Thursday, December 11, 2008

Discussion Point Sources

- Picture of Saint George sourced from -

- Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra quote sourced from Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary. by - Ariane Defacampagne, and Christian Defacampagne.

- Gargoyle Dragons sourced from Holy terrors: Gargoyles on medieval building by Jenatta Rebold Benton. Picture found at

- Dragons as symbol of Avarice excerpt found in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

- Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts (1658) By: Edward Topsell, excerpt found in - Wonder Beasts: Tales and Lore of the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Unicorn, and the Dragon by Joe Nigg.

Sources Bibliography

Defacampagne, Ariane, and Christian Defacampagne. Here Be Dragons: A Fantastic Bestiary. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003.

"dragon." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 11 Dec. 2008 .

Nigg, Joe. Wonder Beasts: Tales and Lore of the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Unicorn,and the Dragon. Englewood, Colorado: Libraries Unlimited, Inc., 1995.

Rebold Benton, Jenatta. Holy terrors: Gargoyles on medieval buildings. New York:Abbeville Press, 1997.


Throughout the course of time the dragon has always been present in the human’s imagination. It is fascinating to realize that for the majority of time people thought this beast to be an actual creature, that though they had most likely, never seen one they still believed on their existence. It is also interesting to see how these creatures, due to their mysterious nature, took on so many different attributes and forms.

The most important thing that I learned from this study about dragons during the Renaissance was the fact that they were monsters of ambivalence. At times they would portray Interestingly, while they possessed so many different attributes they did always have the association with power, but what it came down to was how they used their power. For sometimes they used their might to be guardians of something positive, but at other times they used their forces to protect selfish desires. No one knew or knows exactly what a dragon looks or acts like and because of the amounts of artists and writers that were present during the renaissance, this ambivalence was only amplified. Because if a painter depicted a dragon in his work, or if a writer wrote about the terrors of a dragon there was no one present who could refute them saying by saying “No, that is not a dragon”. So, the idea of the dragon’s ambivalence only grew.

However, like most of everything that was once scientifically confusing to the peoples of the Renaissance the dragon became for of a defined creature. This definition lead to the realistic destruction of the dragon. For when the monster was created through scientific examinations and writings, more science came to state that dragons did not exist.

The dragon was an important fixture that was very common in the minds of everyone during the Renaissance. It had many traits which made it very distant and mystical, but still possibly living in the hills or under the sea. Yet, like most ideas that were believed as true during those times, the dragon began to leave our breathing world and enter the world of fantasy, fiction and mythology, where it lives today, still possessing many of the attributes that it maintained during the Renaissance.

Dragons: A Source of Deep Analysis

As time and populations began to be educated, and yearn for knowledge, there came a period when people no longer looked to their assumptions but more to scientific facts as their sources of information and beliefs. This time can be called The Enlightenment, and just like everything else, dragons fell under the examining eye of a world that was looking for reasonable explanations.

“There be some dragons which have wings and no feet, some again have both
feet and wings, and some neither feet nor wings, but are only distinguished from
the common sort of Serpents by the comb growing upon their heads, and the
beard under their cheeks.
Gyllius, Pierius, and Gervinus . . . do affirm that a Dragon is of a black colour, the
belly somewhat green, and very beautiful to behold, having a treble row of teeth
in their mouths upon every jaw, and with most bright and clear-seeing eyes,
which caused the Poets to say in their writings that these dragons are the watch-
ful keepers of Treasures. They have also two dewlaps growing under their chin,
and hanging down like a beard, which are of a red colour: their bodies are set all
over with very sharp scales, and over their eyes stand certain flexible eyelids.
When they gape wide with their mouth, and thrust forth their tongue, their teeth
seem very much to resemble the teeth of wild Swine: And their necks have many
times gross thick hair growing upon them, much like unto the bristles of a wild

Their mouth, (especially of the most tamable Dragons) is but little, not much big
ger than a pipe, through which they draw in their breath, for they wound not with
their mouth, but with their tails, only beating with them when they are angry. But
the Indian, Ethiopian, and Phrygian dragons have very wide mouths, through
which they often swallow in whole fowls and beasts. Their tongue is cloven as it
were double, and the Investigators of nature do say that they have fifteen teeth of
a side. The males have combs on their heads, but the females have none, and
they are likewise distinguished by their beards.”

