How do the voices of Plath and Hughes in their confessional poetry encourage the audience to consider the manner in which culture, judgement and the very nature of language itself can contribute to disparate narratives?

The poetic discourse provoked by Sylvia Plath’s modernist Ariel(1965) and sustained by Ted Hughes’ postmodernist Birthday Letters(1998) positions audiences to appreciate how one’s cultural predispositions hamper one’s ability to judge holistically, and thereby lead to the creation of disparate narratives. Namely, in appreciating Plath and Hughes’ attempts at authentically self-representing …..through their confessionalist form, audiences are compelled to draw connections and collisions between their narratives and thereby validate them. However, the readers’ desire to reconcile dissonances within their narratives and find an applicable ‘truth’ of the author’s personal and literary relationship ultimately compromises their ability to understand the authors’ expression of their underlying humanities. As such, we increasingly adopt dehumanising and radical understandings of Plath and Hughes’ poetry and manufacture a ‘truth’ in accordance with our own preconceptions, and in doing so contributing to the divisive nature of the authors’ public personas which caused their individual suffering. Hence, in materialising the textual conversation between Plath and Hughes, audiences are unanimously forced to become cognizant of the role of one’s socio-cultural drives in building disparate narratives.

Plath and Hughes’ authorial voices in Ariel and Birthday Letters position audiences as intimate listeners to their poignant, confessionalist discourse, thereby inciting them to judge the authenticity and validity of their respective narratives.

 Plath’s ‘Daddy’ immediately articulates her suffering under male authority through the inversion of marital vows of “you do not do” and the repeated, childlike “oo” sound, which simultaneously resurrect Hughes and her father, Otto, as sources of her oppression.

 Her later victimising self-caricaturisation through the historical allusion to a “jew” under a “swastika/ so black no sky could squeak through” likens the ambiguous “Daddy” figure to the propaganda of the Nazis – thereby denouncing the social conditioning of women to accept tyranny as love in Plath’s Cold War epoch. As such, Plath evokes notions of feminist plight within Ariel in order to ignite her female audiences to reaffirm the contextual values of second wave feminism by validating her narrative and engaging in a brutal condemnation of the “brute”, “Daddy” figure through her call to action “I’m through”. This condemnation inspired within ‘Daddy’ ultimately manufactured Hughes’ public mythology as a “brute” and Plath’s oppressor, a characterisation which he aims to quell through self-humanisation within ‘A picture of Otto’.

Hughes’ biographical allusion to Otto as being “tangled with me; Rising from your coffin, a big shock” reframes Plath’s mythological imagery of a “vampire” within ‘Daddy’ to immediately draw a distinction between the male oppressor within ‘Daddy’ and himself, a dissonant note to Plath’s conflation of two within Ariel. This is furthered through the intertextual allusion to Wilfried Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’ which reframes Plath’s connotations of “German” oppression to underscore Hughes’ own inability to overcome the fictitious persona created by Plath in her suite. In doing so, Hughes reclaims textual authority over his public characterisation by underscoring Plath’s role  and simultaneously compels audiences to appreciate his own humanity, lost within Plath’s narrative. Hence, audiences are positioned to appreciate the authors’ experiences – wherein Plath and Hughes are both victims of societal oppression – and therefore their own tendency to validate or delegitimize their narratives.

Othello: C.C. – Santa Sabina

‘Othello depicts the fundamental truths about human nature.’

How does Shakespeare’s exploration of key concerns in Othello continue to appeal and challenge contemporary audiences?

In Shakespeare’s Othello, the quick undoing of Othello’s sense of self is a prominent theme that unfolds with startling rapidity. From the beginning of the play, Othello is portrayed as a confident and respected general, secure in his abilities and in the love of his wife, Desdemona. However, through a series of manipulations and deceptions orchestrated by Iago, Othello’s sense of self is dismantled with alarming speed.

The catalyst for Othello’s undoing is the insidious seeds of doubt planted by Iago regarding Desdemona’s fidelity. As Iago skilfully fabricates evidence and manipulates circumstances, Othello’s once unwavering trust in himself and his relationship is shaken to its core. The speed at which Othello’s sense of self crumbles is a testament to the persuasive power of manipulation and the vulnerability of human emotions.

Othello’s downfall is exacerbated by his own internal insecurities. As a black man in a predominantly white society, Othello is acutely aware of his otherness. He harbors deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, which Iago cunningly exploits. By preying upon Othello’s insecurities and using racial stereotypes to cast doubt on Desdemona’s faithfulness, Iago effectively undermines Othello’s self-assurance and stokes the flames of jealousy within him.

As Othello attempts to navigate this treacherous social space, he finds himself caught between the expectations of his own cultural identity and the demands of assimilation into Venetian society. The pressure to conform to the norms and values of the dominant culture becomes overwhelming, leading to a profound internal conflict.

This internal conflict, combined with the relentless manipulation by Iago, triggers Othello’s rapid undoing. The erosion of his sense of self is expedited as he becomes consumed by jealousy, insecurity, and a deepening distrust of his own cultural heritage. The once proud and confident Othello is transformed into a tormented and fragmented soul, driven to the brink of madness by the collision of his identity with the expectations placed upon him.

In this context, Othello’s quick undoing becomes a tragic manifestation of the impossibility of reconciling his cultural identity with the demands of a society that views him as an outsider. The rapidity with which his sense of self crumbles underscores the magnitude of the forces arrayed against him and the profound impact of societal pressures on an individual’s psyche.

Othello’s tragic journey serves as a poignant reminder of the challenges faced by those who exist in the liminal spaces between cultures and the devastating consequences of attempting to navigate a society that both fetishizes and marginalizes their identities. It sheds light on the enduring truths about the clash of cultural identities and the fragility of the self when subjected to the weight.

As the play progresses, Othello’s once rational and level-headed nature gives way to irrationality and impulsive actions. His language becomes increasingly erratic and disjointed, reflecting the disintegration of his once strong sense of self. The influence of Iago’s manipulations becomes all-consuming, clouding Othello’s judgment and causing him to lose sight of his own values and integrity.

Ultimately, Othello’s quick undoing of his sense of self culminates in a tragic climax. Blinded by jealousy, he tragically murders Desdemona, the very person he loves and cherishes. In this moment, Othello’s identity is shattered completely, as he realizes the irreversible consequences of his actions and the extent to which he has been manipulated.

The quick undoing of Othello’s sense of self serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the vulnerability of human nature and the destructive power of external manipulation. It underscores the fragility of identity when subjected to the relentless assault of doubt, jealousy, and societal pressures. Othello’s tragic journey serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of self-awareness, critical thinking, and resilience in the face of manipulation and self-doubt.

As Shakespeare compels us to question our perceptions, and grapple with the depths of our own unconscious impulses. Othello serves as a powerful mirror that holds up a reflection of our shared humanity, defying time and cultural boundaries and ergo ensuring its enduring prevalence, universality and timeless nature.

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