“Clowns on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”

You have until April 16th to produce an MLA format research paper of approximately 1,500 words (minimum 1,000 words), including also a Works Cited and an attached bibliography showing research performed on Barry U. subscription databases.  Submit both electronically to Canvas and in hard copy. Sample basic bibliographies are available on my Canvas page for this course.  Students will write the paper based on a comparative analysis of two or more complementary film and literary texts, including at least one we have studied this semester, Psycho, the picture of Dorian Gray, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the merchant of Venice. The essay must display an awareness of recent critical commentary on your texts, and must include reference to at least two secondary sources retrieved via the Barry University library subscription databases (such as the MLA bibliography, ProQuest, EBSCO Academic Search Premier, etc.). Printouts of search results must be included with the paper submission. (This paper represents 20% of your course grade.)

Your paper should advance an original argument about one of the following five topics:

1  The Mask: In his article “Clowns on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” Andrew Stott explains that the clown Grimaldi “extended the idea of face-paint to a white foundation that . . . implied a much stricter division between character and performer than had been presented before” (8-9), and that, later, Grimaldi “made a spectacle of his own unmasked decrepitude” (12). Use at least two examples including one we have studied to explore the extent to which the use of some form of mask is typical of villain figures.

2  The Devouring Mother: In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell suggests that “the hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman . . . discovers and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self) either by swallowing it or being swallowed” (89). Show how at least two complementary fictional figures (including one we have studied) represent the villain as either an eater or one “swallowed up.”

3  The Trickster: William Hynes and William Doty note in their introduction to Mythical Trickster Figures (1993) that the idea of a trickster archetype is controversial: some believe it is universal, while others see it as culture-specific. Investigate some definitions of the archetype (see also below) and, using particular examples, argue for or against its culture-specificity in American popular culture.

4  The Doppelgänger: The denouement of Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) finds the hero and the villain, who have spent the novel in pursuit of each other, sharing a joke, implying an identification of one with the other. There are also doppelgängers in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Fight Club: How does the notion of the doppelgänger complicate the relationship of the hero archetype to that of the villain?

5  The Villein’s territory is the border between the chaos of organic nature and the machineries of order. Show how at least two complementary fictional figures (including one we have studied) represent the villain either as a destroyer of nature or as the revenge of nature on the civilized.

Research Paper #2 Notes on Question Choices

1          The fool and the revenger are Elizabethan (she reigned 1558-1603, or the second half of the sixteenth century) and Jacobean (King James I reigned c. 1603-1625, or first part of seventeenth century) types. Shakespearean drama is notable for its fools, whereas Jacobean drama includes a lot of bloody revengers. Dery (see bibliog. below) notes on p75 of his chapter that during the medieval period “the characters of the Fool and Death were often interchangeable.” His chapter overall considers the various significances of the mask. We have an obviously masked death-jester in Gawain’s Bercilak. Satan wears a serpent-disguise in Paradise Lost, while seeking revenge on God. Recent popular “psycho-killer clowns” include Batman’s Joker [once played by American culture’s über-madman Jack Nicholson] and even more recently V for Vendetta’s V, whose smiling mask conceals a possibly psychopathic terrorist partly based on Erik, the masked Phantom of the Opera.

In the silent film of  Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)[1] the plot is expanded by the addition of a lot of elements from Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Therefore, “the lurer of the innocent soul into the realms of trial” (Campbell 60) is played by “Sir George Carew,” a Henry Wotton figure. [DrP notes: “Miss Gina, an Italian singer,” plays half of Wilde’s Sybil Vane part in this film; her opposite is Millicent, an ingenue. Likewise, Fight Club adds Marla Singer to Jekyll & Hyde’s psychic equation.]

2          “Swallowing up” may be literal, in the case of a cannibal, for example, or metaphorical.

3          Trickster: William Hynes and William Doty note in their introduction to Mythical Trickster Figures (1993) that the idea of a trickster archetype is controversial: some believe it is universal, while others see it as culture-specific. Investigate some definitions of the archetype (see also below) and, using particular examples, argue for or against its culture-specificity in American popular culture.

4          Doppelgänger: The denouement of Alan Moore’s Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) finds the hero and the villain, who have spent the novel in pursuit of each other, sharing a joke, implying an identification of one with the other. There are also doppelgängers in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Fight Club: How does the notion of the doppelgänger complicate the relationship of the hero archetype to that of the villain? [Again, the doppelganger idea is somewhat culturally variable. Mr. Hyde may be considered a doppelganger. Neff plays Dietrichson’s double in Double Indemnity, a film with a title that announces its interest in duplicity or double-dealing. We have wondered if perhaps Alex Forrest is some sort of double of Beth in Fatal Attraction. Portia and Nerissa have double identities in The Merchant of Venice. Fight Club includes what appears to be a paranormal phenomenon.

5          Dorian Gray’s opposition is between art and nature or artifice and “reality.”

Annotated Bibliography

Als, Hilton. “Underdogs: Victims of Prejudice in ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and ‘On the Levee.’” The New Yorker.  July 12, 2010. Print.

Dery, Mark. “Cotton Candy Autopsy: Deconstructing Psycho-Killer Clowns.”  The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink. NY: Grove Press, 1999. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. “The Theme of the Three Caskets.” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. James Strachey, vol. 12. London: Hogarth Press, 1958 pp. 291-300, rpt. in The Merchant of Venice, ed. Leah Marcus.  NY: Norton, 2006 pp.152-160. Print.

Hynes, William J. and William G. Doty (Eds.). Mythical Trickster Figures: Contours, Contexts and Criticisms. Tuscaloosa: U. of Alabama Press, 1993. Print.

