Someday, I'm going to propose an Ovarium rather than a seminar. On the other hand, so many of my graduate seminars consisted of people spouting off with little or no concern for what anyone else in the room thought or experienced, so maybe they really do need to be called "seminars"?
For the first time today, my Chaucer seminar was really a seminar, and by seminar I mean, I moderated their discussion, made some notes on the board, and enjoyed learning from them.
This class has turned into at least a bit of an experiment, with an off-site guest (G) logging on and contributing via our WebBoard discussion area. G and I have emailed a bit, and shared ideas about the text, and G has responded to and posted some questions and discussion ideas on the WebBoard. I've never yet managed to have students use the WebBoard technology well for discussion or information sharing, but I'm hoping this time, since they're conscious that G's out there, they'll think of themselves as really communicating in writing about the text. And G provides a great model of thoughtful communication, which is an added benefit. (Thanks, G!)
When the term started, they started from the beginning, learning Middle English and trying to get a sense of what is what in these texts. We've spent a fair bit of time in class on a word project (each person gets a word and looks it up on the OED and then writes about what they learn for the rest of us), on reading aloud, and on translating lines as we go.
Earlier this week, I started seriously trying to get them to discuss "The Book of the Duchess" more as a text, with some more depth and such. I tried putting up some thinking questions on our WebBoard thing, and asking them to respond. Over the past couple days, though, a couple of our students have been responding back and forth with G about some questions. Mostly they've been thinking about how the text understands and represents grieving.
A quickie rundown of the "Book of the Duchess": The narrator begins by explaining that he's been sleepless for eight years, and says that one sleepless night, he read the story of Alcione. In short, he says, Alcione's husband was out of town on business (and died along the way), and she missed him so horribly that she prayed to Juno for a dream to resolve her problem (she didn't know he'd died). Juno sent Morpheus to inhabit her husband's body to appear in Alcione's dream to inform her that he'd died. Alcione's so wracked by sorrow that she dies in 3 days.
Then, the narrator tells us, he prayed, too, and suddenly fell asleep and had a dream. In his dream, he "wakes" and sees art about the Trojan War and the Romance of the Rose, hears a bunch of birds, and then gets up and goes on a sort of hunt, where he gets off-track, and sees a small or young dog, which he follows until he sees the Man in Black, who's lamenting.
The narrator asks the Man in Black why he's sad, and the Man in Black tells him that he'd been a thrall to love, and fallen in love with the best woman, and she'd turned him down once, and then she'd accepted him. So why's he unhappy, the narrator asks? Because she's dead, the Man in Black explains. The narrator responds, basically, by saying, "by God, that sucks" (or so my student's translation went). And then he says he woke up and decided to make a rhyme out of his dream.
So, as you can see, we have three main models of grief: the narrator, the romance of Alcione, and the Man in Black's embedded narrative (along with some models within the various narratives). We also have multiple models of love, birds, Troy and classical history, some Biblical models, the Romance of the Rose, the Man in Black's experiences.
We started off talking about the models of love and grieving, and then we got into talking about the gendering of grief responses in the text. What fun!
And they were talking TO each other, and bringing in other texts, including one of the books a student wrote a book review on earlier in the week.
I have such high hopes! We start the "General Prologue" to The Canterbury Tales on Monday.