Friday, July 11, 2014

Brothers, Sisters, Mothers, Fathers, and the Rest of the Tree

When I was younger, I used to get in fights with my sisters all the time. Sure, a part of it was the lack of gender similarity, but mostly it was because we were siblings. It seems that in my life, in every situation where some form of sibling or friend is involved, we are comfortable enough to fight, and caring enough to mend. As one of our scholars mentioned on Tuesday, this mending is oddly absent from the various endings of Twelfth Night.

The easiest place to analyze this fighting and mending between supposed siblings is between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew. Both Knights, they are brothers-in-arms, comrades on the front lines of battle. But what does that specific type of siblinghood mean in the context of peace? Apparently, if we observe Sir Toby, not much. Throughout the play, read this as "throughout the time Sir Andrew has money that Sir Toby wishes to dispossess him of," Sir Toby treats Sir Andrew as an equal, on the surface. Underneath his somewhat convivial exterior, a sneer is forming that finds its fullest expression in the final scene. As Sir Andrew tries to lump the two of them together in distress as in reveling, Sir Toby wheels on him, roundly rejecting him as brother in any sense. The brotherhood of the battlefield means nothing in the end of this comedy. There were many more examples, but I don't want to give anything away. I wonder how many we can get in the comments section below.

After the morning's lecture, we spent time in our seminar discussing the various familial connections we could interpret in the text. We didn't limit these to bonds of fraternity or other types of siblinghood, but we extended, mostly, to fathers. The very odd and obvious absence of fathers in the play drew most of our discussion, particularly as we discussed the idea of Feste and Malvolio being two different types of fathers to Olivia. In discussion, we determined that Feste can be seen as a comforting father figure to Olivia wile Malvolio plays the more stentorian role.When Sebastian, questioning Olivia's sanity after they have been amorous with one another, looks around and sees the orderliness of her household, remarking that that same orderliness indicates an orderliness in the mind of the woman in charge.If we think about it, the orderliness here is a result of Malvolio's work, not Olivia's. She has been too busy hiding behind closed doors, covering her face, sobbing. This melancholy is what Feste, as the comforting father, gets her to confront in his "take away the fool" discussion with her.

Following seminar discussions and lunch, we met with Dana Huff (@danamhuff) again. We finished looking at some tools, them got our hands on some different forms of technology, including:
I am going to start with the Folger Digital Texts site because it ties nicely into the Voyant tools website. The Folger Digital Text site is deceptively simple. First, the not-so-nice part: there are none of Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine's glosses by line. I know, bummer. Now that we are over it, let's look at what we can do. The search capability is beyond helpful. From the titles page (the one that has all of the titles on it that is pictured below), you can search the ENTIRE Shakespeare Corpus. All of the plays (and soon the sonnets, too).

You can also search within the play itself as you read. If you click search results in either window, you will jump directly to that spot in the text. There is also a fairly interesting navigator that allows jumping between lines with ease.

The real gift of the site is its open source code. (Listen up AP Computer Science teachers and students.) You can create custom searches and other types of programming exercises using the Folger's XML source code. You can get it on the home page at the button marked XML. Because the source is XML and very flexible, you can play with it by visiting the Folger Digital Text API.

One possible lesson derived from the API is one that deals with deeply reading and understanding the characters and text. First, click this link. The text you see is the entirety of Romeo & Juliet without dialogue tags or stage directions. Select a portion and make some copies. Handout copies to students. In groups, ask them to read through the section of the text together (I would recommend a round robin where everyone reads one line until they finish). Then, when they finish, ask them to divide the text into its parts (Romeo, Juliet, whoever). As they work, circulate and listen. Are they discussing the text? Are they justifying their decisions? This activity is no gimmick; as Mike Jones says: "It is all about close reading." Once they finish, ask them to read the scene to the class. Focus on the diversity, or lack of diversity, of how the class reconstituted this scene. Oh, and don't forget to enjoy yourself.

Voyant is a great website for what some people are calling distance reading, or the opposite of close reading. The greatest use of this site is to take the unlabeled text of a play from the API and plug it into the front page. When you hit "Reveal," get ready. The amount of information and the flexibility of analysis is fantastic. One sample exercise I already ran was to analyze two sonnets (one Petrarchan and one Shakespeaerean). In the end, the analysis revealed that the most repeated word in the Petrarchan sonnet was "she" while the Shakespearean sonnet featured "you." This led to an interesting discussion with Spencer Nissly about the focal points for each poet, and the relationship each had with those focal points.

A great day at the Folger filled with learning. What a "brave new world" we are approaching in our classrooms.

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