Green World in Ashmolean Museum

I learned the term “Green World”in Shakespeare class which was defined by Frye according to Shakespeare’s romantic comedies.I am interested in it so I tried to find something about it in the Ashmolean Museum. I found three paintings which might relate to “Green World.” 

The first one is a view of a courtyard whose author is the Danish artists Kolle. In the painting, the trees are dominated by orange, which makes the painting more vivid. The wall behind the trees seems to stop trees growing. From my perspective, the trees seem like Hermia and Lysander; the oranges represent their love which makes their lives bright. The wall is the “roles” of society. The “fight” between the trees and wall is like the “fight” between lovers and the role created for them by society. Therefore, I think this painting is related to the “Green World.”

And another painting is a view of countryside. The author is Gaspard Dughet. This view is so beautiful and peaceful. Trees grow well and the river flows away. It is kind of “Green World.” There is no rule which is like the world in As You Like It. This is an idealized world. 

And the last one is a part of a small village. In the picture, the author concentrates on “the typically Italian scene of vines growing on a hillside.” This scene reminds me of the world of fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Queen of fairies serves Bottom with many fruits. In that world, there is no role as well, which is like a happy dream. 

In conclusion, these three paintings I found in the Ashmolean Museum are related the term “Green World.”


Time, Passing, and Shakespeare

It never fails to amaze me when I come across a passage of Shakespeare that eloquently expresses some internal truth relevant to my own life. In moments like these, a sense of connection forms between myself and someone who existed centuries ago. Any form of reading involves a strange intimacy as the words conjured inside someone else’s mind transfer into one’s own—but it’s made even stranger when the writer died hundreds of years before the reader was born. There’s a certain comfort in knowing people experienced the same thoughts and feelings back then as we do now. Time collapses as I look upon the page (or the stage) and see myself reflected back.

To encounter the artwork of a long-deceased artist is to defy the rules of temporal existence, creating a momentary bridge from one consciousness to another, from the past to the present, and from the dead to the living. Like play texts, marble statues are frozen pieces of the past, still here for us to look upon despite being shaped by the hands of someone long since departed. Similarly, what are painted portraits if not frozen moments in time, experienced through a mortal eye and transferred onto a canvas to exist forever unmoving?

As I explored the Ashmolean Museum seeking out connections to Shakespeare, these particular paintings attracted my attention as relevant to our studies in this course. Both feature a “real” person gesturing toward a representation of a person made of marble. On the left, a man gestures toward the sculpted head of Homer—another long-dead artist whose words still resonate—while on the right, a man gestures toward a sculpture of Mercury, the Roman patron of the arts. Though the men in the paintings appear more “real” than the ancient figures they point toward, they’re just as fake as the statues; both entities are made of paint, not stone or flesh.

As they gesture to artistic renderings of Homer and Mercury, the subjects acknowledge an artificial representation in a way that reminds me of Shakespeare’s attention to the artifice of art (and the art of artifice). As with these sixteenth and seventeenth century painters, Shakespeare’s work constantly “plays” with the boundary between reality and illusion, calling attention to its own constructed nature through direct appeals to the audience and self-aware explorations of truth and fiction.

In this sense, the multiple layers of representation in the painting simulate the multiple layers of representation within Shakespeare’s texts, calling to mind moments such as the comedic play-within-a-play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or the theatrical antics of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Most of all, they remind me of the infamous line from As You Like It, “All the world’s a stage”—a line which acknowledges the play’s reality as a theatrical construction while suggesting the same about the reality beyond it.

As I discussed in my first blog post—which was somehow published more than two weeks ago—time continues to pass, and now our trip has indeed reached its final days. Real life cannot freeze like a text, statue, or painting (though at certain times, the clock disappears). However, just as great works of art can extend beyond their present moment to impact the future, the valuable impact of this trip on my life is far from a thing of the past.

