Monday, October 8, 2018

"My Last Duchess" by Robert Browning

That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

KidTime StoryTime Presents: There's a Dinosaur on the 13th Floor

Here's an adorable retelling of my Dino Book -- complete with a couple of zany puppets.

Thanks, KidTme!!!

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Female Dramatists in the Early Days of European Theater

Meet Hrotsvitha... 

What's cool about her? She is the first person since Ancient Rome to bring theatrical literature back to life in Europe. She was a nun who lived in a 10th century commune of women, thus allowing her time and independence to pursue her own educational goals and creative pursuits -- so long as they were an extension of her faith. Many of the plays she wrote were a Catholic response to the works of Roman playwright Terence. She retold the stories of the saints, and created female characters of strength and intelligence.

Lady Mary Wroth... 

She wrote "household" or "closet" plays, dramatic works not necessarily intended to be performed on a stage... perhaps not expected to be performed at all. However, a British theater company has recently launched a production of her play, Love's Victory. (Written in the early 1600s). 

She also wrote plays and a work of fiction (that may or may not have been based upon real experiences) called Urania. One critic who hated her book called her: "hermaphrodite" and a "monster" --- I don't know if this is much better, but a fan of hers, Ben Jonson, said that her work made him not only a better poet but a better lover! 

Aphra Behn AKA Astrea

Her origins are shrouded in mystery and rumors... one of my favorite being that she traveled to a South American colony to serve as a spy, hired by Charles II. (She did perform spy duties in the Netherlands... and records indicate that the king failed to pay for her service.)

Since the life of a spy didn't pan out, and since her husband passed away, she was forced to make end's meet by writing for the stage.

Here's an energetic synopsis of one of her most successful plays: The Rover. 

During the Restoration, female playwrights -- such as Mary Pix -- became less of a rarity. 

This might have been because theater goers at the time cared more about the performances and less about the playwrights -- in fact, playwrights often went unaccredited (though not unpaid).

Susanna Centlivre

She began her theatrical career as an actress, often playing "breeches roles." According to biographers, she left home (due to her abusive step mother) at the age of fifteen. Shen was married at age sixteen, and became a widow at age seventeen. Like others before her, she turned to playwriting in order to gain financial independence. Her comedy, The Busy Body is one of her more oft performed plays, still scene on the contemporary stage. 


What about the actresses? There's a nice overview of female actors in the early days of Restoration theater and beyond... Check out this link from the National Portrait Gallery.

You may also want to learn about the colorful life of actress Nell Gwyn -- an informative overview can be found within the devil's Encyclopedia -- AKA Wikipedia.   

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Characters in the Henriad

Richard II...

Henry Bolingbroke who becomes Henry IV...

Prince Hal... who becomes Henry V...

Hotspur... a fellow rebel, supporter, and then enemy of the Bolingbrokes...

Then, there's the crown's favorite coward... Falstaff!

Then, there's the rest of the gang at Miss Quickly's tavern...

Bardolph... Poins... Anicent Pistol... and Nym...

The Henriad, so called, was actually made into an epic television production titled The Hollow Crown. Check out the trailer...

Oh, and the following is not a speech written by Shakespeare... It's Tom Hanks improvising / stalling for time when the play Henry IV was halted due to a medical emergency of an audience member. Acting as Falstaff, hanks uses his quick wit keep the audience engaged...

Richard Burbage and Early London Theater

Here are some visual notes to help us peek into the early days of Shakespeare's life and career, as well as that of his colleagues.

Here are the plans for the construction of "The Theater." (Constructed in 1576. It was the second permanent structure theater built in London. The first was The Red Lion, built in 1567.

Oh, and in case you didn't know... theaters weren't just for actors...

(Bear Baiting -- behold the works of man.) 

Do you recognize this man???

Heplayed the title character Volpone in Ben Jonson's social-comedy classic. 

(Here's a portrait of Ben Jonson, master of the Comedy of Humours.)


Richard Burbage also starred in plays by John Webster... 

(He's the playwright responsible for the bloody tragedy, The Duchess of Malfi.)

But Brubage is most famous for playing the leading roles in many of the original productions of Shakespeare's tragedies.

He originated the roles of... Hamlet...


and King Lear...

There's also the possibility that he appeared in a play by the handsome young man in a gigantic sweater: Christopher Marlowe...

There were other stars of the stage, though none as big as Burbage. (It helps when your father owns the theater!)

Some of the other actors included Will Kempe... renown for playing clownish characters including Falstaff.

And Augustine Phillips, who perhaps saved the Lord Chamberlain's Players from the gallows!

(Is it prejudice to say that all these dead British actors look alike?) PS -- Check out the details of Phillips' will and you'll get a glimpse of how enmeshed his life was with the theater.

Here's Hamlet's advice to actors of the time...

Here's a great 20 minute promotional documentary about the recreation of the Globe Theater:

Monday, September 17, 2018

Profiling Villains in Literature

I meet a lot of students who want to become detectives, criminologists, and/or FBI profilers. It might be due to the popularity of CSI-styled shows during the last two decades, or maybe they are inantely passionate about injustice. In either case, these types of students enjoy analyzing characters through psycho-analytic criticism, which is a great way to approach a text.

For students who want too peer into a dark mind of a literary character, say perhaps such as an Iago or a Lady Macbeth, I have come up with an entertaining little prompt, a series of questions in which the student attempts to answer from the point of view of the villain.

Here's the prompt... 

Antagonist / Villain Profile (Pretend you are the character)


Approx. Age:


What do you see in the inkblot?

What do you want most out of life?

How do you feel about the protagonist?  Explain:

For each emotion, write the first word or phrase that comes to your mind: 
Society:                                                                       Friendship:

Success:                                                                       Failure:

What do you hate? (Why?)                             What do you love? (Why?)

Do you have any regrets?  Why / why not?

Have you ever experienced a downfall due to hubris?  If so, explain:


One of the creepiest characters in our literature textbook is Arnold Friend from "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" A UC Davis student created an excellent character analysis of this villain, positing the idea that Arnold might be the devil himself.

Read Spencer Martinez's essay: "Satan Drives a Convertible."