Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Specialized Paper and the General Audience

I'm supposed to give a paper to the school here on Monday, after spending from Wednesday to Sunday night in Barcelona.

I have a paper ready, but need to put together some powerpoint type slides to show with it.

The problem is, the paper's about a quirky bit of The Winter's Tale, and trying to summarize the play enough to get the quirky bit understood seems daunting.  So, this woman dies, except a lot of critics think she's just been hiding out.  And this other woman has a statue made and then uses her art to bring it to life, except a lot of critics think it's fake all along, and...

Back to revising.  I'm off to Barcelona tomorrow!


But last week, I returned to Stratford-upon-Avon!  I went there before, and saw the archaeological dig, and again and saw Macbeth on the new stage.

This time, I went out to Anne Hathaway's family's home, which was late medieval, and would have been fascinating even without the Shakespeare connection.  But to think of stepping on stone floors where Shakespeare probably stepped, that was cool!

 There it is, a doorway!  I think it's an addition, and the one inside is more from the period.

And, of course, I went to the Centre and New Place, too!

We saw Twelfth Night, evidently still in previews.  Here's the only review I see on line.  But I'm wary of any review that starts out talking about what a privilege it is to see a play.

My review: I thought the acting was good, the singing less so (Feste didn't have the voice training to really carry it off).  The costuming was interesting, as were the casting choices, but I felt like things were reinscribing Orientalism a little too strongly or without really thinking about it.  (Guess which characters whose gender is confusing and questionable were played by actors of apparent Indian/Asian descent...)

The thing is, when I teach the play, I tend to downplay the cruelty.  But in production, the cruelty really stands out to me.  And I'm increasingly uncomfortable with it.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Bonfire Night

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By god's mercy he was catch'd
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king.

And what shall we do with him?
Burn him!   (Source)

We had a bonfire here at the Abbey.

Here's a very short video.  I tried to get the full moon and the blue flame coming up on the lower left side.  I don't know what burned to make that color, but it was beautiful.

And here's a regular picture, showing our fire and the whole moon.  I went down a little late, so didn't get the fire at it's full glory, but it's probably close to 20 feet wide.  The garden staff keep garden waste, and build it with the woody stuff, but then other things get put on, including some chicken wire sculptures from an art class (the teacher gave the students the decision about what was to happen to their sculptures and this is what they chose).

Friday, November 03, 2017


It's been a long week here.  The students all had a big exam on Wednesday, which they may or may not have studied enough for.  And we also had classes on Friday (we usually have classes four days a week only) because there won't be classes next Thursday.

It feels like classes are really dragging, with unengaged students.  And it's not only me, my colleagues feel the same way, and so do the students.  Ugh.  Trying to get them to actually look at or care about a text is rough.

I finished grading a small stack of poorly executed papers.  Two were really weak because they didn't actually do the assignment they'd chosen (out of several options).  Others were weak because they didn't bother quoting from the text or supporting their assertions.  It's really not fun to grade poor work.

The good news is that we're going to Stratford tomorrow (Saturday), and going to see a play, so that should be fun.

And then next week for the long weekend, I'm going to Barcelona.  I just have to survive this weekend, and the next and...

Meanwhile, I need to send off my bio for SAA.  (Really SAA seminar leaders?  A bio?  Ugh.)  And I'm giving a paper here the Monday after we get back from Barcelona (late Sunday).  Yeah.  Like that.

And I have a short report to write up for a grant.

And I have a letter to write.

I went to the British Library on Wednesday, while the students were all taking their big exam, and it was great.  And I figured out how I messed up my back before (see post here).  I sat down and put the big book in front of me, and then put my computer on my left, and started to type up notes on what I was reading and TWINGE!  Yep, it's the typing while twisting.  So the rest of the day I moved around more and didn't type in any one position for very long.

I learned something new, and that was GREAT.  But it opened up a whole avenue of more stuff to read and learn.  The cool thing is, that I found this Biblical reference, and posted a question about it on Facebook, and a bunch of people told me about the avenue and where and how to get there!  I knew such an avenue must exist, but I had no real idea how to get there.  And now I feel like I have some specific things to look at and a ton to learn.  All thanks to the wonders of the Interwebs.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Chatsworth House

The second part of last weekend's outing (that started at Eyam) was a visit to Chatsworth House, seat of the Dukes of Devonshire.  (I have to admit, one of the things that confuses me about England is that peers of so and such a place seem to have their country seat not in so and such a place, but in somewhere totally different.  In this case, for example, Chatsworth House is in Derbyshire, I think, but Devon is way down in the southeastern part of the country.  Color me confused.)

