To what extent did women exercise political power within the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Dynasties?

Within the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires, it is a common belief that women were subject to ‘widespread oppression and subordination.’[1] However, this view can be deemed reductive It is within the dynastic setting that women were able to exercise a degree of political power even if they did not always have full autonomy. By examining the harem, their relationship with the sultan, marriage, rare examples of queenship, patronage and education, it can be ascertained that women within the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal dynasties wielded political power to a moderate extent. Their degree of political power was only moderate as it rarely allowed them to affect political policy directly, and even when they had the chance to do so, their political power was limited by their gender and established role at court, which was usually tied to the family.

The royal harem was an area in which women could exercise political power within the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal dynasties. During the Ottoman empire, the sultan’s mother was at the ‘apex’ of the harem and had considerable influence within it.[2] As she was close to the ruler of the Ottoman empire, she could still indirectly influence the goings on within the empire. This was aided by her strong influence within the harem, and her high status as the mother of the sultan.[3] Women would partake in ‘harem intrigue,’ the goal of which was to elevate the position of their husbands.[4] This involved making connections with men of high status, to increase the status of their own family. This demonstrates that women did exercise a moderate degree of political power within the Ottoman empire, albeit behind closed doors. Fanny Blunt supports this, and observes that many viziers gained influence within the Ottoman court due to the influence of their wives within the harem.[5]

Similarly, within the Safavid empire the harem was seen as an ‘internal power structure,’ in which women could exert political power.[6]

It appears that with the advent of the Mughal empire, the harem began to directly exert political power. Akbar left his mother, Hamida Banu Begum, in charge of the empire when he had to deal with unrest in the north, placing political power directly into the heart of the harem.[7]  However, when looking at the harem across all three dynasties it is clear that women were only able to exercise a moderate degree of political power. The fact that their influence mainly occurred behind closed doors emphasises the fact that, despite this influence, they did not have the means to enter into mainstream political decisions.

Through analysis of the women’s’ relationship with the ruling sultan, it can be learned that women wielded a moderate degree of political power. Lisa Balabanlilar recounts that within the Ottoman court, females were removed from power and that the purpose of women within the court centred around the family.[8] After giving birth, women were supposed to educate and protect their sons, which would have given them the opportunity to forge a strong relationship with their child, and perhaps influence them at a young age in political matters.[9] Despite this influence, it is still clear that their relationship to the sultan was one that depended on their ability to produce children, which took precedent over their political agency.

The Mughal ruling dynasties emphasised the importance of the female role within the family and household. Elderly women would intervene in familial and political crisis’ which is demonstrated in Jahangir’s use of female diplomats.[10] Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughal emperor, relied heavily on his daughter Jahanara to run the household,[11] and even left her in control of finances.[12] Audrey Truschke, noted that royal women were involved in succession struggles.[13] This is true of Jahanara, who failed to quell the war of succession between her two brothers, Aurangzeb and Dara Shukoh, despite her attempts via letters.[14] The fact that she was not a competitor for the throne herself demonstrates that she only had a moderate degree of political power. This emphasises that a women’s primary role within court was one that was allied with the family and the household.

Within the Safavid dynasties, marriage was used to consolidate power.[15] This would have allowed women to further the political course of the empire through an advantageous marriage. By intermarrying with military and civil dignitaries of Turkic and Iranian origin, more local states were incorporated into the Safavid empire.[16] Women were therefore instrumental, and were frequently married more than once.[17] It would be through their mother that the children of Safavid princesses would inherit, giving the latter a degree of political power as through marriage they could secure their place within the Safavid court through their son’s inheritance.[18] An example of this is Shah Abbas I’s incorporation of Mazandaran into the Safavid state, due to familial connections from his mother’s side at the end of the 16th century.[19] This provided women with a moderate degree of political power. Although they were not able to directly wield it, they were still able to secure their place, and the place of their children, through an advantageous marriage.

There are rare examples of queenship across all three empires. Within the Ottoman dynasties, female sultans were privileged not with political power but with freedom.[20] Within the Safavid empire, Khayr al-Nisa Begum governed the Safavid state from February 1578 to July 1579.[21] She was the wife of Shah Mohammed Khodabanda, and it is recorded that ‘no affair was conducted without her advice.’[22] She had a considerable influence within the Safavid court, and held administrative roles, made military decisions and approved royal decrees.[23] However her constant quarrelling with the Qizilbash amirs prompted the comment that the Shah should ‘rule by himself and not delegate his power to a woman.’[24] This power struggle climaxed in July 1579, when Khayr al-Nisa Begum and her mother were strangled in the royal harem by the Qizilbash.[25] Judging by the Qizilbash’s response, it appears that it was the gender of the Shah’s wife that should have halted her ability to wield political power. This gives the impression that in society, female rulers were not accepted. Despite her high political influence, her power could not be maintained and was thwarted by other men within the Safavid empire. This leads to the conclusion that across the dynasties, women only wielded a moderate degree of political power.

Women wielded power through their patronage, and although this cannot be considered as a direct political influence, it would have enhanced the legitimacy of their ruling families. Within the Ottoman empire, status would be conveyed by the number, location and the designs of buildings that were commissioned by patrons.[26] Princess Mihrimah had two mosque complexes built in Üsküdar and Edirnekapi, the inscriptions of which proclaimed her privileged status.[27] She was also the first princess to commission a monumental mosque complex in Istanbul, in memory of her deceased brother.[28] Building mosques styled the ruling dynasty as Islamic, increasing its legitimacy to rule. Within the Safavid empire, princess Gawhar-Shad Begum was recognised as the largest patron of charities and the arts.[29] She also was a recognisable figure on the political scene in the first half of the 15th century, demonstrating that her political power was tied to her patronage. Many Mughal women acted as the patrons of shrines, such as Nur Jahan, who was married to Jahanghir.[30] She built several ships and independent palaces, using her political influence to impact the culture of the Mughal empire.[31] She was seen as an ‘exceptionally powerful woman,’ and considered to be a co-regent to her husband.[32] Patronage can be seen as an example of indirect political influence, as through her status in the Mughal Court Nur Jahan was able to affect the culture and appearance of the Mughal empire. This cements the idea that women possessed political power to a moderate extent, as although they could use this power to influence patronage there were still limits as to how they could influence political policy directly.

Mehmet II established a Palace School in order to educate young women of the Ottoman empire.[33] They were taught feminine arts, such as sewing and embroidering.[34] This tells us that women were educated in the domestic sphere and were not intended to exercise political power within the Ottoman empire.

In contrast, during the Safavid empire, young women were subject to the same curriculum as young boys, and were encouraged to study the Qu’ran and principles of the Shari’a.[35] Both sexes were taught about rules of civility and social behaviour.[36] Judging by this curriculum it could be argued that children within the Safavid ruling families were subject to greater gender equality than in the Ottoman empire.

The Mughal’s ensured that royal women were educated in many subjects including Maths and astrology, with some learning the Qur’an.[37] Emperor Akbar styled himself as the moral centre and exemplar in the empire, and it is conceivable to think that both men and women were answerable to his high standards.[38] If one were to take this as true, both men and women were supposed to follow the example and rules of Akbar, creating an empire which encouraged equal education. Despite this equality, it appears that this did not impact the female ability to wield political power in their adult life, as women only wielded political power to a moderate extent, as outlined above.

This leads one to the conclusion that women of the ruling dynasties of the Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal empires only wielded political power to a moderate extent, as their attempts at exercising power were not enough to secure their direct political influence at the royal courts. Their main function within court was rooted in the production of children and the family, which, although this would give them a degree of power, it still would not allow them to direct political policy themselves.

