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Copy of Isabella or the Pot of Basil

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Sophie Hume

on 29 November 2016

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Transcript of Copy of Isabella or the Pot of Basil

18.11.16
Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil
Isabella, or the Pot of Basil is a narrative poem adapted from a story in Boccaccio's 'Decameron' which tells the story of a young woman whose family intend to marry her to some high noble, but she falls for Lorenzo, one of her brothers employees. When the brothers learn of this they murder Lorenzo and bury his body. His ghost informs Isabella in a dream. She exhumes the body and buries the head in a pot of basil which she tends obsessively, while pining away.
Boccaccio's Decameron
O eloquent and famed Boccaccio!
Of thee we now should ask
forgiving boon
,
And of thy spicy
myrtles
as they blow,
And of thy
roses
amorous of the moon,
And of thy
lilies
, that do paler grow
Now they can no more hear thy
ghittern's
tune,
For venturing syllables that ill beseem
The quiet glooms of such a piteous theme
XIX
Grant thou a pardon here, and then the tale
Shall move on soberly, as it is meet;
There is no other crime, no mad assail
To make old prose in modern rhyme more sweet:
But it is done—succeed the verse or fail—
To honour thee, and thy gone spirit greet;
To
stead thee
as a verse in English tongue,
An echo of thee in the north-wind sung.

XX
These brethren having found by many signs
What love Lorenzo for their sister had,
And how she lov’d him too, each unconfines
His bitter thoughts to other, well nigh mad
That he, the servant of their trade
designs,
Should in their sister’s love be blithe and glad,
When ’twas their plan to coax her by degrees
To some high noble and his
olive-trees.

XXI
Keats thought the poem was 'weak sided with an amusing sober sadness and too much inexperience of life in it as it was only his view of Boccaccio's work.
asking for something more positive
This stanza is an artificial break within the story, as Keats then goes on to say the rest of the tragic story.
intertextuality
a sort of guitar
sensual language
floriography
The language of flowers. Flowers typically used in poetry and gothic literature to send hidden messages to the reader.
Keats wants to make it clear that he is not trying to surpass Boccaccio, but to give him currency amongst English-speaking people.
To do you service.
similar to a eulogy
references wealth as olives are a large part of Italy's wealth
To show that she was supposed to marry someone wealthy who owns olive-trees
Marxist reading - class struggles
discourse marker
Another discourse marker
possessive
segregation of class
Investigating themes in Isabella: or The Pot of Basil...

Do you agree that a central theme of the poem is the vitality of young love as opposed to the aridity of material greed?

What does the poem suggest about the way in which human beings should treat each other?

Is it enough, do you think, to see the poem as simply one which sets good against bad?

If ‘good versus bad’ is one thematic contrast in the poem, what others can you find?

To what extent do Isabella and Lorenzo rise above the rules of society and to what extent do they obey its codes?

Some readers have criticised the poem for making the brothers too inhumane and Lorenzo too gentle. Do you think this contrast strengthens or weakens the poem?
Do you think Keats is less concerned in this poem with what happens than on what the characters think and feel about what happens to them?
Is this a strength or a weakness of the poem?
In common with The Eve of St Agnes, one of the poem’s chief themes is the contrast of cold hatred and concern for family honour with the warmth and passion of young love.

Keats subverts conventional stereotypes about gender as a means of challenging social norms. This is clearly presented through the superiority of the female character in both La Belle and Isabella.

Both Isabella and La Belle share similar imagery in relation to nature and compare the fleeting nature of love to the turning of the seasons.
Themes
1. Isabella is seen as a disruptive element. Her romance with Lorenzo (a servant), and by implication marriage, children and property issues pose a threat to her two brothers—a threat that prompts a heinous crime. Similarly, Madeline and Porphyro's love for one another is a rejection of their families wishes and although Madeline seems to adopt a ritual, the ritual is the very means by which she rejects social expectations of her.

2. The very means by which Keats subverts the conventions of gender and the so called accepted roles of men and women in society reminds us of the view held by romantic poets that we should challenge the establishment and follow ideals rather than imposed conventions and rules. Like many other romantic poets Keats was inspired by a desire for liberty and a focus on expression of feelings and of the individual. Keats held the belief that it was his responsibility to insprre change.

