Friday, December 4, 2015

Final Exam Info

British Literature to 1800: Exam #2 (Final)

BE HERE Monday @11:30 for the exam!

PART I: Short Passages

I will give you 6 passages, each one from one of the works in class.  You’ll have to distinguish the author, the work, and the significance of the passage.  Obviously, you can’t use any of the books in class to help on this part.  Each question is worth 5 points for a total of 30 points.

PART II: Impromptu Essay on Pride and Prejudice

This is a short essay response to a significant idea/reading of Pride and Prejudice. I will give you 4 options, each one highlighting a certain idea that comes from one or more of the critical essays. You will then respond to this question using support from at least one of the critical essays as well as the novel. Here, of course, you are expected to use your copy of Pride and Prejudice. This single response is worth most of your grade, 70 points in all. 

The essays to choose from (and you might want to skim them all, to choose which one you feel most comfortable with) are:

* Nina Auerbach, “Waiting Together: Pride and Prejudice
* Susan Morgan, “Perception and Pride and Prejudice
* Susan Fraiman, “The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet”
* Tara Ghoshal Wallace, “Getting the Whole Truth in Pride and Prejudice

Please be sure to read at least one of these essays prior to the exam so you can feel confident quoting from it and understanding its argument. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Article on Filmed Versions of Pride and Prejudice

NOTE: The questions for Monday are below

For those of you who are inspired to watch a filmed version of Pride and Prejudice, here's a recent article which argues the merits of each version, though decidedly comes out in favor of the 1995 version (which we watched portions of in class). If you can dig it up, there's also a great early 80's version which despite looking quite dated has great acting, and a more unfortunate 30's version with Laurence Olivier as Darcy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

For Monday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, pp.176-End (or close--we'll spend the entire week on it)

NOTE: Try to finish the book for Monday, though we'll spend at least another day discussing it and some of the critical articles. 

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Though Pride and Prejudice is often seen as the ultimate love story, with Elizabeth conquering Darcy’s pride and Darcy Elizabeth’s prejudice, there are other ways to read it.  Indeed, as Susan Fraiman writes in “The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet” (pp.356-368, we’ll read it later): “I am arguing, however, that Darcy woos away not Elizabeth’s “prejudice,” but her judgment entire” (363).  How might we argue that Elizabeth is “tamed” by Darcy’s masculine reason which prevents her from seeing his faults, much as another man (Wickham) seduced her into seeing only Darcy’s flaws?  Is she in love—or simply under the sway of another man?  Is this book, for all its charms, a feminist’s nightmare? 

Q2: What role do letters play in the novel? From Volume II on, there are several important letters, notably Darcy's letter to Elizabeth, but also the letter from Elizabeth's Aunt Gardner, as well as other communications from London: undoubtedly, these are probably hold-overs from the original epistolary novel. Why do you think Austen retained them in the novel? What is the significance of reading a character's letters rather than hearing them speak directly to another character? 

Q3: What makes Elizabeth fall in love with Darcy?  Can we pinpoint the moment that she, herself, is aware of it?  Or are we aware of it long before she is, thanks to plentiful hints from the narrator?  What is the crucial ingredient to push her from detestation to “gratitude”?  In other words, how does she come to know him and not her prejudiced vision of him?  

Q4: For many readers in the twentieth century, Pride and Prejudice is a novel about class.  Clearly, Darcy distinguishes himself early in the novel by differences in class (which is the main reason he waits so long to propose to Elizabeth); the Bingleys are social upstarts by means of their father’s fortune; and Elizabeth is forever ashamed of her family’s vulgar manners and connections (so much so, that she expects Darcy to ignore her aunt and uncle at Pemberley).  Based on your reading of the book, what are Austen’s views on class?  Does the novel preserve class distinctions through Elizabeth’s actions…or does she radically contest these very notions?  Consider how the novel ends and who ends up with whom. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

For Monday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chs. IX-Volume III, Ch.IV (pp.117-176)

For Monday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chs. IX-Volume III, Ch.IV (pp.117-176)

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: How does the manner of Darcy’s proposal echo, in some particulars, that of Mr. Collins? Why is each one incapable of a truly flattering, romantic proposal? What factors does Darcy apparently have to overcome to express his love and affection to Elizabeth?

Q2: Why do you think Elizabeth conceals the proposal from her family, as well as the truth about Wickham, and only reveals her secrets to Jane? Is she ashamed of turning down a fortune? Or is she secretly flattered? Consider her reflection shortly after their meeting, “That she should receive an offer of marriage from Mr. Darcy! that he should have been in love with her for so many months! so much in love as to wish to marry her in spite of all the objections...” (128). 

Q3: In Chapter XIX (Volume II), the Narrator notes that “Had Elizabeth’s opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing picture of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort” (154-155). What does she notice in her own family to make her disinclined to ever marry, or to think that love exists outside of novels? According to the novel so far, do you think Jane Austen was of the same opinion?

