Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Winners of the Creative Assignment!

Thanks to everyone for reading during Wednesday's class: not surprisingly, this class embraced the challenge and created bona fide works of literature, which only slightly betrayed their origins in mimicry and satire.  I would love to share these with the world--or future students--so if you feel so inclined, e-mail me your paper and I'll post it on our blog.  I've also been impressed by the papers that weren't read aloud, since any of them would have won over the class and could have been a top contender for the prizes below.  That said, we had to pick someone, so I had the students vote for their 3 favorite works.  Everyone who read got at least 2 or more votes, and the third place winner won by a single vote (otherwise, there would have been a 4-way tie).  The difference between first and second place was two votes, so that, too, came down to the wire.  However, here are the class' winners and I think we can all agree they did a fantastic job of literary mimicry and inspiration: 

First: Dillon Darnell, "The Persuasive Politician"
Second: Cheyenne Counts, "Separation Along the Walls"
Third: Elyse Marquardt, "A Love Unrequited" 

Congratulations and PLEASE come by my office sometime this week to collect your prize!  If you don't, I'll simply bring it to the Final Exam, but that means you would have to wait a whole week--the suspense would eat you alive!   But seriously, stop by...I'll be in my office for most of the day on Thursday and Friday, esp. from 10-12 and 1-3.  Thanks again to everyone and I'm sorry to have to officially end our class.  In my 14 years of teaching, this was honestly one of my favorite classes and one I'll probably remember as I near the twilight years of retirement (hopefully not too soon!).  Thanks for all your hard work and interest in the course.  

Remember the Final Exam on Friday, December 12th @ 9:00 in Horace Mann 347.  See the Exam details a few posts down before you show up!  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Final Exam Part #1

Final Exam (part #1)

Your final exam will be 25% comprehensive, and 75% on Northanger Abbey.  The comprehensive part will consist of several quotations from the various books we’ve read (including Austen): you will have to identify each passage and explain its significance to the work as a whole.  This should be quite easy as long as you’ve read and you have a halfway decent ear for the “sound” of each author in class. 

The Northanger Abbey portion will be a series of short essay questions using ONE of the following essays from the back of the Norton Critical Edition of the novel:
·      Lee Erickson, “The Economy of Novel Reading” (pp.325-338)
·      Narelle Shaw, “Free Indirect Speech and Jane Austen’s 1816 revision of Northanger  Abbey” (pp.339-348)
·      Joseph Litvak, “The Most Charming Man in the World” (pp.348-357)

Be sure to read one of these essays prior to the final exam, though you may bring your book to the exam.  You will use the essay to answer the questions, and I will expect you to quote from the essay AND the novel to support your answers.  The trick here is to see how well you can apply second hand research to a primary text, while balancing your own views on the work itself.

REMEMBER, the final exam is on Friday, December 12th @ 9:00.  Bring your copy of Northanger Abbey (I don’t have extra copies to loan you) as well as lots of paper to write with.  See you then! 

Saturday, November 22, 2014

For Monday: Gilbert and Gubar, "Shut Up In Prose : Gender and Genre in Jane Austen's Juvenilia (pp.277-293)

For Monday, be sure to read the landmark essay (a chapter from their book The Madwoman in the Attic) by Gilbert and Gubar, "Shut Up in Prose: Gender and Genre in Jane Austen's Juvenelia."  After reading it, respond to the following question to launch our discussion on Monday:

What does it mean for a female character to be "shut up in prose" as they argue Catherine becomes in the novel?  In what ways do the conventions of writing, and the narratives of novel-writing themselves, allow others (esp. men) to "trap" Catherine?  Related to this, how does this article argue that Henry Tilney, for all his good qualities, is somewhat complicit in Catherine's entrapment?  How do the authors want us to understand what it meant to be a woman living in the 'narratives' of her culture in the 1790's?  

Creative Assignment--due in-class on December 3rd!

Creative Assignment/Presentation: DUE in-class December 3rd

For this short assignment, I want you to write a short piece in the style of a famous author or a famous genre of literature (as Austen did with Ann Radcliffe and/or Gothic Literature).  To do this, pick ONE of the following prompts below:
·         Write a “modern” work in the style of an older author: for example, Jane Austen writing about Facebook romance; Chaucer writing about televangelists; the Beowulf poet writing about Afghanistan or Iraq, etc. 
·         Use a modern author to write about one of the periods in class: for example, how would J.K. Rowling write Beowulf?  Or Stephanie Meyer write Northanger Abbey
·         Re-write one of the works from class from a different modern genre: for example, Northanger Abbey as a real horror novelRobinson Crusoe as a fantasy novel!  A Midsummer Night’s Dream as science fiction! 
·         Write part of the unwritten sequel to a famous work: a missing Canterbury Tale!  The prequel to Beowulf

Your paper should be 2-3 pages (though you can do more) which tries to write in the style of an actual author or genre.  You can reinterpret the original (you don’t have to follow the plot), but make sure you stay true to the spirit of the piece, and the language of the original.  Try to write language that sounds like Chaucer, or Shakespeare, or Austen.  You don’t have to write a stand-alone story, either; this could be Chapter 2, or 12, or 50 of a hypothetical novel.  The important thing is mimicking or satirizing the original in some way that is recognizable to others fans of the author/genre.  Try to figure out what makes the language of Shakepeare, Defoe, or Austen “tick.” 

FOR EXAMPLE, remember how Austen writes a mini-Gothic novel in Chapter 22 (Book 2) of Northanger Abbey, complete with references to stormy nights, locked chests, mysterious documents, and distant groans.  Even her writing style changes, becoming less satiric and witty, and instead echoing the familiar Gothic framework of mystery and terror.  Ultimately, we learn that Austen is doing this satirically, since Catherine’s imagination has run away with her and all she finds are some old laundry lists.  However, we believed it because she knew the hallmarks of Gothic fiction—she was a fan.  Write about something or someone you are a fan of so we can see your admiration (even through satire). 

