It's the first week of May. Classes are over, graduation's this weekend, grades are mostly in, and I've finished my second year as an Assistant Professor of English at a 1500 student liberal arts college. I'm the Shakespeare and Milton person.
I'm not going to lie: I think I've got a fantastic job. The students here are mostly excellent, and most of the people I work with are mostly sane most of the time. It's still a gently caress of a lot better than grad school.
So fire away. I'll tell you anything I know about any of it.
Brainworm fucked around with this message at 12:11 on Oct 25, 2013
|# ¿ May 4, 2009 20:13|
|# ¿ May 8, 2021 16:56|
How do you TEACH people English-related stuff? How can you explain to people "this is what you need to do to become a better reader/writer..."? I've had only one professor who could do it and she absolutely blew me away, but I can't figure out her method.
It depends on where each student is at. Generally, instead of using a model built around explanation, I use a model built around coaching. This means explaining the theory or process behind a reading or writing technique, demonstrating it, and building in some amount of collaborative practice before a student works out all the fiddly bits for him or herself.
So take writing an article in an upper-level course:
Assuming we're at a point where students have sent out abstracts or proposals, I could start by talking about whatever I'm writing and how I approach the project: start with the draft deadline, divide the period between my start date and deadline into (roughly) thirds, and spend the first third researching, the second third drafting, and the remaining third cutting material and organizing what's left -- if we're talking about getting to a draft, anything smaller scale starts with feedback from reviewers and editors.
In most cases, this means working with individual students to see what their deadlines and starting dates are, then working out a schedule they can stick to. We'd then spend class having writers report back on what's going on with their projects -- that is, what problems they're running into, and how they plan to solve them. I'd also meet with everybody individually about once a week to cover corner case problems or things that don't make it to class.
Working out the Fiddly Bits
Once we've run through this process the first time, class discussions and individual meetings move on to some follow up topic, and I'd trust that my students can figure out most process related problems using their own resources.
However you work it, most good instruction (at least by liberal arts college standards) follows this kind of pattern -- it's about demonstrating or modeling the skills you want students to learn, then following up in a structured way that lets students practice those skills under progressively less restrictive observation. Depending on the skill, this can take hours or weeks.
|# ¿ May 4, 2009 20:48|
happy cabbage posted:
Do you bang the girls in exchange for giving them good grades?
This is a liberal arts school. Leg shaving is optional if not cause for expulsion.
|# ¿ May 4, 2009 20:58|
Since I went to a school very similar to what you're describing (tiny liberal arts school), I'll ask a question based on my experience with the English Department facility. At your school do you have one English professor who's a 'black sheep' and gets in 'trouble' more often compared to the other professors?
Right now, no. Unless it's me. But one reason I took this job over others is that everybody in the department gets along well. Usually, the batshit crazy to person ratio is like 1:3, either evenly distributed or concentrated in a few of the elect.
Case in point: the guy who last had my job got fired in style, as in security guards escorting him from the campus and at least one restraining order. I don't know all the details, but they start with him quoting Milton's Aeropagitica at length in committee meetings* and writing all his memos in Latin.**
* It's about freedom of the press. This was in the Athletics committee, in case you're wondering.
** Really. He never cleaned out his office and I have about two years' worth in the bottom drawer of my filing cabinet. I've been practicing my translation. Also, this means it took two years to fire him.
|# ¿ May 4, 2009 21:17|
Do you ever read students papers and think to yourself:
Yeah, though I don't use exactly those words. They point to a major and common kind of teaching failure that makes me want to burn people down.
Here's an example. I've been working with a student I'll call him Dave. Dave is a twenty-four year old sophomore who's been at (I think) four colleges before this one. That's because he writes sentences like this:
David went to the grocery store to pick some milk and egg.
This isn't a one-off. Whatever he writes is more or less characterized by missing letters (mostly suffixes) and missing words (mostly the back ends of compound idiomatic expressions, but also the words that govern parallel structures). This can make some of his writing almost incomprehensible. Otherwise, he's extremely intelligent and capable. And of course he wants to be an English teacher.
This kind of writing is usually symptomatic of a well-managed learning disability or ESL (English as a Second Language) problems, and in both cases the first step is the same: ask the student to read the sentence out loud. Most LD students will catch the problem, since they're better parsing aurally than visually, and most ESL students are fluent enough to know when something sounds wrong (for about the same reason). When I ask Dave to read this out loud, he'll say:
"David went to the grocery store to pick up some milk and some eggs"
The same thing happens in reverse. That is, if he says:
"David went to the grocery store to pick up some milk and some eggs"
and I ask him to transcribe it, he'll write:
David went to the grocery store to pick some milk and egg.
Just to make things more twisted, if I ask him what the ninth word in that sentence is, he'll say "up." Ditto for the missing "some" and the "egg/s." And if I write (or someone else writes) a sentence with the same problems, the same thing happens. And a similar thing happens if I ask him to read and write the sentence from back to front -- that is, he'll say:
"Eggs some and milk some up pick to store grocery the to went David."
Long story short, we got around this when I asked him to read what he'd written back to front at the sentence level -- that is, read the last sentence first, then the second to last, and so on. The idea is that certain kinds of learning disabilities get characterized by really advanced and reflexive species of pattern recognition; he literally couldn't see these particular errors because his brain would automatically fix them as he parsed the language, so the solution was to force the parsing of a larger textual unit in an unfamiliar way to disable that specific reflex. It's a simple problem with a simple solution, and it (improbably) happens to work.
The point is that thinking about writing as a "good" or "bad" product brings in a heap of frustration and keeps people who should know better from diagnosing problems in a useful way. More important, it's not my job (or the job of any other educator) to say "you suck at this and you need to get out." That's abandoning a clear responsibility.
|# ¿ May 4, 2009 22:54|
How many students have you had so far in your Shakespeare classes who compared Falstaff to Bukowski? Were 100% of them leather jacket wearing idiots?
Sweet robot knights. You can't be serious. Actually you probably are. And I feel for you.
You have an MA or a PhD? What was your thesis about? Any other publications? Related to a trustee?
I've got a PhD, and wrote my dissertation (now my first book) on famine in Shakespeare. When I went on the market, I had a couple real articles and a few short pieces -- glorified encyclopedia entries on Skelton's poetry, Measure for Measure, and that kind of thing.
Apart from the dissertation book (and two translations of it that should get finished this Summer), I've got a few more articles, a chapter in a collection. I'm shopping around a second book proposal now, but this economic climate has got academic publishers acting pretty skittish, so I'll be lucky to get anything on that next year.
What kind of money do you make a year?
My salary from the college is about $75K/yr, which is frankly pretty good. The national median for Assistant Professors of English is about $48K, but there's a spread. Salarywise, I'm at the bottom of the top quartile. This year, I did about another $75K in royalties, honoraria, grants, and consulting.*
The thing to really pay attention to with academic jobs, though, are the benefits. In particular, we (and lots of other colleges) have 401K contribution matching on top of a defined-benefit pension, plus a benefit that pays full tuition, room, and board for dependents (either at this or other colleges). That's a whopper.
Also, have you ever gotten obvious "joke papers" turned in where the students obviously made up every fact and source?
Not here, and never as a joke. I want one. Bad.
I'm reading Tillyard's "The Elizabethan World-View". Have you read it, and if so what do you think?
I'll say it's worth reading just because everyone argues against it -- the surest symptom of a classic. Terence Hawkes, Doug Bruster, and G.R. Elton are good follow ups.
Ahahaha, that's amazing. I could only dream to be so awesome as to write all of my own memos in Latin. As it is, I can barely even remember how to decline all my nouns.
Yeah, I've always found creative self-destruction fascinating. I mean, anyone can jump out of a plane without a parachute. But jumping out with a backpack stuffed full of road flares, lighting up and letting them rip, that's genius.
Also, my Latin's terrible, so I've been translating them when I get a spare moment. Mostly, he was advocating for a dress code.
* From least to most.
|# ¿ May 4, 2009 23:34|
I'm wondering a little about the admissions process. Right now I've been admitted to law school, but I'm having some second thoughts about leaving my major behind. Additionally, it occurred to me that I am more qualified in this area than in law, and either path will probably leave me poor and alone.
If you're looking to get a job, go to law school. The only reason I'd advise someone to go for an English PhD is if you love the stuff so much you can't imagine doing anything else.
There are other things to consider, too. The Chronicle of Higher Ed publishes a job market report every year, and for English PhDs the results are always about the same and always a little depressing.* Basically, about two thirds of PhDs get a job after three years of trying, and it takes an average of about three years of employment to land a tenure-track position. Those are lovely odds, and don't take program attrition into account. That's another way of saying that all "poor and alones" aren't created equal.
Also, if you want to be an academic, you can teach with either a JD or a law PhD. And law professors are in high demand and make serious, serious money.
I'm thinking I may take the GRE this summer before starting law school just to see what my chances would be at an upper level program. In your experience, do programs tend to take in-major GPA or total UGPA more seriously? My UGPA is good enough, but I could get even more leverage from my in-major.
They'll take major GPA more seriously, but in most cases it's an over-the-bar kind of thing. Good enough is usually the same as spectacular, so I wouldn't sweat it. Even at really exclusive programs, a major GPA of 3.5 won't keep you out.
Also, did you take the GRE subject test in Literature in English? If so, do you think it helped or hurt you? I've taken a pretty wide-reaching selection of courses, but when I was making my way through a practice subject test, I found there was still a lot I needed to learn within the ~300 questions. Then again, I suppose most people wouldn't know a lot on a test which subject material includes any single thing ever written in English.
