Monday, July 1, 2013

Gulliver's Travels Notes

Gulliver's Travels is a one-of-a-kind comedy that broke many barriers. It's strange and juvenile, but also daring and a lot of fun. Anyone who picks it up for the first time might be confused, and wonder what this story's all about. So, let's answer some questions:

1. What kind of story is Gulliver’s Travels?

v Proto-Science Fiction – Gulliver discovers many strange beings with strange customs and technologies, like flying towns, for example.

v A Children’s Story – Many parts of the story are considered suitable for children

v Proto-Modernist– Some consider the story to be more complex than it appears because the narrator, Gulliver, changes throughout the story. At the beginning of the story, he appears simple, trusting, and optimistic – a typical young man. But, as he grows older and more experienced, he becomes a cynical misanthrope (someone who hates the human race). But, since it’s the older version who writes the memoir, we realize he’s been writing contemptuously (pohŕdavé) of his earlier self the whole time.

v A Political Satire – This is the closest to what Jonathan Swift intended. The major themes of Gulliver’s Travels are political.

2. What are the themes?

1. Gulliver’s Travels is a parody of the travel writings of the time, which were sometimes unreliable.

2. The political situation in Europe is terrible. Specifically, it was anti-Whig, a political party in Britain.

3. It’s stupid for different religions to argue and fight over little differences.

4. Are people inherently corrupt or do they become corrupt under the wrong circumstances?

5. Connected with corruption, the book insinuates that government can never be ideal because people aren’t ideal.

6. Who is wiser, the “ancients or the moderns”. The ancients refer to Greek and Roman philosophers, such as Virgil, Cicero, Homer, and Aristotle. The moderns refer to whichever philosophers and scientists were active at the time. This was a big debate in Europe at the time, and Sir William Temple, whom Swift worked for, was of the mind that the moderns were, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.” You can see how this influenced Swift. In Book 3, Gulliver speaks with the ghosts of the greatest minds in history and is most impressed (ohromený) with the ancients.

7. Be critical, but don’t be arrogant. Gulliver sees the Lilliputians as stupid little people, but then the giants of Brobdingnag see him as a stupid little person.

8. Just because a group or people may be bad, specific individuals may be very good people, as Gulliver makes friends wherever he goes.

3. Did Jonathan Swift get in trouble for writing this?

v No. Swift published this story anonymously, because he feared prosecution.

v Before Swift sent the manuscript for publication, he paid someone to copy it in different handwriting, so it couldn’t be traced back to him.

v The first publisher, Benjamin Motte, deleted some parts of Book 1, that he considered most insulting to Britain, and added material in Book II, in defense of Queen Anne, in order to avoid prosecution.

v Shortly after the first publication, several other authors continued the story, so it was difficult to say who the original author was. It became a popular way to criticize the government legally, talking about Lilliputians, etc, since there was strict censorship at the time.

v Swift’s friend, Alexander Pope, wrote some poems based on Gulliver’s travels that Swift liked so much, he added them to the second edition.

4. Why was Swift anti-Whig? What’s a Whig?

v The Whigs and Tories were the two major political parties in England at the time.

v Whigs supported a constitutional monarchy, opposing the absolute rule of a king. They were more middle-class. The Tories represented the aristocracy (šľachta).

v Whigs were anti-Catholic, and feared the idea of a Catholic Stuart king, but they tolerated various protestants. Their anti-Catholicism was based on the view that it had become corrupt.

v From 1715-1760 the Tories were expelled from the house of lords, creating the “Whig Supremacy”. Tories lost many jobs in government, law, the army, and the Church of England.

v This happened because Tories were blamed for the failed Jacobite Uprising of 1715, when they supported the Catholic King James of Scotlandas he tried to depose King George I.

v By 1760 the Whigs were so powerful that King George III allowed Tories back into government as a way to balance power.

v Swift was angry at the Whigs because he felt Irish clergy (cirkev? klérus?) like himself deserved more money. There was a special tax called“Queen Anne’s Bounty”. It was raised through income taxes on the wealthiest churches and was given to poorer clergy in England. He didn’t understand why people like himself – ministers of the church of England – shouldn’t get the same help in Ireland. The Whigs in Londondidn’t agree, but the Tories did.

v Swift was also anti-war, and it was the Tories who made the secret, and illegal Treaty of Utrecht, ending the Spanish War of Succession. Swift makes a reference to this in Gulliver’s Travels when Gulliver pisses on a fire to put it out.

5. Where did Swift get all his ideas for the funny names?

v It’s not certain, but some have an explanation. Lindalino, for example, in Book 3, was a city that rebelled against the flying city, Laputo. “La puto” means “the whore” in Spanish. This is a reference to Martin Luthor who called science “the great whore,” so the people of Laputo were exactly the kind that Martin Luthor would hate. The people of Laputo supported arts and sciences which were impractical, such as extracting sunbeams from cucumbers. Lindalino has “lin” written twice, or double, and "double lin" sounds like Dublin, which had recently complained of an inferior copper currency imposed on it by Britain.

v Some names are obvious. Gulliver sounds like Gullible. Lilliputian sounds like little putian, and "put" comes from the Latin word "putus" for boy. And the Houyhnhnms, or horses, get their name from the sound a horse makes.

v Brobdingnag is an anagram of the words, grand, big, and noble, minus the "le."

v Struldbrug is an anagram of dust and grub (larva), with a couple extra letters added in.