Q4: When Elizabeth visits Pemberley with her aunt and uncle, she quickly comes to the realization that “She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” (159). What does she see her specifically that makes her go into such rhapsodies? Why might this also be the beginning of her love for Darcy, even if the seed was planted much earlier? 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

For Friday: Pride and Prejudice, Chs. XVIII- Volume II, Ch. IX (pp.61-117)

From the 1995 BBC Production of Pride and Prejudice 
Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: After a fairly short acquaintance, Elizabeth Bennet, the "smart" girl ironically falls for one of the officers that Kitty and Lydia chase about--George Wickham. As she herself says, "he is, beyond all comparison, the most agreeable man I ever saw" (97). Why does she fall for him? Is it out of character for her? Or might it tie into the overarching themes of the novel itself?

Q2: Why does Charlotte agree to marry Mr. Collins after Elizabeth has already refused him? And more importantly, why doesn't Elizabeth believe that her best friend would make such a disastrous match? What does Charlotte's decision/reasoning say about the realities of women in the late 18th century?

Q3: The Narrator writes of Mrs. Bennet that "Elizabeth was the least dear to her of all her children" (71). Why would this be, considering she is generally the reader's favorite daughter (or character) and everyone decent in the book loves her, including her father. Where does this dislike or animosity come from, particularly considering this is her second-born daughter?

Q4: How does Austen satirize the upper classes in the mode of Sheridan at Rosings (with Lady Catherine de Bourgh)? How does she treat her social inferiors--the Collins and Elizabeth--and how might Austen be sharing Elizabeth's delight here in "anything ridiculous" (9)?  

Sorry--posting error!

The questions from yesterday didn't post for some reason as someone just informed me.  Will try to re-post them as soon as I get home.  Sorry!

However, read the next 60 pages or so--I'll give you the exact count in an hour or two, but you don't have to make it right there.

Monday, November 16, 2015

For Wednesday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chs. I-XVII

Gainsborough, Portrait of Mrs. Richard Sheridan: or Lizzie Bennet? 

For Wednesday: Austen, Pride and Prejudice, Chs. I-XVII (pp.3-61)

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: In Chapter III, Mrs. Bennet exclaims, “If I can but see one of my daughters happily settled at Netherfield...and all the others equally well married, I shall have nothing to wish for” (7). How does Mrs. Bennet—and other women in the novel—go about the business of getting a husband? How does Austen satirize both these women and the extraordinary lengths they go to attain marital bliss?

Q2: Though Austen is not writing a realistic, first-person account of English life in the country, she still retains something of Defoe’s unique narrative style. In Pride and Prejudice, the narrator is almost a distinct character, commenting on the action and the characters in an intimate, confiding tone. Discuss a passage where the narrator seems to almost step out of the book to help us ‘see’ some aspect of the work. Why do you think she does this, rather than make the narrative voice more safely anonymous?

Q3: The first draft of Pride and Prejudice, written in the 1790’s, was entitled First Impressions (Austen changed the title when, a decade later, she learned another novelist had already used it). However, where might the idea behind the original shine through in the opening chapters? How do we know this is a book about the first appearance of things, when the “masks” of society can obscure the goodness—or deceitfulness—within?

Q4: In one of the most humorous passages in the novel, Miss Bingley lists all the accomplishments modern women are supposed to possess, to which Elizabeth Bennet responds, “I am no longer surprised at your knowing only six accomplished women. I rather wonder now at your knowing any” (27). What is Elizabeth—and behind her, Austen herself—satirizing here? Related to this, what kind of women does Elizabeth represent, and why does Darcy seemed intrigued by this new kind of woman?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

For Wednesday: Finish A Journal of the Plague Year (even if you don't completely finish it!) :)

For Wednesday: Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, p.165 to as close to the end as you care to go!

Answer TWO of the following…

Q1: The Narrator is very careful to remind his readers that the Plague ended seemingly miraculously, “Nor was this by any new Medicine found out, or new Method of Cure discovered, or by an Experience in the Operation, which the Physicians or Surgeons had attain’d” (236). Though he is very skeptical of superstitions and signs in general, why does he want to make it clear that God alone seems to have ended the Plague—indeed, at the very moment where even the Narrator was losing faith? How does this change how we interpret the entire work in terms of 1722? 

Q2: Related to the above, the Narrator writes at one point that “I have heard, it was the opinion of others, that [the plague] might be distinguish’d by the Party’s breathing upon a piece of Glass, where the Breath condensing, there might living Creatures be seen by a Microscope of strange and frightful Shapes…But this I very much question the Truth of, and we had no Microscopes at that Time, as I remember, to make Experiment with” (195). Why do you think the Narrator says relatively little about how doctors diagnosed and treated the disease? Since the 18th century is the Age of the Enlightenment which gave birth to many of the modern medical sciences, is Defoe somewhat skeptical of doctors? Does he conflate Physicians with other Quacks and Charlatans who peddle in false cures?

Q3: Defoe was a Dissenter, which means someone who refused to abide by the Act of Uniformity (1662), which standardized belief in the Anglican Church. For this he—and many others—were persecuted in English society. From a Dissenter’s point of view, why might the Plague be a mixed blessing for English society? What “good” can come out of a major catastrophe like this? How might this relate to many modern dystopian novels which show a benefit from society collapsing and many people dying off? 

Q4: Why is the Narrator so critical of the public’s response to the reduced numbers of plague victims dying off? What effect does this have on London society, and why might be another example of rumors and urban legends poisoning the minds of otherwise sensible people? 

