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"...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

For Friday: Chaucer, "The General Prologue" (pp.1-22)

For Friday: “The General Prologue” from The Canterbury Tales (pp.1-22)

Answer TWO of the following…

1. How does the narrator characterize himself and the presumption of writing a poem about pilgrims on a journey to Canterbury?  How might this tie into the new beliefs of the 14th century (as discussed in class) and his insistence on writing the Tales in English?

2. Where in the Tales do we see social criticism and/or outright satire of individual pilgrims?  How might this connect to the beliefs of the ‘common’ Englishman/woman, particularly regarding topics such as the nobility, the Church, fashion, and manners? 

3. Which pilgrim’s description/characterization did you find most appealing and or interesting?  How does Chaucer’s language create this character and help us ‘see’ him or her?  What do you feel he wanted us to connect with and/or admire/dislike about the character?

4. Though The Canterbury Tales is also a kind of comic/epic poem, how does it contrast most notably with the style of Beowulf? What about the language, style, verse, or tone of the work makes it recognizably more French-English than the Anglo-Saxon Beowulf