Category: Classics


Compare and Contrast: JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 4 (First Movement – Allegro) and Joseph Haydn’s London Symphony (No.104 First Movement)

The two music pieces chosen for this exercise are JS Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 4 (First Movement – Allegro) and Joseph Haydn’s London Symphony (No.104 First Movement). These two pieces were chosen on account of the sharp differences between them in terms of style, texture, genre, period, etc.  For example, Bach’s piece is written for a chamber orchestra of not more than 17 players.  This was roughly the common size for the Baroque concerto format.  Haydn’s piece, on the other hand was written to be performed by a much larger symphony orchestra comprising around 40 musicians.  It is perhaps due to the limited resources at Bach’s disposal that constant invention in music was a matter of necessity than of will.  In contrast, the bolder, simpler style of Haydn is typical of the Classical era.  The following observation by Igor Stravinsky’s in his 1947 work Poetics of Music (1947) applies to both the works in question:

“All music, whether it . . . Read More

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How does power of Higher Authority manifest in Antigone by Sophocles and Another Antigone by A.R.Gurney?

Almost two and a half millennia separate the ancient Greek version of Antigone (attributed to Sophocles) and its modern adaptation written by A.R. Gurney. The classic version is part of Sophocles’ trilogy of Theban plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The great Greek myth of Oedipus continues to be integral to the Western literary canon even today.  Starting from 5th century B.C., various ancient writers of the Hellenistic era made references to Oedipus in their works.  The modern adaptation for theatre by A.R. Gurney offers an interesting contextualization of heroine Antigone’s fight against authority.  In both the cases, the theme is the same, one of confrontation of the individual will against a powerful authority figure.  In Sophocles’ Antigone, this antagonist was Creon the King. In Gurney’s play it is the Professor in Classics Department George Henry Harper.  But the nature of struggle of the two heroines is the same. This essay . . . Read More

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Is Ahab the uncivilized one in Moby Dick?

There is no doubt that Ahab is the most uncivilized and barbaric of the sailors.  Although he is the captain of the ship and holds authority over the entire crew, his actions do not merit him respectability.  The harpooners carry a tarnished image by virtue of their profession – they are obligated to massacre the whales.  But Ahab’s livelihood is more of his own choice. He could easily have chosen a merchant’s life and look at fishing and hunting as merely commercial opportunities.  Indeed, Ahab was reminded of this saner and safer option by his lieutenants in the Pequod. But his vanity is too big for such humbling decisions.  Even before the grand ship set sail, Ahab was deep in his ambition of killing Moby Dick the white whale.  His battle cry is full of vehemence and bloodlust, as his final moments spent fighting the giant beast clearly reveal: “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from . . . Read More

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Myth and Superstition in Moby Dick

The white whale Moby Dick can be looked at as a metaphor or an illusion.  It is true that Ahab’s pursuit of it is real and the whale’s sightings by other ships equally honest.  But the highly exceptional skin colour for a whale is a deliberate literary device employed by the author. What Melville is trying to convey is the ultimate futility and folly of Ahab’s stated mission.  Though Moby Dick the white whale is real and its history well documented within the fiction, its very existence is highly improbable.  Zoological knowledge concurs that white whales are very rare and elusive.  This fact of nature throws light on the precarious and absurd mission of Ahab’s revenge. Not only is he hunting a dangerous beast of the wild oceans, but spotting and getting near it is highly dicey.  Just as ancient myths are events that are plausible yet never true, Ahab’s mission is theoretically possible but is never likely to succeed.  It is in this respect that myth is expressed in . . . Read More

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Roald Dahl’s Villains: An analysis

Roald Dahl is one of the most widely read children’s book authors of the twentieth century. Although he wrote several forms of literature, including adult novels and essays, he is most renowned for his children’s books, including popular books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The BFG. Beyond proving to be accessible and engaging to children, his works reinvigorated this genre by making it more accessible and realistic for children to identify with. His penchant for understanding child psychology and composing a complex, intriguing plot contributed to his renown. More specifically, one of the defining features of Dahl’s fiction caused by Dahl’s personal childhood is its macabre characterization of several adult characters juxtaposed with good natured characterization of other adult characters.

