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Ben Jonson's Volpone (1606)
Volpone, a Venetian gentleman, pretends to be on his deathbed after a long illness in order to dupe Voltore, Corbaccio and Corvino, who aspire to his fortune. They each arrive in turn, bearing luxurious gifts with the aim of being inscribed as Volpone's heir. Mosca, Volpone's "parasite", encourages them, making each of them believe that he has been named as the heir in the will, and getting Corbaccio to disinherit his son in favour of Volpone. Mosca mentions to Volpone that Corvino has a beautiful wife, Celia, and Volpone goes to see her in the disguise of Scoto the Mountebank. Corvino drives him away, but Volpone is now insistent that he must have Celia for his own. Mosca tells Corvino that Volpone requires to sleep with a young woman to help revive him. Corvino offers Celia in order to please Volpone.Just before Corvino and Celia are due to arrive for this to take place, Corbaccio's son Bonario arrives to catch his father in the act of disinheriting him. Mosca guides him into a sideroom. Volpone is left alone with Celia, and after failing to seduce her with promises of luxurious items and fantasies, attempts to rape her. Bonario comes forward to rescue Celia. However, in the ensuing courtroom sequence, the truth is well-buried by Mosca, Volpone and all three of the dupes.There are episodes involving the English travellers Sir and Lady Politick Would-Be and Peregrine. Sir Politic constantly talks of plots and his outlandish business plans, while Lady Would-Be annoys Volpone with her ceaseless talking. Mosca co-ordinates a mix-up between them which leaves Peregrine, a more sophisticated traveller, feeling offended. He humiliates Sir Politick by telling him he is to be arrested for sedition, and making him hide inside a giant tortoise shell.Volpone insists on disguising himself and having it announced that he has died and left all his wealth to Mosca. This enrages Voltore, Corbaccio and Corvino, and everyone returns to court. Volpone gets badly entangled in the circumstances devised by him and Mosca. Despite Volpone's pleas, Mosca refuses to give up his wealthy new role, and Volpone decides to reveal himself in order to take Mosca down with him. Finally they, Voltore, Corbaccio and Corvino are punished.
Henry Fielding's Tom Jones: A Foundling (1749)
Tom Jones is a foundling discovered on the property of a very kind, wealthy landowner, Squire Allworthy
, in Somerset in England's West Country. Tom grows into a vigorous and lusty, yet honest and kind-hearted, youth. He develops affection for his neighbour's daughter, Sophia Western
. However, Tom's status as a bastard causes Sophia's father and Allworthy to oppose their love.
- Mrs Western
- Master Blifil
- Molly Seagrim
- Mr. Thwackum
- Mr. Square
Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy
Tristram Shandy, Elizabeth Shandy, Captain Toby Shandy, Corporal Trim, Dr. Slop, Aunt Dinah
Sterne obscures the story's underlying chronology, however, by rearranging the order of the various pieces of his tale. He also subordinates the basic plot framework by weaving together a number of different stories, as well as such disparate materials as essays, sermons, and legal documents. There are, nevertheless, two clearly discernible narrative lines in the book.The first is the plot sequence that includes Tristram's conception, birth, christening, and accidental circumcision. (This sequence extends somewhat further in Tristram's treatment of his "breeching," the problem of his education, and his first and second tours of France, but these events are handled less extensively and are not as central to the text.) It takes six volumes to cover this chain of events, although comparatively few pages are spent in actually advancing such a simple plot. The story occurs as a series of accidents, all of which seem calculated to confound Walter Shandy's hopes and expectations for his son. The manner of his conception is the first disaster, followed by the flattening of his nose at birth, a misunderstanding in which he is given the wrong name, and an accidental run-in with a falling window-sash. The catastrophes that befall Tristram are actually relatively trivial; only in the context of Walter Shandy's eccentric, pseudo-scientific theories do they become calamities.The second major plot consists of the fortunes of Tristram's Uncle Toby. Most of the details of this story are concentrated in the final third of the novel, although they are alluded to and developed in piecemeal fashion from the very beginning. Toby receives a wound to the groin while in the army, and it takes him four years to recover. When he is able to move around again, he retires to the country with the idea of constructing a scaled replica of the scene of the battle in which he was injured. He becomes obsessed with re-enacting those battles, as well as with the whole history and theory of fortification and defense. The Peace of Utrecht slows him down in these "hobby-horsical" activities, however, and it is during this lull that he falls under the spell of Widow Wadman. The novel ends with the long-promised account of their unfortunate affair.
