Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Final Exam: Monday @ 11:30

Final Exam: Monday @ 11:30 in our normal classroom

Be sure to bring two books: The Rape of the Lock and Lady Susan. These are the only books you are allowed to use in class, and you must use them on the essay questions.

The first part of the exam will be identification questions, and you have to rely on memory for these. The second part will be a choice of 3 essay questions--you only have to respond to 1. 

See you there! 

Monday, November 14, 2016

For Wednesday: Austen, Lady Susan, Letters 16-25

Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan in the recent film, "Love and Friendship"
Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Though Lady Susan quickly wins over most of the Vernon household, including the lovelorn Reginald, how does Mrs. Vernon begin to see cracks in Susan's mask? How does she begin to show her true "naked" features?

Q2: In criticizing her own daughter's affection for Reginald, Lady Susan writes that "Artlessness will never do in love matters, and that girl is born a simpleton, who has it either by nature or affection." What does she mean by this? Why does Lady Susan always place 'art' above 'artlessness'? What does she fear her daughter will never understand, that will make her "ridiculed and despised by every man who sees her"?

Q3: Is Lady Susan supposed to be read more as a comedy or a tragedy? Most epistolary novels were tragic in nature, and contained perilous life and death stakes for their characters (The Coquette, Pamela, Clarissa). Is Austen showing us the danger that results when reputation hangs in the balance? Or is she, like Pope, merely making fun of the pretensions and plots of the upper classes? Use a specific scene or letter to illustrate how you read the novel.

Q4: In class on Monday, I suggested that Lady Susan is in competition with ever woman in society--including her own daughter. Where do we see this mother/daughter competition in these letters? Is Frederica aware of the competition herself, or is this simply a byproduct of Lady Susan's vanity and ego? 

Friday, November 11, 2016

For Monday: Austen, Lady Susan, Letters 1-15

For Monday: Austen, Lady Susan, Letters 1-15

* NOTE: Be sure to pay attention to who is writing the letter and who is receiving it. This would be important in real life, and is very important in figuring out how to read the letter (and the letter-writer’s intentions).

CHARACTERS (all of whom write one or more letters):

  • Lady Susan Vernon:  a widow, sister-in-law to Mrs. Vernon (she married her husband's brother). Has a daughter, Frederica, she is trying to get married to Sir James Martin.
  • Miss Vernon: Frederica, Lady Susan’s daughter.
  • Mrs. Johnson: Lady Susan’s intimate friend, with whom she shares her secret plans and love affairs. Her husband thinks Lady Susan a bad influence.
  • Mrs. Vernon: Married to Lady Susan’s brother; lives at Churchill where Lady Susan stays after being ejected from the Manwaring’s house. Her mother is Lady de Courcy and her brother is Mr. de Courcy.
  • Mr. de Courcy (Reginald): Mrs. Vernon’s brother, is anxious to meet Lady Susan after all the rumors he’s heard of her.
  • Sir Reginald de Courcy: Mr. de Courcy's and Mrs. Vernon's father.
  • Lady de Courcy: Sir Reginald's wife. 

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In “To a Lady,” Pope writes, “artists! who can paint or write,/
To draw the naked is your true delight.” How might the letter-writing format allow Austen to depict the women in her novel “naked,” or without the masks they often wear in society? As a woman, is she also trying to shame women into acting better/more morally, or does she have a different agenda?

Q2: Lady Susan writes of her daughter, “I do not mean therefore that Frederica’s acquirements should be more than superficial, and I flatter myself that she will not remain long enough at school to understand anything thoroughly” (Letter 7). According to the book (so far), what qualities, talents, and behavior make an “educated” (or cultured) woman? Is Lady Susan herself educated? Related to this, what kind of education does she want for her daughter?

Q3: Is Lady Susan the antagonist of Lady Susan or a kind of anti-hero? Are we supposed to like her or loathe her? Does she come across as a Belinda or a Clarissa? Consider a passage such as this one: “There is an exquisite pleasure in subduing an insolent spirit, in making a person pre-determined to dislike, acknowledge one’s superiority” (Letter 7).

Q4: According to the letters of Mrs. Vernon and Mr. de Courcy, how has Lady Susan earned a bad reputation in society? What is she accused of doing, and can we tell whether or not any of this is true, or just gossipy slander? What might justifiably make Mrs. Vernon reluctant to welcome her into her home? 

Monday, November 7, 2016

For Wednesday: Pope, “To a Lady” (pp.138-147)

For Wednesday: Pope, “To a Lady” (pp.138-147)

Synopsis: Basically, this is a poem that responds to the comment made by a “lady” of Pope’s acquaintance, who said “Most women have no characters at all” (line 2). He is responding to her comment in a poem which examines many different types of women, each one identified by a mythological character that is an allegory for her demeanor (saintly, gossipy, selfish, witty, etc.). This also relates to painting, since many noblewomen were painted in mythological clothing and poses—this woman as Diana, this one as Helen, etc. Pages 138 through 144 satirize each type of woman, showing her faults and shortcomings much as she did with Belinda in The Rape of the Lock. On page 144, however, the poem shifts: he now explains how a woman should be “painted” in life, meaning, how she should act and present herself. Yet women are tricky creatures, who are much given to variety and contradiction, he claims. So he discusses the ideal woman—the “Lady” he is writing to—who combines the best qualities of men and women.

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Examine ONE of the character types Pope explores in the first pages of the poem. How does he satirize her character? What is her chief flaw in his eyes? Why should women avoid this type of woman?

Q2: On page 144, he writes that “artists! who can paint or write/To draw the naked is your true delight.” Pope is not recommending that artists draw women without clothing, so what does he mean here? How should artists paint women “naked” instead of painting them in one of the various character types?