If the programs you're applying to don't want it, I wouldn't bother. The GRE Subject really tests what you'd remember from survey courses and from reading, say, the Norton anthologies. It's mostly trivia -- character names, talking points on whatever era, and so on -- and gets weighted accordingly in admissions, at least as far as I can tell.
* The MLA gathers numbers on this periodically, too, and the numbers are about the same.
|# ¿ May 4, 2009 23:56|
It depends on where each student is at.
Yeah, I meant to say
It depends on where each student comes in at.
I end sentences with prepositions all the time. And I split infinitives like they're trailer park marriages. So I hope you want to wetly suck it down around below.
Did you do your undergrad in English? [...] So, do you think taking on an English grad degree is feasible if you don't have English as your undergrad?
I went to college pretty young, so I ended up doing Physics, Philosophy and English. As long as you did some thorough coursework in English, grad school admission shouldn't be a problem. Jobs (or at least good jobs) are the problem.
At the same time, lots of people go to grad school because they're not sure what to do next. There's probably no harm in that if it's a short program and there's a probable job at the other end (think MBAs, JDs, MDs). But I'd take a year and do something else -- sort your wants out -- before going for a PhD. Programs get irresponsible with admissions since grad students are cheap labor for e.g. comp courses, and the attrition rates (not to mention the job placement rates) are horrid.
How difficult was it for you to find your current position? Did you have to move, or do you plan to in the future?
I got this position (and a few other good offers) right out of grad school, but a lot of that was luck -- there are lots of good people sleeping on friends' couches right now, and that's more rule than exception.
But as far as jobs go, it's like this: Good job, good school, good location. Choose two. I chose the move, even though it meant killing a good relationship and living in a town where my neighbors try to set me up with their daughters by showing me their senior pictures.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 00:19|
Where did you get your PhD? 75k is over twice (closer to three times) as much as most entry-level liberal arts professors at my school.
I actually went to a bottom-ranked program,* but I went because they really wanted me there. So I got to do things I wouldn't have had a chance to at a larger, more exclusive, place. And I got lucky in the job search -- the college I'm at pays for, and gets, the best teaching faculty I've seen. Research really plays second fiddle here.
Also, what kind of consulting does a lit-PhD do? Editing? Proofreading?
I have a three regular consulting jobs. One is with ETS (the SAT, LSAT, GRE, AP test devils). Basically, I help refine the evaluation processes for various tests' essay sections, which sounds easier and more exciting than it is.
The second is a job I started during grad school, which is training tech writers and engineers to document really complex, crufty systems. Telecommunications is a good example, and where I do most of my work.
At, say, Verizon, you've got a circa-1970 system that was adapted for regional use by the baby bells (think GTE, Bell Atlantic, and Nynex), and hacked up in the meantime to support services it was never intended for (like DSL).** So the system has loads of undocumented functions that can also vary regionally thanks to the original AT&T split. Most engineers aren't trained to document this kind of stuff (at least not well), and it's outside the ken of most tech writers, so I come in to fill in the blanks.
The third is just odd. Every PhD has some niche, and one of mine is Early Modern cryptozoology and (more broadly speaking) non-witchcraft-related unusual poo poo. So I get more calls than you'd think from archaeologists, museums, and folklorists trying to piece something together.*** This isn't a real moneymaker. I do it for the love.
* Rankings are complicated. I went to Lehigh, which doesn't have a great reputation. But they did have someone I really wanted to work with (David Hawkes, who's now at ASU), and I was his only project while I was there. Also, Lehigh had one stat that really mattered -- 100% graduate job placement.
** Just for instance, the system requires every service have a separate phone number attached to it, since all AT&T dealt in when the system was designed were phone lines. But available phone numbers are limited, so DSL service gets a phone number like (212) AZX-2239. That only works because the system's so old there's no error checking built in -- you can give it whatever string of characters you want, and until someone figures out how to dial an "A," there's no problem.
*** The other person to call is Jan Bondeson.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 01:04|
How'd you get into that tech writing job? I'm a grad student in biochem and I had thought about doing some tech writing on the side, but I'm not really sure how one gets started with such things.
The entire story is preposterous. Preposterous and long.
A few years ago -- I'm thinking it was about 2003, but it might have been '02 -- negotiations between Verizon and the company's unions broke down. As part of a compromise so that negotiations could continue in earnest, the unions and Verizon agreed that they needed a staff of temporary workers to man essential services (like 911, government and hospital communications, and so on), since unless those services are covered, the union doesn't have any legal work stoppage options and, consequently, negotiating leverage.
Meantime, I was looking for Summer work and had my name out at a couple temp agencies. Through one of them, I got hired by a local company, ICT, who'd been contracted by Verizon to train a set of replacement workers -- all part of a face-saving and dance-around-the-contract compromise, since Verizon's deal with their unions expressly forbids them to train replacement workers, and the unions didn't want to risk revolt in their ranks by asking their people to train short-term replacements.
The only problem with the arrangement was ICT, who went to staffing agencies as a cost-cutting measure and got the predictable slurry of generally nice but indifferent temp workers, including me. Their thinking was apparently that, since they ran glorified call centers, they could have their engineers train up a crew of just-about-anybodys to run the software side of a brutally complicated piece of national infrastructure. After all, it's all telecommunications.
And the predictable happened. The ICT engineers couldn't figure out the system and the temps didn't care. So I got bored, read about ten thousand pages of outdated manuals from GTE, Nynex, and Bell Atlantic, plus a few thousand more memos and whitepapers from those three and Verizon proper,* and walked the ICT engineers through the system. The ICT engineers told their bosses, the bosses told Verizon, and (after some head scratching) Verizon hired me to train a pile of tech writers on how to Frankenstein outdated manuals and ancient whitepapers into something useful, and to recommend they hire a team of librarians to organize all their existing documentation so someone could get to it.**
That's basically the consulting job I have now. If you can use that to get into tech writing, God help you.
On a more relevant note: how much teaching experience did you get in grad school? Did you know going in that you wanted to end up at this sort of small, teaching-focused school?
I taught for all seven years of grad school, excepting a couple semesters of fellowship. And I discovered that I really liked teaching early on, which made the decision about what kind of college to look for pretty easy.
There are fields where a constant stream of pure research is really important, but I'm not sure English Lit. is one of them -- not that there isn't good and interesting research happening there. The situation's analogous to, say, math or philosophy. Research is interesting and necessary, but there's a huge educational deficit that we in those fields have a moral duty to negotiate. If we're not principally educators at the college level, if we want to explicitly or implicitly prize research over teaching, we're setting ourselves up for social failure. There's no reason any college graduate, regardless of purpose or major, should want meaningful literacy, numeracy, or devotion to focused and rigorous thought. And that's where I'll stop ranting.
What's tenure based on?
At this college, we've got four criteria for hiring, firing, and tenure: teaching effectiveness, quality of mind, contributions to the community, and institutional fit. These are equally important, excepting that excellence in any of these categories can't compensate for poor teaching.
The "quality of mind" requirement is the really interesting one. This includes research proper (books and refereed journals), but can also include authoring textbooks, giving conference presentations or public talks, or work in one's field but outside academia (like my consulting, or like a psychology prof. having a private practice).
* Basically, archival research.
** By my estimate, they had at least one hundred thousand volumes of technical documents going back almost forty years, no coherent, company-wide way of organizing them, and nobody dedicated to examining them to, say, decide which ones were still needed and which ones needed updating. Really.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 04:09|
Fast Moving Turtle posted:
If you don't mind my asking, about how old are you? Or rather, how old were you when you first started teaching?
I started teaching (as part of my grad. fellowship) at 23, and finished my PhD when I was 29. I just turned 32.
Do you see yourself working at the college you're at now for the rest of your teaching career?
It could happen.
I feel like an unredeemable rear end in a top hat even thinking about writing this, but it's tough to imagine a better job, even as an academic. The pay's great, the college is generally well-governed and relaxed, and the students are a joy. The worst of the people I work with are tolerable, if not downright kind, thoughtful, and well-intentioned. So there's a lot to like.
There are a couple things that could push me into another job, though they right now seem improbable.
1) Thanks to the hit our endowment's taken, there were salary freezes this year and there will likely be pay cuts this coming year -- something like 3%. This isn't too bad. Every other college I know is in worse shape, going through staff cuts, hiring freezes, and the like. Our fundamentals (admissions, financial aid, retention) still look good, so we're not yet seeing evidence of any longer-term crisis.
I'm glad to take a pay cut if it balances the budget, but I'm also an egotistical prima donna with an inflated sense of entitlement. So I could see myself walking if these cuts start hitting ego. In that sense, I'm in a bad position -- I could live comfortably off my consulting income, and I'm pretty good at what I do, which means I like this job but don't need it.*
2) Location is an issue. Not a big issue -- I like the town I live in for the most part. My neighbors are nice, everything's affordable, and I've got a very nice house that's somewhat larger than I need. And I've been able to work with local government and the mayor's office to get some (frankly) great measures rolling. But if I saw a similar job at a similar college that was in someplace clearly nicer, I might consider a move.
This seems unlikely, since academic salaries generally get lower as you move toward places people want to live. NYC is a good example. Unless you're one of the elite at Columbia or NYU, the pay sucks. They don't need to pay much, because location does their hiring for them.
* At least in the elaborate fantasy world I've built myself.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 11:56|
Would your school take a flunky 27 year old who didn't finish Uni when he was supposed to?
Short answer? Yes.