- Historie of Foure-Footed Beasts (1658) By: Edward Topsell

I came across this excerpt in Wonder Beasts: Tales and Lore of the Phoenix, the Griffin, the Unicorn, and the Dragon by Joe Nigg. From it the reader can see that the dragon, through the changing of mindsets and scientific explanations, was losing its form of ambivalence and taking on a form of set appearance. Now, a determined form will never fully occur, yet it is interesting to note that as the dragon is materialized it also loses its reality. For these descriptions were being created, giving scientifically reliable descriptions of the creature, yet as one came across these literal descriptions of dragons they began to realize that they had never encountered something possessing these set characteristics. The dragon used to be a plausible idea when peoples could read about it and hear accounts of this mighty beast, but as time progressed the dragon became more and more mythical, to point of now where we know that they do not exist.

Gargoyle’s: Our Guardian Dragons

Gargoyle on St. Vitus' Cathedral

When one looks at the architecture that was created during the Renaissance period one of the most prominent, literally and figuratively, was that of Gothic Architecture. This architecture is marked by its grandiose cathedrals, towering steeples and elaborate decorations, inside and out. One of these elaborate decorations that can be found in Gothic architecture is that of Gargoyles.

Originally Gargoyles were used aesthetically to hide downspouts for rain on churches and cathedrals, but it then began to evolve. They soon began to be solely sculptural, not serving an actual purpose, but to add intricacies to the buildings. So, while these gargoyles were being created, ideas behind why they were necessary to the architecture also were being created. The main idea that grew out of these contemplations was this: dragons in the forms of gargoyles were used to guard churches and holy places against satanic spirits that would try to infiltrate these religious settings.

So, as we see here the dragon has taken on a positive form in the essence of gargoyles. For populations of the time knew that dragons were mighty beasts, and who wouldn’t want one guarding their church? Interestingly, they are once again tied to the Church, but this time in a greatly more positive way then when they were illustrated as figures of sin or paganism, in paintings and sculptures with St. George. This duality pf the dragon on the church just once again goes to show the great ambivalence that this beast could incorporate during the time.

Dragons: A Symbol of Ultimate Avarice

To many during the Renaissance Dragons were a creature of utmost might. So it was natural for a feeling to develop that illustrated the dragon as a being that due to its great power, had strong tendencies towards greed and avarice. This is a good example of a negative connotation that existed towards dragons amongst popular beliefs, for no one liked the idea of something with near unconquerable abilities holding what they desired.

The earliest accounts of dragons, predating the Renaissance, as being greedy come from an entirely mythical viewpoint where dragons were guardians of the Earth’s natural bounty of riches like gold and silver. This may only show, however, that people had to work hard figuratively to overcome the dragons that guarded Earth’s riches. We later see accounts of this idea of dragons being symbols of avarice all throughout Renaissance literature and arts.

If one looks at the Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene they see in the first book the dragon possessing and guarding Una, Red Crosse’s ultimate prize, and Crosse must fight this dragon to reclaim his prize of Una. Also, on a more drastic scale, in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress the reader sees Apollyon, or Satan, in the form of a dragon guarding and keeping the protagonist Christian’s heart and soul. For Christian desires to leave the land of Appolyon, but this dragon will not let Christian’s soul, or allegiance pass to another.
“ Apollyon - By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that thou hast run away from thy king? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.
Christian - I was, indeed, born in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death, Rom. 6:23; therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out if perhaps I might mend myself.
Apollyon - There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee…” - John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress.
As is obvious from this piece Apollyon will only allow his greed to be overcome by a fight that Christian will ensue.

Also, it is interesting to note that this idea of a Dragon having strong greed is still present in today’s society. A good example of this is in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. For at the end of the story the group of dwarves, along with the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, must defeat a dragon to reclaim the bounty that once belonged to the dwarves.

Shakespeare’s Recognition: Dragons, The Symbol of Ambivalence

Through the research that I have been doing on dragons in the Renaissance I have found an interesting discovery of how those living during the time period viewed this mythical beast. The dragon was viewed as a symbol of ambivalence due to its ever changing appearance and its ability to carry both positive and negative connotations.

The physical appearance and capabilities of dragons has always been evolving. At times, during the Renaissance, the dragon was sometimes a fire breathing, flying, two-legged monster, and at other times it’s a four legged creature with the ability to become a sea monster. The fact that the dragon’s image is always changing helps to emphasize this creatures ambivalence, yet this feeling is clearly portrayed through its changing overall perception. Presently the most common view of Dragons is in a negative light. We maintain an idea of the dragon being a fearful being, with strange, supernatural abilities, take for instance Godzilla. However, while this same feeling existed during the Renaissance, there was also present a feeling of reverence towards this powerful beast.