The house got built originally by Bess of Hardwick and her husband William Cavendish, and the House has a great display of historical artifacts, including accounts signed by Bess of Hardwick!

 The objects displayed, with little tidbits of history about the different Dukes (and some Duchesses) through time, were interesting, if not especially appealing to me to photograph.  Still, it's neat to see stuff, especially older stuff!

So the tour path starts with the object displays, beginning with Bess of Hardwick, and ending with the current folks.  And then you go through many rooms, with furnishings and art.  And there was a special exhibit of clothes and costumes.  I have to admit, mostly the special exhibit turned me off.  I mean, I liked seeing the livery and clothes that people wore day to day.  But the clothes that were specially made for costume balls and stuff didn't do much for me.  I think it felt too much like rich people dressing up as rich people, rather than rich people going about their lives as we all do.

But then I got to this room!  Inigo Jones drawings!  I took so many pictures of Inigo Jones's drawings that they're going to get a separate post!

I loved the library, and would have loved it more if it weren't for the stupid mannequins with clothes that were blocking a view of the books.  Still, what a library!

 And look what I saw!  (I'm sure they've all been catalogued and the most valuable books are well out or reach.  But Milton will do in a pinch!)
 These lions look familiar because the Abbey has copies (at least, I think the Abbey's are the copies).

 And outside.  Such a beautiful house!
 The stables are now gift shops, but it's cool to see how fancy the stalls were.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Eyam, the Plague Village

On Sunday, I went with a group to Eyam (pronounced "Eem"), which is called the Plague Village.  It's called that because there was an outbreak of the plague there, and the villagers (mostly) chose to separate themselves from the surrounding communities, allowing communication only in specific ways (outside the village, meeting someone from a neighboring village, and talking without getting too close, or leaving coins at the "boundary stone" and then picking up food left there by neighboring folks or the local powers that be).

We went to the museum first.  I really, really like the logo.  It's a small but interesting museum, that talks about the plague stuff, and also a genetic mutation some folks have that seems to provide a level of immunity, and also a fair bit about the village's contributions to WWI, with the histories of some of the men who served, and their medals, even.

The plague display had information about how many villagers died and in which family/home.  Even then, so long after the initial outbreaks, it was devastating, killing, according to their website, 260 people out of a population of about 800.  It's hard to imagine the courage it took to not run when the plague hit.  (Some folks did leave, of course.)  To know the horrible odds, because they had to know, and yet to choose to try to keep it from spreading further.

After the museum, one of our folks led us through town and out to the boundary stone (map), which is a 20-30 minute walk from the museum.  Along the way, we passed markers explaining the connections of various cottages and grave sites to the plague.

 In the churchyard, there's an old cross, probably Anglo-Saxon or Celtic, according to the sign.
 And also the marked grave of a plague victim.

 This is the boundary stone.  The holes are where, supposedly, villagers would leave coins in the holes, which were also filled with vinegar, that they hoped would keep the plague from spreading through the coins.  Given the state of knowledge of disease transmission, they seem to have done an amazing job of limiting the spread of plague in the area.  (The coin thing wouldn't have been effective, but the distancing probably was.)
 Looking back toward the village from the boundary stone.

Monday, October 23, 2017


As you may recall, I've been to Oxford before, and got to tour Merton college, and to see Trinity and the Divinity Room at the Bodleian.

This Saturday I went back.

I didn't mention something that happened at the British Library.  One morning, while I was waiting for the library to open, having tea at the place just outside the gates, another woman also sat to have tea.  Like me, she was waiting for the library to open.  We had a nice chat while we waited, and then I asked if she wanted to meet for lunch.  So we did, and had another chat.  And exchanged emails.  She's working on Civil War stuff (English, not US), and is, I think, a historian/librarian.  Anyway, she's associated with a couple of Oxford colleges, and said if I were going to come to Oxford, she'd show me around.  And boy oh boy, did she ever!

My day started out with a tour of the 400-1600 British room at the Ashmolean, and then a bit of wandering through the museum.  It's the sort of place where I can imagine spending a solid month and still feeling like there's too much to see!

