Sunday, September 28, 2008

chiefly procrastinatory

Via Ceirseach: The Amazing and Incredible, Only Slightly Laughable, Politically Unassailable, Po-Mo English Title Generator.

Here are some titles it suggested when I introduced it to Heywood:

Politicizing the Orgasmic Alterity in Thomas Heywood: Edward IV and Power

Attraction and Theory in Edward IV: Thomas Heywood Fragmenting Erotic Opposition

Historicizing, Masculizing, Interpreting: Withdrawal in Thomas Heywood and the Oral Dis-ease of Textuality in Edward IV

The Ethnocentrism of Capitalism and the Problematic in Thomas Heywood's Edward IV

Producing Influence: Female Object in Thomas Heywood's Edward IV

(Amazingly, four out of five of these sort of make sense, and the first one is actually quite apposite.)

Politics as Intercourse: Norming Homosexual Politics in Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West

The Advocacy of Pathos and the Orgasmic in Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West

Fraying Diaspora: Fictive Peoples in Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West

Producing, Deflowering, Developing: Means of Production in Thomas Heywood and the Racist Fragments of Margins in The Fair Maid of the West

Depression as Intolerance: Re-marking Neocolonialist Transgression in Thomas Heywood's The Fair Maid of the West

(These are even more appropriate, but one of the beauties of The Fair Maid of the West is that it has absolutely everything.)

Re-producing the Erotic Intercourse in Thomas Heywood: If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody and Madwomen

Thomas Heywood, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody, and The Primitive: Infantilizing Oriental Rage

The Patriarchal Smuggling The Proletariat: Thomas Heywood, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody and Ideology

The Responsive Mediating The Penetrated: Thomas Heywood, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody and Womanhood

The Ephemeral Queering The Oppressed: Thomas Heywood, If You Know Not Me, You Know Nobody and Identity

(And these, alas, make no sense whatsoever. Two out of three's not bad.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Courseblogging: Much Ado About Nothing

So this was my third time teaching Much Ado in slightly less than a year. The second time is pretty much engraved permanently on my memory, since we were covering Acts 3 and 4 on the day of my teaching demo for the tenure-track job at New SLAC, and there was thus no way to avoid talking about sex in front of the Dean. Well, I'm told it was a good teaching demo, even though I didn't get the job. The day after that, I had a campus interview at another school that turned into a nightmare of inclement weather, cancelled flights, and hastily rescheduled interview appointments; I didn't get home for five days, so we never did have a class on Act 5. Pity, that. (I didn't get the other job, either, possibly because it was all too obvious that I was bad luck.)

So anyway, it was nice to have a bit of leisure time to talk about the end of the play and, of course, to watch Kenneth Branagh and his lawn chair. I think this is my favorite of the comedies, with the possible exception of Merry Wives. It's just fun.

I worry about spoiling that fun with too much analysis, but there's so much to chew on, most of it having to do with sex. This is a play whose title means, after all, "much ado about women's sexuality," among other things. So we spent about a day talking about the prevailing assumptions about female chastity in Messina, and whether there is, after all, any serious challenge to the idea that unchaste women are "rotten oranges"? I mean, the whole point of the Claudio-Hero plot is that Hero is innocent, so she really can't embody a challenge to that particular set of assumptions, although she can serve as a warning against leaping to conclusions.

Maybe Margaret challenges some of those ideas on a more fundamental level? Margaret is, at the very least, a flirt, but nobody seems to hold it against her. I'm not sure what to make of her, mostly because she's so silent during the last third of the play about everything that happens at the wedding (at which she may or may not be present), and when we last see her, she's cheerfully flirting with Benedick. Shakespeare would have had a model for a more heroic Margaret figure in at least one of his sources: Ariosto's Dalinda comes forward and confesses, at the risk of her own life. Shakespeare may not have given Margaret the opportunity; Branagh's film gives us a Margaret who definitely does put the pieces together at the wedding but chooses to keep silent.

Don John. What's up with him, anyway? The one thing we know about him is that he's "John the bastard": his mother is one of those loose women everyone thinks are so terrible. So what's he attacking? Women? The institution of marriage? The social structures that define certain sexual acts, and certain people, as illegitimate? Or is he just lashing out at everyone within reach, indiscriminately? I don't know, although my money's on Door 2 or 3. Anyway, nobody's rebellion against marriage lasts very long in Messina -- although at least one, and possibly both, of the young couples manage to renegotiate marriage on their own terms.

None of my students seemed very convinced by the Claudio-Hero match. Personally, I like to think that Hero's "And when I lived, I was your other wife / And when you loved, you were my other husband" line hints at a transformation of sorts in both characters, but I don't know exactly what that transformation looks like. I'm not sure Hero really does either, but I want to trust her and I want her and Claudio to be able to trust each other, because in so many ways this is a play about trust. Although trust, as Benedick and Beatrice remind us, also entails holding on to certain illusions ("A miracle! Here's our own hands against our hearts").