Beyond Athens, Arden, and Ashmolean

          At this point, I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said the words “Green World” in the last month—something, I’m sure, my housemates are perhaps grown a bit tired of. But in truth, it’s difficult to live in the worlds of these particular comedies of Shakespeare without getting a little lost in such spaces. (A fact only compounded by the green Oxford of summer we’ve been so fortunate to dwell in whilst studying those other worlds.)

         That said, I can’t say that I walked into the Ashmolean expecting to find the Green World. In many ways, a museum can be a space antithetical to the liberty and release of such a notion; they are places of order (“Please don’t touch,” “Stay behind this line,” “No flash photography,” and so on), rooted largely in Victorian traditions of societal structure and status defined through what is considered to be “High Art.” Museums, especially those as ornately decorated as the Ashmolean, serve as anchor points of civilization wherein the elite can mark progress through portraits, collected (or stolen) artifacts, and other remnants of wealth and power.

        Yet, even walking through these pristinely curated rooms of a museum I lived near for weeks without ever stepping foot inside, I was struck once again by the prevalence of these forested worlds.

          Though the more literal notion of the green world was evoked through pictures depicting natural landscapes of lush trees and flowers that called to mind the settings of A Midsummer Night’s Dream or As You Like It, there were also pieces such as Paolo di Dono’s “The Hunt in the Forest” that tapped into the more symbolic component of the concept.

Image © Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford | WA1850.31 (

             In “The Hunt,” it is difficult at first to be certain where to look; there’s a chaos in the setting as human bodies blur with those of the animals, at times competing with trees in the distance as the chasing bodies and rooted trees seem to overlap one another into an unperceivable depth. The threat of the abject slippage of ordered boundaries between the “human” and “natural” worlds also offers a potential for release, though. The figures of the hunters are all poised to rush forward, farther into the forest under cover of night; this dark fleeing into the trees and away from the eye—and, with it, civilization—mirrors the Athenian lover’s frantic escape into the forest in Midsummer. As Lysander urges to Hermia near the end of the first scene of Act I to steal away into “…that place the sharp Athenian law/Cannot pursue us,” the forest becomes a space of escape and license from order (1.1. 162-163). 

 “The Hunt in the Forest,” Paolo di Dono, called Uccello (1397–1475)
c. 1465–1470 (As seen in the Ashmolean Museum.)

              The relationship between the human and animal figures also suggests a sense of the dialectic tension found in the Green World between the naturalistic setting and those fleeing into, yet often still in opposition to, it. Although Dono’s hunt has not yet reached its climax, the shadows and muted reds offer a premonition of death to come, and it is not difficult to imagine sometime later after the frenzied rush forward has ceased, a figure like Jaques pausing to mourn over a killed deer. As recounted by one of Duke Senior’s lords in As You Like It, Jaques laments the death of the deer, saying “‘Poor deer … thou mak’st a testament / As worldlings do, giving thy sum of more / To that which had too much” (2.1.47-49). We are told that, in his tirade, Jaques goes on to:

… pierceth through

The body of country, city, court—

Yea, and of this our life—swearing that we

Are mere usurpers, tyrants, and what’s worse

To fright the animals and to kill them up

In their assigned and native dwelling place (2.1.58-63).

            The Green World, then, in its literal and figurative license, is predicated on this tension between humans and nature, the lovers and the fairy-forest, Arden’s forest-courtiers and the animals. Perhaps, then, in a way, it’s fitting to find representations of such a state in a setting as structured as a museum. The paintings offer portals into brief release from the order of their surroundings, lending the sort of license that art allows even while hanging in such structured displays. And, just as the lovers go back to Athens and the courtiers prepare to leave Arden (and students ready themselves for flights out of Oxford,) we walk on past each painting, and on into the next room of the museum.