D. H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers (1913)
- The refined daughter of a "good old burgher family," Gertrude Coppard meets a rough-hewn miner at a Christmas dance and falls into a whirlwind romance characterized by physical passion. But soon after her marriage to Walter Morel, she realizes the difficulties of living off his meagre salary in a rented house. The couple fight and drift apart and Walter retreats to the pub after work each day. Gradually, Mrs. Morel's affections shift to her sons beginning with the oldest, William. As a boy, William is so attached to his mother that he doesn't enjoy the fair without her. As he grows older, he defends her against his father's occasional violence. Eventually, he leaves their Nottinghamshire home for a job in London, where he begins to rise up into the middle class. He is engaged, but he detests the girl's superficiality. He dies and Mrs. Morel is heartbroken, but when Paul catches pneumonia she rediscovers her love for her second son.
- Both repulsed by and drawn to his mother, Paul is afraid to leave her but wants to go out on his own, and needs to experience love. Gradually, he falls into a relationship with Miriam, a farm girl who attends his church. The two take long walks and have intellectual conversations about books but Paul resists, in part because his mother looks down on her. At Miriam's family's farm, Paul meets Clara Dawes, a young woman with, apparently, feminist sympathies who has separated from her husband, Baxter. Paul leaves Miriam behind as he grows more intimate with Clara, but even she cannot hold him and he returns to his mother. When his mother dies soon after, he is alone.
Kate Chopin's The Awakening (1899)
The novel opens with the Pontellier family vacationing on Grand Isle at a resort on the Gulf of Mexico managed by Madame Lebrun and her two sons, Robert and Victor. The Pontellier family is composed of Léonce Pontellier, a businessman of Louisiana Creole heritage; his wife Edna, and their two sons, Etienne and Raoul. Edna spends most of her time with her close friend Adèle Ratignolle. In a boisterious and cheery manner, Adèle reminds Edna of her duties as a wife and mother. At Grand Isle, Edna eventually forms a connection with Robert Lebrun, a charming and earnest young man who actively seeks Edna's attention and affections. When they fall deeply in love, Robert senses the doomed nature of such a relationship, flees to Mexico under the guise of pursuing a nameless business venture. At this point in the novel, the narrative focus shifts to Edna's complex, shifting emotions as she reconciles her maternal duties with her desire to be with Robert and her desire for social freedom.With the summer vacation over, the Pontelliers return to New Orleans. Edna gradually reassesses her priorities and takes a more active role in her own happiness. She starts to isolate herself from New Orleans society and withdraw from some of the duties traditionally associated with motherhood. Léonce eventually calls in a doctor to diagnose her, fearing she is losing her mental faculties. The doctor advises Léonce to let her be.When Léonce prepares to travel to New York City on business, he sends the boys to his mother and leaves Edna alone at home for an extended period. This gives Edna physical and emotional room to breathe and think over various aspects of her life. While her husband is still away, she moves out of her house and into a small bungalow nearby, spicing up this transitional period by dallying with Alcée Arobin, a persistent suitor with a reputation for being free with his affections. For the first time in the novel, Edna is shown as a sexual being, but the affair proves awkward and emotionally fraught.The other person to whom Edna reaches out during this time is Mademoiselle Reisz, a gifted recitalist whose playing is renowned throughout New Orleans but who maintains a generally hermetic existence. At a party earlier in the novel, Edna is profoundly moved by Mademoiselle Reisz's playing. Mademoiselle Reisz is in contact with Robert while he is in Mexico, receiving letters from him regularly. Edna begs her to reveal their contents, which she does, proving to Edna that Robert is thinking about her.Eventually Robert returns to New Orleans. At first aloof (and finding excuses not to be near Edna), he eventually confesses his passionate love for her. He admits that the business trip to Mexico was an excuse to get away from a relationship that would never work.Edna is called away to help Adèle with a difficult childbirth. Adèle pleads with Edna to think of what she would be turning her back on if she did not behave appropriately. When Edna returns home, she finds a note from Robert stating that he has left forever.Devastated, Edna rushes back to Grand Isle, where she had first met Robert Lebrun. The novel ends with Edna allowing herself to be overtaken by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara (1905)
