On the Lighter Side…

January 23, 2010

In a marked break from the heavier reading of graduate school, I’ve finally had the chance to read something a little less dense, albeit perhaps equally philosophical in its own way.

I’m referring to a book with the intriguing title: Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don’t Float: Classic Lit Signs on to Facebook, by Sarah Schmelling.

I first encountered Schmelling when her essay “Hamlet: Facebook News Feed Edition” exploded into popularity. Her book (Plume 2009) takes the humorous thread of her earlier work and runs with it…and keeps on running.

This is neither a serious review nor a serious book, but I have to say, I’m enjoying it immensely.  My favorite moment so far is a toss-up between “Twenty Questions for the Author of Beowulf” and “The Bronte Sisters Play Scrabulific!”

Other tantalizing snippets, as well as links to purchase the book, are available on Schmelling’s website.

What can I say? It’s Saturday…

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Star-Cross’d Vampires

January 4, 2010

Not to be too dramatic in an angsty teenage way, but the end truly is imminent. Last week, I was in Barnes & Noble, when I saw it.

A huge display of Twilight books and memorabilia.

Big deal, you may reply. True, true. But wait–there’s more.

Below the Team Jacob and Team Edward pennants and the books and the calendars and…(I could go on)…was a smaller display. More New Moon books, I thought. If only it were that.

Instead, a closer look at the black covers emblazoned with tantalizing red and white flowers revealed none other than Romeo and Juliet, Pride and Prejudice, and Wuthering Heights.*

Travesty. Outrage. Take your pick.

After the initial furor subsided, I thought with some amusement about the scene which might ensue if an unsuspecting girl age 10-15 should be duped into opening one of the above-named books by the mistaken belief that it contained bonus Twilight footage or a compilation of Edward’s secret diary entries.

Just for fun, I picture the tableau unfolding something like this…


“Mom!!!” Tina bursts into the home office, her shoulder-length brown hair spilling across her face. She skids to a stop, breathing heavily. “Something’s wrong with Bella!” she gasps.

Mom looks up from her computer. Tina’s tone is desperate, and tears are already forming in her eyes. “What’s the matter?” Mom asks carefully, steeling herself for the flood. Tina hasn’t looked this distraught since the day Dumbledore died.

Tina slams a book down on the nearest surface, sending a shower of papers fluttering to the floor. “This!” she exclaims dramatically, gesturing to the book.

Mom is not surprised to see the black cover with the brilliant scarlet flower in full bloom. Similar books and memorabilia have engulfed her daughter’s room for months. She sighs. “What happened?”

With a frown, Tina picks up the book and thumbs through it. “Aunt Laura gave me this book for Christmas. She said it was a new sequel to Twilight, whatever that means.” She stops, flips back a few pages, and continues. “But look — Bella’s talking all funny,” she says, reading out loud: “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move: But no more deep will I endart mine eye than your consent gives strength to make it fly.” She looks up, clearly frustrated. “But she didn’t like to move,” she says with a pout. “And — and — “

Mom’s mouth twitches. She briefly wonders how long she can keep this going. “Tina — ” She hesitates.

Tina doesn’t wait for her to finish. “What I don’t get,” she says, tossing the book on a stack of office supplies and brushing her hair back from her eyes, “Is whether Jacob or Edward is helping her fly, and why they had to stick pins in her eyes to do it!”

Mom studies her fingernails attentively.

Tina doesn’t seem to notice. She keeps picking the book up and setting it down. “I think she must have had some kind of poison,” she says firmly. “Maybe the Volturi were trying to transport her secretly to Italy, and all the werewolves and vampires time traveled there instead.”

“Maybe so,” Mom murmurs, biting her lip.

“That’s it!” Tina snaps her fingers. “That’s what gave them amnesia, so they don’t remember their names!” She finishes triumphantly, beaming.

Nodding, still studiously looking away, Mom says in a choked voice, “Sounds interesting, sweetheart. Aunt Laura will be glad you liked it.”

