Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bardiac's Wild Life

Every so often, I check the site meter thing, and today, lo and behold, someone found my blog by doing a google search for "good things to use while teepeeing." Teepee? No forks! And if you could just leave a note, maybe, rather than wasting all those trees?

I've been leaving a sliding glass door open so guest dog can go out on the deck and lounge around; she seems to like that a lot. The other day, I heard this weird noise, and somehow a barn swallow had come into the house and found it's way to the window in the sun room, a window with a seriously big screen that I can't just take off. So I opened up pretty much every door I could and encouraged it to go back into the room with the two big open doors. However, the ceiling in there is somewhat vaulted, and the bird kept aiming for up, hitting the vault, and then bouncing off, only to try again for up. Worse, it was looking stressed, and couldn't really pick up speed to fly at a good barn swallow speed. Finally, though, it got low enough that the open door looked good, and out it went. A few feet out, it kicked into gear and zoomed off. I hope it was okay after all.

Just a few minutes ago, I was petting the guest dog and found a HUGE, engorged tick on her ear. I hate ticks. I took it off; hope I got the whole thing, and flushed it. And now, of course, every little thing is making me feel itchy and worry that I've got ticks. Did I mention I hate ticks? Yeah. I used to have to detick my old dog pretty regularly, despite the anti-tick/flea once a month stuff. At least that seemed to make the ticks not want to really dig in. But yuck, I just hate ticks. (This wasn't a deer tick, I don't think... it was bigger than a coffee bean, a LOT bigger.) I feel like bathing with steel wool.

I ran into a friend in the department today (after I finished writing a couple letters of recommendation! Bardiac 1 for the day, procrastination 0), and got invited to join up for a gelato tasting excursion. Yum. And then a couple of us went out to a drive in for dinner. Also yum.

Did I mention I hate ticks?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


The academic year is very rhythmic, with different sorts of rhythms depending on your schedule (quarter or semester, for example) and what you do. As someone who's primarily in the teaching end, I'm looking at the beginning of the school year, a new class, a sort of new class, and a new text in the writing class.

When I was a kid, there was a stronger rhythm to the year; the beginning of the school year (which used to start in September for us) meant new clothes, new notebooks, maybe a new backpack, and the round of stuff to finish before the school year started. Now, I don't buy new clothes or a backpack, but I still have the rounds of stuff, and I love office supplies. I'm thinking about getting some new grading pencils. Yes, I'm very particular about my grading pencils. Mmmm, grading pencils.

In the round of stuff to finish category, I got my teeth cleaned yesterday, so they feel good. (And can I just say, the digital x-rays that show up on the computer as bigish pictures are just way cool to look at! The hygenist was showing me my bone and stuff. Neat!)

I would be looking forward to the semester a lot more if I didn't know that winter would come soon after we start. When I was a kid, winter meant wearing a sweater rather than carrying one just in case (which, even during summer, you might well need). Now winter means miserable cold. Ugh.

In college and grad school, I used to love going to the bookstore to get my books. In college, it was exciting to see what I was going to be learning. And in grad school, there was the added pleasure of "raiding" what other classes were reading for interesting looking books. (I know! Naughty Bardiac! But there were novels and theory and all sorts of cool things to read!) Here, the bookstore's hardly worth raiding, and that makes me sad, though partly it's an effect of having read so much more over the years than I had before.

I'm reading Ania Loomba's Colonialism/Postcolonialism, which I've ordered for my senior seminar. Loomba does a really good job putting together a basic introduction to a variety of critics whose work has contributed to understandings of colonialism and post-colonialism. But I'm a little concerned that while I've found the introduction really helpful in clarifying relationships, my students won't find it as helpful because they haven't had the expreience reading the critics and trying to figure them out much. Still, if I can get them through it, I think it will help our discussions of the proto-colonial plays we'll be reading. I think we're going to start by mapping out the interrelationships among critics that Loomba discusses, so that they'll have a way to visualize things, and then they'll be able to think about which critics they'll find useful for follow up reading. (Yes, I live a rich and full fantasy life where my students actually do follow up reading. No, I don't want to face reality.)

I've already started getting the endless emails about administrative stuff. Other than the one I whined about the other day, I got one today that says basically, the [thing we do] doesn't work well; we aren't changing it. Yes, assessment is so bleeping useful! I'm so glad to have read that report now. I can't wait for the meeting about the same.

I'm expecting the usual email about how we suddenly and shockingly have first year students who don't have classes to sign up for, and won't we just make room for them by overloading all our classes. We get an email to this effect every year, usually with slight variations on the cause of the sudden and surprising need for overloads. But instead of adding a writing course section, we're all supposed to overload by a couple students.

I may just have to go to the office supply place and get myself some writing tablets (I like college ruled, and my school/department doesn't believe in college ruled, so I get my own.), and maybe some new pencils and pens so that I'm all in the mood.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Note from a Deanling

I got a note this afternoon in my email from a deanling, thanking me for meeting with a student about an advising thing and taking care of it. (I'm not on contract during the summer, and he was following up after coming back from his vacation to see if we needed his help with the issue. I'd emailed back explaining the issue and what we'd done to address it.)

It's nice to remember that we really are on the same side.

I would prefer not to


Ahh, yes, the secret cry of English professors when we don't want to do something.

I don't want to. Dun wanna. Bartleby's "I would prefer not to" sounds so much more calm and sophisticated. Lot of good it does.

There are several things on my agenda coming up that I just don't want to do. They're not, in all probability, horribly painful or anything, but I would prefer not to do whataver they are, mostly because I perceive them as imposing someone else's control on my life.

In truth, I am a control freak. I confronted this about myself yet again the other day, when I had a choice of driving myself somewhere to the tune of half a tank of gas, or being in the back seat of a couple for hours. I chose to drive myself, and didn't regret it in the least. I drove with all the windows down (because deep down I'm a dog, and want to hold my head out the window, tongue lolling), music I like on, and left when it was convenient for me (to get home earlier to let the guest dog have some attention and a walk).

But sometimes, if you want X, you have to put up with Y to get it. Jump the hoops, so to speak. Some hoops are more irritating than others. Some hoops take a boatload of time, and you can't really do anything to make it go faster, just try not to get cranky about it, because if you get cranky, maybe even jumping hoop Y won't get X, you know? Some hoops are supposed to be beneficial in and of themselves, but they just don't feel that way to me, so I don't want to jump through them.

A lot of it is about feeling like I have control or not, and when someone else is waving the hoop around for me to jump through, I don't like it. It's not really rational, just how I am.

I got an email this morning, and I would prefer not to do what it requests.

What email could prompt me, ME, Bardiac, to refer to a novella by Melville, for gosh sakes! It must be serious stuff, eh? Melville's barely cold, even.

The email, cc'd to a campus deanling, asked me to participate in an assessment thing by taking an hour plus of classtime.

For example, imagine for a moment I'm teaching a class in introductory underwater baseketweaving. And this test is going to try to measure a variety of underwater adaptivity skills, some of which we'll work on in the class over the semester. So I have to condense or drop some important part of introductory underwater basketweaving (reed preparation, snorkel management, weaving techniques) so that the powers that be can measure an advanced skill. And then they'll compare my students' skills to the skills of graduating seniors to try to prove that indeed, we teach our students the all important underwater adaptivity skills they'll need in later life.

I would prefer not to. I wonder how it would go over if I said that. It's not like they'd fire me, right? But you know there are always negative repercussions. Nothing positive for doing it, but extra petty jerkiness from petty folks for not doing it. There's a lot of going along with stuff in hopes that people won't get in the way of other stuff in life, you know? I'll do your thing, and you won't go out of your way to prevent my thing from happening.

