[These questions do not need to be answered either in the Travelogue or in the other Assignments, but they may be helpful in getting you thinking about the themes and issues that are raised by the texts.]
Reading questions for the first half of Medea:
1. How and why did Medea come to Corinth? Why does the play begin with the nurse’s story?
2. Do you sympathize with the nurse’s opinions about Medea and her life?
3. What is life like in Corinth, especially for women? Free and just or something else?
4. Why is Medea so angry, and does she have good reasons for her anger?
5. What do Medea and Jason argue about and who wins the verbal fight between them?
6. What does Medea want Aigeus to do for her and why?
Reading questions for the second half of Medea:
1. What view does the play offer of what women are like?
2. What is the play’s view of what an ideal man should be?
3. Do you agree with Jason’s assessment that Medea is just jealous?
4. What is the symbolism of the exquisite, but lethal, wedding gown Medea gives to Jason’s new bride?
5. What are they and what do you think of Medea’s reasons for killing her children?
6. Why does Euripides let Medea get away with it? What is the effect of her escape on the audience?
Reading questions for Chuang Tzu:
1. If Chuang Chou thinks all values are relative, why does he bother to write a book?
2. Is the text humorous? Should philosophy be comically presented?
3. What does the master, Tzu-ch’i, teach his disciple, Yen Ch’eng Tzu-yu? Why does he talk about wind and breath? (P.S. The word in Chinese, ch’i, which he use for all of the blowing/breath/wind action is the same)?
4. Where does Tzu-ch’i locate the self?
5. What is the value of human beliefs and human dreams for Tzu-ch’i?
6. Are physical form and “being” related, or not?
7. Pick a single passage from the text, which you would be willing to use as your email signature, and explain why.
Reading questions for Śakuntalā:
1. Why does Kālidāsa include the Prologue between the actress and director?
2. In Sanskrit drama there is a taboo against tragedy. Why might this taboo be important to Kālidāsa, by contrast with the Greek emphasis on tragedy?
3. What do you think of the play’s highly erotic/romantic topic? And of its use of strongly sensual imagery throughout?
4. What sorts of things happen at the court by contrast with the scenes at the hermitage?
5. What role does art play in the lives of the characters? Does art imitate life or does it do something else for characters throughout the play? Think about the poems.
6. Does the first half of the play have any plot or action? Does anything “happen”?
7. On what does the play seem to want the audience to focus: story or mood?
Reading questions for the second half of Śakuntalā:
1. What beliefs and conventions does the king risk violating by hunting in the sacred grove in Act I? Does the play urge its audience to be vegetarians? Or to give up their jewels too?
2. What sort of young woman is Śakuntalā?
3. What new passion overwhelms the king’s passion for hunting?
4. What is the relationship between the gods and the human love story?
5. Select a few plants, animals or birds and think about what they might symbolize? The lotus, jasmine, wild elephant, etc.
6. Given the sort of marriage (by choice not arrangement), why is the ring of recollection so important?
7. What is the nature of the play’s ending? Why is it “happy”?
Reading questions for The Thousand and One Nights:
1. What view does the prologue offer of the role of art and literature?
2. What does the prologue suggest about race and gender?
3. What does the prologue say about women/virtue according to the society? Do the stories offer a different view?
4. What is the concept of being a man for Shahryar?
5. Do you think that the tales have morals? If so, what are they?
6. Why does Shahrazad succeed with her stories when her father’s fail?
7. Are Shahrazad’s tales pessimistic or optimistic?
Reading questions for the Inferno:
1. Who is Dante and what is wrong with his life?
2. Why is Vergil an appropriate guide?
3. Why does the text begin in the Dark Wood of Error?
4. What do you think of all of the women who intercede on Dante’s behalf to help him to salvation?
5. Do you approve of Hell’s system of punishment?
6. Should “virtuous pagans” be in Hell and what do you think of their punishment in Limbo?
7. Have you any sympathy for the “Carnal” who have ended up in Hell for “love”?
Reading questions for the second half of Inferno:
1. Is suicide a sin for Dante and for you? What sorts of suicides live in the Seventh Circle? Why does Dante place them so deep in Hell?
