes, specifically that of Oedipus. Like Oedipus, her insistence on her desire beyond the limits of reason render her ugly, abject, tabooed. In refusing to cede it, she moves outside the human community. As with Oedipus, it is precisely her moment of abjection, when she has lost all hope, when her tragic beauty emerges. Her beauty exerts a chilling fascination. As Ismene notes, Antigone is not beautiful like the rest, but beautiful in a way that stops children in the street, beautiful in a way that unsettles, frightens, and awes.


Antigone’s uncle, the powerfully built King Creon is a weary, wrinkled man suffering the burdens of rule. Before the deaths of Oedipus and his sons, he dedicated himself to art patronage but has now surrendered himself entirely to the throne. A practical man, he firmly distances himself from the tragic aspirations of Oedipus and his line. As he tells Antigone, his only interest is in political and social order. Creon is bound to ideas of good sense, simplicity, and the banal happiness of everyday life. To Creon, life is but the happiness one makes, the happiness that inheres in a grasped tool, a garden bench, a child playing at one’s feet. Uninterested in playing the villain in his niece’s tragedy, Creon has no desire to sentence Antigone to death. Antigone is far more useful to Thebes as mother to its heir than as its martyr, and he orders her crime covered-up. Though fond of Antigone, Creon will have no choice but to but to execute her. As the recalcitrant Antigone makes clear, by saying “yes” to state power, Creon has committed himself to acts he finds loathsome if the order of the state demands it. Antigone’s insistence on her desire in face of state power brings ruin into Thebes and to Creon specifically. With the death of his family, Creon is left utterly alone in the palace. His throne even robs him of his mourning, the king and his pace sadly shuttling off to a cabinet meeting after the announcement of the family’s deaths.

The Chorus

In Greek tragedy, the Chorus consisted of a group of approximately ten people, playing the role of death messenger, dancing, singing, and commenting throughout from the margins of the action. Anouilh reduces the Chorus to a single figure who retains his collective function nevertheless. The Chorus represents an indeterminate group, be it the inhabitants of Thebes or the moved spectators. It also appears as narrator. The Chorus frames the play with a prologue and epilogue, introducing the action and characters under the sign of fatality. We see this fatalism most clearly perhaps its characteristic gesture of demonstration, prefacing many of its remarks with “Et voilà” in the original script. In presenting the tragedy, the Chorus would instruct the audience on proper spectatorship, reappearing at the tragedy’s pivotal moments to comment on the action or the nature of tragedy itself. Along with playing narrator, the Chorus also attempts to intercede throughout the play, whether on the behalf of the Theban people or the horrified spectators.

The Guards

The three Guardsmen are interpolations into the Antigone legend, doubles for the rank-and-file fascist collaborators or collabos of Anouilh’s day. The card-playing trio, made all the more mindless and indistinguishable in being grouped in three, emerges from a long stage tradition of the dull-witted police officer. As the Chorus notes, they smell of garlic and beer, concern themselves with the mundane, and are in general not bad people. Serving as a spokesman of sorts, the First Guard gives voice to their thoughts: they follow orders, and they cover for themselves when things go wrong. They are eternally indifferent, innocent, and ready to serve whatever powers that be. In other words, they have no particular loyalty to Creon. As the Chorus indicates, they would arrest him if need be. This indifference makes them brutal and dangerous. Some critics have taken Anouilh’s guards, which stand in contrast to the royal heroes of tragedy, as the clearest manifestation of his “aristocratic pessimism.”

Importantly, the Guards also figure as inappropriate spectators: men left entirely untouched by the tragedy that unfolds before them. The Chorus makes this especially clear in the prologue and epilogue, where the trio appears idly playing cards. As the Chorus notes, the tragedy is “no skin of their backs.” In this respect, the indifferent trio recalls the guardsmen from Anouilh’s other tragedies, such as the guard whose chatter about the harvest close his Medea.

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols


The Nature of Tragedy

Halfway through the play, the Chorus appears on the scene to announce that the tragedy is on. His speech offers a meta-theatrical commentary on the nature of tragedy. Here, in apparently a reference to Jean Cocteau, tragedy appears as a machine in perfect order, a machine that proceeds automatically and has been ready since the beginning of time. Tension of the tragic plot is the tension of a spring: the most haphazard event sets it on its inexorable march: in some sense, it has been lying in wait for its catalyst. Tragedy belongs to an order outside human time and action. It will realize itself in spite of its players and all their attempts at intervention. Anouilh himself commented on the paradoxical nature of this suspense: “What was beautiful and is still beautiful about the time of the Greeks is knowing the end in advance. That is “real” suspense…” As the Chorus notes, in tragedy everything has “already happened.” Anouilh’s spectator has surrendered, masochistically, to a succession of events it can hardly bear to watch. “Suspense” here is the time before those events’ realization.

Having compared tragedy to other media, the Chorus then sets it off generically, specifically from the genre of melodrama. Tragedy is “restful” and “flawless,” free of melodramatic stock characters, dialogues, and plot complications. All is inevitable. This inevitability lends, in spite of tragedy’s tension, the genre “tranquility.” Moreover, it gives its players innocence as they are only there to play their parts. Though Creon will later accuse Antigone of casting him as the “villain” in her little melodrama, the players are embroiled in a far more inexorable mechanism. Again, note the incommensurabilities between Anouilh’s theory of the tragic and political allegory. The latter is necessarily engaged in the generally pedagogical passing of ethico-politico judgment, the arbitration of innocence, guilt, and complicity. Though tragic players face judgment, they do so on rather different terms.

The Sisters’ Rivalry

As with Sophocles’ sistes, Ismene and Antigone appear as foils and rivals. Ismene is “reasonable,” timid, and obedient, full-figured and beautiful in being a good girl. In contrast, Antigone is recalcitrant, impulsive, and moody, sallow, thin, and decidedly resistant to being a girl like the rest. Though the Chorus emphasizes the play’s distance from conventional melodrama, it is interesting to note how, in revision the opposition in Sophocles’ version, it perhaps imports the good girl/bad girl structure typical of this genre, not to mention a number of rather “sentimental” scenes. Ismene advises moderation, understanding, and capitulation. They must take Creon’s obligations into account.

Anouilh develops another form of rivalry between the sisters with regards to femininity. Whereas Ismene is the appropriate, beautiful girl, Antigone curses her girlhood. Antigone in particular manifests her hatred for the ideal of femininity Ismene incarnates in their childhood, brutally binding her sister to a tree to stage her mutilation. Anouilh attributes Antigone’s hate and envy in Ismene’s capacity to figure as an object of desire, as the woman men want. Thus, in attempting to seduce Haemon and become “his woman,” Antigone steals Ismene’s goods—lipstick, rouge, perfume, powder, and frock—in another act of sisterly dismemberment. Through Ismene, Antigone would be a woman; as we will see, however, such “human” pleasures are not meant for her.


The Chorus

In Greek tragedy, the Chorus consisted of a group of approximately ten people, playing the role of death messenger, dancing, singing, and commenting throughout from the margins of the action. Anouilh reduces the Chorus to a single figure who retains his collective function nevertheless. The Chorus represents an indeterminate group, be it the inhabitants of Thebes or the moved spectators. It also appears as narrator, framing frames the tragedy with a prologue and epilogue. In the prologue, it directly addresses the audience and is self- conscious with regards to the spectacle: “we” are here tonight to take part in the story of Antigone. Like its ancient predecessor, Anouilh’s Chorus prepares a ritual, instructing the audience on proper spectatorship. The Chorus then reappears throughout the play, marking its another turning points and futilely interceding into the action on “our”—that is, the spectators’ and Theban people’s—behalfs.