Friday, November 6, 2015

For Monday: Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, pp.115-165 (approx) & Paper #2

For Monday, read the next 50 or so pages of A Journal of the Plague Year, and focus specifically on the stories of people fleeing London; we'll do an in-class writing response when you get to class. Also, the Paper #2 assignment is below, so start thinking about that as well!  

Paper #2: The Masks of Society

CONTEXT: The Eighteenth Century was obsessed with all sorts of literal and metaphorical masks, especially those that could be worn by an artist. An author can adopt various narrative disguises so that we least expect his or her motives in telling us a story; in the same way, a playwright can present a fanciful cast of characters that, upon closer inspection, bear an uncanny resemblance to the audience. Art itself is a game of masking and unmasking, and both of our eighteenth-century writers, Sheridan and Defoe, are trying to divert our attention so we can see the one thing we can never see clearly: our own faces.

RESPONSE: For this paper, I want you to discuss how each author uses their literary masks—the stage and the novel—to help society ‘see’ itself. While one is a sober account of the 1665 plague and the other is a satirical comedy, both offer a broad critique of London society. What does each work want us to see about their beliefs, values, behavior, fashion, biases, and compassion? Is each work trying to reform society? And if so, how? Is one more successful than the other? Is comedy more advantageous—or less serious? Is the novel a better ‘mirror’ than the stage? Or too clumsy? Is each work offering the same critique from different perspectives...or does each one come to different conclusions? What, if anything, makes both works unique to their time and place?  Consider how upper-class salons and the plague-ridden streets of London can be used as a ‘frame’ to explore how society thinks, acts, and  functions in public and private settings.

REQUIREMENTS: For this assignment you don’t need secondary sources (unless you want to use them), but I do expect you to use both works and to demonstrate close reading and analysis of each work. Make sure you help your readers ‘see’ your ideas by connecting them to the text, and don’t assume what the text says is obvious: discuss the language of the passage so we understand how it relates to their world—and possibly, our own. 
The paper should be 4-5 pages double spaced, with all quotes cited according to MLA format, along with a Works Cited page.

DUE MONDAY, NOVEMBER 16th BY 5pm (No Class that day)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

For Friday: Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, pp.60-115 (appox).

For Friday: Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, pp. 60-115 (approx.)

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: On page 62, the Narrator notes that if the Buriers found a corpse with a good winding sheet on it, “it was reported, that the Buriers were so wicked as to strip them in the Cart, and carry them quite naked to the Ground: But as I can not easily credit any thing to vile among Christians...I can only relate it and leave it undetermined.” Do you read this passage as satirical or merely factual? Where else do we see him reporting on the abuses of his fellow citizens during the Plague? Do you detect any satire or censor in his reports?

Q2: Throughout these pages, how does the Narrator present himself as a devout Christian as well as a solid middle-class citizen? In other words, without talking much about himself, how does he demonstrate his morality among the general sea of vice and degeneracy around him? Why do you think Defoe presents him this way, rather than as a more colorful and criminal character, which would make for a much juicier book? [note: this is all the more remarkable, when you consider that several of his other books—Moll Flanders, Roxana, Captain and Singleton—are about thieves, prostitutes, and pirates.]

Q3: At one point in the narrative, the Narrator admits that he kept a journal of his day-to-day experiences, as well as “Meditations upon Divine Subjects,” though “What I wrote of my private Meditations I reserve for private Use, and desire it may not be made publick on any Account whatever” (75). Why do you think the Narrator mentions this if he has no interest in sharing it? Are we meant to assume that this book is taken from these private meditations? Or does this help us understand why the “Journal” is a more public—and therefore acceptable—book in his eyes?

Q4: These pages are full of stories the Narrator either hears second-hand or witnesses personally. Some of them are horrific, and others touching, such as the Man shut out from his own family, who spends his days finding food to send them through the windows. Which of these stories did you find the most interesting? How did it help paint a picture of the realities of the plague for many Londoners, particularly those who couldn’t afford to leave town and had to weather the ‘storm’ without assistance?  

Monday, November 2, 2015

For Wednesday: Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year, pp.3-59

For Wednesday: Defoe, A Journal of the Plague Year (pp.3-59 or thereabouts)

NOTE: This is a fictional account of the real plague that swept through London in 1665 written in 1722 (Defoe was 5, and wouldn’t have remembered much of it). However, Defoe wanted to re-create the terror and the sheer magnitude of the disaster in a riveting, first-person account. H.F., the Narrator, isn’t a real person, though all his descriptions are based on careful research and are more or less true. As you read, consider why (and how) Defoe presents a fiction as a fact, and what kind of story this allows him to tell the reader.

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Why does the Narrator (who gives his name as H.F. at the end of the work) decide to stay in London despite the terrible death toll and his brother’s pleas to abandon it? What does this reveal about his character and beliefs?

Q2: Defoe called this a “journal,” and in some ways it reads much more like a diary than a novel. However, since this is a work of fiction, it is literally not a journal at how did he convince readers this was a work of non-fiction, written by one who had experienced the plague first hand? What details make it seem real and documentary in origin?

Q3: In many ways, A Journal of the Plague Year is the first ‘doomsday’ novel, the grandfather of every zombie apocalypse book and film/show ever created. Why do you think Defoe wanted to fictionalize the real plague of 1665? What can an author show or explore about humanity through an experience that felt like “the end of the world”?

