Conventions are commonly known as a customary feature of a literary work such as the use of a chorus in Greek tragedy or an explicit moral in a fable. They are found in stories, plays, essays, poetry, and movies. Conventions are found frequently in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Taming of the Shrew, and Othello. They are also detected in D. H. Lawrence’s The Horse Dealer’s Daughter and The Rocking Horse Winner, and lastly in Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House. These literary devices all grasp the same conventional concept. The use of a prop in a literary work is a perfect example of a convention—each prop is used to show a significant idea in its respective literary work.
William Shakespeare was an English playwright and poet. He was recognized in much of the world as the greatest of all dramatists. In Hamlet, Shakespeare provides the first prop as letters. Ophelia proclaims, “My lord, I have remembrances of yours, That I have longed long to redeliver; I pray you, now receive them” (III.I.93-95). In this citation, Ophelia gives Hamlet the letters (“them”) of poetry he has written to her. With this action, she manages to devalue Hamlet, brings forth a feeling of worthlessness and unimportance.
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Another significant prop in Hamlet is the fencing sword. Fencing was a common, competitive and recreational sport practised in the Middle Ages. The sword was usually tipped with foil to prevent injury. In act V, Hamlet and Laertes engage in a game of fencing. Laertes deceives Hamlet and “unbates” his sword. The unabated sword is soaked in poison and the opponents bleed on both sides (V.II.271-273). This occurrence signifies the revenge each son is instilled with. Hamlet is misled by his long-lived acquaintance. Deception and revenge brought him to his final resting place
Also in act V, Hamlet and Horatio watch two clowns while they dig a grave. While the clowns dig, they come across a skull. Hamlet pronounces, “This might be the pate of a politician, which this ass now o’er reaches; one that would circumvent God, might it not?” (V.I.66-67). This skull resembled Hamlet’s jester who has passed away over 20 years ago. The skull represented the dead smell in Denmark. This is a turning point in the drama. Everything around Hamlet was falling; first his father, the incest of marriage, and his fair Ophelia.
The props so far have to lead up to the dramatic end of the play. In the last scene of the movie of Hamlet, the statue of Hamlet’s father is pictured. While Fortinbras’ men take it down, the face comes crashing down. This is the last picture the audience sees. The statue of his father’s head symbolizes the fall of Denmark. Also, it recalls the apparitions face seen at the beginning of the movie as is desperately asked for revenge.
Taking a look at another one of Shakespeare’s literary works, props are identified in Othello. For example, in the movie of Othello, Othello gives Desdemona a handkerchief as his first gift. Strawberries, which are festooned upon the handkerchief, serve as a very sensual fruit. The strawberry is portrayed this way because the seeds are on the outside of the fruit. Just like a woman, the seeds of a piece of fruit produce many other fruits—just as a woman produces children. This is a very special gift from Othello. To him, the gift was an essential piece of his soul.
Props can also be spotted in D.H. Lawrence’s “The Rocking-Horse Winner”. In this short fiction story, Paul, a young boy, claims to see the future. He rides his rocking horse to see who will win the next horse race. “And yet the voices in the house behind the sprays of mimosa and almond blossom, and from under the piles of iridescent cushions, simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy. There must be more money! Oh-h-h; there must be more money. Oh, now, now-w!” In another view, when Paul rides the horse he engages in an orgasm. This neo-sexual experience seems to overbear the young boy.
Lawrence provides various props in “The Horse Dealer’s Daughter.” At the beginning of the story, Lawrence describes a cavalcade of shire horses. “This was the last time” (p. 152 Lawrence). This was the collapse of the three brothers. As the horses walk by the house, the brothers realized that those were the last horses to go through their hands. They had become failures.
Another prime example of a prop occurs with Mable’s handkerchief. As she walks through town she carries a red handkerchief. Its colour is so radiant against Mabel’s grey wardrobe. To Mabel, the handkerchief represented life. As she arrives at her destination, she leaves her handkerchief behind, just as she decided to take her own life.
“He stood motionless as the small black figure walked slowly and deliberately towards the centre of the pond, very slowly, gradually moving deeper into the motionless water, and still moving forward as the water got up to her breast” (pp. 157-58 Lawrence). The pond is a prop that represented Mabel’s escape from life. She tried to drown herself to elude the fact that her family had failed.
In the film of The Horse Dealer’s Daughter, Mabel’s shoe ascends from her foot as she sinks to the bottom of the pond. This is an allusion to the Cinderella story. A prince comes and saves her from the dreaded world she lives in. In the film, Dr. Jack Fergusson comes to Mabel’s rescue and saves her from the pond, just as the prince in Cinderella saves her from her wretched stepmother.
Props are also found in Henrik Ibsen’s A Dolls House. Nora, the wife of the household, consistently brings chocolate macaroons into the house. Her husband, Torvald, asks her not to brings such things into the house. In the play, Nora exclaims, “You know I could never think of going against you” (I. p.1242 Ibsen). Nora defies her husband and eats the chocolate macaroons anyway. When he catches her, she lies to Torvald and tells him Dr. Rank had given them to her.
An additional prop in Ibsen’s work is the use of money. Torvald would tease Nora with money. He had been very lucky to receive a new job promotion – manager of a bank. In the movie, you see how Torvald teases Nora. He wiggles the money over her head like shaking candy in front of a baby.
“Just to see if there’s any mail” (II. p.1274 Ibsen). When Torvald finally gets his mail, he finds a very destructive letter. This shameful letter, which Krogstad has written, represents the end to Torvald’s marriage. He will be forced to understand that Nora had lied to him about her father and committed forgery. Back in this time period, forgery was a very disgraceful crime.
Another item that is received via mail is Dr Rank’s business cards. Once Dr Rank drops them into the mailbox, it signifies his death. Dr Rank found out that he only had a short period left to live. When he delivers his business card, it was an indication that he would never see his friends again. In the Torvald family, it had been one loss after another; the loss of their good friend, then the loss of their marriage, and the loss of Nora who set out to find what society really meant.
Furthermore, there are many different kinds of propositional conventions throughout literature. However, they all have the same standard technique; an object that portrays a significant role in a literary work. The ways these conventions are used to portray the good and evil in the dramas. In some most cases, destruction was the conclusion. In others, survival will lead to a windy path.
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