Pursued by a Bear – Edition 2 – Contents

contents page pic

Dear all,

Welcome to edition 2 of ‘Pursued by a Bear’


1. ‘Breaking the Rabbit’ (Of Mice and Men) by Gemma Willett

2. ‘A Life Unloved’ (I’m the King of the Castle) by Jen Sugden

3. ‘Getting a Square Deal’ (To Kill a Mockingbird) by Matthew Pinkett

4. ‘I Pray Thee, Speak in Sober Judgement’ (Much Ado About Nothing) by Jonathan Peel

5. Student Poem – ‘A Mother’s Lament’ by anonymous.

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All the best,



A Life Unloved

How the absence of love leads to tragedy in ‘I’m the King of the Castle’

J Sugden looks at how Mrs Kingshaw’s lack of love for her son overwhelmingly contributes to the novel’s tragic conclusion.

PJ Merrel was quite right to note in ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, that to label Hooper as an evil monster oversimplifies our understanding of the text because it ‘removes the responsibility of those around him’. It seems staggeringly clear throughout I’m the King of the Castle that others, aside from Hooper, are in large part to blame for what happens. For me, one of the key reasons that Kingshaw ends up committing suicide is because he feels entirely alone and entirely unloved. In her acknowledgement, Susan Hill notes that whilst some readers have complained Kingshaw’s suicide is unbelievable, she herself felt that it was inevitable. I’ve read the novel many times, and I always find I am led to this same conclusion, quite simply because no matter what Kingshaw does he meets time and time again with a lack of sympathy, understanding and love which can only really have one tragic outcome.

From the opening, Kingshaw’s relationship with his mother is extremely strained, not least because of her selfishness. Helena Kingshaw’s chief concern is that nothing should spoil her chances of making Warings her permanent home, including her son. Mrs Kingshaw’s lack of any genuine concern for her son is revealed continually throughout the novel in her superficial enquiries into her son’s affairs. When Kingshaw returns from Hang Wood, for instance, Mrs Kingshaw avoids confronting the real issue, focussing on herself: ‘Charles, I do so hope we are going to be happy, dear. I am happy, now.’ Rather than try to get to the bottom of what provoked her son to run away, she uses it as an opportunity to make him feel guilty, telling him that she is happy. This conversation leads to Kingshaw telling his mother that he ‘hates’ Hooper (Ch. 10, p. 134), and Hill describes him as saying this ‘passionately’, demonstrating the depth of his hatred. Instead of trying to understand why her own child would say such a thing – especially following him running away from home – she instead chooses to tell him that it is a ‘wicked way to talk’, referring to Hooper as ‘poor Edmund’, casting her own son’s tormentor as the victim. There is an incredible tragedy in the irony here. This is repeated in Mrs Kingshaw’s desire not to ‘make a favourite’ out of her own son, but this merely leads her to make Edmund the favoured child and the tragedy is augmented by our knowledge that her actions are driven by concern for her own welfare. In fact, whenever Kingshaw does or says anything which as much as hints at just how deeply unhappy he is at Warings, Helena Kingshaw either terms it ‘silliness’, which belittles it, or she reacts by telling her son how ‘wicked’ he is being, or how disappointed she is in him. When Kingshaw reveals his distress at his mother having given Hooper his things, and erupts violently, her reaction is to think only about how upset she is.

Mrs Kingshaw’s total self-absorption and selfishness means that it is hardly surprising that her son feels he ‘could never begin to tell her’ anything (Ch. 10, p. 134). We are repeatedly shown the fullness of Kingshaw’s psychological alienation from his mother. In the crow incident in chapter three, for example, despite Kingshaw’s natural feelings to go to his mother, he does not. We learn that he ‘never did go to her’, that he ‘made himself cope alone’ (Ch. 3, p. 32). Hill’s presentation of Mrs Kingshaw reveals why this is: she does not seem capable of genuinely providing comfort to her son. Whenever Kingshaw tries to explain his feelings she belittles him, dismissing his thoughts, feelings and reactions as ‘silly’ (notice how much she repeats this word throughout the text.) On the one occasion when Kingshaw is so terrified and frightened, after the castle incident when he thinks Hooper has died, that he does go to his mother, she is not there. Hill describes how Kingshaw ‘whimpered like a baby’, (Ch. 13, p. 164), the word ‘baby’ here used to emphasise his need for a mother figure. He calls for his mother repeatedly: ‘Mummy…Mummy…Mummy…Mummy…’ the word ‘Mummy’, being associated with small children, once again highlights Kingshaw’s intense vulnerability. However, when Kingshaw enters her room ‘it [is] empty’, there is ‘nobody’, symbolising Mrs Kingshaw’s abandonment of her own son. For me, this is emblematic of their relationship as a whole. When Kingshaw eventually finds her she calls him (several times) a ‘silly boy’ – it is all I can do to not hurl the book across the room.

