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History in Shakespeare’s, Bronte’s, Auerbach’s Works Essay

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Updated: Jan 21st, 2021

Literary works and societies

Literary works have played an important role in human societies as they have reflected numerous epochs and have helped people to acknowledge the changes which were taking place. Notably, literary masterpieces have also been reconsidered by many generations. People often saw some works differently, whereas other works have been interpreted without any alternations. The interpretation of literary works largely depends on the major idea of the work and/or on the major purpose of the work. For instance, Auerbach states that the Bible, one of the most important books in the Western world, has been seen differently in different periods1. It is possible to consider this work and some other literary works created in different epochs to understand how literary works reflect specific issues of their historical moment.

Auerbach’s interpretation

The Bible and history

As has been mentioned above, the Bible, like any other work, is a certain reflection of its epoch. There can hardly be any literary work that does not contain specific historical facts or references to these facts. As far as the Bible is concerned, it is necessary to note that the book narrates the history of humanity (or rather it’s past). Auerbach notes that the Bible’s “religious intent involves an absolute claim to historical truth”2.

Thus, the Bible has been seen as a particular description of past events for centuries. This ‘absolute claim’ has raised many questions that have remained unanswered until now. Auerbach points out that various elements in the Bible “require subtle investigation” and even “demand” it3.

It is also important to add that the Bible refers to various historical events, and researchers have been trying to identify specific proofs in history. Nonetheless, the Bible does not contain many facts that can be proved historically. It is possible to claim that the book is rather metaphorical. Auerbach stresses that the Bible’s “claim to truth” is “tyrannical – it excludes all other claims”4 Notably, though it claims to be the only truth, there are far too many spots to address. This specific representation of the historical facts is closely connected with the major purpose of the book.

The major point

It is important to remember that the major purpose of the Bible is not to tell some stories but to guide people. The book is meant to establish “absolute authority”5. The Bible includes a set of norms that “seek to subject” people, and if people “refuse to be subjected” they are regarded as “rebels”6. It is rather difficult to object to such arguments. The Bible is very deductive. It teaches people to conduct in a specific way providing particular examples, i.e. stories. Auerbach is very precise when considering the major purpose of the Bible. He states that the book is not meant to entertain people. The book is meant to be guidance for people.

More so, Auerbach puts this in the following way:

it seeks to overcome our reality: we are to fit our own life into its world, feel ourselves to be elements in its structure of universal history7.

Thus, the Bible is a work that does not simply reflect some epochs. The book is meant to create the entire universe where people fulfill specific tasks by specific doctrines. Remarkably, the book served this purpose for a long time. However, things have changed significantly.

Different interpretations

Admittedly, the Bible is still one of the most important books in the Western world. However, this work has been seen differently in different epochs. In the Middle Ages, it was seen as the entire universe to fit. People were to live by conventions revealed in the Bible. Those who did not fit the universe were punished. No one could doubt the complete truth provided. People accepted the authority of the work. No one could even think that some stories were not historical facts. The stories depicted were regarded as true stories from the past.

Nonetheless, the epochs of Renaissance and Enlightenment have brought many changes. People have worked out new doctrines and conventions. Nowadays quite a few people have the same faith as medieval people used to have. Auerbach mentions that “the Biblical stories become ancient legends, and the doctrine they had contained, now dissevered from them, becomes a disembodied image”8. Admittedly, people now see the Bible as a brilliant literary work, and some see it as an important historical source. Of course, there are quite many who still try to follow the conventions provided.

However, irrespective of those who still follow the conventions, the Bible has lost its ‘absolute authority’. At present, the Bible is seen as a metaphorical representation of the ideal world. People understand that the book reveals particular examples of moral and ethical conduct. Nonetheless, it is up to each individual either to follow or violate the rules.