3. Isabella’s brothers are ruthless capitalists and Keats lists their mines and factories, their cruelties and the poor people they exploit (such as the naked Ceylon diver). The brothers’ cannot see Lorenzo as anything but a purchased commodity and see him as a threat to disrupt social class conventions. They are in love with ‘red-lined accounts’ and are the epitome of pride. Keats may have derived such disdain for these money-graspers from letters which the enlightened manufacturer Robert Owen wrote to The Examiner. These were printed by Leigh Hunt, along with Hunt’s own editorials attacking those who put profit above their concern for human happiness. Hunt wrote:


So completely has this country been spoiled by the appetite of money-getting, so completely has it taken leave of the real virtues and happy and natural pleasures of its ancestors, - so badly and with so many perversions even of terms themselves does avarice educate its worshippers, - so fatally do they confound industry with unceasing toil, leisure with idleness, pleasure (which is a part of virtue) with vice, an unhappy cunning with wisdom, their own false and superfluous gains with necessity and real profit, and yet at the same time the very necessity of others with superfluity, - that it is become necessary to ring the commonest and most obvious truths in their ears in order to waken them out of their feverish absurdities.
The poem contains examples of religious imagery
Imagery and Symbolism
1.Which aspects of the poem relate to Keats' previous work as a surgeon?

2.If both characters are lovesick then who is the tragic hero?

3. Where is the evidence of Romanticism? Is there any?

4. Is there any evidence of nature or the seasons?

5. Keats suggests that the lovers were somewhat blinded to the reality of danger that faced them. Where can you find evidence of their child like naivete?

6. What is the role of the basil plant if Isabella occupies the role of the mother?

7. A decapitated head is symbolic of loss and that power can be severed.. But what forms of los is he hinting at?
Answer the questions below.

1.Keats took medical courses under Thomas Hammond, an apothecary from 1810-1815. He worked as a” dresser” in two London Hospitals. He dabbled in herbs, he assisted in amputations.

Find examples of words associated with this in lines 98, 101, 102, 174,

2. Isabella, as the silenced (“decapitated”) heroine stands as one end in the polarized, gendered warfare that Keats captured in this text. Isabella represents the decapitated woman of Western culture, dispossessed and speechless. Or is it Lorenzo who is sacrificed by narrow class prejudices and condemned to live on in mutated form only after his premature death.

3. Keats makes comments on the establishment of class and social status. He was acutely aware of the impact class had on his life and of concern for family honour. For Keats, this class issue extended to his parents’ life and was paramount in his mind. Keats’s father was from a staunchly middle class family, who
died while out riding
when the eldest son John was nine years old. Keats’s mother who was above her husband in class married again two months later and lived to regret her rashness.

Find an example of how the male is once again in an inferior and infantilized position toward a higher-status woman in stanza 5 and 6.
Which word in line 12 reminds us of a mother?
Now find examples of Keats' ant-capitalist views in stanza XIV.


The influence of Romanticism
4. When Lorenzo, however, finally does declare his love to Isabel, the language is filled with the imagery of the seasons (” ‘Love! thou art leading me from wintry cold, / Lady! Thou leadest me to summer clime'” [Stanza IX), with the emphasis being on the deathliness of winter giving way to the growth and fertility of summer.

Lorenzo’s salute to the seasons is ominous and foreboding, for we know as well as the lovers do that the seasonal wheel will turn yet again and that the flowers of June will be residue

Using stanza IV and IX, find two examples of how Keats compares the fragility of love and beauty to nature.


5. The child-consciousness that is Lorenzo could not have known he had such formidable enemies. But Isabella the mother protector should have known.
6. A substitute child that she feeds with the milk of her tears.
7. Loss of identity, life and of the power necessary to speak and to protect oneself.
How do the themes in Isabella, or; the pot of basil compare to the themes in the other poems we have studied?
How do each of the poems compare in their presentation of Romanticism?
Close analysis of the text.
Stanza's 17-24 or XVII -XXIV
Stanzas 17-24

Florentines: natives of Florence in Italy, which was renowned for the prosperity of its bankers during the Middle Ages

close Hebrews: anti-semitic prejudice characterised Jews as mean (‘close’) and avaricious

paled in: a ‘pale’ was an enclosed, often guarded territory

ducats: Italian money

cat’s-paws: a term referring to a person who does another’s dirty deeds

Hot Egypt's pest: the narrator wishes one of the plagues of Egypt on them – presumably that of darkness.

ghittern: an instrument like a guitar, strung with wire

atone: to pay for/ recompense.
Full transcript