REQUIREMENTS: 2-3 pages at least (you can do more), and I want to read many of these in class.  You don’t have to read it, but I strongly encourage you to do so because it’s fun and it’s a great way to end the class.  On December 1st we will be reading these, and there are PRIZES for the top three papers (the class will vote).  Good luck and please try to have fun with this.  As long as you give it an honest attempt you’ll get full credit—it’s meant as a nice, light way to end the semester.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

For Friday: Finish Northanger Abbey

From the BBC adaptation of Northanger Abbey
For Friday: Finish Northanger Abbey!  (or get close)

Answer TWO of the following…

1. Examine Henry’s speech which follows his discovery of Catherine’s snooping: “If I understand you rightly, you had formed a surmise of such horror as I have hardly words to—Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained.  What have you been judging us from?”  How do you read this passage?  Is it shocking her into an awareness of her overworked sensibility and imagination?  Or does this speech have ironic implications that only the narrator (and reader) can appreciate?  Does English society “prepare us for such atrocities”?  

2. Though this is a satire, to an extent, of a gothic novel, how is the reality of Northanger Abbey true to the ideas and characters of a gothic novel?  What horrors really do lurk within Northanger Abbey, and why isn’t Catherine initially able to see them?  In other words, why might we call this a ‘realistic’ Gothic novel?  

3. In the last chapters, we get an interesting view of life in the Morland home, particularly the interaction between Catherine and her mother.  How does Austen depict this domestic environment?  Do you feel Austen’s portrait is sentimental or satirical?  In other words, does she want us to relate to Catherine’s world, or is it as small and foolish as Bath was?  

4. In the introduction to the Penguin edition of Northanger Abbey, the 19th century scholar Marilyn Butler writes, “Austen’s compact with her readers is never puritanical.  Traditional stories end with satisfied desire; surprisingly often this encompasses the desire for goods.  Happiness comes in Northanger Abbey as a sitting-room with a window down to the floor, and a view of apple trees.”  Is Butler suggesting that marital bliss is still tied to class and possession (like Crusoe)?  Despite Catherine’s sensibility, does Austen ultimately reward her heroine with a sensible match—a man of property and comfort?  Do we think she will continue to thrive intellectually in this setting—or was that not the point of Catherine’s education?  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

For Monday: Nothanger Abbey, Chs.16-22

For Monday: Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chs.16-22 (pp.88-124)

Answer TWO of the following...

1. In Chapter “21, we encounter Austen’s spot-on imitation of a Gothic novel, complete with many of the hallmarks of the genre from works like The Castle of Otranto and The Mysteries of Udolpho (we’ll discuss these works in class on Monday).  How do we read this chapter in particular—as a parody or a legitimate attempt to conjure up a sense of horror for her readers?  Does the tone of a giggling narrator lie behind this, or is Austen allowing herself, audaciously, to write like a Mrs. Radcliffe? 

2. How do you feel the Catherine/Henry romance is progressing in these chapters?  Is it a dance of mutual respect and admiration, or does he appear more condescending and dominating?  Consider the conversation in Chapter 20: is he mocking her Gothic sensibility or using it to woo her more effectively?  In other words, does he want to correct her taste or share it with her? 

3. Do you think Austen is more critical toward the women in the book than the men?  Consider the portrait of Isabella that emerges in Chapter 18, when Isabella remarks, “A little harmless flirtation or so will occur, and one is often drawn on to give more encouragement than one wishes to stand by...What one means one day, you know, one might not mean the next.  Circumstances change, opinions alter” (99).   Why might Austen have more of a bone to pick with her own sex? 

4. Consider the passage in Chapter 22 when Henry is praising Catherine’s love for a hyacinth: “And though the love of a hyacinth may be rather domestic, who can tell, the sentiment once raised, but you may in time come to love a rose?” (119).  What is he trying to teach Catherine here, or perhaps, what is he hoping she has learned to appreciate/admire in this chapter? 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

For Friday: Northanger Abbey, Chs.10-15, (pp.46-87 in Norton)

For Friday: Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chs. 10-15 (pp.46-87)

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Chapter 14 is a delightful discussion of books and taste, in which narrator readily admits that “It was no effort to Catherine to believe that Henry Tilney could never be wrong.  His manner might sometimes surprize, but his meaning must always be just” (Norton 79).  How are we supposed to read their budding romance in these chapters?  Is it truly a match of equals, or is Henry somewhat condescending towards her as a ‘weak’ woman?  How are we supposed to read/appreciate this match? 

2. How does Catherine continue to mistake fiction with reality, and allow her aesthetic views to color her personal decisions and beliefs?  In other words, how does she expect life to ‘read’ like a novel, and how does Austen satirize (however lightly) her views in doing so?

3. In what way does Austen distinguish Henry Tilney from the other characters in Bath (Thrope, Mrs. Allen, Isabella, etc.)?  Is he, despite his sex, closer to the voice and wit of the narrator (who we assume to be Austen)?  How do we feel the narrator, herself, feels about him (besides the fact that he is only “very near” being handsome)? 

4. A consistent theme in Austen’s novels is the entrance of a young woman into society.  However, such a rite of passage requires experienced chaperones to guide her on her way.  How does Austen satirize the idea of a young woman’s education—and in this case, into the social wilds of Bath?  What dangers or missteps does she encounter that were all too real for women in Austen’s time?  

