November 29th, 2010
This is a play (actually three plays) I regularly teach in my World Literature classes. I don’t know how they have adapted it for a combined performance, but it looks interesting. It’s on Monday, December 6 at 7:00 p.m. in the Rosebud Theatre.
Monday, Dec. 6
The Oresteia, a stage production by the Leonidas Loizides Theatrical Group adapted from the trilogy by Aeschylus. Received the United Nations Best Off-Broadway Theatrical Performance Award for 2010. Presented by the Hellenic Student Association and the Honors College. Reception follows. $15. 7 p.m. Rosebud Theatre, E.H. Hereford University Center. email@example.com. (from MavWire, Nov. 29, 2010)
December 2nd, 2009
- The final only covers material that we have read since the Midsemester test.
- For Donne, Herbert, and Jonson, I will not expect you to be able to tell me what individual poems are about, but you should know something about the different styles (e.g., “metaphysical” style, plain style), whom the styles were associated with, the important terms associated with this poetry (e.g., conceit), etc.
- For the plays that we have discussed: Volpone, The Duchess of Malfi, and The Beggar’s Opera, know what happens in the plays, who the main characters are and what they do, who wrote them, etc.
- For Milton’s Paradise Lost, know the characters (pretty easy), how they interact, and what happens (in Books 1, 4, 9, and 12). Know what verse form Milton used in writing it.
- Know that Pilgrim’s Progress is a Protestant allegory in prose, and that John Bunyan wrote it.
- For Dryden, know the two sets of characters (the Biblical and the British) and their allegiances and activities in Absolom and Achitophel. Know what he says about Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.
- For Swift, know the episodes our text provides from Part 3 of Gulliver’s Travels. Have a general idea of what goes on and what is satirized in Part IV.
- For Pope, know the major ideas in An Essay on Man. Know the verse form he and Dryden generally used.
- For Samuel Johnson, know that he wrote a dictionary, and know what he said about Donne, Paradise Lost, Dryden and Pope, and Shakespeare.
- Know that Charles I was beheaded in 1649. Charles II was recognized as king in 1660. Know that in the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, James II was exiled and replaced on the throne by his Protestant daughter Mary and her husband, William of Orange.
- Know the difference between the Ptolemaic and Copernican models of the cosmos.
- We will also have an explication on the final. I’ll give you a choice of two or three poems to write about.
November 19th, 2009
Here are the poems you may choose to explicate for your third explication. The explication will officially be due on December 1, but you may submit it without penalty anytime before the Final Exam. Please remember to acknowledge and document any sources-online or in print-that you use.
In the text: Robert Southwell, “Burning Babe,” 640-641
Or you may do one of these:
AT A SOLEMN MUSIC
Bless‘d pair of Syrens, pledges of Heaven’s joy,
Sphere-born harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse,
Wed your divine sounds, and mix’d power employ,
Dead things, with inbreathed sense able to pierce;
And, to our high-raised phantasy, present
That undisturbed song of pure consent,
Aye sung before the saphire-colour’d throne
To Him that sits thereon,
With saintly shout, and solemn jubilee,
Where the bright seraphim, in burning row,
Their loud up-lifted angel-trumpets blow;
And the cherubic host, in thousand quires,
Touch their immortal harps, of golden wires,
With those just spirits, that wear victorious palms,
Hymns devout and holy psalms
That we on earth, with undiscording voice,
May rightly answer that melodious noise;
As once we did, till disproportion’d sin
Jarr’d against nature’s chime, and, with harsh din,
Broke the fair music, that all creatures made
To their great Lord, whose love their motion sway’d,
In perfect diapason, whilst they stood
In first obedience, and their state of good.
O may we soon again renew that song,
And keep in tune with Heaven, till God, ere long
To his celestial concert us unite,
To live with him and sing in endless morn of light.
- John Milton
THE HEART BREAKING
It gave a piteous groan, and so it broke;
In vain it something would have spoke:
The love within too strong for ‘t was,
Like poison put into a Venice-glass.
I thought that this some remedy might prove;
But oh, the mighty serpent Love,
Cut by this chance in pieces small,
In all still liv’d, and still it stung in all.