Q4: According the Narrator, how do normal Londoners cope with the ever-advancing plague? Does life go on as normal? Do people seek repentance? Do they throw themselves into debauchery? How do they find hope and/or deliverance when both are hard to come by? Does the Narrator weigh in on any of these coping mechanisms? 

Monday, October 26, 2015

For Wednesday: School for Scandal, Acts III & IV

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: In Act IV, Joseph attempts to seduce Lady Teazle in an interesting manner. What is his argument for taking an indiscretion against Sir Peter, and why is Lady Teazle almost convinced by it? What does this say about the morals of a so-called "man of sentiment"?

Q2: In Act III, scene 1, Sir Peter intends to make amends with his wife, and within two pages they're getting a divorce. Clearly, he has no interest in this--and as we later see, neither does she--so how are they each tricked into acting the "role" of a maligned wife and husband? Why do their arguments strike us as curiously artificial and borrowed?

Q3: In one of the most hilarious and ironic scenes in the play, Charles proves his "candor" (rather than his sentiment) to Sir Oliver, disguised as the money lender Master Premium. How does he do this, and are his actions proof of his profligate nature...or a tonic to his brother's subterfuge? How are we supposed to read/respond to him in this scene?

Q4: Which scene in the play reminds you of the Hogarth print above (which we examined in class on Monday)? How are both the artist and the playwright using farce and satire to exposed the debased values of the English aristocracy? Also, who ultimately exposes Joseph's plans?  

Friday, October 23, 2015

For Monday: The School for Scandal, Acts I and II

For Monday: Sheridan’s The School for Scandal, Acts I and II

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Restoration theater and 18th-century comedy typically employed names that represented the characters’ true personalities. How do some of the characters’ names function in this “inside” way with the audience? Related to this, are the “good” characters the ones with non-allegorical names?

Q2: Our previous literature typically had one woman surrounded by a sea of men (Cleopatra, the Wife of Bath, Alison, etc.): this is the first work that shows women among other women in English society.  How does Sheridan depict female society among the upper classes? What is female conversation, and how does it differ from conversation between males in the play?

Q3: Why does Sir Oliver distrust the accounts of his nephews Joseph and Charles? Why is he more inclined to trust the servant, Rowley, than his old friend, Sir Peter? Related to this, what is his general view of reputation and society?

Q4: Plays like The School for Scandal are the forbearers of the modern-day sitcom with their punch lines and stock characters/situations. Where do we see familiar comic situations or jokes in this play that could still be used today? Or, where do we see modern characters beneath the wigs and petticoats of these 18th-century ancestors? 

Friday, October 9, 2015

For Monday: Supplemental Readings, Dusinberre and Rutter (see below)

For Monday: Dusinberre, “Gender and Performance in Antony and Cleopatra” (pp. 227-245) and Rutter, “Shadowing Cleopatra” (pp.248-260)

REMEMBER to use at least two of the 4 essays we’ve read as sources in your paper. They can help you see ideas you may have missed about each character, and/or can offer support for your own readings. You don’t have to understand or follow the entire essay to get something useful from it: like a poem, take it line by line and try to see how each writer is illuminating Shakespeare’s text. 

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: In Rutter’s essay, she examines the RSC’s acrhive of photos from previous productions of Antony and Cleopatra and talks of a “politics of performance” (249). What does this mean? How can a theatrical performance of a 500 year-old work be “political” or informed by the time of its production (the 1950’s, for example)?  How does this affect what Shakespeare we see—or don’t see? Can politics obscure the text? 

Q2: Also according to Rutter’s essay, ethnicity isn’t just a matter of skin color or history: it becomes ethically symbolic. A “white” Cleopatra means something that a “black” Cleopatra doesn’t. Based on this, why might Shakespeare have stressed Cleopatra’s “darkness,” and why did productions before 1990 shy away from it, giving us one white Cleopatra after another (though with black slaves—whether authentic or painted)? 

Q3: In Duisinberre’s essay, she quotes a negative review of the Vivian Leigh/Laurence Olivier production of Antony and Cleopatra by Kenneth Tyanan. Based on his objections, Duisinberre asks, “Would Tynan have minded Leigh’s dominance as Cleopatra over Olivier as Antony, if a boy who looked like Leigh had been playing the part?” (242). What does she mean by this? Why might a woman as Cleopatra be more threatening than a boy? How might this support the idea that Shakespeare expected the part to be played by a boy (which some claim is impossible) rather than a woman-of-the-future?

Q4: Duisinberre makes an astonishing connection by considering the date of the play (1608) and the recent death of Elizabeth I (1603). How might Cleopatra be based on Elizabeth herself? How might audiences have seen or suspected this? How might that change the way we think about or perform Cleopatra? 

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

For Friday: Critical Readings--Adelman and Dollimore (see below)

For Friday: Critical Readings on Antony and Cleopatra

* Read Adelman’s “Tradition as Source in Antony and Cleopatra” (180-192) and Dollimore’s “Virtus under Erasure” (193-203)

Answer 2 of the following:

Q1: Adelman’s essay explains that the story of Dido and Aeneas (from Virgil’s The Aeneid, the great Roman epic poem) shapes the characters and conflict of Antony and Cleopatra. How did Shakespeare’s reading of this work, as well as the retellings of this work by Marlowe and others, influence how he wrote his characters and presented their story?