Monday, November 10, 2014

For Wednesday: Northanger Abbey, Chs.1-9

For Wednesday: Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chs.1-9 (pp.5-46)

Answer TWO of the following:

1. How does the narrator defend and/or satirize novel reading throughout the opening chapters of Northanger Abbey?  Consider that novels in the late 18th century had become primarily the domain of women, chiefly works of a Gothic/romantic nature such as those Catherine and Isabella discuss in Chapter 6.  Does the narrator approve of these works in general, or does she see them as the fruits of low culture, betraying a lack of taste and judgment? 

2. Why is Austen at such pains to paint Catherine as a character who “was often inattentive, and occasionally stupid” (Norton 6)?  What novel-writing conventions does she seem to be responding to here and throughout the opening chapters?  How do we know that satire is behind these characterizations?

3. Considering that Northanger Abbey is written at the tail-end of the 18th century (around the 1790’s), how might it mark an advance in style, characterization, or narration on earlier novels such as Robinson Crusoe (1719) or Tom Jones (1749)?  Consider how she is obviously writing in their tradition while expanding and refining certain aspects of the novel.  Does being a woman change what she writes—and how she writes it? 

4. In Chapter 3, Henry Tilney jokingly informs Catherine that “I have hitherto been very remiss, madam, in the proper attentions of a partner here; I have not yet asked you how long you have been in Bath; whether you were ever here before; whether you have been at the Upper Rooms, the theatre, and the concert; and how you like the place altogether” (14). Based on this scene and others in Bath, what kind of environment is Bath?  Why might Austen be drawn to satirize such a place in her novel?  Additionally, why might it form the ideal microcosm of English society in one convenient setting?  (By the way, Austen hated Bath!).  

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

For Wednesday/Friday: Fielding's Tom Jones

For the rest of this week, I want to watch the BBC adaptation of Henry Fielding's massive--and massively funny--1749 novel, Tom Jones.  The movie will help us appreciate the satirical aesthetic and social critique prevalent in the 18th century which Jane Austen adopts in her early novel, Northanger Abbey (1798, pub.1818).

Additionally, I want you to read the first 30 or so pages of Tom Jones as a companion to the film, so you can see his style and satire (I will provide this in class on Wednesday).  The questions below won't be due until Monday, so watch the film this week and read the pages over the next few days.  Hope you enjoy it--Tom Jones is one of my very favorite novels and can make me cry with laughter (can't promise the same for you!).

Answer TWO of the following...

1. How does Tom Jones compare to Robinson Crusoe as a character?  While Tom Jones is more upper class (though illegitimate) than Crusoe, how do both flirt with conventional ideas of morality that might make them unusual protagonists?  Additionally, how might Fielding have different intentions with his protagonist than Defoe?

2. Writing in the Second Chapter of Tom Jones, Fielding admits, "I intend to digress, through this whole history, as often as I see occasion; of which I am myself a better judge than any pitiful critic whatever" (33).  Why does he adopt this unusual style of narration in the novel?  How is this different than how Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, and how does it affect the way we read/experience Tom Jones (also, how did the film try to capture this narration)?

3. Though Fielding is writing of 'real' people who might have actually lived in 18th century England, how is the story of Tom Jones also quite allegorical, discussing types rather than fully developed human beings?  What lesson might he be trying to impart to the audience through these types (and stereotypes)?

4. Compare the adaptation of the book to a specific scene in the opening chapters: what qualities/characteristics were they able to capture?  What things were avoided or left out?  Why might a novel (such as this one) sometimes resist the art of adaptation?  How could this explain why so few 18th century novels become films?

Friday, October 31, 2014

For Monday: Reading Robison Crusoe over the Centuries

NOTE: Check out these early editions of Robinson Crusoe (and books inspired by it) from the Miami University special collections website (where I got my Ph.D.):

Readings in Eighteenth and Nineteenth-Century Opinions: Rousseau, Blair, Beattie, Chalmers, Ballantyne, Coleridge, Lamb, Wordsworth, Poe, Hazlitt, de Quincey, Borrow, Macaulay, Dickens, Stephen (pp.262-279)

Readings in Twentieth-Century Criticism: Woolf (283-297), Joyce (320-323)

Answer TWO of the following:

1. Why do so many of the earlier critics insist that Robinson Crusoe is a work best suited for children, and indeed, is “one of the best books that can be put in the hands of children” (265)?  What makes this book almost impossible for children to read today?  What aspect of the book—or culture—have changed the most?  Or do you still agree with these writers? 

2. Samuel Taylor Coleridge insisted that Crusoe “is merely a representative of humanity in general: neither his intellectual nor his moral qualities set him above the middle degree of mankind” (268).  Do you agree with this statement?  If so, why is it important for Defoe to make his hero such an “average” character?  If not, why might Coleridge be misreading Defoe’s intentions? 

3. De Quincey writes that Defoe’s unique gift is to “invent, when nothing at all is gained by inventing” (272).  Yet Macaulay, on the opposite page, claims that “He had undoubtedly a knack at making fiction look like the truth.  But is such a knack much to be admired?” (273).  What side of the argument do you stand on?  Do you feel such inventions are crucial to the modern novel?  Or do they betray the hodgepodge origins of the novel which were soon refined by Jane Austen and others? 

4. How is Woolf’s essay a revision of an earlier generation of critics who accused Defoe of having “a very powerful but a very limited imagination” (279)?  What does she means by her statement, Defoe has throughout kept consistently to his own sense of perspective” (285)? 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

For Wednesday: Robinson Crusoe, pp.150-200 (approx.)

For Wednesday: Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, pp.150-200 (approx).