Long answer? Our college mission is, basically, to offer the world's best liberal arts education to anyone willing to approach it seriously. And that mission governs how we do everything from recruiting to admissions to financial aid. So we work terrifyingly well with students who haven't yet succeeded for one reason or another.
Can you recommend any engaging books from either category for the casual reader?
The first place I'll point you is my sometimes collaborator and sometimes nemesis Jan Bondeson, who writes great pieces for general audiences. He's an MD and usually writes historical surveys, so most of his pieces look like "let's trace this bizarre abnormality from the Middle Ages through the 19th century." But he gets the occasional cryptid in, too.
The second place is actually a primary source: Ambroise Pare's Of Monsters and Marvels. Pare was a 16th century French surgeon with an interest in both medical matters and cryptids, and since it's in translation from the French, the language is modern and accessible even though his treatise is now four centuries old. He also wrote a treatise on unicorns, which reads like a kids book in places: "This animal has a horn. Is it a unicorn? No. It is a rhinoceros."
The third place (if you're at a college or university) is Early English Books Online, which has PDFs of manuscripts from all over the world. If you can get to it, do a quick title search for "hog faced woman." You'll see why I want to make babies with this database.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 15:02|
Seriously though, examples of this kind of work would be interesting to me. What was the weirdest thing you had to work on?
The weirdest thing is going on right now.
Last week, I got a call from a collector in Sussex who has the remains of a reptile about nine feet long (nose to tail), and has reason to believe that the remains were (a) unearthed in Sussex and (b) at least a few hundred years old. He basically wanted to know whether I could make a case for both these things being true, since England doesn't have any recorded species of non-mythological giant lizards, and the remains seem too old for its escape from a zoo or a private collector to be likely.
So I pointed him to a pamphlet published by John Trundle, which relates "news" of the Horsham Dragon, a lizard of about the same size that killed a couple people and some hunting dogs in August 1614. I've long thought the Horsham Dragon was probably some kind of monitor -- the size and behavior are about right for a croc monitor (salvadorii), though the coloration is unusual and crocodile monitors don't spit poison.* Anyway. The croc monitor is native to New Guinea, which started appearing on British maps in about 1600, so there's a plausible means of getting some New Guinea zoology to the forests outside Sussex by 1614.
Then things got interesting. It turns out that the herpetologists who looked at these remains are divided on whether it's a crocodile monitor. So whatever it is, it's very like one. I'm still working out a trip to Sussex so I can see for myself. I'm really pulling for a previously-undiscovered and something-like-a-salvadorii species that's colored like a white-throated monitor and spits poison. Or aliens.
* Although, according to native legends, croc. monitors apparently breathe fire. That's a compelling bit of something.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 15:49|
Did you attend the SAA conference in DC in April? If so, did you hear any papers that you found to be particularly compelling?
I did not. I've this conspiracy of coincidences that's kept me away from SAA for the past few years.
But you should know that the SAA annual conference ends with a dance. Like prom. And SAA is what I'll generously call a heavily-tenured conference, so it's well worth the trip to see Stephen Greenblatt close dance with Margarita de Grazia through a block of Wilson Phillips. Or to see a recently-divorced senior member of the Texas A&M faculty make out with a recently-graduated former student.
So even when I go, I try hard to forget.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 15:57|
What do you think of this? I came across it in a collection of Wittgenstein's marginalia.
The reason why I cannot understand Shakespeare is that I want to find symmetry in all this asymmetry.
My knee-jerk reaction is that Wittgenstein is a strong and perceptive reader of Shakespeare.
Shakespeare's drama doesn't have much calculated symmetry. The gun on stage in Act I doesn't go off in Act V. And this is one of Shakespeare's great strengths as a writer; because he's not invested in neatness, his plays capture an incredible breadth of human experience. If they were sketches, they'd be late Picasso -- a complex image that emerges from a single line, and remarkable because its casual precision betrays a shocking expertise.
This is easy to miss, though, because when we read a "neat" Shakespearean ending (where everybody gets married or everybody dies) it's easy to underread the ways those endings get complicated.
Take Midsummer. It opens with Theseus and Hippolyta's wedding fast approaching, and we quickly learn that Hippolyta is Theseus's favorite prisoner of war. So he's (a) way more into the marriage than she is and (b) completely obtuse -- he doesn't see that she's marrying him only reluctantly, even though she drops plenty of hints.
So that's the gun in Act I. And we've seen this plot often enough to know how it should end. Theseus should develop a sensitivity to Hippolyta's feelings that in turn makes her reappraise him, and they should both march down the aisle at least cautiously optimistic if not deeply in love. Bang.
Except that doesn't happen. The next time we see Theseus and Hippolyta, they're getting ready to go hunting and Theseus is bragging about his hounds. Hippolyta, maybe because she's an Amazon, is all about hunting, and for the first time she acts interested in something Theseus is saying or doing. But then some stuff comes up and Theseus decides to call off the hunt and head back to Athens. And then they get married.
The same kind of thing happens with some of the play's other couples. Titania ends Act IV suspecting Oberon's been up to no good -- she wakes up not remembering much and suspicious for the loss of her Indian boy (the original cause of their quarreling in the play, though it quickly escalates to mutual accusations of infidelity). She asks Oberon to explain how all this might have come to pass, and even though he doesn't answer, we get the sense she's going to keep asking.
Likewise, Demetrius only marries Helena because Puck slipped him some magic flower roofies -- of course Demetrius doesn't know this and his chemically-enhanced love is so intense that he wouldn't care, but Helena seems uneasy about the whole thing. Her line is "I have found Demetrius like a jewel,/ Mine own and not mine own." In other words, her marriage is uneasy. She's in possession of Demetrius, but suspects he may really belong to someone else.
So in a play that has tons of parallel structure (there are five plots, all involving conspicuously different types of romantic relationships), we get an ending that isn't tidy. Sure, everyone gets married (or reconciles), but none of these couples' problems have really been solved. Hippolyta still resents marrying Theseus, Titania's eventually going to find out her husband and his friend drugged her so they could kidnap her adopted child (setting her up to publicly make out with an idiot man-donkey in the process), and Helena presumably has to live the rest of her life wondering when Demetrius's mood's going to change.
So Wittgenstein is right on, I think. Shakespeare isn't tidy. There isn't symmetry. But that's kind of the point. If Midsummer have five relationships that all reconciled nicely, it wouldn't be nearly as interesting or nearly as much fun.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 20:18|
That's the thing: I'm beginning to think this is true, and it's giving me a bit of a crisis. I've been doing a lot of self-directed, upper-level work with professors, and I'm beginning to realize I have a serious taste for it. She's an ugly mistress, but she's good in bed.
Then your course of action is clear. Find a trophy mistress for your nine to five, and keep this one a close secret in a locked bedroom.
Just for clarity's sake: in this conceit, the trophy daytime mistress is the career that gets you all the things you want in your public life, like money and respect. The ugly one with the magic holes is what you do when you do who you want, i.e. a hobby. Also, the locked bedroom is the part of your life where you do the things you enjoy but keep secret, while the rest of the house is your public life. The implied remaining, unlocked bedrooms represent as yet undiscovered intellectual pursuits that deliver vaguely sensual and decidedly sexist rewards, which you may or may not decide to keep private (lock). Your trophy mistress would presumably have her own unlocked bedroom and share the house with you, but it's also possible she'll want her own place.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 20:32|
Orestes Mantra posted:
What do you think of the modern university's policy of exploiting bright eyed graduate students in the humanities to take up the teaching load, save labor costs, and bring in more tuition money so that they don't have to actually pay for tenure track positions?
Um. I don't like it?
In all seriousness. I was a grad student, exploited, and so on. I know that system and I'm not far from it. Here's the thing:
Grad schools fall into about two categories: you've got the "teach three or four courses a year for about $8K plus tuition remission" and the "teach two courses a year for about $16K plus tuition remission." The first is a terrible deal and nobody should ever take it.
The second is more common, and it's tough to call it exploitative -- usually, it comes with health benefits (either on the faculty or student plan, and buy in costs about $1K/yr). That's not a bad deal for a part time job on a nine-month contract.
Keep in mind that the median salary for an Assistant Professor in the humanities is about $48K, and the median teaching load is about five courses a year (and approaching six). Community college profs do nine or ten classes a year, and most R1s run a 2/2 or a 2/3; most liberal arts colleges run a 2/3 or 3/3, depending on class sizes.
That's of course not the whole story, since a FT/TT position also carries an advising load and committee work, which are about a third of the job in terms of raw hours.*
In short, it's tough to make a case for grad student exploitation. A tenure-track faculty member with a comparable teaching load would be 1/3 time, would make about $15-20K a year, would have committee and advising obligations on top of the teaching load, and wouldn't generally have health benefits, buy in or no. And an adjunct with that teaching load would make between $6K and $8K with no benefits and no promise of continued employment from semester to semester. That seems to be where the real exploitation's happening.
Of course grad students are still cheap labor, but course for course they cost about as much as an Assistant Professor** and at least twice as much as adjuncts (who, keep in mind, are generally ABD and probably PhD holders). There are other exploitation issues with grad school -- programs admit tons of students knowing attrition is high, and plan on awarding more PhDs than the market can accommodate -- but that's not a problem exclusive to graduate education.
*I'll leave research out of the equation for the time being, since it's necessary in both positions (though it's a professional obligation for a professor and the "student" part of being a grad student, and so probably shouldn't be figured in as salary-compensated work). I'll leave out the cash value of tuition remission, too.