The Players Alive

Photo taken at the Ashmolean Museum

Bernardino Licinio’s Portrait of a Young Boy Holding a Skull presents an intense dichotomy of age and of mortality. The young boy is ambivalent – there is no sense of worry or concern in his nearness to the skull. His fingers press on the skull – though not with much force. There is no strain on the part of the young boy. The onlooker’s eyes are drawn to the boy’s face rather than the skull; the focus is his lack of expression. The attention is on the youth of the boy – not the death. We are drawn to his ambivalence.

In Shakespeare such relations are a necessity of tragedy. It is not on the death that we are to look; rather, it is on those impacted (or not) by the death. Consider the famed death of King Hamlet. It is, of course, how he died that drives the revenge plot; however, that is not of immense interest. It is young Hamlet that drives the play onward. His lamentations and his settling madness sit at the core of the play. The presence of death is but exactly that – only a presence. It serves as a catalyst and a highlight for Hamlet – it is disregarded in its own focus.

In Henry IV Part I, the feigned death of Falstaff plays an important part later in the play, but what drives the interest of the immediate scene is Prince Hal’s reaction to the “death.” He says, looking upon Falstaff’s body,

What, old acquaintance, could not all this flesh

Keep in a little life? Poor Jack, farewell.

I could have better spared a better man.

O, I should have a heavy miss of thee

If I were much in love with vanity. (5.4.104-108)

Whether this line is somewhat scornful in jest or loving and sad is up to the director. The focus, regardless, is on Hal’s reaction over Falstaff’s feigned death.  

             As Licinio does with the young boy’s expression, so too does Shakespeare draw our attention from the dead and to the living. Grief and anguish are for the living, not the dead, and it is grief and anguish that draw us to tragedy.

Shakespeare, William. The History of Henry IV, Part 1. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2009.

That is The Question

Upon visiting the Ashmolean, I found that there were many portraits of young men and women that often included a skull somewhere within the composition. Many of these portraits were depictions of religious figures, whether they be biblical in nature or simply martyrs. These images kept bringing me back to the iconic “to be or not to be” monologue in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Hamlet is depicted holding up a skull.

Many of the paintings I discovered in the Ashmolean had foreboding images of skulls in addition to their human subjects. I wonder if Shakespeare drew upon some of these paintings (or ones like them) for some performance cues for his plays. I also wonder about how many religious references or images that he might have used as inspiration for performance imagery.

In Hamlet, the imagery of the skull during Hamlet’s famous monologue symbolizes the inevitable and permanent nature of death. From the paintings I’ve chosen, there is a skull in each image, perhaps also symbolizing death. One image of Saint Francis of Assisi in particular could symbolize the death of saints. Perhaps many other depictions of saints with skulls symbolize their eventual martyrdom, or even just the simple fact that Jesus was crucified at what English speakers refer to as Calvary, from the Latin word calvaria, meaning “skull”.

I feel like aside from Catholicism, Shakespeare might have drawn from a number of different religions, especially those of Rome and Greece, within his works. This is present particularly in As You Like It, where all the couples are joined together in union by the Greek god of marriage, Hymen. Shakespeare makes many cultural and religious references to Greek and Roman myths, which often play instrumental roles in his plays, whether they be plot devices or characters. I believe further study and research into Shakespeare’s incorporation of religious icons and deities would shed a lot of light into Elizabethan culture, particularly in that of the religious aspect.

Love and Magic in Shakespeare

In A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Shakespeare centers his whole plot around a magic flower struck by Cupid’s bow and the “love nectar” that it creates that can make people fall in love. As I was walking around the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, I came across a painting titled “Angelica Encountering the Wounded Medoro” (pictured above). The woman in the painting, Angelica, has come across a wounded soldier and is about to be struck by one of Cupid’s arrows and fall in love with the soldier, Medoro.

Magic and love go hand-in-hand in many of Shakespeare’s plays, and he constantly played with the idea of there being supernatural elements involved with falling in love. When I saw this painting, I was immediately reminded of the influence and use of the “love nectar” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Both Cupid and the love nectar have a direct influence on two mortals falling in love, and while this was painted after Shakespeare’s lifetime, it’s easy to recognize that love and magic have always been closely related to each other and many artists have used this to prompt their creativity.

