The Sentence

From what you can read of a basic source on Caligula (Wikipedia or other general reference), what is the historical basis for this play, if any? (Caligula considered a good emperor for the first months of his reign, degenerated afterwards; his wife had died young in childbirth)

What is the significance of the title, “The Sentence”? Does the knowledge that we are going to witness a “sentence” create suspense?

Are there in fact two “sentences” pronounced by Caligula? Is it important that one occurs midway and one at the end?

Is this play a tragedy? Comedy? Tragi-comedy? Melodrama?

Which features common to tragedy does it include? (reversal, recognition) Which does it lack? (proud ruler doesn’t fall from high to low fortune)

Which elements of comedy does it exhibit? (evil is discovered at end; play ends with a marriage, but a marriage between servants; original marriage is aborted by death)

What are some scenes which might be described as parodies of what the audience would conventionally expect? (e. g., when Neda declines to join her mistress in exile)

Why do you think Webster designed this play in three rather than five acts?  

What are some important instances of reversal and recognition (what Aristotle viewed as the mechanisms of tragedy)?

What important themes and characterizations are brought forth in the opening scene? How is the relationship between Caius and Laelia portrayed? Does this scene effectively prepare for what follows?

What is the significance of the reference to gladiator contests, and the datum that Laelia is unable to watch them? How do the others respond to her revulsion? Does she object or defend herself?

What other well-known Victorian author had objected to the “games”? (Pater, in Marius the Epicurian)

How does the reader/viewer discern the true motivations and character of Niger, Stellio, Aeonia, Caius, and others? What are some instances in which the viewer is forced to alter a prior viewpoint?

What importance is served within the play by setting? What are some symbolic/tonal changes as the characters move from Rome to Baiae and back again?

How is Caius characterized? (tricky, manipulative) On what grounds does he respect Laelia? Why doesn’t he wish to marry her, and what induces his brief, quickly rejected proposal?

What functions are served by the character of Memnon? Fonteia? The peasants and fisher-folk?

How are instances of observation, performance and scrutiny present throughout the play?

What is the importance of gossip in unraveling the plot?

What function is served by Laelia’s death? How would her survival have affected the ending? To what extent has she been the play’s moral center? What changes occur after her death?

What roles do Stellio’s and Laelia’s children play in the drama? In particular, how are they significant in the final scene?

Can you discern echoes in the play of prior authors? (Shakespeare, esp. “The Tempest,” “Hamlet,” and “Measure for Measure,” Arnold’s “Tristram and Iseult” and “The Buried Life,” the character of Guido in Robert Browning’s “The Ring and the Book”)

What function is served by the songs? Do they seem to comment on the action? What is the role of the mimes? The staged chamber within a chamber?

What are some instances of irony and repetition which structure the play? (ironic reversal at end, in that Stellio had considered poisoning his wife and is himself poisoned by one he loves)

What are some grounds on which we are supposed to judge the lovers? How do they behave toward their relatives or those close to them? (Stellio grieves very little over the death of his kind aged relative who has been a father figure to him, and none over the death of his wife; Aeonia begrudges him any thoughts of Niger or Laelia)

What are some significant images used by the characters? Are certain images associated with certain characters?

How does the novel contrast the two most important female characters? In particular, how does each respond to the offer of the position of empress?

Do Laelia and Aeonia fit theatrical stereotypes of the period? Victorian views of ideal womanhood vs. the femme fatale?

This play was published in 1887; of what dramatists of the period does Webster show awareness?
Augusta Webster was a campaigner for women’s rights; are there signs of Victorian feminist concerns throughout the play? (a double standard for infidelity, harm caused by judging women solely by their atractiveness)

What significant plot motifs turn on the availability of free divorce in the Roman period? How might the Victorians have viewed the willingness to divorce lightly?  Which characters consider the possibility of this step? (Stellio, Caius offers to wed Aeonia and will divorce her the next day!)

Does marriage seem to retain much meaning within the play in the face of constant attempts to undermine it? Which characters retain respect for its principles? (Niger, Laelia)

What characterizes Stellio and Aeonia’s relationship? (constant frustration and deferral) Are both implicated equally in hastening on the danger and violence of the ending? 

What are some ironic and perverted features of Caius’s “wooing” of Aeonia? What seems the tone of the ending? Has justice been served?

How does the fact that Caligula is the one who manufactures revenge effect the viewer’s sense that the punishment of the loves has been just?

What seems the “moral” or final intentions of this play? Are these ambiguous or deeply ironic? What kind of world is portrayed?

Could this play have been successfully performed? Was William Michael Rossetti correct in admiring it? (He thought it the best of her plays.)

Augusta Webster, “Protection for the Working Woman,” 1878

Against what forms of restrictions are Webster’s views directed? (number  of hours in workplace, times of day women could be required to work, 371)

How would you describe Webster’s style? Her use of analogies? Metaphors? Word play? What do you make of her allusion to the tale of Rumpelstiltskin?

What is the general line of her argument? (paternalism is really a restriction of opportunity) Could there be counterarguments?

Webster was a prominent Liberal commentator, and this essay was published in response to a current bill under debate presented by the Conservative Disraeli government? How may the fact that the bill’s proposers were members of Disraeli’s government have affected her interpretation of its contents and intent?

What solution to the problems of women does she propose? (373; 375 franchise) Might there have been others? (equal restrictions on men; employers could have been required to end the workday for all)
What seem to have been Webster’s motivations in writing this essay? (sincerely eager to help, speaks of privations of working-class life)

According to Webster, how can working-class women protect themselves? (347) Is this desirable?
Would she have favored the unionization of female workers? Are the issues she addresses still relevant and debated today?