Only ONE question this time:

Discuss the relationship between Crusoe and Friday, which is one of the most unique (and possibly troubling) in English literature.  Many critics have discussed these pages, and several authors have written their own books from Friday's perspective--or, in one case, about another castaway on the island who observed both Crusoe and Friday (Coetzee's Foe).  How are we supposed to read/appreciate this relationship?  Is it a master and his slave?  A father and his son?  A teacher and student?  A friendship of equals?  Is Defoe trying to show genuine humanity in Crusoe's relationship with another man, and not just a man, but a Carib Islander?  Where do darker elements creep in for a 21st century reader?  Would these elements be visible, do you think, to readers of Defoe's own time?  Was Defoe, himself, aware of them?  What clues do we have in the text about how to interpret their relationship?  Consider lines such as this one, on page 154: "and I began really to love the Creature; and on his Side, I believe he lov'd me more than it was possible for him ever to love any Thing before."  

Monday, October 27, 2014

Paper #3 assignment on Defoe's Robinson Crusoe--due in 2 weeks!

Paper #3: “Conversing Mutually With My Own Thoughts”: The Debate of Robinson Crusoe

“Before we open the book we have perhaps vaguely sketched out the kind of pleasure we expect [Crusoe] to give us.  We read; and we are rudely contradicted on every page.  There are no sunsets and no sunrises; there is no solitude and no soul.  There is, on the contrary, staring us full in the face nothing but a large earthenware pot” (Woolf, from “Robinson Crusoe” in The Second Common Reader)

Since its publication in 1719, Robinson Crusoe has never fallen out of print, though readers’ reactions have altered considerably since the 18th century.  Some, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, found it a remarkable testament to the human spirit; others, such as Virginia Woolf (in the quote above), are amazed by its lack of poetry and sentiment.  Like any work of art, each new generation finds new aspects to admire, puzzle over, and at times, reject.  What will Robinson Crusoe become in the 21st century?  Or will it finally fall out of print?

In your paper, I want you to discuss how we should evaluate Defoe’s masterpiece in the 21st century:  is it (a) a work ahead of its time in its frank evaluation of colonialism and critique of the business of empire/capitalism, or is it (b) a work that is primarily of interest for its outdated colonial views, which seem to endorse slavery, racism, and European/English superiority?  In other words, does it remain a work of humanist thought that speaks to a global readership, or has it become more a historical document, dramatizing a moment in time that we can learn from—even if we can never endorse its philosophy? 

To help you make this argument, I want you to respond to 2-3 of the authors in the Eighteenth-Nineteenth Century Opinions, and/or Twentieth Century Criticism in our Norton text to discuss how you see Robinson Crusoe in the 21st century.  Were the 18th century writers able to see its merits clearly?  Or could only a later age see the remarkable achievements Defoe made in the pioneering form of the novel?  Whom do you most agree with?  Least?  What ideas from previous criticism help you appreciate the work yourself?  Which authors completely miss the point?  Or, what ideas do none of the writers see that most of us see/respond to in 2014?  

·        This is a conversation paper, meaning that you are responding to other writers/critics and adding your own conversation.  To do this, you must quote from their ideas and show how you understand and respond to their ideas.  Don’t rely on summary and paraphrase.   
·        You must also quote from Robinson Crusoe for support; use significant passages in the book to support your own views and/or refute someone else’s.  Make sure you have a true dialogue with your ideas, the text, and other critics’ views. 
·        At least 4-5 pages, double spaced, though feel free to go beyond this. 

·        DUE in 2 weeks, Monday, November 10th by 5pm 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

For Monday: Robinson Crusoe, pp.100-150 (approx.)

For Monday: Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, approx.pp.100-150

Answer TWO of the following...

1. How does Crusoe talk himself out of murdering all the “savages” shortly after first encountering them?  Why might this reflect some of the larger themes of colonialism/first contact going on in the Americas at this time?  How firm does Crusoe remain in these convictions? 

2. Robert Louis Stevenson (author of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, Treasure Island, etc.) considered the following passage one of the 4 greatest scenes in English literature: “I was exceedingly surpriz’d with the Print of a Man’s naked Foot on the Shore, which was very plain to be seen in the Sand: I stood like one Thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an Apparition; I listn’d, I look’d round me, I could hear nothing, nor see any Thing” (Norton, 112).  What makes this a dramatic and pivotal scene in the book?  Why do you think it occurs so relatively late in Crusoe’s story? 

3. Why does Crusoe risk his life in the canoe (remember what happened last time!) to examine the foundered ship?  What might this episode reveal about Crusoe’s character twenty-plus years after shipwreck?  What forces/desires still drive him, and how might this reveal him as a more human, rather than allegorical, figure? 

4. In an odd passage on page 127 (Norton edition), Crusoe remarks on “Intimations of Providence,” which he claims “are a Proof of the Converse of Spirits, and the secret Communication between those embody’d, and those unembody’d.”  What do you think he’s talking about here, and how does this square with his spiritual beliefs?  Does this resemble, at all, the old concept of wyrd that we once read about in Beowulf—or is this another way of talking about God’s will?   

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

For Friday: Robinson Crusoe, pp.53-103

For Friday: Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, pp. 53-103

NOTE: If you have a different edition, this reading ends when Defoe makes it safely back to the island after his treacherous boating adventure.  Be sure to get the correct edition, though, since we'll be reading supplementary readings from the Norton Critical edition!  

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Why do you feel Crusoe is so obsessed about keeping dates, journals, and anniversaries during his time on the island?  Related to this, why does he make us read his journal, when he’s already narrated many of the events in its pages?  Does the Journal offer us a different perspective on the events, and/or does it support some other idea/theme of the book?

2. Discuss the visions and revelations Crusoe has during his sickness that make him repent.  Is the whole book (so far) leading up to this event?  Is it significant that the visions occur in the Journal and not in his narrative proper?  Do we believe his story at this point, or could this be possible evidence of Crusoe’s unreliable narration? 