This idea of the Dragon’s ambivalence is reflected through William Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. Shakespeare was a living and involved member of society during the Renaissance, so he understood the idea of a dragon being a changing figure of appearance and nature so it is not surprising to see him make a reference to this fact in his Anthony and Cleopatra. In the fourth act, in the thirteenth scene Mark Antony comments -
“Sometimes we see a cloud that’s dragonish”.
This reference makes it obvious that this feeling of irresolution was a common belief during the time period.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Poetry and Prose

What makes a story triumph against the test of time? Is it a fantastic plot, or beautiful writing? Is it both, or something more? Well, I am not sure what the correct formula is to overcome the ultimate critic of time, but I do know that William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a work that has conquered the years. While reading this play I could feel the changed times, for Shakespeare’s language is antiquated, his setting is from an older time period, yet this work remains beautiful.

I think that it is amazing to read Shakespeare and still be able to admire his writing capabilities. In general I prefer poetry over prose, so mostly, I prefer to read Shakespeare’s sonnets over his plays. However, large portions of Hamlet do have metric structure, setting it apart from the normal prose, and in in my opinion these are the portions of the play that stand as the most beautiful.

Take for instance, Prince Hamlet’s “To be or not To be” soliloquy, one of the most famous of all time. In this speech the reader sees Shakespeare’s writing abilities in a way that can be hidden by prose. From this personal discourse I see beautiful illustrations and deep questions contemplated, both which make wonderful poetry. “When we have shuffled off this mortal coil” these words illustrate death in such a lovely way it makes one think that death may not be such a harsh happening, and this is of what Prince Hamlet is trying to convince himself. Like I stated earlier, I don’t know what makes a piece of literature great for eternity, but I do know what makes it great for me, and Hamlet is great because it has a powerful plot, yet maintains its poetic allure.

“A Declaration of a Strange and Wonderful Monster”

This pamphlet is fascinating for so many reasons. Mostly, however, because it so clearly depicts the political, and religious tensions that existed in England after the English Civil War. It also shows the extreme bias of the author which is rather comical at times due to his excessive zeal.

This pamphlet describes the birth of a deformed child to a woman, it opens with- “This wonderful manifestation of God’s anger, against wicked and profane people”. From this opening, the author strongly states his opinion as fact so that the reader understands the monstrous birth was due to God’s just wrath against a foul sinner. He then goes on to discuss the sins that resulted in the deformity labeling the people of the region as “very bad” in the fact that they are “Papists” (a person who practices Roman Catholicism) thus accusing all Roman Catholics as evil. Probably, the best accusation, however, comes on the front page where it says that the mother “had wished rather to bear a child without a head rather than a Roundhead”. This statement declares that due to the mother’s political standings (as in support of a more Catholic rule, instead of the Roundhead, Puritanical rule), her child was born deformed.

In this article the author makes many blatant accusations as to what is evil in the sense of religion and government, and it fascinates me to see the fervor with which the author attacks the “Papists”. In many ways this article is a form of propaganda, but I suppose the readers of this work rather considered it more of a tabloid than a reliable source. Nonetheless, it contains scathing assertions that illustrate the turmoil that once existed in England.

Hmmmm, Seems Fishy...

While I was reading through the various witch pamphlets something interesting caught my attention. The majority of the times that “witches” were caught and accused, they were charged on the grounds of doing something to someone else instead of doing something for themselves (like finding a pot of gold or something like that). Take for instance the confession of “Mother Waterhouse of Hatfield Peverell” who used her familiar (a cat) to kill three of a man’s hogs out of a supposed hatred for the man. Now, the interesting point arises when one looks at how the accusations are created as revenge cases against other people, for most witches were primarily accused because something went wrong with a neighbor, or towns-person.

This type of vengeance based accusation sheds a lot of light on the idea of witches for the time period. For during the time period I am sure that, to those living during the time, many strange happenings occured, children would become instantly sick, livestock would confusingly perish, and natural disasters were just as common then as now. People needed excuses for these baffling occurrences, and who was more easy to blame than the ugly, family-less woman. So, it makes sense that innocent people were accused of witchery, but the problem arises when one reads that the people accused actually confessed to that which they were accused. Maybe, it was because they were weary of their societies rejection and decided to just accept the accusations or maybe, it was because they truly did have dealings with the devil, I suppose we will never really know.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Why Can’t I Go to Hogwarts?

As I read through Harry Potter once again I am struck by its realism. I remember reading somewhere that J.K. Rowling daily recieved letters from children who were writing very distraught about why they had never been sent their letters of acceptance into Hogwarts School of Witch Craft and Wizardry. This point only goes to show how effectively she created her separate wizarding society.

