Black Humour and Cat’s Cradle

Voltaire said that heaven has given us two things to compensate us for the many miseries of life, hope and sleep. He might have added laughter to the list.1

The phrase Black Humour has the broad meaning of poking “fun at subjects considered deadly serious or even taboo by some”2. This definition is simple, and yet embodies an important idea that is often lost in more complex definitions: the idea that Black Humour can actually be “fun”, and provoke laughter. This is not, of course, the only important aspect of the term, and I shall explore some of the other important defining features of Black Humour before moving on to discuss its use in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle3.

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Throne of Blood: Is it Shakespeare?

There has been some debate amongst critics about whether cross-cultural adaptations of Shakespeare, such as the film Throne of Blood, are so removed from the source text that they are no longer Shakespeare. In this paper I will be looking at the sources of influence in Throne of Blood that have contributed to this perceived ‘distancing’ from Macbeth, and the main differences between the two texts.

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“Who Does She Think She Is?” A Quest for Understanding in Tirra Lirra by the River.

It has been suggested that “Tirra Lirra by the River can be regarded as a novel which aims eventually at a better understanding”2. In my opinion understanding is achieved at two levels in the novel. The first type of understanding is personal and introspective, and is discovered by the central character. The other is societal, achieved through allegory and symbolism, and aimed at the reader.

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Thurber’s Carnival

“… In comedy … the broken frame must be presupposed
but never spelled out.”1

The Fables for Our Time contained in Thurber’s The Thurber Carnival are, in my opinion, particularly good examples of a writer successfully ‘breaking frames’ in order to create humour and satire. In this essay I am going to explore the main methods Thurber uses to create humour and satire in the fables “The Shrike and the Chipmunks” and “The Unicorn in the Garden”2.

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‘True’ Love or Not To Love?

“But wene ye that every wrecche woot
The parfit blisse of love?”1

From the beginning the reader knows that “Troilus and Criseyde” is both a romance and a tragedy, for if the name of the poem and the setting of doomed Troy are not enough of a clue, Chaucer’s narrator tells us so explicitly. This is a tale of:

The double sorwe of Troilus to tellen,

In lovying, how his aventures fellen
Fro wo to wele, and after out of joie2

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Daughters of Chaos: An examination of the women in King Lear and Ran

The barbarous Scythian,
Or he that makes his generation messes
To gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom
Be as well neighbour’d, pitied, and reliev’d,
As thou my sometime daughter1.

Although there is reasonably wide consensus amongst critics that Akira Kurosawa’s film Throne of Blood is an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Mabeth2, his film Ran is more problematic. For while it has many similarities of theme, character and action
to King Lear, it is by no means a straight forward adaptation of the play, or even its plot. In particular, the women are pushed from the political centre in King Lear to the domestic margins in Ran.

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A Seat At The Round Table: Patriarchal Propaganda

… Yet we should not forget that it was the entire traditional appeal
of the Arthurian story that made effective its repeated use as … propaganda.1

The Round Table of Arthur’s court is a place of equals. A table with no head or foot, and therefore no seats of high or low status. A table around which all knights have equal honour. But as in Animal Farm “some are more equal than others”2. There is an unstated definition of who is equal enough to sit at the Round Table encoded within medieval Arthurian romance texts – noble born men who have proven themselves as knights. Women, peasants, merchants, Jews, and Moors (to list but a few alternative groups) are not equal enough to sit at the Round Table.
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The Magic of Sir Orfeo

Each was taken like this from our world,
And with fairy magic brought to that place. 1

Sir Orfeo is a poem or lay, that is typical of the romance in that its characters are confronted with the presence of magic in their world, a “serene intermingling of the unexpected with the everyday”2. It has been suggested that “references to magic and enchantment in the romance are usually an attempt to mystify political or sexual power relations”3. The twin concerns in Sir Orfeo are of kingly honour/duty, and true love, or put another way, political and sexual power relations. Do the elements of magic present in the tale mystify these central themes? According to Peter Lucas, both these bonds are at least tested by magic.

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A fruitful fruitless search for the One True Meaning in The Nun’s Priest’s Tale

It has been suggested that a “Chaucer tale exploits the nature of its genre but also draws attention to the ideological biases and exclusions inherent in the genre”2. In my opinion The Nun’s Priest’s Tale is a wonderful example of Chaucer testing the bounds of his chosen genre – in this case the beast fable.

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The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey

A Plaguing Paradox:
An Exploration of Meaning in The Navigator

The Navigator is an ambitious ‘time’ travel film set in both the fourteenth and twentieth centuries. It utilises many of the visual techniques common to action or suspense films (montages of short takes from differing viewpoints, foreshadowing using partial views of action) and yet has a seriousness not usually to be found in either of these genres. It also differs from these types of films in that it does not spoon-feed the audience its meaning. As a consequence the themes are often somewhat contradictory, and certainly thought-provoking. In this essay I will explore some of the themes the film seems to suggest, and why interpretation could be seen as problematic.
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