Essay, Research Paper: Carnivalism And Bakhtin

Literature: Shakespeare

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"Carnivalization" is the term used by Mikhail Bakhtin to describe the
shaping effect on literary genres. The idea of carnivalism is the discourse of
structuralism. Carnivalism is the opposite of everything deemed
"normal". Bahktin describes it as: "...the true feast of time,
the feasts of becoming, change and renewal. (45)" Carnival originated from
the Feasts of the Church. The feasts were a serious, formal occasion in which
strict patterns were closely followed. Emphasis was placed on social standing.
It was considered a "consecration of inequality (45)." However, during
Carnival, everyone was considered equal. The festivities of Carnival were very
popular, everything was turned upside down (the smart become stupid, rich become
poor, etc.; fantasy and reality become one). "The jolly relativity of all
things is proclaimed. (45)" Carnivalism is evident throughout literature,
but it is very noticeable during the Renaissance. The Socratic dialogue is an
example of the earliest carnivalised literary forms. Two of the most familiar
forms of carnivalism are Alisoun; the Wife of Bath from Chaucer's The Canterbury
Tales and Falstaff, from Shakespeare's Henry IV. Alisoun, asserts her own
overbearing assessment of the roles of women in society and relationships. The
Wife has often been written off as a shrew-like bombast simply sprouting her
dissatisfaction. She is the opposite of what women were expected to be in her
time. She seems to take pride in being so contradictory to societal ideals.
Falstaff, like the Wife; enjoys being the center of attention and shocking
people with his outlandish proclamations. He is a con man, coward, and thief.
Although people would never admit it, they secretly enjoy hearing the lewd
stories told by the Wife and Falstaff. The Wife and Falstaff could be described
as grotesque realism. Grotesque realism has no lower level. It is the dark side
of society. The term perfectly describes both characters. They represent the
subconscious of people- the things and ideas that people are afraid to say or
do. Falstaff and the Wife both use apologia to justify their actions. The Wife
has her own unique interpretation of the Bible. She asks where in the Bible is
virginity commanded. She also questions the traditional moral values of medieval
British culture in asking, "... to what end were reproductive organs made,
why are people made so perfectly?" Falstaff justifies his actions by saying
"banish plump Jack, banish all the world." In essence, everyone is
just like him; the only difference is that he doesn't hide it. Bakhtin's
emphasis on carnival goes against the idea that literature must be unified. He
suggests that major literary works may be "multi-leveled and resistant to
unification. (41)" In his essay, "Discourse of the Novel", he
states "when someone else's ideological discourse is internally persuasive
for us and acknowledged by us, entirely different possibilities open
up.(43)" This is the case with the Wife and Falstaff. They represent the
idea that life does not have to be so rigid, it is o.k. to bend the rules a bit.
The Wife of Bath and Falstaff are examples of carnivalism, grotesque realism,
and authoritative discourse. The characters appear to be larger than life when
they are actually only one side of the coin of society. Heads shows society as
it is expected to be, tails shows life as it really is.
Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan, eds. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Malden,
Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc, 1998. Thomas, Michael et al. The
Complete Anthology of Literary Theories. London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1979.
The Effect of Carnivalism on Literature and Society By Monquita Ransom Literary
Theory May 5, 2000 Dr. Lavazzi
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