And now, alas! each little broken part
Feels the whole pain of all my heart;
And every smallest corner still
Lives with that torment which the whole did kill.
Even so rude armies, when the field they quit,
And into several quarters get;
Each troop does spoil and ruin more
Than all join’d in one body did before.
How many Loves reign in my bosom now!
How many loves, yet all of you!
Thus have I chang’d with evil fate
My Monarch-love into a Tyrant-state.
- Abraham Cowley
Thou robb’st my days of business and delights,
Of sleep thou robb’st my nights ;
Ah, lovely thief, what wilt thou do?
What? rob me of heaven too?
Even in my prayers thou hauntest me:
And I, with wild idolatry,
Begin to God, and end them all to thee.
Is it a sin to love, that it should thus
Like an ill conscience torture us?
Whate’er I do, where’er I go-
None guiltless e’er was haunted so!-
Still, still, methinks, thy face I view,
And still thy shape does me pursue,
As if, not you me, but I had murdered you.
From books I strive some remedy to take,
But thy name all the letters make;
Whate’er ’tis writ, I find thee there,
Like points and commas everywhere. periods
Me blessed for this let no man hold,
For I, as Midas did of old,
Perish by turning every thing to gold.
What do I seek, alas, or why do I
Attempt in vain from thee to fly?
For, making thee my deity,
I gave thee then ubiquity.
My pains resemble hell in this:
The divine presence there too is,
But to torment men, not to give them bliss.
TO MY DEAREST ANTENOR ON HIS PARTING
Though it be Just to grieve when I must part
With him that is the Guardian of my heart,
Yet by a happy change, the loss of mine
Is with advantage paid, in having thine,
And I (by that deare Guest instructed) find
Absence can do no hurt to souls combin’d.
As we were born to love; brought to agree
By the impressions of divine decree,
So when united nearer we became,
It did not weaken but increase our flame.
Unlike to those who distant Joys admire
But slight them, when possest of their desire.
Each of our souls did its own temper fit
And in the others mold so fashion’d it
That now our inclinations both are growne
Like to our interests, in persons, One.
And Souls whom such a Union fortifies
Passion can ne’er betray, nor Fate surprize.
Now as in watches, though we do not know
When the hand moves-we find it still doth go.
So I by secret sympathy inclin’d
Will absent meet, & understand thy mind.
And thou at thy return, shalt find thy heart
Still safe, with all the Love thou didst impart
For though that Treasure I have ne’er deserv’d
It shall with strong religion be preserv’d.
But besides this thou shalt in me survey,
Thy self reflected while thou art away.
For what some forward arts do undertake
The images of absent friends to make,
And represent their actions in a Glass
Friendship itself can only bring to pass
That magic which both fate & time beguiles,
And in a moment runs a thousand miles.
So in my Breast thy Picture drawn shall be,
My guide, Life, object, friend, & destiny.
And none shall know though they employ their wit,
Which is the right Antenor; thou, or it.
- Katherine Philips
November 18th, 2009
On Tuesday (Nov. 24) we’ll look at Bunyan (a very little peek) and Dryden (and maybe start Pope).
On Tuesday (Dec. 1), we’ll do Swift and Pope. Try to at least skim Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels. We’ll go on a quick tour of Pope’s Essay on Criticism. Pay most attention to Part 3 of Gulliver’s Travels and Pope’s Essay on Man.
On Thursday (Dec. 3), we’ll either do Congreve’s The Way of the World or Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera. We’ll also look at the selections from Samuel Johnson, and I’ll try to give you some idea of what will be on the final exam.
November 16th, 2009
(The blurb describes Herbert as a “Metaphysical poet. There is a nice reading of “The Pulley” on the site.)
(Contrasts Donne and Herbert)
November 15th, 2009
When we last met, we were looking at some poems by Ben Jonson and were contrasting his “plain style” with the more baroque “metaphysical” style of John Donne. We saw this diffrence in his very simple yet beautiful and moving poem, “On My First Daughter.” Jonson’s epitaph for his son Benjamin is a bit more complex in its language, but still pretty much without ornaments or conceits:
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy ;
My sin was too much hope of thee, lov’d boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
Oh, could I lose all father now ! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy?