I used to do assessment stuff willingly. Yep, it's true. I was a wide-eyed and bushy-tailed beginning professor, and I actually believed what the assessment folks told us about how doing their stuff would help my teaching and all. It never has. Not one single bleeping time. There's never been a benefit in it, not so much as a helpful suggestion, or even feedback about what's working or not in my teaching. I've never seen a benefit for any student, either.

But there's been lots of jerkiness, lies, and wasted time/energy.

And so now, I simply would prefer not to. I would prefer not to take my classtime for this activity. I would prefer to just get X without jumping hoop Y.

It's not going to happen, though.

And here's the thing: while I can vent a bit here, if I'm going to do this stuff, I might as well try to do it with good grace, and not let on how irritating I find it all. I have to try to act all grateful about hoop Y, and how wonderful the assessment stuff is. Ah, hypocrisy, thy name is Bardiac.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I hate this play

I don't say that often, but I did recently. I went to the Great River Shakespeare Festival at Winona State University and saw their production of The Taming of the Shrew. Seeing it (I think for the first time live) made me realize again just how much I hate the play. But that's different from hating the production, if that makes sense.

The Great River Shakespeare Festival is fairly new (this is their fifth season), but I've been to a couple of their productions and they do a good job in a great venue. Their work is a great addition to the area. Winona State is a beautiful campus, at least near the theater (that's where I've been), with lots of nice prairie style plantings and a lovely fountain. The theater at the Performing Arts Center is smallish (maybe 300 seats), but nicely designed with good sight lines and decent accoustics. It's a nice place to see a play.

This play was no exception to the good job thing. The costumes stood out, the acting was fine, and the overall design/conception worked well. But the play!

I have a much stronger visceral reaction to The Taming of the Shrew than to Titus, Othello, or Merchant (though my reaction to Merchant is probably next in line, along with All's Well). Why is that?

After the play ended, one of the students asked how I'd liked it, and I said "I hate this play." She looked shocked. (The Shakespeare lit person hates a play? Is that even allowed? Won't I be disbarred or something?) And asked why. And I told her that I just couldn't get beyond the domestic violence.

As I was driving home, I thought about that. Other plays are deeply violent. Titus, for example. But there's something that hits home more deeply with Taming, and I think it's that the violence is somehow mundane and common, and oh so easy for society to laugh at, enjoy and accept. In the play's logic, and indeed in early modern English culture (and our own), women must be subject to male domination. I get that, and yet... We're "supposed" to be horrified by the rape in Titus, horrified that Titus kills Lavinia, but Taming asks us to applaud Petrucchio's abuses, or at least accept them as a necessary evil. If only, it suggests, Katherine weren't naughty, then Petrucchio wouldn't be forced to abuse her. (I'm putting aside the violence against servants here, but it's part and parcel of the way patriarchal violence works in the play. So as I go on, keep it in mind.)

When I think of my personal experience, I've known straight couples where the male was, if not actively violent, at least actively threatening, actively keeping a female spouse apart from her friends/family, or making it hard for her to have their support, pretending that his domination was in her "best interests." And our society pretty much supports male privilege to do that to his spouse, excepting only certain levels of physical abuse. And even then, the male cops who inevitably show up seem to take the man's side to whatever extent they can. It's vile.

But Shakespeare makes it sort of appealing, and I think that's all the more reason why I hate the play. The double plot is well-integrated; I especially like the part where Petrucchio and Kate meet up with Vincentio to bring the two plots together just so, in a sort of unexpected way. The dialog is quick, with lots of word play. As a play, it's a good one in all sorts of ways.

In recent years, some productions of Taming have tried to rehabilitate the play somewhat, by making Katherine's final speech firmly tongue in cheek, with her sort of playing a game rather than really submissive. The Great River production didn't do that, but played it sort of straight, with Katherine not looking subdued, but not playing a tongue in cheek game, either. Yes, she'd learned her lesson, and golly, if we women just know our place and are obedient, then men will treat us right. But that brings us back to Petrucchio's violence against his servants, because despite the servant's obvious efforts to do their jobs, he abuses them violently. That abuse should remind us that the system is based on and supported by the violence of those with power against those with lots less power.

I know that about the system. Really, I do. And yet I don't like to be reminded so amusingly that we're supposed to laughingly accept our place in it.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Teepee Weirdness

I took the dog out the side door to do her business this morning and noticed that the neighbor's tree had been teepeed. A little look around and I saw that most of the teepeeing was in my yard. Oh, joy. They must have thought this tree was mine (it's close to the line in that midwest way).

So that's weird, isn't it? I'm a middle-aged woman with no kids, and my house gets a half-ass teepee job. Must be some weird mistake, or kids out causing minimalist problems? But then I looked and saw that they'd written a word on the driveway in plastic forks, a word I tend to say as a greeting. It's a fine word, but not something folks around here use much by way of a greeting. But I do. If you've met me casually, you've probably heard me say it. But it's a normal word, too. So maybe they really were teepeeing MY house, and maybe just a random house? But the word made it feel more personal.

I just don't get it. Who would teepee my house, and why? (My friends tend to be in bed in the wee hours, and generally fairly environmentally conscious. They'd be more likely to make a donation to a local food charity in my name than to spend the money on toilet paper.)

I don't have much experience with teepeeing. At my highschool, some folks teepeed our rivals and vice versa, and I seem to remember that the football stars' homes were supposedly teepeed before big games. I wasn't involved for so many reasons that it's laughable.

The weirdest thing, which you can see in the second picture, is that they stabbed all these plastic forks into the ground. I've never seen or heard of that. You folks?

I went and got it cleaned up in about half an hour, so there really wasn't much. And in fact, it was less troublesome than I thought it would be when I initially looked out. I couldn't help think about the waste of resources. I should have bagged the plastic forks separately, and put them in the recycling bin, eh?

The thing is, I was up into the early hours this morning, and because I'd been working on sanding that chair and stuff, had left the garage door open until about 1 am to air out the chemical smells. And when I closed it, I didn't notice anything, but it would have been dark, and why would I have noticed anything in the process of convincing the dog that she needed to go out one last time?

But there's nothing missing or amiss in the garage. And no damage to the house or anything else (there's a bit of paper on the top of the tree still, that I couldn't get down even with a ladder, but it will come down or get torn up by birds in a few weeks, I bet).

So it's no big deal.

Anyway, when I first looked out, I had been thinking to go for a morning ride before the 11:30 meet up to go see a play for the summer Shakespeare thing, but then I got discouraged and hung out feeling whiny for over an hour before finally going to clean up. If I'd gotten right on it, I could have cleaned up and gone out anyway, but I didn't, so I didn't get my ride in this morning. Still, it feels like someone wasted my time, and while I waste plenty of time myself, I resent that a bit.

More than that, though, is being teepeed reminds me that I'm vulnerable. Yes, we're all vulnerable. I do my best not to fret overly much about it, and usually I'm reasonably cautious without being paranoid. But something like this is a sort of in my face reminder of my personal vulnerability, and I resent that more than a bit.

Addendum: As I was finishing up, my doorbell rang, and it was one of my neighbors with a long pole offering to help with the last bits of paper up in the tree. So now there's nothing left up there, even. I have really nice neighbors! (Which helps with the feeling vulnerable thing.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bardiac's Pedicure

The other day I was reading some news thing, and there was an article on saving money during tough times. So, of course, I went there. Unfortunately, they had advice about turning the air conditioner* just one degree higher, and not getting a super duper double whammy extra special coffee every day. But the real winner was the suggestion that women should give up getting a pedicure once a week and do it themselves!

Do real people actually get pedicures once a week? I mean, I can easily understand someone wanting to get one for a special sort of occasion, but do people get them once a week?

I have to admit right up front that I've never had a pedicure, nor a manicure. I wouldn't mind a really nice foot massage, but I'd like to skip the polish and stuff.

But, I do have my expensive vices!