After Kingshaw has sought his mother following Hooper’s accident it is Mr Hooper, and not his mother, who provides him with some form of comfort. Kingshaw does not especially like Mr Hooper, and Mr Hooper is generally presented as a cold character. It is significant, therefore, that Kingshaw feels ‘comforted’ by Mr Hooper carrying him to bed (Ch. 13, p. 165), he wants it to ‘go on’. The fact that Kingshaw feels no affinity with this man demonstrates just how devoid of love and affection his life is: any demonstration of comfort no matter how small, regardless of the person, makes him ‘cry’ with ‘shame, gratitude, and relief’. This combination of words evokes great pity for Kingshaw, ‘shame’ is not an emotion a young child should experience when being comforted, and ‘gratitude’ seems a strikingly unusual emotion for a child to feel when being looked after by a parent figure. We are alerted to the unnaturalness of this moment of comfort, and the reader is reminded that comfort and love are not things that Kingshaw ever usually experiences. Interestingly, when Mrs Kingshaw embraces her son after Hooper’s accident, Kingshaw feels ‘alarmed’ rather than comforted, feeling it has ‘no warmth or comfort’ (Ch. 13, p. 160). The word ‘alarmed’ suggests the deeply disturbing lack of love Kingshaw experiences from his mother.

The lack of love Kingshaw experiences from his mother is further exposed in his friendship with Fielding which figures as an index of his desperation to feel loved and valued. Through Fielding, Hill is able to dramatise the healing power of friendship and affection. We see Kingshaw ‘running and leaping’ (Ch. 14, p. 180), enjoying himself. When Fielding praises him for finding the tortoise, Kingshaw is described as feeling ‘half-mad with pride and pleasure’ (Ch. 14, p. 183), and he feels as though it will be ‘all right’. Kingshaw also thinks in very possessive terms about Fielding: ‘Fielding is my friend’ (Ch. 14, p. 179) ‘Fielding is mine, this is all mine, mine, mine’ (Ch. 14, p. 183). The repetition of ‘mine’ emphasises the depth of Kingshaw’s desire for affection. Yet the psychological separation which Kingshaw feels from Fielding indicates that this friendship will not be enough to save Kingshaw in the end. Kingshaw tries to make Fielding see the ‘terribleness’ of the situation with Hooper, but finally he realises that it is ‘pointless’ to try because of the ‘impossible distance between them’ (Ch. 14, p. 181). Fielding’s well-balanced nature, due to the security of his family life, has made him an assured and well-rounded, confident individual, which means he cannot fully comprehend Kingshaw’s fears. Ultimately, then, Fielding cannot fill the void which is left by Mrs Kingshaw’s physiological abandonment of her child.

The lack of love which Kingshaw experiences throughout the novel, for me, means that his tragic suicide seems inevitable in the end. Whilst I feel, as most readers do I imagine, an inescapable feeling of disgust at Hooper’s ‘spurt of triumph’ at the novel’s close, it is Helena Kingshaw’s comforting of Hooper in this moment which is really rage inducing. Throughout the novel, I might condemn Hooper for his actions, but Helena Kingshaw is the character I long to scream at.

Jen Sugden is a university lecturer in English Literature and senior tutor of English at Greenes Tutorial College.

Getting a Square Deal

“You know the truth, and the truth…applies to the human race and to no particular race of men.”