To have so soon ’scaped world’s and flesh’s rage,
And if no other misery, yet age !
Rest in soft peace, and, asked, say, Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry.
For whose sake henceforth all his vows be such
As what he loves may never like too much.
Just as the epitaph for his daughter emphasized the child’s innocence and the confidence that both the speaker and his wife had that she was in heaven, in this poem there is a similar consolation in that the speaker realizes that he should be happy that his son will escape the temptations and the hardships of the adult world and especially the miseries of age. The baby girl died at six months; Benjamin died when he was seven, which allowed a long time for his father to learn to care for him and to bond with him. It is this situation that leads to the paradox in the last line: “As what he loves may never like too much.” Although his love for his son should lead him to rejoice in the child’s happiness in heaven and his escaping all the ills of adulthood, his father’s fond relationship with him over his seven years of life–the fact that he liked him so much–makes him miss his son terribly and prevents him from taking the consolation that his love for his son should offer him.
There are another couple of poems that I might just mention. Both poems show classical influence and both celebrate the plenitude of nature, especially as a setting for human virtue and friendship. His “Inviting a Friend to Supper” is, in fact, a dinner invitation in verse that emphasizes the wonderful food that the diners will have as well as the wine and good entertainment. His “Upon Appleton House” is a “country-house poem.” The poems are generally written in praise of a country house and the family which inhabits it. Jonson’s “Upon Appleton House” praises the estate in Kent of Sir Robert Sidney, Sir Philip Sidney’s younger brother. The poem emphasizes the productivity of the estate:
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine, and calves do feed ;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies ; and the tops
Fertile of wood, Ashore and Sydneys copp’s,
To crown thy open table, doth provide
The purpled pheasant, with the speckled side :
The painted partridge lies in ev’ry field,
And for thy mess is willing to be kill’d.
And if the high-swoln Medway fail thy dish,
Thou hast thy ponds, that pay thee tribute fish,
Fat aged carps that run into thy net,
And pikes, now weary their own kind to eat,
As loth the second draught or cast to stay,
Officiously at first themselves betray.
Bright eels that emulate them, and leap on land,
Before the fisher, or into his hand,
Amid all this plenty, the family and the community that surrounds them is also depicted as both physically and spiritually productive and as generous as the Nature that surrounds and sustains them:
But all come in, the farmer and the clown ;
And no one empty-handed, to salute
Thy lord and lady, though they have no suit.
Some bring a capon, some a rural cake,
Some nuts, some apples ; some that think they make
The better cheeses, bring them ; or else send
By their ripe daughters, whom they would commend
This way to husbands ; and whose baskets bear
An emblem of themselves in plum, or pear.
But what can this (more than express their love)
Add to thy free provisions, far above
The need of such ? whose liberal board doth flow
With all that hospitality doth know !
Where comes no guest, but is allow’d to eat,
Without his fear, and of thy lord’s own meat :
Where the same beer and bread, and self-same wine,
That is his lordship’s, shall be also mine. . . .
The poem ends with a kind of coda praising the house and the Sidney family which lives there:
These, Penshurst, are thy praise, and yet not all.
Thy lady’s noble, fruitful, chaste withal.
His children thy great lord may call his own ;
A fortune, in this age, but rarely known.
They are, and have been taught religion ; thence
Their gentler spirits have suck’d innocence.
Each morn, and even, they are taught to pray,
With the whole household, and may, every day,
Read in their virtuous parents’ noble parts,
The mysteries of manners, arms, and arts.
Now, Penshurst, they that will proportion thee
With other edifices, when they see
Those proud ambitious heaps, and nothing else,
May say, their lords have built, but thy lord dwells.
Perhaps a bit on Herbert later . . .
November 10th, 2009
This play is very much worth reading. It is too bad that it is not performed very frequently. There is a television version from the 1970’s, but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere online. The YouTube clips below present a pretty funny–though mostly accurate–synopsis of the play.