After I took my new bike to the local bike shop, I started riding my old bike. I rode with a roadie friend and then with a trail friend, and noticed that there was a sort of rhythmic scraping of the rear tire against a brake pad. That either means the wheel is out of true or something, so the next time I was out to ride, I rode by the bike shop and stopped in. The owner said he thought he could fix it right there, sounded like he just needed his truing key, and took a look at it. He spun the tire, and looked, and spun it again, and then said something about this spoke pulling here, and that spoke, then touched the spoke and showed me that the wheel was cracked, and just waiting for an opportune moment to break. So the old bike needed a new rear wheel. But it seems to be a weird old size, so they had to order it up.

Meanwhile, he lent me a commuter to take my ride on. It had big tires, bar handle bars, and a tractor seat (okay, so not really, but wider than my seats). So I'm thinking, ooo, a mountain bike. But he said it was really a commuter. And off I went.

And yes, of course when I got to a dirt road, I went down it, because really, I haven't ridden dirt roads on a bike much. (True confessions: I do occasionally ride dirt roads on my old bike, with its sort of moderate tires, and it does okay on the more road than dirt parts. And like every kid, I road everywhere on the old Sting Ray and then three speed I had.)

It was very different, because I had to pay a lot more attention close up to where I was going, and didn't get to look ahead far or look around and enjoy the scenery (and I was riding by a little lake, so there was good scenery). And I kept bogging down in the sand, and almost falling, but not being clipped in, and going slow because of the bogging, I was able to just put a foot down and walk the bike out a bit.

I wasn't really expecting that much of a difference on a relatively smooth dirt road. Usually when I ride, my eyes are really relaxed and focused ahead (or looking occasionally at stuff around), and I only have to worry about looking close when there's a pothole or something. And I like that a lot. This felt more intense, and less rhythmic to me.

The bike convinced me even more how much I enjoy my current bikes. I like road handlebars so I can ride in the drops, on the hoods, on the top, on the sides. I move my hands around a bit and my palms and wrists are pretty happy. But on this bike, there was pretty much one place for my hands, and my wrists were cocked at a bit of an angle rather than neutral, so they got tired after 7 miles or so (at which point I turned back).

And the seat. You would think a big tractor seat would be more comfortable, but the seat felt in the way of my legs. And when I stood up to pedal, it felt like the seat was in the way still.

I wasn't going to ride today, but in the early afternoon, the bike shop owner called and said my old bike was ready, but they were still waiting on the part for the new one. So off I went!

And here it is! Not only a new rear wheel, but a new tire! (The old one was old and had to be replaced.) It's like a Bardiac style pedicure, right?

I always sort of feel like a noob about the little rubber nobby things on a new tire, like they should be worn off if I ride enough (and eventually, they are, and then it's time for new tires soon!). (If you click on the picture, you can see the nobby things.)

So we had a 21 mile ride, at a decent pace, and it sure felt good!

*I do have an air conditioner, but it hasn't been on yet this summer. My house has fans, and windows, and they work pretty well. I also really like coffee. It's my drug of choice. But usually I make my own because it would be embarrassing to have to put on my jammies to go to the coffee shop in the morning, even the drive through one! So the article did me no good at all, alas.

William Stafford is a Genius

I just saw this. I realize I'm years behind the times, but once again, let it be known that I'm 300 years behind in my reading.

Gosh, wouldn't this be FUN to send to a coach?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Two Picks and a Pan

I can go months without seeing a film, but sometimes folks just want to see films. So yesterday, my teammate (from the athletic league) and I went to see Indiana Jones #4, and today a dinner gang I hang with went to see Mama Mia. And both were grand romps in totally different ways. Indiana Jones, well, you know what you're getting: silly unrealistic fights and chase scenes, lots of intertextual moments with other Spielberg films (I loved the ark moment, and my friend kept wanting to sing the Close Encounters theme! wouldn't it have been funny to show that mountain as part of a setting bit? Of if the alien held out it's finger ala ET? PHONE HOME!), straight goofiness, and bits of humor. And if you like that sort of thing, as I do, you'll enjoy it.

My friend and I laughed at the academic jokes, as when Indi finds out that his office has been ransacked by the FBI, wonders "the dean of the college" couldn't do something to stop them. Like deans have that sort of power in the real world (as opposed to the near life or death power they have over adjuncts and non-tenured folks). And then there's the moment when Indi and Mutt have slid down the marble floor of the library after the motorcycle, and a student asks Professor Jones a question about some reading. And then Indi tells him what to read and suggests he go out in the field. Except, really, to make that realistic, the student should have asked if the reading were going to be on the test or not. Still, it was funny because students sometimes stop me in the weirdest places and ask questions, though never while I slid off a motorcycle in the library. We just don't have the right floors for a good slide. I'd get rug burn. Well, that and there's a sign on our library door saying I can't take my bicycle inside, even!

On the other hand, there's nothing like watching ants overcome someone to be glad I do Shakespeare and not archaeology! Not that a little adventure wouldn't be welcome, but not biting ants.

But yeah, it's predictable in the way you'd expect.

Mama Mia! was a total romp, except for Pierce Brosnan's so called "singing." Okay, so Meryl Streep is a goddess and can do anything, and her two sidekicks were fantastic. Pierce Brosnan hasn't improved with age. Colin Firth looked really uncomfortable dancing. The other guy (you can tell I don't go to enough movies) was okay. Did I mention that Meryl Streep dances and sings and does the splits in the air? Oh, yeah. Seriously, "Dancing Queen" alone was worth the price of admission, and I didn't even go to a matinee! My other favorite bits were the swimming flipper dance line and the big pre-wedding party dance scene. It really looked like Streep and the other actors were having a blast.

The whole movie is just goofy, and if you're in the mood for people bursting into song at inappropriate moments (and having grown up watching old Fred Astaire movies, I'm pretty into that), then it's all good. Surprisingly, the Abba songs hold up pretty well, and with that one notable exception, the singing was better than I'd have hoped. Surely, they could have found a male actor with a better singing voice?

Going with this gang was fun, too. We sang along (good thing the theater wasn't very full), laughed together, and had fun.

And we all noticed that in good, old-fashioned musical style, everyone got paired off at the end. Because in the American musical tradition, you can't be happy unless you're paired off at the end. Until you get home and someone has to do the dishes, make breakfast in the morning, make the bed, take care of the kids, do the bills, figure the budget, make lunches, dinner, blah blah blah. But you're supposed to forget all the actual stuff of living in the pairing fantasy moment. Don't worry, though, it's supposed to be all radical and new-fangled because one of the couples is gay. Wheee! (Just wait until he tries to bring his lover home as a spouse. Though maybe England's different from the US????)

So, two romping fun movies. Both made me laugh, and I like to laugh.

The pan? I didn't actually see this movie, just a trailer for it, but here's the premise: a woman who's been living at the playboy mansion gets kicked out, and decides for some reason to become a house mother for a sorority. So she gets into the job at a sorority of normal women. Except, of course, in our culture college women being into studying aren't considered normal, so she has to remake them as man-bait and teach them how to be "real women." And then, in a SURPRISE twist (which, since it was in the trailer, isn't really a surprise at all), she meets a guy who isn't terribly into her man-bait stuff, and the college women have to teach her how to think just a teeny tiny bit.

I'm serious.

My friend and I were appalled. We wanted our money back for being forced to watch just the trailer.

Who in their right mind would make a movie like that today? What have we come to? It's like my worst nightmare.

Okay, actually, it could be worse if it were a man in drag remaking them as "real women" as in To Wong Foo (because we all know that men know so much more about being properly female and all). Have I mentioned lately how much the patriarchy sucks?

Advice for Young Actors

I went to the auditions for our Shakespeare program the other day.