Q3: Pope also claims that “A woman’s seen in private life alone...Bred to disguise, in public ‘tis you hide” (144). What does seeing a woman in private show us that seeing her in public disguises? How does this highlight the chief vice of women, a vice that relates to Belinda and The Rape of the Lock?

Q4: On page 146, Pope offers advice for the ideal woman, who “ne’er answers till a husband cools,/Or, if she rules him, never shows she rules.” Is this advice contrary to what a Wife of Bath would say, or is it the same advice, translated into the 18th century? Is he admonishing women to be quiet and submissive, or is he teaching them how to have more discreet and intelligent command?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

For Monday: Pope, The Rape of the Lock, Canto 5

Synopsis of Canto 5: Belinda is still weeping over her lock, so Clarissa (the one who handed the Baron the scissors) interrupts to make a speech. Her speech is important (read carefully), but it draws no applause; instead, Belinda and Thalestris rouse themselves to attack the Baron and his men. A fierce battle ensues, where men are killed by frowns and resurrected by smiles, and where Belinda uses her deadly snuff box as a weapon (snuff is a kind of tobacco which was finely ground, kept in a box, and inhaled instead of smoked). However, the battle draws to a stalemate, especially as the Baron no longer has the lock. Magically, it ascended to the heavens where it is now a star, visible to anyone in London, where it will become the envy of women everywhere, and the cause of Belinda's immortal fame.

NOTE: No questions this time, but we'll do an in-class writing over the short Canto 5. Some things to pay attention to:

* Clarissa's Speech--read it carefully and more than once; do you think she's an object of satire here? Or is she the 'straight woman' here, expressing Pope's own thoughts?

* What kind of things end up on the moon? Look carefully at this bizarre collection of artifacts. What do they all have in common? 

* What kind of immortality is Pope bestowing upon Belinda/Arabella at the very end of the poem? Is she famous for her beauty? For her stupidity? Or for simply being a character in an immortal poem? Is she the star--or is the poem itself? 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

For Friday: Pope, The Rape of the Lock, Cantos 3-4

Synopsis of Canto 3: The action opens in ritzy Hampton Court; there, gossips have gathered to chat, and “at every word a reputation dies.” Here also Belinda is having a card game (ombre) with the Baron, and the card game is described on pages 55-58 like an epic battle, with the various kings, queens, and knights assaulting, retreating, and dying on the “velvet plain” (the card table). The Baron seizes a moment in the climax of the game to seize Belinda’s precious locks, assisted by Clarissa, who gives him a deadly weapon (a pair of scissors). He cuts them off and she shrieks hideously while he glowers in evil triumph.

Synopsis of Canto 4: Crushed by the weight of her tragedy, Belina is insensible. So Umbriel, one of the spirits, goes down to the underworld (echoing The Odyssey, where Odysseus visits Achilles in death) to seek an audience with the Queen of Spleen. For 18th century audiences, spleen is a substance in the body which makes people moody, depressed, sullen, and even angry. In the poem, it’s a place of nonsense and irrationality, where men get pregnant and “maids turned bottles, call aloud for corks.” Umbriel convinces the Queen of Spleen to give her a bag full of fears, sorrows, passions, and rage, which she brings back to Belinda to assist her in the battle against the Baron. The Amazon, Thalestris, is also trying to rouse Belinda’s fighting spirits, reminding her that she will be the laughing stock of all London. She also tries to convince the Baron to release the lock, but he refuses. Belinda is distraught and cries, “Oh hadst thou, cruel! been content to seize/Hairs less in sight, or any hairs but these!”

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: While Pope’s initial target in his satire is Arabella Fermor, how can we tell he is more specifically targeting upper-class society? How does he satirize the behaviors, customs, or ideas of the English aristocracy in Cantos III and IV?

Q2: Though it’s very amusing to compare a card game to an actual war, or the rape of a lock with the abduction of a queen, why might Pope suggest that in his society, such comparisons actually make sense? That is, despite the humor, why might a noblewoman actually lament the loss of her lock, or the loss of a card game? What are the stakes to losing these in 18th century society, according to the poem?

Q3: Some critics/readers have suggested that the Queen of Spleen and her court represents an attack on women. Do you find this passage misogynistic? Is he making fun of the affectations and behaviors of women of his society? Or is he merely poking fun at certain types of women? And clues to tell one way or another?

Q4: Why does Ariel give up protecting Belinda’s lock in Canto 3? What does he see that makes him abandon the field and consign Belinda to her dreadful fate? 

Friday, October 28, 2016

For Monday: The Rape of the Lock, Cantos 1-2

NOTE: If you missed class, see the post below with a handout about The Rape of the Lock. Also note that we do have class on Monday, but not on Wednesday; I moved Paper #2 back one class period. 

A Brief Synopsis of Canto 1-2

Canto 1:
Begins with the standard epic invocation to the Muse (see handout below); then the scene opens on Belinda's bedroom, where she wakes up at noon to the barking of her dog, Shock. She rings for the servant and tries to get ready for the day while all around her, her guardian spirits are flitting about. These Sylphs are the spirits of former gentlewomen who died, and now guard the daily life of rich, insipid noblewomen. The chief sylph is Ariel, who fears that a terrible fate is about to meet her mistress--and from the worst enemy of all, man! Meanwhile, Belinda goes to her "temple," her toilet--which means her dressing table (not our toilet)--and Pope describes her various makeups and perfumes in the terms of a hero arming for battle.