Matthew Pinkett explores the ways prejudice is presented in ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’

In ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, Harper Lee presents prejudice as an all encompassing force arising from a lack of empathy for others; this has a dangerous influence on those who come into contact with it.

The Finch children’s fear of Boo Radley provides the reader with a symbol of the prejudice that exists in wider Maycomb society outside of the world of the children. It is through the exploration of Jem, Scout and Dill’s fear of Boo, that Harper Lee convinces the reader that prejudice is an irrational emotion borne out of an inability to empathise with those that aren’t familiar.

Lee presents the Radley house as ‘alien.’ It is a ‘Rain-rotted’ place where ‘oak trees kept the sun away.’ A ‘picket drunkenly’ guards the front yard. This ‘darkened’ description of the house which fully evokes the genre of the ‘Southern Gothic’ sets the house apart from the rest of the Maycomb where physical attractiveness is valued. After all, Maycomb is a place where the ‘Ladies bathed before noon’ in ‘sweet talcum’ and a flaw in one’s lawn is likened to ‘the Second Battle of Marne.’ The personification of the trees of the Radley house, keeping out the sun with all its positive connotations of purity and good suggests to the reader that the Radley’s separateness is something that is entirely natural. For Scout, the Radley’s must be feared.

Scout’s narrative voice is one that continually vacillates between the adult Scout, talking in hindsight, and the child Scout, recounting a tale as she saw it to be true at the time. Lee is keen that the reader realize the conviction the young Scout has of Boo’s assumed monstrous appearance by having the adult Scout tell the reader, ‘Jem gave a reasonable description of Boo.’ This ‘reasonable’ description puts Boo at ‘six-and-a-half feet tall’ with ‘blood-stained’ hands and a ‘long jagged scar’ running along his face. Completing the monstrous description are eyes that pop and a mouth that drools. The fact is, Scout has never seen Boo Radley. In fact, Scout explicitly states, ‘Jem and I had never seen him.’ Scout’s description-and fear- of Boo is based purely on the things, ‘People said’. Because they’ve never met Boo, the Finches can’t possibly begin to understand him. This results in nothing but negative outcomes: a deep fear entrenched within the children and a potentially inaccurate and unfair portrayal of a man both the children-and the reader- have not yet met. Lee doesn’t, in this early part of the novel, provide us with any physical description of Boo that can be taken for accurate. This could be because Lee wants to evoke in the reader, the same excitement of dread that comes in simply not knowing. The reader only has Scout’s description to go on; the reader is complicit in Scout’s prejudice.

In the third to last chapter, Lee finally provides the reader with a description of Boo that only serves to emphasise Lee’s view that prejudice is something based on a flawed lack of knowledge and understanding. Scout, some years older than the point at which she made her first description, describes Boo as having a ‘face…as white as his hands’ with ‘delicate indentations at his temples’ and hair that is ‘dead and thin, almost feathery.’ Whilst Boo ‘s actual appearance does display elements of the unusual, it does so in a way that is reminiscent of weak vulnerability rather than grotesque monstrosity. The adjectives, ‘white’, ‘delicate’ and ‘feathery’ are strongly evocative of softness, the latter of these adjectives linking Boo to the ‘mockingbird’ of the title; a vulnerable bird, forever in jeopardy of man’s ability to destroy, in spite of its innocence.

Lee’s presentation of Scout’s descriptions of Boo, and in fact other characters in the novel, are interesting because of Scout’s focus on the mouth. In Scout’s initial description of Boo, he is described as having teeth that ‘were yellow and rotten’ and it is noted that ‘he drooled most of the time.’ Here, the mouth is presented as a physical embodiment of the monstrosity that justifies the children’s fears of its owner. In contrast, in the ‘true’ description of Boo, this monstrous imagery has disappeared. Instead, Boo has simply a ‘wide’ mouth whose ‘lips parted into a timid smile’. It is this smile, from a mouth that was previously used only for eating ‘raw squirrels’, that produces ‘sudden tears’ in Scout. Scout, brought up by a respectable Lawyer, does not recognise savagery. She does, however, recognise happiness and Boo’s smile shows Scout that he too feels this very human emotion. Boo’s smile is an indicator of his humanity and it is at this point that Lee completes Scout’s journey from ignorant child to empathic youth.

