Alternative Critical Interpretations of A Streetcar Named Desire

Speech

One of the Assessment Objectives for A Streetcar Named Desire in the AS Drama and Poetry exam is AO5 – alternative critical interpretations. This AO does not exist for A Streetcar Named Desire in the A2 Drama exam but it can still count as AO3 (context). The following is a list of critics and critical perspectives that I have collected over the last year. While it is not necessary to know the names of specific critics or perspectives, it is helpful — but I know it is easy to forget, so you can replace their names with stock phrases, such as “Critics say…” or “Some have interpreted this as…”.

Albert Wertheim – Stella and Stanley’s baby represents the future — which is a Kowalski future, not a DuBois future, as shown by Blanche being removed and Stanley staying in the household, the ultimate victory

Benjamin Nelson – Blanche’s tragedy manifests itself in the diegetic of the play, making it a universal tragedy (the Blind Mexican Woman is a pertinent example of this)

Bert Cardullo – Blanche’s courting of Mitch mirrors Mary Magdalene’s courting of Jesus and her eventual redemption through it; this is twisted by Mitch’s rejection of Blanche

Brooks Atkinson – Streetcar is a deep exploration of a singular person with no sociopolitical aspects

Elia Kazan (the director of the first stage productions and the film of Streetcar) – Stanley didn’t want to rape Blanche, but was eventually forced to by her refusal to bargain with him on his own terms
Stella has found a sort of salvation with Stanley, but at the tremendous cost that she must ignore how unhappy his actions make her
Blanche’s tragic flaw is that she adheres to the Southern tradition that she needs a man for completion — she can complete herself

Harold Bloom (one of the most important literary critics of the 20th/21st century) – With his characters, Williams builds up archetypes and then destroys our preconceived notions of them (i.e. Blanche as purity, Stanley as machismo)
Desire is the single most important theme of the play — even Blanche, who initially seems to represent purity, is tainted by desire
Stella is genuinely in love with Stanley, “like many battered women”
Blanche is “a failed Whitmanian”

Henry Popkin – Conducted a study of Williams’ work and found three major character types: the Adonis (Stanley), the Gargoyle (Stella) and the Failed Ingenue (Blanche)
Stanley’s “disrespectful” speech symbolises his freedom and vitality while Blanche’s “respectful” speech shows how she is rooted to the past

J.H. Adler – Stanley is more creative than destructive – he shows the vitality that the Old South has lost

J.M. McGlinn – Stanley feels judged by Blanche, and his rape of her is his attempt to get her to admit that she is a sexual animal, like him
Blanche is not the only DuBois who lives in illusions: Stella is in an illusion too, that she is happy and free in her life with Stanley
Both Blanche and Stella’s illusions are done for the personal good at the sake of the communal good

Jackie Shead – Blanche’s trunk “unifies” the poetic and literal realms of the play and is representative of her journey

John Gassner – The poeticism of the play is representative of “psychological reality”
Viewing the play in terms of Aristotelian tragedy means accepting that Stanley performed the “act of destruction” which Blanche should have performed herself
Psychopathology “is a substitute for fate” in directing actions within the play when compared to traditional drama

John M. Clum – Blanche is a camp character who represents male homosexuality — she is not “straight” and is in closest proximity to the “degenerate” of the play

Judith J. Thompson – Williams’ drama is a “myth for our time”, portraying man’s constant search for transcendensce and imbuing the human with religious significance

Kierkegaard – An interpretation in the framework of Kierkegaard sees characters as existing within one of three stages: aesthetic (seeking constant short-term pleasure), ethical (working towards a greater good) or religious (working towards God).
In Streetcar, the aesthetic stage can be seen in Blanche and the ethical stage–albeit a misguided version–can be seen in Stanley; interestingly, the religious stage is nowhere to be found

Leonard Berkman – The trauma that underpins Blanche’s reality is not Allen Grey being a “degenerate”, as Stella believes, but the fact that she caused his suicide

Leonardo Quirino – Streetcar is an allegory for the journey the pure soul (Blanche) goes through when subjected to the brutality of matter (Stanley)
The card game is a symbol of fate and the way it can be manipulated

Mary McCarthy – Blanche symbolises art, as she veils herself from truth and is ultimately of a different type of people from those who exist wholly in the “real world” of Elysian Fields

Nancy Tischner – The play is decidedly not a classical tragedy — Blanche is “pathetically soft” and not a traditional tragic figure and we leave the theatre outraged rather than soothed
The play is a collection of one act plays, forming a rather non-traditional narrative out of eleven separate narratives

Nietzschean – A Nietzschean interpretation is based on the idea that there is a struggle existing in the best tragic works between the Apollonian, our higher functions — reason, imagination, and so on — and the Dionysian, our search for pleasure
Blanche and Stanley show how these two impulses can be dysfunctional when taken to an extreme: Blanche is the Apollonian who exists only in illusion and Stanley is the destructive Dionysian who gives in entirely to his base instincts

Normand Berlin – Sex equalises all characters in the play, as they are all beholden to their sexual impulses
Blanche uses as a refuge, where she can find “the kindness of strangers” as cannot be found elsewhere in her life

Psychoanalytic – The psychoanalytic perspective focuses on the way texts create representations of the mind and the way tics of the mind manifest themselves in texts
As the play focuses on the two drives Freud believed caused human activity — eros (sex/creation) and thanatos (death/destruction) — the play is a holistic account of human life

Robert Brustein – The conflict between Blanche and Stanley is the conflict between effeminate culture and masculine libido

Vivienne Dickinson – The play focuses on the modern symbol of the railways and links them to Stanley; at one time, the play ended with Blanche throwing herself on the railtracks to kill herself

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How much is Desdemona to blame for the tragedy of Othello?