Q2: Adelman also suggests in her essay that Elizabethan audiences would be expected to read parts of the play—or the characters—allegorically. How does she suggest we do this? How might this change how we read or experience the play?

Q3: Dollimore’s essay concerns itself chiefly with the idea that “power is a function not of the ‘person’...but of the ‘place’, and that the criterion for reward is not intrinsic to the ‘performance’ but, again, relative to one’s placing in the power structure” (196). How does this idea help us read Antony’s downfall in the play, and his inability to be the man he once was?

Q4: Another quote that underlines Dollimore’s essential reading of the play comes on page 201, when he writes, “The extent of people’s dependence upon the powerful is something that the play never allows us to forget.” How does he explain this idea in the play itself? How does it shape the events and actions of the main characters? 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

For Wednesday: Antony and Cleopatra, Act V & Shakespeare's Language Link

Remember, no questions for Wednesday, but finish Act 5 (and thus, the entire play); we'll have an in-class writing assignment/discussion when you arrive. 

Also, for those interested, I recently read an editorial on the attempt by the Oregon Shakespeare Company to 'translate' the plays for modern audiences. While the article is in favor it, I am not, and I wrote a post about the need to confront Shakespeare on his own terms, and in his own language. You can read it here if you're interested (both my post and the original article) and post your own responses if you wish. Dr. Benton has already given his two cents here as well.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Everyman Extra Credit Assignment

NOTE: The questions for Act 4 of Antony and Cleopatra are BELOW this post. 

For those of you who went to the Friday performance of Everyman, here is an extra-credit opportunity for you. Answer the following questions (all of them), and I can allow you to make up for 2 missed responses, or 2 absences, or if you don't need any of that, I'll add 3 extra points to your final grade. Something to think about...

Q1: How does Everyman seem to share many of the same themes, ideas, and characters of our other medieval works--The Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? How might Chaucer or the Pearl Poet be responding to the same cultural issues as the playwright of Everyman?

Q2: In what ways did the current performance try to modernize a play originally written in a dialect of Middle English in (or around) the 14th century? Do you feel the modernization was effective, or did it detract from the play itself? Be specific here--don't just say "they used modern dress," etc.

Q3: What did you feel the message of the play was. especially considering the entire work was allegorical in nature? How did this performance stress this reading? 

Q4: How did the readings in our class prepare you to appreciate and/or understand this work in a way other audience members might not have? How has your scholarship in earlier English literature come to your assistance? (assuming it has, that is...) 

Friday, October 2, 2015

For Monday: Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4

For Monday: Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act 4

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: In Act 4, Scene 4, Cleopatra dresses Antony for war, much as in an earlier scene, she dressed him in her clothing and wore his sword. At the end of this scene, she admires him as he leaves, remarking, “He goes forth gallantly. That he and Caesar might/Determine the great war in single fight!/Then, Antony—but now—Well, on” (83). Why does she close with this statement? What do you think she is lamenting here, and how should we read/hear her final sentence with the dashes?

Q2: In Act 4 we have three deaths and one fake one (Cleopatra); how do the deaths of the servants (Enobarbus and Eros) compare with Antony and the fake death of Cleopatra’s? Are some pathetic and others bathetic? Recall the death scene of Arcita in “The Knight’s Tale”: do we see any bathetic overtures here? Or are these all sound, tragic deaths?

Q3: In Act 4, Scene 12, Antony gives his longest speech about Cleopatra upon learning of her second betrayal. Examine this speech: what does it say about the ambivalent nature of their relationship, and Antony’s deeply ingrained nature as a Roman (and not an Egyptian, like her)?

Q4: Why does Cleopatra play the final trick on Antony, telling him through servants that she’s dead? What does she hope to accomplish by this ruse? Does she intend to kill him? Save him? How this act change/challenge your view of her, or merely affirm it? Focus on a passage that helps us ‘see’ this.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Paper #1 assignment (due in 2 weeks)

If you missed class today (Wed), be sure to see the Paper #1 assignment below. For Friday, read Act 3, though there are no questions to respond to. We'll have an in-class writing response when you arrive.  

Paper #1: Staging Shakespeare

For your first paper, I want you to play the role of a dramaturge, which is basically a resident scholar in a theater company: he/she informs the actors about the historical and cultural aspects behind a play, and helps the actors understand who the characters are and how to read/perform them. So imagine that you’ve been asked to help a specific actor understand his or her role as CLEOPATRA or ANTONY (choose one). Since these are the male and female leads, your advice is crucial to making this performance work (and you can assume the actor has never read the play before, or knows all that much about Shakespeare).

ANALYSIS: Your paper should be addressed to the actor, and should help explain how he/she should understand the character’s role in the play: how should the actor portray him/her, from the character’s morals, ideas, intentions, strengths, weaknesses, etc. To do this, I want you to focus on two specific scenes that you feel showcase your view of the character. You will then discuss these scenes through a close reading to help the actor understand why the character says what he/she says, and how these lines can be interpreted to reveal the character’s inner being. Consider not just what is said but how it is said—verse/prose, metaphors, meanings of a word, etc.

