Elizabeth Kauwell

AP English



The first line of the soliloquy indicates a very vague and inexplicable conundrum, one that would be very difficult to interpret if the entirety of the soliloquy was written in such a cryptic manner. “To be, or not to be: that is the question:” His first instinct is to question whether such a horrible existence could be improved by simply not existing, by which he implies suicide. He then thinks something that has prevented many others before him from ending their own lives “To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;/ For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.” Simply put, Hamlet is nervous about what existence will be like after death, showing a lack of faith in God, who will tell you exactly what will happen after death.

Hamlet cites this as the reason that all who have had this thought are cowards. For fear of the unknown, they endure horrible pain. He complains of many of the same ills men are subject to today: tyrannical leaders, heartache, injustice by those in power, and pride. His use of words such as heartache, pangs, suffer, and the use of “sleeping” as an euphemism for death all indicate a feeling of melancholy, which is how many directors have chosen to portray Hamlet in this scene. Shakespeare uses colons conventionally seven times in this particular soliloquy. They’re typically used to introduce readers to an idea, such as his connection between dying and sleeping. He would like to simply fall asleep and never wake, a common theme in the despondently depressed, like Hamlet.

This attitude further enforces the underlying theme of Hamlet, which is that an inability to act causes pain and is a weakness. He no longer seems depressed about not killing Claudius, but depressed about not being able to take his own life, perhaps as a consequence of his failure to kill his father’s murderer.

This soliloquy also embodies another theme common in Hamlet, which is the afterlife. With the appearance of Hamlet Sr.’s ghost, the controversy over Ophelia’s burial, and Hamlet II’s internal conflict of killing Claudius while he prays. Shakespeare here confronts the masses’ beliefs of the afterlife, implying other possibilities that what the Bishop might tell you. In earlier soliloquies, Hamlet does in fact lament that God has prohibited suicide. This brings up the question of if this is because Hamlet has truly become mad and no longer takes into stock what God has to say, or if it has been caused by an insight to truth.

There is question to whether or not Hamlet knows he is being watched in this soliloquy, which causes a lack of certainty about many things, such as Hamlet’s true feelings, and why he would want someone to hear these things. These also imply uncertainty about a much more integral theme, the question of Hamlet’s sanity. If this speech is just an act put on to convince the castle he is mad, or if he truly is. It is up to our own interpretations.

In the last lines of the soliloquy, Hamlet realizes that many have chosen to live for fear of the afterlife, and chooses to follow in their footsteps. He lives, and one cannot say this was the right decision or wrong, but it certainly continued the play.


Group 4’s presentation held a few unique aspects and a few standard staple aspects. I liked the use of a crossword to integrate some common theme words of this soliloquy into the class’ head. I also think that showing (or attempting to show) several different styles of Hamlet’s soliloquy was a unique idea, but perhaps a little lacking in content. I would have appreciated a bit more planning to really polish the presentation, such as discussing beforehand when to throw in some discussion questions or to discuss aspects of the language. Overall, I would give our presentations a 24/25.

Elizabeth Kauwell

Mr. Weinberg

English 407

October 4, 2009

An Analysis of Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star” and Keats’ “Bright Star”

Upon a close reading, comparing and contrasting Robert Frost’s “Choose Something Like a Star” and John Keats’ “Bright Star,” has displayed the obvious similarities and differences of the two, but also the subtle implications of deeper similarities based on the lives of the two poets. Both, for their different reasons, based their poems on the steadfastness of a star. There is intimacy present in “Bright Star” versus the public concern in “Choose Something Like a Star.” There is envy of the star in Keats’ poem, where Frost appreciates what “little aid” it does offer us. “Bright Star” is based on the romantic properties of the star, where “Choose Something Like a Star” is primarily, at least initially, concerned with the scientific aspects of it.

Both poets seem very interested in the permanence of the star, using words like “steadfast” to display the simple continuity of the star. In the end of both poems, the stars eternality is what is taken away as important. Although their reasons for admiring the continuity of a star differ, both appreciated how desirable steadiness is. Both Keats and Frost experienced the deaths of close family members, making their specific observations about the eternal star personal.

Keats is interested in immortality, like the star, in order to be forever with his love. However, he is presented with a paradox. Although the star never dies, it is “ …In lone splendour hung aloft the night,” which would make it impossible for Keats to be a star and be with his lover. His poem is punctuated as a single sentence, making it seem as though he has a lot to say without much time, which indicates that he realizes the impossibility of his hopes for eternal life. Another reference to the speed at which human life is lived is the use of the word “ripe,” which has connotations of something perishable. His use of words such as soft, pillow’d, swoon, and breast make the poem sensual. His use of words such as Eremite, ablution, and priestlike make the poem religious. Today it would be unusual for a poet to write about the two in one poem, but in 1819 when the poem was written, the two often went hand in hand.

Frost starts his poem off by lamenting about the obscurity of the star, telling it “Some mystery becomes the proud./But to be wholly taciturn/In your reserve is not allowed,” then asks the star to “Tell us what elements you blend,” obviously curious about the scientific makeup of stars. He beseeches the star to open up and stop hiding its secrets, “Say something! And it says “I burn,”” not the answer he was looking for.

At the conclusion of the poem, Frost realizes that although his original goal has not been met, there is something to be learned from this star. He makes a reference to Keats’ “Bright Star,” saying “And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,” again, alluding to the solitude and permanence of the star. There is something significant in the steadfastness of a star, he hopes that the world can learn something from its nature and its power to serve as an anchor of permanence and placidity in today’s turbulent world.

Keats is envious of the long undisturbed life the star will have, wanting that for himself. He does not want to see the beautiful views that stars watch, he only cares about eternal life, and the star, so that he may always be with his love. He says “And so live ever–or else swoon to death,” implying that if he cannot live forever, he will live in the present enjoying his ecstasy.