As the play opens, Lady Britomart, a British woman in her fifties, is discussing with her son some permanent source of income for her grown daughters, Sarah and Barbara, who are engaged to Charles Lomax and Adolphous Cusins respectively. Lady Britomart comes to the conclusion that the only solution to the present problem is to take monetary help from her estranged husband, Andrew Undershaft. He is a very successful businessman who owns a munitions factory that manufactures the world famous Undershaft Guns, submarines, and torpedoes. When their children were young, the couple separated due to questions about Undershaft's wealth and how it would be distributed. Lady Britomart has managed to raise the children by herself. Because Lady Britomart has decided to seek help from her estranged husband, Sarah, Barbara, and Stephen are reintroduced to their father. In the course of their reunion, Undershaft learns that his daughter Barbara is a Major at the Salvation Army shelter. Impressed by her, Undershaft pay her a visit at the shelter in order to see her at work. As he watches her handling various people with patience, firmness, and sincerity, he is impressed with her abilities. Undershaft decides that if anyone in his family is capable of managing his business, it is his idealistic and committed daughter, Barbara. Undershaft brings his daughter back to reality by revealing the darker side of the Salvation Army to her. Disillusioned, Barbara leaves the shelter in tears to go with her father to his ammunition factory. Adolphous follows her. He is soon made heir to the Undershaft factory, because he is a foundling. According to the Undershaft tradition, the heir to the Undershaft fortune must be an orphan who can be groomed to run the factory. After all, Undershaft himself had been a poor young man, staying at the Salvation Army shelter; he improved his lot by working hard, and he wants to give some other young gentleman the same kind of opportunities. Major Barbara soon marries Adolphous, and they live in the countryside near the factory. Barbara, whose idealism has been tempered with reality, brings her words of salvation to the workers in the factory.
Willa Cather's My Antonia (1918)
- The book's narrator, Jim Burden, arrives in the town of Black Hawk, Nebraska, on the same train as the Shimerdas, when he goes to live with his grandparents after his parents have died. Jim develops strong feelings for Ántonia, something between a crush and a filial bond, and the reader views Ántonia's life, including its attendant struggles and triumphs, through that lens.The volumes correspond roughly to the stages of Ántonia's life up through her marriage and motherhood, although the third volume, "Lena Lingard," focuses more on Jim's time in college and his affair with Lena, another childhood friend of his, who is also Ántonia's friend.The five books, in order, are:
- The Shimerdas covers Jim's early years spent on his grandparents' farm, out on the prairie.
- The Hired Girls covers Jim's time in town, when he spends time with Ántonia and the other country girls who work in town. Language, particularly descriptions, begin to become more sexualized, particularly concerning Ántonia and Lena.
- Lena Lingard - this chronicles Jim's time at the university, and the period in which he becomes reacquainted with Lena Lingard.
- The Pioneer Woman's Story - Jim visits the Harlings and hears about Ántonia's fateful romance with Larry Donovan.
- Cuzak's Boys - Jim goes to visit Ántonia and meets her new family, her children and husband.
Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders (1721)
- Moll Flanders, the elder brother, the mother, Robert, the draper, etc
- "..born in Newgate, and during a life of continu'd Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv'd Honest and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums."Moll Flanders is born to a mother who has been convicted of a felony and who is transported to America soon after her birth. As an infant, Moll lives on public charity, under the care of a kind widow who teaches her manners and needlework. She grows into a beautiful teenager and is seduced at an early age. Abandoned by her first lover, she is compelled to marry his younger brother. He dies after a few years, and she marries a draper who soon flees the country as a fugitive from the law. She marries yet again and moves to America, only to find out that her husband is actually her half-brother. She leaves him in disgust and returns to England, where she becomes the mistress of a man whose wife has gone insane. He renounces his affair with Moll after a religious experience.Moll's next marriage offer is from a banker whose wife has been cheating on him. Moll agrees to marry him if he can obtain a divorce, and meanwhile she travels to the country and marries a rich gentleman in Lancashire. This man turns out to be a fraud--he is as poor as she is--and they part ways to seek their fortunes separately. Moll returns to marry the banker, who by this time has succeeded in divorcing his wife. He dies soon after, however, and Moll is thrown back upon her own resources once again. She lives in poverty for several years and then begins stealing. She is quite talented at this new "trade" and soon becomes an expert thief and a local legend. Eventually she is caught, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. In prison at Newgate, she reunites with her Lancashire husband, who has also been arrested. They both manage to have their sentences reduced, and they are transported to the colonies, where they begin a new life as plantation owners. In America, Moll rediscovers her brother and her son and claims the inheritance her mother has left her. Prosperous and repentant, she returns with her husband to England at the age of seventy.