2. Why is the continuous spilling of the blood of suicides appropriate and why do they speak only when bleeding?
3. Does the crime of fraud and malice seem like an Eighth-Circle sin?
4. Were you surprised to meet Jason there among the seducers at Canto XVIII, lines 86?
5. What sorts of crimes are reserved for the Ninth Circle?
6. Why are they punished by ice?
7. Which sinner’s story is the most ghastly?
8. What is the image of Satan and is it what you expected?
Reading questions for Montaigne:
1. Do the essays read “like philosophy” to you? Is he systematic?
2. Even if you do not recognize the exact quotations or know the particular stories he includes, what effect do they all have on the texture of the essays?
3. What does Montaigne want to say about the “cannibal” culture and about his own French culture?
4. What is Montaigne’s attitude towards progress and science, and especially exploration?
5. Would this essay be relevant to the modern world?
6. With all that Montaigne says about the relativity of values and the limits of the human mind, is the essay “On Inconsistency” pessimistic or optimistic about individual human agency and success?
Reading Questions for Hamlet
1. What is the political and personal situation of Denmark at the start of the play?
2. What is the role of the ghost? Why do you think he shows up?
3. Why is Hamlet so upset? What kind of person is he? And what is his state of mind at the start of the play?
4. Who would be a good choice of actor to play Hamlet?
5. What sort of person is Ophelia? Who would you cast in her role?
6. Do you share Hamlet’s strong feelings about Gertrude? Is she as guilty as Claudius seems to be?
7. Why is Hamlet so fond of the theatre?
Reading Questions for the second half of Hamlet
1. When do you think Hamlet makes a mistake from which he cannot recover ?
2. Why does Shakespeare make Hamlet so funny?
3. What is the nature of Polonius’ error and why does he give such poor advice to everyone?
4. Is Ophelia pathetic or tragic?
5. Is Hamlet “mad,” or is Ophelia the only one who suffers mentally in the play?
6. At the end of the play, do we mourn Hamlet’s death and, if so, how have we come to care about him?
7. Do you feel reassured that Fortinbras is left in control at the en d of the play?
Reading questions for Bashō:
1. Where and when does Bashō start his travels?
2. Why does Bashō start his travels?
3. What is the role of the haiku poems in the text?
4. Pick a single haiku and explain its concerns and affects on the story.
5. Why is Bashō so affected by the evening he overhears the prostitutes in Echigo and what do you think of his poem at the bottom of page 2129??
6. What is the point of the last famous location visited, Kehi Shrine, and the fact that, although the moon is full, the night is rainy?
7. Why is Bashō so lonely on the last page at Ironahama Beach?
Reading questions for Faust (first section):
1. What is the image of God and the Devil in the Prologue?
2. What is the reason for Faust’s anger and depression at the start of the play?
3. Is there any sin of which he is guilty at the start (you have just read Dante’s “handbook”)?
4. Do you find Faust a sympathetic or a repellant character? Or something in between
5. What is the attitude of the play towards academia?
6. What modern actor would you cast for Faust?
7. Why is Faust so gloomy even on a holiday? It is Easter Sunday we find out on page 2177?
Reading questions for Faust (second section):
1. What sort of devil is Mephistopheles? What are his powers? Cast someone in the role.
2. What do you think of the student’s reaction to Faust from page 2198 on?
3. What is the effect of the scene in the bar?
4. For what is Faust willing to risk his soul?
5. What happens to Faust on the Witch’s Sabbath and why?
6. What do you think of Mephistopheles and what is the basis of his success in influencing people?
Reading questions for Faust (third section):
1. What kind of woman is Gretchen and who would you cast to play her role?
2. What is it about Faust which seduces her?
3. What sort of man is Valentine? Does he deserve to die?
4. How would you evaluate Faust’s actions when he leaves Gretchen pregnant and goes off to the Walpurgisnacht party with Mephistopheles?
