Allusion and Hamartia

I love older music, one song I happened to listen to this week was We Didn’t Start the Fire by Billy Joel. An old pop song, it is a wonderful landmark of past current-events.

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe
Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana goodbye
Released in 1989, the world had seen major changes in just a few decades prior. Not only does Billy Joel allude to 3 presidencies, but also one of the most infamous: that of Richard Nixon’s. This large opening to the song, and other allusions adding up to the entirety of the tune minus its chorus, would be rather pointless if the audience did not know of the relationship held in his words. Marilyn Monroe would just be another Jane Doe, not the beloved cultural phenomenon. Relying heavily upon the connection of allusion, Billy Joel managed to produce a pop sensation.
In Crash Test Dummies’s Afternoons and Coffee Spoons there is the allusion of “coffeespoons and T. S. Elliot.” to the writer’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Crash Test Dummies is a less mainstream group, but quite catchy, I particularly like Mmm Mmm Mmm.
Achilles has one of the most striking hamartia in mythology. Immune to injury to the entirety of his body except for a small region at his ankle. The Greek hero is supposed to have been dipped in the River Styx, that leads to the Underworld, that gave him his pseudo-immortality. Unfortunately his mother happened to leave him vulnerable at one of the oddest places and most insecure places, far away from the core of the body and at a rather weak joint. According to lore, Achilles was shot with an arrow at his heel, killing him. While begging questions, this hamartia just serves as a plot device to move the story of Achilles along, after all how interesting could another demi-god be?
For Julius Caesar, his hamartia is that of the character Brutus, who ends up killing him in a twisted manner to help Rome.

Old Versions of Othello

One cool thing I noticed between the First and Second Folio is the reflection of the drawing at the top, it probably has no significant reason behind this but they appear to be identical otherwise. It is also fascinating to notice the changes in the written language in only years. For example, “ie” changed to “y”, “do” changed to “doe”, and there became a difference between “u” and “v”. Observing the changes in the language before my eyes begs the question: Did Shakespeare initiate the shift or did he just happen to be around when it occurred? At first I had no idea what the text directly underneath “Othello, the Moore of Venice” meant, but then I realized the odd looking words meant act one, scene 1, yet another change in the language!

As far as the word at the very bottom, I have a theory as to why it is such. Perhaps in reading aloud the manuscript during rehearsal of the enactment, the actors would have an easier time transitioning to the next page with little to no break in their speech. This would result in a much smoother reading of the text.

My favorite part about the Fourth Folio is that it lists who each character is, clarifying any confusion as to the relations between any of the characters. The Quarto 1 looks much closer to modern books, in that it has a title page for the story and that cool British seal.

Pun and Sarcasm

Charles Dickens, famous writer has used literary devices quite often in his work. Pip says: “They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation to me, every now and then, and stick the point into me” (Great Expectations). This play on words uses both meaning of the word point in a literal and metaphorical sense. Shakespeare as well has used puns in his work. Romeo says: “You have dancing shoes with nimble soles; I have a soul of lead” using the homonym in a humorous fashion.

Brutus’s sarcastic use of “honorable” flips the meaning of his speech because the action of the people he is addressing was certainly not honorable (Julius Caesar). Yossarian states that he is “not even sick” despite being in a hospital formulating suspense in the story line (Catch-22).

Oxymoron and Paradox

Shakespeare has written a wondrous piece called Othello we are currently reading in class. Another one of his plays I’ve read is Romeo and Juliet. I read the famous star-crossed lovers story for English III last year. In his renowned mastery of the language, Shakespeare foreshadow’s the intense love Romeo has for Juliet by use of oxymoron:

Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first created!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?

(Romeo and Juliet)

In another example, Shakespeare uses an oxymoron to coin one of his many commonplace phrases in Hamlet:

I do repent; but heaven hath pleas’d it so
To punish me with this, and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So again good night.
I must be cruel only to be kind.
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.