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[1] N. R. Keddie, B. Baron, Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender (Yale, 2008), p. 13.

[2] F. Davis, The Ottoman Lady: A Social History, 1718-1918 (Contributions in Women’s Studies) (Conneticut, 1986), p. 1.

[3] Ibid., p. 9.

[4] Ibid., p. 171.

[5] Ibid., p. 171.

[6] M. Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, in Guity Nashat and Lois Beck (eds.) Women in Iran from the Rise of Islam to 1800 (Urbana 2003), pp. 140-169, p. 142.

[7] L. Balabanlilar, ‘The Begims of the Mystic Feast: Turco-Mongol Tradition in the Mughal Harem’, Journal of Asian Studies 69, 1 (2010), pp. 123-147, p. 135.

[8] Ibid., p. 137.

[9] Ibid., p. 137.

[10] Ibid., p. 140.

[11] Ibid., p. 140.

[12] Ibid., p. 141.

[13] A. Truschke, Aurangzeb: The Life and Legacy of India’s Most Controversial King (Stanford, 2017), p. 25.

[14] J. Mikkelson, “The Way of Tradition and the Path of Innovation: Aurangzeb and Dara Shukuh’s Struggle for the Mughal Throne,” in Hani Khafipour (ed.), The Three Empires of the Near East (New York, 2019), pp. 240-263, p. 243.

[15] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 144.

[16] Ibid., p. 144.

[17] Ibid., p. 144.

[18] Ibid., p. 148.

[19] Ibid., p. 148.

[20] Davis, The Ottoman Lady, p. 14.

[21] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 158.

[22] Ibid., p. 159.

[23] Ibid., p. 159.

[24] Ibid., p. 160.

[25] Ibid., p. 160.

[26] C. Isom-Verhaaren, ‘Mihrimah Sultan: A Princess Constructs Ottoman Dynastic Identity’, in Christine Isom Verhaaren and Kent Schull (eds.) Living in the Ottoman Realm: Empire and Identity, 13th to 20th Centuries (Bloomington, 2016) pp. 150-165, p. 157.

[27] Ibid., p. 157.

[28] Ibid., p. 157

[29] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 142.

[30] Ibid., p. 142.

[31] Ibid., p. 143.

[32] Ibid., p. 143.

[33] Davis, The Ottoman Lady, p. 47.

[34] Ibid., p. 47.

[35] Szuppe, ‘Status, Knowledge and Politics in Sixteenth-Century Safavid Iran’, p. 149.

[36] Ibid., p. 149.

[37] Balabanlilar, ‘The Begims of the Mystic Feast: Turco-Mongol Tradition in the Mughal Harem’, p. 142

[38] R. O’Hanlon, ‘Kingdom, household and body: history, gender and imperial service under Akbar’, Modern Asian Studies, 41 5 (2007), pp. 889-923, p. 898.

Saint or Dragon? Johnny Byron’s presentation in ‘Jerusalem’

The protagonist in Butterworth’s 2009 play ‘Jerusalem’ comes in the form of Johnny Byron, a character that has been classed as ‘one of the most compelling, complex and iconic characters in modern British theatre’ by critic Paul Mason. He was portrayed by Mark Rylance. It is no doubt that the audience find the character comical, but it takes a deeper reading of the text to decipher whether Johnny is the hero or the villain of the play. To ascertain an answer, one must look at Johnny’s characteristics, individual moments in the play and his interaction with Phaedra, in comparison to Troy.

Initially, the audience could quite easily jump to the conclusion that Johnny is the dragon, as he may be holding Phaedra against her will. While Pea asks the others about the disappearance of ‘Phaedra Cox,’ Johnny, in the royal court production, is off stage chopping logs. Only a sharp sound can be heard as ‘Johnny splits a log,’ albeit more suspiciously as the scene continues. Although the audience may not have realised yet, Phaedra has already been seen in a ‘fairy’ costume, emphasising her innocence and vulnerability. If one compares this to Johnny’s control over the wood he is chopping, and by extension nature, then he would be perfectly capable of controlling and dominating her. We are then informed that Phaedra is the ‘May Queen,’ which in the context of the play is a highly sexualised pubescent, crowned at the modern ‘Flintock Fair.’ Phaedra is increasingly depicted as a vulnerable young girl, who could easily be controlled or taken advantage of, and currently, Johnny appears suspicious enough to be that person controlling her, making him seem like the dragon who has abducted the fair maiden. Davey’s poor humour about the situation, resulting in the ‘werewolf’ story can also be used to make links with Johnny, as we already understand that the ‘wood’ is his, and that he likes a ‘shag.’ The idea is referenced again at the beginning of act two, with the use of the Barry Dransfield song. Johnny is liberal, and does not fully abide by the laws, as he is a ‘drug dealer.’ At such an early stage in act one; it is plausible to think that, when discussing Phaedra, Johnny is the dragon who is abusing her.

As with most passages in literature, it can also be read differently. This reading presents Johnny as a saintly figure, who is shielding and protecting a vulnerable young girl from her abusive ‘stepfather,’ Troy. Majority of abusers are well known to their victims, and Phaedra does know Troy better than Johnny. Statistics suggest that most abuse cases occur between family members within the home, which could explain why Phaedra has run away from home, multiple times, as Pea explains. When speaking to Troy, Johnny belittles him and taunts him over Phaedra, who he deems a ‘treasure,’ and proceeds to note her ‘big eyes.’ Previously Phaedra had been presented as an innocent, vulnerable girl, but here she is discussed as a sexual plaything in the presence of Troy. Similarly, young girls in manga comics emphasise this idea, as they are designed to be sexually attractive to the reader, and Johnny makes it clear that Phaedra is sexually attractive to Troy, making him the dragon, and Johnny the protective Saint George. Perhaps this sexualising of Phaedra makes her seem like a femme fatale in their eyes, as it is she who draws both men together, subsequently hinting to some kind of conflict, as a reference to the story in which Saint George slays the dragon. In the passage Johnny is not explicitly made out to be a saint, but it is Troy that is implied to be the dragon, thus automatically making Johnny the saint protecting Phaedra. One can link this, as well as the werewolf references, to the tale of Red Riding Hood. This would make Troy the wolf who drools and fauns over the huge, tempting eyes of Red. Phaedra does show willingness to be with Johnny, making him seem even more of a saint. When she finally emerges at the end of act two, in the royal court production, Phaedra calls out for Johnny, as if for protection. Phaedra appears to be safe with Johnny, and stays there by choice to get away from Troy. She also has the ability to ‘command’ Johnny, as seen with the ‘fish in the bag,’ which makes her seem even more comfortable with Johnny, and more at ease than she is with Troy, making him seem like the dragon, and Johnny the saint.

 Johnny can also be seen to have saintly qualities and characteristics. It is clear that his ‘onlookers’ idolise him, and wish to be him, most notably Ginger. Ginger is constantly desperate to gain the approval of Johnny, as can be seen when he pushes Johnny to ‘say’ that he is a ‘DJ.’ Ginger also tries to tell stories in the vivid fluid fashion that Johnny does, but continually fails, much to the disappointment of the audience. Most of the time Ginger is put down by Johnny, as well as the audience, which alternatively could present Johnny as a dragon, who has named the loyal and unassuming Ginger as one of his victims.

Whether this be true or not, it is clear that those at the caravan believe that after the events of ‘1981,’ Johnny does indeed deserve a ‘statute,’ and to be immortalised in stone. They even compare him to King Arthur, a figure of folklore who is believed to return in England’s hour of need. By saying this, the group believe that Johnny deserves to enter into English heritage, culture and folklore, and become immortalised like a saint. Johnny can also be seen as saintly as he cares for children. Although it is his fault that children are seen ‘wandering around at night pissed,’ he still cares for them, and ensures they are safe by allowing them to sleep in his ‘caravan.’ Much like Saint George who protected the people from the dragon, Johnny can be seen to protect teenagers from themselves, as arguably, they are safer at the caravan than they would be if they are wandering about, and this could result in them getting hurt.

