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:

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.'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’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 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?