SOURCES: To help you with your analysis, I want you to use at least two outside sources as research on the character and/or the play. You can find many useful sources right in our book: we will be reading several articles in “Criticism” section of our Norton Critical Edition of the play, and these can be voices you join with in conversation about the play. Some of the articles I particularly encourage you to read are: Adelman, “Tradition as Source in Antony and Cleopatra”; Dollimore, “Antony and Cleopatra: Virtus under Erasure”; Dusinberre, “Squeaking Cleopatras: Gender and Performance in Antony and Cleopatra”; Rutter, “Shadowing Cleopatra”; Loomba, “The Imperial Romance of Antony and Cleopatra”

NOTE: You must quote from these articles in your paper, as a way to bring another critical voice into the discussion. Use them to highlight ideas you might not have seen yourself, so you can respond to them in your discussion. A good literature paper is a conversation with yourself and other scholars/writers. Unless you quote them, your paper will read like a monologue—and no one wants to hear a 4-5 page monologue!

* At least 4-5 pages double spaced
* Must quote from the play in your close reading; don’t merely summarize
* Must use at least 2 outside sources, both of which are quoted in your paper
* Quotes should be documented in MLA format with a Works Cited page

* Due Wednesday, October 14th by 5pm (no class that day) 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

For Wednesday: Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act II

RSC production of Antony and Cleopatra, courtesy of
For Wednesday: Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act II

Answer TWO of the following…

Q1: How would you stage Act 2, Scene 5, particularly the scenes with Cleopatra and the Messenger? Is this a scene of high comedy, where Cleopatra loses it and acts like a spoiled child? Or is this a deeply tragic scene, where she realizes that the one hold she had over Antony’s affections is lost? Use a line or two to support how you think we’re supposed to read (and stage) this scene.

Q2: When Enobarbus tells the Romans (Maecenas and Agrippa) about Cleopatra, he switches from verse to prose: why does he do this? Also, examine this speech—what does he think about Cleopatra? Does he consider her Antony’s “exotic” whore? Or does he hold her in respect and awe? 

Q3: In Act 2, Scene 7, Menas offers to do a service for his master, Pompey: his master refuses. What is the service and why does Pompey refuse it? What might be the repercussions of this refusal?

Q4: Why does Antony agree to marry Octavia, Caesar’s sister? Is this solely a political marriage? Or is this also Antony’s attempt to “cure” himself of Cleopatra? Do you agree with Enobarbus, who says, “He will to his Egyptian dish again” (45)? 

Friday, September 25, 2015

For Monday: Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act I

From a RSC 2013 Production: Photo by Zuleika Henry ( 
For Monday: Shakespeare, Antony and Cleopatra, Act I

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In some respects, Cleopatra is portrayed in the manner of The Wife of Bath, a strong-willed woman with very specific ideas about how to rule a man. Where do we see this in Act One? Do you feel Shakespeare is parodying such a woman, or is she given the same strength and dignity as Chaucer’s heroine?

Q2: In the beginning of Act I, Philo notes that “sometimes when he is not Antony,/He comes too short of that great property/Which still should go with Antony” (9). How is Antony, a great Roman soldier of antiquity, presented in Shakespeare’s play? What kind of man is he, and what kind of relationship is he in with Cleopatra (besides being an adulterous one)?

Q3: Why does Caesar call Antony “A man who is the abstract of all faults/That all men follow” (19)?  What is his chief grievance against Antony, and do others seem to agree with him?

Q4: Though Antony and Cleopatra is largely spoken in verse—in keeping with its historical characters and setting—the beginning of Act 1, Scene 2 is almost entirely in prose (until Cleopatra enters). Why is this? How does this scene sound and read differently than Act 1, Scene 1? Try to read it out loud to ‘hear’ the difference. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

For Friday: Chaucer, "The Merchant's Tale" (our last Canterbury Tale!)

For Friday: Chaucer, “The Merchant’s Tale”

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Since this is yet another tale about marriage and the nature of women, what side does the Merchant take? How is he consciously responding to the Wife of Bath—whom he actually refers to in his tale—and does he champion her views on female power?

Q2: Does the Merchant present the character of January an idealized portrait, or a satirical one? How do we know? How do other characters respond to him in the tale, and where does the Merchant artfully insert himself into the story?

Q3: What did you make of the inclusion of Pluto and Proserpine in the story? How do they comment on the action of the tale, and perhaps change how we read/understand it? Consider in particular Proserpine’s speech on page 384: “What do I care for your authorities?”

Q4: In many ways, “The Merchant’s Tale” sounds like “The Miller’s Tale” if it had been told by the Knight. How are we supposed to take it: as a comedy about women triumphing over men, or a stern Medieval “warning against marriage” treatise? In other words, does the Merchant want us to applaud May or sympathize with January? 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

For Monday: Chaucer, "The Wife of Bath's Prologue"

For Monday: Chaucer, “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue”

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: The beginning of the Wife of Bath’s Prologue is a defense of multiple marriages using her own interpretation of the Scriptures. What is her basic argument, and why might this have been shocking for its time—particularly considering the many Church figures in the audience?

Q2: At one point, the Pardoner interrupts, claiming he was thinking about marriage, but the Wife of Bath claims, “You’ll taste another brew before I’m done;/You’ll find it doesn’t taste as good as ale” (263). What are her views about marriage, especially considering she’s done it five times? Is she trying to discourage men and women from tying the knot, or does she simply have a less chivalric view of wedded bliss?  Discuss a moment that seems to illustrate this.