You know how when you see auditions on TV, there's a darkened theater and the director and so on sit in the darkened part, and individual actors stand up and do their thing, and then go away?

It wasn't like that at all. Everything was well lit, all the actors did at least three things (usually two in groups or 2-4, and one soliloquy), and went in and out from the floor to the stage several times.

Happily, I had no responsibilities. The people with responsibilities were busy organizing things and taking notes. Me, I just watched. And learned. So today, I'm going to talk about what I learned, and maybe a young actor out there will also learn something.

1) Lose the fake British accent. If you're really British, keep your accent, of course.

I hear your protests: But Bardiac, it's SHAKESPEARE, the BARD! It's CULTURE!

Naw, it's Shakespeare, and a play that should be really entertaining and interesting for your audience. And I guarantee you, Shakespeare didn't speak with either a BBC or an "I saw My Fair Lady Cockney" accent. (And if Shakespeare spoke to us today, we modern English speakers from wherever would probably have a really difficult time understanding him.)

There are a couple problems with accents. First, they're really difficult to do well and consistently, and while YOU may have perfected yours, I bet the other cast members haven't. Which leads to... Second, an accent that's different for your audience members stands out as "marked." It's special, and there'd better be a good reason for the specialness, something your audience should notice. Otherwise, that marking works against the things you really do want your audience to notice. There are times when you want your audience to notice, hey, there's something special about this character. But mostly, you want your audience paying attention to other things.

2) Pre-read the play. Yep, it helps if you have a basic idea of the plot, who the characters are, and so forth.

3) Read for meaning. Most of Shakespeare's plays are in verse, and since you probably haven't read much verse in school, you don't have much experience reading it, much less reading it aloud or acting it. Often, I hear people read and stop at the end of every line, without much (or any) sense of sentence structure.

So when you get a part, look at the punctuation for clues about sentences and ignore the line breaks. Think about how you say sentences: most of us fall off a bit at the end, unless it's a question, in which case English speakers' voices rise a tad (unless you're a valley girl speaker, in which case every sentence ends with a rise). Then we tend to hit the beginning of sentences with a bit of emphasis.

Shakespeare's sentences sometimes have long parenthetical-feeling bits, as when an epic simile comes along and makes you wait a whole long while for the sense to come through, so that if you read it without understanding, it makes no sense at all to your audience. Take a moment to figure out what that parenthetical bit is "doing." Is the character thinking as s/he goes along? Or does this feel like a planned bit? Is s/he blathering, or working through a philosophical problem? Then figure out how to communicate what the character's line is doing.

4) Small roles and gender. Not everyone gets to be Hamlet. But there are absolutely GREAT small parts in Shakespeare. Yeah, you may only have 12 lines, or 3, but the part may be vital to the play.

If you're female, playing Shakespeare, you're likely to notice that there are lots more men's than women's roles. So sometimes, you're going to be playing men's roles. (Unless your director/producer switches them to female roles, which sometimes works, but mostly makes minimal sense.) You're an actor, ACT.

Go to the mall and observe men, how they stand, walk, interact with other men and with women. Some men do this, some do that. Some things a lot of men do, others give a sense of youth, toughness, shyness, whatever. Observe and then practice. And ACT!

About ten years ago now, I saw the Shenandoah Shakespeare Express (now the American Shakespeare Center) do Richard III with Kate Norris in the role of Richard. She was great. And her Richard? He was viscously delicious. Her gender mattered and didn't; which is to say, I noticed her gender, and then I was busy paying attention to her acting, the way her Richard worked the stage.

5) Enjoy! Seriously, this Shakespeare guy wrote some good plays!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Small Town Attitude and the Court

Sometimes, living in a smaller community is just weird. Today I got a call from the Clerk of the Courts for my county. I wrote a request last week to postpone my jury service from late August/early September to January of next year because I'm teaching two upper level classes this semester that can't really be covered by anyone else here at NWU. So the Clerk of the Courts called to tell me that the legislature has made it a law that you can't postpone (or whatever) jury duty for work related reasons, and so I'll have to serve during that time (unless I go to court to get a court order from a judge for an emergency deferral thingy--not gonna happen). But he wanted to reasure me that I wouldn't necessarily be put on a trial.

Okay, so I'll do my civically responsible duty.

But how weird is it that the Clerk of the Courts called me to explain? It's sort of nice, but weird, too.

I have a request out there for the Northwoods folks: could you put off your crimes and court business stuff until after September, please? And if your trial is slated for late August/early September, could you do me a favor and settle out of court?

(I wonder if I can call a colleague out of retirement for a guest class on Chaucer maybe? But he's such a great teacher that my students would never want me back!)

Monday, July 21, 2008

Little Things Keep Me Entertained

First, there's my visitor. She's 15, I think, but romps around enough to seem otherwise, most days. A couple years ago, she had some inner ear thing, and now she pretty much holds her head tilted most of the time. It makes her look like she's always wondering what the heck I'm up to.

Here's one of the things I'm up to, refinishing an old office chair. A couple years ago, some folks got new office chairs, and gave up their old ones, and this is one of the old ones, which I bought from the department. Underneath is a rather classic 50s oak office chair. The one in my office is just like it (and also needs refinishing... hmmm). Right now, I'm partway through the stripping. The top is looking pretty good, but the bottom part needs some more work.

And then there's the garden. Today I saw two snakes, Plains Garter Snakes (I think, from the size and looking at pictures on the web). And then I found the snake skins, so I guess they've shed. What I really need is a couple BIG snakes that can eat rabbits. But I'm happy for these guys to eat whatever bugs and stuff they find around. They were absolutely beautiful, too, sunning until I stupidly disturbed them as I walked around. (I didn't notice them until they moved. Good thing they aren't Equis!)

And now I'm off to watch auditions for the high school Shakespeare program. I don't think I've ever watched acting auditions before, so this should be interesting!

Biking Comic!

I saw a link to a biking comic today, and it's pretty good. It's called Yehuda Moon and the Kickstand. It's about a bike store. Check it out.

Meanwhile, my old bike is enjoying some riding time while the new one is in the shop.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bike Bummer

This can't be good.

Apparently, when I fell last night, I bent the derailer more than I realized, and today, when I was riding up the hill to come home and put it in the granny gear, the derailer caught on a spoke and we came to a rather sudden stop. Amazingly, I managed to click out and get my foot down. But the derailer is completely bent up, caught tight on a spoke, which is also bent. That means, of course, that the rear wheel can't turn. So I basically carried the bike up the hill and all the way home, maybe half a mile? I'm glad it didn't happen further from home. But someone did stop and offer to help, and had I been further, I would have gladly accepted the help.

Here's another view from the other side.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Looking Ahead

I got a note from a Person with Some Power today, inviting me to participate in a workshop. It should be interesting, and a good learning experience. And it's one of those workshops that's trying to make things better. I'm sort of excited in that jaded way.

Earlier in the summer, I got a letter thanking me for accepting a task. It was the first I'd heard about my role in doing the task, and while I couldn't really get out of it if I wanted to, I was amused that the letter pretended that I had actually had a choice. This is a fairly important task, and I'm going to have to work hard to do a good job.

And, in between the two, I got a summons for jury duty, starting the week after school starts. It says to write a letter about a deferral, so I'll ask to be deferred until late December or early January.

It's shaping up to be a busy year, but in a good way. I'm excited about signing up for SAA, too. Anyone else planning to go? I'm thinking about a workshop.

In other news:

Playing with my niece and nephew reminded me that you can never have too many Legos. The Legos box says that they're for ages 4-9. I can see the 4 thing, since littler kids might try to snack or teethe on the Legos. But the 9 thing? Totally and completely wrong. I am living proof. By the way, you should see the cool house I built! (I saved it out instead of breaking it up already when we put them away.)