Scout’s bildungsroman can finally be seen to be complete in the final chapter of the novel. Here Lee presents prejudice as something which can be eradicated through empathy. Standing on Boo’s porch, an area of access previously denied to her, Scout is finally able to ‘stand in his [Boo’s] shoes and walk around in them.’ From here she observes the daily comings and goings of her life as Boo might have observed them. She describes herself and her brother in the third person, positioning herself as an outsider to the ‘self’ that is Boo. Boo is no longer seen as an outsider of Maycomb society. Rather, he is an omniscient being fully aware of the comings and goings of a neighborhood blinded by the prejudice of a narrow-minded and naïve Maycomb society that Boo eventually protects them from. Lee’s description of Jem and Finch as ‘Boo’s children’ only serves to emphasise the importance of a wider perspective in protecting the future of society, in this case, the children, Jem and Scout.

Scout’s journey from immature child to empathic adult clearly demonstrates Lee’s belief that empathy destroys prejudice.

Racial discrimination is something that infiltrates all areas of Maycomb life. Early on in the novel, the childish Scout dismisses Jem’s childish superstitions as ‘Nigger-talk.’ This is in spite of her being the daughter of Atticus, a man for whom the term ‘Nigger’ is something used by ‘ignorant, trashy people’ use ‘when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.’ Lee has reduced Scout to ‘common’ in spite of her father’s high level of education and social standing. Lee is clearly implying here that no one is immune from the corruptible force of prejudice, particularly at a young age. What’s also interesting is that Scout cites, Calpurnia as the source of her idea that superstitions are childish things, only believed by black people, presumably because of their inferiority: ‘Calpurnia says that’s nigger talk.’. The fact that Calpurnia, a black woman herself, uses the derogatory ‘n-word’ suggests either a form of reluctant self-loathing or a determinedness to distance herself from other black people whom she considers inferior to herself as a black woman serving the family of Maycomb’s most esteemed resident: whatever the interpretation, the negative implications are clear: to be black is to be inferior, stupid, a believer in ‘hot steams’, ‘haints’ and other such supersitions.

Just as racial prejudice impacts the domestic lives of the Maycomb residents, so also is it found, with devastating effects, in the area of law and order. In chapter twenty Atticus confidently states that, in this country [America] our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.’ The irony of this statement is stark when one considers what Lee has had Scout tell us about the layout of the courtroom some chapters earlier: ‘The Coloured balcony ran along three walls of the courtroom like a second-storey verandah, and from it we could see everything.’ The black people are, quite literally, anything but ‘level’ with the white people of the courtroom. Here, in the courtroom, just as they are in the homes of those they serve, the black community is segregated from white community. The result of this prejudice, found in the institution of the courthouse, is nothing short of catastrophic. An innocent man is sentenced for a crime he has not committed and in the end, pays for it with his life.

Having established the fact that prejudice permeates the domestic and the legal institutions that make up a society, one may consider religious institutions, such as churches, exempt from the destructive force of of prejudice. Lee is keen to show the reader that this is not so. When Lula, a black member of Calpurnia’s ‘nigger church’ sees that Calpurnia has brought Jem and Scout to service, she remarks, ‘I wants to know why you bringin’ white chillun to nigger church.’ Lula’s animosity is tangible. Here Lee presents the reader with a black woman exhibiting the kind of racial prejudice only previously observed in white characters of the novel. Lee does this for two reasons: firstly to highlight again, the fact that prejudice is prevalent in all areas of society whether it be church, court or family home; black or white, and secondly, to humanize the black characters of the novel. Scout mentions that she ‘sensed, rather than saw, that we [her and Jem] were being advanced upon’ by Lula. This amounts to a recognition that black people feel too.

Lee’s use of dialect in the language of Lula, Tom Robinson and Calpurnia only serves to distance the reader from these characters. The children whom the reader knows so well are now ‘chillun’ according to Lula. At church Scout notes that Calpurnia ‘was talking like the rest of them,’ the use of the pronoun ‘them’ only serving to emphasise Scout’s distance from the black people she is associating with. This distance can be said to be due to a lack of formal education in members of the black community. This reveals itself in the unorthodox dialect adopted by Lula. And yet, tragically, the fact that Calpurnia mimics Lula’s way of speaking, in spite of the fact that she is one of only four members of the black congregation that can read, suggests that a lack of education is something for which the black members of Maycomb society can feel a sense of community, amongst themselves.