As well as saintly qualities, Johnny is also represented as a dragon, or more generally as an animalistic monster, which could have, and perhaps already has, ‘envenomed’ Flintock. Beginning with his ‘feral bellow from the heart of the earth,’ it is made clear that Johnny is an animalistic creature, and is fully at home within the forest. This idea is then elaborated on, as Davey calls him an ‘ogre.’ This particular monster is incomparable to that of a dragon, but a vampire is not. As the play progresses, the apparent ‘danger’ Johnny presents to the to the others does also, as he mentions that ‘all Byron boys are born with teeth.’ This presents Johnny as a mythical, vampiric figure, who is harmful to those around him, like a dragon would be. Byron boys must also be tended to like a ‘wound,’ as there is the danger that he could infect others, and the land, much like the dragon that ‘envenomed all the country.’ Johnny also has the ability to draw people in, and ensnare them, as can be seen when he seduces Dawn. All these qualities do present Johnny as a monster, like a dragon as he has animalistic qualities that are comparable to such a creature.

The ending of the play is also useful when considering the presentation of Johnny, beginning with his branding by Troy. Troy is the dragon, and Johnny is the saint in this instance, for obvious reasons. It is Troy who orders his men to wield the ‘blowtorch,’ which is symbolic of a fire-breathing dragon. In the royal court production of the play, Johnny also makes the sign of the crucifix, portraying him as a saintly figure, which is suffering to protect others. He visibly gives himself up to Troy and his henchmen, further likening him to a saint-like figure, or even Jesus, who surrendered himself in the garden of Gethsemane in order to save mankind. This idea is further explored in his last conversation with Ginger.

Ginger is Johnny’s most loyal supporter throughout the play, and always seems to jump to his aid. Although Ginger did run away upon seeing Troy, one must ask themselves what use he would have been against him, as in the royal court production, Troy appeared significantly stronger than the ‘lanky’ Ginger. However, he does return, and vows to protect Johnny from the council, which has less chance of success than the previous situation with Troy. Johnny denies that he and Ginger are ‘friends’ and decides to send him away, in a forceful and aggressive manner. This could make Johnny seem like a dragon, purely because he is acting in a hostile manner, much like a dragon does. This reading, that Johnny is here being a dragon, is more metaphorical than literal, as it is based on his personality, and his volatile behaviour in this context. Alternatively, Johnny can be seen to protect Ginger, and shield him from harm and hurt in sending him away. This could be Johnny thanking Ginger, albeit in a horrid fashion, for his years of service and loyalty. This would make Johnny a saint, as he is protecting the weak, as he knows that Ginger will not survive this confrontation. Johnny also knows that the only way to get rid of Ginger is to be vile to him, as Ginger is used to being made fun of. Johnny now abandons Ginger in a more severe fashion, to ensure that Ginger hates him enough to leave him behind for the council to find. Johnny sacrifices his friendship with Ginger, for Ginger’s own sake, and perhaps himself, as Johnny will not survive such a confrontation, making him appear as a saint-like martyr.

Johnny’s ever changing representation in the play makes for dramatic and interesting viewing, particularly when considering whether Johnny is the saint or the dragon. At the beginning of the play, it is insinuated that he is the dragon, but this is due to the fact that the audience do not know the character of Johnny well enough, or the character of Troy. As Troy is implied to be the abuser, Johnny instead appears as the saint, as it is he who is shielding and protecting Phaedra, and later Ginger, from harm and suffering.[1]

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[1] Quotes from:

Jez Butterworth, Jerusalem, (London: Nick Hern Books, 2009).

Why is Guy Fawkes day celebrated?

Everybody knows of Guy Fawkes because of his involvement in the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. Guy Fawkes was caught while guarding a cache of explosives under the House of Lords, with the intention of blowing up the Protestant king James I and replacing him with a Catholic head of state. Fawkes had become involved in the plot the previous year, and was introduced to a small band of Catholics, led by Robert Catesby. The plan that they formed involved Guy Fawkes lighting the fuse and then escaping across the Thames, while a rebellion was to be started in the Midlands, with the intent of capturing James’ Protestant daughter Princess Elizabeth. The crisis was luckily averted when the plan was leaked in an anonymous letter addressed to William Parker, 4th Baron Monteagle, advising him to not go into Parliament on that specific day, the 5th of November. The letter stated that Parliament ‘shall receive a terrible blow… and yet they shall not see who hurts them.’

Upon his arrest, Guy Fawkes was tortured for the names of his twelve co-conspirators, and it is speculated that he was racked. After withholding information for several days, he gave the names of the men who he had worked with. Fawkes was executed on the 31st of January 1606 along with Thomas Wintour, Ambrose Rookwood and Robert Keyes. However, Fawkes managed to avoid the pain of being hanged, drawn and quartered, as he fell from the scaffold before and broke his neck.

The infamous letter

The thwarting of the plot was a major triumph and success for the kingdom. In commemoration, James I decreed that people should celebrate the failure of the plot with bonfires, provided that they were not too large or too dangerous. Several months later, the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act decreed that the 5th of November should be celebrated as a thanksgiving for the plot’s failure. This was suggested by Edward Montagu, who believed that James’ divine protection and deliverance deserved some recognition. The day has not survived fully since its inception, and its celebration has been tarnished and associated with begging and violence. Sometimes effigies of the Pope would be burnt by the Puritans instead of Fawkes. However, with the advent of the 20th century, Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes day, has become a social occasion complete with bonfires and firework displays.

Fawkes himself as become synonymous with the plot, so much so that effigies are regularly burnt of him during Bonfire Night. This also led to the development of the Guy Fawkes mask, a stylised depiction of him that still survives and runs through popular culture today. The mask gained higher popularity and recognition with its use in the 2005 film ‘V for Vendetta.’ From then on the, the Guy Fawkes mask became a popular symbol of resistance against governmental tyranny.

A Guy Fawkes mask

Apparently, Guy Fawkes also haunts the Guy Fawkes Inn at York. There have not been many sightings of him, but there have been some reports. This location was the site of Guy Fawkes’ birth. Perhaps he achieved the fame that he wanted after all.

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Close Analysis: The Chequers Ring

This ring is one of the last surviving pieces of Elizabeth I’s jewellery collection, and dates back to the mid 1570s. It has a mother-of-pearl hoop, which is rare and expensive. The ring is also encrusted with cut rubies. White diamonds on the bezel form ‘E’ for Elizabeth, and ‘R’ for Regina can also be seen made with blue enamel, which is a type of porcelain. The presence of pearls may be a reference to Elizabeth’s virginity. The locket opens to reveal a side profile portrait of Elizabeth, and another woman. Some believe it is her mother, Anne Boleyn who was executed in 1536, partly because the figure sports a French hood, which dates back to the mid 1530s. Anne herself was known for wearing French fashion. During Elizabeth’s reign, more portraits were commissioned of Anne, so it is conceivable to think that the figure could be her. Others, because of the figures reddish hair believe it to be Catherine Parr, whom Elizabeth was very close to. Catherine Parr, after Henry’s death, later married Thomas Seymour, which is interesting as, the symbol of a phoenix is present at the back of the bezel. This would strengthen the idea that the ring was a gift from a Seymour, but again, this is subject to debate. A third theory is that the portrait is in fact one of Elizabeth in her youth.