Tragic Beauty

As noted above, Antigone’s insistence on her desire makes her monstrous, abject. At the same time, her abjection is her tragic beauty. Antigone announces this beauty throughout her encounter with Creon. Specifically Oedipus emerges as its model. Oedipus’ moment of beauty comes at his moment of total abjection, the moment when he knew all and had lost all servile hope and passed beyond the human community in his transgression of its founding taboo. Like Oedipus, Antigone will become “beautiful” at the moment of his total ruin. As Ismene notes, Antigone’s beauty is somehow not of this world, the kind of beauty that turns the heads of small children—be it in fear, awe, and otherwise.

The Tomb/Bridal Bed

A number of commentators have cast Antigone as a figure “between two deaths,” what we will refer to here as her death as a social or even human being and her death as her demise. The space between two deaths is most certainly materialized her tomb, the cave in which she, as a tabooed and abject body, is to be immured to keep her from polluting the polis. Her death sentence makes her more wretched than animals; such is her “Oedipal” beauty, a beauty in her inhuman abjection. As she appears to sense, however, she will not die alone. Her “tomb” will also serve as her “bridal bed,” Antigone ultimately bringing Haemon with her to the grave. Strangely, another of the tragedy’s victim—Queen Eurydice—meets her demise in another tomb that doubles as bridal chamber. Eurydice dies in her bedroom—bedecked by familiar, comforting feminine accoutrements, appearing as a maiden queen of sorts, having scarcely changed since her first night with Creon. The wound in her neck appears all the more horrible in marring her virgin neck. Her death would appear all the more tragic because she dies in all her “feminine” purity.


The Gray World

Upon sneaking in from her brother’s burial, Antigone tells the Nurse that she has come from a “gray world.” Like many of Anouilh’s heroines, Antigone wanders in this gray “nowhere,” a world beyond the “post card” universe of the waking. This world is breathless with anticipation: it doubles the stage, set apart from the human world, upon which Antigone’s tragedy will ensue. At the same time, the world of the living does not lie in wait for Antigone: she is meant to pass onto another.

Creon’s attack

Anouilh symbolizes Antigone’s transcendence of state power with Creon’s assault on her person during their confrontation. Enraged by her proud defiance and his inability to sway her, Creon seizes Antigone and twists her to his side. The immediate pain passes, however: Creon squeezes to tightly, and Antigone feels nothing. Thus Antigone passes beyond the reach of state power and the realm of men.

Eurydice’s Knitting

As the Chorus remarks, Queen Eurydice’s function in the tragedy is to knit in her room until she dies. She is Creon’s final lesson, her death leaving him utterly alone. In the report of her suicide, Eurydice will stop her knitting and the stab herself with her needle. The end of her knitting is the end of her life, evoking the familiar Greek myth of the life-thread spun, measured, and cut by the Fates.


Antigone is a Greek Tragedy written by Sophocles. It was written in 441 B.C.

Setting of the Play: Ancient Greece

Antigone’s Twisted Family Tree:

A brave and proud young woman named Antigone is the product of a really messed up family.

Her father, Oedipus, was the King of Thebes. He unknowingly murdered his father and married his own mother, Queen Jocasta. With his wife/mother, Oedipus had two daughter/sisters and two brother/sons.

When Jocasta found out the truth of their incestuous relationship, she killed herself. Oedipus was pretty upset too. He plucked out his eyeballs. Then, he spent his remaining years wandering through Greece, being led by his loyal daughter Antigone.

After Oedipus died, his two sons (Eteocles and Polynices) battled for control of the kingdom. Eteocles fought to defend Thebes. Polynices and his men attacked the city. Both brothers died. Creon ( Antigone’s uncle) became the official ruler of Thebes. (There’s a lot of upward mobility in this city-state. That’s what happens when your bosses kill each other.)

Divine Laws Vs. Man-made Laws:

Creon buried Eteocles’s body with honor. But because the other brother was perceived as a traitor, Polynices’s body was left to rot, a tasty snack for vultures and vermin. However, leaving human remains unburied and exposed to the elements was an affront to the Greek Gods. So, at the play’s beginning, Antigone decides to defy Creon’s laws. She gives her brother a proper funeral.

Her sister Ismene warns that Creon will punish any who defy the law of the city. Antigone believes that the law of the gods supersedes a king’s decree. Creon doesn’t see things that way. He is very angry and sentences Antigone to death.

Ismene asks to be executed along with her sister. But Antigone doesn’t want her by her side. She insists that she alone buried the brother, so she alone will receive punishment (and possible reward from the gods).

Creon Needs To Loosen Up:

As if things weren’t complicated enough, Antigone has a boyfriend: Haemon, the son of Creon. He tries to convince his father that mercy and patience are called for. But the more they debate, the more Creon’s anger grows. Haemon leaves, threatening to do something rash.

At this point, the people of Thebes, represented by the Chorus, are uncertain as to who is right or wrong. It seems Creon is starting to feel a little bit worried because instead of executing Antigone, he orders her to be sealed inside a cave. (That way, if she dies, her death will be in the hands of the gods).

But after she is sent to her doom, a blind old wise man enters. He is Tiresias, a seer of the future, and he brings an important message: “Creon, you made a big stupid mistake!” (It sounds fancier in Greek.)

Suspecting the old man of treason, Creon becomes infuriated and refuses Tiresias’ wisdom. The old man becomes very cranky and predicts bad things for Creon’s near future.

Creon Changes His Mind (Too Late):

Finally scared, Creon rethinks his decisions. He dashes off to release Antigone. But he’s too late. Antigone has already hanged herself. Haemon grieves beside her body. He attacks his father with a sword, misses completely, and then stabs himself, dying.

Mrs. Creon (Eurydice) hears of her son’s death and kills herself. (I hope you weren’t expecting a comedy.)

By the time Creon returns to Thebes, the Chrous tells Creon the bad news. They explain that “There is no escape from the doom we must endure.” Creon realizes that his stubbornness has led to his family’s ruin. The Chorus ends the play by offering a final message:

“The mighty words of the proud are paid in full with mighty blows of fate.”

The End!

 Antigone’s Monologue

Written by Sophocles around 440 B.C., the title character in Antigone represents one of the most powerful female protagonists in theatrical history. Her conflict is a simple yet poignant one. She gives her dead brother a proper burial against the wishes of her uncle, Creon, the newly crowned King of Thebes. Antigone willingly defies the law for she devoutly believes that she is doing the will of the Gods.