This lack of education and its manifestation in ‘unrefined’ speech patterns is fatal. Tom Robinson’s clumsy attempts to explain himself in the witness stand: ‘ no suh, scared I’d hafta face up to what I didn’t do’ presents him as an easy target for a white lawyer intent on destroying him: ‘Are you being impudent to me, boy?’ Lee’s use of the word ‘boy’ in Gilmer’s comment to Tom, implies that Tom’s lack of education, which reveals itself in the way he speaks, makes it acceptable for learned members of white society to judge him as merely a child when he is in fact, a man.

Nowhere is racial prejudice exhibited in its most vitriolic form than in the incident of Mrs Dubose proclaiming to Jem and Scout, ‘Your father’s no better than the niggers and trash he works for.’ This intense hatred coming from an adult, directed at children, is nothing short of shocking. Interestingly, during Mrs Dubose’s rant, Scout notices a ‘long silver thread of saliva’ in Mrs Dubose’s mouth. The parallels with Scout’s earlier description of the monstrous Boo Radley are clear. And yet, in this case, Scout is not inaccurate in connecting Dubose with Radley. The words that emanate from Dubose’s mouth are repugnant; monstrous even. Here, Lee presents the mouth as a weapon that is physically repulsive. However, here we are seeing true monstrosity: racial prejudice from an adult who should know better. This mouth imagery is continued later on in the chapter when Scout remarks of Mrs Dubose: ‘From time to time she would open her mouth wide, and I could see her tongue undulate faintly.’ Scout goes on to mention that ‘Cords of saliva would collect on her lips’ and the fact that ‘Her mouth seemed to have a private existence of her own.’ Lee is keen to use the image of the mouth as a something which is as physically repulsive as the words which it can produce. A mouth has a dual purpose: to speak and to consume. The allegory to prejudice is stark: prejudice must spread its message and that is one that consumes and destroys.

Although racial prejudice is shown to be reprehensible, violent, and damaging, the novel does present some hope for change in this area, just as there is hope to be found in Scout’s empathy for Boo Radley. Tom Robinson’s death, although heartbreaking, does signify a determination in Tom to do something for himself. Atticus mentions the fact that he feels, ‘Tom was tired of white men’s chances and preferred to take his own.’ Tom’s death could represent a martyrdom for others to learn from. Certainly, his death has a positive impact on other members of Maycomb society.

Mr Link Deas is shown to be supportive of Tom Robinson’s widow, warning Bob Ewell that he’d get Bob arrested if he continued to harass her. The fact that ‘Helen reported no further trouble’ after this incident is suggestive of the fact that Deas’ threat was taken on board. Here Lee presents law as something which works in favour of the black community instead of against it.

More hope in a change to attitudes to black people can be taken from Tom’s obituary in which he is described as a ‘cripple’ as opposed to definition by colour. Furthermore, Lee mentions that Underwood ‘likened Tom’s death to the senseless slaughter of songbirds by hunters and children’. The sibilant words here draws the reader to acknowledge the full impact of the truth of Tom’s death: that it was futile and preventable. Considering this passage more closely, Lee also explains the metaphor that gives the novel its name: ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ Lee could be trying to get the reader to think about the novel as a thematic device. As something which consciously tries to open a dialogue on the ‘senseless’ discrimination of people of differing races and colour.

To conclude, Lee presents prejudice as a destructive force which can be found in all areas of society. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that prejudice can’t be overcome; all it takes is understanding and empathy.

Matthew Pinkett is Literacy Co-Ordinator at George Abbot School, Guildford.

A Mother’s Lament

Why did you go
to sleep beneath a godless sky?
Where are you now?
Not here, to dry these tears I cry.

You gave your life so they might live;
those countless souls not yet born
will give their thanks
while I must mourn.

You gave your life so they might live?
In pain, in anguish, in mud, in fear,
you lived your death so they might give
Two minutes’ silence, every year?