For both poems, the true focus seems to be of the star, specifically it’s steadiness. The reasons for this focus differ, and the purposes of the poems differ. The versatility of the virtues of a steadfast star can be interpreted many ways, and both of these ways turned into memorable poems.

Elizabeth Kauwell

September 7, 2009


AP English, 4th hour

What’s Wrong With the World

A Mercy depicts the shortcomings of humanity in a firsthand manner. Of reaction versus realization. Of self-protection and safety versus vulnerability and exposure. Lying to everyone, including yourself. A lack of self-examination, and hence, a lack of growth. A Mercy demonstrates the belief that obliviousness is better than awareness. If the world does not live with pensive and honest reflection, the demise of the human race is nearby.

Toni Morrison illustrates these failures in almost all of A Mercy’s characters. Jacob lives in blissful obliviousness of his ethical hypocrisy. He fancies himself an upright, moral untraditional thinker. Scorning D’Ortega’s lifestyle Jacob is quoted as saying, “They seemed well suited to each other: vain, voluptuous, prouder of pewter and porcelain than of their sons,” (Morrison, 22) he comforts himself with the knowledge that although he is not of noble blood or wealth, he has morals. However, we quickly see flaws in this moral man’s set of values. He takes joy from D’Ortega’s shortcomings, and spends most of his time at Jublio proving to himself that although he has less than D’Ortega, he is a far better man. Jacob thinks to himself “They did not smile, they sneered; they did not laugh, they giggled. He imagined them vicious with servants and obsequious to priests. His initial embarrassment about the unavoidable consequences of his long journey–muddy boots, soiled hands, perspiration and its odor–was dimmed by Mistress D’Ortega’s loud perfume and heavily powdered face.” (22-23) His own willingness to ridicule them and their lifestyle demonstrates a psychological longing for self-validation.

When he dies, he is left struggling for confirmation of worth through material values. He buys Rebekka impractical gifts on his travels “It was some time before she noticed how the tales were fewer and the gifts increasing, gifts that were becoming less practical, even whimsical… Rebekka swallowed her questions and smiled… Having seen come and go a glint in his eyes as he unpacked these treasures so useless on a farm, she should have anticipated the day he hired men to help clear trees from a wide swath of land at the foot of a rise. A new house he was building. Something befitting not a farmer, not even a trader, but a squire.” (103) to further his goals of a life of wealth and “worth.” He tells Rebekka “What a man leaves behind is what a man is,” (104) revealing his deeper theorization that money parallels self worth. For all his apparent kindness and seemingly superior moral values, he is still trapped in the world’s materialism and void of true selflessness.

Where Jacob is trapped in the desire for things, Florens too is trapped, however in the desire for validation of self worth through confirmation by another. She looks for her approval in the eyes of the blacksmith, blindly choosing to believe that she was single-handedly his entire world, without confirmation from the blacksmith. “When Lina tried to enlighten her, saying “You are one leaf on his tree,” Florens shook her head, closed her eyes and replied, “No. I am his tree.”” (71) They had a passionate physical relationship but from a third person standpoint, it seems common sense that to the blacksmith their relationship was naught but a fling. Florens truly was too wild, and let her emotions take over the logical part of the brain that would question “What affirmation have you of his undying love for you? Don’t be hasty with your decisions Florens, it will ultimately get you hurt.” Her inner conscience was absent without leave. However, seeing as she feels abandoned by her mother, it seems only natural to crave love and acceptance from someone, anyone, to the point you allow yourself to become blinded to reality if only to believe you are loved. When the blacksmith tells her to leave, she is wild, he doesn’t want her, she reacts. “Feathers lifting, I unfold. The claws scratch and scratch until the hammer is in my hand.” (167) She was hurt and her body countered with rage and blame shifting. Nothing in the novella establishes any change of heart or mind.

Rebekka actually declines in moral conscientiousness. She traverses from “[Being] ideal. There was not a shrewish bone in her body. She never raised her voice in anger… cheerful as a bluebird. Or used to be. Three dead infants in a row, followed by the accidental death of Patrician, their five-year-old, had unleavened her. A kind of invisible ash had settled over her which vigils at the small graves in the meadow did nothing to wipe away,” (24) to someone whose “Behavior after the master’s death and her own recovery [were] not simply the effects of ill health and mourning. Mistress passed her days with the joy of a clock. She was a penitent, pure and simple. Which to him meant that underneath her piety was something cold if not cruel.” (179) Now, growing up with emotional hardship does not destine everyone who encounters this to a horrid fate of equal hardship. This is the case with Rebekka. Functional and well-adjusted, she remains a respectable character until the point of her illness. She transforms into the above. “Mistress has cure but she is not well. Her heart is infidel. All smiles are gone. Each time she returns from the meetinghouse her eyes are nowhere and have no inside… Her churchgoing alters her but I don’t believe they tell her to behave that way. These rules are her own and she is not the same.” She allows her grief to take over and transform her into a cruel thoughtless woman.

One may contest that these were good people, with shortcomings that got realized and exploited by the deities, karma, coincidence whatever. However, there is always a choice. Perhaps, you say, they were unaware of their options, of their faults. This is probably true, however when one is unhappy, when a life is falling apart, it is a choice not to examine your part in it. It is a choice to keep running in circles, in the same pattern, stay in your faulted rut out of fear of what outside the rut.

These examples of a lack of self-reflection constituted a demise of the Vaark clan. On a larger scale, Morrison is demonstrating the importance of a conscious decision to try and improve your life by not falling into patterns. A logical perspective is crucial to survival, just as an emotional perspective is crucial to finding a passionate and joyful life. Simply put, the world must start to learn from it’s mistakes.