Shakespearean representation of reality

Historical Facts

One of the greatest literary works, Anthony and Cleopatra, also reflects a specific epoch and has a specific purpose. As for the Shakespearean play, it does depict various historical events that were reported on by historians. Of course, the major characters of the play are real historical figures. Cleopatra VII, Mark Antony, Octavian, Lepidus, and Sextus Pompey are all known too many. Apart from these prototypes, the play also reveals the relationship between the two states, Egypt and Rome, in the middle of the first century B.C. Of course, Shakespeare speaks of these relationships in his specific poetic form:

I kiss his conquering hand: tell him, I am prompt

To lay my crown at’s feet, and there to kneel:

Tell him from his all-obeying breath I hear

The doom of Egypt. 9

These Cleopatra’s words can be regarded as a kind of manifestation of Roman people’s aspirations. The Roman Empire always wanted to establish their absolute rule over Egypt with its riches. The play reveals the battles which also took place many centuries ago. Of course, Shakespeare was not very precise as to facts, dates, etc. However, this was not his primary concern. The major concern of the play is not historical accuracy. Shakespeare did not attempt to recreate the precise course of events which took place many centuries before his birth. Shakespeare had another idea in his mind.

The major point

The major purpose of the play was to entertain people. Shakespeare was not interested in historical facts that much. He was interested in feelings, passions, and relationships between the main characters. The great playwright tried to reveal the human passions of the great people who changed history. He focused on relationships between the greatest people of that epoch. Shakespeare focused on psychology.

It is necessary to note that it is clear that Shakespeare did expect people to believe in the events he had depicted. He wanted to reveal the hidden (or rather unknown) side of history. There are no rules to follow. The author does not set rules. He does not try to make people follow his doctrines. Everyone understands that the play is a literary work which is aimed to entertain people.

Various interpretations

The purpose of the play and its major focus influence greatly the way this work has been interpreted throughout times. The work has always been interpreted similarly. Of course, there were many ideas as to the sources of the play, the major ideas, etc. Now researchers find new facets to look at. Of course, people pay attention to the beauty of the play and, at the same time, they try to trace various trends characterizing the epoch.

However, the interpretation of the book remains unchanged. People see it as a brilliant literary work that reflects certain periods (the first century BC, as well as the beginning of the seventeenth century). Of course, the play is still seen as an entertaining piece.

One of the major reasons for such stability is that the play is not meant to establish some doctrines. Unlike the Bible, the play does not create the entire world to comply with. The play simply depicts a short episode from history. It enriches people’s knowledge instead of establishing ‘absolute authority.’ Since the play does not have such an aim to create the entire system of values, there is nothing to object to. People do not rebel as there is no authority to oppose. Of course, the play touches upon some basic values. However, there is no preaching, as the author simply offers his work without insisting on complete submission.

Jane Eyre and historical representation

Historical accuracy

Another famous literary work can shed more light on the way literary works reflect various historical moments. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is a story of a girl who lived in the middle of the nineteenth century. There can be no doubt that the epoch is depicted in detail. Of course, the characters and events are not regarded as real. However, this story is considered to be a plausible story that could have happened at that time. Bronte did not try to reveal some historical facts as she depicted the world around her.

Bronte depicted places as she saw them. She also alluded to various books that were popular at that time. For instance, at the very beginning of the work, she referred to Thomas Bewick’s work and works by Samuel Richardson or John Wesley10. Importantly, the author did not want to insist on the accuracy of the facts provided. Bronte, as well as Shakespeare, is more concerned with feelings, morals, and the latest trends.

The novel is a perfect reflection of the time when it was created. Bronte depicted conventions that were followed at that time. Of course, the novel is also didactic as the right things are praised, whereas bad things are punished. Thus, the poor rightful girl obtains a loving husband after long years of loneliness and humiliation. Notably, Edward Rochester is granted his happiness due to his sacrifices (sufferings and blindness). Nonetheless, there are no specific rules provided in the book. The book does not create the world to comply with. The book simply reflects the epoch.

The major point

As far as the purpose of the film is concerned, Jane Eyre can be compatible with Anthony and Cleopatra by Shakespeare. The novel is not aimed at establishing any authority. However, it is not mere entertainment. Bronte also focuses on feelings, emotions, and morals. However, the novel is written in the first person singular, which makes it intimate.

Bronte focused on psychology to a great extent. More so, she was not interested in the world around the main character. The writer rather revealed the inner world of her protagonist. The world is shown in Eyre’s perspective. Thus, the novel is a reflection of the world as it was seen by a female. Admittedly, Bronte did not expect that people would believe the facts provided. The major concern of the text is still emotions and decisions made.