He talks of being mean to his mother in order to help her. While counter-intuitive, the oxymoron provides a means to stress Hamlet’s care for his mother.

In Animal Farm, Orwell uses a paradox to introduce a major concept of his book:

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others


While nearly all the animals began working together, the pigs eventually became greedy and forced the others into servitude.

Again in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses a literary device to portray an idea:

The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;

What is her burying grave, that is Rainbow in her womb

(Romeo and Juliet)

The Friar talks of the Earth being the birthplace while being the tomb of all. Commenting on the cyclic nature of life, returning back to one’s birthplace.


This movie is yet another piece of art crafted by Joss Whedon, creator of Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the past few Avengers movies. While a science fiction novel, this film questions the bounds of society and human behavior, even further than the beloved Star Trek franchise has offered. While highly reviewed by IMDb: 8/10 and Rotten Tomatoes: 82%, Serenity was not popular with the mainstream audience, Serenity has captured the hearts of the cult following of Firefly, the show Serenity sequels, that pushed for its making.

Starring the main cast of Firefly and some favorite extras, Serenity ties up the story in a hasty abridged cancellation of Firefly by the demon that is Fox Entertainment. Not only did it destine the show to failure by absurdly airing the show out of order, the president of Fox coldly claimed the cancellation of the cult classic was a shame. Baloney!

In a riveting story unveiling the history of the creation of the reavers, the main, evil, cannibalistic group in Firefly, Joss Whedon gives his die-hard fans a satisfactory ending to yet another successful franchise.

Empress Myeongseong

As someone of Korean lineage, I felt obligated to learn more about the past of my people. The Koreans are a proud people, full of history and tradition that is being worn away by modern society. The major periods of Korean history were distinguished by dynasties. Time when a particular royal family ruled the nation.

The Joseon Dynasty was one such period. As the first dynasty of Korea, this family was marked for greatness. During the long feud between Japan and Korea, Empress Myeongseong advocated to protect themselves against Japan by aligning with Russia. At the age of 43, she was assassinated due to the threat the Japanese perceived of her (Wikipedia).

I think the most glorious thing about her is her name: “The Filial and Benevolent, the Origin of Holiness, the Proper in Changes, the Uniter of Heaven, the Immensely Meritorious, and the Sincerely Virtuous Grand Empress Consort Myeongseong” (Wikipedia).

She might have died young, compared to her husband who died at 66, she was very ahead of her time (Wikipedia). Actively participating in politics and studying fields considered solely for men (Listverse). I think she can be a great role model for modern women, as a symbol of dignity and purpose.




My first impression? Gardner is pretentious. Not only did he write this super intricate novel adding onto the story of the oldest villain in American literature, but he connected it with philosophy and astrology so well. This combined with the statement in his letter that he spends his valuable time “straighten[ing] out this miserable, confused world” gave me the idea that he thought himself a sort of prophet for the world, spreading his immense knowledge. Also, the way Gardner conveys his interpretation of Beowolf seems somewhat hostile towards David. While he does justify David’s incorrect interpretation, Gardner seemed to ignore the fact that he has analyzed the story of Beowolf  much more than any other person, and he could have been more tactful with his correction. Then, he continues by expressing his disgust at the students’ analysis of his world view. Once again, he was somewhat brutish towards these high schoolers with nowhere near the knowledge of literature he has. He then finishes with a passive aggressive “I’m kidding” which bothered me the most. Gardner ignored the normal convention of a simple thank you letter to this insensitive response.

On the other hand, he does stress the naivety of the way the students read the work. I’ll be the first to say I did not pick up on any of the nuances we have discussed over the past week, which would have been helped by a second/slower read. Gardner then continues by masterfully defending his Grendel and the way in which he wrote, justifying the wide exploration of philosophy he performs via Grendel. I did find it admirable that Gardner chose to discuss existentialism a theory from someone he does not like. Except all he proceeds to do in the novel is use existentialism in a connotative negative medium for the downfall of Grendel.