In this monologue, the protagonist is about to be entombed in a cavern. Although she believes she goes to her death, she contends that she was justified in offering her brother his funeral rites. Yet, because of her punishment, she is uncertain about the ultimate goal of the gods above. Still, she trusts that in the afterlife, if she is at fault, she will learn of her sins. However, if Creon is at fault, the fates will surely inflict revenge upon him.
The following excerpt is reprinted from Greek Dramas. Ed. Bernadotte Perrin. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904

ANTIGONE: Tomb, bridal chamber, eternal prison in the caverned rock, whither I go to find mine own, those many who have perished, and whom Persephone hath received among the dead! Last of all shall I pass thither, and far most miserably of all, before the term of my life is spent. But I cherish good hope that my coming will be welcome to my father, and pleasant to thee, my mother, and welcome, brother, to thee; for, when you died, with mine own hands I washed and dressed you, and poured drink-offerings at your graves; and now, Polyneices, ’tis for tending thy corpse that I win such recompense as this. And yet I honored thee, as the wise will deem, rightly. Never had I been a mother of children, or if a husband had been moldering in death, would I have taken this task upon me in the city’s despite.

What law, ye ask, is my warrant for that word? The husband lost, another might have been found, and child from another, to replace the first-born; but, father and mother hidden with Hades, no brother’s life could ever bloom for me again. Such was the law whereby I held thee first in honor; but Creon deemed me guilty of error therein, and of outrage, ah brother mine! And now he leads me thus, a captive in his hands; no bridal bed, no bridal song hath been mine, no joy of marriage, no portion in the nurture of children; but thus, forlorn of friends, unhappy one, I go living to the vaults of death. And what law of Heaven have I transgressed?

Why, hapless one, should I look to the gods any more–what ally should I invoke–when by piety I have earned the name of impious? Nay, then, if these things are pleasing to the gods, when I have suffered my doom, I shall come to know my sin; but if the sin is with my judges, I could wish them no fuller measure of evil than they, on their part, mete wrongfully to me.

Antigone’s Defiant Monologue

Here Sophocles has created a dramatic female monologue for his powerful protagonist Antigone

The brothers of Ismene and Antigone battle for control of Thebes. Both perish. One brother is buried as a hero. The other brother is deemed a traitor to his people. He is left to rot on the battle field. No one is to touch his remains.

In this scene, King Creon has just learned that Antigone has defied his laws by providing a proper burial for her disgraced brother.

Yea, for these laws were not ordained of Zeus,
And she who sits enthroned with gods below,
Justice, enacted not these human laws.
Nor did I deem that thou, a mortal man,
Could’st by a breath annul and override
The immutable unwritten laws of Heaven.
They were not born today nor yesterday;
They die not; and none knoweth whence they sprang.
I was not like, who feared no mortal’s frown,
To disobey these laws and so provoke
The wrath of Heaven. I knew that I must die,
E’en hadst thou not proclaimed it; and if death
Is thereby hastened, I shall count it gain.
For death is gain to him whose life, like mine,
Is full of misery. Thus my lot appears
Not sad, but blissful; for had I endured
To leave my mother’s son unburied there,
I should have grieved with reason, but not now.
And if in this thou judgest me a fool,
Methinks the judge of folly’s not acquit.

Character Interpretation:
In one of the most dramatic female monologues of Ancient Greece, Antigone defies King Creon because she believes in a higher morality, that of the gods. She contends that the laws of Heaven overrule the laws of man.

Translated by F. Storr (Published in 1912)

Creon’s Monologue from “Antigone”

Considering he appears in all three plays of Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy, Creon is a complex and diverse character. In Oedipus the King, he serves as an advisor and moral compass. In Oedipus at Colonus, he tries to negotiate with the blind ex-monarch in hopes of gaining power. Finally, in Antigone, Creon has attained the throne after a long civil war between two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices. Oedipus’ son Eteocles died defending the city-state of Thebes. Polyneices, on the other hand, dies trying to usurp power from his brother.

In this monologue, placed at the play’s beginning, Creon establishes the conflict. The fallen Etecles is granted a hero’s funeral. However, Creon decrees that the traitorous Polyneices will be left to rot in the wilderness. This royal order will stir up a singular rebellion when the devoted sister of the brothers, Antigone, refuses to abide by Creon’s laws. When Creon punishes her for following the will of the Olympian Immortals and not the rule of the king, he incurs the wrath of the gods.

The following excerpt is reprinted from Greek Dramas. Ed. Bernadotte Perrin. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1904

CREON: I now possess the throne and all its powers, by nearness of kinship to the dead. No man can be fully known, in soul and spirit and mind, until he hath been seen versed in rule and law-giving. For if any, being supreme guide of the state, cleaves not to the best counsels, but, through some fear, keeps his lips locked, I hold, and have ever held, him most base; and if any makes a friend of more account than his fatherland, that man hath no place in my regard. For I–be Zeus my witness, who sees all things always–would not be silent if I saw ruin, instead of safety, coming to the citizens; nor would I ever deem the country’s foe a friend to myself; remembering this, that our country is the ship that bears us safe, and that only while she prospers in our voyage can we make true friends. Such are the rules by which I guard this city’s greatness. And in accord with them is the edict which I have now published to the folk touching the sons of Oedipus; that Eteocles, who hath fallen fighting for our city, in all renown of arms, shall be entombed, and crowned with every rite that follows the noblest dead to their rest. But for his brother, Polyneices–who came back from exile, and sought to consume utterly with fire the city of his fathers and the shrines of his fathers’ gods–sought to taste of kindred blood, and to lead the remnant into slavery–touching this man, it hath been proclaimed to our people that none shall grace him with sepulture or lament, but leave him unburied, a corpse for birds and dogs to eat, a ghastly sight of shame.

Ismene’s Monologue from “Antigone”

This dramatic female monologue is a selection from Act One of Antigone by Sophocles.

The brothers of Ismene and Antigone battle for control of Thebes. Both perish. One brother is buried as a hero. The other brother is deemed a traitor to his people.

When the corpse of Antigone’s brother is left to rot out on the battlefield, Antigone is determined to set things right, even if it means defying the laws of King Creon. Her sister Ismene is not as headstrong. She is sad for the death and dishonor of her brother. However, she does not want to risk her life by upsetting the “powers that be.”

Bethink thee, sister, of our father’s fate,
Abhorred, dishonored, self-convinced of sin,
Blinded, himself his executioner.
Think of his mother-wife (ill sorted names)
Done by a noose herself had twined to death
And last, our hapless brethren in one day,
Both in a mutual destiny involved,
Self-slaughtered, both the slayer and the slain.
Bethink thee, sister, we are left alone;
Shall we not perish wretchedest of all,
If in defiance of the law we cross
A monarch’s will?—weak women, think of that,
Not framed by nature to contend with men.
Remember this too that the stronger rules;
We must obey his orders, these or worse.
Therefore I plead compulsion and entreat
The dead to pardon. I perforce obey
The powers that be. ‘Tis foolishness, I ween,
To overstep in aught the golden mean.

Character Interpretation:
Ismene is a fascinating character. In this dramatic monologue she conveys grief and shame as she reflects upon her father Oedipus’ sad history. She also warns that Antigone’s fate and her own might be worse is they disobey the laws of the land. She is at once melancholy, fearful, and diplomatic.


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/antigone/Antigone_by_Sophocles_Ancient_Greek_Drama.htm

 Character Foil, Parallel Character, or Catalyst?

Each of the minor characters played an important role in Sophocles’ play, Antigone. The minor characters are Ismene, Haemon, the Sentry, Tiresias, Eurydice, and the Messenger. Each character was a foil, parallel character, and/or a catalyst. The foil has an opposite personality of one of the main characters, the parallel character brings out the theme in a larger way, and the catalyst starts trouble.