William Langland's Piers Plowman (1360-87)
The poem—part theological allegory, part social satire—concerns the narrator's intense quest for the true Christian life, from the perspective of mediæval Catholicism. This quest entails a series of dream-visions and an examination into the lives of three allegorical characters, Dowel ("Do-Well"), Dobet ("Do-Better"), and Dobest ("Do-Best").The poem begins in the Malvern Hills in Malvern, Worcestershire. A man named Will falls asleep and has a vision of a tower set upon a hill and a fortress (donjon) in a deep valley; between these symbols of heaven and hell is a "fair field full of folk", representing the world of mankind. In the early part of the poem Piers, the humble plowman of the title, appears and offers himself as the narrator's guide to Truth. The latter part of the work, however, is concerned with the narrator's search for Dowel, Dobet and Dobest.
George Eliot's Middlemarch (1871)
Dorothea Brooke is an idealistic, well-to-do young woman, engaged in schemes to help the lot of the local poor. She is seemingly set for a comfortable, idle life as the wife of neighbouring landowner Sir James Chettam, but to the dismay of her sister, Celia (who later marries Chettam), and of her loquacious uncle Mr. Brooke, she marries instead Edward Casaubon, a middle-aged pedantic scholar who, she believes, is engaged on a great work, The Key to All Mythologies. She wishes to find fulfilment through sharing her husband’s intellectual life, but during an unhappy honeymoon in Rome she experiences his coldness towards her ambitions. Slowly she realises that his great project is doomed to failure and her feelings for him descend to pity. She forms a warm friendship with a young cousin of Casaubon’s, Will Ladislaw, but her husband’s antipathy towards him is clear (partly based on his belief that Ladislaw is trying to seduce Dorothea in order to gain access to Casaubon's fortune) and Ladislaw is forbidden to visit. In poor health, Casaubon attempts to extract from Dorothea a promise that, should he die, she will "avoid doing what I should deprecate and apply yourself to do what I desire" — meaning either that she should shun Ladislaw, or, as Dorothea believes, that she will complete The Key to All Mythologies in his place. Before Dorothea can give her reply, Casaubon dies. She then learns that he has added the extraordinary provision to his will that, if she should marry Ladislaw, Dorothea will lose her inheritance from Casaubon. Meanwhile, an idealistic young doctor, Tertius Lydgate, has arrived in Middlemarch, with advanced ideas for medical reform. His voluntary hospital work brings him into contact with the town’s financier, Mr. Bulstrode, who has philanthropic leanings, but who is also a religious zealot with a secret past. Bulstrode's niece is Rosamond Vincy, the mayor's daughter and the town's recognised beauty, who sets her sights on Lydgate, attracted by what she believes to be his aristocratic connections and his novelty. She wins him, but the disjunction between her self-centredness and his idealism ensures that their marriage is unhappy. Lydgate manages his financial affairs badly and he is soon deep in debt and has to seek help from Bulstrode. He is partly sustained emotionally in his marital and financial woes by his friendship with Camden Farebrother, the generous-spirited and engaging parson from a local parish. At the same time we have become acquainted with Rosamond's university-educated, restless, and somewhat irresponsible brother, Fred, reluctantly destined for the Church. He is in love with his childhood sweetheart, Mary Garth, a sensible and forthright young woman, who will not accept him until he abandons the Church (which she knows he has no interest in) and settles in a more suitable career. Mary has been the unwitting cause of Fred’s loss of a considerable fortune, bequeathed to him by the aged and irascible Mr. Featherstone, then rescinded by a later will which Featherstone, on his death-bed, begs Mary to destroy. Mary, unaware of what is at stake, refuses to do so. Fred, in trouble over some injudicious horse-dealing, is forced to borrow from Mary’s father, Caleb Garth, to meet his commitments. This humiliation shocks Fred into a reassessment of his life and he resolves to train as a land agent under the forgiving Caleb. These three interwoven narratives, with side-plots such as the disastrous though comedic attempt by Mr. Brooke to enter Parliament as a sponsor of Reform, are the basis of the story until it is well into its final third. Then a new thread emerges, with the appearance of John Raffles, who knows about Bulstrode’s past and is determined to exploit this knowledge. Bulstrode’s terror of public exposure as a hypocrite leads him to hasten the death of the mortally sick Raffles by giving him access to forbidden alcohol