What passing bells now break the air?

The news you are not coming home.
They pray for you, no thoughts are spared
for your broken mother, weeping alone.

Submitted anonymously from a student in Darlington.

Breaking the Rabbit

Lennie’s Demise in ‘Of Mice and Men’

Gemma Willett looks at an oft-forgotten chapter at the end of Lennie’s life.

Inevitably, as a teacher, I resort to using the film version of many literature texts at the end of a unit of work. ‘Of Mice and Men’ the movie, is a fantastic resource that I find students enjoy and helps consolidate knowledge of the characters and context. However, for all its merits, my students always ask me why the final scene of the movie excludes the trippy scenario in which Lennie speaks to his dead Aunt Clara and a giant rabbit. This is something I have also pondered myself.

When reading the narrative of ‘Of Mice and Men’, Steinbeck is stringent in keeping to a third person omniscient narrator. However, in the aforementioned scene, Lennie imagines that he is speaking to his dead Aunt, and later, a giant imaginary rabbit. This is the first, and only, time that we, the reader, are privy to the true workings of Lennie’s mind. So what effect does this have on us and how does it work?

I believe that, in this scene, Steinbeck is quashing all sympathy that has been carefully established throughout the novella. No longer is the reader allowed to wonder whether Lennie has any clue as to what is occurring in reality. He leaves us, and cleverly so, with a sense of hopelessness. Lennie is oblivious; a lunatic in fact. What a clever way to make us, the reader, empathise with 1930’s Americans. We think we understand what is going on, we feel comfortable in this fact and then, suddenly, the carpet is swept from under us: Great depression anyone?

But how credible is this scene in the midst of an otherwise gritty, realistic cautionary tale? Well, firstly, I would say very credible. It creates a sense of unease in the otherwise linear events of the story that mirror the occurrences of The Great Depression. When confronted by this scene in the novella, the reader is perplexed; it makes you stop and think. There is a jarring effect in terms of our understanding. By using this abstract scene, Steinbeck is making us re-evaluate our judgement of Lennie and his mental state. It appears that Lennie is utterly insane and this, in turn, makes us feel rather uncomfortable. Subsequent to this is a feeling of sadness. For me, I feel more pity for George at this stage in the plot. It transpires that all of the time that George seemed to be striking a chord with Lennie, all Lennie has been doing is imagining giant bunnies to talk to. Steinbeck is attempting to create a similar journey for the reader, that the itinerant workers of the 1930’s embarked on. We set out in the hope that things will have a happy ending but, like Lennie’s vision, this is nothing but a fantasy.

Another purpose of the scene in the novella is to represent Lennie’s personal fears and, likewise, mimic the fears of those living throughout The Great Depression. Lennie manifests his dead Aunt Clara ‘[frowning] disapprovingly’ at him. She begins by cussing Lennie and telling him ‘You do bad things’. Lennie’s greatest fear is being scolded by his parental figure – George in the majority of the novella – and subsequently being punished. This serves to compound the idea that Lennie is, and always will be, a child and also shows how bad decisions lead to negative consequences. Steinbeck chooses to focus on the negative in his novella, drawing a parallel between the irresponsible decisions of many Wall Street firms and the flippant, childlike decisions of Lennie. He juxtaposes the profound with the trivial in order to create a very unnerving atmosphere, one which is evident on the ranch – a microcosm of America in the 1930s.

Much of the fear for Lennie in this scene, is fear of the unknown. Lennie is alone in the brush, having gone there as instructed by George. He does not know when George will come for him and when his nightmare will end. Once Aunt Clara is done with him, a giant rabbit appears shouting, ‘You ain’t fit to lick the boots of no rabbit’. Much like The Great Depression, people were in limbo, stuck in a living nightmare. The unknown is a scary place to inhabit. Itinerant workers often did not know when their next meal would come, if they would be able to find work and a roof over their head. Lennie’s rabbit is a literal manifestation of this fear, telling him that the future is uncertain: ‘he gonna leave ya all alone’. The appearance of this enormous, angry rabbit suggests that Lennie realises subconsciously that he’ll never have his dream (or that he doesn’t deserve it). At this moment, once the illusion is shattered, his demise is imminent.

