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?