I achieved a mark of 30/40 on the paper pasted below. I was wondering how I could improve this essay? “Compare the ways in which Shakespeare and Browning present characters with hamartia in...

I achieved a mark of 30/40 on the paper pasted below. I was wondering how I could improve this essay?

“Compare the ways in which Shakespeare and Browning present characters with hamartia in Othello and a selection of poetry. To what extent does this give the text a sense of catharsis at the end?”

Both Shakespeare and browning represent a development of their protagonist’s hamartia throughout their texts. In both, we are shown a loving man at the beginning which develops into a cold blooded murder, as a result of bitter jealousy and insanity. The men admit their crimes and take responsibility for their actions, even if it is in their own unique ways. Alternatively Browning represents a different type of speaker in My Last Duchess, whose hamartia is he believes he is not guilty of his crimes and choose not to admit them leaving the readers to be his only judge. Overall, each text may have their similarities and differences which will be explored in detail, but the main link each text has in my opinion is the fact that they all subvert catharsis.   

Shakespeare presents Othello to be a caring and happily married man at the start if the text. Othello is also speaking in faubs which shows he is in control and happy of the situation he is in. Shakespeare shows Othello’s faith and love for Desdemona in the start of the text as “She had eyes and chose me” this shows that Othello feels loved and has no doubt over his wife’s faithfulness. The word “chose” implies that Desdemona had a choice, this subverts patriarchal values of Elizabethan times where women were seen as possessions and to be controlled. Despite the subversion of patriarchal values Othello is still happy and even acknowledges his own hamartia, jealousy, saying “Tis not to make me jealous / to say my wife is fair”. This shows that Othello knows that he is jealous, but deep down knows he is wrong and decides to control his hamartia and not speak to Desdemona about it. Also, the use of Pathetic Fallacy is shown when Othello’s ship is caught in a “storm” and arrives late. This foreshadows danger and pain for more than one character.

In a similar way to Shakespeare Othello, Browning foreshadows the hamartia of his protagonist, in Porphyria’s lover and his inability to control his emotions. The poem opens up with a definite use of pathetic fallacy, a description of a storm. “It tore the elm-tops down for act done with the intent to cause pain or suffering. Browning goes on to describe the wind turning to “vex the lake” this links to the speakers actions after Porphyria says she loves him. “All in vain”

Unlike Shakespeare, Browning goes on to present the reader with a subverted patriarchal image, as he shows the woman is in control, “and called me”. The active verb “called” confirms browning’s subverted patriarchal image as it is presented as a command, and women were seen as second class citizens to men in the 1800s. This further implies that the speaker is weak. It is at this point in the poem that browning reveals the catalyst for the speaker’s hamartia of a failure to control his emotions and his inability to hold power over a drama leads him to commit an act of evil: murder.

However, unlike both Othello and Porphyria’s lover, the hamartia of the speaker is evident from the start. The opening line, “That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall” suggests ultimate power on the part of the speaker. The second work “my” shows he is self-obsessed and arrogant towards offers and feels he has to “stoop” to their level. “My Last Duchess” becomes a possession to the speaker and this shows that he does not value the lives of others. Browning hints at the speaker’s arrogance when he is shown to name drop a famous painter “Fra Pandolf”. Finally, Browning suggests that the speaker has a flaw in his self-worth when he attempts to influence the readers thoughts “the curtain I have drawn for you”. The word you acknowledges the reader is present and he directly addresses them. This makes the speaker more aware of what he is saying. The poem has a clear AABB rhyme scheme throughout which is evidence of a considered word choice and emphasises the duke’s control. This extreme need to control those around him is the hamartia of Browning’s speaker and is evidence of patriarchal vales and men’s right to control in 1800s.