The play contains a little of everything, but it is most remarkable for its strong woman character, the widowed Duchess, who despite both of her brothers’ objections, chooses to enter into a secret marriage with her Steward, the commoner Antonio, who is, in all things except for his birth, very noble. (The YouTube video’s version of this scene shows Antonio with the ring–actually the Duchess gives the ring to Antonio.)
One of the Duchess’s brother is a Cardinal who is carrying on an affair with the young wife of the old Castruccio. Her other brother is Ferdinand, Duke of Calabria, whose frequent and often vulgar demands that the Duchess remain celibate in her widowhood seem to cloak his own incestuous desires for her.
Bosola, the spy and the one who commits directly and indirectly almost all the murders in the play (and there are a bunch of them) reflects characteristics of both the melancholy malcontent (related distantly to Shakespeare’s Jaques in As You Like It), a Machiavell (like Edmund, perhaps), and the villain-who-wished-he-didn’t-have to-be. Bosola goes through the play feeling sorry for his victims and himself. It is his open and generous praise of Antonio’s character that prompts the Duchess to reveal to him the secret (still undiscovered even while she bears three children to him) that she and Antonio are married; he of course immediately tells the brothers which leads to the torment and death of the Duchess and her two youngest children and eventually to Bosolo’s accidental killing of Antonio and his murder of the brothers, one of whom, Ferdinand, also gives Bosola his death wound. The scope of violence in the play was pretty normal for Jacobean tragedies.
For an electronic text of the play with a lot of good commentary, please see the script and production notes for a 1998 performance of the play at David Lipscomb University in Nashville.
November 9th, 2009
Unlike the other poets we have looked at , Herbert wrote religious poetry exclusively. In his “Jordan” poems, in which he describes his intentions and theories of writing his poems, he claims to “plainly say, My God, my King.” A very quick look at one of his poems may suggest that his “plainness” is more apparent than real:
While that my soul repairs to her devotion,
Here I entomb my flesh, that it betimes
May take acquaintance of this heap of dust;
To which the blast of death’s incessant motion,
Fed with the exhalation of our crimes,
Drives all at last. Therefore I gladly trust
My body to this school, that it may learn
To spell his elements, and find his birth
Written in dusty heraldry and lines;
Which dissolution sure doth best discern,
Comparing dust with dust, and earth with earth.
These laugh at jet and marble put for signs,
To sever the good fellowship of dust,
And spoil the meeting. What shall point out them,
When they shall bow, and kneel, and fall down flat
To kiss those heaps, which now they have in trust?
Dear flesh, while I do pray, learn here thy stem
And true descent; that when thou shalt grow fat,
And wanton in thy cravings, thou mayst know
That flesh is but the glass, which holds the dust
That measures all our time; which also shall
Be crumbled into dust. Mark here below
How tame these ashes are, how free from lust,
That thou mayst fit thyself against thy fall.
One thing we might notice right away about this poem is its downward flow emphasized by the enjambments of each of its stanzas (except of course for the last). Another thing is the conceit with dust at its center that pervades the whole poem (it is a rhyme-word in three of the stanzas). The speaker begins by describing the way in which, when he prays in church, his soul reaches toward heaven while his “flesh” remains “entomb[ed]” below. (One thing to remember here is that in many English churches, and European churches generally, tombs and monuments that we’d expect to find in an outdoor cemetery were located inside the church itself.) The speaker explains that he hopes his flesh, which is itself made of dust, may recognize in the burial “dust” in the church its future condition, echoing the Biblical/liturgical phrase which Herbert will make explicit in the second stanza, “dust to dust.” In the second stanza he credits this “school” of dust to teach his body its “elements” (with a pun that bridges both its constituent matter (i.e., dust) and the rudimentary knowledge (e.g., the alphabet) that one learns in grammar school. The “dusty heraldry” which should teach the body its “dissolutions” still perhaps decorate the tombstones, though the family “lines” whose identity and fame they sought to preserve have disappeared, having all returned to “dust with dust, and earth with earth.” The tombstones themselves made of “jet and marble” are but a little bit harder form of dust, but these too will “bow, and kneel, and fall down flat / To kiss those heaps” of dust that used to be the bodies that they had been set up to immortalize. The speaker in the third stanza addresses his flesh as an internal audience and asks it to “learn . . . [its] true descent” while the speaker prays. In the last stanza, the speaker introduces the image of an hour-glass, with dust as the sand that runs down through it and “measures all our time.” Finally, the speaker invites the flesh to see “How tame these ashes are,” again referring to the dusty earth that the flesh is made of. The reference to ashes is used to caution the body to avoid the fiery passions and lusts that destroy it and the soul as well and resonates again with full form of the liturgical phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
October 22nd, 2009
October 13th, 2009
Here are a few comments on a couple of sonnets by Spenser that I hope you’ll find helpful. For the explication on our Midsemester, I’ll probably include sonnets by Spenser, Sidney, as well as one by Shakespeare, too.