Canto 2:
Belinda is walking out about the town, and the entire world looks on her smiling face, which "shine[s] on all alike." She is the perfect mask of nobility and beauty, hiding her true nature, but attracting even "infidels" with its beauty. In the back of her head are two fashionably locks of hair, neatly arranged for everyone to see. A Baron has made it his mission to cut off these locks, and builds an Altar to see his plan through (a mock-epic touch); his Altar is built of very common place items--French novels (always about love, and some were pornographic), women's garters, gloves, and "the trophies of his former loves." Ariel sees this and marshals the other sylphs to her defense, just as a hero would at the beginning of a great battle. He explains all the terrible things that could happen to Belinda: she might lose her virginity, or break her China jar (teacup); she might lose her honor, or stain her dress; or she might lose her heart, or a necklace (note how every truly bad thing is compared to something small and insignificant, but to Ariel both are of equal importance). So the various sylphs take their positions around Belinda, while Ariel decides to guard her dog, Shock. He then warns the spirits that a terrible fate will meet the sylphs who fail in their duty to Belinda. 

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Discuss a passage where Pope employs mock-epic language or imagery to describe a relatively insignificant moment. How does he make the mundane seem mighty or momentous? 

Q2: Somewhat related to the above, if Arabella was reading this and realized that she was Belinda, where might she be offended by the portrayal? Would she see this as a good humored 'roast' of her situation, or is this more like Tom Jones, where the author means to satirize social types like her, full of sham morality? 

Q3: According to the poem, who are the sylphs and how are they made? What kind of woman in life becomes a Salamander, or a Gnome? How might these descriptions also have a satirical edge to them?

Q4: Pope loves to play with difficult syntax and mirroring language, such as this passage in Canto 1: "Where with wigs, with sword-knots sword/knots strive,/Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive" (47). How can you translate this passage into modern English? What is he trying to say here and why do you think he makes it dense rather than transparent? 

Pope Handout and Reminder

REMINDER: We do have class on Monday--I've pushed back the due date for Paper #2 to Wednesday. That means no class on Wednesday. Read Pope's The Rape of the Lock, Cantos 1-2 for Monday (questions to follow). Below is the handout I gave to the class for those who weren't here on Friday.


Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Acheans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end.
Begin, Muse, when the two first broke and clashed,
Agamemnon lord of men and brilliant Achilles.

--From The Iliad, translated by Robert Fagles

What dire offense from amorous causes springs,
What mighty contests rise from trivial things,
I sing—This verse to CARYLL, Muse! is due;
This, even Belinda may vouchsafe to view:
Slight is the subject, but not so the praise,
If she inspire, and he approve my lays. [lays are verses]
    Say what strange motive, Goddess! could
A well-bred Lord to assault a gentle Belle?
O say what stranger cause, yet unexplored,
Could make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?
In tasks so bold, can little men engage,
And in soft bosoms dwells such mighty rage?

--from Canto I, The Rape of the Lock

“In The Iliad, the Trojan War is sparked by Paris’ abduction of the Greek beauty Helen, daughter of Zeus and the mortal Leda. In Pope’s poem, a quarrel erupts between two families over a stolen lock of hair, and the incident is playfully narrated as if it were a war. The poem is a mock epic in that it shrinks the immense scale of Homeric narrative down to domestic size: instead of a bloody battlefield, there is the “velvet plain” of a gaming table; instead of engaging in hand-to-hand combat, people slay each other with chilly glances and snide comments; instead of encompassing long, wearying years, the action takes place from noon (when spoiled aristocrats wake up) to nightfall (when the lock if magically transformed into stars); instead of a visit to Hades, there is a descent to the fanciful Cave of Spleen, the source of hypochondria and bad moods in the idle rich.

Pope based the poem on a controversy reported to him by his friend John Caryll: the young Lord Petre had cut a lock of hair from the head of his intended, Arabella Fermor, and the latter retaliated by cutting off their wedding engagement. In a time before photography, keeping a snippet of a loved one’s hair as a souvenir was an ordinary custom, but doing so without the person’s permission was simply rude. But was it a serious enough offense to cause such a fury?”  

“Introduction” to The Rape of the Lock and Other Poems, Christopher R. Miller 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Paper #2: Firing the Canon: due Novembe 2nd by 5pm

Paper #2: Firing the Canon

The literary canon is being formed and re-formed every year, and the canon of 2016 only bears a slight resemblance to that of 1916; a hundred years in the future it will encompass writers not yet born, some in favor of those long dead. For now, all we can do is evaluate what we have, and in this case, we have two works that have stood the test of time: Shakespeare’s Othello and Behn’s Oroonoko. Each one was extremely popular in its day—even if some (like Rhymer) couldn’t completely appreciate the hoopla—and both works remain fascinating, if controversial, documents of an earlier age. Yet why have they remained in the canon? What makes these two works stand out as exemplary in some way while hundreds and thousands of other works have perished, or simply been cast in the shade?

In this paper, I want you to play “canon maker.” Should Othello and Oroonoko remain one of the imperishable works of the British Literature canon? If so, what qualities about each work make them suitable for current and future generations? Some qualities to consider are:
  • Social commentary: discussion of race, gender, class, love, marriage, etc.
  • Poetry: ability to discuss common things in uncommon ways
  • Characters: characters that are more than two-dimensional stereotypes, who live and breathe and change how we look at the world
  • Insight: passages or ideas that are ‘ahead of their time’ and maybe even ahead of our own
  • Re-readability: how a work yields new insights and observations when read over and over again
On the same token, if you feel that a work does not merit inclusion in the canon, use some of the above categories to explain why. Don’t simply say “it’s too hard to read,” or “it’s boring”—try to go beyond subjective thinking and focus on specific qualities that make a work destined for the ages. For example, Oroonoko  might ultimately be too racist a work to be lionized for its treatment of race. Or Othello might be, as Rhymer suggests, too disjointed in time and place to come together as a unified whole.

