Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bardiac Tries to Teach a Text and an Idea

Every so often, you put something together for yourself, and it's cool. And then you try to explain the coolness to your students, and they give you a look that indicates you're anything but cool.

Today in one of my classes, we'd read some texts by and about Elizabeth I, including the speech at Tilbury. The students in this course aren't good readers yet, so we were going over image by image. Here's the first bit:

My loving people, I have been persuaded by some that are careful of my safety, to take heed how I committed our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery. But I tell you that I would not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear! I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects. Wherefore I am come amongst you at this time but for my recreation and pleasure, being resolved in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all, to lay down for my God and for my kingdom and my people, my honour and my blood even in the dust.
One of the concepts I was trying to get across was the old King's Two Bodies thing, where the king (or queen) has a physical body and a spiritual body. Elizabeth does this with the weak body of the queen bit contrasted to the body of a king later in the speech.

But here, there's that great moment where she uses zeugma when she talks about "laying down... [her] honour and [her] blood," the honor being very much an abstract, spiritual thing here, while her blood is her physical body. And I thought, hey, this is cool because usually, as much as I love the word "zeugma" (and I do!), I don't often actually notice it (except in Pope, and I don't teach Pope often), but here the zeugma enacts the king's two bodies imagery so amazingly clearly, and it's perfect.

I was all excited about that, but my students were unimpressed, alas.

Work Cited
Elizabeth I. "Speech to the Troops at Tilbury." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th edn. Vol. B. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 699-700.

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