3. Within a few years, Crusoe has set up a Country-House and a Sea-Coast-House, has planted crops, and even learned to create pots and bake bread.  He even remarks that “I was remov’d from all the Wickedness of the World...I had neither the Lust of the Flesh, the Lust of the Eye, or the Pride of Life.  I had nothing to covet...I was Lord of the whole Manor; of it I pleas’d, I might call my self King, or Emperor over the whole Country which I had Possession of” (Norton 94).  How does this complicate how we read his island isolation: is it punishment or providence?  Is he now reconciled to live here forever, safe from sin and envy?  Is he drawing the correct ‘lesson’ from his fate? 

4. According to Crusoe, what are the absolute necessities of civilization, without which, one is merely a “savage”?  While he could live quite simply, in a “meer State of Nature”, Crusoe clearly wants to remain a man—and a civilized man, at that.  What does he need to accomplish this, and how difficult is this without even 18th century technology?  

Monday, October 20, 2014

Paper #2 Assignment: due this Friday

NOTE: The questions for Crusoe are in the post below this one

Paper #2: “These antique fables [and] fairy toys”: Staging the Dream

For your second paper (if you choose to accept it), I want you to focus on ONE character in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and discuss how he/she should be interpreted/understood by a potential actor.  Imagine that you are a dramaturg (someone hired by a theater company to offer historical/contextual details to a performance) and your insight is crucial for the actor to understand his or her place in the overall ‘dream.’  Discuss several passages in the play where you would help the actor interpret his/her lines and understand how this moment relates to the play as a whole, as well as to the underlying historical details that only a literature/theater scholar would know. 

Consider this a kind of guide for future performance, and you can have as much—or as little—fun with this as you like.  For example, you could write to a specific actor (Robert Pattinson as Puck?), or you could merely offer general notes to a potential performance.  ALSO, consider what happens when the character isn’t speaking.  If a character is on-stage without dialogue, is something important happening?  What does Hermia do at the end of Act 4?  Or Hippolyta in Act 1?  Help us see the performance we can’t see until opening night. 

To help you do this, I want you to use at least TWO sources from the Contextual Documents in the back of the book (either sources we read and discussed in class, or other selections that we haven’t).  These materials can help you discuss what Shakespeare might have intended with this character, and how this character would be perceived by his original audience—which, in turn, can help the actor understand who he/she really is in the play.  You can also use other sources—articles from JSTOR, etc.—but don’t use these instead of the documents in our book. 

·        At least 4-5 pages, double spaced
·        Focus on only ONE character; don’t jump around and juggle multiple characters in your analysis (you can mention other characters, but focus primarily on your character)
·        Close readings: don’t summarize what happens (or summarize the plot); focus on specific moments in the play and examine the dialogue
·        At least 2 sources from the Contextual Documents in our book, though you can use other as well (but not instead of); you can use the film we watched as an additional (3rd) source, too. 
·        Cite all quotations according to MLA guidelines and include a Works Cited with each source documented.
Due Friday, October 24th by 5pm 

For Wednesday: Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, pp.4-52

For Wednesday: Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, pp.4-52

Answer TWO of the following…

1. From the first 50 pages, what kind of novel does Robinson Crusoe seem to be?  Since the novel was a very new form in his day, it could be virtually anything he wanted it to be, though he seems to borrow from several traditions (notably travel writing, as we discussed in class).  How would you classify this novel today?  What genre does it seem to most belong to (besides “classics”) and how might a modern marketer help sell it today? 

2. Does the book (or the author) seem to punish Crusoe for his “sin” of leaving home and not accepting his father’s “middle State”?  Is the island his ultimate punishment for refusing, time and again, to be a good son?  Or is this simply Crusoe’s interpretation that we’re meant to see past, and ultimately, to ignore based on other hints in the book? 
3. In Monday’s class we looked at Mercator’s map of 1633, which he claimed was created “the better to profit, the studious, and carefull of Politick matters and States affairs.”  How might Defoe be the ideal audience for Mercator’s map, based on his initial voyages?  What kind of explorer is he, and why might he be typical of explorers in his day and age (rather than the more romantic explorers we celebrate in movies, holidays, etc.)? 

4. Remember that Crusoe is not Defoe, and as far as we know, Defoe never traveled to any of these locations or experienced shipwreck, etc.  However, which passages read as a realistic, first-hand account of an exciting or traumatic event?  How does Defoe make these passages ‘real’ to his readers, and why might 18th century readers have accepted the idea that the book was truly “written by himself”—that is, written by Robinson Crusoe of York?  

Monday, October 13, 2014

For Wednesday: Who Is This Man?

For Wednesday's class, there is no reading, but we will discuss the identity of the man who posterity has called Shakespeare.  Is he as history claims, a lowly actor from the provinces who worked his way up to the greatest dramatist/poet in English history?  Or was his name borrowed by a nobleman or woman from court, who couldn't have his or her name attached to lowly stage plays, but had a burning desire to write and shape his/her society?  Find out on Wednesday!  

We'll also discuss finding journal articles on JSTOR which can help you on Papers #2 and 3.  See you then!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

For Monday: Royal Entertainments for the Virgin Queen (pp.111-148)

* "The Fetching Home of May" (111-116)
* Court Entertainments (117-125)
* Laneham, "A Letter Describing the Entertainment of the Queen at Kenilworth" (126-134)
* Coventry Records of the Hock Tuesday Play (134-139)
* The Fairy Queen (138-140)
* Entertainment at Elvetham (140-142)
* Spenser, The Shepheardes Calendar (142-148)

Answer TWO of the following:

1. According to these readings, how did contemporary poets, playwrights, and noblemen appropriate Elizabeth into their performances?  What 'role' did she have to play, and how did they attempt to flatter and/or enshrine her on the stage?