But, many of the names and places in Gulliver's Travels are mysterious. It's not confirmed if they have any hidden meanings whatsoever. These include:

Reldresal: Gulliver's best friend in Lilliput
Flimnap: a Lilliputian who hates Gulliver very much.
Glumdalclitch: Gulliver's friend and protector in Brobdingnag. She's the young daughter of a farmer.

Hamlet Notes

The Actors Before Hamlet, by Ladislas von Czachorski 

Basic Facts:

v It’s a tragedy and a revenge play.

v First published in 1603.

v Based on the writings of Saxo Grammaticus (c. 1150-1220) a Danish historian who wrote the first complete history of Denmark.

v The original Hamlet was actually named Amleth.

v It was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in his life time, and is still the most commonly performed today, according to the Royal Shakespeare Company.

v There are three different versions to the play, each with special scenes that are missing from the others. Combined, the play is over 4 hours long, but hardly anyone performs the whole play.

v Hamlet is special for its soliloquies and asides. These are monologues where Hamlet talks to himself, in order to explain his thoughts to the audience. Asides are shorter, usually jokes. This was something new at the time. Most playwrights felt you should simply show the action and let people contemplate what the characters were thinking.

v If the original text seems confusing, it’s not simply because Shakespeare used an older vocabulary. Very often, Hamlet says something with several meanings, especially as he pretends to go crazy. Hamlet had to be cryptic, as he was keeping his father’s secret. The other characters are often just as confused as the audience.

Main Characters:

Hamlet: son of former King, nephew of the present king.
King Claudius: King of Denmark, Hamlet’s uncle.
Queen Gertrude: Hamlet’s mother, Claudius’s wife.
Polonius: Lord Chamberlain, responsible for organizing all court functions –parties, meetings, etc. He likes Claudius, and dislikes Hamlet.
Laertes: son of Polonius. He also dislikes Hamlet.
Ophelia: daughter of Polonius. Hamlet is in love with her.
Horatio: Hamlet’s friend.
Ghost of Hamlet’s Father: former king of Denmark


1. Castle Guards see a ghost that looks like the old king. Horatio finds Hamlet and tells him.

2. Hamlet goes to the ghost, who tells of how Claudius killed him with poison. He wants his son to kill Claudius in revenge.

3. Hamlet goes to tell Ophelia, but changes his mind at the last minute. He says nothing, and she thinks he’s crazy.

Ophelia, by John William Waterhouse

4. Ophelia goes to her father, Polonius, to ask his advice. He assumes Hamlet is just love sick, but goes to tell Claudius about this weird behaviour.

5. King Claudius is suspicious of Hamlet and wants to know why he’s acting strange. Secretly, he’s worried that Hamlet might know the truth about how he killed Hamlet’s father. So, Claudius sends two old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, to spy on him. But Hamlet realizes what they’re doing, and says nothing.

6. Claudius then sends Ophelia to speak with Hamlet, while he secretly listens to the conversation. She finds Hamlet contemplating suicide, “To be, or not to be. That is the question.” He doesn’t trust her, tells her nothing, and tells her to “get thee to a nunnery,”meaning, go join a convent and be a nun, I’ll never marry you. There’s actually a double meaning, as “nunnery” was a slang term for a brothel.

7. Hamlet begins to doubt whether his father’s ghost was telling the truth. So, when travelling actors come to the castle, he has them perform a mini play-within-a-play called The Murder of Gonzago. They re-enact a murder similar to Claudius and his brother, and Hamlet watches the king’s reaction. When Claudius gets up and walks away nervously, Hamlet sees it as proof of guilt.

The Play Scene in Hamlet, by Edwin Austin Abbey

8. After the play, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, summons Hamlet to her room. She’s angry. Obviously, she knows about Claudius’s crime. She’s very politically savvy, and wants to keep herself safe. She’s worried about what Hamlet is planning. When he comes they argue, and Polonius, who was hiding behind a curtain, fears that Hamlet will try to kill his own mother. He shouts for guards to save her. Hamlet assumes it’s the king hiding behind the curtain, and stabs wildly with his sword. He kills Polonius, and, when realizing his mistake, shows little remorse. At this moment the ghost returns, reminding Hamlet to kill Claudius, but to spare Gertrude. She can’t see or hear the ghost, so she thinks Hamlet is completely crazy.

9. King Claudius now plans a sneaky way to kill Hamlet. He sends Hamlet to England on some diplomatic mission, but the people sent with him, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are supposed to give a special letter to the English king to kill Hamlet. The plan fails. Hamlet finds the letter, and replaces it with a similar one, instead asking the English king to kill Rosencratz and Guildenstern instead. Hamlet then sails home, and claims his ship was attacked by pirates, and had to return to Denmark. In this way, he saves his life, and can pretend ignorance of the whole plan.