and excess amounts of opium. But he is too late; Raffles had already spread the word. Bulstrode’s disgrace engulfs the luckless Lydgate, as knowledge of the financier’s loan to the doctor becomes public, and he is assumed to be complicit with Bulstrode. Only Dorothea and Farebrother maintain faith in Lydgate, but Lydgate and Rosamond are threatened by the general opprobrium with the necessity of leaving Middlemarch. The disgraced and reviled Bulstrode’s only consolation is that his wife stands by him as he, too, faces exile.The final thread in the complex weave concerns Ladislaw, who, since their initial meeting, has kept his love for Dorothea to himself. He has remained in Middlemarch, working for Mr. Brooke, and has also become a focus for Rosamond’s treacherous attentions. After Brooke’s election campaign collapses, there is nothing to keep Ladislaw and he visits Dorothea to make his farewell. But Dorothea, released from life with Casaubon, but still the prisoner of his will, now sees Ladislaw as the means of her escape to a new life. Renouncing her independence, and Casaubon's fortune, she shocks her family again, by announcing she will marry Ladislaw. At the same time Fred, who has proved an apt pupil in Caleb’s profession, finally wins the approval and hand of Mary.Beyond the principal stories we are given constant glimpses into other scenes. We observe Featherstone’s avaricious relatives gathering for the spoils, visit Farebrother’s strange ménage, and become aware of enormous social and economic divides. But these are the backdrops for the main stories which, true to life, are left largely suspended, leaving a short finale to summarise the fortunes of our protagonists over the next thirty years or so. The book ends as it began, with Dorothea: "Her full nature [ . . . ] spent itself in channels which had no great name on the Earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts."
Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus (1604)
Doctor Faustus, a well-respected German scholar, grows dissatisfied with the limits of traditional forms of knowledge—logic, medicine, law, and religion—and decides that he wants to learn to practice magic. His friends Valdes and Cornelius instruct him in the black arts, and he begins his new career as a magician by summoning up Mephastophilis, a devil. Despite Mephastophilis’s warnings about the horrors of hell, Faustus tells the devil to return to his master, Lucifer, with an offer of Faustus’s soul in exchange for twenty-four years of service from Mephastophilis. Meanwhile, Wagner, Faustus’s servant, has picked up some magical ability and uses it to press a clown named Robin into his service. Mephastophilis returns to Faustus with word that Lucifer has accepted Faustus’s offer. Faustus experiences some misgivings and wonders if he should repent and save his soul; in the end, though, he agrees to the deal, signing it with his blood. As soon as he does so, the words “Homo fuge,” Latin for “O man, fly,” appear branded on his arm. Faustus again has second thoughts, but Mephastophilis bestows rich gifts on him and gives him a book of spells to learn. Later, Mephastophilis answers all of his questions about the nature of the world, refusing to answer only when Faustus asks him who made the universe. This refusal prompts yet another bout of misgivings in Faustus, but Mephastophilis and Lucifer bring in personifications of the Seven Deadly Sins to prance about in front of Faustus, and he is impressed enough to quiet his doubts. Armed with his new powers and attended by Mephastophilis, Faustus begins to travel. He goes to the pope’s court in Rome, makes himself invisible, and plays a series of tricks. He disrupts the pope’s banquet by stealing food and boxing the pope’s ears. Following this incident, he travels through the courts of Europe, with his fame spreading as he goes. Eventually, he is invited to the court of the German emperor, Charles V (the enemy of the pope), who asks Faustus to allow him to see Alexander the Great. Faustus conjures up an image of Alexander, and Charles is suitably impressed. A knight scoffs at Faustus’s powers, and Faustus chastises him by making antlers sprout from his head. Furious, the knight vows revenge. Meanwhile, Robin, Wagner’s clown, has picked up some magic on his own, and with his fellow stablehand, Rafe, he undergoes a number of comic misadventures. At one point, he manages to summon Mephastophilis, who threatens to turn Robin and Rafe into animals (or perhaps even does transform them; the text isn’t clear) to punish them for their foolishness.Faustus then goes on with his travels, playing a trick on a horse-courser along the way. Faustus sells him a horse that turns into a heap of straw when ridden into a river. Eventually, Faustus is invited to the court of the Duke of Vanholt, where he performs