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?