If this were to be the case, the ring could reference three of the most powerful families at the time, the Boleyn’s, the Seymour’s and the Tudors themselves. It would be nice to think that the portrait is of Anne, although it is believed that Elizabeth seldom mentioned her. Some historians theorise that the ring is proof of Elizabeth’s affection for her mother, and perhaps acts a reminder to her to not make the same mistakes that she did. It is one of those objects that could be interpreted in many different ways, but it what it does signify is the power of the females that it ties to. All three women associated with the ring are immensely important to British history, and the images, jewellery and presentation of them in the shape of a ring, traditionally associated with femininity, demonstrate the strength of their power, and by extension, female power.

The ring also represents the end of the Tudor dynasty, as Elizabeth herself chose to remain unmarried and childless. There is a popular legend that Elizabeth’s relative Robert Carey plucked the ring from her finger when she died at Richmond Palace. Robert Carey’s father was Henry Carey, the son of Mary Boleyn. Carey took it straight to James I, as proof Elizabeth’s death and James’ ascension to the throne of England. James and his Queen Anne of Denmark dispersed and subsequently lost Elizabeth’s jewellery collection. The next trace of the ring comes in the form of Alexander Home, who received the ring from James I. It descended through the Home’s family and was then acquired by Arthur Lee, the Viscount Lee of Fareham. Lee then presented his country house for the use of the Prime Minister, and with it, its extensive collection of historical artefacts. The iconic ring remains there.[1]

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[1] Information taken from:

And my own knowledge.

‘Goblin Market’ Close Reading: The Fallen Woman, Female Sexuality and the Bible

Christina Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ primarily serves as a warning to women about indulging in their sexual desires. Laura’s interaction and excessive gorging of the Goblin fruit allude to her indulgence in her sexual desires, and Rossetti uses the tale to warn women of the dangers of such activities. The passage being studied, lines 115-162, takes place after Laura’s first encounter with the Goblin Men and recounts her buying of the fruit.

Fruit is symbolic of sexuality, and Laura’s obsession with it supports the idea that she is indulging in her sexual desires with the Goblin Men. Marina Warner argues that the consumption of the fruit symbolises sex, and this metaphor further solidifies the idea that, by consuming the fruit, Laura is indulging in her sexual desires.[1] The uneven rhyme scheme alludes to a chant, a string of words shouted by one group in unison.[2] This presents a disturbing image, as the young Laura is outnumbered by the Goblins who encourage her to indulge in the fruit, and therefore her sexual desires.

Laura does not just eat the fruit but gorges herself to excess. The repetition of ‘suck’d’ demonstrates the magnitude of her sexual appetite, and desire to consume the fruit in its entirety. Laura is unable to stop herself from eating the fruit, even when her lips grow ‘sore,’ implying that her desire to indulge in the fruit outweighs any physical pain that occurs from the strain of consuming it. This provides an insight into her lack of care for her physical self and her reputation. Laura’s gluttony disorientates her, and she concludes that she ‘knew not was it night or day,’ emphasising the intensity of her feasting, which has affected her senses. Her cognitive ability is also compromised, which is reflected in the lack of grammatical coherency in the above quotation. Rossetti warns women of the direct effects of indulging in their sexual desires excessively, through Laura’s experiences.

It is significant that Laura gorges herself to excess, as this highlights the dangers of female sexuality. Laura’s obsession with the fruit is directly linked to her large sexual appetite, which would have been discouraged by Victorian society, as such appetites would have threatened Victorian social ideals. Victorian women were prized for their virginity and purity, and the loss of it would ruin their reputation. They were not supposed to enjoy sex, as men did, and would only endure it in order to produce children and fulfil their societal role. Laura’s large sexual appetite would have subverted that of the male population, threatening the stability of Victorian society. Laura’s excessive gorging of the fruit implies the magnitude of her sexual desires, which highlights the dangers, and disruptive nature, of female sexuality within Victorian society.

Lizzie’s warning implies that Laura should have known not be tempted. Lizzie notes that ‘twilight’ is a dangerous time for ‘maidens.’ ‘Twilight’ is the time of day between lightness and darkness. The specificity of this time suggests that Laura willingly sought the Goblins, as such a specific time of day is easy to avoid, and should be, considering it is dangerous. The changeable state of nature also reflects the changeable state of Laura’s purity, which she has now lost, as she has indulged in her sexual desires. It also speaks to her transition from girlhood to womanhood, a change that is facilitated by the loss of her virginity. ‘Maiden’ refers to a virginal woman, implying that, before she left, Laura was a virgin and that her sister still believed her to be so. The previous events validate the truth in Lizzie’s warning to Laura, even though ironically, the former is unaware of her sister’s transformation. ‘Loiter’ implies Laura’s complicity in the situation, as she appears uncaring that she was ‘in the haunts of goblin men.’ Laura willingly ventured into the ‘glen’ at a dangerous time of day, with the intention to find, and buy fruit from the Goblin Men, making her fully culpable. This serves as proof that Laura herself yielded her virginity to the Goblins and indulged in her sexual desires by her own volition, despite the well-established warnings that Lizzie repeats concerning the dangers of twilight and the Goblins.

The story of Jeanie illuminates this further, as it details the later consequences of dealing with the Goblin Men. Following her first encounter, Jeanie ‘pined and pined’ for the Goblins, despite their abandonment of her, much to her distress. The consequences of her encounter are explained through the lack of ‘grass’ on her grave. This implies that she is tainted, due to her encounter with the Goblin Men. Her tainted nature cannot facilitate the growth of new life and nature upon her grave. This serves as Jeanie’s punishment, as she ‘grew grey.’ Such a colour implies Jeanie’s barrenness, and inability to become a wife or mother, which were the traditional roles for women in Victorian society. Jeanie’s story explains the consequences of dealing with the Goblin Men. Similarly, to Laura, Jeanie did ‘loiter’ while seeking the Goblin Men. Jeanie and Laura’s stories appear to run parallel to one another, and Lizzie’s recounting of Jeanie’s story serves as a warning to Laura and other women about consorting with the Goblin Men. Jeanie’s story also foreshadows the fate of Laura, if Lizzie did not intervene.

Laura’s indulgence in her sexual desires result in her becoming a fallen woman. Her form of payment, the ‘golden lock’ is symbolic of her fall, as she offers up a part of her own physical body to the Goblins as payment in exchange for the fruit. This references prostitution and strengthens the idea that she gives up her virginity to the Goblins, as she is parting with a piece of her physical self. The image plays out as a transaction, for which she trades her body for the Goblin fruit. The fact that her hair is gold emphasises its economic value, as well as her beauty. The Madonna-Whore complex could come into play here, as the contrast between her purity and sexual degradation. Her temptation to eat the fruit and her indulgence in it is similar to that of Eve in Genesis, as she too ate the forbidden fruit and fell from the grace of God. This enhances the status of the poem as a whole, to a quasi-religious text, and one that is supposed to be educational. By rendering up part of herself and indulging in the fruit, Laura, like Eve, becomes a fallen woman. This leads Serena Trowbridge to argue that the poem is a ‘parable of sexual sin.’[3] Her use of the word ‘parable’ again likens the poem to a Biblical story, emphasising the idea that Rossetti intended for the poem to be semi religious, and a warning to women against the pursuit of their innate sexual desires.


[1] Mary Arseneau, Anthony H Harrison, Lorraine Kooistra, The Culture of Christina Rossetti: Female Poetics and Victorian Contexts (Ohio, Ohio University Press, 1999) p. 117.

[2] Ibid., p. 118.

[3] Serena Trowbridge, Christina Rossetti’s Gothic (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2015) p. 122.