To help you discuss this, I want you to: (a) give examples from each text through quotes—not just summaries—to illustrate your points, and (b) use 2-3 sources from the Supplementary Materials in each Norton edition. This could be the critical articles or the historical documents we read in class, or essays/excerpts we didn’t read for class. Use these to broaden your understanding of each work so you can discuss how each one fits into the historical picture—since above all, the canon is a mirror of literary history and how we read it.

OTHER REQUIREMENTS: (a) at least 4-5 pages double spaced; (b) cite all passages according to MLA format with a Works Cited page; (c) due in 2 weeks, on Wednesday, November 2nd by 5pm [no class that day]

Friday, October 14, 2016

For Monday: Opinions on Slavery. pp.159-185

This time, I've given you a question for each of the historical readings, but as always just respond to any TWO of the questions. However, consider how some of them work together in their denunciation--or defense--of slavery.

Answer TWO of the following: 

Q1: “A Declaration By The Barbados Colonists” (1651): This declaration predates the publication of Oroonoko by several decades, making it an interesting counterpoint to the colonial perspective offered by the unnamed narrator.  Based on this declaration, how might colonists feel themselves growing apart from the mother country and becoming “slaves” themselves?  In what way does being a colonist mean forsaking a traditional sense of being English? 

Q2: How might John Locke’s argument for the “natural state of man” support Oroonoko’s own bid for freedom in the novel?  On the same hand, how does Locke, despite his humanitarian impulses, define slavery within the construct of “the state of nature” and “the state of war”? 

Q3: Writings like “The Speech of Moses Bon Sáam” (1735) formed a genre of abolitionist writing written exclusively by white Englishmen trying to further the cause.  Most likely, Moses Bon Sáam was a mask for one such abolitionist.  Nevertheless, what arguments does he advance against Locke’s notion of slavery as a “natural” state for a certain class of people?  Why might these arguments resonate with (and perhaps even be inspired by) the example of Oroonoko? 

Q4: “The Answer of Caribeus to Moses Bon Sáam” (1735) is the prototypical “apology” for slavery in the 17th/18th century.  In essence, how is slavery defended as a necessary state of existence and even as a kind of blessing upon the slave him/herself? 

Q5: How does Johnson echo many of the sentiments from Moses Bon Sáam to attack a Lockean view of slavery?  Why does Boswell feel the need to editorialize this sentiment at the end of the excerpt?  Though he admits that Johnson’s views are “perhaps…in the right” (177), what crucial element does he feel Johnson overlooks? 

Q6: The Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789) is one of the most extraordinary works of the late 18th century, as it is a polished, almost novelistic account of slavery from the inside—a slave who was captured as a child, served in the Royal Navy, and gradually bought his freedom (though few Englishmen believed in a freed slave).  How do these excerpts contrast with the “white” perspective of slavery seen in Oroonoko, Moses Bon Sáam, and Johnson?  Is Equiano able to write like an Englishman yet remain, in spirit, an African?  In other words, how much does he conform to literary expectations—or how much does he remain an outsider sneaking in? 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

For Friday: Behn, Oroonoko (pages 40-65)

Answer TWO of the following: 

Q1: What is the Narrator’s role in the story? At first she seems merely to be an eyewitness to these events, but as the narrative continues, she not only instructs Oroonoko and Imoinda in Western culture, but actually becomes his close companion and “Great Mistress.” Why does she insert herself into the ‘romance’ part of the story so intimately? You might also consider why she leaves so abruptly at the end, even though she claims "indeed my Word wou'd go a great way with him" (41). 

Q2: How are we supposed to read Oroonoko’s grand speech on pages 52-53, where he proclaims, “we are Bought and Sold like Apes, or Monkeys, to be the Sport of Women, Fools, and Cowards, and the Support of Rogues, Runagades, that have abandon’d their own Countries for Rapin, Murders, Thefts, and Villanies” (52). Who is speaking here—Oroonoko or Aphra Behn? Also, does this speech seem at odds with his earlier occupations—going tiger hunting with the narrator, and listening to her read stories of Roman kings to him, etc.?

Q3: The 17th century loved to re-write the classics, and especially Shakepseare, which they found too violent and irrational. Behn was also a playwright, so she would know his works intimately, and perhaps even acted in some of them. Considering this, how might Behn have consciously re-written Othello in a colonial light? Is the connection skin deep (merely two moors who both  kill their wives), or are there other thematic connections between the two works?

Q4: What do  you think Behn’s ultimate purpose in writing Oroonoko was (besides simply writing a thrilling story)? Is this truly the first abolitionist novel? Or was Oroonoko’s race a secondary consideration in the novel? Is she more interested in the natives and former colony in Surinam? Why does she provide so much cultural detail about the area when none of it is strictly important to Oroonoko’s fate?

Monday, October 10, 2016

For Wednesday: Behn, Oroonoko (to page 40 at least)

For Wednesday: Behn, Oroonoko (read at least to page 40, but feel free to read the entire work—we’ll finish discussing it on Friday)

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: In class, I read you William Dampier’s account of discovering the Aborigines in Australia, which he claimed “differ but little from Brutes…Their Eyelids are always half closed, to keep the Flies out of their Eyes…[a]nd therefore they cannot see far, unless they hold up their Heads, as if they were looking at something over them.” How does Behn describe the natives in Surinam? Is she a typical European looking down on uncivilized “brutes”? Or does she have a more enlightened—or at least, observant—view of the natives?

Q2: How does the narrator describe Oroonoko’s appearance and attributes? What kind of man is he? Is he another “brute”/savage, or is he more ‘European’ in his character and appearance? You might also consider why he is given the slave name Caesar in Surinam.