Sonnet 65 (905) presents some interesting problems to the reader. The speaker of the poem is addressing his “fayre love” (1) who is presumably a woman (in fact if we accept the traditional view that the Amoretti were written to celebrate the courtship by Spenser that leads up to the marriage presented in the Epithalamion then we could say the “fayre love” is Elizabeth Boyle, but we don’t have to). He tells his “fayre love” that her concern (her “doubt”) about giving up her freedom in their love relationship is “vaine” (1). We can infer that it is a love relationship that the speaker is talking about because of the references to love and its “bonds” in the next two quatrains. The use of the word “vaine” here may suggest two things: first, that her concern or fear or doubt is unfounded or not real; secondly, that her doubt is based on her vanity or pride insofar as she doesn’t want to lose her independence or “liberty” (2). The speaker instead proposes that by giving up, “loosing” [by which Spenser most likely means the word we now spell “losing,” though “loosing” with its connotations of something being voluntarily set free may also provide a useful concept to the poem] one liberty (her personal freedom as an unattached adult woman), she may gain two different freedoms. At this point in the poem we as readers are not sure what these two new freedoms might be. Also, the speaker points out that another consequence of her relinquishing her freedom will be to “make him bond that bondage earst did fly” (4)–in another words, to bind (tie up) someone (probably both the speaker himself and the winged Cupid/Amor/Love whose flitting around was proverbial) who had earlier desired to avoid “bondage,” too.
In the second quatrain, the speaker continues to explore the concepts of binding and bondage, though here he uses the perhaps gentler term “bands”:
Sweet be the bands, the which true love doth tye . . . (5)
Since the bands (cords or “ties” [moral or legal as well as physical] or even rings [like a wedding band]) are “tied” by “true love,” they are “sweet” and are not forced or forcing and do not inspire any fear. The third and fourth lines of the quatrain (7-8) provide an image that modern readers may react to ambivalently:
The gentle bird feels no captivity
Within her cage, but singes and feeds her fill.
We get the point that seems to be presented here, that being “captured” by one’s true love is a pleasant and even enriching experience that the lover celebrates, but we probably have a problem with the cage–even a gilded, well-stocked cage provided by love. Spenser probably wanted readers of his own time to feel a bit uneasy about the cage, too. The metaphor of a lover being held by her love like a bird in a cage was already by Spenser’s time a fairly familiar figure and one that frequently was involved in contexts that led to unhappy endings–often with the “gentle bird” escaping and returning to nature where it ate worms and things instead of the more refined food it had in the cage. One of the signals that Spenser gives that he too–if not his speaker–is concerned with the picture provided by the image is his calling attention to the cage itself by enjambing the lines with the phrase “Within her cage.”
The third quatrain seeks perhaps to remedy the problem presented by the image of a bird in a cage by emphasizing that it is not just the “bird” in “her” cage that the lover (and reader) should think about, but the necessity of both lovers being mutually involved and “bound” by the love relationship. Though the third quatrain and the couplet begin with the word “There”–which appears to suggest the “cage”–the development of the sestet (9-14) points instead to a more abstract and multidimensional place that is called into being by both lovers’ commitments. The “league twixt them” is held together by “loyal love” and rules out any pride or discord which could threaten their relationship (and also perhaps any proprietariness as suggested in the cage image which may imply that one lover is “owned” or “kept” by the other). Instead, “simple truth” and “mutual good will” (which are grammatically united into a singular subject) “seekes with sweet peace to salve each others wound” (11-12). The “wound” the speaker refers to is shared by both lovers and is most likely the conventional “wound” that we have encountered in the sonnets and love poems we have been reading, the pain and longing that is inflicted by love.