** Again, excluding the value of tuition remission. But excluding the value of the AP's benefits, too.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 21:19|
So this isn't related to anything else in the post, but I thought I'd ask anyway. There is a commercial on tv for Healthy Choice frozen dinners. In this ad a lady (I can't remember the actresses name) asks Julie Louie-Dreyfus if " She has ever seen a cow chewing cud?". I maintain that it should be phrased " She has ever seen a cow chewing it's cud?" Am I just being anal retentive about this, or am I wrong entirely?
The best way to get at this is inductively, by checking your sentences against grammatically parallel constructions. So we get:
"Have you ever seen a coach chewing gum?" vs.
"Have you ever seen a coach chewing his gum?"
"Did you see Roger scratching his rear end?" vs.
"Did you see Roger scratching rear end?"
The difference between the two seems to be the nature of the verb -- particularly whether the verb is reflexive. That is, both verbs are transitive (they have an actor and an acted-upon*), so the question seems to be whether the verb itself implies that the actor and the acted-upon are necessarily affiliated.
In this specific case, the reflexive relationship appears to be one of ownership. Consider these hypothetical questions:
1) Is it generally assumed that someone scratches something of his or hers / something he or she owns?
2) Is it generally assumed that someone chews something of his or hers / something he or she owns?
I'd say "no" to (1) and "yes" to (2), suggesting that "to chew" is reflexive in this possession or ownership context, and that, consequently, "have you ever seen a cow chewing cud" is acceptable usage.
It's easy to make this mistake, though. Generally, verbs in English are made reflexive either through the addition of a prefix (like auto- or self-) or (more commonly) by addition of a reflexive pronoun (e.g. himself, herself or itself), which isn't the case with inherent or pronominal reflexives.
* or agent/patient or subject/direct object, if you prefer. And if you want to get really specific, the issue is whether "to chew" is an inherent / pronominal reflexive, rather than, say, an auto- (or anti-) causative or reciprocal reflexive.
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 21:48|
I'm going to take a tone here. Fair warning.
1) You need to work backwards.
It sounds like what you're doing is saying "I need to do X, Y and Z," where X, Y, and Z are open-ended tasks -- that is, XYZ can take as much time as you're willing to put into them, because they've got definite deadlines but no other clear set of completion criteria. You don't have a way of calling them finished before the calendar says so.
The way to manage these kinds of tasks is to decide how much time you'll allow them, and cut them off when that time runs out. Otherwise, they'll rule the rest of your life. I know what you're thinking. This means some things won't get done or won't be as good as they could be. But that assumes that every hour is somehow equally productive, that you never hit a point where time investments yield diminishing returns.
But regardless of whether that's true, letting your work rule your life means you end up resenting your work, or at least feeling a bit guilty whenever you choose to do something else. It's just not a viable long-term strategy.
Put another way, the whole point of (for instance) your writing is to learn. You're right in thinking that other people aren't going to be deeply satisfied with your work, because that's not the point of the work you're doing. It's not in the design. So if you start thinking of your work as a learning process rather than a process whose purpose is producing a product (like a paper), you'll be a lot happier. The learning process is the important thing. The written product is really a by-product, like gizzards or hot dogs.
2) The job market sucks, sure. But worrying isn't going to change it, and it'll just stress you out in the meantime.
I've said before that there are lots of good people without jobs, and that's technically true. What I meant by that is that there are lots of unemployed but able scholars, and if they don't have jobs it's generally for a few reasons:
a) They're lousy teachers. This doesn't matter if you want to work at an R1, but it does matter if you want to go where most of the jobs are.
b) They're socially defective. This matters no matter where you go. The people interviewing you need to like you. They need to want to work with you because you'll make their lives better.
A good litmus test is whether you can pick up a woman/man/child in a situation where alcohol isn't involved, like at the grocery store. If you can, you're probably likable enough to get over the bar. If not, or if it hasn't occurred to you to try, you need to practice making other people want you around.
c) They're competing on the strength of their research in an arena packed full of excellent researchers. This is like any other job. If you want to get hired on the strength of your qualifications, you're probably not going to get hired. There's only one most-accomplished applicant, and you're probably not her.
So what can you do? Be the person that everyone wants to work with, because you're personable and interesting and have good ideas.*
3) How did things change for me? They really didn't.
I liked grad school. I spent my eight a day teaching, taking classes, and researching stuff I love, and the rest of the time doing other things.** I bought a house in little Puerto Rico and rented rooms to friends. I went to lovely bars and drank warm Yuengling. I got mugged in Shanghai. I went on blind dates with chain-smoking women who wore body glitter and had caesarean scars.
The point: what I do for a living changed when I went from being a grad student to being a professor, along with the paycheck and the responsibilities. And those give me more options for living the rest of my life. So in that sense, things are better.
But you can't let grad school make you forget what it's like to have a life outside your education and your job, because that's exactly the kind of thing that'll make being around you an obligation instead of an opportunity.
* This, incidentally, also means not being the guy who keeps asking "When will my misery end? When will I know death's sweet embrace?"
|# ¿ May 5, 2009 22:57|
How did you become a professor?
I'm going to call this a motivation question instead of a process question -- I mean, the how is easy. Went to grad school, looked for jobs.
The motivation's trickier. I love what I do, but it's also a compromise between a constellation of academic and non-academic priorities, such as:
* I don't like unilateral decisions, even when I make them. There's this thing that happens, where the people who didn't like the decision before it was made still don't like it afterward, and it gets tough to get them invested in what needs to be done to make the decision work.
At least at my college, decisions happen in committee and after broad consultation, which is one way of sidestepping this problem. I've never been in a business where that's the case, excepting super-small operations. And of course that brings in its own problem set.
* I want to work in a nice place. There are businesses with nice campuses, but even the nicest don't rival a decent college. Apart from the scenery and some excellent old buildings, there's good food service, a nice gym, and a slew of interesting people who like talking about ideas. That's tough to find anywhere.
* My work is almost entirely self-directed. I've got friends who (figuratively) shoot in their pants about interviewing with Google because they get to spend a fifth of their time working on their own projects. I spend about a fifth of my time working on things that aren't my own projects.
* I'm a vegan. Your only hopes for convenient shopping and a like-minded community on that front are living in a pretty large city or being part of a college community.
* I've got a lot of intellectual interests and I like solving interesting problems. Today, I was working on that Horsham Dragon matter and wanted to talk to a herpetologist (specifically, someone who knows the species history and migration paths of monitor lizards), someone who'd have some experience locating and going through 17th century shipping manifests, and someone who had a detailed knowledge of English trade relationships with New Guinea.
Two of these three people work in my building. I come up with this kind of consultation maybe once a week, and I'm party to this kind of consultation almost every day. I'm not going to pretend that isn't awesome.
prussian advisor posted:
How hard did you find it to land a tenure-track position at a college/university? [...]
I'ma group this into a couple points:
1) I went to Lehigh University, which is a bottom-ranked program. But I went because they really wanted me there and because I was interested in working with a specific Renaissance scholar. And because their job placement rate was the best I could find.
I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the program you come from matters a lot less than what you do while you're there -- not just in terms of writing and research, but in terms of developing relationships with other scholars and learning how different parts of a university work. Look at any top-notch program, and you'll see degrees from all over the place, and for good reason. The academic world's small enough that everyone has a knowable reputation.
2) For me, finding a job was easy. I had a few good offers, and a couple ones I could have taken if nothing else came in. But I've also got friends -- from my program and elsewhere -- that either haven't found jobs or haven't found jobs they're happy with. Year to year, the search is a crapshoot. Right now, for instance, almost everyone's in a hiring freeze so lots of new PhDs are stranded.
The people I know who did well on the market all have one thing in common, though. They're likeable. You'd want to work with them, and you'd want to be in a classroom with them. I can't overstate how much this matters. We were hiring for a position in the English department this year and had about 300 applicants. Of those, about 70 were really good fits (they had the primary fields we were looking for, plus at least one of the secondary fields we wanted).
The thing that took the top twenty or so down to the top three (and for that matter, down to the top one) was personality. Every one of these candidates knew their stuff, and every one of them could have done the job and likely done it well. So it really came down to who the staff and the faculty would most like to talk to every day, and who best communicated with the students.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 03:02|
I love this thread, and thank you for doing it. I have a couple of questions.
It sounds like what you really enjoy is proofreading.
An editor, academic or otherwise, basically has two jobs. He or she accepts manuscripts for publication based on a detailed working knowledge of some part of the literary marketplace, and suggests substantive changes to those manuscripts based on that field knowledge. Grammar doesn't make an appearance.
It's difficult to find a good, full-time proofing job, mostly because professional writers are generally familiar with the conventions of written English and because improvements in publishing technology mean that the process of converting manuscripts into galleys (the documents that suggest how a manuscript will be formatted in print) does not introduce the kinds of errors it used to. And professional proofers work fast. Really fast. As in 1200-1500 proofed pages per day.
But proofing, especially around a college, can be a great sideline. Everyone's writing, and academic publishers generally have authors proof their own galleys. And you can charge anxious dissertation writers a couple bucks a page to proof their drafts, since most of them are under the mistaken impression that their comma placement is going to make or break a 400-page research project.
My other question is on behalf of friends. In high school, I had one friend who was forbidden from using any form of the verb "to be". I've never had an English teacher or professor call me out on using it, unless it's part of an unnecessary passive construction. I just had a text from my girlfriend asking how she can use the verb "to be" less, because on a peer-edited paper every instance of "is" was underlined. Is this phobia of "to be" just an overreaction to the excess use of passive voice? And if it's not, is there a good way to avoid using it?