I still have the same giddy crush on Benedick that I had when I was eighteen, making him one of the very few wholesome characters in Renaissance drama that I find sexy. Usually, I have an unholy attraction to the Edmunds and Bosolas and Richard IIIs. (I didn't share any of this with the students.)

Next up: Titus Andronicus. This will be a different world.

Friday, September 19, 2008

more about pirates and Shakespeare

Avast, me hearties! This be Talk Like A Pirate Day!

As longtime readers of this blog will recall, there is a growing body of evidence that Shakespeare was a pirate. I propose to add to that body of evidence. But first, a joke:

Q: What has eight ARRRRms, eight legs, and eight eyes?

A: Eight pirates!

Now, consider this recent scholarly discovery. (You can tell that it is scholarly because it involves time-traveling chickens.) Guess who also had eight ARRRRms, hmm?

I rest my case.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

end-of-the-beginning-of-the-semester blahs

Brain feels fuzzy. I think grading 43 freshman comp essays has a bad effect on the intellect. I have been watching, in bits and pieces, the BBC first tetralogy as a reward for grading the essays, but tonight I'm too tired. Actually, the Henry VI plays work quite well as a soap opera, and I think it would be cool if someone remade them as one.

The essays were almost universally blah with two or three bright spots, all of them from the morning class. No really hilariously, head-clearingly bad ones, but most of them not very good. On Monday, I will receive 43 more drafts; on Tuesday, I have an insane number of conferences, like 21 or so. Oh yeah, and I will be teaching Titus Andronicus for the first time (though not, obviously, in freshman comp). Help.

So despite being a first-year faculty member, apparently I'm sorta-chair of this not-quite-committee thing. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I suppose it will look good in the tenure file, but I'm at the point where I feel like my head will explode if I even think about the tenure file. Anyway, I have been writing up a draft proposal describing what the not-quite-committee will do, which is rather challenging since I haven't worked out what not-quite-committees do in general, but at least it's only a draft. Right?

Is it fall break yet? I need it to be fall break. I think my students need it to be fall break; five weeks into the semester, the novelty has worn off, and the freshmen are hitting the grousing-chattering-heads-down-on-desks stage. Hell, I feel like having my head down on the desk sometimes. I was having one of my periodic fits of anxiety about the whole grading-and-credentials system, so I asked the afternoon class today how they would handle matters if they could be in charge of the university. The only answer that I got was "No offense, Ms. Porpentine, but I wouldn't have any English classes. [Pause.] Or math. Or science." Well, I'm, um, glad that the math and science profs don't seem to be doing any better with the Student Engagement thing?

It has been cool and pleasant these last few days, cool enough to keep the door to the patio open in the evenings, only I hope the big slugs don't come in. Ew, slugs.

On that note, I think my brain has officially turned to mush. Good night.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Courseblogging: The Lamentable Tragedy of Friar Laurence and the Nurse

We've finished Romeo and Juliet. I can now breathe a sigh of relief. I think I may need to take some time off from teaching this play, or rather teaching around this play.

The trouble is that everybody's read it, and I don't want to repeat conversations that they've already had in high school, so I end up doing around-the-fringes-of-the-play stuff. Such as watching clips from different film versions and comparing them, or looking at snippets from Arthur Brooke's gloriously awful poem, or giving the students the Q1, Q2, and First Folio versions of a passage and asking them to play textual editor.

Actually, the last activity went terrifically well, and I want to do it again. Indeed, they were all fine activities in themselves. But somehow, doing too much of this stuff seems like a desperate attempt to cover up a big gaping hole where the play was supposed to be. And I don't really have anything very original or insightful to say about this play -- with the possible exception of the passage at 3.5 where the Nurse stands up to Capulet and says, "I speak no treason." (Uppity servants are like gravy to me.) So yeah, we did talk a bit about the family as microcosm of the state, and whether this can be read as a political play, and if so, what the political message might be. That's still kind of talking around the young lovers, though. In a lot of ways, I find the older generation, with all their frailties and failures, more interesting.

I have graded the first batch of papers, except for a few that came in late. They were good for the most part, and one was brilliant -- the first A+ that I've ever given on a paper. I suspect that this says more about the students' prior level of preparation than my teaching, but it was nice, regardless.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

what does it say about me...

... that I went off to look at the MLA job list as soon as it went live, despite the fact that I already have a job and have zero intention of applying for any other jobs this year?

It's like crack, I tell you. Crack. (Also, Swarthmore? St. John's? Not that they'd have me, but I am so tempted...)

Best of luck to all readers who are job-marketing this year. I don't envy you. Not really.