Q3: Behn writes that “But [Oroonoko’s] misfortune was to fall in an obscure world, that afforded only a female pen to celebrate his fame, though I doubt not but it had lived from others’ endeavours, if the Dutch, who, immediately after his time, took that country, had not killed, banished, and dispersed all those that were capable of giving the world this great man’s life, much better than I have done.” Do you think we are meant to read this as a work of fiction or a work of non-fiction? Is this a history of real events, or a fictional work based on the ‘real’ world? Is the narrator Behn, herself? Or is this merely a fictional first-person narrator? Is there any way to tell?

Q4: In the preface to his 1633 map of the world, Mercator writes that “Here wee have the right of Lawes, the dignity of the Christian Religion, the forces of Armes…Moreover, Europe manageth all Arts and Sciences with such dexterity, that for the invention of manie things shee may be truly called a Mother.” Do you think Behn agrees with that? How does this novel comment on the colonization of the Americas, and Europe/England’s role in the conquest?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

For Friday: Two Modern Critical Articles

For Friday, we'll do an in-class writing based on ONE of the following articles from your book:

* Neill, "Race, Adultery, and the Hidden in Othello" (pp.306-328)


* Pechter, "Too Much Violence: Murdering Wives in Othello" (pp.366-384)

Choose one to read and I'll ask you a general question which you can respond to based on either essay. If you're really interested in Othello and have the time, feel free to read both. They might come in handy on your next paper assignment--coming soon! 

Monday, October 3, 2016

For Wednesday: Othello Criticism, pp. 201-230

For Wednesday's class, read the following pieces of historical criticism on Othello:

* Rhymer, "A Bloody Farce" 
* Gildon, "Comments on Rhymer's Othello"
* Johnson, "Shakespeare, the Rules, and Othello"
* Lamb, "Othello's Color: Theatrical versus Literary Representation"
* Hazlitt, "Iago, Heroic Tragedy, and Othello"

Then answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Rhymer is the most critical of Shakespeare, calling Othello "a bloody farce without salt or savor" (210). What does he find most "unnatural" or unsatisfying about the play? Is there any merit in his criticisms?

Q2: Discuss a specific point that Gildon responds to in his critique of Rhymer's negative assessment of the play. In general, why does Gildon find the play completely "natural" and indeed logical, unlike Rhymer?

Q3: Iago comes up as a subject even more than Othello for these writers. In general, do they agree about his role in the play? Is he a powerful, believable character for most of them? Who admires him and who reviles him?

Q4: Johnson talks about the "unities of time" in theater, which according to Aristotle, had to occur within a 24 hour span, in one location, without any digressions that don't contribute to the basic plot. Obviously Shakespeare breaks at least two--if not all three--of these unities. Does Johnson find this excusable or not? Can a great poet take the artistic license to bend or break these rules (according to Johnson)? 

Saturday, October 1, 2016

For Monday: Othello, Act 5

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Is Othello completely steeled to kill Desdemona in Act 5, scene 2, or does he still have doubts and misgivings? Carefully read his "It is the cause it is the cause, my soul" speech as he enters the stage. What is he telling us here, especially since it's a monologue, and addressed to himself--and by extension, to the audience?

Q2: In one of the most dramatic (though to some, comic) moments in the play, Emilia repeats the words "My husband?" four times when she learns of Iago's involvement in her mistress's death. How did you read this? How should an actress portray this? Is this total surprise/revelation? Is it disguise (if she suspected all along, and is covering her tracks)? Or is it some mixture of knowing and not knowing? 

Q3: Most tragedies end in catharsis, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as "The purification of the emotions by vicarious experience, esp. through the drama (in reference to Aristotle's Poetics)." Does Shakespeare allow the audience a sense of release and catharsis by the play's end? How might Iago's refusal to repent or even to explain his actions frustrate this? Or is that also part of Shakespeare's dramatic plan?

Q4: Some critics have complained that Othello's plot is based on a very loose, improbable series of events that happen all too quickly. So what about the resolution? Is Othello convinced too quickly of his wife's innocence--and Iago's betrayal? Does it make sense to us? Why does Scene 2 resolve everything so quickly?  

Monday, September 26, 2016

For Wednesday: Shakespeare, Othello, Act 3

For Wednesday: Shakespeare, Othello, Act 3

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Iago claims throughout that he actually believes the slander he spreads, and that he only gives people ‘good’ advice, even if it ultimately serves his purpose. How does Iago use the truth—or his version of the truth—to sway Othello against his wife and Cassio? (note: some people have argued that it’s not a lie if you believe it yourself!)

Q2: Related to the above question, what information do you feel ultimately ‘turns’ Othello from trusting husband to jealous cuckold? He tells Iago at one point, “No, Iago/I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove;/And on the proof there is no more but this:/Away at once with love or jealousy!” (59). Since he never sees proof, what makes him choose jealousy over love?

Q3: Some African-American actors have refused to play Othello, seeing him ultimately as a racist stereotype of a black man, full of wild moods and sensuous appetites. We see this change in his character in Act 3, when the noble, poetic Othello becomes increasingly brooding and vicious. How do you think a 21st century audience should read Othello here? Is Shakespeare ultimately confirming the stereotype (as if to say that all Moors eventually turn into monsters), or is Othello simply a universal husband/lover here?

Q4: What kind of woman is Emilia, and who’s side do you feel she’s ultimately on: Desdemona/Othello’s, or her husband’s? How much does she actually understand of the plot? You might also consider her lines to Desdemona: “[Men] are all but stomachs, and we all but food;/They eat us hungerly, and when they are full/They belch us” (72). 

Saturday, September 24, 2016

For Monday: Shakespeare’s Othello, Act 2

Kenneth Branaugh as "Honest Iago" 
For Monday: Shakespeare’s Othello, Act 2

Answer TWO of the following…

Q1: In scene 1, Iago amuses/annoys Desdemona and his wife, Emilia, by reciting proverbial wisdom about women. Why do the women get so offended by his comments, and how might this relate to “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue”? Why might the Wife take offense at this, too, and give him a swift kick in the rear?