various feats. The horse-courser shows up there, along with Robin, a man named Dick (Rafe in the A text), and various others who have fallen victim to Faustus’s trickery. But Faustus casts spells on them and sends them on their way, to the amusement of the duke and duchess. As the twenty-four years of his deal with Lucifer come to a close, Faustus begins to dread his impending death. He has Mephastophilis call up Helen of Troy, the famous beauty from the ancient world, and uses her presence to impress a group of scholars. An old man urges Faustus to repent, but Faustus drives him away. Faustus summons Helen again and exclaims rapturously about her beauty. But time is growing short. Faustus tells the scholars about his pact, and they are horror-stricken and resolve to pray for him. On the final night before the expiration of the twenty-four years, Faustus is overcome by fear and remorse. He begs for mercy, but it is too late. At midnight, a host of devils appears and carries his soul off to hell. In the morning, the scholars find Faustus’s limbs and decide to hold a funeral for him.
Samuel Johnson's Rasselas (1759)
The plot is simple in the extreme. Rasselas, son of the King of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia), is shut up in a beautiful valley, "till the order of succession should call him to the throne." He grows weary of the factitious entertainments of the place, and after much brooding escapes with his sister Nekayah, her attendant Pekuah and his poet-friend Imlac. They are to see the world and search for happiness, but after some sojourn in Egypt, where they encounter various classes of society and undergo a few mild adventures, they perceive the futility of their search and abruptly return to Abyssinia. Local color is almost nonexistent and episodic elements, e.g. the story of Imlac and that of the mad astronomer, abound. There is little of incident, no love-making, with few endeavors to charm the fancy, and with but slight recognition of the claims of sentiment.
El Cid, ~1200
El Cid married the cousin of King Alfonso VI, Doña Ximena, but for certain reasons (according to the story, he made the king swear by Santa Gadea that he had not ordered the fratricide of his own brother), he fell into the disfavor of the king and had to leave his home country of Castile.The Cid's daughters after being beaten and tied up, work by Ignacio Pinazo (1879).The story begins with the exile of El Cid, whose enemies had unjustly accused him of stealing money from the king, Alfonso VI of Castile and Leon, leading to his exile. To regain his honor, he participated in the battles against the Moorish armies and conquered Valencia. By these heroic acts he regained the confidence of the king and his honor was restored. The king personally marries El Cid's daughters to the infantes (princes) of Carrión. However, when the princes are humiliated by El Cid's men for their cowardice, the infantes swear revenge. They beat their new wives and leave them for dead. When El Cid learns of this he pleads to the king for justice. The infantes are forced to return El Cid's dowry and are defeated in a duel, stripping them of all honor. El Cid's two daughters then remarry to the infantes of Navarre and Aragon. Through the marriages of his daughters, El Cid began the unification of Spain.Unlike other European medieval epics, the tone is realist. There is no magic, even the apparition of archangel Gabriel (verses 404–410) happens in a dream. However, it also departs from historic truth: for example, there is no mention of his son, his daughters were not named Elvira and Sol and they did not become queens.
Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde (1385, rime royal)
Criseyde, the daughter of the seer Calchas, lives alone in Troy after her father abandons the Trojans to help the Greeks. Eventually she catches the eye of Troilus, a man who had previously scoffed at love, and becomes the object of his overwhelming desire. With the help of Criseyde’s uncle Pandarus he wins her love but soon loses it when the Greeks and the Trojans conduct an exchange of prisoners. Calchas, who knows of Troy’s imminent destruction, persuades the Greeks to exchange Antenor for his daughter and thus saves her from the doomed city. Criseyde promises Troilus that she’ll return to him after ten days but once she’s back in the care of her father she realizes the impossibility of her promise. Resigned to her fate, Criseyde yields to the flirtations of Diomedes, and her love for Troilus fades. When Deiphobus wins the armor of Diomedes, Troilus discovers a brooch he gave Criseyde upon her departure pinned to it. Heartbroken, he tries to find Diomedes and take his revenge during battle but after slaying many is in his turn killed by Achilles. As his spirit goes to heaven he reflects on the absurdity of all life itself.