It amazes me how Rowling so flawlessly incorporates he alternate universe into our own. Unlike almost all other works of fantasy where a whole new world is created, Rowling writes her world living silently amongst ours, and it is so believable. Readers are drawn to new worlds like Middle Earth, but when this new world is living with us one is even more drawn. In many ways I think this is one of the reasons that the stories are so successful because it took a new kind of genius to think of the idea that we can relate such a new idea of a world amongst our own society hiding but still thriving. There world may be just around the corner but no one will never know.

I tell people that ever since the fourth grade, when I first started reading Rowling’s series, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger have been my friends. I think that this is a natural feeling when one reads so many stories involving the same protagonists, but it is true that these characters have a special place in my literary memory, and this only contributes more to the realism that one feels when reading Rowling’s stories.

“O Man, Fly”

While we were reading Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus I saw a man with a tattoo on his forearm that stated in a gothic lettering “O Man, Fly”. When I saw it I knew where it came from since we had just read the portion of Dr. Faustus that used these lines. Due partially to the fact that someone would value the phrase enough to permanently inscribe it onto their skin I decided to look more into what those words “Homo Fuge” may mean.

I think that the lettering that appears on Faustus’s arm can illustrate two ideas. Firstly, I think that it shows part of Faustus realizing just how much he may be getting himself into. These words first materialize when Faustus is about to finalize the selling of his soul to Mephistopheles and Satan. When Faustus makes this pact he does so rather flippantly, to emphasize this we see him making jokes about Christ’s crucifixion as he is making the pact. However, this message then becomes visible and we see Faustus begin to worry. One can imagine Faustus cool and collected, but then, upon seeing what appears on his arm, his face drops and he begins to question “Whither should I fly?”. Faustus with this moment of fear shows his subconscious fear of the deal he has just made.

Secondly, I think the words can be interpreted as a warning message from God calling Faustus away from that which he is about to enter into. Throughout the play there are figures that represent God like the Old Man, these figures try to reason with Faustus to try and bring him to repentance and back to God. We see Faustus ask “Whither should I fly?” and answer “If unto God, he’ll throw me down to hell” he feels that God is his only escape, but that he is unable to run to God due to his relations with the devil. Yet, we see that Faustus decides not to go to God mainly out of pure defiance for he states “Homo Fuge! Yet shall not Faustus fly.” So, it appears that God might have sent this message to Faustus with hopes of redeeming his soul, but Faustus refuses in the face of temptation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Our Friend St. George

Since my research project earlier in the semester was based on Monsters in the Renaissance I wanted to continue on the idea of monsters. However, when I did my research the most common form of monster that I came upon was the “monstrous birth”, so I thought that I would choose something separate from monstrous births. I thought about it and decided to research the idea of dragons for they are most likely one of the most common modern day idea of a monster in the Renaissance.

While I was researching various dragon information I came upon how the dragon was used to symbolize sin or paganism in the early church. In The Christian Church during the Renaissance many paintings were made to emphasize this idea, paintings were created depicting church heroes having a dragon tamed, killed or defeated.

We saw a literary example of this in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene. The final battle of the main protagonist Red Crosse was fought against a dragon. It took all of Red Crosse’s strength (and some magic to defeat the dragon) which clearly symbolizes the fight against sin. Also, it took Crosse three days to defeat the dragon which can be compared to Christ’s crucifixion and coming back to life in three days to defeat sin. The painting at the beginning of this blog is a depiction from the Renaissance of St. George, the patron saint of England, defeating a dragon. St. George is an extremely revered saint in the Anglican Church which shows that the dragon might be a symbol of The Roman Catholic Church whose “evils” were destroyed with the creation of the Anglican Church under Henry VIII.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ferdinand: A Real Animal

In John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi one sees various descriptions of the story’s characters. These descriptions, however, become interesting when the reader starts seeing that Webster uses animals to portray his characters. At first, he uses the more common creatures like spiders, crows and leeches to describe the Duchess’s brothers. Soon though, one begins to see in more detail the true character of the brothers Ferdinand and The Cardinal, especially that of Ferdinand, and with this new view one can understand why Webster uses his creature descriptions.

One begins to see that Ferdinand is a predator who preys upon others with no regard to anything but his own grasp of the situation. He shows a strange feral nature in his fascination/obsession with the sexual and procreation. This animal nature is only amplified by the fact that his obsession is linked incestuously with his sister. Ferdinand also yearns for complete control like a territorial creature. Finally, the reader also sees Ferdinand’s selfishness exhibited like a dying animal who only cares for itself.

Seemingly to make a final point on how corrupt Ferdinand’s existence is Webster decides to diagnose him. In Act 5 the Doctor tells Pescara that Ferdinand has “lycanthropia” or that that he is a werewolf - “Said he was a wolf, only the difference/ Was, a wolf’s skin is hairy on the outside,/ His on the inside.” This final emphasis makes Ferdinand seem utterly inhuman making him an ultimate antagonist.