In Sophocles’ Antigone, Ismene is considered to be the foil to Antigone. Compared to Antigone, Ismene is cowardly; Antigone is brave. Antigone showed courage by standing up to Creon whilst Ismene wanted to obey the law instead of showing family honor. When she tried to be a part of Antigone’s plan, Ismene’s resistance backfired because Antigone became just as stubborn to not let her help after the first lost cause.

Haemon was a character foil to Creon and also a catalyst. Haemon was calm compared to how Creon overreacted repeatedly. He was a catalyst due to the fact that he killed himself after Antigone hanged herself. When Haemon committed suicide, his mother, Eurydice, stabbed herself to death because by this time both of her sons were dead. Eurydice blamed everything on Creon.

The Sentry was a catalyst. The Sentry told Creon that Polyneices recieved a proper burial. At first they had no clue who did it, but then the Sentry saw Antigone by the burial and caught her red-handed. This caused Creon to give Antigone the death penalty.

Eurydice was a parallel character. Bringing on more death just enhanced the theme. She was also a catalyst because she brought more grief to her husband, Creon.

The Messenger was a catalyst which is pretty much self-explanatory. The messenger alerted the kingsmen that Antigone and Haemon transgressed suicide. Eurydice overheard that news and in turn went to the altar and stabbed herself to death.

Tiresias was both a parallel character and a catalyst. He was a parallel character because he was a blind prophet. He knew exactly what would happen and what the outcomes would be; he told Creon what was going to happen. Tiresias was a catalyst for a few reasons. For one thing, he indirectly put Creon onto the throne when he told Oedipus that he killed his father and married his mother. Oedipus was banished and so were his children, so, indirectly, Creon obtained the throne and became king. Because Creon became king and was a prideful jerk, Polyneices was not allowed to have a proper burial, leading to Antigone needing to break the law. Also, Tiresias caused Creon the be in fear of the gods for not giving Polyneices a proper burial. In turn, Creon buries Polyneices and tries to free Antigone, but he was too late for she had hanged herself.

“All My Sons” Study Guide and Summary

Plot Summary of Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”

Overview: All My Sons by Arthur Miller is the sad Post-World War II story about the Kellers, a seemingly “All American” family. But the father, Joe Keller, has concealed a great sin. During the war, he allowed his factory to ship faulty airplane cylinders to the U.S. Armed Forces. Because of this, over twenty American pilots died.

Backstory: Before the action of All My Sons begins, the following events have taken place:

Joe Keller has been running a successful factory for decades. His business partner and neighbor, Steve Deever noticed the faulty parts first. Joe allowed the parts to be shipped. After the deaths of the pilots, both Steve and Joe are arrested. Joe is exonerated and released and the entire blame shifts to Steve who remains in jail.

Keller’s two sons, Larry and Chris, served during the war. Chris came back home. Larry’s airplane went down in China and the young man was declared MIA.

Act One:

The entire play takes place in the backyard of the Keller home. The house is located in the outskirts of a town somewhere in America. The year is 1946.

Important Detail: Arthur Miller is very specific about a particular set-piece: “In the left corner, downstage, stands the four-foot high stump of a slender apple tree whose upper trunk and branches lie toppled beside it, fruit still clinging to its branches.” This tree fell during the previous night. It was planted in honor of the missing Larry Keller.

Joe Keller reads the Sunday paper while chatting with his good-natured neighbors:


  • Jim the doctor and his wife Sue.
  • Frank the amateur astrologist.
  • Bert the little kid who pretends that he is a deputy and Joe is the neighborhood jailer.

Joe’s 32-year-old son Chris believes that his father is an honorable man. After interacting with the neighbors, Chris discusses his feelings for Ann Deever – their old next door neighbor and daughter of the disgraced Steve Deever. Ann is visiting the Kellers for the first time since moving to New York. Chris wants to marry her. Joe likes Ann, but discourages the engagement because of how Chris’ mother Kate Keller will react.

Kate still believes that Larry is still alive, even though Chris, Joe, and Ann believe that he died during the war. She tells the others how she dreamed of her son, and then she walked downstairs half-asleep, and witnessed the wind rip apart Larry’s memorial tree. She is a woman who can hold onto her beliefs despite the doubts of others.


ANN: Why does your heart tell you he’s alive?MOTHER: Because he has to be.

ANN: But why, Kate?

MOTHER: Because certain things have to be, and certain things can never be. Like the sun has to rise, it has to be. That’s why there’s God. Otherwise anything could happen. But there’s God, so certain things can never happen.

She believes that Ann is “Larry’s girl” and that she has no right to fall in love, let alone marry, Chris. Throughout the play, Kate urges Ann to leave. She does not want Chris to betray his brother be “stealing” Larry’s fiancé.

However, Ann is ready to move on with her. She wants to end her solitude and build a life with Chris. She also looks to the Keller’s as a symbol of how happy her child and family life was before her father’s conviction. She has cut all ties from Steve. Joe is unnerved by how firmly Ann has severed ties with her father.

Joe urges Ann to be more understanding, stating: “The man was a fool, but don’t make a murderer out of him.”

Ann asks to drop the subject of her father. Joe Keller then decides that they should dine out and celebrate Ann’s visit. When Chris finally has a moment alone, he finally confesses his love for her. She responds enthusiastically, “Oh, Chris, I’ve been ready for a long, long time!” But, just when their future seems happy and hopeful, Ann receives a phone call from her brother George.

Like Ann, George moved to New York and felt disgusted with his father’s shameful crime. However, after finally visiting his father, he has changed his mind. He now has doubts about Joe Keller’s supposed innocence. And to prevent Ann from marrying Chris, he plans to arrive at the Keller’s and take her away.

After learning that George is on his way, Joe becomes frightened, angry, and desperate – though he doesn’t admit as to why. Kate asks, “What has Steve suddenly got to tell him that he takes an airplane to see him?” She warns her husband to “Be smart now, Joe. The boy is coming. Be smart.”

Act One ends with the audience anticipating that dark secrets are going to be revealed once George arrives in Act Two.

Act Two:

Act Two of All My Sons takes place during the evening of the same day. Chris is sawing the broken memorial tree. (Perhaps this foreshadows the fact that he will soon be learning the truth of his brother’s demise.)

His mother warns Chris that the Deever family hates the Kellers. She suggests that Annie might hate them too.

Alone on the porch, Ann is greeted by Sue, the next door neighbor who occupies Ann’s old house. Sue’s husband Jim is a doctor who is unsatisfied in his career. Inspired by Chris’ idealism, Jim wishes to give it all up and go into medical research (an impractical choice for a family man, according to Sue). Sue is annoyed by Chris and his father’s inflated sense of self-importance:


SUE: I resent living next door to the Holy Family. It makes me look like a bum, you understand?ANN: I can’t do anything about that.

SUE: Who is he to ruin a man’s life? Everybody knows Joe pulled a fast one to get out of jail.

ANN: That’s not true!

SUE: Then why don’t you go out and talk to people? Go on, talk to them. There’s not a person on the block who doesn’t know the truth.


Later, Chris reassures Ann that Joe Keller is innocent. He believes his father’s alibi. Joe Keller was supposedly sick in bed when the faulty airplane parts were shipped out.