Was World War One a key turning point in the changing geography of Civil Rights issues in the USA?

Throughout the civil rights movements several events caused black people to migrate around America, and civil rights issues moved with them.

This change began after the end of the Civil War in 1865, following the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. This allowed black people to move freely across the USA. They began to move throughout the 1900s, and this movement continued to move the issues of civil rights throughout America.

The migration of black people during, and before, World War One can be deemed an important turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues in the USA.  The increase of black Americans in the North led to competition for jobs, highlighting civil rights issues as white people and black people found themselves in close proximity to one another, breeding racial tension. Originally, black people moved to the North from the South to escape the lack of jobs. Although black people also sought to escape de jure segregation in the South, they faced de facto segregation in the North. In the South, the cotton industry had declined due to the presence of the Bull Weevil in Texas in 1914. It originated from Mexico, first appearing there in 1982. From 1920 to 1932, the price of cotton dropped from 42 to 5 cents due to lack of demand. Many sharecroppers were impacted and moved north, highlighting civil rights issues in the North, as black people were willing to work for less money than white people, creating racial tension.

World War One can still be deemed an important turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues. The tensions caused by this particular migration during World War One can be seen in several examples of riots. The KKK were revived in 1915. In July 1917, a major race riot occurred in Illinois, which preceded the Red Summer. 48 black people were killed during this time and 300 buildings were destroyed. This highlights how civil rights issues were recognised during the migration of World War One, as competition for jobs led to increased racial tension and the outbreak of a riot. 

Black people began moving to the town of Harlem in New York City in 1905, and this proved to be the most significant turning point for the changing geography of civil rights issues. As black people were concentrated into one specific town, and aided each other by setting up workers unions for black people, this community explored issues of civil rights to a greater extent. This however, led to an increase in racial tension. This migration led to the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, which caused a growth and exploration in black culture. From 1920 to 1930, 87,000 black Americans moved to Harlem. Claude McKay declared it to be the ‘black capital of the world.’

People such as Marcus Garvey fought for black rights, establishing the United Negro Improvement Association in 1914, and he moved to Harlem from Jamaica to promote it. He established the idea that black was beautiful, and advocated the idea of self-help. A. Philip Randolph too demonstrates the significance of the move to, and concentration, of black people in Harlem. In order to combat black unemployment, Randolph set up the National Brotherhood of Workers of America. Due to de facto segregation, black people were barred from joining workers unions. By setting up his own union, Randolph ensured that black people had the opportunity to gain work, thus highlighting civil rights issues in the North.

Racial tension increased in Harlem, leading to a riot in 1943, in which 700 people were injured. The dispute was triggered due to poor resources that black people were afforded. Black schools were of poor quality and in terms of housing, 1979 out of 2191 houses had no windows.

Black people also demonstrated political power in Harlem, as their presence allowed for a black candidate to enter politics within the North, highlighting the changing geography of civil rights issues. Oscar De Priest was elected as a Representative of Illinois in 1929.

Another significant turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues could be the slow drift back to the South beginning in the 1950s. In 1970, 53% of black people lived in the South. Black people began to flee the North due to high crime and a lack of jobs. Areas such as Florida and Texas, located in the ‘Sun Belt,’ offered jobs and employment which proved attractive to black Americans. The North east became known as the Rust Belt, an area of the USA associated with declining industry, after the oil crisis of 1973. Car manufacturing in Detroit also decreased, with the number of firms and employers halving from 1947 to 1977. Initially, black people fled the South due to racism and violence, which was now fast occurring in the North. This changing geography of black people highlights the changing movement of civil rights issues. The move back to the South implies that the civil rights movement was effective to an extent in the South.

In conclusion, the most significant turning point in the changing geography of civil rights issues was the move to Harlem in 1905, which laid the foundations for the Harlem Renaissance, and establishment of a distinct, black culture. As black people formed a united, concentrated group, they were able to find work and even enter into politics.[1]

Thanks for reading!


[1] All information taken from:

D. Murphy, Civil Rights and Race Relations in the USA, 1850-2009 (London, Pearson Education, 2016).

And my own knowledge.

Why does Hamlet delay his revenge?

Critic Kenneth Muir is right in saying that there are ‘many different explanations’ for Hamlet’s procrastination in avenging his father. Hamlet is delayed by others and delayed by himself, as he grapples with his own conscience in his quest to avenge his fathers’ ‘foul and most unnatural murder.’

Hamlet is clearly grieving for his father. In his ‘inky cloak,’ he chastises his mother for suggesting that he looks on Denmark (Claudius) as a ‘friend,’ and goes on to say that the black that he wears does indeed ‘denote’ him. He tells Gertrude that his demeanour indicates that he is grieving, but it is what is ‘within’ that is the truth, and the truth is that he is bereaved. It is clear to the audience that early on in the play, Hamlet is consumed by grief. Claudius and Gertrude appear insensitive, as Claudius declares that Hamlet’s grief is ‘unmanly.’ it is understandable that Hamlet feels isolated, as those who are supposed to care for him instead patronise him, and do not display empathy. This is in part why Hamlet delays his revenge. Hamlet must be solely focused on avenging his father, as he later realises, but in order to be focused on this task he has to make peace with his bereavement. Before he has done this he is tasked with revenge, and he delays this act so he can come to terms with his loss, and clear his mind to make way for the vengeful act. The true extent of Hamlet’s grief is revealed in his soliloquy in act one scene two, in which he hails his father as ‘excellent,’ and compares him to ‘Hyperion’ who in Greek mythology was the human embodiment of the Sun. His idolisation of his father intensifies his grief, and delays his revenge further as it becomes more difficult to come to terms with. The love that he bears for his father leads to a comparison of his father to Claudius, in which he muses that Claudius is ‘no more like my father, than I to Hercules.’ As well as his grief it appears that Hamlet has an underlying anger towards Claudius as he has replaced his father in every way, and he is not worthy of such a position. With these emotions running around in his head, it is clear that Hamlet is addled.

The Ghost confuses Hamlet further, and causes him to descend into hysteria, in which he swears to ‘remember.’ Hamlet’s initial trusting of the ghost dwindles however, as Hamlet then doubts that the Ghost even existed. It is also this doubt that delays Hamlet’s act of revenge, and it begins with Horatio’s fear that the Ghost may draw Hamlet into ‘madness.’ Hamlet tries to adopt the ideas and mindset of Horatio and accept that the Ghost ‘may be the devil.’ Hamlet assesses the idea, and concludes that this could be the case, and that he was taken advantage of due to his ‘weakness and melancholy.’ Hamlet’s moral compass can be seen here, as he does not want to kill Claudius unjustly, and at first seeks to discover whether the Ghost is truly real. The idea also displays Hamlet’s rationality and intelligence. In the Elizabethan age, ghosts were seen to be an ill omen, and Hamlet acknowledges this and thinks seriously before he allows the ghost to ‘damn’ him, if that is the intention of the Ghost. This doubt leads to a detour in the plot, through the deployment and formation of ‘The Mousetrap.’ A great deal of time is spent on the play, with the soul purpose of catching the ‘conscience of the King.’ If Hamlet was certain of the Ghosts’ existence, and had remained in such an impassioned state, it is conceivable to believe that Hamlet would have avenged his father a lot sooner. Hamlet grapples with the idea of seeming, and being, as the Ghost appears real to him, yet may not be. In the closet scene, the idea is looked into further, as only Hamlet can see the Ghost. This casts doubt over the Ghosts’ existence for the audience, yet it is too late for Hamlet to revoke on what he believes he has seen. It can be argued that, following his grief, this doubt is what truly hinders Hamlet’s revenge, as in the scene after the play, act three scene three, Hamlet appears closer to avenging his father than ever before.