I fell on my bike today because I clicked out of the left side to stop and then (but not politically) leaned right. I was riding with the evening group, and once again had reason to really appreciate these people. They made sure I was okay, and then helped me check the shifting and derailer on the bike. Happily, both the bike and I are fine. Also, I'm jealous of the legs on some of the women in this group; there's a woman in her 70s, and her legs are just pure muscle.

I'm taking care of my sib's family's dog. She's a sweet dog, easy going, quiet. She's also 15 or 16, and takes several pills a day. I used to mush my dog's pain medicine in peanut butter, but this dog is smart enough to lick off the peanut butter. There's a new product though, like a chicken smell/flavored dough, that you put pills in. She REALLY looks forward to taking her pills now. But taking care of her reminds me how worrisome caring for an older dog can be, and how slow our walks are.

I'm also watching a friend's cats (they're staying at the friend's house, not with me, unlike the dog). So I'm getting lots of pet attention. It's nice. (These cats are considerably more social than most. I sit down, and one is immediately next to me, purring up a storm. The other will come by for pets, and settle nearby, coming close when she feels the need or gets a little jealous.)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Corrupting Youth

My niece and nephew are visiting (pre-teens).

I bet you've often wondered, what it would be like having a Bardiac for an aunt, eh?

I let them stay up until after 11pm, watching a movie...

Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing. And this was after we'd read a couple sonnets together. (At least it wasn't Titus!)

Yep, wild times at the BardiacShack (tm).

What other Shakespeare films might be good choices for kids?

Review time: that play feels almost perfectly timed on stage, but in the movie, it feels like the Beatrice Benedick stuff doesn't have time to develop.

And seriously, could the nightwatch stuff be less effective than in that film? Bleargh.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pharyngula's Cracker

P.Z. Myers, over at Pharyngula, recently asked folks to send him some consecrated wafers, in a response to a story that a student walked out of mass with a consecrated host instead of eating it, an act that enraged Catholics and earned him some death threats. Myers says (in other related posts) that he's also received death threats, and now there's a letter writing campaign trying to get him fired.

Makes me want to go all medieval on them all!

There are a number of medieval texts which relate stories about how non-believers (alwyas Jews, in my recollection) take a consecrated host and abuse it in some way, only to find that it turns into a baby and bleeds all the heck over when they tear it up, or bleeds and gets them caught when the local authorities basically find the river of blood. Then there's either a conversion scene or an execution scene (or a combo). Stephen Greenblatt writes about one such piece of art in Practicing New Historicism, and argues there that there's no evidence that Jews actually ever did steal host(s), and why would they, since they don't believe in the thing anyway.

Instead, Greenblatt argues, the texts (in several senses) reveal a Christian obsession with and anxieties the host and the problems of understanding, comprehending, and believing in transubstatiation, the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood through the words of the mass. They're also a handy way to incite or justify violence against Jews.

But the student's act of taking the host out of the church and Myers' request for some consecrated host sort of bring those Christian (and especially Catholic, now that there's been that whole protestant thing since the middle ages) anxieties into reality. Now, instead of creating narratives about Jewish desecrations, the thing itself is brought into play.

As Chaucer says, again and again, there is nothing new that nys not old.

I hope Myers lets us know if someone sends him some consecrated hosts and they turn into a baby and bleed all over or something.

Okay, so there's bad taste all around. Would the folks involved--the student, Myers, the Christians who are responding violently--have done the same if they studied medieval history and thought about the history of narratives about desecrating the host?

Myers is tweaking Christians just for, as it were, the pleasure of tweaking, and to point out the inconsistencies of some Christians' behaviors. But was was the student thinking? Was he hoping for/against some magical blood? Going to run some scientific tests? Chase off vampires? I think there's probably something really interesting going on in his mind, and that a good conversation would be in order. Wouldn't it be cool to show him some art?

The answers are clear: More medieval lit for all! More history! More art!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lunch Guests

Like lots of other folks, I have a couple bird feeders because I enjoy seeing the local birds come snack.

Lately, this female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak has come by a couple times. As you can see here, she's enjoying a quick snack at the no-waste feeder. I only think she's a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak because I've seen her hanging out next with a male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, and they both look pretty much exactly like the pictures in my bird book. Otherwise, who knows what I'd try to identify her as. So really, I'm not much of a birder.

And here she is again, having some suet. Good times. See how graceful she is?

I hang the suet feeder on a little trellis thingy, so that I can see it out the window of the sunroom. (Unfortunately, while it's pretty good viewing, the bug screens make the pictures less clear than they would be otherwise. At least I like to think that's the problem.)

Oh, now here are some other guests come to visit the feeder. At first only one of the pair would feed at the suet feeder, though I could see the other hanging around. But a while back, the second one started feeding there, too. Usually one would wait on the deck railing or roof while the other fed, and then sort of take turns, but on this day, they fed together.

Okay, so you put a couple crows together, and before you know it, there's a new mouth to feed.

Starting about two weeks ago, a third crow would hang out, waiting for the parents (or so I guess) to get down from the feeder. As soon as they did, he'd be all in their face flapping and begging and making a nuisance of himself.

And now, the parents have gotten tired of the begging, but the kid hasn't quite got the hang of the suet feeder. He's trying, though!

Shakespeare Authorship, Part Four: A Few Final Thoughts

Parts One, Two, and Three, if you're interested.

Thanks for the comments on previous entries, folks. And for the links from elsewhere.

Once in a while, I remember to look at where people come from when they visit the blog; I did that the other day, and saw that some folks were coming to visit from one or another site or discussion board dedicated to questions of Shakespeare's authorship, and sometimes to the promotion of a specific alternative to William Shakespeare. So I read a bit on those sites.

First off, in their critiques of my comments on the NPR bit, they were remarkably kind and generous, and I appreciate that. The comments that I'm clearly not really versed in or well-read in the Oxfordian claims are quite right. I did these posts as a reaction to the NPR bit because I think some people are likely to wonder what to think of that bit, and maybe, just maybe, they'll google about it and find me. Or maybe just writing it down will help me sort my thoughts when some friend of a friend says that s/he heard on NPR that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare, and did I know? I know I'm really not going to convince someone who's already convinced to change his/her mind. Also, the comments are quite right that there's nothing new in what I'm saying; I'm merely explaining in a blog why people who think a guy named William Shakespeare authored (in that complex way I talked about last time) the texts associated with his name.

I also noticed a couple things about the arguments on the authorship sites. First, there seems to be a general distrust of academics, especially those of us with phuds who teach in traditional academic departments. Second, there's a tendency to rely on arguments from authority.

Let's think about the first. As K8 and Dr. Virago have noted in other comments, any academic who could say something really convincing about Shakespeare's authorship would be in good shape. Seriously, I'd LOVE to find the one piece of evidence that proved X or Y definitively. But I haven't seen that evidence; what I've seen hasn't convinced me. It hasn't even convinced me to spend more time looking.

It's worth asking, though, if academics, and English phuds in specific, have earned the distrust. Are we so dogmatic that we're closed to new arguments, or are we unwelcoming to unconvincing arguments? I have no illusions that I'm perfect, nor that my colleagues are, but I think there's evidence that academics do adopt new arguments, theories, and positions when they're convincing enough. For example, the first folks who made arguments based on feminism or queer theory met with serious opposition, counter arguments, and dismissal (we still do, often enough). But the power of those arguments convinced other folks, and now there's a good deal of work being done in both areas, on Shakespeare and on other cultural productions, and not much dismissal. Top notch journals and presses regularly publish essays and books that work from these positions, though individual scholars may dislike them or disagree that they're useful or interesting.

Are anti-Stratfordian arguments held to a different, more rigorous standard of argument? I haven't seen evidence of that, but someone could point out some, perhaps?