Joe walks onto the porch just as the young couple are embracing. Joe expresses his desire to find Ann’s brother George at a local law firm. Joe also believes that the disgraced Steve Deever should move back to town after his prison term. He even gets upset when Ann shows no sign of forgiveness for her corrupt father.

Tensions build when Ann’s brother arrives. After visiting his father in prison, George now believes that Joe Keller was equally responsible for the deaths of the airmen. He wants Ann to break off the engagement and return to New York.

Yet, at the same time, George is touched by how kindly Kate and Joe welcome him. He recalls how happy he was growing up in the neighborhood, how close the Deevers and the Kellers once were.


GEORGE: I never felt home anywhere but here. I feel so – Kate, you look so young, you know? You didn’t change at all. It… rings an old bell. You too, Joe, you’re amazingly the same. The whole atmosphere is.KELLER: Say, I ain’t got time to get sick.

MOTHER (KATE): He hasn’t been laid up in fifteen years.

KELLER: Except my flu during the war.



With this exchange, George realizes that Joe Keller was lying about his supposed pneumonia, thus squelching his old alibi. George presses Joe to reveal the truth. But before the conversation can continue, the neighborly Frank urgently declares that Larry must still be alive. Why? Because according to his horoscope, Larry went missing on his “Lucky Day.”

Chris thinks the whole astrology theory is insane, but his mother desperately clings to the idea that her son is alive. At Ann’s insistence, George leaves, angry that Ann plans to stay engaged to Chris.

Chris declares that his brother died during the war. He wants his mother to accept the truth. However, she responds:


MOTHER: Your brother’s alive, darling, because if he’s dead, your father killed him. Do you understand me now? As long as you live, that boy is alive. God does not let a son be killed by his father. 

So the truth is out: Deep down, the mother knows that her husband allowed the cracked cylinders to be shipped out. Now, she believes that if Larry is in fact dead, then the blood is on Joe Keller’s hands.

(Notice how playwright Arthur Miller plays around with names: Joe Keller = G.I. Joe Killer.)

Once Chris comprehends this, he accuses his father of murder. Keller futilely defends himself, claiming that he though the military would catch the mistake. He also explains that he did it for his family, disgusting Chris even more. Outraged and disillusioned, Chris yells at his father:


CHRIS: (With burning fury) What the hell do you mean you did it for me? Don’t you have a country? Don’t you live in the world? What the hell are you? You’re not even an animal, no animal kills his own, what are you? What must I do?

Chris hits his father’s shoulder. Then he covers his hands and weeps.

The curtain falls upon Act Two of All My Sons. The conflict of Act Three focuses on the choices of the characters, now that the truth about Joe Keller has been revealed.

Act Three:

Act Three of All My Sons takes place on the porch of the Keller home. It is now 2 a. m.

Chris has run off and his mother waits for his return, worried. Jim the doctor returns from a house call. He tries to allay her concerns, but he also reveals that he knows the truth about Joe’s crimes.

After Jim leaves, Joe Keller and his wife discuss what should be done. Kate believes that Keller should offer to admit his guilt to the authorities. She does not believe that Chris would allow his father to turn himself in. However, she thinks that by making the offer, it will help Chris adjust to the truth.

This idea exasperates Joe. He does not understand why he needs forgiveness. He argues that his actions are justified because he did it for his family.

Ann steps onto the porch and explains that she has no plans to reveal Keller’s guilt. She just wants to leave with Chris and build a life together.

Kate still insists that Chris must not marry Ann. However, Ann is not deterred. She reveals a letter written by Kate’s son Larry, shortly before he died. It reads:


My dear Ann: It is impossible to put down the things I feel. But I’ve got to tell you something. Yesterday they flew in a load of papers from the States and I read about Dad and your father being convicted. I can’t express myself. I can’t tell you how I feel – I can’t bear to live anymore. Last night I circled the base for twenty minutes before I could bring myself in. How could he have done that? Everyday three or four men never come back and he sits back there doing business… I don’t know how to tell you what I feel… I can’t face anybody… I’m going out on a mission in a few minutes. They’ll probably report me missing. If they do, I want you to know you mustn’t wait for me. I tell you, Ann, if I had him there now I could kill him. [

When Chris returns and discovers the letter for himself, he is furious. He confronts his father and reads the letter aloud to him.

Finally, Joe Keller understands the disastrous implications of his actions. Larry was so distraught about his father’s greed and inhumanity that he purposely crashed his plane, ending his own life to eliminate his agony.

Upon realizing this, Keller reflects upon the twenty-one airmen who died because of him. He quietly says, “I think to him they were all my sons. And I guess they were, I guess they were.” Then Keller enters the house, implying that he will turn himself in.

Moments later, a gunshot is heard. Joe Keller has shot himself, leaving Ann, Chris and Kate stunned and grief-stricken.


Character Analysis

Like other works by Arthur Miller, All My Sonsis a critique of an over zealously capitalistic society. It shows what happens when humans are ruled by greed. It demonstrates how self-denial cannot last forever. And it is Arthur Miller’s characters who bring these themes to life.

Joe Keller:

Joe seems like the traditional, amiable 1940s father figure. Throughout the play, Joe presents himself as a man who deeply loves his family, but also has great pride in his business. Joe Keller has been running a successful factory for decades. During World War II, his business partner and neighbor, Steve Deever noticed the faulty parts first. Joe decided to send the parts through because he was afraid that admitting the company’s mistake would destroy his business and his family’s financial stability. By the play’s end, the audience discovers the dark secret he has been concealing: Joe allowed the sale of faulty airplane parts to be shipped to the frontline, resulting in the death of twenty-one pilots. After the cause of the deaths was discovered, both Steve and Joe were arrested. Claiming his innocence, Joe was exonerated and released and the entire blame shifts to Steve who remains in jail. Like many other characters within the play, Joe is capable of living in denial. It is not until the play’s conclusion that he ultimately faces his own guilty conscience – and then he chooses to destroy himself rather than deal with the consequences of his actions.

Larry Keller:

Larry Keller: The audience does not learn too many details about Larry; the character dies during the war, and the audience never meets him – no flashbacks, no dream sequences. However, we do hear his final letter to his girlfriend. In the letter, he reveals his feeling of disgust and disappointment towards his father. The content and tone of the letter suggest that perhaps Larry’s death was due to combat. Perhaps life was no longer worth living, because of the shame and anger he felt.

Kate Keller:

A devoted mother, Kate still holds on to the possibility that her son is alive. She believes that one day they will receive word that Larry was only wounded, perhaps in a coma, unidentified. Basically, she is waiting for a miracle to arrive. But there’s something else about her character. She holds onto the belief that her son lives because if he perished during the war, then (she believes) her husband is responsible for her son’s death.

Chris Keller:

In many ways, Chris is the most admirable character in the play. He is a former World War II soldier, so he knows firsthand what it was like to face death. Unlike his brother, and the many men who died (some of them because of Joe Keller’s faulty airplane parts), he managed to survive. He plans to marry his late brother’s former girlfriend, Ann Deever. Yet, he is very respectful about his brother’s memory, as well as the conflicting feelings of his fiancé. He also has come to terms with the death of his brother, and hopes that his mother will be able to peacefully accept the sad truth. Finally, Chris, like so many other young men, idealizes his father. Because of his strong love for his father, it makes the revelation of Joe’s all the more heart-wrenching.

