Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Paper Proposal: Shakespeare and the Absence of Ishmael's Identity

1. Proposed Sources:

Christofides, R.M. “Iago and equivocation: the seduction and damnation of Othello”. Early Modern Literary Studies 15.1 (2010). Print.

I am not as familiar with Othello as I am with Hamlet, so I am not certain if I am going to be able to introduce Iago into this discussion on Ishmael. That being said, I find this passage intriguing and it makes me very interested in incorporating these ideas into my paper: “To interpret Iago as a devil in turn implies a God who does not intervene in the play. Rather, Iago is more than that: a fiend whose fiendishness remains unproven in a play where divinity is invoked but does not appear on-stage to assert its existence or the existence of its opposite”.

Dumm, Thomas. “Who Is Ishmael?” The Massachusetts Review 46.3 (2005): 398-414. Print.

Dunn’s article is extremely interesting and I will be using it when reflecting on how the Ishmael on the Pequod is different than the Ishmael telling the story of Moby-Dick (which will be the foundation of my paper).

Gierasch, Walter. “Hamlet's Polonius”. College English , Vol. 2, No. 7 (Apr., 1941), pp. 699-702. Print.

Gierasch’s article focuses on a straightforward interpretation of Polonius that is arguably more sympathetic (or at least more well rounded) than other assessments of the character, which will be useful when comparing him to Ishmael.

Warhfat, Sidney. “The Mystery of Hamlet”. The Johns Hopkins University Press. 30.3 (1963): 193-208. Print.

I will use Warhat’s article when addressing the characterization of Hamlet. Because the thrust of this paper will focus on the unclear identity of Ishmael, this article will be helpful when discussing how the ambiguity of Hamlet is similar to Ishmael’s.

Young, John. “Ishmael's Development as Narrator: Melville's Synthesizing Process”. College Literature , Vol. 9, No. 2 (Spring, 1982), pp. 97-111. Print.

Young’s article specifically addresses Ishmael’s narrative style in great detail. This will be useful to my paper because the way in which Ishmael narrates Moby-Dick is directly linked to the representation of his identity.

2. For my final paper I plan on discussing the absence of Ishmael’s identity in Moby-Dick. In doing so I will be connecting the character of Ishmael to Shakespeare’s Polonius, Hamlet, and Iago. By making these comparisons I will argue that Ishmael’s lack of identity is actually an integral part of the success of the novel. Comparing Ishmael to characters in Shakespeare is a reasonable way to generate this argument because Melville’s use of quotes from Shakespeare in the extracts of Moby-Dick provides an explicit connection between the novel and the Bard.

My reader should care about this argument because in terms of the stylistic traditions of American literature, Ishmael is an unconventional protagonist. Therefore the ambiguous nature of his identity may lead to the story having less of an impact on some readers. However, after assessing the character in terms of the concepts I will be discussing in my paper, it should become clear that the uncertainty of Ishmael’s character is not as blurred as it may appear on a first reading, and that it is an intentional choice used by Melville to highlight the themes of self-awareness and free will in Moby-Dick.
3. I will be using Wilson in this paper. Specifically, I will introduce some of his thoughts on behavior, the human mind, and personality that he discusses in “Development”. Passages that strike my interest for this paper are when Wilson states, “the imagery of the developmental landscape must be altered subtly as increasing amounts of learning and culture come to prevail on the downward slopes” and later “the human mind is not a tabula rasa, a clean slate…It is more accurately described as an autonomous decision-making instrument…that approached certain kinds of choices and not others in the first place, then innately leans towards one option as opposed to others…” (67). I will be utilizing these concepts to draw conclusions about how Ishmael's experiences on the Pequod affect his identity.

4. I will be revising my “Very like a whale” paper, and will be making several specific changes. Instead of discussing the broad theme of the influence of theatre in general on Melville, I will be concentrating on Shakespeare’s influence on the character of Ishmael. I am doing this because (as you mentioned) I was trying to address too many topics in that revision, and the more concentrated my final project is, the stronger it will be. While I will be keeping a large portion of my thoughts on comparing Ishmael to Polonius and Hamlet, I will be omitting the argument concerning Ahab being similar to Richard III and Macbeth, as that is not significant to my new thesis. I will also be putting less emphasis on the quote “Very like a whale” and instead using it more as a source of inspiration (like you suggested), as this paper topic has grown past the strict connection between that specific quote and Melville’s work. Essentially, I will be expanding my statements on Ishmael’s character and editing out anything that is not directly related to that subject (i.e. Melville’s use of stage directions and the chapters set up like staged scenes). As of now, I plan on including some aspects of my thoughts on the use of “the Fates”, but only in the way they influence the nature of Ishmael’s identity.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a very good, focused approach from beginning to end. While clearly there are opportunity costs to this approach (Ahab steps to the side a little in this version), I think they are costs well worth paying, because there is *plenty* to do just in thinking about Ishmael's identity in relationship with Shakespeare. I am especially impressed by your early plans re: your research. I'm looking forward to seeing it, and have no complaints or concerns at this point.