Q3: Toward the end of the Prologue, the Wife of Bath claims, “Lies, tears, and spinning are the things God gives/By nature to a woman, while she lives” (269). She goes on to say that “No one can be so bold—I mean no man--/At lies and swearing as a woman can” (264). How do you respond to her characterization of women in this Prologue? Is she a forward-thinking, bold-as-brass proto-feminist, or is she just another male stereotype of an overly sensual, bitchy wife?  What sways you one way or the other?

Q4: Why does she claim to love her fifth husband the most, even though he lampoons her sex and even resorts to physical violence? Why does she still, even to this day, bless his memory?  

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

For Friday: Chaucer, "The Pardoner's Prologue and Tale"

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Why do you think the tale begins with such a lengthy Prologue? Why doesn’t he simply get on with his Tale (especially since the Prologue somewhat undercuts the Tale’s effectiveness)?  Is he simply talkative like the Knight, or is there another reason behind this?

Q2: The Pardoner says the theme of all his sermons is “money is the root of all evil.” Why does he specialize in this theme, and what does his theme suggest about the profession of ‘pardoning’ in general?

Q3: The Pardoner’s Tale is a classic medieval allegory: three ‘brothers’ arming themselves to find and murder Death. Why don’t they recognize him when they find him? What makes it so easy for Death to win, according to the Pardoner (or Chaucer)?

Q4: 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? 

Friday, September 4, 2015

For Wednesday: Chaucer, "The Miller's Tale"

No questions for Wednesday, 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 make it back after Labor Day! ALSO: if you missed class on Friday, check the post below for information about Exam #1, due in 2 weeks.  

For those who need something to do over the three-day weekend, 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.

Exam #1 Handout

Exam #1: Humanist Poetry in the Fourteenth Century

Your first exam will be over Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Canterbury Tales, though it is not comprehensive: instead, you will choose one work to focus on in the exam. Additionally, there are two parts to this exam, an outside-of-class component and an in-class, written component.  The two parts are as follows:

PART I: Memorization and Recitation
I want you to memorize anywhere from 15-20 lines from one of the two poems that you feel is particularly poetic or significant in some way. You have about 2 weeks to come to my office before or after class, or during my office hours, to recite it to me. I will follow along in the book (bring your own copy if you have a different edition) and as long as you have 80% accuracy you’ll get a pass for this part of the exam.  This shouldn’t be alarming or terrifying, but simply a chance to (a) flex your brain’s memorization muscles, which once utilized, prove quite strong!, and (b) force yourself to really get to know a piece of writing. Nothing helps you ‘see’ a work more than memorizing each and every word of it. Memorizing and reading it closely will help you on Part II.

PART II: Textual Analysis
In class on Monday, September 21st, I will give everyone an exam with a series of questions about your passage. All the questions are the same, but depending on your passage, you can have wildly different answers. The questions will ask you to examine the significance of the passage, some linguistic elements (metaphor, allegory, bathos, etc.), and will challenge how well you can interpret/analyze the piece in writing. The questions won’t take long to answer, though you’ll have the entire period to do so.  You can use your book for the in-class examination.          

  • You can pick lines anywhere in a poem: it doesn’t have to be at the beginning or the end of a poem. Just pick a passage you find meaningful and feel you can write about later. 
  • You must recite the lines either before the exam or on the day of the exam (even after you take the exam). Both parts of the exam must be completed no later than 2pm on Monday, September 21st.
  • You can only use your book on the exam—no other notes or writings are allowed.
  • If you come early enough, you are allowed to try more than once to recite your lines. I won’t count one failed attempt against you (though from my experience, everyone gets it the first try). 
  • If you have trouble finding the right lines, let me know and I can give you some suggestions. However, I encourage you to find lines that speak to you first and foremost. 
  • The sit-down exam will be at 11:00 on Monday, September 21st and will last the entire 50 minutes (or as long as it takes you).

Good luck and remember, poetry is designed to be memorized. You might even enjoy it!  

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Two Quick Announcements

NOTE: The questions for Parts III & IV of "The Knight's Tale" are BELOW this post. 

TWO THINGS: One, remember that the Welcome Back Picnic for the English department is THIS THURSDAY (tomorrow) in Faust 159 from 4-5pm. It's an Ice Cream Bar this year, so stop by and enjoy wonderful deserts that people in Chaucer's time could have never envisioned--or enjoyed!  

And Two, I've posted the handout from today's class (Wed) below in case you missed class or left it on the table (as a few of you did!). You might want to use this in a future paper, or reference it for a future exam.  Click the "Read More" tab below to see it...

For Friday: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale" Parts III & IV

Answer TWO of the following…

1. Why 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 in Part IV: 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 finally honors the “heroism” of Arcita and Palamon or condemns them for their folly?  Have they redeemed themselves in his eyes--or the Knight's?   

Monday, August 31, 2015

For Wednesday: Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale" Parts I and II, pp.26-53

Answer any TWO of the following questions...

Q1: 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?  

Q2: At the end of Book One, Chaucer asks his audience: “here's a question I would offer,/Arcite or Palamon, which had most to suffer?" 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?  

Q3: Examine Thesus’s response to the lovers at the end of Part II: is this a mockery of the knights' love or a defense of it?  How might this be a commentary on the love story itself? 

Q4: 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 30: "But it were all too long to speak of these..." 