Shakespeare goes on to show the development of Othello’s hamartia in Act 4, where the protagonist become more violent as a result of his jealousy. At this point in the play Othello has been deceived by Iago, who has told him that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, and is on the war-path. However, instead of demanding proof, like he said he would at the start of the play, he starts plotting Cassio and his wife’s murders. This shows Othello has let his emotions cloud his judgement “Let her rot, and perish, and be damned tonight for she shall not live.” The se of aggressive verbs “rot” and “perish” shows that Othello is infuriated and distraught which means he is not thinking clearly hence plotting his wife’s murder when his judgement has no legs to stand on. Othello’s state of mind also affects his speech as earlier in the play, he speaks in iambic pentameter, however when plotting he speaks out of rhythm, clearly showing he has lost control. Othello can’t be seen to be cuckolded by his wife as he is insecure about his looks and whether he can satisfy her. He repeats the word “Black” throughout most of his monologues. Showing insecurities and unhappiness about his ethnicity. He further feels that he is a second class citizen to white people even though he is respected by the likes of Desdemona and Cassio. Finally the structure of the dialogues changes in act 4 because earlier in the play Iago had to intervene and stir up the conversations, to convince Othello Desdemona was a “strumpet”. However in act 4, Othello is now convinced of his wife’s infidelity and this is why Iago has no need to intersect in Othello’s monologues…

Much like in Othello, Browning presents the development of his protagonist’s hamartia in Porphyria’s Lover as his inability to control his emotions become fatal. The speaker is shown to murder his lover “I wound three times her little throat around. “The fact that his lover had a “little” throat symbolises the innocence and vulnerability, making her an easy target who would be unable to fight back as her “love was not in vain” The fact that the speaker s shown to wrap his lover’s hair around her throat “three times” shows that he is not taking any chances when it comes to death. Browning uses irony to shows that the thing Porphyria’s lover loved most, her beauty was his weapon for her murder – this could be read as a warning by browning saying the dangers of beauty and attraction. Browning also shows the male speaker to lose control of his emotions, which is something more commonly associated with women in a time where patriarchal values were valued.

“Made my heart swell.” This could further be a warning to society that if patriarchal values are subverted there will be death!

In contrast to Porphyria’s lover and Othello, Browning shows the hamartia of the duke in My Last Duchess to develop not into violence but into detail. Unlike Othello and Porphyria’s Lover. My Last Duchess is describing an event that has already finished before the text started. The language used by the arrogant Duke shows that the Dukes snobby attitude is dangerously deep. The duke states that he would not have” stooped” to speak with his wife. The word stoop indicates a clear sexist view towards his wife and other women which supports patriarchal values of the 1800s. The Duke is shown to declare “too easily impressed; she liked whatever” The short sentences reflect the anger of the Duke as he no longer speaks in long scripted sentences but lets the reader see the real person he is. The attitude of the duke is clarified perfectly in the line “who’d stoop to blame sort of trifling?” The use of stoop again shows his arrogance towards others and the fact that he feels he is above others and believes whole heartedly that he is superior. It is at this point in the poem that Browning emphasises just how arrogant his protagonist is and he believes not even the reader can touch him.

By the climax of the play, Shakespeare has fully developed Othello’s hamartia into the character trait that brings his downfall. By Act 5, Othello is taking it upon himself to murder his wife in her bed as he has been consumed by anger, hate and jealousy. “Yet she must die else she’ll betray more men”. Here Shakespeare presents a character hat is reasoning with himself, as he still loves Desdemona, but he feels he has to kill her for the greater good. It should be noted that Iago is not present in that scene because it is the monologue in which Othello make up his mind to smother her. This therefore means that although I ago deceived Othello, he did not make the final decision to kill Desdemona. This subsequently means that Othello brought his own demise. This deception is later revealed Othello punishes himself by killing himself before lying next to the already murdered Desdemona. Overall I believe catharsis was not achieved because the play ends with nobles analysing the tragedy of the moor.

Similarly to Shakespeare, Browning presents his protagonist as ashamed and convinced he has done nothing wrong in concern to his use of violence while murdering his lover. Porphyria’s lover’s hamartia develops into total denial and signifies the end of the characters speech. This speaker is shown to comfort himself by saying “and yet God has not said a word” and believes he has done right because if he was in the wrong a higher force would’ve intervened. This could be seen as a loss of religion as well as a loss of morals as he could be saying no-one has intervened because there is no god or because god agrees with his actions. Like Othello, the speaker does not have a “downfall”, more of a mental breakdown which goes unpunished which finally means there is no sense of catharsis and if it is up to the reader to decide whether nor not he is right or wrong which is similar to the last duchess.                                       