In Roald Dahl’s literary style, the story is mostly constructed from the point of view of the child protagonist, who is pitted against a few imposing adult . . . Read More

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Jean Renoir’s film ‘A Day in the Country’ and Guy de Maupassant’s story ‘A Country Excursion’: A comparative analysis in the context of Dudley Andrews’ three adaptation strategies

Introduction:

A Day in the Country is one of Renoir’s early forays into narrative story telling.  One can see the tentativeness of a filmmaker finding his feet in the new medium which was only a few years past the silent films era. A characteristic of the fledgling days of cinema was its seeking of ideas and stories from classic literature and theatre.  In the context of French cinema, works of such iconic writers as Victor Hugo, Emile Zola and Alexander Dumas were heavily drawn upon.  Guy de Maupassant’s short story A Country Excursion is one among many instances of early cinema embracing literature.  But there are numerous challenges in adapting a work of art to a radically different medium.  Theatre and cinema can be said to share some affinity in terms of principles of mise-en-scene, accepted rules of screen-play, shared exploration of genres, etc.  But literature to film is a big leap and film theorist Dudley Andrew identifies three basic types . . . Read More

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How can Plato’s Allegory of the Cave be read in a contemporary social, geo-political milieu?

Plato’s Republic is one of the most influential works on political theory.  The book is rich in logical deliberations and thought experiments in its endeavor to identify the ideal form of government for any society.  Some of the ideas and theories articulated in the work include ‘theory of forms’, ‘definition of philosopher’, ‘immortality of the soul’, ‘metaphor of the sun’, ‘role of poetry in society’, ‘allegory of the cave’, etc.  Of these, the most commented and profound idea is the ‘allegory of the cave’ that is presented in Book VII of the Republic.

The ‘allegory of the cave’ is a richly allusive and multiple layered illustration of the value, nature and consequence of knowledge.  Though Plato is the author of the book, his role is one of committing to text the conversation between his mentor Socrates and his brother Glaucon.  Socrates equates the darkness intrinsic to a cave to ignorance. To the contrary, the shining light is . . . Read More

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The Origins of Negro Slavery by Eric Williams

1. In sum, what is the Williams thesis? What is his main point and central argument?

Eric Williams is an important black intellectual who witnessed, documented and analyzed African slavery in America firsthand. His main argument is that multiple factors were behind the origins of Negro slavery. The powerful papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, in collusion with powerful European Kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, and later Britain and France, permitted the practice of slavery. Since African Negroes were not of Christian faith, they were deemed infidels by the Catholic Church along with Muslims, Pagans and the rest. Williams contends that economic exploitation went hand in hand with religious dogma in perpetrating slavery. Theories of white racial supremacy were another source of this hideous institution.

2. The Williams thesis critiques which interpretations of the origins of plantation slavery? In other words, which other explanations of the origins . . . Read More

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Mythological Creatures from Dante’s Inferno

The Inferno (Hell) is the first part of The Divine Comedy, followed by the Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Heaven). It is a classic Christian theological text that uses strong poetic imagination and allegorical allusion.  Though originally written in Italian between 1308 and 1321 AD, the work is widely translated and its themes are drawn upon by generations of writers since.  Written in first person narrative, the comedy is about the imaginative events and experiences of Dante (and his companion poet Virgil) as he traverses through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso in his afterlife. Dante meets both mythological and real people during his long voyage.  He also comes across mythological creatures that pose moral dilemmas and questions to him.  By successfully resolving such challenges, Dante (and by extension anyone with faith in Christ) steadily attains spiritual salvation.  The rest of this essay will dwell on the mythological . . . Read More

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A Hanging by George Orwell: An analysis

The short story is based on the author’s first hand experiences as an imperial police officer in Burma.  It has all of the trademark Orwellian touches, including the futility and the dehumanization that the imperial project entails. Moreover the story is a strong indictment of the practice of capital punishment.  There are numerous clues that this is the author’s moral stance.  First the dog that strays into the gallows obviously does not find the prisoner guilty. It is a mark of its love for its master and loyalty the dog jumps on the prisoner and licks his face.  Here Orwell is hinting that guilt is a morally relative judgment.

Another point Orwell implies is the shared common humanity between the unfortunate prisoner and his persecutors. This insight comes through at the moment when the prisoner steps aside from a puddle of water. It was a powerful moment that revealed his capacity for rational thinking and action.  The other instances of hangings narrated by . . . Read More

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