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Tutor profile: Zoë S.

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Zoë S.
Oxford tutor with two years experience
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Questions

Subject: Literature

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Question:

‘In my beginning is my end.’ (T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets): transition and transaction in the prologues and epilogues of the Henriad.

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Zoë S.
Answer:

The opening and closing moments of a play are ‘keynote scenes’ marked by their self-conscious discussion of the art and artifice of drama (Colby Sprague, 1966: 105). Gerard Genette writes of paratext as ‘a zone not only of transition but also of transaction: a privileged place… [in] the service of better reception of the text and a more pertinent reading of it’ (1997:2). Arguing against the notion of prologues and epilogues as extraneous material, this essay will foreground the ‘privileged’ position they hold as cultural gauges of artistic theory, textual consumption, and reception. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘transaction’ as either ‘an arrangement, an agreement, a covenant’ or ‘the carrying on or completion of an action’ (OED online, 2014). These senses of the word incorporate two ways I will consider Shakespeare’s use of prologues and epilogues in the Henriad. Transaction has currency in the increasingly commodified world of the early modern theatre, while transition, ‘carrying on’, is suggestive of how the primordial need for certainty, which manifests itself at the beginning and ending, is reformed into an understanding that ‘in my beginning is my end’ (1945: 22: 1)...

Subject: Film and Theater

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Question:

‘Till swoll’n with cunning, of a self-conciet,/ his waxen wings did mount above his reach,/ And melting heavens conspired his overthrow.’ (Dr Faustus). Discuss this quotation in relation to Early Modern drama.

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Zoë S.
Answer:

These lines from Dr Faustus (1588) can be interrogated from a number of different routes that are outside the scope of this essay, from Classical allusion to Calvinist doctrines of predestination. Instead I will hone in on the verb ‘reach’ to explore the tension between aspiration and limitation. James Baldwin wrote that ‘everything in a life depends on how that life accepts its limits.’ Faustus’ turn to magic and pact with the devil is a dramatic representation of the desire to ignore that limitation, an attempt to aspire beyond our ‘reach’ and the ultimate failure of these ambitions. Moving from the theological to the social I will then explore the operation of the twin forces of class and gender within The Duchess of Malfi (1623). Webster’s play raises issues of female self-determination and mobility across class lines, both social and sexual; it attests to the power of the unconquerable individual will. Both Marlowe and Webster unpack social transgression that manifests itself as perversity, in Faustus’ delight in the hellish and Ferdinand’s incestuous undertones. In The Spanish Tragedy (1588) Kyd similarly questions the all-pervasive system of social inequality reinforced by the hierarchy of power and status. Against this traditional network of dominance and submission is set a new self-reliance, the self-made men of James’ government. That this structure creates a stable society is emphatically challenged by both Kyd and Webster, and implicitly so by Marlowe. All three playwrights create characters who are renegades...

Subject: English

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Question:

‘Her novels are mainly novels of education in which the heroes and heroines learn better; environment, though never accepted as an excuse, is recognized as a cause of evil. All this suggests a view of human nature as open to improvement, a blank page, like Fielding’s, on which life will write its results.’ (Angus Wilson). Do you agree with this analysis of Jane Austin?

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Zoë S.
Answer:

The assertion by Angus Wilson that Jane Austen’s novels are ‘mainly novels of education’ has particular resonance when considering her mature works, Emma (1815) and Persuasion (1818). All her novels are investigations of selfhood, particularly female, and the interaction of present and memory in the formation of character. Yet in these two fictions Austen foregrounds a non-essentialist conception of ‘human nature’ to uncover how fixity and stasis can have de-habilitating effects for the mind and body. This essay will track the movement between fixity and fluidity, rooting ‘human nature’ in upbringing, place, and passion. I will show how by promoting ‘elasticity’ Austen recognises how a ‘blank page’ approach to life can rescue her heroines from their ‘hemmed-in’ environment. Emma and Persuasion are ‘novels of education’ in that they to varying degrees critique the impoverished training in accomplishments - what Mary Hays’ called ‘frivolity and trifles’ - that was provided for middle and upper class girls by governesses and boarding schools. Instead Austen offers up different models for education both natural and emotional...

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