Interpretations

The novel has been discussed by many generations. Notably, the interpretation of the novel is rather stable. All readers focus on the life of the rightful girl who tries to conduct properly in the sinful world full of hypocrisy. Researchers also analyze the work as it is a very precise reflection of the Victorian world. However, all viewers (those who lived in the nineteenth century as well as those who live nowadays) focus on morality and ethics when reading the book.

Admittedly, this stability can be because the novel was written rather recently. It can be assumed that the values revealed have not changed since then. However, the major reason for this stability can be explained by the universality of the values revealed. The novel has no claims for creating a new world to comply with. People do not need to submit to the doctrines provided. They take pleasure in reading a story that could happen in the real world. The reader is not overwhelmed by any doctrines and can simply focus on the story.

Why do texts reflect specific issues of the historical moment differently?

Thus, it is clear that the works discussed reflect historical issues differently as the works have different aims. Anthony and Cleopatra and Jane Eyre seek “merely to make us forget our reality for a few hours” whereas the Bible “seeks to overcome our reality”11. The former two works can be regarded as a personal reflection on specific issues. However, the latter is a set of doctrines which is meant to guide people. The works by Shakespeare and Brontë have always been regarded as literary works which are created to entertain people. However, the Bible is the work that is created to be taken seriously. The Bible establishes ‘absolute authority.’

This authority creates a specific kind of historical moment representation. Thus, the Bible provides various stories that are meant to be taken for granted. For many centuries people did not doubt events revealed. Though the historical facts are regarded as real, the major focus is never on the facts themselves. The major focus is always on the meaning of the events depicted. The events are also regarded as illustrations of proper and rightful conduct.

Thus, the Bible is a set of examples to follow in various situations. Interestingly, the Bible is a universal work that tells the stories from the past and, at the same time, remains timeless. The major focus of the work is guiding, so the Bible can hardly be regarded as a proper reflection of the epoch.

As for the other literary works, the historical facts are often brought into question. The two works are often seen as specific reflections of the major trends that were common in those epochs. At the same time, historical accuracy is not in the center of the reader’s attention. The two works concentrate on feelings, emotions, and passions. More so, Jane Eyre focuses on the inner world of the girl depicted. Notably, the works do not provide any particular doctrines to follow. These works are light, and they are pleasant to read. Of course, there are morals to be considered by readers. However, the works are not preaching.

Thus, the major difference between the Bible and other literary works is in their purpose and as a result, in the way, the works are interpreted. The Bible has been seen as the absolute authority for many years. However, things have changed, and many people have become too critical about the Bible. The authority has been jeopardized significantly. People have acquired many other doctrines to follow. At the same time, literary works like Anthony and Cleopatra and Jane Eyre were created to entertain and to make people think of some issues without establishing any authority. Even though some doctrines have changed people still seek entertainment.

Literature provides people with what they need. The literary works make people think of various issues and enable people to plunge into beautiful worlds of the past, the present, or the future. Thus, some aspects of the works can be interpreted differently, but the major ideas will remain the same as major values hardly change.

Reference List

Auerbach, E 1953, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated by W.R. Trask, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Brontë, C 2001, Jane Eyre. R.J. Dunn (ed.), London, Norton Critical Edition.

Shakespeare, W 2008, Anthony and Cleopatra. M. Neill (ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Footnotes

  1. Auerbach, E 1953, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated by W.R. Trask, Princeton, Princeton University Press, p. 15.
  2. ibid., p. 14.
  3. Auerbach, E 1953, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated by W.R. Trask, Princeton, Princeton University Press, p. 15.
  4. ibid., p. 14.
  5. ibid., p. 14.
  6. ibid., p. 15.
  7. ibid., p. 15.
  8. Auerbach, E 1953, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated by W.R. Trask, Princeton, Princeton University Press, p. 16.
  9. Shakespeare, W 2008, Anthony and Cleopatra, M. Neill (ed.), Oxford, Oxford University Press, p. 274.
  10. Brontë, C 2001, Jane Eyre, R.J. Dunn (ed.), London, Norton Critical Edition, pp. 7-8.
  11. Auerbach, E 1953, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, translated by W.R. Trask, Princeton, Princeton University Press, p. 15.
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