That's not to say no one has ever been told their full of crap for suggesting that X is the author of Hamlet, not Shakespeare. I've been told I'm full of crap for suggesting a feminist idea; but, if the argument's good enough, it convinces people. It's also not to say that grad students haven't been steered away from doing dissertations suggesting different authorship. Authorship issues might be the sort of thing one addresses more successfully in a second book, rather than in a dissertation. Lots of folks are steered away from something for a dissertation who later take it up, or force it through when the power of the argument has demonstrated it's validity. Look at Radical Tragedy for an example of that.

Here's a paper idea that might work, if you're really interested in, say, de Vere as a potential attribution. Transcribe de Vere's letters (which exist in some numbers, according to Wikipedia). Make the transcription available (through MRTS, the web, whatever), and do a really solid analysis of vocabulary and such (see Don Foster's work). Then, whatever the findings, get the results out there.

I can think of a long tradition of distrust of academics, but, off hand, I can't think of any cases where a group of academics has been shown to be utterly wrong without changing positions. The change doesn't usually take long once the arguments for change are really convincing, either.

And the second: We all make arguments from authority. But in and of themselves, arguments based on what Freud or Greenblatt or some other person said aren't that convincing. An argument based on why Freud or Greenblatt says something is considerably more convincing. But there's not really much point to dueling with famous names. (Don't believe anything you read on the internet. Even this!)

Arguments from authority also sometimes include "what we all know." At one point, "we all knew" that girls/women in "Shakespeare's day" married young, at 14, to use Juliet as the example. And then some historians came along, looked at parish records, and found that no, the average age for women at first marriage was about 25-26. (Have I mentioned, yay historians?) And so instead of seeing Juliet as typical, we began to read her as purposefully atypical; we asked ourselves why the play makes a point about her youth. And that's interesting to ask.

In the authorship issue, "we all know" that upper class people couldn't have let their names be associated with the theater as authors. Is it worth asking how we know that? What sorts of evidence do we have for that assertion?

I think that's a worthwhile question because the "we all know" position is that it couldn't be done for social reasons, but more and more these days, we critically look at how all sorts of people tested and broke the rules of social norms, and seeing how those challenges were handled helps us think about early modern culture. (David Cressy's work, for example, often looks at social norming and how norms were challenged.) It would be really interesting to know what sorts of social pressures were put on writers to produce one genre over another. I can think of aristocratic authors who were involved in writing entertainments and such, but most did so before the professional theaters were really flourishing. And I can think of upper class folks who wrote for academic performances. We know that various aristocrats "sponsored" theatrical companies (Pembroke, Hunsdon, etc); do we really know that an aristocrat just couldn't have authored a play under his/her own name?

We also know that some aristocrats circulated poems and such under their names. Were there limits on acceptable genres for such circulation?

I can easily see that it wouldn't be financially worthwhile for an aristocrat to try to make a living writing plays; there's more than an order of magnitude difference between the sorts of financial requirements of the aristocracy and what someone like Shakespeare could make selling even 4-5 plays a year. But does that mean an aristocrat couldn't have authored a play under his/her own name?

That pretty much exhausts my interest in the authorship question at this point, because I still don't think it's much of a question. Feel free to disagree and bring forward some convincing evidence!

So, I'm moving on again to learning more about the other and early modern drama and rereading Chaucer. I'll also post pictures soon of a very cool lunch guest!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shakespeare Authorship, Part Three: Who Cares?

See Part One and Part Two, if you're interested.

Why should you, or I, or NPR care about who wrote the texts attributed to Shakespeare?

There's that whole thing about the truth, and how important that is. But we're all going to say we're invested in finding the truth, and I'll assume that the anti-Stratfordians are as interested in finding the truth as I am.

What's at stake? Well, for some of us, there are career implications: if I find Love's Labors Won, I win. I might just be able to parley that find, and writing about it, into a position in a better geographic location. At the least, I'll get my name in the papers and maybe sell a book. So there's the personal profit motive: Shakespeare is big cultural capital. Most academics are pretty convinced that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare, perhaps in part because we've set our careers on that? Maybe. But most Shakespeareans I know really haven't: we don't do much biographical criticism, don't try to psychoanalyze Shakespeare through his works, or talk about what he really thought by mining quotations from characters.

And when it comes to teaching Shakespeare, the texts are pretty challenging and exciting, and so I rarely talk much about the authorship question. To me, it would be sort of like an intro astronomy class spending time on Greco-Roman mythological explanations of the planets. Time is always an issue; it's one of the greatest limiting resources in academic studies, and I usually spend mine in ways that I enjoy way more than worrying about authorship. There's also the problem that for any potential author you demonstrate probably didn't write the plays, an anti-Stratfordian can find another early modern person that you'd have to read up on. It feels endless.

And to be honest, I've read a lot of early modern letters and such, and most are historically and culturally interesting, but not nearly as fun as a play. Plays are tremendously rewarding intellectually for the effort and time put into reading them. (That's one of the reasons I'm a lit person instead of a history person; history people like letters and parish records the way I like plays. And I'm glad they do, because I learn lots from them!)

It's worth asking what would convince someone to change their mind about something.

What would convince me to change my mind about the Shakespeare authorship question? I think early modern evidence would be necessary, either something to show that William Shakespeare didn't write the texts, or something to show that someone else definitely did. Manuscripts of one or more of the texts with good provenance information, showing that they date before the printing and are in a hand not otherwise associated with Shakespeare (a manuscript in the hand of Ralph Crane, for example, wouldn't convince me of his authorship or anyone else's). Maybe letters showing up that gave evidence of someone else's authorship? A good collection of manuscript sonnets, with good provenance, showing a different attribution.

Circumstantial evidence for another author isn't convincing at this point; what there is, attributions and such, point to William Shakespeare more than anything else.

With all the talk about authorship, it's worth noting that theater texts are pretty complicated, especially in the early modern period. (Sisyphus notes this in her comment on the previous post.)

The playwright (or a couple playwrights) wrote a play, and sold it to a company. The company made changes; actors made changes. They cut stuff, added in bits from other plays, and so forth. If they wanted revisions, they might get another playwright to make them, or to help.

They licensed the book of the play; in the process, the Master of Revels might make some changes, especially cutting something he didn't like. Some years later, the company might make pretty substantial changes to a play before putting it back into their repertoire for a while.

And then, if modern scholars are lucky, the book got into print. In Shakespeare's case, some plays get into print as very different texts (Hamlet, Lear, for example) fairly early on. Some don't get into print until 1623 (Shakespeare died in 1616), so he didn't have anything to do with printing the First Folio. (And there's another early modern attestation to Shakespeare's authorship: Heminges and Condell were actors in the company, and they attribute the plays in F1 to Shakespeare, as do the dedicatory materials.)

So worrying about Shakespeare as a sort of sole author isn't that useful. Rather, it's more useful to look at the texts, think about how they work, their contexts and meanings, and so forth. And way more fun, too.

Think about it: in the time it took you to read these three posts, you could have read Act 1 of Titus or something!

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Shakespeare Authorship, Part Two: Class Issues and Conspiracy Theories

In yesterday's post, I started writing about the NPR stories (July 3rd and July 4th) on the Shakespeare authorship question. Today I'd like to continue, and focus on questions of social class and conspiracy theories.

"Social class" is how we talk about stratifications of society and our stereotypes and understandings of those stratifications. It's not how early moderns talked about such things, because they simply hadn't read Marx. But I'm going to use the term for now, because the anti-Stratford folks are contemporaries now, and it's our sense of social stratification and stereotyping that matters for me today.