2. In the Conventry Records of the Hock Tuesday Play, we find receipts for all the behind-the-scenes business of the Elizabethan theater, including most hilariously, "paid God and dead man, 20d."  How do these records (and other readings, such as Laneham's Letter) help us appreciate the world of Bottom, Quince, etc. in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and explain why Shakespeare took such pains to include them in his play?

3. Though nothing overtly sexual occurs in A Midsummer Night's Dream, the presence of sex is on every page, since the theme is love, courtship, and at times, even rape.  How does the popular ballad, "The Fetching Home of May" help us understand the elaborate rites of May that all Elizabetheans celebrated--and which the play itself is a celebration of?

4. Based on many of these readings, what kind of theater did Elizabethan audiences (both common and royal) most enjoy?  How does Shakespeare acknowledge these preferences?  Do we expect the same things in our own theater (movies, particularly)?  Where do we agree and disagree on the aesthetics of stagecraft?    

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

For Friday: Amazons and the Virgin Queen (contextual readings)

For Friday: Contextual Documents for A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Amazons and the Virgin Queen (readings): 
· Christine de Pizan, 201-205
· Knox, The First Blast, 211-214
· Elizabeth I, Tilbury Speeches, 214-216
· Elizabeth I, Speech, 233-236

Answer TWO of the following:

1. What did the idea of Amazons signify in Elizabethan England?  Why does Christine de Pizan write a defense of them and Elizabeth somewhat model herself on them?  Why might Amazons be a large point of contention at this time in English (and perhaps, European) history?

2. How does John Knox attempt to scientifically and scholarly define the weakness and inferiority of women?  Why would these arguments be considered authoritative or compelling in Shakespeare’s day?  Is there any sense that Shakespeare is responding to these commonly-held ideas in A Midsummer Night's Dream?  

3. How does Elizabeth, either in her famous Tilbury Address, or in her Speech to Parliament on Marriage and Succession, respond to the attacks on women by Knox and others?  How did she find a way to speak and act as a leader without denying her identity as a woman?  

4. Since all of these works concern feminist ideas (or anti-feminist ideas), how might they help us read A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a play concerned with early feminism?  After reading these works, why might we pay more attention to the women in the play who are largely silent (Hippolyta), or are made silent (Titania, the lovers)?  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

For Monday: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Acts 4 and 5

For Monday: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Acts 4 and 5

Answer TWO of the following...

1. How do the lovers account for Puck’s final ‘trick’ on them in Act 4?  Examine closely what answers they give to Theseus and Egeus’ questions, and whether or not they seem convinced with the outcome.  Also note who speaks and who doesn’t (or very rarely). 

2. In the film, Bottom emerges as a slightly tragic, maybe even noble figure, despite being the butt (unavoidable pun) of the play’s jokes.  Do we see any of this in the final acts of the play?  Is he something of a wise fool, as we see in many of Shakespeare’s plays...or just a complete ass (another pun)? 

3. Why does Shakespeare stage the actual play within the play, the “tedious brief scene of young Pyramus/And his love Thisbe”?  This creates an interesting moment of meta-theater, since we are watching the audience (Theseus and company) watching the play, all of which is performed for us.  Why might he wanted this double level of watching/performing?  How might this comment not only the silliness of the play/actors, but also on both audiences (Theseus and us)?  Consider the comments the audience makes and why these are important for us to see/hear.  

 4. Is A Midsummer Night’s Dream a comedy or a tragicomedy by the final curtain?  Are we convinced that all the confusions are a mere sport, a strange dream that can be laughed away in the morning?  Or is there something darker and unresolved that lingers even during Puck’s final speech, perhaps prompting him to say, “If we shadows have offended”?  Discuss a specific passage or moment that might push this play in one direction or the other.  

Thursday, October 2, 2014

For Friday: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 3

Act 3 from the Royal Shakespeare Company's Dream 
For Friday: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 3

Answer TWO of the following...

1. As a playwright, Shakespeare loves to include in-jokes and references to acting and the theater.  How does he use the amateur players’ performance of Pyramus and Thisbe to poke fun at actors, the conventions of acting, and the kind of plays they typically performed?  Why might this work even better considering the characters being spoofed are portrayed by actors themselves? 

2. In Act 3.2, Helena accuses Hermia of being unfaithful, claiming that they were once “Two lovely berries molded on one stem” (54).  In a scene full of love confusion, why does Helena speak more passionately (and in terms of love) to Hermia rather than Demetrius?  What “betrayal” is Hermia apparently guilty of, and why might this be worse than that of Demetrius or Lysander? 

3. Discuss the language in which Demetrius and Lysander woo their new love, Helena.  Though both swear that this is a true, honest love, what does this language sound like?  What metaphors/imagery does it employ? 

4. How would you encourage an actor to interpret Puck in Act 3: as a bumbling, comic servant who can’t seem to get the job done, or a menacing, roughish sprite who means everyone ill?   Is his role in the play more good-natured or destructive?  Why might an actors’ interpretation of Puck change the mood/feel of the entire play?  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

An interesting link: Shakespeare's Original Pronunciation with David and Ben Crystal

NOTE: The questions for Acts 1 and 2 are posted below.

This is a ten-minute video that might be of interest to the class: it discusses the original pronunciation of Shakespeare vs. the commonly-accepted one we use today.  Like Chaucer, Shakespeare was writing in a time of great linguistic fluctuation, so many words had not assumed their definitive pronunciations.  What does it matter?  Well, sometimes rhymes work in Original Pronunciation that don't work in our Common Pronunciation.  Also, puns can sometimes be lost, as well as the meanings of an entire line or passage.  Watch the link below to learn more...