I do not understand high school English teachers and, frankly, am beginning to resent them. No "to be" verbs? That's up there with not using "I."
Your idea about this crackrock rule coming from an overuse of the passive voice is probably spot on, since novice writes overuse the passive voice in misguided attempts to produce lengthy, academic-sounding sentences. Just keep her in the active voice unless she needs to avoid attributing an action to an actor (e.g. "war was waged"), and make sure she knows she owes you for this.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 14:55|
What do you consider to be the most respected and influential journals in English literature and, more specifically, in your field?
For English in general, there's PMLA, which everybody gets and nobody reads. For Renaissance lit., English Literary History is probably the most prestigious, unless you're a New Historicist, in which case you want to get into Reflections. If you want to publish in a freely-available online journal, Early Modern Literary Studies is the oldest and the best, though it's kept the same formatting since like 1996. And if you've got something offbeat, the Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies is a good home for it. Lots of younger scholars publish there.
How tough is it to get in? I've been in a few of them. Perversely, EMLS probably publishes the best scholarship, and JEMCS is usually the most interesting read. The others don't do completely blind review, and so tend to favor more established researchers or people from the more prestigious R1s.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 15:03|
What's your favorite part of Paradise Lost?
As a rule: Satan makes PL readable, since he's the only character with any interior and, frankly, any fathomable motivations. The relationship between Adam and Eve is marginally interesting, and anyone from Heaven is insufferably boring. But overall, I think Books I, II, and IV set standards that the rest of the text can't live up to.
Why does everyone hate Paradise Regained? I think it should stage a coup in the literary world.
If you were going to judge Christianity by PL and PR, you'd come away thinking that the world's a terribly unjust place because Heaven is full of righteous know-it-all jackasses. End of humanity's idylls? Yeah, I saw it coming. So they're going to suffer because my nepotism created a sophisticated and intelligent foe they could not possibly outface, who's dedicated to destroying them because that'll hurt me. Because I love them. Love them enough to stand idly by while another creation of mine dooms them to endless suffering.
Now I'll send Uriel, angel of the dawn, to lecture them on Ptolomaic astronomy.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 15:17|
Do you have any experience teaching high school, and if so, how does it compare? I've thought it might be nice to become a prof someday but all those postgrad years seem like such a lot of work.
In an average class, I'm sure I do at least five things that would get me fired from any high school in the US and, probably, the first world. Never, never, never, never, never.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 15:21|
This was a more interesting thread than I expected. Will you weigh in with your opinion on using "they" as a 3rd person singular gender neutral pronoun?
As long as it doesn't introduce ambiguity, I'm fine with it. Especially since other strategies for gender neutral writing are, strictly speaking, ridiculous. That said, you can almost always work around using "they" as a singular pronoun by making the balance of the sentence or clause plural, e.g.
1) I will send each student to his or her locker to get his or her copy of Tristram Shandy.
2) I will send each student to their locker to get their copy of Tristram Shandy.
3) I will send the students to their lockers to get their copies of Tristram Shandy.
(3) is preferable to (1) or (2) and, in conversation or casual writing, (2) is perfectly servicable even though (1) is grammatically correct. I mean, to take a page from Strunk and White, would you say "the best tennis player in the room is I" or "the best tennis player in the room is me?" The second is clearly preferable even though the first is grammatically correct. It's a matter of ear. Keep this in mind if you ever consider using whom for any reason at all.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 15:30|
Powered Descent posted:
I know this isn't quite your specialty, but is there any contemporary literature (say, from 1950 onward) that you suspect future historians will regard as the classics of our time? Flash forward to an English Lit class at Tranquility Base University in the year 2309. What 20th and 21st century authors will your silver-jumpsuited counterpart remember in one breath with the Bard?
If I were betting, I'd split two ways:
1) Probably, people are going to remember the late 20th / early 21st as the infancy of recorded music, film, television, and various species of hypertext, regardless of whether those media produce any durable classics.
2) Of all the authors you've listed, Stephen King seems the most likely to win a place in the canon of American Naturalism. And he deserves it. It's worth remembering that most classics were commercial successes if not blockbusters -- that's a necessary, if not sufficient, condition for real durability. So that immediately excludes most avant-garde and academic novelists (and every post-1950 poet except Robert Frost).
Second, King swims against the current. I'll exclude The Stand for a second. Most post-1950 genre innovations have involved human beings accidentally breaking the world, or at least the threat of the world being broken by some human action, deliberate or no. Think of SF time travel plots for a second. In, say, The Time Machine, Wells doesn't give a poo poo about causality. Instead, you get a more or less allegorical extension of Wells's contemporary social divisions. In that sense, the text is more like Swift's Modest Proposal than anything.
But in any post-1950 time travel plot, the unwritten assumption is that people have the ability to irreparably break the world -- see "The Sound of Thunder" for an early example or, you know, any original time travel plot in film or television. This kind of anxiety pervades modern media, in one form or other, like you wouldn't believe.
King, on the other hand, generally tells a completely different kind of story (BTW, inventing an entirely new novel subgenre in the process), in which sympathetic characters' basic humanity is menaced by a threat that, generally speaking, is not a consequence of human action. Carrie's not a threat because she's an outcast. She's a threat because she can kill people by thinking. And Cujo isn't a threat because he was a terribly abused dog who turned vicious. He gets rabies in a totally natural way and menaces a mom and kid for no good reason at all.
Third, It's no small matter that (when he wasn't drunk or coked up) King's an extremely capable writer and versatile storyteller. Compare the way the story in Carrie is framed and forwarded to, well, any other author's first effort, and you'll see a huge difference. King has some real kung-fu, even if early success means he hasn't always needed to exercise it.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 15:59|
Brainworm these are both terrible ideas to be spreading around given the current state of law. Especially the first.
Hold up. I know the JD's not the lock on a high-paying career it used to be, but the job outlook for JDs is comparatively Edenic.
The NALP puts the job placement rate for law students north of 90%. Those are one year placement rates, incidentally. The three year placement rate for English PhDs into Assistant professorships is south of 50%. Further, the median starting salary for an Assistant Professor of English (the highest paying position you can get straight out of grad school) is $48K. The median starting salary for a JD who goes into private practice (55% of them, incidentally) is $108K.
Put simply, once you get an English PhD, you've got about a fifty/fifty shot at landing a tenure track position (median salary $48K) inside of three years. Your alternatives are adjuncting, part time work, or a non tenure-track full time position, all of which pay substantially less (MLA doesn't have medians on this, unfortunately, but the range would be between $12K and $20K, with no benefits).
Once you have a JD, you've got about a fifty/fifty chance of landing a private practice job (median starting salary $108K). Your alternatives are business, government, etc, and the only options that pays less than an Assistant Professorship are public interest ($42K) and clerking ($40K). Both of those are about the top of the bottom quartile for Assistant Professorships.
Put even more simply: If you get a JD, the worst case scenario, three years out, is that you'll make what an Assistant Professor makes (that is, you match the best case scenario for an English PhD). If you can't stand law, that's one thing, but it's irresponsible to think that the risks and rewards of graduating with either degree are somehow equal.
Of course law means probably taking on debt. But a PhD takes an extra four years. For the sake of argument, I'm going to call that a wash.
Here's my question:
That there's a huge, huge developmental range. Especially emotionally. Some of them are about what you describe -- that everyone is naturally good and valuable and it's social constraints that must make them something else. The other side of that is a sort of deep relativism, where it's somehow wrong, or at least not useful, to make value judgments. That's a bit ahead of teaching at Lehigh, where the overwhelming majority of students were mired in a sort of superficial certainty about everything.
But I've also got students who are really capable of adult-level thought -- you know, "if you look at the problem this way, this is a workable solution, and if you look at it this other way, this other thing's a workable solution. So the real issue is creating solutions that don't hamstring our ability to try out later solutions, since out first solution's likely to be a failure we can learn from rather than something that effectively manages the problem." So there's that.
There's also their view of adults in general and academics in particular. Simply put, it's strange. For instance, most of them assume that I must necessarily be dating someone else at the college, since obviously I'd only be interested in a woman because of her education and academic interests. This just has to run counter to whatever experience they already have.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 18:05|
Cool. Also, are there parts of any Shakespeare plays you still can't quite wrap your head around, that kind of nag at you sometimes?
Tons. I'd run out of keyboard listing them all, but here are some starters.
Pirates. Every time they show up in Shakespeare it's a little strange. Of course everyone knows the improbable pirate-related mishap that brings Hamlet back to Denmark after Claudius has sent him to England under Rosencrantz and Guildenstern's protection (ship attacked by pirates, Hamlet first to board and attack, ships separate, Hamlet taken prisoner and returned to Denmark, ransomless, for shadowy pirate reasons). But there are also the pirate pimps in Pericles, Prince of Tyre. We've kidnapped you, so first we'll rape you. Then we'll charge other people to rape you. Wait. You can sing showtunes? Just as good.
Wine. Never, ever ask anyone for a cup of wine, because the in-scene mortality rate is 100%. Of course there's Gertrude in Hamlet, but the rule holds for Richard and George in Richard III, too. This has to be a running joke.
Iago. I'm thinking about the famous matter of his motivation. If you believe everything he says about his revenge, he's missed a promotion and both Othello and Cassio have been tapping his wife, and he may be in love with Desdemona, too. There's too much there for all of it to be true, which calls all of it into question. And saying he's a sociopath, while true, names his behavior but doesn't explain it.
Lear. This is a sloppy play all around. But where the hell does the fool go after Act III? Shakespeare's central characters generally don't pull vanishing acts.