Marriage was a commodity more than anything at the time of Midsummer and this painting, so it’s quite magical to see that artists and playwrights were so invested in the idea of love and why it happens and how it occurs. While love nectar and Cupid might not be the most reasonable or most autonomous of explanations, pitting love and magic together spurs the whimsicality of it all. It reminds us how love makes us feel, which is indeed something akin to magic.

Music in the Theatre

Photo taken at Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

With ¾ of the plays planned for the Oxford journey down, I figured it would be worthwhile to dip my toes into the use of music in Shakespeare’s theatre. In the Globe Theatre’s versions of Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV, the shows ended with choreographed song and dance featuring the entire cast. After further exploration I learned performing a jig at the end of their shows was a commonality at this theatre.

Music is intertwined in many of Shakespeare’s works. Whether it is vocal, instrumental or dance, music was used intentionally to produce a certain mood for the show. In Henry IV at the Globe Theatre, Lady Mortimer performed a melancholic Welsh song that evoked more emotion in a handful of minutes than the entire show did in its 2 hour long run. This song is not explicitly written down in Shakespeare’s text, therefore theatres have chosen to perform it differently. This openness for artistic expression has allowed directors to take the musical aspect in whichever direction they choose. The music for the Globe Theatre’s Merry Wives of Windsor was jazzy and upbeat sticking with the upbeat, comedic theme of the rest of the show.

Photo taken at Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

Historically many different instruments have been used in Shakespeare’s plays. The lute, fiddle, viola, trumpet, drums and pipes were just a few of the instruments used both during and alongside the performances. The trumpets and drums were often used for scenes with members of court or of noble rank. Whereas the lute and viola were used for more dramatic or romantic scenes. The fiddle was commonly played by the clown, jester or fool character to portray a lighthearted scene. The main characters in the shows almost never performed a musical number. Ophelia in Macbeth is a rare exception where her musical performance was used as an allusion to her depleting sanity. Nowadays there is an extensive range of music performed in contemporary Shakespeare. Bridge Theatre’s version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream even showcased a rendition of Beyonce’s Love on Top. With our fourth and final show, As You Like It, taking place tomorrow I look forward to seeing what direction the director takes with his choice of music for the performance.

The Glamour of Oxford

 I’ve been wanting to stay in a place like Oxford for a very long time; growing up reading The Hobbit, Aunt Dimity: Detective, and other stories where home is lush green, beautiful, subtle and busy at the same time I’ve been to many places (including Fort Collins) where that lesser environmental need has been met, but I wish I were exaggerating when I say that none of them quite come close to here. I’m a person very much affected by my surroundings, and in Oxford I have but to walk down the road to get my dose of my favorite things: bright and cheery flowers, squat, narrow buildings against high-reaching spires and stained glass, the energy of students and living history, and enough leaning green trees to cure any measure of summer slump. But it is not just the quaint and picturesque setting of Oxford that has made me fall in love with it (though it is indeed both of those things, I’ve purchased many a postcard).

 The greater impact has come from studying in a place where so many great and skilled minds have set to work, and knowing that they swore the same oath when registering as a reader at the Bodleian libraries as I did is really and truly something grand. I’ve had the opportunity to study the works of J.R.R. Tolkien in my tutorial in addition to the work for our Shakespeare class, as well as visit the location of the meetings for The Inklings and other places in Oxford where the beloved professor wandered and worked. I’ve dug in depth into a few of his lesser known works and completely changed the way I think about his stories, and I’ve learned to write essays in a totally different style. I’ve been able to sit and read on a bridge above Addison’s Walk at Magdalen College and write about Tolkien’s work as a philologist and medievalist, and imagine the comradery he found with C.S. Lewis and other writers in The Eagle and Child pub. I’ve had a world of fun with friends and also made the experience entirely my own.

