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?