Friday, August 28, 2015

For Monday: Chaucer, "The General Prologue" (from The Canterbury Tales)

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: 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 during Week 1) and his insistence on writing the tales in English?

Q2: Where in the Prologue do we see social criticism and/or outright satire of individual pilgrims? How might this connect to the belief of the ‘common’ English man/woman, particularly regarding topics such as the nobility, the Church, fashion, and manners?

Q3: Which pilgrim’s description did you find most appealing 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 or admire/dislike about the character?

Q4: Compare the style of narration of “The General Prologue” to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Though both are written in the late 14th century, they are part of very different traditions of writing: Sir Gawain has more in common with the older, Anglo Saxon alliterative tradition, while Chaucer follows the more continental, ‘humanist’ approach. Are there passages that seem much more modern in Chaucer’s Prologue, or do they share many of the same stylistic traits and humor? 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

For Friday: Part IV of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Remember that there are NO blog questions for Friday's class. Instead, we'll do an in-class writing response based on a big idea in Part IV of the poem. However, here is an idea to consider from an essay by Gawain scholar Sherron E. Knopp:

"The poet takes seriously the Christian mandate to strive for perfection. But ideals are perfect, simple, and abstract, while the reality to which they must be applied is complex and unpredictable. In his refusal to take that reality seriously--and it includes his own human fallibility--Gawain sets himself on a collision course with humiliation and flirts with contemptus mundi [the contempt of the world] before he is able or willing to accept any weakness in himself. Because failure is natural and unavoidable, the poet finds hid dogged zealousness more than a little comical. And it is this attitude that makes the poem..."profoundly Christian.""  

Consider the nature of Gawain's "fall" at the end of the poem and how Bertilak, Arthur, and Gawain respond to it. Why do they all see it so differently? Is the ending of the poem "profoundly Christian" in its perspective, or is it more of a "pagan" world view that emerges from the Christian/chivalric fabric?  We'll think more about this on Friday...

Monday, August 24, 2015

For Wednesday: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Parts II and III

“An allegory is a narrative fiction in which the agents and actions, and sometimes the setting as well, are contrived to make coherent sense on the “literal” or primary, level of signification, and at the same time to signify a second, correlated order of agents, concepts, and events.  We can distinguish two main types: (1) historical and political allegory…and (2) the allegory of ideas, in which the literal characters represent abstract concepts and the plot exemplifies a doctrine or thesis…The central device in the second type, the sustained allegory of ideas, is the personification of abstract entities such as virtues, vices, states of mind, modes of life, and types of character” (from M.H. Abrams, A Glossary of Literary Terms). 

After reading Parts II and III, examine a section of the text (a short passage, no more than a page or two) that you feel can be read allegorically.  Consider how the poet writes a poetic narrative that functions on two levels, and what clues suggest his multiple meanings.  What ideas or concepts are personified, and what “doctrine or thesis” might your reading lead to?  Write a developed response of at least a developed paragraph, though you can go to town if you wish

NOTE: If you’re stumped, consider nature/weather imagery, the various hunt episodes, and the “challenge” that Gawain faces in the Lord’ s castle.  

Remember, you can post here OR bring it to class with you.  But it's due no later than class time on Wednesday.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

For Monday: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Part I (pp.3-17)

The basic story: The poet links Arthur’s kingdom to ancient Troy, suggesting that Arthur is descended from ancient (and noble) stock. Then the action switches to Christmas games at Camelot, where lo and behold, a Green Man storms the castle riding a tremendous green horse. He challenges the knights to a contest: he will allow any  man one chance to chop off his head, and if he isn’t killed by the blow, the Green Knight gets to give a blow in return. No one takes him up on this offer, and Arthur, humiliated, agrees to do it himself. But Gawain, one of the younger knights, agrees to take his place and slices off the Knight’s head. However, the Knight merely picks it up and says, “see you in a year!”

Answer TWO of the following questions for Monday. To get full credit for this assignment, be sure to do the following: (a) answer each question in a few sentences, (b) be specific—don’t just give a generic answer, and (c) if possible, quote part of the book to support your ideas.

Q1: How is the court of Camelot described/characterized by the poet? What kind of place is it? Is it an idealized place of wonder and beauty, or is it a realistic kingdom of debauchery and disorder?

Q2: Discuss some detail of the poem’s description of the Green Knight. What stands out the most about him? Why does the poet spend so much time—almost two entire pages—just describing him? What might he want us to see/understand about his appearance in the hall?

Q3: According to the poem, why does the Green Knight come to challenge Arthur and his court? By barging in like this (and on a horse, no less), he’s breaking the laws of chivalry and being quite disrespectful. What would make him act so flagrantly toward the greatest king in the land?

Q4: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight employs a poetic structure known as the “bob and wheel,” which ends each of the stanzas. As the translator explains, “[it is] a short phrase of two words containing one stress, the bob, followed by a four-line rhyming quatrain made up of three-stressed lines” (xxiv).  The translator doesn’t always preserve this perfectly, but you can see it here from page 3:

to his great content (the bob)
War, reprisal, exploit
have happened here at times.
Joy and disaster
have often taken turns (the four-line wheel). 

Discuss how at least one of these bob and wheels function in the poem. Why are they here? Do they break up the story? Change the meaning? Offer a different perspective? How does it read/sound compared to the lines that precede it?