Monday, September 29, 2014

For Wednesday: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Acts 1 and 2

For Wednesday: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Acts 1 and 2

Answer TWO of the following:

1. In Act 1, Scene 1, Helena notes, “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,/And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind” (22).  Discuss how images and metaphors of seeing are used in the first two acts, and how they illustrate the play’s ideas about love and the act of falling in love.  What does it mean to ‘see’ the one you love, and is it the sight, rather than the reality, of the person we fall in love with? 

2. Discuss a passage in the play which seems to be absent in the film, or is presented very differently on the page.  How did the film ‘translate’ this passage differently, or why do you think the film omitted it?  What is the importance of this scene to you as a reader?  And related to this, can it be staged effectively (or would it have worked in the 1890’s version of the film)? 

3. How does the scene with the rustics (Bottom, Quince, etc.) and/or the scene with Titania and Oberon compare with the opening scene of Act 1, scene 1?  Though this play seems to be depicting three separate worlds that would never otherwise mix, how does Shakespeare connect each scene through shared themes, ideas, metaphors, or images?  Discuss a specific connection or two through a brief close reading. 

4. The joy of Shakespeare is in small moments that seem inconsequential (or are meaningless to the plot) that take on surprising importance.  Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech in Romeo and Juliet has nothing whatever to do with the story, yet it might be the most important speech in the play.  How might Titania’s speech to Oberon in Act 2, scene 1 be a similar speech?  Close read a few lines of it and suggest how this speech might underline some larger themes/ideas of the play (or might simply be great poetry in its own right). 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Note about Paper #1 (see below)

Remember that Paper #2 is due on Monday by 5pm (see assignment three posts down).  However, I am giving you an extension on the poetry recitation: you can recite your poem to me by WEDNESDAY and still get full credit.  After that I won't accept it, however, and you'll lose -20 points on your paper.  So get memorizing!  

For Friday/Monday: A Midsummer Night's Dream Film Adaptation (1999)

For Friday, we're going to watch more of the film adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, covering roughly Acts 3 and some of 4.  We will discuss the film on Monday and I'll lecture a bit about the realities of Shakespeare's theater and his poetic language.  

Until then, here are questions to respond to.  As always, only answer TWO for Monday's class:

1. A Midsummer Night's Dream is set in ancient Athens and concerns both real and imaginary (mythical) characters--notably the spirit Puck, the lord of the fairies, Oberon, and his wife, Titania.  Given this, why do you feel the film set the play in late 19th century Italy?  What does this allow us to see and/or experience about the play or the characters?  How does this setting mesh with the otherworldly aspects of the play?

2. This version is also very much a "star" production of the play, using seasoned Shakespearean actors such as Kevin Klein, Rupert Everett, Dominic West, and Anna Friel, along more mainstream actors such as Stanley Tucci, Michelle Pfeiffer, Callista Flockheart, and Sam Rockwell.  Do you feel this performance serves the play more--or the actors?  In other words, is this Shakespeare done by famous actors, or famous actors doing Shakespeare?  

3. Based on this staging of the play, is this play a celebration of romantic love or a rejection of it?  What do you think Shakespreare's (or the director's) intention is with all the mistaken lovers, rejections, and reconciliations?  Cite a specific scene in your response.  

4. If you've seen other productions of Shakespeare (whether on-stage or in a film), what do you think is the most important aspect of Shakespeare to preserve: the language, the story, the setting, or the characters?  Which aspect shouldn't be tampered with, and by extension, which aspects can survive adaptation/tinkering?  In other words, what quality seems to make Shakespeare Shakespeare?  (and does this film preserve this?) 

Saturday, September 20, 2014

For Monday: The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale (sorry for late post: technical issues)

For Monday: The Canterbury Tales: The Pardoner’s Prologue & Tale

Answer TWO of the following...

1. What is the theme of each of the Pardoner’s sermons (as he explains in the Prologue)?  What makes him choose this theme, and what does this say about his profession in general?

2. How is the Pardoner, as a storyteller, a bit like the Knight?  While their characters couldn’t be more distinct, how might his style resemble the Knight’s—and in some ways, The Wife of Bath’s Prologue? 

3. Based on the Pardoner’s Tale, what is his general view of humanity?  Despite the obvious moral of the story, how might this tale represent his general world view/philosophy? 

4. Why does the Pardoner try to sell his relics and pardons to the entire group after his sermon?  Don’t they already know that both are worthless after hearing his Prologue?  Why does Chaucer include this humorous sales pitch? 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Paper #1: Ye Olde Close Reading (due September 29th by 5pm)

For your first paper assignment, I want you to focus on the power of words/poetry and how one passage can provide a “key” to reading an entire work.  With this in mind, I want you to choose a significant passage from either Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales of between 10-25 lines (no less, and probably no more than that).  This passage should underline some important element or theme in the work that either helped you understand the work as a whole, or that you feel illustrates the ideas of the author and/or one of the characters.  Any passage is legitimate as long as you can articulate why you feel it’s significant and how it affects the themes/ideas of the poem. 

In your paper, I want you to perform a ‘close reading’ of this passage, which means a focused analysis of how the words, images, metaphors, and perhaps even the sounds of the passage contribute to the overall meaning.  Try to avoid summarizing what the passage is saying, and instead, analyze how the words make us respond and visualize the characters, situations, and ideas of the poem.  To do this effectively, you must quote from the passage throughout as you discuss it. 

LENGTH: This paper should be at least 3-4 pages, double spaced.  Be sure to cite all passages according to MLA format (we’ll discuss this again in class).