Here's the funeral pall for Henry VII's casket.  (His funeral was in Oxford.)

 This is a close up of the center embroidery area of the pall.  It was beautiful.
 Here are TE Lawrence's clothes.  There's something just so weird about seeing them.
 Then I met my Library Friend, and we went to her colleges, first Worcester.

On the way to Worcester, we passed an older man walking the other direction.  He nodded at her, and I'd gotten out of the way.  And then she said it was Keith Thomas.  KEITH THOMAS!  WOW!

This is the main quad.
 She said this chimney section is probably the oldest building section in the college.
 Here's the lake.  Gorgeous!
 A jay!  (Life bird for me!)
 Some insignia over the doorways to the old monastic cells.

 And in the Chapel, the Provost's chair.  (See the word?  There's a prayer around, she said, and it ends with the Provost's chair.)
 The chapel ceiling... so so beautiful!
 And the chapel floor.  (The Chapel was renovated in the 19th century.)

And here are the stairs leading up to the library.

So that was Worcester College.  It's huge in terms of geography, and has lovely gardens.  As I learned, one of the reasons it's so big was that it was outside the walls of the medieval city, so it could expand early on (when it was Gloucester College, which was disbanded with the dissolution of the monasteries, and then restarted as Gloucester Hall, and then restarted as Worcester College with a new foundation using the buildings/land of Gloucester Hall.)

Then we walked to her other college, New College.  Along the way, we passed this building.  That high nub thing?  That's Edmund Haley's observatory.  Yep.  (Though my guide was careful to tell me that he didn't make his biggest discoveries there.)

 This is a back entrance.  I love big huge doors with little inset doors.
 In we went.  The praying figure on the right is William of Wykeham, the founder of the college.  On the other side is an angel, and in the middle, Mary, because this is really St. Mary's College with a long name, but it was called "New College" because there was already a St. Mary's College.  This was back in 1379, so it's not really all that new...  My guide told me that William is praying to not get rained on.
 A view from the quad of the chapel.
 The inner courtyard.
 The Hall.  (aka dining room)  We also went into the chapel, but they don't allow pictures there, so I didn't take any.
 And here's a portion of the city wall.  My guide told me that the College was founded just inside the city wall, and William also bought up lots of land outside the wall, adjacent, so the college now spans across, and there is a section of the city wall there.

I had a fabulous day in Oxford, saw new colleges, learned a lot about the medieval city, and enjoyed visiting with my friend.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Waiting for ...

Last Saturday, my laptop had an accident involving some liquid and the keyboard.  I turned it off as quickly as I could (for some reason, holding the button down even for a long time just made it sleep for the first three times).  And then after drying it as well as I could, I set it upside down to dry.

On Monday, I took it to the tech Guru here, and he took out the battery and hard drive, suggested I put it in front of a fan for at least four days (total) and said he'd dry the hard drive for a day and then try to pull my files off for me.  I gave him my external hard drive.

On Tuesday, he gave me my external hard drive, and indeed, he'd saved all the files I'd asked for.

This morning, I took my computer to him again, and he reinstalled the battery and hard drive, plugged it in, and turned it on.  The screen did it's usual "starting up" thing, and then went black with a little twirly thing going around and around.  And it's been doing that for about four hours now.

No smoke, no flashes of light, so that's good.  But the twirly thing going around and around.

The Guru says it might be that Windows did an update and the computer is trying to manage that.  Or there may be something else.

So we wait.  There's been no error message so far.  Just the twirly thing.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: Coriolanus (RSC)

On Wednesday last, a small group from the college went to the local movie theater to watch a live broadcast of the RSC's Coriolanus from Stratford-upon-Avon.

I hesitated about going because Coriolanus isn't in my top 25 Shakespeare plays, and I've had a cold and sore back and am busy.  But finally I decided to go since I've never seen it before and live theater's not that easy for me to get to, even in a movie theater.

I think the RSC is doing all the Roman plays this year, so Coriolanus came along for the ride.  And for the most part, the production felt like it.  Workmanlike.  It got the job done.  Overall, the first three Acts could have been a step faster all through.

But I want more out of theater.  I want to be challenged to think (or rethink) things.  I want to be excited, or saddened, to be reached at an emotional level or an intellectual level.    And this production didn't do that for me.  The actors were fine in their parts, but no one struck me as especially good.