This is all fine in a story. Authors often use abstract scenes to symbolically prove a point. But it doesn’t translate as well in terms of film. Gary Sinise (director and actor of ‘Of Mice and Men’) chose to omit this scene in his movie version. There is no hallucinatory scene where Lennie converses with his dead Aunt Clara or a giant rabbit. As much as I try to imagine this appearing in the film, I can’t. It’s too funny, it wouldn’t sit well with the pathos. Plus, how could you translate this to screen? Animation perhaps? I think it was a clever move to skip this scene, keeping John Malkovich’s performance credible and not laughable. Well done Gary! The movie remains at just the right level of ‘sentimental’ rather than just plain ‘mental’.

Gemma Willett is Head of KS4 English at George Abbott School, Guildford.

‘I pray thee speak in sober judgment’

by Jonathan Peel

Explore the character of Claudio in MAAN. In what way could he be seen as the protagonist of the play?

In this post I am going to try to suggest a potential approach to this essay. Hopefully I will manage to answer the question whilst hitting the requirement of the marking rubric which insists, quite rightly, that writer’s craft should be at the forefront of any response. The essay is not intended as an exemplar in any way, but a vehicle for discussion:

Level 3
13-18 Sound knowledge and understanding of the text evident in the response
Comments about the writer’s use of characterisation/theme/plot/setting for literary effect show sound appreciation of the writer’s craft
Engagement with the text is sound, examples used are clearly relevant Where response requires consideration of two or more features, a clear balance is evident
Level 4
19-24 Thorough knowledge and understanding of the text evident in the response
Comments about the writer’s use of characterisation/theme/plot/setting for literary effect show sustained appreciation of the writer’s craft
Engagement with the text is sustained, examples used are fully relevant Where response requires consideration of two or more features, a thorough, balanced approach is evident
Level 5
25-30 Assured knowledge and understanding of the text evident in the response
Comments about the writer’s use of characterisation/theme/plot/setting for literary effect show a perceptive appreciation of the writer’s craft
Engagement with the text is assured, examples used are fully relevant Where response requires consideration of two or more features, a perceptive, balanced approach is evident.

I feel that alongside detailed response to key quotations, awareness of the FORM of the play and the consequent requirements on Shakespeare to adhere to the comic stereotype should be brought out in an essay on this subject. The same approach should also be made if Hero is the subject of the essay. In addition, it is clear that there should be regular well-chosen quotations to support and develop the argument and which are the subject of close, word-level analysis when possible.

Shakespeare prepares the audience for the arrival of Claudio in the opening discussion and scene setting between Leonato and the Messenger. The comic genre requires a young protagonist, preferably in love, whose trials the audience will watch until the eventual revelation of the truth and the subsequent happy ending. Since Claudio is the first character of this type to be mentioned, it is fair to assume that he will take on this role. His character is given depth when the messenger uses the metaphor that he has enacted “in the figure of a lamb the feats of a lion”. This description gives a clear indication of his character: pure and innocent outwardly, but capable of acts of great power and cruelty or savagery. The noble connotation of the lion should not be allowed to hide the potential for destruction that the animal holds.
In the early scenes of the play, Claudio is all “lamb”. He is young and naive, quick to respond to his emotion and easily swayed. Not only does he fall in love without even a word passing between he and Hero, asking Benedick whether he “noted” Leonato’s daughter, but his youthful ardour is supported by his assertion that she is the “sweetest lady” that he had ever seen. Though he is teased by Benedick, he gains support and Don Pedro is impressed enough by his protestations of love as Shakespeare shifts into verse form at the end of 1.1- “… come thronging soft and delicate desires”. There are potential indications of trouble to come as Shakespeare plants discreet references to possible greed – “hath signor Leonato a son?”- but at this stage the protagonist of the comedy fits the required description – a young man, deeply in love.