The Midsummer Donkey Show. Just how far does Titania go with that man-donkey? Titania and Oberon have an argument almost immediately before where it becomes clear that either of them will sleep with anything that moves; why tell us this immediately before Titania and the translated Bottom cuddle in a grassy bower? So, really, what do you do with the staging? Also, what happened to that Indian boy Titania and Oberon were fighting over?
The Nightingale and the Lark. We all know this scene from R&J. Reread it and explain to me how this isn't a passive-aggressive lovers' quarrel. No, babe, you're right. It's a nightengale, so it's still night, even though it's really bright out. So since it's still night, I'll sit here and wait to be killed by your family. Really. You want me to move so my blood doesn't ruin the sheets? And now you're crying. Great.
Of course nobody stages it this way.
Hamlet II.i. Everyone cuts the first part of this scene, where Polonius sends Roderigo to spy on Laertes. But it's one of the most important parts of the early play, because it tells us something Hamlet already knows -- Polonius is the guy in charge of the king's spies, which are apparently everywhere. This is why Hamlet tells us he's going to affect an "antic disposition" in Act I (it gets him out of being carefully watched, which is likely if your paranoid uncle just murdered your father and wants to know if anyone, especially a candidate for the throne, has discovered this).
More important, it shows that Polonius is possibly implicated in Old Hamlet's murder, and Hamlet needs to know for sure one way or the other so he has some idea who to kill. We know from Act I that the story behind Old Hamlet's death was that he was snakebit, so someone had to spread that story around and keep anyone from seeing the body, which the ghost tells us was covered with a crust of ulcers that snakebites generally don't cause. And someone had to fail to catch the plot to kill Old Hamlet in the first place. And it's awfully suspicious that Claudius has kept Polonius around after Old Hamlet's death.
So Hamlet's strategy for dealing with Polonius is faking lovesickness for Opheila so severe that it approaches insanity, since Hamlet's inferred that Polonius has told Ophelia to stop seeing him. This distracts Polonius with an urgent personal problem (his daughter's upset and it's his fault) and a thorny political problem (how do I tell the queen that I've just done something that's driven her son insane?), which gives Hamlet space to investigate how deep the conspiracy surrounding his father's murder goes.
This only makes sense of you know that Polonius is the guy in charge of the spies so why would anyone cut the thirty seconds that tell us the one thing we need to know to understand Hamlet's motivation for the first half of the loving play?
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 18:59|
Upright Sloth posted:
1) I recently read Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World" and thought it was excellent on many counts. I've heard the theory before, but Mr. Greenblatt made it clear that he was convinced that Shakespeare at least dabbled in homosexual behavior and may have married solely for financial and social reasons. Your opinion?
There are two issues here. But first a disclaimer: Critics' opinons on Shakespeare's marriage and sexuality say more about the critics than the evidence. But moving on:
Shakespeare's Marriage. The thing that best explains Will's motivation to me is the birthdate of Will and Anne's first daughter, Susannah. It's about six months after the wedding -- a matter made more conspicuous by the wedding being rushed (they got permission to announce the marriage only one week in advance instead of the usual month). In this kind of situation, either Anne or her family could have secured an order to legally compel a marriage once discovering that Anne was pregnant. And it's possible that they either did this or threatened to, but what history there is has stayed quiet.
So there might be some forced-marriage resentment there. And there's the Will-working-in-London-while-his-wife-stayed-in-Stratford matter -- not unusual at the time, but evidence they weren't inseparable. And there are plenty of stories, maybe apocryphal, of Will's philandering (he plays a part in a dirty joke whose punchline is "William the Conqueror came before Richard the Third," and William Davenant, Will's godson, claimed to be his illegitimate child; Will stayed at the Crown's Inn on his commute from Stratford to London, and Mrs. Davenant was the innkeeper's wife).
But it's also worth remembering that when Will retired to Stratford (and his wife) in 1613, he probably thought he had another thirty years left -- he wasn't yet fifty. So my guess is that he was in a pretty typical situation. He loved his wife, and they shared a real intimacy (him leaving her their "second best bed" in his will seems more a sexual remembrance than a postmortal backhand). And he slept around. Most people do.
Shakespeare's Bisexuality. I'm not sure the sonnets are good evidence, even by the really tenuous standards set by inferring biography through fiction. The whole point of the sonnets seems to be to mess with the form by introducing emotional complexity and the idea that love happens in ways that aren't rational and are generally self-destructive, or at least not self-serving.
And the sonnets are barely homoerotic, at least by Renaissance standards. If you want homoerotic Renaissance poetry, check out Richard Barnfield's Affectionate Shepherd.
Ricahrd Barnfield posted:
If it be sinne to love a sweet-fac'd boy,
2) What is your favorite play, and why? What is your least favorite, and why?
Hamlet is far and away my favorite. I think it would be everybody's favorite if everybody read it like an actor or a director would, because every character has a crux -- that is, some thing that the actor or the director absolutely has to know in order to get how the part works. When you stack these up, you can see how awesome this play is. For instance:
When does Hamlet start going crazy for real? We know he's faking insanity from Act I forward, and (twist!) we find out he's lost it for real when he imagines seeing his father's ghost when he confronts Gertrude. So he goes from faking crazy to real crazy at some point during II or III. The actor needs to decide when this is, and how to best pull off the surprise-I'm-actually-nuts bit with Gertrude.
Is Claudius Hamlet's real father, and does Claudius suspect he might be? Hamlet definitely suspects this -- the whole second half of his first soliloquy is where he comes to this realization (Gertrude married Claudius really quickly. It must be because she's a woman and women are fickle. But nobody's that fickle -- even "beasts" that want "reason." So the only possible explanation is that she was having an affair with Claudius. But why? Dad was a badass, and Claudius is no more like him than I am. Wait. How long has this affair been going on?).
Does Hamlet know he's being watched in III.i (To be or not to be...)? He already knows Polonius is manipulating him (and presumably spying on him) using Ophelia, so it's reasonable that he could infer that she's only conveniently reading in the middle of the hallway because she's been put there (ergo, he's being watched). If he is, than TBONTB is an act, someone pretending to be semisuicidal to maintain an illusion of insanity. If he's not, then he's starting to slip.
When does Claudius start to suspect that Hamlet's faking insanity? Right after TBONTB, Claudius says that this soliloquy and argument with Ophelia isn't how crazy people act (ergo, Hamlet's faking madness, ergo he has a reason to fake madness, ergo he's trying to distract us, and wouldn't do that if he didn't want Polonius and me to know what he's up to, ergo he suspects his father's murder) ergo Hamlet needs to go to England right loving now.
How deeply is Polonius implicated in Old Hamlet's murder? He's all about spying, and he and Claudius are pretty tight.
Does Gertrude either know or suspect that Old Hamlet was murdered? The ghost tells Hamlet that her conscience is going to punish her, but talks around the possibility she might be wrapped up in this whole kill-the-king conspiracy.
And that's just for starters. Almost all of these are in orbit around the plot twists in Act III, which is even better.
Lear might be my least favorite (at least of the major plays -- Shakespeare wrote a lot of dogs, like Henry VIII). Richard III is close, though -- it starts off so well and falls apart so completely once Shakespeare tries to give Richard a conscience.
3) What is your opinion of 'modern' stage productions of the plays? I thought "Romeo+Juliet" was actually pretty good, since Leonardo DiCaprio captured Romeo's exuberant naivety perfectly, but they also retained the language.
Good productions are rare. I thought Patrick Stewart's last Macbeth was solid but, like most productions, it mixes great moments with unbearably stupid ideas. Rapping witches? Really? In a version of Macbeth set in a pseudo-Stalnist state?
I feel this way about most productions, but I get way, way, way to frustrated by directorial decisions that clearly come out of not understanding how the play works (see that rant on cutting Hamlet I.ii).
4) Are there still things to write about Shakespeare that don't fall under the category of "reinterpreting meaning in a contemporary context"? E: I realized this is unclear. I'm not asking you to tell me a list of untouched categories - more like I'm wondering what the ratio of published articles is.
Most scholarship now is actually deeply historicist, meaning that someone discovers the way a particular idea gets used in a minor text (like a pamphlet or a legal document) and uses that iteration of the idea to re-read how it works in a major author like Shakespeare. This can be good when it's well done, but it gets away from helping students and scholars develop a deep understanding of the plays.
I mean, they're plays. The first thing you should do is read carefully to figure out e.g. character motivation. Once you've got a solid understanding of how the text works as a play, it makes sense to follow lines of historical reasoning that help develop that understanding.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 20:24|
What do you think about the new(ish) literary Darwinism movement?
In short, no.
Even if we assume for a moment that cultures select "classic" texts in a way we can productively discuss using a vocabulary of natural selection (knee-jerk reaction: we can't), the assumption behind LD seems to be that people (as in everyone, everywhere) share certain essential qualities that can be deduced from reading canonical literature, and seems only able to offer explanations to interesting questions in terms of universal statements. That, by itself, should be a warning.
Put differently, LD seems to be philosophy disguised as literary criticism, since the real questions it asks aren't about how a texts works, but about e.g. "essential human nature." There's enough of that kind of bullshit in lit. crit. already. If it's not about the text, it doesn't go here.
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 20:40|
I see that you're adding footnotes to your posts on an internet comedy site. Why aren't you using MLA format?
Using MLA for hypertext is like trying to get a gun license so you can shoot porn.* ** ***
* Because MLA describes a the formatting of hard text, and a forum is hypertext. Also, everyone in the real world uses Chicago style.