The Roman plays are all political, and this one happened in modern dress, which seems more effective than togas these days.

I'm not quite sure what I want from a filmed version of a staged play.  I found the camera work (changing points of view, changing distance, and so on) a bit distracting.  When I watch a play, I sometimes find myself watching side action, and I couldn't do that often with this camera work.

I did think the casting of two women actors to play the Tribunes, Martina Laird as Junius Brutus and Jackie Morrison as Sicinius Veletus, was interesting because the rather tall and athletically built men really felt threatening when they loomed over the Tribunes.  And Menenius seemed to be mansplaining in ways I don't think I've felt before when I thought of the Tribunes as male characters.  The effect for me was to make me identify even more closely with the Tribunes than otherwise.

I remember first studying Coriolanus in a course and talking extensively about same sex desire, so I expected to see a real sense of that on stage.  In Act 4, scene 5, the scene where Coriolanus goes to Aufidius to join with him, when Aufidius says,

                            Know thou first,
I loved the maid I married; never man
Sigh'd truer breath; but that I see thee here,
Thou noble thing! more dances my rapt heart
Than when I first my wedded mistress saw
Bestride my threshold. Why, thou Mars! I tell thee,
We have a power on foot; and I had purpose
Once more to hew thy target from thy brawn,
Or lose mine arm fort: thou hast beat me out
Twelve several times, and I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters 'twixt thyself and me;
We have been down together in my sleep,
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other's throat,
And waked half dead with nothing. (Source)

it's nigh impossible to miss the homoerotic aspects.  But in the RSC's production, Aufidius was more smirking than convincing, more like a teenager showing off a bit rather than a man who's had dreams.  And that was that.  The play didn't take Aufidius's dreams or desires to heart, didn't give them a Greco-Roman context of homoerotics between soldiers.  It just sort of sat there and then was over.  (I'm sure the actor did as directed, and could have done the part very differently if so directed.)

All in all, then, I was disappointed.  I want so much more out of plays than I got from this production.  Is it me?  the play?  or the production?

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Catching Up: British Library and Leicester

 Time flies around here.   The last weekend in October, I spent in London, with one afternoon at the London Metropolitan Archives, and three days at the British Library.

The LMA was super; one of the librarians helped me find stuff, including a registry book of unpublished London diaries.  And one of those diaries was at the British Library!

I didn't take many pictures at the library, but here's one I took while having my tea as the line formed outside in the rain to go in.
The other one I took was of the manuscript (which was labeled as okay to photograph, and I was in an okay to photograph area).  The manuscript was by a James Petiver, listed in the registry book as a medical practitioner, botanist, and pharmacist.  I was hoping to see some botany stuff, but mostly it seemed like he listed someone's name (or, for example, "my grandmother") and then wrote down his prescription.  I took a picture of this page because the prescription is for chocolate.

I found lots and lots to read and work on at the BL, met another scholar who was friendly and nice, which made the place less daunting.

The problem was, I basically sat and read most of four days, with little exercise and no stretching.  My hotel room as tiny, and the bed canoe like, and voila, my back got very sore.

So I've been dealing with that.  It's much much better now.  I'm sitting down and not hurting much right at this moment, which is a huge improvement.

Last week, we did a trip to Leicester.  So good!

The obvious thing for me to do in Leicester is to visit Richard III.  I started at the Discovery Center, which was really well laid-out and presented.  I learned about the Wars of the Roses, and enjoyed it a lot.  Below is a memorial stone, and below that, an explanation of it.

 After the Discovery center, I went to Leicester Cathedral and visited the actual interment site.  It's a beautiful memorial, and in a lovely space.  The Cathedral feels more like a friendly parish church than, say, York Minster or Lincoln Cathedral, but they do a really lovely job explaining themselves and the burial site.
 What I didn't know about until I was in Leicester was the Guildhall!  And that turned out to be the best part of the trip (even though the other parts were wonderful).  It's a 14th century Guildhall, with later additions (17th century, I think).
 And the hall was built for the Guild of Corpus Christi, which made me especially interested.  I'm sure medievalists would know if there are records of plays; the Guildhall didn't say.

 And in the Guildhall museum, among later artifacts, is a scold's bridle.  I keep seeing these in museums.  I wonder if they're as common as they seem now because they were common then, or if they've just managed to survive especially well?
I would have happily spent several more hours in Leicester, but alas, we didn't have long.