William Hynes and William Doty note in their introduction to Mythical Trickster Figures (1993) that the idea of a trickster archetype is controversial: some believe it is universal, while others see it as culture-specific; some argue that the range of characteristics ascribed to it is too great to consider it a single archetype. Some argue that tricksters are “culture-specific” (Hynes and Doty 2). Hynes and Doty list tricksters from a variety of cultures: African Ananse, Eshu and Legba; in the West: Hermes, St. Peter[2] and Herschel; Native American: Coyote, Wakdjunkaga, and Manabozo; in Assia: Susa-no-o, Sun Wuk’ung, Agu Tampa, and Horangi (2). They argue that “tricksters appear at points of growth and change (4), “the trickster often represents the obverse of restrictive order . . . but we must remember that tricksters or cultural clown figures are not, as they would be considered in our culture, individually motivated deviants, but socially sanctioned images or performers” (7); “they are entertainments that are instructive . . . tricksters are comical if not marginal figures, and they represent sacred beings in some cultures, but not in others” (7). “[W]e are persuaded that plurality, plurivocity, and ambiguity are essential to the trickster Gestalt [a whole pattern, inseparable into its parts]: this mythological figure encompasses many different social positions, is utilized by different societies to inculcate various types of behavior, and may have manifold modes of appearance even within one culture” (9). “William Hynes offers a cross-cultural typology of common features of the trickster.

Hynes’s “Mapping the Characteristics of Mythic Tricksters: A Heuristic Guide” in his Mythical Trickster Figures collection, lists six characteristics common to many trickster myths” (33).

  • The trickster is ambiguous and anomalous” “this figure may be the living embodiment . . . of the “coincidence of opposites.”
  • The trickster is a deceiver and a trick player: “All semblances of truth and falsity are subject to his rapid alchemy” (35).
  • The trickster is a shape-shifter: “the trickster can alter his shape or bodily appearance in order to facilitate deception. Not even the boundaries of species or sexuality are safe, for they can be readily dissolved by the trickster’s disguises and transmorphisms. Relatively minor shapeshifting through disguise may involve nothing more than changing clothes with another” (36).
  • The trickster is a situation-invertor: “the ability to overturn any person, place, or belief, no matter how prestigious. No order is too rooted, no taboo too sacred, no god too high, no profanity too scatalogical that it cannot be broached or inverted. What prevails is toppled, what is bottom becomes top, what is outside turns inside . . . the trickster is often the ritual profaner of beliefs . . . the more sacred a belief, the more likely is the trickster to be found profaning it” (37).
  • The trickster is a messenger and imitator of the gods: admixing both divine and human traits, he can slip back and forth across the border between the sacred and the profane with ease. He may bring something across this line from the gods to humans—be it a message, punishment, an essential cultural power, or even life itself” (Hynes 39-40).
  • The trickster is a sacred and lewd bricoleur (a tinker, able to transform anything at hand to form a creative solution [perhaps think MacGyver ;)]: “he can find the lewd in the sacred and the sacred in the lewd, and new life from both” (42).

Hynes continues that the trickster is often “insatiably hungry” (42). “Most tricksters are forever hungry and in search of food . . . the process of search and not its fulfillment is the rule” (42).

“Sexual exploits abound in most trickster myths. . . . In both ritual actions and artistic depictions, the trickster sometimes carries a phallus or phallic club . . . the phallus is still discernible in the jester’s bauble, with its miniature human head or ehads at one end and animal bladder at the other” (43).

“Last . . . the trickster is closely associated with the most profane of lewd profanations, excrement. Winnebago tradition includes the tale of the trickster being nearly blown to bits by and excess of stomach gas and finally being pushed rapidly toward the sky on an ever-increasing pile of his own feces” (44).

Hynes concludes: “While many specific trickster figures appear to have most of these characteristics, a particular figure may occasionally have only one or two” (45).

Moore, Alan, and Brian Bolland. Batman: The Killing Joke, The Deluxe Edition. NY: DC Comics, 2008. Print.

Batman: The Killing Joke appeared in 1988. It is a Joker-origin story, in which Moore imagines a narrative accounting for The Joker’s transformation. This graphic novel was part of a wave of titles which appeared in the late 80’s, including Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, fostering the birth of the “graphic novel” genre.

Radin, Paul. The Trickster. 1955. Print.

“The first comprehensive portrait of the Trickster.”

Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. NY: Penguin, 2006. Print.

Reynolds’ book discusses the post-punk band Killing Joke, with its fusion of goth atmosphere and nazi tendencies. Killing Joke itself probably took its name from an old Monty Python sketch called “The Funniest Joke in the World,” a sketch in which a man creates a joke so funny that it is used as a weapon against the Nazis during the Second World War.

Shapiro, James. Shakespeare and the Jews. NY: Columbia UP, 1996. Print. Barry call # PR 2825.S44 1996.

—. “Circumcision & the Pound of Flesh.” The Merchant of Venice. NY: W.W. Norton, 2006. Print.

[1] There are over 120 films of Jekyll and Hyde, including versions from 1932 and 1941, Rouben Mamoulian’s 1932 take being probably definitive, while the 1941 Spencer Tracy retread is forgettable.

[2] “Calvino comments that ‘Popular tradition makes Peter a lazy man, glutton and liar, whose elementary logic is always contrary to the faith preached by the Lord, whose miracles and acts of mercy never fail to put Peter to shame . . . his relationship with Jesus is somewhat like Sancho Panza’s with the hidalgo’” (Hynes 41-42)

 

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