After the Dumb Show Claudius finds it difficult to conceal his guilt. This culminates in a confession, which ultimately condemns the ‘rank’ actions of Claudius, and presents Hamlet with an opportunity to kill Claudius. Hamlet comes close to killing Claudius, but does not carry out the deed. After discovering that Claudius did in fact murder his father in the previous act, Hamlet seems more prepared than ever to kill him, but decides to delay again to ensure that there is ‘no relish of salvation in’t,’ ensuring that Claudius does not go to ‘heaven.’ It appears that Hamlet wants to seek justice for his father at the expense of Claudius, leading him to delay the revenge further. This delay however is different, as it is clear that Hamlet does intend to avenge his father. Hamlet appears to plan his revenge, and wants to slay Claudius in ‘rage’ or in ‘th’incestuous pleasure of his bed.’ Due to his intense planning, one can argue that Hamlet was always going to kill Claudius but could not, as he was unsure of the Ghosts existence and did not trust it’s words. Hamlet’s decision to kill Claudius when he is committing an immoral act is likened to the death of his father, who was killed in the ‘blossoms of my sin.’ Now that Hamlet believes the Ghost, he knows that without the Last Rites, Claudius’ soul too will be ‘doomed’ to burn in ‘fires.’ In Elizabethan England, the sacrament of the Last Rites was a core belief in the Roman Catholic Church, and without it, it was believed that souls could be confined to purgatory. This acts as an incentive for Hamlet, as he wishes for Claudius to be punished for murdering his father, and as he has accepted the word of the Ghost, he knows that Claudius will be. Hamlet’s true anger and feelings towards Claudius are conveyed here, and his desperation for Claudius’ suffering provides the reason for the delay in Hamlet’s revenge, as he wants to ensure that Claudius’ soul has the greatest chance of going to hell.

Hamlet’s feelings towards his mother also play a part. During the closet scene, Hamlet’s outburst of anger towards Gertrude delays his revenge in that moment, but whether this is an overarching theme in the play is questionable to an extent. Hamlet does chastise his mother especially in relation to her ‘o’erhasty marriage.’ In addition to his grief, and doubt over the Ghosts’ existence, Hamlet deals with the repercussions of his mothers’ marriage to his uncle. Hamlet’s many emotions appear to delay his revenge and make him appear indecisive, and one of these emotions is his conflicting hatred and love towards Gertrude. He is angered that she has been ‘stained,’ by Claudius, but also angered that she even accepted him, stating that she has his ‘father much offended.’ The pinnacle of Hamlet’s vexation is exposed in act three scene four, as he clearly cannot understand why Gertrude would marry a ‘murderer and a villain.’ This question is key to Hamlet, and without it’s answer, the idea poses another threat to the carrying out of revenge, as it is another obstacle Hamlet must overcome. His view and respect towards Gertrude has dramatically decreased, as she claims that her marriage vows to King Hamlet are now rendered ‘false,’ as she has married the ‘mildewed ear.’ His exasperation aimed at his mother and his confusion over her decision to marry Claudius weighs on his mind, and temporarily distracts him from obtaining his revenge, as the Ghost agrees. The Ghost tells Hamlet that the conversation has a ‘blunted purpose,’ insinuating that clearly, in this scenario, Hamlet’s release of inner anger towards his mother has directly delayed his act of revenge and is pointless.

However, when trying to decipher the reason for Hamlet’s delay in killing Claudius, one could argue that the answer is simple. Many critics agree, including Goethe, that Hamlet is of a ‘pure, noble and most moral nature’ suggesting the idea that revenge is not in the nature of Hamlet. In act two scene three, even Hamlet himself notes that he is ‘pigeon-liver’d,’ and that his actions lack ‘gall.’ He appears to be stuck in a situation of inaction, and in one instance comes close to killing Claudius, but still does not. In contrast, Laertes is certain that he will have his revenge. Upon hearing of his fathers death and witnessing the madness of his sister, Laertes swears that his ‘revenge will come.’ From act four scene five Laertes’ aim is made clear, and remains clear until the end of the play, unlike Hamlet’s wavering feelings. In this respect, it appears that Hamlet’s indecisiveness and moral compass hinder him from exacting his revenge, and give him the impression that he is not cut out for such an act, unlike Laertes. This could lead one to believe that Laertes looks at the issue of honour differently, and more seriously than Hamlet, as the reason for Laertes’ revenge seeking is because his honour ‘stands aloof.’ As Laertes feels his honour is under attack, he immediately acts to reclaim his dignity, unlike Hamlet. This could suggest that Hamlet delays his revenge as he is not the correct person to carry out such an act, and as he does not take honour so seriously enough as to kill a man for it. Although Laertes displays the positive attitude of decisiveness, one could argue that killing another man as he has threatened ones honour displays irrationality. Laertes appears to follow the ancient Roman religion of Fame. This prized family honour above all things, and as a man’s reputation was all that lived after him, it was imperative that justice was done. It fell to his son to take the law into his own hands, and Laertes can be seen to do this by agreeing to avenge his father. Laertes’ pure motivation to avenge his father is due to his damaged pride, which although Hamlet does mention this, it appears that Hamlet seeks to ensure that his father is justly avenged (ensuring that Claudius goes to hell). When discussing Hamlet in relation to Laertes, it can be said that in comparison, Hamlet delays his revenge, as he is not the correct person to carry out due to his lack of decisiveness and drive. His wish to ensure Claudius’ condemnation also delays him, whereas the issue of Laertes’ dignity being restored means that his revenge can be carried out in any situation, unlike Hamlet’s.

As Hamlet has more weighing on his mind than other characters, and has many more character traits, the reason for his delay in avenging is apparent. In contrast to Laertes, his distinct decisiveness and high regard of honour pushes him to plot to kill Hamlet, but Hamlet’s wish to ensure that Claudius suffers delays him. Shakespeare appears to be unfair to Hamlet, as if Hamlet did not have to manage his grief, along with his feelings about Claudius, Gertrude and the existence of the Ghost, his revengeful act may have occurred a lot sooner.[1]


[1] All quotes from:

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. by Ann Thompson and Neil Taylor (London: Arden Shakespeare, 2016).

How did Britain gain control of India?

The complicated relationship between Britain and India began with the formation of the East India Company in 1600, by the command of Elizabeth I. the intention of the company was to explore and to compete with other powers in the East Indies. Britain was not successful here, so turned her attention to India. In 1640, a representative of the Company got a grant of land in southern India and built Fort St George. More forts followed, and Britain began to compete with the Dutch and the French who also had a presence in India. Britain then started exporting spices in 1690.

The decline of the Mughal Empire, signalled by the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, also gave Britain an opportunity to gain more control over India. The falling empire resulted in a power vacuum, which Britain took advantage of. The Bengalese and the French were defeated by the British in 1757, allowing Britain to add more land to their arsenal. The Company overshadowed other European powers, and using their large naval fleet to ferry more and more men to India. People also enjoyed trading with the Company, and Britain had a formidable presence and influence in the south, along with the French.

