Saturday, May 30, 2009

Am in England. Much playgoing to follow.

Don't anybody break the Internets while I'm gone.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

testing out the new camera

A couple of images, probably of no interest whatsoever to anyone except myself.

The view from the deck:

My rather untidy workspace:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Summer reading: The Captives, or the Lost Recovered, by Thomas Heywood

This is a lot like Plautus's Rudens, only with random lecherous dead friars thrown in. Fun!

Stuff that Happens: So there's this merchant, Mr. Raphael, who's in love with a girl named Palestra. His friend Treadway tries to dissuade him from marrying her, seeing as how she was brought up in a French whorehouse, but Raphael is having none of it. He arranges to buy Palestra from her pimp, a nasty type named Mildew, but he makes the mistake of giving Mildew the money before he gets the girl. Mildew, of course, arranges to run away with the girl and the money, figuring that "Whores and bawdes / May lyve in every corner of the woorld ... Faith, these are wares in all parts vendible."

Meanwhile, the abbot of a nearby community of friars tries to make peace between Friar John and Friar Richard, who, however, keep making faces at each other every time the abbot turns his back. We learn that Friar John is planning to seduce the wife of the convent's founder, one Lady de Averne.

A storm blows up, and Mildew is shipwrecked. Palestra and her friend Scribonia are washed ashore and take shelter at the friary, after singing a duet (triet?) with Friar John about the sad plight of charity in this degenerate world; because, after all, the natural response to being shipwrecked and soaking wet is to burst into song. Palestra is unhappy because the casket containing the tokens by which she may know her true parentage has been washed ashore. Meanwhile, an English merchant named Ashburne turns up in town, and mentions casually that he had a daughter who was stolen when she was a child. You think...?

Friar John writes a love letter to Lady de Averne. She shows it to her husband, who flips out and orders her to write back to him arranging an assignation. Somewhat alarmed by her husband's manner, Lady de Averne tries to explain to him that Murder Is Bad. He ignores this.

Mildew catches up with the girls, and there is another duet. "'Helpe, helpe, oh ayde a wretched madye, / or els we are undoon then.' / 'And have I caught, and have I caught you? / In vayne it is to roonne then' &c." Ashburne and his servants rescue the girls; Ashburne proposes to bring them home to his wife, who is (understandably) annoyed when her husband turns up with two sweet young things from the brothel.

Lord Averne and his servant lie in wait for Friar John and strangle him. As soon as he's dead, Lord Averne has a sudden realization that Murder Is Indeed Bad, and it also leaves you with inconvenient corpses on your hands. He decides to return the body to the friary, hoping to frame one of the friars for the murder; the servant places it on the privy. Friar Richard wakes up to use the privy, decides that Friar John is hogging it just to annoy him, and throws a stone at him. Being dead, he falls over. Friar Richard thinks he's killed him, panics, and drags the corpse back over the wall, hoping to frame Lord Averne for the murder.

A fisherman hauls the casket to shore in his net, and Palestra is discovered to be Ashburne's long-lost daughter Mirable. Yay! Much rejoicing! Ashburne's brother Thomas turns up in town; we learn that he is searching for his brother, and he also has a long-lost daughter who was stolen at the same time as Mirable. You think...?

Lord Averne is rather perturbed when Friar John's corpse turns up on his property again. In a last-ditch effort to get rid of the body, he and his servant dress it up in rusty armor and turn it loose on his old stallion, hoping it will be mistaken for a knight-errant. Meanwhile, Friar Richard has ridden out to the miller's on a mare. The stallion pursues the mare; Richard thinks John's angry ghost is pursuing him, so he falls off his horse and confesses to the murder.

Ashburne pays off Mildew, who reveals that Scribonia is actually Thomas Ashburne's daughter Winefryde. Raphael marries Mirable, Treadway marries Winefryde, and everything ends happily, even for Friar Richard, since Averne has a sudden twinge of conscience and confesses to the murder. Lady Averne, it turns out, has anticipated this and persuaded the king to pardon her husband.

Thoughts: No very deep ones, unfortunately, save that this play clearly owes a lot to Pericles as well as to Plautus, especially in Raphael's initial description of Palestra (the brothel, we are told, "coold not stand / But that her vertue guards it and protects it / From blastinges and heaven's thunder." It is not explained how Raphael became so familiar with this den of iniquity in the first place.)

The fishermen are drawn with a fair bit of attention and sympathy: "The trobled sea is yet scarce navigable / Synce the last tempest; yet wee that only lyv / By our owne sweett and laboure, nor cann eate / Before wee fetch our foode out of the sea, / Must venter thoughe with danger, or bee suer / With empty stomakes go unsupt to bed." (To the extend that there's any realism whatsoever in this play, it's here; Gripus the fisherman strikes me as sort of a nautical counterpart to Tawnycoat in 2 If You Know Not Me.)