5. Should Gretchen be condemned to death?
6. Does she deserve to be saved by God?
7. Should Faust be allowed to escape punishment at the end of the play?
Reading Questions for Pushkin:
1. Who do you expect to be the hero of the story? Tomsky or Hermann? And does the story really have any heroes?
2. Does Pushkin play games with the reader’s expectations?
3. In what ways is the story critical of St. Petersburg society?
4. Is the ghost real or does Hermann imagine it?
5. Who is Lisaveta and what do you make of her relationship with Hermann?
6. Who and what is the countess?
7. Did you expect the story’s ending or was it a surprise and why?
8. Do the endings of each character seem just and deserved?
Reading Questions for Baudelaire:
1. What do you think of Baudelaire’s attitude towards the reader?
2. Does Baudelaire love or hate the society in which he lives?
3. Are his poems ugly or beautiful or both?
4. What role does “boredom” play in the first poems and in the following ones?
5. What were your expectations about its subject as you began to read the poem “A Carcass”?
6. What does Baudelaire think that the imagination can do? What can it not do?
7. Why is it appropriate that he address his poem to the season of autumn?
8. What is “spleen” for Baudelaire and in his poetry?
Reading Questions for Proust:
1. Why can’t the child whom the narrator describes go to sleep?
2. What does he does think about while his is trying to fall asleep?
3. In what kind of world does the child live?
4. Do you find any of his dreams amusing?
5. Do you find his character sympathetic or problematic? Is he a believable “child”?
6. What do you think of his parents and his relationship with them?
7. What is the point of the episode at the end with the “Madeleine” (small bite-size cake) and the cup of tea?
Reading Questions for Woolf:
1. What do you think of the style and language of the short story?
2. Where and when does the story take place and why is setting important?
3. Who is Minnie Marsh and what does she do in Woolf’s story? What is her crime?
4. What does the narrator actually do? What does she imagine?
4. Does the story have any basis in reality? Does what happens on the train change the story at all?
5. What do you think of the last paragraph?
Reading Questions for Borges:
1. Is the story really about a Chinese garden? About spying in World War I? Or something else again?
2. How does Borges use the image of the labyrinth?
3. Is Borges’ narrator different from Woolf’s? In what ways?
4. What is the relationship between reality (or maybe we should say alternative realities) and fiction in the story? Is anyone or anything real?
5. Did you get enough clues in the story to solve the mystery?
Reading Questions for the first part of Achebe:
1. Why does Achebe write in English about Africa?
2. What is the role of the proverbs?
3. In what sort of society does Okonkwo live socially and politically?
4. What was his father like and how is he important to the story?
5. What is the role of women in the society?
6. How does Achebe present the taboos and beliefs of the villages’ religion?
Reading Questions for the second part of Achebe:
1. Why does Nwoye convert to Christianity? And abandon the Igbo gods?
2. What do you think of the role of ritual murder in the story?
3. What strengths and weaknesses does Achebe show in traditional society?
4. Are the elders of Umuofia more or less “civilized” than the district commissioner or Mr. Smith?
5. Okonkwo is “one of the greatest men of his society. Do you admire him and why is he left alone at the end of the novel?
6. What thoughts do you have about the way history is presented in the novel?
Reading Questions for García Márquez
1. Is anything real in “Eyes of a Blue Dog”? Or is everything a dream?
2. How does the narrator express his loneliness?
3. Why is a wall able to reflect the dream-woman’s image?
4. Is the mirror or the lamp the more important thing in the room?
5. What is the effect in “Death Constant Beyond Love” of knowing from the beginning that Senator Onésimo Sánchez will die in less that a year?
7. Is Rosa del Virrey a real place and why does it not have any roses?
8. If love cannot ease the senator’s unhappiness, then what could have?