Ah, there had to be a part two, didn’t there?  To help you analyze the passage and notice the nuances of the poetry, I want you to memorize this passage and recite it to me in my office.  The better you know the passage, the more you will see and understand about it.  Remember that the Beowulf poet had to memorize the entire poem, and Chaucer most likely performed his poem aloud as well (probably reading it, though). 

At some point before the paper is due, I want you to come to my office (either informally or by appointment) and recite your passage to me.  I’ll follow along in the book, and as long as you are 90% accurate you’ll get full points.  However, if you fail to appear or haven’t memorized it at all, you’ll lose 20 points off your final grade.  But don’t let this scare you; it really isn’t as hard as it seems, and poetry—especially older poetry—is designed to be memorized and recited. 

Please let me know if you have questions or difficulties in choosing a passage—I would be happy to help you.  The paper is due Monday, September 29th by 5pmRemember that you have to recite your poem by this time as well, not afterwards.  Good luck!  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For Wednesday: The Wife of Bath's Tale

For Wednesday: The Wife of Bath’s Tale

Answer the following question—only ONE! 

Considering what we’ve read and discussed about the Wife of Bath in her Prologue, why do you think she tells this tale?  What about the tale seems consistent with her character, morals, and philosophy?  Also, how might this tale be a response to the previous tales of love by men—the Knight and the Miller?  You might consider her ideas about how and why men tell stories of women in literature.  

Discuss a specific passage to illustrate your ideas so I can see where you ‘see’ the Wife of Bath in this poem.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

For Monday: The Wife of Bath's Prologue

The Wife of Bath from Pasolini's film, The Canterbury Tales
For Monday: The Wife of Bath's Prologue

Answer TWO of the following...

1. Do you feel Chaucer is sympathetic toward the Wife of Bath, or is he making fun of her sinfulness and sensuality?  How can we tell from the Prologue?  Support your reading from a specific passage in the Prologue. 

2. Why did the Wife of Bath love her Fifth Husband the most, despite, as she claims, “I pray God keep and save his soul from hell—And yet he was to me the worst of all?”  What does this say about her philosophy of love and marriage? 

3. How might The Wife of Bath’s tale also be a response to “The Miller’s Tale,” and specifically, his depiction of Alison?  Why might she object in general to the way women are portrayed in literature and the Scriptures?  Consider the line, “Who drew the picture of the lion?  Who?” (p.236—my edition)

4. The Wife of Bath spends much of her Prologue defending lifestyle, and does this through her own interpretation of the Scriptures (a pretty bold act for a woman of this time who is not in religious orders).  How does she interpret the Bible in her own defense, and how are some of the other pilgrims—probably the Friar, the Summoner, etc.—getting it wrong?  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

For Friday: Chaucer, The Miller's Tale (and link to the Original Chaucer!)

No questions for Friday, but be sure to read "The Miller's Tale" which is a direct, if audacious, response to The Knight's Tale.  I promise you'll find this story amusing (even if you didn't find The Knight's Tale so), if you don't mind a little off-color humor.  We'll do an in-class response to this story which will serve as your blog response, so be sure to come--even if it is Friday!

For those enterprising enough to check the blog, here's a link to Caxton's Chaucer, the original version of The Canterbury Tales.  You can choose any tale and read the actual manuscript now in the British Library.  You might not be able to read it without squinting, but you'll get a sense of the artistry that went into preserving and illustrating a classic text.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

For Wednesday: The Knight's Tale, Parts 3 & 4

For Wednesday: The Knight’s Tale, Parts Three and Four (48-79)

Answer TWO of the following…

1. What does the Knight describe the temples of Venus, Mars, and Diana in such detail in Book Three? For someone who likes to avoid detail and just get on with the story, why does he slow down and linger here?  What might the Knight (or Chaucer) want us to see here? 

2. Discuss the Knight’s narrative style focusing on a specific passage.  Does his manner betray any doubts, subtext, or satire?  Related to this, do you ever feel Chaucer is satirizing/poking fun at him?   Or are his sympathies largely with the Knight? 

3. Discuss Arcita’s death speech on page 70-71: how do you think the Knight/Chaucer wants us to “read” this?  Is this what we expect from a dying knight—is it noble and chivalric?  Or does it seem somewhat artificial and shallow?  Again, consider the fact that the Knight may be addressing the brunt of this story to his son, the Squire. 

4. Likewise, discuss Theseus’s speech that closes Book Four and the poem itself: how is he tying things up and expressing a universal verdict on the actions of the story?  Do you feel he more honors the “heroism” of Arcita and Palamon or condemns them for their folly?  

Saturday, September 6, 2014

For Monday: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," Parts 1-2 (at least--feel free to read more)

Questions for Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales:
The Knight’s Tale, Parts One-Two (23-48)

As before, answer TWO of the following in a developed paragraph…

1. Why do you think the Knight tells a story of “modern” knights and chivalry in ancient Greece?  Why might someone use the past to tell of the present?  How does one setting help reinforce the other?  

2. At the end of Book One, Chaucer asks his audience: “Now all you lovers, let me pose the question:/Who’s worse off, Arcita or Palamon?” (35). Which of the two do you feel suffers more for love of Emily?  In some ways, this is a very serious philosophical question, since each lover has his own unique 'hell' away from the beloved.  Yet how might this also be satirical/ironic in intent?  

3. Examine Thesus’s response to the lovers on Page 46: is this a mockery of the knights' love or a defense of it?  How might this be a commentary on the love story itself? 

4. Discuss the manner of the Knight's narration/storytelling.  How does he tell the story and what mannerisms does he seem to have?  Where do we see his own personality/perspective coloring the narrative?  You might consider passages such as in Part I, page 26 (my edition), "But to describe it would take all too long"...