Q2: How does Iago use language and insinuation to create doubt in Scene 2? How can we see an ulterior motive—and a double meaning—in every conversation he has with another character (and even, perhaps, the audience)? Discuss on example of this in Act 2.

Q3: After Cassio is disgraced, Iago convinces him to ask Desdemona to intercede on his behalf. When Cassio exits, Iago turns to the audience, and in mock-offense, says, “And what’s he then that says I play the villain” (49). Read this speech closely and explain his ‘defense’ to the audience. How is he trying to defend his own character/reputation here, while at the same time laying out his secret plan against Othello?

Q4: At the very end of the play, something unusual happens: Roderigo announces his attentions to leave Cyprus in prose (though he spoke prose earlier in Scene 1, as well) and Iago answers him in verse. In Act 1, it was the opposite; why does Shakespeare have it flip-flop now? Why should we ‘hear’ them speaking different languages to one another, especially given what is being said here? 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

For Friday: Shakespeare, Othello, Act 1

For Friday: Shakespeare, Othello, Act 1

For those of you still getting your Shakespearean-legs, here is a brief scene-by-scene synopsis of the action of the first Act.

Act 1, Scene 1: Iago and Roderigo appear before Brabantio’s house at night; they are plotting together to bring down Othello, whom Iago serves as an “ancient” (kind of a lieutenant). They awake Brabantio and tell him his daughter, Desdemona, has stolen out of his house to wed Othello without his knowledge. Brabantio doesn’t believe them—he doesn’t even like Roderigo—but finally realizes the truth. He vows to take this up before the Duke and get vengeance.

Act 1, Scene 2: Iago re-appears with Othello, this time spitting venom about Roderigo. He warns Othello that Brabantio is up in arms about his daughter, and Cassio, another member of Othello’s camp, appears to warn of evil tidings about war from abroad—the Turks are invading. At the same moment, Brabantio appears with swords drawn, demanding Othello’s arrest. Yet Othello is wanted by the Duke, so they all decide to retire to his chambers and plead their various cases.

Act 1, Scene 3: The Duke is at his council of war, discussing the invasion of the Turkish fleet. After some debate, they confirm that the Turks will invade the island of Cyprus, and the Venetians need a counter-force led by their greatest commander, Othello. Othello appears with Brabantio and company, and Brabantio demands justice against the abductor of his daughter. The duke agrees—until he learns that Othello is the culprit. Othello makes his case, that he didn’t rape or seduce Desdemona with witchcraft, but simply by telling her stories of his life. The Duke sides with Othello, and when Desdemona enters, she confirms his story. Brabantio washes his hands of both of them. Othello (and Desdemona) then beg to travel together to Cyrpus, and the Duke agrees. The scene ends with another exchange between Roderigo and Iago; Roderigo is ready to hang himself, but Iago talks him out of it. Then, at the very end, he expresses his ‘true’ feelings to the audience in a sinister monologue.

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Iago gives two reasons for plotting against Othello: what are they? Who does he tell each one to? Do you think he believes them equally (or either of them)? Would either one be sufficient to make him betray his comrade-in-arms?

Q2: Though Act 1 is largely in iambic pentameter, there is a slight but telling use of prose. Who speaks it and when? Why is it spoken? How might it change what is said by speaking it in the ‘common language’?

Q3: At this time, Moors or anyone of another race would be seen as barbaric, animalistic, and sinister. Many plays of Shakespeare’s time played on exactly these stereotypes. How does Shakespeare play against the stereotype in his portrayal of Othello? In other words, what does Othello say that humanizes him and makes us sympathize with his character?

Q4: Iago has two conversations with Roderigo, each of them quite long. What is revealing about the language he uses to Roderigo? What does it reveal about his character and motives? If we can glimpse something of the ‘real’ Iago here, what does he look like?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Citing Quotations Handout/Reminder

REMEMBER: Paper #1 is due by 5pm on Monday. We DO have class on Monday, but we'll be discussing Shakespeare's theater and language. Below is the handout I gave out in class on Friday which might help you incorporate quotations into your paper.  


“And now he won’t be long for this world.
He has done his worst but the wound will end him.
He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain,
Limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed
For wickedness, he must await
The mighty  judgment of God in majesty” (65).

QUOTATION SANDWICH: Introduction + Quote + Response

Writing about Grendel’s death-wound, the Beowulf poet writes that “He is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain,/Limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed/For wickedness, he must await/The mighty judgment of God in majesty” (65).


In Heaney’s translation, Grendel is described as “hasped and hooped and hirplign with pain,/Limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed/For wickedness” (65).

THEN: In Heaney’s translation, Grendel is described as “hasped and hooped and hirplign with pain,/Limping and looped in it. Like a man outlawed/For wickedness” (65). This is an important passage, since instead of dispatching the monster without comment as in a fairy tale, we see and feel Grendel’s torment as if he were a human being. He is described as bound in pain, “limping” away in agony, and trying to cleave his way out of the “loops.” The poet further captures his humanity through the idea of being “outlawed,” a man without a home, an exile from his home, country, and even life itself. It is a devastatingly desolate statement, and one that makes us instinctively sympathetic toward Grendel.

WORKS CITED PAGE (for more examples, check the Purdue OWL page: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl

Author + title + (translator) + publication information + date

Anonymous. Beowulf. Translated by Seamus Heaney. New York: W.W. Norton
            and Company, 2000.