 

How much is Desdemona to blame for the tragedy of Othello?

  • Desdemona is a defiant character who displays duality.
  • Her duality of being assertive and submissive has enabled her to reconcile conflicts e.g. her marriage to Othello.
  • This duality brings the theme of appearance and reality into play – Iago exploits this and depicts her as being untrustworthy and unfaithful, knowing that this would anger Othello because his greatest weakness is jealousy.
  • Act III, scene III is crucial in portraying her insistent nature – it marks the moment where Iago’s machinations begin fully.

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Historic Setting Use – Othello

How and why has Shakespeare used the historic setting of Venice and Cyprus in 1570-1?

Shakespeare had used the dramatic technique of a split geography with the first act taking place in Venice and the rest, in Cyprus. Othello explores what it means to live in a dynamic city like Venice, during times of high power and wealth as an independent republic. Stereotypes of hedonism fascinated the English, with Venice’s courtesans demonstrating the cities more relaxed view of sexual and promiscuous behaviour – something that Iago has anxieties about in Scene 1 when he tells Brabantio “your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs”. In contrast, Cyprus – an ideal area for economic success – yet an area of tension. Venice had owned Cyprus and had wanted to maintain it but the Ottoman Empire was looking to expand their territory. With Othello as leader of the Venetian mercenary army, he would have had authority but not status or respect as the army was not official. This is made clear when Cassio, a scholar “that never set a squadron in the field” could be promoted over Iago. It would create opportunities to move the plot along and introduce themes of jealousy which concludes the play to a tragedy.

Ella

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‘The Moor’ AO3 – Othello

The Moor AO3

  • Arab, Berber people of North Africa who inhabited Northern Spain
  • ‘Barbary’ – famous horse from the Arab world but when Iago says “your daughter covered with a Barbary horse” he is also playing the the term ‘barbarian’ meaning savagery
  • Genetic – moor, black African referred to as ‘blackamoor’
    Queen Elizabeth wanted to rid England of Spanish ‘negors’ and ‘blackamoors’ in 1601
  • Othello’s race sets him apart
    – he is a high noble, in charge of the Venetian army
    – racial tensions/sexual tensions
    – intermarriage anxieties
  • Moors were often the villains in literature of the time – early 17th century

Act I Scene II

“Let him do his spite;
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
Let him do his worst,
What I have done has been approved by the governing body

Who will get the better of him
(ANALYSIS)
Othello is noble and honest – opposite to Iago

“I shall promulgate”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
I shall make publicly know

(ANALYSIS)
More evidence that he is honest

“My parts, my title and my perfect soul
Shall manifest me rightly”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
My qualities, my legal right and flawless soul
Shall reveal me correctly as I am
(ANALYSIS)
He is not hiding anything, appearance vs. reality

“Holla, stand there!”
“Keep up your bright swords”
“Hold up your hands”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
Stop! Don’t move!

(ANALYSIS)
His use of imperatives shows his high status

“Good signor, you shall move command with years
Than with your weapons”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
We don’t need to fight. Use your aged wisdom not violence.

(ANALYSIS)
He appears moral and peaceful, a type of pacifist (but not in war)

“Were it my cue to fight, I should have known it
Without a prompter”
(MODERN TRANSLATION)
If it was my turn to fight, I would know it without having to be provoked

(ANALYSIS)
He is sharp, clear – worthy of his role, nobility

Ella

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Act 1 Scene III – Othello

A key theme in the novel is stories and tales. This helps with characterisation too.

How does Othello and Brabantio say Desdemona fell in love?

Brabantio:

  • “She is abused, stolen from me”
  • “corrupted by spells and medicines”
  • “witchcraft”
  • “most imperfect/That will confess perfection so could err/Against all rules of nature”
  • “praises of cunning hell” – adjectives
  • “same mixtures powerful o’er the blood” – blood is linked to sexual passion
  • “some dram conjured to this effect/He wrought upon her”
  • She is “never bold” according to Brabantio – He puts no blame on Desdemona and says their relationship goes against nature

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Key Terms – Othello

Iambic Pentameter
Blank Verse
Caesura
Rhyme
Hyper syllabic lines
Alliteration
Consonance
Assonance
Prose
Shared line
Soliloquy
Antithesis
Paradox
Literary allusion

It is an extensive list but if you are unsure of any of the meanings you should really try and learn the definitions. This way you will be to refer to them in essays – it may also help to annotate in your text whenever you see them! Shakespeare uses them for a reason!

Ella

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