Ann Deever:

As mentioned above, Ann is in an emotionally fragile situation. Her boyfriend Larry was missing in action during the war. For months she hoped that he had survived. Gradually, she came to terms with Larry’s death, eventually finding renewal and love in Larry’s younger brother, Chris. However, since Kate (Larry’s seriously-in-denial Mom) believes that her eldest son is still alive, she is mortified when she discovers that Ann and Chris plan to marry. On top of all this tragedy/romance material, Ann also laments the disgrace of her father (Steve Deever), whom she believes is the sole criminal, guilty of selling faulty parts to the military. (Thus, there’s great dramatic tension, as the audience waits to see how Ann will react when she discovers the truth: Steve isn’t the only guilty one. Joe Keller is guilty too!)

George Deever:

Like many of the other characters, George (brother of Ann, son of Steve) believed that his father was guilty. However, after finally visiting in father in prison, he now believes that Keller was in fact primarily responsible for the death of the pilots, and that his Steeve Deever should not be the only one in jail. George also served during World War II, thus giving him a greater stake in the drama, for he is not only seeking justice for his family, but for his fellow soldiers.


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/allmysons/All_My_Sons_by_Arthur_Miller.htm

Henrik Ibsen

An Overview of Henrik Ibsen:

Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen (1828 – 1906) created twenty-six plays and a volume of poetry. He is noted for his nationalistic spirit and for exploring Europe’s social problems during the 1800s. Critics both past and present have praised his realistic approach to drama and his well-developed characters. He is best known for creating strong female characters in dramas such as A Doll’s House and Hedda Gabler.

Ibsen’s Birth and Childhood:

Henrik Ibsen was born on March 20th, 1828 in Skein, Norway. His wealthy father, Knud Ibsen, owned several shops including a grocery store. However, after a series of poor financial decisions, the family was severely in debt by the time Henrik was seven.

The family was forced to move to a small farm house, and then shared a residence in the crowded home of a family friend. To make matters worse, Knud’s wife grew distant and dissatisfied with the marriage.

It is therefore no coincidence that the themes of debt, marriage, society, and independence play a prominent role in many of Henrik’s plays.

Creative Perseverance:

In 1853, a small Norwegian theater gave a hopeful young playwright (and part-time pharmacy assistant) a wonderful opportunity. The Bergen Theatre produced St. John’s Night, Henrik Ibsen’s first publicly performed play.

It was a whimsical combination of Scandinavian folk tales filled with trolls and fairy creatures. It was also a miserable disappointment that closed after only one performance. Yet, Ibsen never let failure deter him. Despite all of his obstacles in his personal and literary life, he rose to become one of the greatest dramatists of the 19th century.

Early Career:

In 1850, Ibsen failed his entrance exam, dashing hopes of becoming a doctor. His friends admired his sense of humor and encouraged him to pursue writing as a career.

That same year his first play, Catiline, was rejected by editors, but a generous friend printed a few hundred copies. Only 40 were sold; the rest of the copies were used as gift wrapping. Still, he earned the respect of the Bergen Theatre, the company that produced his first works.

Audiences rejected his first three plays, but in 1856 he finally found success with his lyrical saga, The Feast of Solhaug.

Decorated Playwright:

Prompted by his first success, Ibsen wrote constantly. Many of his earlier plays dealt with a pride for his homeland, and a desire to maintain Norway’s virtues. Some failed both critically and financially; others succeeded remarkably.

His artistic endeavors generated several government grants, allowing him enough funds to raise a family and travel abroad.


In 1869, the King of Norway and Sweden knighted Ibsen. From then on, Ibsen’s career soared, and his plays became even more serious. Eventually, his writing shifted from poetic folktales to realistic examinations of controversial social issues.

Ibsen’s Social Commentary:

In 1877, his play, Pillars of Society, extolled the virtues of freedom and truth. Next, his 1879 classic A Doll’s House questioned the suppressed role of women in society. Thirteen years later, feminist issues were again explored in another hard-hitting drama, Hedda Gabler.

Toward the end of his life, his later plays, The Master Builder (1892) and When We Dead Awaken (1899), became more self-reflective. Ibsen began contemplating what it meant to dedicate one’s life to art.

What Writer’s Have Said About Henrik Ibsen:

“All of Ibsen is visionary drama… His mastery of inwardness is second only to Shakespeare’s.” — Harold Bloom

“Had the gospel of Ibsen been understood and heeded, these fifteen millions might have been alive now.” — George Bernard Shaw (Discussing the loss of life during World War I)

“His characters may hate one another or be happy together, but they will generate nobility or charm.” — E. M. Forster

Henrik Ibsen’s Death:

From 1900 to 1903 Ibsen suffered several strokes that left him unable to write creatively or speak clearly. Although his final years were quiet and bedridden, the playwright was not lonely. In 1906 his family and friends were at his bedside when he died in his sleep. He was seventy-eight years old. His last written words were, “Thanks.”

Quotes from Henrik Ibsen’s Plays:

“The majority is never right. Never, I tell you! That’s one of these lies in society that no free and intelligent man can help rebelling against. Who are the people that make up the biggest proportion of the population—the intelligent ones or the fools? I think we can agree it’s the fools.”

— from Enemy of the People

“Our home has been nothing but a play-room. I’ve been your doll-wife here, just as at home I was Papa’s doll-child. And the children have been my dolls in their turn.”

— from A Doll’s House

“The spirit of truth and the spirit of freedom—these are the pillars of society.”

— from Pillars of Society


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/playwrights/p/profileIbsen.htm

“A Doll’s House” Nora Helmer’s Monologue

In this definitive scene, the naïve yet often contriving Nora has a startling epiphany. She once believed that her husband was a proverbial knight in shining armor, and that she was an equally devoted wife.

Through a series of emotionally draining events, she realizes that their relationship and their feelings were more make believe than real.

In this monologue from Henrik Ibsen’s play, she opens up to her husband with stunning frankness as she realizes that she has been living in “A Doll’s House.”

It is perfectly true, Torvald. When I was at home with papa, he told me his opinion about everything, and so I had the same opinions; and if I differed from him I concealed the fact, because he would not have liked it. He called me his doll-child, and he played with me just as I used to play with my dolls. And when I came to live with you—

I mean that I was simply transferred from papa’s hands into yours. You arranged everything according to your own taste, and so I got the same tastes as you–or else I pretended to, I am really not quite sure which–I think sometimes the one and sometimes the other. When I look back on it, it seems to me as if I had been living here like a poor woman–just from hand to mouth. I have existed merely to perform tricks for you, Torvald. But you would have it so. You and papa have committed a great sin against me. It is your fault that I have made nothing of my life.

You neither think nor talk like the man I could bind myself to. As soon as your fear was over–and it was not fear for what threatened me, but for what might happen to you–when the whole thing was past, as far as you were concerned it was exactly as if nothing at all had happened. Exactly as before, I was your little skylark, your doll, which you would in future treat with doubly gentle care, because it was so brittle and fragile. Torvald–it was then it dawned upon me that for eight years I had been living here with a strange man, and had borne him three children–. Oh! I can’t bear to think of it! I could tear myself into little bits!


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/monologues/a/noramono01.htm

“A Doll’s House” Torvald Helmer’s Monologue

Torvald Helmer, the male lead in A Doll’s House, can be interpreted in several ways. Many readers view him as a domineering, self-righteous control freak. Yet, Torvald can also be seen as an cowardly, misguided but sympathetic husband who fails to live up to his own ideal. In either case, one thing is for certain: He does not understand his wife.