Monday, September 12, 2016

For Wednesday: “The Oxford Scholar’s Tale

For Wednesday: “The Oxford Scholar’s Tale”

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: The Oxford Scholar, befitting his status as a scholar, tells a story borrowed from the Italian poet Petrarch (a real poet and a contemporary of Chaucer's). Why do you think Chaucer has him do this? Why not tell a modern story of marriage set in England like the Miller? Is it for the same reason as The Wife of Bath tells her story in King Arthur’s Time? Or the Knight in ancient Greece?

Q2: How do you think the story of Griselda is a commentary (or response) to The Wife of Bath’s Prologue/Tale? Is he responding to the ill-treatment of medieval wives, or is he responding to the literary tradition of evil, nagging women? Do you think the Tale sympathizes with the Wife of Bath or lampoons her? Is his Griselda an ideal—as he later claims—or a tragic victim?

Q3: The Scholar quotes Petrarch at the end of his tale, who apparently said,“this tale has not been told so that wives should/Imitate Griselda in humility;/They’d find it intolerable if they did!/But that everyone, whatever his degree,/Should be as steadfast in adversity/as Griselda.” Is the story supposed to be an updated version of The Book of Job, where the class/gender of Griselda is irrelevant? Or do you feel that the story makes more sense when it’s about a woman and a peasant? (in other words, is this a universal story or a very specific one?) 

Q4: Perhaps the oddest part of the tale is “Chaucer’s Epilogue,” which seems to be a song the Oxford Scholar sings to conclude his story. How are we supposed to read this concluding song? Is he contradicting the moral of the tale? Disguising it? Or is this Chaucer’s way of slyly commenting on it? 

Friday, September 9, 2016

For Monday: The Wife of Bath's Tale / Paper #1 assignment

Be sure to read "The Wife of Bath's Tale" for Monday; on Friday we discussed the Prologue, but had no time left to even hint at her tale. So we'll have an in-class writing response when we come to class.

ALSO...here's the Paper #1 assignment I passed out, which you'll definitely want to start thinking about as it's due the week after Monday. 


Choose ONE of the following...

            In Beowulf and most of The Canterbury Tales, poets (or storytellers) use stories of the past as a way to re-imagine the present. For example, the Beowulf poet embellishes a pagan tale of monsters and heroes with Christian values, while pilgrims such as the Knight, the Wife of Bath, and the Oxford Scholar use other times/lands to speak of their values. Why tell stories of the past from a modern perspective? What do these retellings allow the poets to say/explain to their audience that simply setting a story in the present wouldn’t do? How can the past be a literary device to aid in a storyteller’s quest? Consider, too, the modern craze for fantasy literature from The Lord of the Rings to The Game of Thrones. These are all modern stories set in an imagined past, and however realistic these might seem, it’s still our world and our ideas that make us read the story.

Be sure to discuss both Beowulf and one or more of the Canterbury Tales in your discussion. QUOTE from each one and discuss how poem ‘works’ on the level of language. Summarize as little as possible, and help us appreciate how the manner in which a poem is written affects how we read it and what it actually says.

            In the 14th century, there was an artistic movement that led to the Renaissance called “Humanism,” where artists attempted to reflect the realities of the secular world. This meant painting people as they truly looked, as well as using the actual language of the common people, and in the case of our class, English. Even though Beowulf was written well before the 14th century, the poet still humanizes the poem much more than we would expect: instead of a black and white story of heroes and monsters, we get glimpses of real psychological depth and humanity. So for this option, I want you to discuss how each work attempts to show us a true portrait of humanity in its story and characters. What might be seen as new or novel about these works: where do we hear ‘real’ voices speaking out from the ages? Where do we see true portraits of men and women emerge on the page? What effect does ‘humanism’ have on the work that makes it more ‘literary’?

Be sure to discuss both Beowulf and one or more of the Canterbury Tales in your discussion. QUOTE from each one and discuss how poem ‘works’ on the level of language. Summarize as little as possible, and help us appreciate how the manner in which a poem is written affects how we read it and what it actually says.

  • 4-5 pages, double spaced
  • Must quote from both books, and respond to these quotes: make sure we understand why you’re quoting them and how they affect your argument
  • Use MLA Format (see handout) and provide a Works Cited page

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

For Friday: The Wife of Bath's Prologue and Tale

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 wait...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 a greedy, nagging wife?  What sways you one way or the other?

Q4: How might the “Wife of Bath’s Tale” itself be a response to “The Knight’s Tale”? Why do you think she chooses a knight as her protagonist? Is the manner of his victory similar or different than that of Palamon and Nicolas? 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

For Wednesday: “The Miller’s Tale”

ALSO: Since we have a longer break than usual, you might also want to read “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue and Tale,” since it’s much longer and we’ll be reading/discussing it on Friday.

Answer TWO of the following...

Q1: Why do you think the Miller responds to the Knight’s tale by saying “I’ve got a splendid tale for the occasion/To pay the night out with, and cap his tale”? What is he responding to (or irritated by)?  Why might a lower class listener (who to be fair, is quite drunk) find fault in the Knight’s tale of bathetic chivalry?

Q2: Related to the question above, how is “The Miller’s Tale” a comic variation on “The Knight’s Tale”? What are the similarities and the slight—but telling—differences? How can we tell that he’s winking at the Knight as he tells it, as if to say “do you recognize your tale?” Consider how films today often parody other more serious films...how is the Miller playing into this tradition?

Q3: Discuss the role of Alison in “The Miller’s Tale”: is she a typically powerless woman seduced and controlled by men, or is she the actual ‘hero’ of the tale? How does the Miller—or Chaucer—want us to ‘read’ Alison?