Finally, Browning presents the reader with an ambiguous endings in in My Last Duchess. As like in Porphyria’s lover the speaker is seen to be left unpunished, as he is now looking for his next Duchess. This supports patriarchal values of the time as women were replaceable, “of mine for dowry will be disallowed”. The fact that the duke has already lined up a new duchess suggests he is a sought after husband, despite his wife’s suspicious demise. Obviously Browning presents the duke to be an educated man, unlike porphyria’s lover and Othello, the reader is left assuming he had his wife murders, although he never admits it. Instead he proudly states “I gave commands”, his hamartia of arrogance and self-worth has [prevented him from undertaking his own crime, how could he stoop so low? The significance of his final word “me” is that if all he talks about is me and myself, this shows he is self-centred and selfish. As in Porphyria’s lover although the speakers hamartia does not bring catharsis in the judgement encouraged by Browning is that his punishment should be not to be judged by and great force by left to the people who could not stoop to.

In conclusion to the points above I believe that hamartia in past time texts all surround patriarchal vales of the subversion of there. This shows that 1th and 19th century writers wanted women to make sure they followed their husband’s commands or they would be killed. Overall I believe that Othello and browning’s poetry are old versions of propaganda used to keep women as second class citizens throughout a time where there was a formidable female queen and at times where there was political unrest.

Asked on by engengy

2 Answers | Add Yours

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

To a degree, it's difficult to comment about a grade without having a copy of the course syllabus, a full assignment sheet, and the grading rubric being used, as it's unclear without those what the instructor wants to see. Also, some of how it would be graded depends on where you are in your studies (high school? university? first year? third year?).

There are several things you could do to improve your mark. The first, and easiest, is proofread carefully. There are numerous errors in punctuation, spelling and grammar, such as not capitalizing the initial letter in Browning's name. A well-written, error-free paper will normally get higher marks than one with many errors.

The next major issue is that you use terms without clearly defining them. You don't really define the terms "hamartia" and "catharsis" or discuss why this concept is applicable to the three works you are discussing. Clearly defining your terms and showing that you understand the underlying concepts will improve your grade.

The next issue you can address is that of time periods. Browning was writing almost 250 years later than Shakespeare, and yet in your paper you use the term patriarchy somewhat generically, without addressing either how society had changed or Browning's use of the past in his works ("My Last Duchess" is set in the Renaissance; "Porphyria's Lover" doesn't have an obvious setting).

Perhaps the greatest improvement you could make in your grade would be through improving the structure and coherence of the paper. As it is, you have a great deal of information here, but at times it almost appears placed at random. Start thinking first about what your central argument or theme is. Next, develop a detailed outline, in which you cover the main points that support your theme in a logical order, and avoid discussing material not relevant to your point. You have some nice insights and elements of close reading, but they need to be brought into a coherent argument.

Sources:
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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I believe you could have gotten a higher mark on your essay simply by doing nothing but correcting all the obvious grammatical and punctuation errors. I don't care to correct your entire essay, but I will point out the errors in the first paragraph which must have made a bad impression on the grader. As a matter of fact, I don't understand how you could have overlooked many of these errors yourself. Here is your first paragraph verbatim:

Both Shakespeare and browning represent a development of their protagonist’s hamartia throughout their texts. In both, we are shown a loving man at the beginning which develops into a cold blooded murder, as a result of bitter jealousy and insanity. The men admit their crimes and take responsibility for their actions, even if it is in their own unique ways. Alternatively Browning represents a different type of speaker in My Last Duchess, whose hamartia is he believes he is not guilty of his crimes and choose not to admit them leaving the readers to be his only judge. Overall, each text may have their similarities and differences which will be explored in detail, but the main link each text has in my opinion is the fact that they all subvert catharsis.  

You fail to capitalize "browning" in the very first line. This creates a very bad impression, since he is one of the two authors you are writing about. The reader thinks you either don't know that proper names should be capitalized or, worse yet, that you do know and don't care. 

"murder" should be "murderer"

My Last Duchess should be in quotes as "My Last Duchess," (with the comma inside the quotation mark).

"choose should be chooses"

There should be a comma between "them" and "leaving."

"each text" should be "both texts"

"in my opinion" should be set off with commas. 

Thanatassa in Answer#1 has done an excellent job of analyzing the content and structure of your essay. I am only commenting on the grammatical and punctuation errors, which I believe are responsible for your getting such a low grade on on a paper that has, as she says, "some nice thoughts and elements of close reading." When you submit a paper in a college English class they always expect the English to be letter-perfect. 

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