In this scene, Torvald reveals his ignorance. Moments before this monologue he declared he no longer loved his wife because she had brought shame and legal calamity to his good name. When that conflict suddenly evaporates, Torvald recants all of his hurtful words and expects the marriage to go back to “normal.”

Unbeknownst to Torvald, his wife Nora is packing up her things during his speech. As he speaks these lines, he believes he is repairing her wounded feelings. In truth, she has outgrown him and plans to leave their home forever.


Torvald:(Standing at Nora’s doorway.) Try and calm yourself, and make your mind easy again, my frightened little singing-bird. Be at rest, and feel secure; I have broad wings to shelter you under. (Walks up and down by the door.) How warm and cozy our home is, Nora. Here is shelter for you; here I will protect you like a hunted dove that I have saved from a hawk’s claws; I will bring peace to your poor beating heart. It will come, little by little, Nora, believe me. Tomorrow morning you will look upon it all quite differently; soon everything will be just as it was before.

Very soon you won’t need me to assure you that I have forgiven you; you will yourself feel the certainty that I have done so. Can you suppose I should ever think of such a thing as repudiating you, or even reproaching you? You have no idea what a true man’s heart is like, Nora. There is something so indescribably sweet and satisfying, to a man, in the knowledge that he has forgiven his wife—forgiven her freely, and with all his heart. It seems as if that had made her, as it were, doubly his own; he has given her a new life, so to speak; and she is in a way become both wife and child to him.

So you shall be for me after this, my little scared, helpless darling. Have no anxiety about anything, Nora; only be frank and open with me, and I will serve as will and conscience both to you—. What is this? Not gone to bed? Have you changed your things?


Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius.


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/monologues/a/torvaldmono.htm

“A Doll’s House” Character Study: Torvald Helmer

Upon seeing a production of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, audiences are left with an important question: Should we feel sorry for Torvald Helmer?

At the play’s end, his wife, Nora Helmer, abandons him, leaving behind her three young children as well. She claims that she does not love him. She can no longer be his wife. He begs her to stay, yet Nora denies him, walking off in the middle of the winter night, slamming the door behind her.

When the curtain closes upon a pathetic, defeated husband, some viewers find that Torvald has received his comeuppance. Toravld’s demeaning personality and his hypocritical actions justify Nora’s harsh decision to leave.

Torvald’s “Sweet Talk”:

Torvald Helmer possesses many obvious flaws. For one, he constantly talks down to his wife. Here is a list of his pet names for Nora:


  • “My little skylark”
  • “My little squirrel”
  • “My little singing bird”
  • “My pretty little pet”
  • “My little sweet-tooth”
  • “My poor little Nora”

Notice with every term of endearment, the word “little” is always included. Torvald views himself as the emotional and intellectual superior of the household. To him, Nora is a “child-wife,” someone to watch over, to instruct, nurture and censure. He never considers her an equal partner in the relationship. Of course, their marriage is one typical of 1800s Europe, and Ibsen uses his play to challenge this status quo.

What About Nora?

To Torvald’s credit, Nora is a willing participant in their dysfunctional relationship. She understands that her husband sees her as an innocent, child-like persona, and she struggles to maintain the façade. Nora uses the pet names whenever she tries to persuade her husband: “If a little squirrel were to ask every so nicely?”

She puts away her sewing needles and unfinished dress because she knows that her husband does not wish to see a woman toiling away. He wishes to see only the final, beautiful product. In addition, Nora keeps secrets from her husband. She goes behind his back to obtain her ill-gotten loan. Torvald is too stubborn to ever borrow money, even at the cost of his own life. Essentially, Nora saves Torvald by borrowing the money so that they can travel to Italy until her husband’s health improves.

Throughout the play, Torvald is oblivious to his wife’s craftiness and her compassion. When he discovers the truth at the end, he is outraged when he should be humbled.

Torvald’s Ego

Perhaps Torvald’s most dislikeable quality is his blatant hypocrisy. Many times throughout the play, Torvald criticizes the morality of other characters. He trashes the reputation of Krogstad, one of his lesser employees (and ironically the loan shark that Nora is indebted to). He speculates that Krogstad’s corruption probably started in the home. Torvald believes that if the mother of a household is dishonest, then surely the children will become morally infected. Torvald also complains about Nora’s late father. When Torvald learns that Nora has committed forgery, he blames her crime on her father’s weak morals.

Yet, for all his self-righteousness, Torvald is a hypocrite. In the beginning of Act Three, after dancing and having a merry time at a holiday party, Torvald tells Nora how much he cares for her. He claims to be absolutely devoted her. He even wishes that some calamity would befall them, so that he could demonstrate his steadfast, heroic nature.

Of course, a moment later, that wished-for conflict arises. Torvald finds the letter revealing how Nora has brought scandal and blackmail into his household. Nora is in trouble, but Torvald, the supposedly shining white knight, fails to come to her rescue. Instead, here is what he yells at her:


“Now you have ruined my entire happiness!”“And it’s all the fault of a featherbrained woman!”

“You will not be allowed to bring up the children, I can’t trust you with them.”

So much for being Nora’s dependable knight in shining armor!

Room for Pity?

Despite his many flaws, some readers and audience members still feel tremendous sympathy for Torvald. In fact, when the play was first performed in Germany and America, the ending was changed. It was believed by some producers that theater-goers would not want to see a mother walk out on her husband and children. So, in several revised versions, “A Doll’s House” ends with Nora reluctantly deciding to stay. However, in the original, classic version, Ibsen does not spare poor Torvald from humiliation.

When Nora calmly says, “We two have a lot to talk about,” Torvald learns that Nora will no longer be his doll or “child-wife.” He is astounded by her choice. He asks for a chance to reconcile their differences; he even suggests that they live as “brother and sister.” Nora refuses. She feels as though Torvald is now a stranger. Desperate, he asks if there is the smallest hope that they might be husband and wife once again.

She responds:


Nora: Both you and I would have to change to the point where… Oh, Torvald, I don’t believe in miracles any more.Torvald: But I will believe. Name it! Change to the point where…?

Nora: Where we could make a real marriage of our lives together. Goodbye!

Then she promptly leaves. Grief-stricken, Torvald hides his face in his hands. In the next moment, he lifts his head up, somewhat hopeful. “The miracle of miracles?” he asks himself. His longing to redeem their marriage seems sincere. So perhaps, despite his hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and his demeaning attitude, the audience may feel sympathy for Torvald as the door slams shut on his tear-stained hopes.


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/adollshouse/a/torvald.htm

“A Doll’s House” Character Study: Dr. Rank

At first, Dr. Rank appears to be an extraneous supporting character. He does not further the plot the way Krogstad or Mrs. Linde do. Krogstad initiates the conflict by attempting to blackmail Nora Helmer. Mrs. Linde gives Nora an excuse to leap into exposition in Act One, and she also tames the heart of the antagonistic Mr. Krogstad.

But What Does Dr. Rank Do?