The couplet’s “There” introduces more changes on the image of the cage. The speaker (or poet) perhaps takes advantage of the homophone (two different words that sound the same) of There/Their to continue his emphasis on the mutuality of the lovers’ commitment. Because of their shared love, faith (or even Faith) can fearlessly dwell in a “brasen towre.” The use of the word “brasen” [brazen] may seem a bit inappropriate to describe the tower that houses the couple’s faith; as readers we might expect “golden” or even “ivory” or some other highly valued material. Brazen can refer to either something made of bronze or brass; both metals are “impure” insofar as they are made up of two elements: copper and either zinc (brass) or tin (bronze). One of the reasons that the speaker uses “brasen” is to affirm that their love (and their mutual faith) is earthly and human and thus is necessarily housed in the human person which is itself an “alloy” of body and soul. Although it can be a “strong” (one of the connotative meanings of brasen) tower, it is a mortal one. Another meaning of “brasen” which according to the OED was just beginning to come into the language at this point was “impudent” or “bold” or “brassy.” Perhaps this use of the word also comes into play. In the first quatrain, the speaker had claimed that his lover’s relinquishing of one liberty would generate two other liberties or freedoms. I think the couplet finally reveals, rather indirectly, what those two liberties may be. Both revolve around the confidence in the truth of the lovers’ mutual love–and its eventual culmination in marriage. Unlike the “courtly” lovers’ need for secrecy in love, these lovers–especially after their marriage–will be able to proclaim their love from the safety of their marital (sacramental/legal/social) “brasen towre.” The second liberty to which the speaker referred is revealed in the second line of the couplet: “And spotlesse pleasure builds her sacred bowre” (14). Within their relationship of “loyal” and likely “married” love, they can freely engage in all the pleasurable aspects of their love including the physical. Their love and the sanctification of marriage has has made their sexual pleasure “spotlesse” or “pure” and made the “there” not a cage but a secure if mortal tower of strength for their faithfulness and a “sacred” garden of love where the lovers’ pleasure is pure and even holy. Marriage is not explicitly mentioned in this sonnet, though if we do accept the traditional view of the composition of the Amoretti and Epithalamion, we can probably assume it. If we don’t, there are indications in the sonnets themselves that the speaker’s love is a love founded on religion and morality (e.g., 68, 74, 79).
Sonnet 67 (905) deals with a similar theme in a different and a bit simpler way. It more or less takes the lover’s point of view and casts her again rather unexpectedly as a “deer.” The note (905,7) tells us the poem is an adaptation of a sonnet by Petrarch and refers us to Wyatt’s “Whoso list to hunt . . .” In Spenser’s poem, however, the “gentle deare” (7) rather than being “untouchable” gives herself up to the hunter–but only after the hunter has unsuccessfully engaged in a long and wearisome “hunt” for her. When she comes for a drink of water and sees the hunter/speaker ” with mylder looke” (probably the speaker’s look but maybe hers), she allows herself to be “tyde” (tied)–which returns in a way to the primary concern of Sonnet 65. In this sonnet she is “fearlesse” in her surrender. The speaker’s surprise at her acquiescence is described in the couplet:
Strange thing me seemd to see a beast so wyld,
So goodly wonne with her owne will beguyld. (13-14)
I really don’t expect you in your own explications to go into all of the detail I went into in Sonnet 65 (but do try to do more than what I did with Sonnet 67). In fact, I didn’t expect to say as much about 65 as I did. One of the advantages of writing about a poem is that one we are forced to look at it/listen to it more carefully and sometimes we can recognize details of the poet’s art and meaning that we don’t appreciate when the poem goes in one ear (or eye) and out the other. When you do your explication, try to focus on and explain the words the poet uses and the sentences that the poet creates out of them. Please be sure to read and understand the sentences as well as appreciating the skill that the poet uses to arrange his sentences in the sonnet form.