One of the arguments against the authorship by William Shakespeare of Stratford of the texts associated with that name is that no one of such a low social status could have written such great texts. The July 3rd NPR article write up quotes some of Mark Twain's commentary, which provides a starting point to look at readings of social status:
It is sorely embarrassing. If he began to slaughter calves, and poach deer, and rollick around, and learn English, at the earliest likely moment- say at thirteen, when he was supposably wrenched from that school where he was supposably storing up Latin for future literary use- he had his youthful hands full, and much more than full. He must have had to put aside his Warwickshire dialect, which wouldn't be understood in London, and study English very hard. Very hard indeed; incredibly hard, almost, if the result of that labor was to be the smooth and rounded and flexible and letter- perfect English of the Venus and Adonis in the space of ten years; and at the same time learn great and fine and unsurpassable literary form. (Source)
So what's "embarrassing? That he was involved in something so dirty as butchering? That he poached? That he had a Warwickshire accent, rather than the accent of someone raised in London?

The supposed embarrassment that England's biggest writing name was lower class reveals a lot about the anxieties of anti-Stratfordians. But if one looks around at most of the playwrights of the period, one doesn't see mostly wealthy men, but rather men who managed to write pretty amazing plays despite low social status. We have Thomas Middleton, the son of a bricklayer. And Ben Jonson, stepson of a bricklayer. Christopher Marlowe's father was a shoemaker. In contrast John Fletcher's father was a clergyman and bishop, making Fletcher a gentleman from the start, and a well-connected one, too. In general then, the glover's son was in good company.

Can we reverse the question? How would an upper class writer (Queen Elizabeth, de Vere, whomever) have come to know the seamier side of life? Did s/he play Hal and hang out in taverns? (And are the tavern type representations "realistic" in any sense? Was Cheers representative of bar life in the 80s, with no one ever drunk or even tipsy? It was a pretty popular TV show, but realism wasn't the point.)

In order to posit that Shakespeare didn't write "Shakespeare," you have to believe that there was a pretty grand conspiracy going on. For example, the folks who want to credit Edward de Vere (the 7th Earl of Oxford) with the plays, point to Francis Meres' Palladis Tamia, where, on page 283-284, Oxford is included first in a list of "the best for Comedy amongst us" (Meres, Francis. Palladis Tamia. London, 1598. sig. Oo3v. Image from EEBO: STC 17834) (Upper left, about five lines in.)

Of course, Meres also talks about Shakespeare, and with a tad more detail (upper right, first full paragraph):

What do we make of Meres' comments? Do we take both comments seriously? Do we ignore the list of Shakespeare's works, as the Oxford folks do?

The theory goes that someone in Oxford's position wouldn't have put plays in his own name, but Meres knows the name as a comedy writer. So if there's a conspiracy, it's not a very well kept secret, perhaps?

I don't buy most conspiracy theories, frankly, because I don't believe most people are good at keeping secrets for long. I have a hard time imagining that Ben Jonson, for example, having outlived Shakespeare and de Vere, wouldn't go out of his way to say something to reveal that his biggest theatrical competition wasn't Shakespeare after all? Or that if Meres knew about Oxford being a great playwright, someone else didn't, and didn't bother to mention it, even in letters between courtiers?

Other questions I have about the Oxford claims:
The Wikipedia page on Oxford says that he supported a couple theater companies. If he'd written the plays, why wouldn't he get them into the hands of the companies he sponsored? There's pretty ample evidence that Shakespeare's plays were profitable for the Lord Chamberlain's Men and later the King's Men; why put profit in the hands of competitors?

Sonnets have lots of cultural cachet amongst courtiers in the 1580s and early 1590s. We have sonnets attributed to Elizabeth, Sidney, and so forth. Why wouldn't Oxford have circulated at least some sonnets under his own name in manuscript? Meres mentions that Shakespeare's sonnets have circulated amongst his friends, but nothing about Oxford. (Do we have any verse attributed to Oxford? I can't find anything on EEBO searching with Edward de Vere or Oxford Earl, except the 1717 proceedings against the then earl for treason. But I don't have a good way to search manuscript holdings from my couch.)

Oxford seems to have died in 1604. That means 1) that the only monarchal court he knew while he could have been writing the plays would have been Elizabeth's. The plays' representations of court life are even more unlike the Elizabethan court than the Jacobean court. Surely Oxford, growing up in Cecil's household, would have seen the Elizabethan court in action, and would have known how important someone in Cecil's position was? If he were to represent a court realistically, wouldn't a Lord High Treasurer be some part of the action? Oxford was also Lord High Chamberlain (not Lord Chamberlain. What a confusing distinction!). And 2) that you have to do all sorts of contortions to explain the plotting and such of The Tempest, with the imagery coming from Strachey's 1610 report? (You have to do the same sorts of contortions if you claim that Marlowe wrote Shakespeare.)

Occam's Razor is a principle that says that the argument that the best argument is one that makes the fewest untested assumptions and is the most straightforward. It's not a surefire thing, of course, but it's easier to think that a genius of language and drama was born the son of a glover, survived, got some education, went to work as an actor, and wrote some great plays, leaving behind a fair bit of evidence of his life, connections with the theater company that acted the plays associated with his name, and increased wealth, than to believe that Oxford wrote the texts and managed a grand conspiracy so that while people knew he wrote them (Meres, for example), no one "told" until the past century.

Next and last: Who Cares?

Postscript: I spent a goodly part of the day, more than I should have, flipping through Palladis Tamia, looking for the references to Shakespeare and Oxford. I found them in the 280s. The references are famous, but I wasn't able to quickly find a page reference to look at a digital image of the page, so I flipped through on EEBO.

And as I flipped through, I wondered about who found the reference to Shakespeare in modern times. At least I'm assuming that it didn't get noted again and again since publication, but rather that the book was put away, and some "modern" scholar type found the reference as s/he was reading, probably along in the 19th century sometime. Nowadays, someone who finds a new reference to Shakespeare would get all sorts of name recognition, at least among the Shakespeare crowd. So I imagine some scholar, reading along, and getting to that point, and thinking, "I've got it made." And yet, I have no idea who this person was, or even if they existed. I'd love to know, too.

And just so you know, those 280 some pages aren't scintillating prose about the wonders of England and English poetry. They're mostly an "argument" for Christianity and such, using lots of similes. Here, for example, is a transcript from the section on "Women":
As Pigeons are taken with beanes, and children intised with Balles:so women are wonne with toyes.
As the beast Chimer hath a Lions face, but a Dragons tayle: so many women have continent words but unchast works. (sig G, pg. 41)
The section goes on for many pages, including this gem about Russian women:
As the kinde Spaniell the more hee is beaten, the fonder he is: so the women of Russia, the oftner their husbandes beate them, the better they love them. They will not be perswaded that their husbandes love them except they beate them. (sig G8r-v, pg 48-49, he cites Hackluyt for this bit of wisdom).

I wonder how many of us have actually read this tripe, rather than just looking at the Shakespeare references?

Monday, July 07, 2008

NPR on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, Part One: Drama vs Realism

I was a little surprised on the 3rd to hear NPR's short story on the Shakespeare authorship question. But I was going out of town, and didn't really have time to listen. But now I do, and I'm disappointed in their coverage. First off, some links so you can read or listen yourself:

Story on July 3rd: "Who Wrote Shakespeare's Plays? Debate Goes On"

Story on July 4th: "The Real Shakespeare? Evidence Points to Earl"

In short, here's the issue: We have minimal evidence of the life of William Shakespeare, and especially minimal evidence connecting him to the plays we associate metonymically with his name (where "Shakespeare" stands for the body of work, for the plays, and for numerous classes on those works). We have some printed plays in the period attibuting their authorship to Shakespeare (but some we don't think are by Shakespeare now). We have Francis Mere's comments in Palladis Tamia, where he lists plays by Shakespeare along with other playwrights (including the elusive Love's Labors Won, fodder for much hopeful searching over the years). We have a fair number of references to legal issues about the Lord Chamberlain's Men and later the King's Men (the companies we most associate with Shakespeare and his plays). We have a few stories (Ben Jonson's story about Shakespeare beating Richard Burbage to a woman, for example).