Not too much. He visits with Torvald Helmer in his office. He flirts with a married woman. Oh, and he is slowly dying of an unnamed illness (he does hint at his disintegrating spine—and most scholars suggest he is plagued with a case tuberculosis). Even Dr. Rank believes himself to be easily replaceable:


Dr. Rank: The thought of having to leave it all… without being able to leave behind even the slightest token of gratitude, hardly a fleeting regret even… nothing but an empty place to be fulfilled by the first person that comes along. (Act Two)

More than any other character in the play, Dr. Rank reflects the dawning of “Modern Drama.” Torvald and Krogstad could just as easily appear in a sappy melodrama. However, Dr. Rank might well fit into one of Anton Chekhov’s plays. Before Ibsen’s time, many plays focused on characters facing and solving problems. As plays became more realistic, characters began spending more time being reflective rather than getting caught up in convoluted plot lines. Dr. Rank, like characters found in the works of Chekhov, Brecht, and other modern dramatists, ponders aloud about his inner misgivings.

Many scholars see Dr. Rank as a symbol of moral corruption within society. However, because of the many sincere aspects of his character, that view is debatable. Basically, Dr. Rank adds to the somber mood of the play, yet he is not essential to the conflict, climax, or resolution. He chats with the other characters, admiring them, all the while knowing he will never be important to any of them.

Dr. Rank’s Friendship with Torvald and Nora

When the Helmers find Dr. Rank’s letter that indicates he has gone home to await death, Torvald says, “His suffering and his loneliness seemed almost to provide a background of dark cloud to the sunshine of our lives. Well, perhaps it’s all for the best. For him at any rate. And maybe for us as well, Nora. Now there’s just the two of us.” It doesn’t sound like they will miss him too much. Believe it or not, Torvald is the doctor’s closest friend!

When students first read the play, some feel immense sympathy for Dr. Rank. Other students are disgusted by him. They believe that he fits his name. Dictionary.com offers a few vile definitions for the adjective “rank.” It is a word that means, “highly offensive; disgusting; vulgar; or indecent.”

More Than Just Friendly?

Does Dr. Rank fit those negative dictionary descriptions? That depends on how the reader interprets Dr. Rank’s affection for Nora.


Dr. Rank: Nora…Do you think he’s the only one who…? Who wouldn’t gladly give his life for your sake. I swore to myself you would know before I went. I’ll never have a better opportunity. Well, Nora! Now you know. And now you know too that you can confide in me as in nobody else. (Act Two)

One could view this as an honorable love-from-afar, or it could be grounds for a restraining order! Most actors portray Dr. Rank as soft-spoken and well-meaning. He does not mean to be vulgar, but instead confesses his feelings for Nora mainly because he only has a few days left to live.

Sadly, Nora responds to his forwardness by summoning her maid, turning up the lights, steeping away from him and quickly dismissing the conversation. When Dr. Rank suggests that his love is just as strong as Torvald’s, Nora recoils from him. She never again looks to him as a possible solution to her problem. The fact that she would consider suicide before accepting Dr. Rank’s endearments speaks volumes about the way the poor doctor is perceived by others.

He Doesn’t Rank Very Highly

Consider one last time the name of Rank. One of the definitions of the word in its noun form is: “a high position or station in the social scale.” Perhaps Ibsen has chosen this name to be ironic; none of the characters place him highly in their thoughts.


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/adollshouse/a/drrank.htm

“A Doll’s House” Character Study: Nils Krogstad

In melodramas of the 1800s, villains wore black capes and laughed menacingly while they curled their long mustaches. Oftentimes these sinister men would tie damsels to railroad tracks or threaten to kick old ladies out of their soon-to-be-foreclosed homes.

Although on the diabolic side, Nils Krogstad from A Doll’s House does not have the same passion for evil as your typical bad guy. He seems ruthless at first, but experiences a change of heart early on in Act Three. The audience is then left to wonder: Is Krogstad a villain? Or is he ultimately a decent guy?

Krogstad the Catalyst

At first it may seem that Krogstad is the play’s main antagonist. After all, Nora Helmer is a happy-go-lucky wife. She’s been out Christamas shopping for her lovely children. Her husband is just about to receive a raise and a promotion. Everything is going well for her until Krogstad enters the story.

Then the audience learns that Krogstad, a co-worker of her husband Torvald, has the power to blackmail Nora. She forged the signature of her dead father when she obtained a loan from him, unbeknownst to her husband. Now, Krogstad wants to secure his position at the bank. If Nora fails to prevent Krogstad from being fired, he will reveal her criminal actions and desecrate Torvald’s good name.

When Nora is unable to persuade her husband, Krogstad grows angry and impatient. Throughout the first two acts, Krogstad serves as a catalyst. Basically, he initiates the action of the play. He sparks the flames of conflict, and with each unpleasant visit to the Helmer residence, Nora’s troubles escalate. In fact, she even contemplates suicide as a means of escaping her woes. Krogstad senses her plan and counters it:


Krogstad: So if you are thinking of trying any desperate measures… if you happen to be thinking of running away…Nora: Which I am!

Krogstad: …or anything worse…

Nora: How did you know I was thinking of that?!

Krogstad: Most of us think of that, to begin with. I did, too; but I didn’t have the courage…

Nora: I haven’t either.

Krogstad: So you haven’t the courage either, eh? It would also be very stupid.

Act II


Criminal on the Rebound?

The more we learn of Krogstad, the more we understand that he shares a great deal with Nora Helmer. First of all, both have committed the crime of forgery. Moreover, their motives were out of a desperate desire to save their loved ones. Also like Nora, Krogstad has contemplated ending his life to eliminate his troubles, but was ultimately too scared to follow through.

Despite being labeled as corrupt and “morally sick,” Krogstad has been trying to lead a legitimate life. He complains, “For the last eighteen months I’ve gone straight; all the time it’s been hard going. I was content to work my way up, step by step.” Then he angrily explains to Nora, “Don’t forget: it’s him who is forcing me off the straight and narrow again, your own husband! That’s something I’ll never forgive him for.” Although at times Krogstad is vicious, his motivation is for his motherless children, thus casting a slightly sympathetic light on his otherwise cruel character.

A Sudden Change of Heart

One of the surprises of this play is that Krogstad is not really the central antagonist. In the end, that prestige belongs to Torvald Helmer. So, how does this transition occur?

Near the beginning of Act Three, Krogstad has an earnest conversation with his lost love, the widow Mrs. Linde. They reconcile, and once their romance (or at least their amiable feelings) are reignited, Krogstad no longer wants to deal with blackmail and extortion. He is a changed man!

He asks Mrs. Linde if he should tear up the revealing letter that was intended for Torvald’s eyes. Surprisingly, Mrs. Linde decides that he should leave it in the mailbox so that Nora and Torvald can finally have an honest discussion about things. He agrees to this, but minutes later he chooses to drop off a second letter explaining that their secret is safe and that the IOU is theirs to dispose.

Now, is this sudden change of heart realistic? Perhaps the redemptive action is too convenient. Perhaps Krogstad’s change does not ring true to human nature. However, Krogstad occasionally lets his compassion shine through his bitterness. So perhaps playwright Henrik Ibsen provides enough hints in the first two acts to convince us that all Krogstad really needed was someone like Mrs. Linde to love and admire him.

In the end, Nora and Torvald’s relationship is severed. Yet, Krogstad begins a new life with a woman he believed had left him forever.


Source: http://plays.about.com/od/adollshouse/a/krogstad.htm