Warren Hastings’ took the position as the head of the Supreme Council of Bengal in 1772. There needed to be changes, as the East India Company had left land infertile in Bengal, which resulted in a famine two years prior, which caused millions of deaths. Hastings, as well as Robert Clive is credited with laying the foundations of the British Empire in India. Hastings emphasised the importance of learning about the culture and languages of India, believing that this was the only way to understand the country fully. In 1773, Hastings introduced a series of Regulating Acts which helped the East India Company avert bankruptcy. Calcutta was redeveloped and became the capital of British India. He ensured that English civil servants had some sort of understanding of the country and sought to document the history of India with the help of Indian scholars.[1]

The Anglo-Sikh Wars took place throughout the 1840s and saw Britain wage war on the Sikh Empire. Britain won, and as a result, fifteen year old Maharaja Duleep Singh was taken away from his family and homeland to be raised in Britain, under the watchful eye of Queen Victoria. The threat of the Sikhs had been neutralised. As a sign of subservience to Britain, Maharaja Duleep Singh handed Victoria the Koh-i-noor in 1849. Duleep became a favourite of Queen Victoria and was known as the ‘Black Prince’ in Britain.[2]

The Indian rebellion of 1857 rocked the Company. The Company employed local Indian people to work in the army, who were known as ‘sepoys.’ There was already tension present, as the Indian people continued to be exploited by the British, which resulted in a famine. Taxes were high, and the Indian textile industry was not supported. Indians also felt the pressure to convert to Christianity, which caused further unrest.

Word then went around that the bullets that the army were supplied with had been dipped in pig or beef fat, to ensure that the guns were easier to load. Cows are sacred in India, and this fact added to the already increasing unrest amongst the army. This led to a full-scale rebellion. Both sides committed atrocities, with both Indians and British being murdered, including women and children. The Indians were brutally suppressed by the British, and some were tied to cannons in order to be executed. This was an old Mughal punishment. The rebellion ultimately failed due to the differing intentions and religions of those involved, as well as the lack of organisation and funding.

Following the rebellion and bloodshed, the East India Company was disbanded, and India found itself under the control of the Crown. India formed the jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Queen Victoria added ‘Empress of India’ to her title in 1877, under the Royal Titles Act passed by Benjamin Disraeli’s government. Britain also brought several new modes of transport to India during this time, including trains, telegrams and the steam ship.

As time progressed, Indians felt that they were owed independence. The Bengal famine of 1943, and Britain’s poor handling of it caused cries of independence to grow further. The debates continued, with Gandhi on one side and political figures like Muhammad Ali Jinnah on the other, who thought that India should be divided depending on religious territory. British Prime Minister Clement Atlee was sympathetic, and so India achieved independence in 1947. This was not without bloodshed however, as Partition displaced 10-12 million people. British India was split into two independent states, India and Pakistan. The redefining of the borders meant that people were displaced depending on their religious views, and there were numerous incidences of ethnic cleansing across the country. This post is just a snippet of the rich and turbulent history of India.[3]

Thanks for reading!


[1] Kopf, David, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dynamics of Indian Modernization, 1773-1835 (Princeton, 1969), part I, pp. 13-42.

[2] Information taken from

BBC History Magazine, The Story of the Victorians, 2019.

[3] Information taken from:

And my own knowledge.

Torvald Helmer in ‘A Doll’s House,’ Victorian societal expectations and 21st century changes

In Henrik Ibsen’s play ‘A Doll’s House’ Torvald Helmer’s treatment of his wife Nora appears to be in line with 19th century societal expectations of men. As the man of the house, Helmer brings in the money, but also chastises Nora, controls her and is at times cruel to her. When discussing what has changed in the 21st century, it can be argued that the actions of Nora symbolise the developing and changing role of women.

In the opening stage direction, it is noted that the Helmer’s live ‘comfortably and tastefully.’  What Ibsen describes is a classic bourgeois family, judging by his description of the house and the role of Nora. Ibsen even wrote the play for the middle class urban audience, writing it in ‘riksmal,’ the official language of the church and state. Although Nora is in charge of the house, it is still decorated in the way that ‘Torvald likes,’ emphasising the control that he exercises over the whole household. This plays to the ideology of the ‘separate sphere,’ which describes the ‘natural habitats’ of a man and woman. The fact that women had such great influence in the home was even used as an argument against giving them the vote in Britain. Nora, as the wife, plays an important domestic role, whereas Helmer fulfils his financial duties. Although it appears that the roles of men and women were distinct, Helmer still influences the decisions that Nora makes when furnishing the household. The fact that one can gather so much from the stage directions is also a trait of the ‘Well Made Play,’ which depicted the normalities of life populated with identifiable characters. Nora and Helmer are identifiable in this way, as they represent the classic middle class roles of men and women in the 19th century, and Helmer in particular is concerned with social values and image, bringing the character in line with societal expectations.

Helmer is developed in line with societal expectations purely because he is the man of the house, and brings in all family income. The survival of the family rests on Helmer, as the man of the house, which further emphasises the importance of the loan, as Nora effectively ‘saved Torvald’s life,’ and by extension, that of her family. This is in line with the idea of a patriarchal society. Helmer works hard, and values that his house is not founded on debts, as if it were, it could never be a ‘place of freedom and beauty.’ Helmer’s romanticizing of his financial situation emphasises its importance to him, in contrast to Nora’s spending. Helmer is seen frequently carrying ‘papers’ and exiting to go to the ‘office,’ further emphasising and defining the role of the traditional 19th century man, who, during this time commuted to his place of work. It is fitting that Nora’s attempts at ‘being a man’ stretched to ‘copying,’ as she does not fully understand how hard Helmer works, and acts as a foil to this.

Helmer can also be seen as spiteful and disrespectful towards his wife, and although this may not define all Victorian men, it is worth noting that he enjoys controlling Nora. He calls her a ‘squanderbird’ and wags ‘his finger’ at her when she spends money. As a squanderbird would not survive in the winter, Nora depends on Helmer, as Helmer depends on being in control of her. His security depends upon him feeling superior, as proved by the games they play, and Nora’s cooing that she will do ‘lots of pretty tricks for him.’ This is paternalistic, as Nora adopts the role of surrogate daughter, and delights in rebelling against Helmer when buying ‘macaroons.’ This show the first signs of changes that develop through the 21st century, and also foreshadows Nora’s act of rebellion against societal expectations at the end of the play. Helmer however, maintains his focus on typical values, mocking Nora and calling her ‘little Miss Independent.’ This demonstrates his delight in being in control, and also how he mocks her, and her gender. By declaring that the ‘germs of evil’ are ‘always spread by the mother,’ Helmer develops his own philosophy and view of societal roles, and continues to chastise Nora in her role as the mother.

Helmer also controls Nora sexually. When asking which character runs the doll’s house, and who is playing with the dolls, one could see Nora as Helmer’s sexual plaything. He even notes her ‘pretty eyes’ and ‘delicate little hands,’ describing her like a china doll. Nora also plays up to this idea, and uses her sexuality to gain money from him. Notably, she does this by the ‘stove’ which represents a place of warmth and love, where Helmer, who has just come in from the cold, is pliable to her demands and sexuality. It is obvious that in the play, Nora’s behaviour allows Helmer to control her, as while she begs him for money, she plays ‘with his coat buttons,’ leaving him in a superior position, which she has placed him in. One could argue that she is in control, as she gets what she wants also. He enjoys this, as well as her use of her sexuality, and delights in indulging his wife. Nora’s declaration that she could never go against Helmer’s ‘wishes’ emphasises her significance, as she too shapes Helmer and brings him in line with societal expectations, as the man was the dominant figure in the home. In contrast, the ideal wife was painted in Coventry Patmore’s poem ‘The Angel in the House,’ and was described as charming and graceful. In this instance, Nora is both of these things. Helmer’s decision to have Nora ‘dance the tarantella’ supports this idea, as he will enjoy seeing her dressed as a ‘fisher girl.’ This dance will also tire her out, and make it easier for Helmer to seduce her afterwards.