10. Meanwhile, poor Ophelia goes crazy, walking along the parapets, singing strange songs. Her fiancé just killed her dad, so she feels her life is ruined. When her brother Laertes comes back from France, King Claudius tells him it’s all Hamlet’s fault. Claudius and Laertes plan to kill Hamlet in a fencing duel. Laertes decides to poison his sword, while Claudius adds that he’ll poison Hamlet’s wine as well. Right then, Gertrude comes in, telling Laertes that his sister has just committed suicide, jumping into the river and drowning.

Ophelia, by John Everett Millais

11. Next comes the funeral. Grave diggers first argue whether Ophelia deserves a Christian burial. Hamlet and his friends find the skull of Yorick, a jester who used to entertain Hamlet as a child. Then the funeral procession comes, and Laertes loses his temper, accusing Hamlet of causing her death, and they fight a bit. King Claudius breaks it up, reminding Laertes of their plan.

12. Next comes the fencing match. Gertrude accidentally drinks the wine meant for Hamlet and dies. Laertes stabs Hamlet in between rounds. An angry Hamlet takes his sword and cuts him with it. Before dying, Laertes apologizes, and admits that the poison was all Claudius’s idea. Hamlet then stabs Claudius and makes him drink from the poisoned cup to make sure he really dies.

13. Dying, Hamlet suggests Prince Fortimbras as heir to the throne. Horatio, very unhappy with what has happened, wants to drink the poison as well, but Hamlet stops him, so that he can be witness to the events. Prince Fortimbras then comes in, Horatio tells the story, and Hamlet gets an honourable funeral.


Detective Vocabulary

*Spoiler Alert*

These definitions give away parts of the plot to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sign of 4.


A Detective Story

A work of fiction in which a detective, either a policeman or private citizen solves a puzzling crime. Detective stories can be novels or short stories.

The Victim

An unfortunate person who suffers from a crime or disaster (Obeť).
In The Sign of Four, Captain Morstan and Bartholomew were victims.

A Witness

Someone who sees a crime or has information about it (Svedok).
Maj. Sholto was a witness to Capt. Morstan's death (and possibly the killer). Thaddeus and Bartholomew were witnesses to Maj. Sholto's death. And, Mrs. Bernstone was a witness to Bartholomew's death.

A Suspect

Anyone who might have committed a crime (Podozrivý človek). A good detective story will have several false suspects who are innocent, and sometimes a “least likely suspect” with no apparent motives.
In The Sign of Four, Thaddeus is a suspect, but he's innocent.


A reason for committing a crime.

An Inside Job

A crime committed by or with the help of a family member, employee, and/or someone trusted by the victim.

Red Herrings

A red herring is an idiom for a clue which is intentionally or unintentionally misleading or distracting from the actual crime. [The idiom probably originates from an article published 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the Political Register. In a critique of the English press, which had mistakenly reported Napoleon's defeat, Cobbett recounted that he had once used a red herring to deflect hounds in pursuit of a rabbit.]

A Private Investigator, Private Eye

Someone independent from the state who assists either the police or a victim’s family in solving a crime. They’re celebrated for their logic and intellect. Sherlock Holmes is a private eye.

A Criminal Mastermind

The villain present in some detective stories, a criminal genius who commits many crimes, yet is not suspected by the police. He/she is usually wealthy and respected. The Criminal Mastermind in the stories of Sherlock Holmes is Prof. Moriarty, but he isn't mentioned in this story. In this story, the criminals, Jonathan Small and Tonga, are not masterminds, just average.

A Bungling Local Constabulary

This is an incompetent policeman who needs the help of a private eye. To bungle is to make a mistake, or to trip and fall down, for example during a sports match. The bungling police detective in this story is Lestrade.

Detective Inquiries

An inquiry is a conversation in which the private eye asks a series of questions to witnesses and suspects in order to determine who is guilty.

A Reconstruction of the Crime

In an effort to find who is guilty of a crime, the detective often recreates the scene, asking witnesses and suspects to reenact what they did exactly as they remember it. It helps to find clues, and to see who is lying.

A Plot Twist

A surprising revelation (Zápletka). Some "twists" are foreshadowed and can be predicted, whereas others are a complete shock. When Bartholomew is found dead, it's a plot twist, as is the discovery of Tonga.

A "Locked Room" Mystery

This is a detective story in which a crime—almost always murder—is committed under apparently impossible circumstances. It typically involves a crime scene that no intruder could have entered or left, for example, a locked room. The reader is normally presented with the puzzle and all of the clues, and is encouraged to solve the mystery before the solution is revealed in a dramatic climax. This format is commonly referred to as “whodunit”,meaning “who did it?” Bartholomew's murder is a locked room mystery, but quickly solved by Sherlock Holmes.

An Inverted Detective Story

An inverted detective story is the opposite of a “whodunit”. The identity of the criminal is described at the beginning. The remainder of the story then describes the subsequent investigation. The puzzle presented to the reader is discovering the clues and evidence that the perpetrator left behind, in order to understand why they did it. A famous example is In Cold Bloodby Truman Capote.