** Note both the wordplay and contextually appropriate phallic imagery, as well as the contradictions posed by licensing only one of these semantically and structurally similar activities.
*** Also, I edited this message so you would be aware of how deep the loving around goes.
Brainworm fucked around with this message at 20:55 on May 6, 2009
|# ¿ May 6, 2009 20:47|
the chaperone posted:
I'm getting my PhD in psych and just finished teaching my first class. I loved it and am absolutely floored by the whole experience, however I can see some of my shortfalls as a teacher and would love to get some advice from you:
An essay is not a test. I mean two things by this:
The first is that if assessing students' command of factual or process knowledge is your goal, a test is the tool you want. If your goal is for students to synthesize their own knowledge (make connections between ideas, develop a theory to explain data, develop a question that adequately frames a complex problem), an essay is the tool you want.
The converse of this is also true. Tests are lousy educational tools and essays are lousy evaluative tools. Students don't learn much in the process of test taking, and essays evaluate inconsistently and approximately at best.
The second thing is that, in terms of evaluation standards, tests and essays are categorically different. On a test, doing nothing wrong is the same as doing everything right, and warrants an A. On an essay, doing nothing wrong and doing everything right are two totally different categories. An error-free piece of writing is a C, for the same basic reasons that error-free landscape watercolors end up on Hallmark cards instead of in museums.
It sounds like the problems you're having come from mixing up what these tools are for. Frankly, this isn't uncommon.
The best way out of this, at least if you don't want to change your assignments, is to give each paper two grades. The first grade can be rubriced and comprise things you feel comfortable quantifying (that is, things that are either errors or not), and use test-style grading standards (no errors = A). The second can be a holistic grade, which can use a more abstract set of standards (an A paper is of potentially publishable quality, meaning at least that it is well-researched, clearly written, field innovative, and interesting).
For this second grade, I usually pile up papers according to overall quality as I read them (start with a bad pile, a good pile, and an average pile), and gradually create intermediate stacks as paper quality dictates. The largest pile is a C.
2) How do you deal with kids who don't speak English as their first language? I have 2 kids who work hard but obviously don't have a firm grasp of grammar/syntax. It is hard for me to look past it.
ESL students are a challenge. Depending on how your college is set up, they may not be your challenge. That is, the first step is to refer them to whoever handles ESL issues -- usually a staff department where ESL students go to learn proofing techniques that address their specific problems.
The best technique for you, I think, is Haswell's "minimal marking" method, which also works well for basic writers. Basically, you start by bracketing some small portion of the essay -- about half a page. Within that bracketed area, you correct any clear errors. Throughout the rest of the paper, make a distinct mark in the margin of any line where there is a clearly identifiable grammar or syntax error, but don't otherwise indicate what the error might be, e.g.:
blah blah blah blah
blah blah fuckup blah___X
blah blah blah blah
blah blah blah fuckup___X
Penalize the errors as you normally would, but offer your students a chance to correct the marginally-marked errors and recover some points. The idea is that the heavily corrected, bracketed area of you paper should let students see what kinds of errors they're making, so they have a short list of things to look for in the lines you mark. Over time, this helps them hack together a reliable and individualized proofing process.
3) Do you find it difficult dealing with grade inflation? I gave a girl an 87 on a paper and she came into my office hours for 2 days making me justify justify justify.
That sounds less like a grade inflation issue and more like an unclear standards issue. Or you've got a student who's feeling external pressure to pump up her grades (rush does this, as do scholarships and sports).
There are two ways to deal with this kind of grade-seeking behavior. The first is to put the onus on the student rather than letting her put the onus on you. So when she comes in, have her sit down and explain to you why her paper should have a different grade.
Once she finishes, you can respond either by showing examples of what a paper with that grade should do (according to the rubric), or what a paper with that grade did (by going to your bank of photocopied student papers that exemplify certain levels of writing and have the names blacked out. You should definitely keep one of those if you're not already).
If you think the student has made a convincing case -- and they sometimes do -- offer to re-read the paper and revisit your thinking on the grade, and usher her from your office as you work out a time for her to come back in and get her regraded paper. Then, honestly re-read the paper. Students sometimes have legitimate grievances about grades, and as long as they're convinced you gave them a fair hearing they're usually good about wherever the grade ends up.
The second is quid pro quo.
4) Maybe it is because it was my first class, but I sort of have an emotional attachment to my students. I try and grade all of their papers without looking at names and all that jazz, but my grade distribution shows surprisingly (to me) little variance. How do you/do you stay detached enough to be fair?
Easy. I don't stay detached, and my grading is not at all equitable.
My first job is to get students to improve a skill set as much as they can during a semester. Evaluation is secondary, especially on essays (which, you'll remember, are lousy evaluative tools). So if I've got a student who can do better, but still wrote the best essay in the class, it's a B (maybe lower). My job is to make her a better thinker and writer, not to tell her it's OK not to improve. The same principle holds for less able students.
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 00:03|
Mister Biff posted:
I'd love to know what your literary pet peeves are, whether they be grammar, spelling, punctuation or plot cliches.
Bad exposition is the worst sin you can commit with words.
Better watch it, Ray. Sarge tells me your new partner cracks a lot of cases but just doesn't respect authority.
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 00:19|
post-feminist rimjob posted:
Have you given serious consideration to putting 'schoolmaster of souls' as your job description[?]
I have now.
Seriously, though. Read Book III of Paradise Lost and tell me you loved it. That the conversation between God and Jesus about the fate of humanity was just as sexy as Satan's vaunting inner turmoil.
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 00:24|
What do you think about Caliban?
Maybe because of Cesaire's A Tempest (great, incidentally), Caliban's often misread as the sympathetic victim of a colonial or pseudocolonial process. After all, Prospero shows up on the island, kills Caliban's mother, and enslaves Caliban.
That's not a great context for thinking about the play. First off, Caliban's apparently half fish (if you check out the scene where Stephano and Trinculo first discover him, he's apparently a half man half fish who looks like he might have been struck by lightning), so I'm not totally sure his physical differences can be convincingly discussed using a vocabulary of racial difference.
Second, Caliban's not really a sympathetic character. Prospero enslaved Caliban because he tried to rape Miranda, and Caliban is pretty unrepentant about that. Also, once Caliban confederates with Stephano and Trinculo he gets comically unlikable pretty quickly -- he offers to be their slave for life if they keep giving him wine, and doesn't seem to have any qualms about trying, however ineptly, to kill everyone on the island.
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 13:18|
Doran Blackdawn posted:
I recently saw a live performance of King Lear and I wasn't too impressed. Hamlet and Othello, for instance, are just so much better that I was actually somewhat surprised.
Downward Spiral posted:
What grinds your gears about Lear? It seems like an odd choice for least favorite.
The thing that gets me about Lear is that it doesn't seem finished. Read at the plot level, I think it's an excellent play about human dignity, and the end of Lear, where he slips back into insanity and imagines Cordelia might still be breathing, is by itself deeply touching. But the Edmund/Edgar subplot isn't great.
Edmund the bastard is a throwback -- he's a Marlovian villain (sort of like Richard III) who announces his intents onstage and devises simple plans that gull everyone. These kinds of villains can work. They work for Marlowe (especially in Jew of Malta), but they never really work for Shakespeare -- the closest he gets is Richard III, and he can't sustain that character's energy for five acts.
This kind of heavy-handed and irredeemable villain is like Godzilla. Seeing him stampede over Tokyo can be pretty sweet, but you can't have a Godzilla and sympathize for everyone he stomps on. This is one of the basic problems with Richard III (if the actor does his job well, you're rooting for Richard), and it's worse in Lear, where Gloucester's blinding is supposed to be emotionally moving but (because he's a victim of Edmund/Godzilla) ends up being just another thing that happens.
And what's worse, Edmund has a moral awakening at the end of the play (like Richard III does) and it's just as hamfisted. Here's a guy who hasn't felt the least bit bad about orchestrating the deaths of his half brother and father (not to mention Lear and Cordelia), but once Regan and Goneril kill each other over him he has a change of heart?
Edgar has the same problem Gloucester does. We're supposed to sympathize with him, but it's tough. Mostly because he doesn't do anything all that great. His dad's about to commit suicide because he thinks he's responsible for Edgar's death, so Edgar does the same thing anyone would do: trick his dad out of suicide using an elaborate plot that involves disguising himself as an insane beggar and a fisherman. No "hey dad, turns out I'm not dead" or "I understand how Edmund tricked you. He tricked me too, so stop beating yourself up over it."
The same goes for his killing of Edmund. We can all agree that, by Act V, Edmund needs to die. So Edgar does the same thing any of us would do: wait for Edmund to issue an open challenge to anyone who wants to fight him to the death, and show up to the duel in disguise. If Edgar's the wronged party here, shouldn't he be issuing the challenge and broadcasting Edmund's wrongdoing? Maybe plot to take his bastard brother out Brutus-style instead of counting on blind chance and his marginally superior swordsmanship? Or even Titus it and extract some kind of justifiable but incomprehensibly brutal revenge?
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 14:11|
But now that we're talking about hypertext, I was wondering what your thoughts are about it. From a literature point of view, it seems like a gimmicky idea that professors talk about so they seem more culturally relevant. But from a general humanities point of view, where do you see the "New Media" field ending up?
I should clear some ground first:
1) I have not yet read that Cory Doctrow book, and now I fear I must. For the same reasons I just finished Marian Engel's Bear.* You should, too.
2) The word "hypertext," like the entire academic vocabulary describing online phenomena, is impossibly ridiculous. I call my computer screen "laser paper."