It is worth mentioning that Nora may not be seen as the conventional 19th century woman when discussing sexuality, as when she brandishes her ‘flesh’ coloured stockings in front of Doctor Rank. This is the 19th century flirting. The sexual appetite of a woman was discouraged, and emphasis was placed on the pursuit to become a mother, not sexual fulfilment. When relating Nora to the changes of the 21st century, one could argue that she embodies this change, and acts outside of the societal norms, by parading her intimate clothing in front of Doctor Rank. If one were to read the play in a feminist light, it would be perceived that Nora walking out at the end exemplified the breaking of societal norms, and the freeing of the bird from the cage. With this same reading, one could argue that Nora’s seductive actions toward Rank, whether she is aware that they are or not, signal her beginning to break societal norms, and move towards the more accepting attitudes of the sexuality of women in the 21st century.

When examining Helmer, one can see that he fits into societal norms with his arrogance. Helmer’s attitude towards Nora and her father exemplify this. Helmer insults her father, declaring that he did not have an ‘unassailable reputation,’ but that he does. This is an example of dramatic irony, as Helmer doesn’t realise how much he truly owes to his wife, and how the loan could destroy his own reputation. Helmer’s declaration brings him in line with societal norms further, as it reiterates the point that he cares greatly about social standing and image. It is this realisation that, at the end of the play, pushes Nora to leave him. Nora also acts as the catalyst for the dismissal of Krogstad, which stems from his ‘petty’ hatred of Krogstad calling him by his Christian name, claiming it to be improper. In the 19th century, this would establish the two as equals, and as Helmer is concerned with maintaining his authority, for him, this was a grave error. This develops the character of Helmer in line with societal roles, as he conforms to ideas about class, and what respect constituted. In response to the character of Helmer, Michael Meyer, in 1965, declared that what was needed was a ‘revolution of the spirit of man.’ It is Helmer’s attitude that pushes Nora to leave at the end of the play, allowing her to embody the changes of the 21st century.

When discussing what has changed within the 21st century, it is fair to argue that women have a greater, and more equal role, in society. Nora frequently appears to be breaking the traditional role of the submissive and meek wife. Her role in the story is not only defined by Helmer, as it is he who instructs her how to furnish the house, but is also defined by the loan. Such an act was illegal in the 19th century, unlike now. Nora, although it may not be seen as strenuous, also took little jobs to pay off the loan, and one should not look at her so ‘patronisingly,’ as she did save Helmer from ruin. Kate Millett, in 1971 noted that ‘Nora confronted every convention and the chivalrous masculine prejudice that caged her.’ Nora’s restlessness, especially at the beginning of act two, likens her to a bird who is trapped in a cage, waiting to break free from the societal bonds and stereotypes that entrap her. In this respect, Nora embodies what has changed within the 21st century, in contrast to Helmer’s portrayal as the classic 19th century man.[1]


[1] All quotes from:

Henrik Ibsen, A Doll’s House, ed. by Nick Worral (London: Bloomsbury, 2008).

Was there political instability in Elizabeth I’s government?

Elizabeth encountered several problems throughout her long reign which included faction, developing from Cecil and Essex, war and the issue of succession. But did these issues cause significant political instability?

The development of faction with Elizabeth’s government only led to moderate political instability within England. John Guy notes that Essex and Cecil ‘rivalled’ each other and that the ‘feud escalated.’ Both Essex and Cecil vied for the queen’s affection, and she had to manage them effectively to ensure that one did not overpower the other. By doing this, Elizabeth ensured that she could use both Essex and Cecil in ways that benefitted her in an attempt to ‘control her policy.’ Cecil’s father William was a close political adviser to Elizabeth, and him and his son both demonstrated Elizabeth’s caution and restraint when dealing with foreign affairs, which elevated him to become the Queen’s Secretary in 1596, unlike Essex. Essex resembled one of the old nobles, and his status depended on being close to Elizabeth, and through her patronage. Essex displayed an appetite for glory and war, and had some successes in Cadiz. The difference and conflict between both factions caused the ‘atmosphere’ in court to deteriorate as Elizabeth found herself playing peacemaker between the two factions. However, although this makes faction seem like a serious threat, Guy’s evidence makes it appear that it is only a moderate one, as Essex is eventually ‘forbidden royal presence’ in 1598. This demonstrates Elizabeth’s sovereignty at court, as she is able to bar him from seeing her. This led to the downfall of Essex as his power depended on his closeness to her and his patronage. This shows that overall; the threat of faction was only moderate as Elizabeth was able to put an end to it. Initially Loades argues that faction is of much greater threat, as he notes that the ‘younger gentry’ saw Essex as the ‘man of the future.’ He comments that Essex house became ‘headquarters for a faction.’ Following Essex’s house arrest in 1599 Elizabeth didn’t renew his monopoly on sweet wines the follow year, causing him to fall into debt. Essex’s rapid decreasing in favour weakened his position, and so in 1601 planned to use armed force to capture the court and the queen. Essex, as Loades argued, ‘stirred up some of his followers to plot murder,’ and when the court was alerted, Essex launched a revolt and 140 men marched towards London. This failed however, and after Essex House was besieged, Essex was captured. Loades notes the moderate nature of the incident stating that the revolt ‘could have caused a dangerous insurrection’ if it had been ‘efficiently managed.’ Essex was executed on the 25th of February 1601 following the revolt, demonstrating the lack of threat that he presented. This put an end to the presence of faction within Elizabeth’s court, demonstrating that Essex was not strong enough to overpower her of the court. Loades’ assertion, that the revolt was not well managed, demonstrates the lack of threat, forming the conclusion that faction only posed a moderate threat to Elizabeth’s government as supported by Guy and Loades.

Another factor that led to political instability in England was the issue of war. The Spanish Armada were a constant threat after their defeat in 1588, and Guy notes that Essex was frequently ‘urging campaigns in Europe.’ Essex favoured the idea of national glory and tried to persuade Elizabeth to enter into foreign wars, unlike Cecil who had a cautious attitude to foreign affairs. Guy also Essex’s favour began to diminish before his ‘departure to Ireland.’ Tyrone’s revolt began in 1593 and became a full scale revolt by 1595, and was led by trained English and Spanish captains. Tyrone began with an army of 100 infantry, 4000 musketeers and 1000 pikemen, demonstrating the scale and size of the revolt, making it a significant factor that led to political instability. English supply lines were stretched, and the added threat of Spain made the threat of war a significant factor that led to political instability during the reign of Elizabeth. Loades notes that the ‘grinding effort of the war’ contributed to a turbulent time in England. With the intervention of Lord Mountjoy, the revolt came to an end in 1603, again demonstrating that the threat of war was not significant enough to cause genuine instability as it was put down.

Another factor that caused political instability in England was the issue of succession. Loades alone notes that Elizabeth’s ‘ageing rule’ and the fact that her reign was ‘drawing to a close’ caused instability within England, and particularly caused conflict between Elizabeth and Parliament. In 1563 and 1566, Parliament brought up the issue of succession, which angered Elizabeth. In response, she stated that Parliament should only concern itself with matters of ‘commonweal,’ meaning matters concerning the people and not her own successor. Loades argues that the issue of succession caused ‘widespread restlessness and dissatisfaction.’ This could imply that the issue of succession led to the growth of the Cecil and Essex factions, perhaps arguing that the instability caused from faction originally came from Elizabeth’s ambiguity over her successor. Although this conflict in Parliament over succession did cause political instability, Elizabeth still possessed more power than Parliament due to her prerogative powers.

Considering that the issues of faction, war and conflict with Parliament were easily quashed by Elizabeth, it is clear that significant political stability was avoided.[1]

Thanks for reading!

All information taken from:

[1] A. Grundy, Religion and state in early modern Europe, (London, Pearson Education, 2015).

And my own knowledge.