China in Oxford

I am so excited that there are some good Chinese restaurants in Oxford. I have been to four restaurants including Zheng, Sojo, Opium Den and A Taste of China.

The one I like most is Zheng. One reason is that the food and the environment there is so good. And another reason is that it is so close to my apartment. However, the drawback is that it is a little expensive and I need to order another soup or dessert if I am hungry. I love these food. The taste is close to the traditional taste of China.

Spicy Chicken (left). Wen Tun Soup (right).

Sticky Rice with Chicken
Fried Rice Noodles (with beef).

Opium Den is the second one that I like. One reason is that there are many choice of food. Another reason is that there is 15% discount everyday from 12 pm to 5 pm. Besides, there are a lot of choices of vegan food. I love the Black Pepper Beef and Shredded Potato with Green Pepper. I do not recommend noodles there.

Black Pepper Beef

As for Sojo, I have just been there for one time because it is a little far from my apartment. I like the fish there.

Pickled Fish

The Taste of China is a small shop. I just have been there one time because it is far away from my apartment. The main food there is noodles. There are various types of noodles and I like them. And they are not expensive. The drawback is that it only opens from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. Besides, there are a lot of people waiting in line and there is not seat.

I often visit these four restaurants and I really enjoy the food there. I hope my experience is helpful. I highly recommend Zheng. If you want to go for some Chinese food, you can go to Zheng and you will love it!

Green World

My preoccupation with the flowers of Oxford might seem a bit needless. Sure, they’re beautiful, but we’ve got those in Colorado, haven’t we? A rose is a rose is a rose, and so on. Perhaps there isn’t anything different about Oxford flowers save for the abundance and length of bloom. Or, perhaps, the difference stems from the idea—as cliché as it may be—that flowers represent a kind of fleeting beauty of which this city has made me hyper aware, the very symbols of the seasons and cyclical movements of the world that seem to have become, somehow, still.

Sometimes, in Real Life, Time blooms very slowly—petals of the cosmos unfolding, purple and delicate, stardust drifting down to pollinate the world with whatever is necessary to fuel things like dreams and love and the mundane yet overwhelming desire for coffee in the early morning. Often the bloom is faster, and scattered, exploding with some sort of ordered violence of light and sound and color that now you’re older and you’re alive and you’re so aware of it and hopefully you’ve grown, somewhat, since the last time you noticed.

Then, sometimes, all of that stops. A rose is no longer just a flower, or some kind of archetypical element of romance, or a metaphor under a glass dome. It’s a rose. It’s a moment. It’s a step-back-and-realize-that-nothing’s-ever-been-so-real; a stay-awake-smiling-in-the-bubble-of-night-because-Time-forgot-that-she’s-meant-to-be-moving; a sun-brushed, cloud-topped, impossibly green horizon viewed from the skyline of the city in which I am so lucky to be allowed to exist. It’s a stretch of time-outside-of-time—the midst of the explosion when the only things that move are the rain and the laughter and the friends I have somehow, miraculously, impossibly managed to make here. (I will forever hold that the green magic of Oxford was responsible for this. This city gave these genuinely amazing people to me and I could not be more grateful (truly, “amazing” is not a strong enough word.))

I wish I could capture it, somehow, the finger-tap of rain on a borrowed umbrella as I walk toward my borrowed home, as the wet smell of fresh green hangs in the air like the wind is content to sit this one out. I wish I could do justice to the scattered flowers growing from the cracks in the walls; the flowers carefully loved and thriving in the Botanic Gardens; the flowers climbing up and hugging houses, clinging to brick and curling around windows as if it’s all meant to be together. As if the growth of the one world does not—cannot—negate or obstruct the growth of the other.

Maybe I’m being dramatic, but maybe this is a city that calls for things like that—this city that has inspired many a writer, many an artist, many a change of mind and heart, I’m sure. A “Green” world in every sense of the word.