“There’s just one thing,” Tina says slowly, staring at the cover of the book. “I don’t get why Stephanie Meyer subtitled it ‘William Shakespeare.'”


That’s just how I picture it.

*Humor aside, if Twilight-esque covers or Bella’s stamp of approval encourages teens to read classic literature, well…maybe it’s worth it. Maybe. 🙂


Twitter, Wit, and Elizabeth

July 13, 2009

To many, Shakespeare, Marlowe, and Sidney seem as far removed from modern society as crème brûlée is from peanut butter and jelly.

A few conventions of modern society convince me to argue otherwise.

Like Twitter. Bear with me.

England in the late sixteenth century enjoyed “an impressive, widespread growth in literacy; an educational system that trained its students to be highly sensitive to rhetorical effects; a social and political taste for elaborate display…and a vibrant, restless intellectual culture” (Will in the World, Greenblatt).

What are the characteristics of the United States in the twenty-first century? More and more young adults attend college, creating if not a vibrant, then certainly a restless intellectual culture, particularly as more and more college graduates find themselves without a job that uses ingenuity or creativity.

One side effect, I think, is a re-awakening taste for wit in the social realm. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the newest social networking phenomenon is called tWITter.

The exchange of brief, one-sided dialogues has progressed from instant messenger to Facebook to texting and Twitter. Humor and wit are the name of the game. And it is a game. These media are ideally suited for banter: light, quick-witted one-upmanship.

One difference is the skill for which Elizabethan courtiers were known. “Courtiers were highly gifted at crafting and deciphering graceful words with double or triple meanings” (Norton Anthology of English Literature, vol.1) Their wordplay was born of cultural necessity. The upper classes were classically trained in rhetorical devices, and court intrigue demanded careful speech.

Perhaps the United States lacks both of those spurs to rhetorical training. Perhaps social networking is becoming more attention-seeking and self-serving. Perhaps, though, we are also returning to a simple enjoyment of language’s subtleties and possibilities.

And lest we fall too deeply in love with the PB&J to the exclusion of fine cuisine, I think we have to ask the question, are these phenomena unique to our society?

My answer? Not a bit.

Or should I say, not a whit.

Or a twhit.


A Shakespearean Valentine

February 12, 2009

heartTurning to the lighter side, in honor of that paragon of holidays, Valentines Day (known on the black market as Singles Awareness Day, Hallmark Appreciation Day, and other such pseudonyms), I’ve decided to spend a few days/posts invoking the Bard in less-than-typical ways (i.e. NO Romeo and Juliet in sight).  

My philosophy has always been, what’s the use of memorizing something if you can’t creatively tweak it later? So, (see “Brain Work” at the top of the page) the monologues I’ve memorized in the last few years are about to get a V-Day makeover. 

What do Hamlet, the color red, and hair have in common?  You’re about to find out. With no further ado (about nothing), welcome to the pre-Valentines special at Hamlet’s beauty parlor!

(Stayed tuned for the next installment.)

* – * – * -* -* – * – * – * – * – * – * – *

To Dye or Not to Dye

To dye, or not to dye: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to dodge
Brave cupid’s arrows aimed with such misfortune,
Or to close the purse against the sea of hair products,
And by resisting, stay blond? To dye: to change;
Once more; and by a change to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand breakup shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished! To dye, to change;
To change: perchance to hate: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that change of dye what hate may come
When we have rinsed off this natural shade,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of too permanent tone;
For who would bear the jokes and scorns of time,
The brunette’s wrong, the Monroe comparisons,
The pangs of despised roots, the shower’s delay,
The insolence of office workers and the static
That patient brushing of the fresh-washed makes,
When she herself might her quietus make
With a dye bottle? Who would split ends bear,
To highlight and trim under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after dye,
The undiscovered redness from whose bourn
No gold color returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus permanence doth make cowards of us all;
And thus the chosen hue of sun-kissed pomegranate
Is set aside by the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great style and fashion
With this regard, their customers turn awry,
And lose the name of business.