3) The thing that most bothers me about "hypertext" as a term is that hackish hacks talk about it like it's a genre (like the novel) rather than a media. And I'm using the plural "media" intentionally, since the defining characteristic of hypertext is its aggregation of existing mediums, like recorded music, text, images, and video.
There are other things to add to this, too. The most conspicuous is that hypertext producers (or content owners) can sort their audiences with greater granularity that most media have to this point practically allowed.
So the real questions classes should be investigating are how hypertext's signature qualities shape the way we think and act. A knee-jerk example would be the ways we think about privacy.
I'm a Gen Xer, barely, and one way I differ from my students is that I think of privacy in terms of visibility; if someone can see me do something, either in person or in some media, that thing is no longer private and, consequently, can be used by the viewers or observers for whatever purposes.
My students, on the other hand, think about privacy in terms of media ownership rights. Really. Hypothetically, if some Facebook user posted a picture of one of my students doing something illegal, my student's first response would be "he doesn't have the right to do that" instead of, say, "that's a lovely thing to do because it will likely have hard consequences for me."
But in terms of looking for or creating new artistic genres, it's too early. Art forms haven't historically taken off until at least a generation after the widespread adoption of an artistic technology, and it shows. Most hypertext art is really just a re-presentation of another medium (like film or text) using a different technology, or a reworking of an existing hypertext form (like a discussion board) to tell a story. That suggests that we still haven't gotten our heads around hypertext's potential for creating really innovative art.
* I of course have the original 1976 printing, which has a cover picture and cover copy twice as awesome as anything you will ever see again. Allow me to quote at length:
"Whoever wrote the cover blurb for [i posted:
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 14:55|
Being a professor is something i've toyed around with, but i've been told by a lot of people that it can be a living hell trying to get there. I'm definitely interested in a few specific subjects in both fields, so the research part of the PhD program wouldn't really bother me. What really concerns me is the admissions. I look at the faculty list for my university (which isn't a top university, but it's definitely up there), and 80% of the professors come from the Yales, the Stanfords, and the Johns Hopkins of the world. You mentioned that you got tenure out of a lower-ranked PhD program, but how common is that? How common is it for the graduates at those top universities to fail to get tenure within the first few years out of grad school? Finally, how difficult is it to get into a top program?
I should clarify: I have a tenure-track position, meaning that I'm not yet tenured but will be eligible for tenure after X years of review. This is where everyone starts -- tenure isn't something you can offer applicants without attaching an identical multi-year review process.
The thing to keep in mind is that the big name programs are also the largest (at least in English). In my field, the Harvards and Stanfords and Columbias of the world each turn out five or ten Renaissance scholars a year; my former program graduates one every three or four years. So one thing you're seeing are simple numbers at work. The programs with the best reputations generally graduate the most people.
The second thing is attrition. Prestigious, well-funded programs come standard with nice funding and research packages -- you get a couple years of paid research time where you don't have to teach, your college is affiliated with bunches of research organizations, you get nice conference funding, and so on. So the attrition rates are lower. Generally, yeah, the people who come in are academically stronger and more dedicated. But they're also more insulated from the things that push people out of programs (e.g. grinding poverty).
That said, there are lots of people from these large, top-ranked programs who don't get jobs. In my mind, the only stat that matters on a program is job placement, and the only acceptable number is 100% (remember, PhD programs track three-year rates, so anything lower means people with this degree can't get jobs after three years on the market).
The thing is, top ranked programs don't often make this cut -- Harvard and Johns Hopkins are good examples. This is probably because they've scaled their programs to the point where PhD candidates don't get enough individual attention and mentoring, which in my mind is the single most important element of a graduate education.*
So when you look at programs, look at the program. gently caress the ranking, since the ranking's not generally based on items relevant to graduate students (e.g. how much grant money the faculty bring in, what faculty research budgets are), and other criteria are counterindicative of a quality graduate education (e.g. how much faculty publish; remember, every semester a faculty member gets in publishing leave is a semester he's not teaching courses you need to take, mentoring you, helping you publish, showing you off at conferences, or signing the paperwork you need to keep your funding and graduate on time).
That is, it's not about choosing a "top" program. It's about choosing a program that fits your needs, and where the graduates get the kinds of jobs you want to get. PhDs.org is a good resource for sorting these kinds of things out.
By the way, I consider myself a decent writer, but i'm by no means great. Do you recommend any books that contain useful advice? I've heard Elements of Style is a good one, but i'm not sure if reading it will be useful(in other words, i'm just afraid it's a bunch of talking points out of an intro-level writing course)
Strunk and White is the best I know, mostly because it's short enough to memorize. You can keep a proper handbook around for the rare occasions you need to look up something, but S&W offers well thought out and lucid advice on organization and phrasing, which is what most people really need.**
* So how much mentoring should you look for? In my field, in my program, I had a student/faculty ratio of .25 to 1, meaning I had four faculty for whom I was the only graduate mentee. Worst case, I think you need to have at least one faculty member who makes you his or her top priority.
** Fair warning: S&W is not a grammar handbook, and glosses over many finer grammatical points when it gives stylistic advice. This is the first point that comes up in every annual "Strunk and White suck" piece.
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 15:39|
Came to see if the thread would be dull, stayed for the poison-spitting lizards and discussion of when Hamlet goes crazy. Excellent thread.
Milton's the greatest poet in the English language, hands down. Lots of his reputation rests on Paradise Lost, which never made sense to me. PL has incredible moments, don't get me wrong. But it's wildly uneven. If it weren't for the influence of his Satan character (which is impossibly extensive), PL would be playing second fiddle to Spenser's Faerie Queene when students learn about English epics.*
So there are two other Milton poems you need to read and understand. I can't stress that understand part enough.
The first one is "On Shakespeare." The thing is, Milton decided really early on that he was going to be the greatest poet in the English language, and this poem really shows him wrestling with how he's going to get around Shakespeare's reputation -- in Milton's time, Shakespeare was just starting to eclipse Ben Jonson as the greatest of Renaissance writers. If you can trace how this relationship between Milton and his predecessors works through "On Shakespeare," you're doing pretty well.
The second is "Lycidas," which is for my money the greatest poem of moderate length in the English language. You can forget the language of the poem for a moment as you first read through, because although the language is excellent, "Lycidas" is remarkable for its emotional depth and complexity; to snap it together and do the poem a real disservice, Milton's narrator is trying to figure out how to deal with the loss of a close friend, so he goes through the process of blaming everyone else for it (blame that, of course nobody else takes).
If you want to really discover this poem for yourself, stop reading.
Then things get interesting, because he tries out a bunch of different ways to lie to himself about what his friend's death means, finally resolving that those lies, even if they're not convincing, work better than the truth -- that death, even the death of Lycidas, humanity's last hope of redemption, is ultimately unjust and terrifyingly senseless. It's the lies we tell ourselves about death that let us live from day to day, even as they blind us to the mysteries we have a moral duty to unravel. That resolution has an emotional resonance I've never seen matched.
* Because Faerie Queene is loving awesome. Robot knights, evil snow women, goat sex, Amazons, maneating horse chariot races, magical chastity belts, Communist giants, illegal toll bridges run by sorceresses with gold feet, disputes over maritime law and deposited sediment property rights. People who say "this book has it all," they don't even know.
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 17:57|
|# ¿ May 8, 2021 16:56|
"A writer's college," and all that.
There are a lot of Kenyon people here. Bizarre.
I think the second tetralogy* gets, and deserves, a lot of respect. Richard II, in particular, seems to be where Shakespeare discovers the sort of tragic, introspective character he eventually develops into Hamlet. Granted, it's a long development, but it's fascinating to watch. And Henry, Hotspur, Glyndowr, and Falstaff are all great characters in their own rights -- at least as memorable as any who come from the major comedies and tragedies.
The first tetralogy** is genuinely underrated, mostly because 1 & 2 Henry VI stage much better than they read -- the first play in particular relies on enormous and elaborate stage battles to build tension, so the structure of the play seems unclear of the page.
Also, the scope of the first tetralogy is, in a lot of ways, more compelling than the scope of the second. The arc is of England's decline from an intercontinental empire (which squanders its French possessions and sacrifices its noblest and most needed heroes because of petty governmental infighting) through a civil war that becomes increasingly brutal as military victories and defeats become ever more complicated and meaningless.
The kingdom finally dissolves into ragged factions motivated only by a sociopathic thirst for revenge. It's in this environment that the most desperate of these factions attach themselves to Richard of Gloucester (later Richard III) without fully understanding his capacity for violence or the depth of his brutality. This is an excellent setup for Richard III, which is a pretty great play for about two and a half acts.
Ricahrd's rise is effectively counterpointed by Henry VI, who begins the tetralogy as a child king capable of understanding the disaster around him but powerless to change its course. He becomes an equally ineffectual but increasingly sympathetic adult, thrown into emotional crisis as he makes increasingly heartwrenching personal sacrifices to forestall civil war.***
The other histories, King John and Henry VIII, are pretty forgettable, excepting that there's no mention of the Magna Carta in John and Henry VIII burned down the Globe.
* I just realized I should note this. The second tetralogy (the Henriad) is Richard II, 1&2 Henry IV and Henry V. Prince Hal (eventually Henry V) is the central character in all but the first play, but that first play establishes the basic conflict that tears Hal's father apart and makes Hal's redemption of the kingdom necessary.
** 1, 2, & 3 Henry VI and Richard III.
*** If parts of this sound familiar it's because everybody cribs from the first tetralogy.
|# ¿ May 7, 2009 18:38|