Q4; Chaucer makes an elaborate apology for this tale, writing “I’m sorry that I must repeat it here/And therefore, I entreat all decent folk/For God’s sake don’t imagine that I speak/With any evil motive...And so, should anyone not wish to hear,/Turn the page over, choose another tale.” Why do you think Chaucer includes such a bawdy, low-humor tale in his collection since he could have easily cleaned it up? Do you think low comedy and sexual humor has a place in literature? Did they have different standards in the 14th century, or is Chaucer merely part of an old tradition we still take part in today? 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Chaucer, "The Knight's Tale," Parts III and IV

Bathetic Knights to Battle! 
For Friday's class, there are no questions, but we'll have an in-class response when you arrive in class. The subject of the writing will be identifying bathos in poetry, and in the poetry of the Knight in particular. Bathos is "Greek for depth, and it has been an indispensable term to critics since Alexander Pope’s essay On Bathos: Of the Art of Sinking in Poetry…the word ever since has been used for an unintentional descent in literature when, straining to be pathetic or passionate or elevated, the writer overshoots his mark and drops into the trivial or the ridiculous. Among his examples Pope records, “the modest request of two absent lowers” in a contemporary poem:

Ye Gods! annihilate but Space and Time,
And make two lovers happy." (Abrahms, Glossary of Literary Terms)

As you read Parts III and IV, look for passages where something that should have pathos (or be pathetic, meaning evoking deep emotion) misses the mark and becomes bathetic, or full of bathos. It's when a poet misfires and makes us laugh instead of cry, though he/she wants us to cry. When does the Knight do this, or, when does the Knight consciously make his characters bathetic (to make a point to his son)?

Monday, August 29, 2016

For Wednesday: “The Knight’s Tale” Parts I and II

For Wednesday: “The Knight’s Tale” Parts I and II

Answer TWO of the following:

Q1: Though the Knight is telling this story to the entire group, in some ways he has a very specific audience in mind: his son, the Squire. Why might we suspect that this story is really for him? How might this also help explain why tells a story of “long, long ago” instead of a modern tale of knights and battles? Consider, too, the difference between the Knight and the Squire in the General Prologue.

Q2: At the end of Part One, the Knight poses the question: “Now all you lovers, let me pose the question:/Who’s worse off, Arcita or Palamon?” Are we supposed to side with one of the lovers? Does one suffer a worse “hell” than the other? Or does this question have satiric undertones? (again, you might consider the audience)

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

Q4: What kind of storyteller is the Knight? Remember that the narrator claims that “To tell a tale told by another man/You must repeat it as nearly as you can.” How does his storytelling differ from the narrator’s? What does he do well—or ill? Are we supposed to marvel at his rhetoric or find it somewhat lacking? In other words, does he strike us as a clumsy or a crafty poet?

Friday, August 26, 2016

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 on Friday) 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 that of Beowulf. Though these works are written hundreds of years apart, and reflect two very different Englands, there are some surprising similarities. What seems like the most radical departure in Chaucer's work, and what tells you that Chaucer might have known and studied works like Beowulf in his career? 

Monday, August 22, 2016

For Wednesday: Finish Beowulf (or get as close as possible)

We'll continue discussing Beowulf for the next two days, though try to finish it as soon as possible since that will help our discussion. On Wednesday, I'll give you an in-class writing response covering a specific event/idea in the last third of the poem. However, as you continue to read, here are some ideas to consider...

* What role does the dragon play in the poem? He’s clearly not humanized in the way Grendel or his mother are (he’s a literal monster), but he still exhibits some very human characteristics. What might these be?

* Consider, too, how this dragon relates to another dragon we might known from Tolkein: Smaug. If you know The Hobbit, how are the two related? How might Tolkein have been inspired from this one?

* Why, according to the poem, does Beowulf fail in his final fight? Why does fate, or God, abandon him?

* How does the final third of the poem comment on the bonds of family, clan, and kingdom? What ‘doom’ might it prophesize for future generations?

* What is the importance of Wiglaf and his speech towards the end of the poem? How might he echo other characters in the poem? Does he express the true beliefs of the poet?

* Does the poet seem to look back longingly on Anglo Saxon ideals, or as a Christian, does he see their limitations? How might this explain why he chose an old pagan warrior as the subject for a Christian poem? 

Friday, August 19, 2016

For Monday: Beowulf, pp.58-135 (after the fight with Grendel's mother)

Answer TWO of the following in a short paragraph each…

1. What general philosophy of life does the poet seem to embody?  Where in the text can you read or sense this?  Is it explicit (does the poet come out and say this), or is it more implicit, built into the story itself? 

2. On page 87, when everyone is celebrating the death of Grendel and the libration of Hrothgar’s hall, the poet writes: “how could they know fate,/the grim shape of things to come,/the threat looming over many thanes/as night approas moched and King Hrothgar prepared/to retire to his quarters?”  Based on the logic of the poem (and the values of the poet’s day), why does wyrd/fate continue to ‘punish’ the hall if God wanted Beowulf to destroy Grendel?  Why are they afflicted by Grendel’s mother as well? 

3. The only real description we get of Grendel and his mother occurs on page 95, when Hrothgar says “One of these things...looks like a woman; the other, warped/in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale/bigger than any man, an unnatural birth.”  Though the poet often claims that they are the spawn of Cain, evil incarnate, some critics suggest that the poet invests them with a subversive humanity.  Where might we see this in the poem?  How might the poet make us question a strict good/evil reading of the poem? 

4. Though Beowulf is quite a ‘manly’ poem, three women appear briefly in its pages: Wealhtheow (Hrothgar’s wife), Hygd (wife of Beowulf’s chief, Hygelac), and Modthryth (the ‘evil’ wife of Offa).  Assuming that Beowulf is somewhat culturally accurate, what view of women does the poem offer us?  What was their role in society?  Related to this, what role do they play in the poem?  Given their almost ‘walk-on’ roles, why include them at all?