One Strong Statement

“I vow that never henceforth
Disgrace, reproof, lawless affections, threats,
Or what can be suggested 'gainst our marriage,
Shall cause me falsify that bridal oath
That binds me thine. And, Winnifred, whenever
The wanton heat of youth, by subtle baits
Of beauty, or what woman's art can practise,
Draw me from only loving thee, let Heaven
Inflict upon my life some fearful ruin!
I hope thou dost believe me.”

This is amazing Frank Thorney one of the first characters that I have been introduced to in The Witch of Edmonton has made a powerful declaration, which might seem too powerful. I am greatly impressed that he has the strength to make this comment, for he has promised to the women he loves that nothing will break him from her, and this aids in emphasizing the reality of their love This is a very admirable trait in Thorney. For he knows that he has made a vow of marriage to Winnifride, but he also knows that he is going to face difficulties in the days that are coming since he is going to be separated from the one he loves. From this speech the reader learns a great deal about Frank Thorney like how he wants to be strong but may fail and have inflicted upon his life a “fearful ruin”.

This statement in many ways sets Thorney up as our archetypal hero. He has a goal and he realizes that he is going to have to fight to achieve that goal of remaining true to Winnifride. Since we now know that Thorney is going to be our hero we also see that he is going to be the underdog that we root for throughout the play. Yet while I hate to be pessimistic, I feel that Thorney here has set himself up for failure. Because this separation is going to occur and most likely some problem will arise to bring dram into the play. Now one can only hope the “fearful ruin” will not be too severe.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lost in Paradise Lost

I remember in my high-school british literature class we studied Milton’s Paradise Lost. I read excerpts from the stories of Satan’s being cast from Heaven and the Fall of Man. I also learned facts about Milton, like how he was blind when he wrote his epic through dictation. Through this brief encounter with Paradise Lost I gained a strong admiration on a rather basic level of Milton’s Epic.

When I first started reading the assigned material I was flattened by the writing. The plot’s movements from Satan’s dignified speeches to his loyal commanders and hordes, to the progression of the plot through narration made the story line difficult to follow. The language is so elevated, it’s beautiful, but confusing. I felt that Milton in some ways wanted to write his epic on a higher level due to the lofty nature of his topic. (I mean, he’s talking about GOD). By giving his story a regal/deistic feeling he elevates the characters, and when this happens we view Satan in a different way than our normal cultural repulsion. We see him through his speeches as a being a majestic beauty and having abilities that before might have been eclipsed by humanities fear of him. However, I also feel that Milton viewed Satan as the master of lies so he may have been intentionally trying to build Satan up as a figure because that is is how he portrays himself to us.

Without guidance I feel my pursuits through Paradise Lost would have been much more laborious. However, I was still able to garner a strong admiration for Milton as a poet, and I was also able to see beauty in his descriptions even if I did have a hard time following the plot.

Musings on The Faerie Queene and Edmund Spenser

When I read The Faeirie Queene I feel that Spenser writes in an elementary sort of way. I think this because Spenser never characterizes his story into a group, like a work of history or fantasy. Now, don’t judge me straight off for that statement, because I above all people have no capacity to talk about writing expertise. However, I feel that Spenser is justified by the allegorical nature of his work and by the fact that his writing does reflect his personality. Just like Dr. Staub said in class Spenser would probably be more fun to spend time with for a day than a writer like Milton, due to the rather comical side of his story.

Spenser uses so many different aspects of literature one can see characteristics of fantasy, historical realism, folk tales, and he also pulls from biblical ideas, all these varying topics make the story feel unfocused. The reader sees fantasy features in Una’s dwarf, satyrs and fauns also make an appearance in the scene with Fradubio. We see historical factors in the character of Red Crosse being a crusader for he has a red cross emblazoned on his shield like the European Crusaders. Crosse also takes on aspects of the chivalric knight of the Middle Ages. Also, the religious realism with the hermit makes The Faerie Queene’s world seem not too distant from our own. We see examples of folk tales in the character of King Arthur, for Arthur is probably the greatest English nationalistic/folk character. Spenser makes biblical comments with the six deadly sins that parade themselves in front of Red Crosse.

One interesting thing to realize, however, is that despite Spenser’s seemingly fractured choices of illustrations, he still drives his story home by making it an interesting tale. I also think that since Spenser chose to make his story such a strong allegory it would have been nearly impossible to illustrate the topics he wanted to show without pulling from so many sources.