I think a stage version of this would be a hoot, especially the scenes with the friars.

Monday, May 11, 2009

what I did at medievalist camp

Back from my first-ever Kalamazoo. First off, it was lovely getting to meet so many bloggers face to face, and I'm sorry I missed the blogging panel (my own talk was at the same time). Actually, I missed a fair number of panels that I would have liked to hear; there was just so much going on at the same time, including a fair assorted performances and other fun stuff. (Call me unscholarly if you will, but given a choice between attending an academic talk and watching a performance of The Tournament of Tottenham which consisted of a bunch of grad students hitting each other with Styrofoam flails and falling about the room histrionically ... bring on the flails. Every time.) So anyway, apologies for not making it to most of y'all's talks.

So. I totally get the Kalamazoo thing, now. I started grad school as a medievalist but realized I was a mismatch for the field long before I became confident enough in my own abilities to respond to calls for papers, so I'd been hearing about this legendary conference for ages, but had never actually experienced it before. And it really is as much fun as people say it is. I mean, flails and mead. And books! All of these books that I wish I had read before attempting my first upper-level medieval lit course! It is, alas, too late now; but I do have a shiny new recording of The Second Shepherds' Play on CD, which is making me excited about the prospect of teaching it again. (I had almost decided to drop the mystery plays from my syllabus for next semester, as gen ed students really seem to struggle with them, but I think I'll give them one more shot.)

One of the panels I did attend was a roundtable on teaching medieval studies at minority-serving institutions, although unfortunately, I didn't find it as useful as I'd hoped. A couple of the papers were interesting but not particularly applicable to my own institutional context; some of the others were just weird; nobody seemed to be talking about the question that really interested me, to wit: why the English major, and early English lit in particular, so often seems to be an exclusive club for white upper-middle-class students, and what if anything we can do to change that. So that was a little disappointing.

I went out for dinner on Saturday with a bunch of other University of Basketball alumni; apparently they have a sort of reunion at Kalamazoo every year. As it happened, several of them were people I had met for the first time as a prospective, Lo These Many Years Ago, and hence the people who had attracted me to my graduate program in the first place. (Being twenty-one, I didn't know to ask any questions about graduate programs that were more penetrating than "Will they give me money?" and "Do I like going out drinking with these people?"; and since two programs had offered me fellowship packages, it really came down to the second question. In hindsight, I think this was actually not a bad way to make a decision. One of the real strengths of my graduate program -- we talked a lot about this at dinner -- is the fact that most of the students genuinely liked and wanted to cooperate with each other; and perhaps my wide-eyed twenty-one-year-old self saw the importance of this when an academically savvier student would have stumbled.)

On another reminiscent note, I am continually amazed at how many of my undergraduate professors still recognize me when they see me at conferences.

I think that is about all. It was a hell of an intense weekend, and I didn't get a chance to talk to half the people or go to half the panels that I wanted to, but I'm hoping I'll be back.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Closing off

Kzoo paper: Done, pretty much. There will probably be hasty edits on the plane, or the night before when I'm reading it through for the last time, but at least has a conclusion now, and I've printed it off.

Final grades: Submitted in three out of four classes. I agonized over a couple of them. It is painful to flunk a student you've had for several classes, and will be seeing again in the fall; particularly if you get an eleventh-hour e-mail asking if it's too late to submit the paper that was due in March. (Um. Yes.) It's also hard to make the hairsbreadth yes-or-no decisions when a grade is right on the line.

I dislike this end-of-the-semester feeling, the feeling of things being ended and closed off and determined. (It is perhaps relevant that I score waaaaay over on the P side of the judging-perceiving spectrum on those Myers-Briggs tests, although I also think Myers-Briggs tests are pseudoscience, so on second thought, maybe it's not relevant at all.) I am OK with the prospect of making decisions at some vague date in the future, but I don't like having made them. Left to my own devices, I would submit the grades at the last possible moment, and the paper never.

I notice that the final grades for my courses are clustering in the B- / C+ range, which probably also reflects my aversion to decisions. You see, those are weaselly grades. A mid-range grade like that does not preclude the possibility that the student will end up with either an A or an F as a final course grade; it cuts off no possibilities; it allows one to put off passing judgment on the student's work indefinitely. (It is also, of course, possible that I have a whole slew of students doing B-minus to C-plus work, particularly in Brit Lit II, which has a striking lack of both stars and slackers.)

Well; the exams from the last class will soon be in, and after I finish grading them, the next teaching-related task on my agenda will be writing syllabi for next semester. I find that sort of thing much more pleasant. Syllabi are all about the promises, the hopes, the students I don't know yet, the open horizons.