So actually, the minimal evidence is actually pretty decent when we consider what we know about most early modern individuals.

Why the questions, then? Mostly, the questions start from the assumption that the man in the records had a modest education and couldn't have written plays representing such a wide variety of social situations, especially monarchal court settings, legal settings, and so forth. The "anti-Stratfordians" then "start" looking for someone with the "right background" to have written the plays, and lately, they end up with Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford. But over the years, different folks have suggested Elizabeth I, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, and more recently, Mary Sidney.

Here's a quote from the NPR article citing Diana Price to give you a sense of how the argument goes:
"If there were a signature related to Hamlet, we wouldn't be having this debate," says Diana Price, who wrote the book that's become a bible for doubters, the meticulously researched Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography.

In it, she details all that Shakespeare would have had to know and be able to use effortlessly in metaphors and intricate puns: archery, astronomy, medicine, technical terms for falconry and royal tennis. The list is long.

To link any writer conclusively to the plays, Price argues, "we would certainly have to be able to support how he learned his languages, how he received his education, how he gained his exposure to the lifestyle of the rich and famous, how he had access to the court. And I don't mean as a servant in the court, but someone who actually was in there when the power-playing was going on. We cannot support any of that for Shakespeare." (Source)

Let's think about the assumptions about whether a Stratford native such as Shakespeare could have written plays representing monarchal courts, legal courts, and so forth. At the base of that assumption is that representing something on stage has something to do with how that something is "in real life." You know how when you watch ER or House (or any of those medical shows), they say all these things that sound really cool? But real doctors seem to think they don't do a good job representing medicine at all. (Here's a blog called Polite Dissent that has a series of reviews on House from a medical perspective.) Similarly, if you've ever sat on a jury, you know that Perry Mason or all the other dramatic legal shows aren't about how things work in a real legal court.

Of course not! Those shows are about being television shows, making things dramatic, interesting, engaging viewers enough to stay in front of the television while the commercials run, and getting them to tune in again next week to watch more commercials. And if they produce some good entertainment along the way, that's great, but secondary. Television, like early modern theater, is a business.

So what do we know about the courts Shakespeare represented? He represented courtly situations in classical Rome, proto-medieval England, medieval England, and early modern England, as well as some other European settings. Happily, we know lots about, for example, the early modern English court from the works of historians such as G.P.V. Akrigg (old, but an easy name for me to remember), contemporary letters, and so forth. And what we learn is that the early modern court is pretty much run by the Lord Chamberlain, the Secretary/Treasurer, and the Master of the Horse. The job of the Lord Chamberlain, for example, is to control access to the monarch, especially to the monarch's private chambers.

So if we were to want to write realistically about a court, we might want to represent those roles fully, demonstrating how much power those folks had, right? But that's not how Shakespeare's plays represent the court at all. Instead, Shakespeare's courts are rather freewheeling, with lots of people having access to the monarch's person. In a couple plays, someone is mentioned as the Lord Chamberlain, but I don't remember any treasurer or master of the horse. But then, a king doing the budget makes for less exciting drama than one who's killing off his cousin or fighting a civil war, right?

The thing is, the plays are dramatically wonderful rather than realistic. And that's a darned good thing. They work as drama. One doesn't need to know a lot about tennis, for example, to toss off a term like "let" or "lob." Nor does one need to have actually changed the oil in one's car to create a metaphor about what happens when the oil runs out. Those things don't demonstrate depth of knowledge so much as an ability to make connections that the groundlings in the theater would follow and understand, just as I can follow, nodding along, the dramatic effect of Perry Mason revealing a nefarious criminal on the stand without any legal knowledge at all (and with my experience completely at odds with such a dramatic revelation).

Next up: Class Issues and Conspiracy Theories

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Grad School: GRE Prep

I went by the office yesterday, and said hi to the student assistant and another student in the little library. They were trying to figure out how to study for the GREs, but feeling overwhelmed. They'd just started. So, after making sure they knew about the horrible employment issues and opportunity costs, I talked to them a bit about preparing for the exams.

Here goes, then, tips for preparing for the exams.

Take a pre-test. Yep, you can get those on the GRE site. Then go through it to figure out where you're weak, and focus on those areas. That may seem obvious, but it's not. Most people want to study what they like to study.

But here's a caveat: if you're going into the humanities, you may think no one cares about your math score. Maybe they don't. But you also don't want it to stand out on the low end, right? And if you're thinking of something like history, then good math scores may be a lot more important than you think at first, because historians use lots of statistics, and you can learn a lot by understanding math well.

In English lit, the only way to really do a bubble test exam is to be pretty canonical. That means some of those courses in really cool lit by marginalized folks won't be represented well. That sucks, and is one of the problems with a test like the GRE.

But since you can't change the system before you get into it, you need to know how to play the game. Do the pre-test, and figure out your areas of weakness. Compare with the statistical breakdown on the site. If you haven't taken a Brit lit survey from 1660-1925, and are weak in that area, recognize that the GRE site claims that the 25-35% of test focuses on that area. Your payoff for studying that area is relatively bigger than for working on the same level of weakness in classical lit.

Also pay attention to the sorts of questions you missed. Do you make the connection between a parody of a work and the work? Do you miss the poetry conventions?

Most of my students are weakest on poetry. They just don't study much poetry here, and when they do, it's usually 20th century poetry, so they aren't at ease with earlier conventions (which sometimes means they don't get the way 20th century poetry plays with those conventions, but don't realize it). Remember, though, that poetry's usual shortness (compared with triple deckers, anyway) makes it lots easier to use on a bubble test.

Once you've figured out your areas of weakness, you need to hit the books. The thing is, you don't need to read deeply for this sort of test, but widely. Get some anthologies. (I used the Norton's a lifetime ago, but Longman's would also be fine.) Read the introductions, especially for the periods you're weak in. Take notes (since writing helps you remember). Read the headnotes for works, and read the works. Think about what makes Marlowe feel different from Shakespeare, what makes Jonson different from Johnson, and so forth. Try to build a sort of scaffold for yourself, and think about how writers fit into broad periods, where they fit in relation to one another. What makes Wordsworth suck romantic? Why can't Spenser spell?

You don't need to read the whole of The Faerie Queene, but read enough of the first book to get a feel for the verse. (And then you can read the whole thing as a treat someday when you can't get your usual drugs, and try to figure out the circularity of time in Book I.)

Get a list of the 50 most important novels/plays, and then visit your local academic library and look at Masterplots/Masterpieces. (These are a series of volumes with abstracts or summaries of works of literature. Because, really, do you want to read Dickens?)

If you can get a group together, get a group together. When I studied for the GREs, my group assigned a different piece to each person for presentation. I still remember Tintern Abbey with something less than hatred because the guy in our group loved it so much that I got a little bit of that.

All that work for a stupid test?

Yeah, I don't know. My score went up by 100 points from the pretest to the real thing after most of a summer of studying, and I think my test scores helped me a lot getting into a better grad program, especially since I was coming from a little regarded regional university and competing for a spot with folks from ivy league schools. (The grad studies person in the department once commented on my scores, so I know he had paid attention to them; I was also one of--I think--4 people from a public school in my entering class of 28, and that counts Oxbridge as a public school.)

The really worthwhile thing about the summer of studying was that I got a broad overview of literature in English, and that was a great starting point for graduate study in English. After taking that test, the next year's classes (while I was applying to PhD programs) just made so much more sense in terms of patterns of repetition, change, and development. It's like the richness of my experience made literature even more interesting.

What do you recommend for students preparing for the GREs? How do your recommendations for the subject test (especially in non-lit) vary?

What's the single most useful tip you could give?