- Long ago in Ancient Greece, a great conqueror and duke named Theseus ruled the city of Athens. One day, four women kneel in front of Theseus’s horse and weep, halting his passage into the city. The eldest woman informs him that they are grieving the loss of their husbands, who were killed at the siege of the city of Thebes. Creon, the lord of Thebes, has dishonored them by refusing to bury or cremate their bodies. Enraged at the ladies’ plight, Theseus marches on Thebes, which he easily conquers. After returning the bones of their husbands to the four women for the funeral rites, Theseus discovers two wounded enemy soldiers lying on the battlefield, nearing death. Rather than kill them, he mercifully heals the Theban soldiers’ injuries, but condemns them to a life of imprisonment in an Athenian tower.The prisoners, named Palamon and Arcite, are cousins and sworn brothers. Both live in the prison tower for several years. One spring morning, Palamon awakes early, looks out the window, and sees fair-haired Emelye, Theseus’s sister-in-law. She is making flower garlands, “To doon honour to May” (1047). He falls in love and moans with heartache. His cry awakens Arcite, who comes to investigate the matter. As Arcite peers out the window, he too falls in love with the beautiful flower-clad maiden. They argue over her, but eventually realize the futility of such a struggle when neither can ever leave the prison.One day, a duke named Perotheus, friend both to Theseus and Arcite, petitions for Arcite’s freedom. Theseus agrees, on the condition that Arcite be banished permanently from Athens on pain of death. Arcite returns to Thebes, miserable and jealous of Palamon, who can still see Emelye every day from the tower. But Palamon, too, grows more sorrowful than ever; he believes that Arcite will lay siege to Athens and take Emelye by force. The knight poses the question to the listeners, rhetorically: who is worse off, Arcite or Palamon
- Part 2: Some time later, winged Mercury, messenger to the gods, appears to Arcite in a dream and urges him to return to Athens. By this time, Arcite has grown gaunt and frail from lovesickness. He realizes that he could enter the city disguised and not be recognized. He does so and takes on a job as a page in Emelye’s chamber under the pseudonym Philostrate. This puts him close to Emelye but not close enough. Wandering in the woods one spring day, he fashions garlands of leaves and laments the conflict in his heart—his desire to return to Thebes and his need to be near his beloved. As it -happens, Palamon has escaped from seven years of imprisonment that very day and hears Arcite’s song and monologue while -sneaking through the woods. They confront each other, each claiming the right to Emelye. Arcite challenges his old friend to a duel the next day. They meet in a field and bludgeon each other ruthlessly.Theseus, out on a hunt, finds these two warriors brutally hacking away at each other. Palamon reveals their identities and love for Emelye. He implores the duke to justly decide their fate, suggesting that they both deserve to die. Theseus is about to respond by killing them, but the women of his court—especially his queen and Emelye—intervene, pleading for Palamon and Arcite’s lives. The duke consents and decides instead to hold a tournament fifty weeks from that day. The two men will be pitted against one another, each with a hundred of the finest men he can gather. The winner will be awarded Emelye’s hand.
Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1900)
Dissatisfied with life in her rural Wisconsin home, 18-year-old Caroline "Sister Carrie" Meeber takes the train to Chicago, where her older sister Minnie, and her husband Sven Hanson, have agreed to take her in. On the train, Carrie meets Charles Drouet, a traveling salesman, who is attracted to her because of her simple beauty and unspoiled manner. They exchange contact information, but upon discovering the "steady round of toil" and somber atmosphere at her sister's flat, she writes to Drouet and discourages him from calling on her there. Carrie soon embarks on a quest for work to pay rent to her sister and her husband, and takes a job running a machine in a shoe factory. Before long, however, she is shocked by the coarse manners of both the male and female factory workers, and the physical demands of the job, as well as the squalid factory conditions, begin to take their toll. She also senses Minnie and Sven's disapproval of her interest in Chicago's recreational opportunities, particularly the theatre. One day, after an illness that costs her her job, she encounters Drouet on a downtown street. Once again taken by her beauty, and moved by her poverty, he encourages her to dine with him, where, over sirloin and asparagus, he persuades her to leave her sister and move in with him. To press his case, he slips Carrie two ten dollar bills, opening a vista of material possibilities to her. The next day, he rebuffs her feeble attempts to return the money, taking her shopping at a Chicago department store and securing a jacket she covets and some shoes. That night, she writes a good-bye note to Minnie and moves in with Drouet. Drouet installs her in a much larger apartment, and their relationship intensifies as Minnie dreams about her sister's fall from innocence. She acquires a sophisticated wardrobe and, through his offhand comments about attractive women, sheds her provincial mannerisms, even as she struggles with the moral implications of being a kept woman. By the time Drouet introduces Carrie to George Hurstwood, the manager of Fitzgerald and Moy's – a respectable bar that Drouet describes as a "way-up, swell place" – her material appearance has improved considerably. Hurstwood, unhappy with and distant from his social-climbing wife and children, instantly becomes infatuated with Carrie’s youth and beauty, and before long they start an affair, communicating and meeting secretly in the expanding, anonymous city. One night, Drouet casually agrees to find an actress to play a key role in an amateur theatrical presentation of Augustin Daly’s melodrama, “Under the Gaslight,” for his local chapter of the Elks. Upon returning home to Carrie, he encourages her to take the part of the heroine, Laura. Unknown to Drouet, Carrie long has harbored theatrical ambitions and has a natural aptitude for imitation and expressing pathos. The night of the production – which Hurstwood attends at Drouet’s invitation – both men are moved to even greater displays of affection by Carrie’s stunning performance.The next day, the affair is uncovered: Drouet discovers he has been cuckolded, Carrie learns that Hurstwood is married, and Hurstwood’s wife, Julia, learns from an acquaintance that Hurstwood has been out driving with another woman and deliberately excluded her from the Elks theatre night. After a night of drinking, and despairing at his wife’s financial demands and Carrie’s rejection, Hurstwood stumbles upon a large amount of cash in the unlocked safe in Fitzgerald and Moy's offices. In a moment of poor judgment, he succumbs to the temptation to embezzle a large sum of money. Under the pretext of Drouet’s sudden illness, he lures Carrie onto a train and escapes with her to Canada. Once they arrive in Montreal, Hurstwood’s guilty conscience – and a private eye – induce him to return most of the stolen funds, but he realizes that he cannot return to Chicago. Hurstwood mollifies Carrie by agreeing to marry her, and the couple move to New York City. In New York, Hurstwood and Carrie rent a flat where they live as George and Carrie Wheeler. Hurstwood buys a minority interest in a saloon and, at first, is able to provide Carrie with a satisfactory – if not lavish – standard of living. The couple grow distant, however, as Hurstwood abandons any pretense of fine manners toward Carrie, and she realizes that Hurstwood no longer is the suave, powerful manager of his Chicago days. Carrie’s dissatisfaction only increases when she meets Robert Ames, a bright young scholar from Indiana and her neighbor’s cousin, who introduces her to the idea that great art, rather than showy materialism, is worthy of admiration. After only a few years, the saloon’s landlord sells the property and Hurstwood’s business partner expresses his intent to terminate the partnership. Too arrogant to accept most of the job opportunities available to him, Hurstwood soon discovers that his savings are running out and urges Carrie to economize, which she finds humiliating and distasteful. As Hurstwood lounges about, overwhelmed by apathy and foolishly gambling away most of his savings, Carrie turns to New York’s theatres for employment and becomes a chorus girl. Once again, her aptitude for theatre serves her well, and, as the rapidly aging Hurstwood declines into obscurity, Carrie begins to rise from chorus girl to small speaking roles, and establishes a friendship with another chorus girl, Lola Osborne, who begins to urge Carrie to move in with her. In a final attempt to prove himself useful, Hurstwood becomes a scab driving a Brooklyn streetcar during a streetcar operator’s strike. His ill-fated venture, which lasts only two days, prompts Carrie to leave him; in her farewell note, she encloses twenty dollars. Hurstwood ultimately joins the homeless of New York, taking odd jobs, falling ill with pneumonia, and finally becoming a beggar. Reduced to standing in line for bread and charity, he commits suicide in a flophouse. Meanwhile, Carrie achieves stardom, but finds that money and fame do not satisfy her longings or bring her happiness and that nothing will.