Shakespeare quickly moves to add complexity to his character. After briefly introducing Don John in 1.3, Shakespeare develops the poisoning of Claudio’s mind which is necessary for his character to undergo a shift towards “darkness” required by the genre. At the masked ball in 2.1 and again in 3.2, Don John tries to trick Claudio into doubting Hero’s faithfulness. Claudio – a willing deceiver of Benedick in 2.3 is on the receiving end of deceit and, as is expected in a play in which mis-noting is such a key theme, is led to believe the evidence of his eyes when observing a midnight tryst. Not only does he fall out of love with the impetuosity of youth, but Shakespeare enhances his credentials as a comic protagonist by ensuring that his response is clearly vindictive and cruel: “If I see anything… there will I shame her”. Claudio is made to present the darker side of his character in an instant reaction which requires not just refusing marriage, but also, by shaming Hero, public humiliation of the innocent victim.

The crisis is reached in 4.1 when Shakespeare allows CLaudio full vent to his malign anger. Prepared and guided by the “bastard” Don John, he humiliates Hero, calling her a “rotten orange” and accusing her of knowing the “heat of luxurious bed”, both accusations carrying clear overtones of a loss of virginity and of sexual practices, with the word “luxurious” carrying the meaning more of “lustful” than the modern sense of comfortable. It is only after Leonato has joined in the attack that Shakespeare begins to mix the core comic plot and the subplot of Beatrice ad Benedick. The comic genre requires a crisis and often a hiding-away of the victim in order that her innocence can be proven. At this time, once the Friar has drawn attention to the need for “noting” in all situations, Hero is taken away and centre stage is occupied by the pair who have hitherto been seen as the comic subplot -Beatrice and Benedick. It is a mark of Shakespeare’s genius that this much loved pair, who can seriously imbalance many productions of the play, should be seen as the supporting cast. They are romantically intriguing and entertaining, but do not carry the weight of the comic plot which is based not so much on the need for humour, but on the need to provide entanglement and a happy resolution. Once Benedick has agreed to “kill Claudio”, the resolution can be shown.

In Act 5 Shakespeare shows the audience Claudio’s arrogance in the face of the two old men “without teeth”. He has not fooled Antonio who sees through the leonine projection of cruelty and pride to see behind it not a lamb, but Claudio as typical of a “fashion-monging boy”, repeating the noun four times in as many lines to emphasise the point. It is only after the much delayed revelation of the truth and Boracchio’s confession a tthe end of 5.1 that Claudio’s character can return to its earlier state. He is forced to make a public statement of sorrow for the “death of Hero” and to take part in a punishment that will see him wed to another girl. Once he has done his penance, Shakespeare can re-introduce Hero, veiled in keeping with the theme of noting and reminiscent of 2.1, the scene in which the deceits began. Claudio’s response -“another Hero!” is a response of shock and pleasure, as indicated by the exclamation mark, and he speaks no more in relation to Hero in the play, giving her a slight dominance over him for the first time, suggesting that he is still totally aware of the wrong he has done. The comic plot has been brought to its conclusion and the protagonist of the play has been presented as having learned some humility after the excesses of his behaviour when he was under Don John’s spell.

Although Shakespeare still needs to wrap up his second couple and bring Beatrice and Benedick together, the comic plot of the play ends with the wedding of Claudio and Hero. Claudio’s character is revealed as having undergone a significant journey during the play and finally, all the troubles that he has been instrumental in causing have been smoothed out. That he can be described as the protagonist of this play is without a doubt.

Jonathan Peel is Head of English at a school in Harrow. You can find his blog full of brilliant resources here – go and check it out!

Pursued by a Bear – Edition 1 – Contents

contents page pic

Dear all,

Welcome to the first edition of ‘Pursued by a Bear’.


1. Character 101 (Creative Writing) by guest author CJ Daugherty

2. Naivety in the Face of Death (Conflict Poetry) by K. Thompson

3. Sympathy for the Devil (I’m the King of the Castle) by PJ Merrell

4. Lordly Literature (Lord of the Flies) by Caroline Spalding

5. You Can’t Look Away (The Woman in Black) by Lucinda Preston

6. I Knew You Were Trouble When You Walked In (Romeo and Juliet) by Paul Staveley

7. BearBlog looks at: Form, Structure and Language in ‘An Inspector Calls’

8. Student Poem: Bedu by Lucy Davidson

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All the best,