Monday, October 27, 2014

Luther's Faculty Research Symposium is Coming Up!

Are you interested in sleep? Are you interested in what happens when a doctor falls asleep in 1605, and somehow magically ends up preaching a sermon for an hour and a half--with witnesses? If so: stop by the Luther College Faculty Research Symposium at 3:00 this Saturday. I'm giving a short talk on Richard Haydocke's experiences as a sleep preacher, and how they intersect with the strategies of diagnosing a sleeping speaker in Macbeth.

For details and a schedule, click on the FRS banner below:

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Teaching with Lingfish

One of the joys (and difficulties) of teaching students about the early modern period is that there are so many subtle differences between 1600 and 2014. In Shakespeare's time, spelling wasn't standardized, mass production didn't exist, and blood-letting was a sensible medical practice. Without taking up too much time in the classroom, how can we as teachers underscore these important differences, which can help students gain a foundational sense of the time period they're about to study?

As one possible solution, I propose lingfish. Lingfish are great for a couple of reasons. First, it's fun to say "lingfish." Second, they're apparently great with butter. And, third, the students probably won't have any idea what they are. (I confess: I didn't have any idea what they were, either, until I took a paleography seminar at the Folger Library, and we transcribed a very fishy dinner menu.) This lack of familiarity means that you can introduce students to a range of fantastic databases and online resources, which will help them learn what lingfish are. (And also, you know, where to look for help with strange early modern words and concepts, in general. Which is the sneaky pedagogical goal.)

Here are some fun things to ask your students to do with lingfish:

1) First, explain that spelling was not standardized, and that vocabulary was pretty flexible. Students will therefore need to type "ling," "lyng," "lyngfish," and "lingfish" in each of the resources below. (They should also try "fish," on its own, which produces some delightful results.)

2) Then, split your students into small groups, and ask each group to find information about lingfish (or fish in general) in each of the following online resources. This shouldn't take very long, and each group can share an interesting fact with the rest of the class.

Resource #1: The Early Modern Recipes Collective. [Because people did really weird and interesting things with fish. Importantly: lingfish aren't featured in this collection. This is a deliberate plant, because it allows you to discuss what to do if you're not finding your specific word or concept right away.]

Resource #2: Luna: the Folger Shakespeare Library's searchable digital archive of manuscripts, correspondence, and more. [Because ling transactions were worth writing home about. And students get a kick out of seeing early modern handwriting.]

[Image courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library.]

Resource #3: The OED. [Because, after all, it's important to know what lingfish is, and how folks were using it in literary contexts. Jonson, Shakespeare, and Pepys are all cited here. (Also, fun fact: "ling" can mean different things in the US and the UK, and that transatlantic difference can be important to highlight.)]

Resource #4: EEBO. [Because everyone should have the experience of typing "lyng" into a search engine that does variant spellings, at least once in his or her life. Bonus: you get to talk about strategies for refining a search. And, also, about the probable happiness of sailors on ships that have been "victualed, with 32. sortes of Ling."]

[Image courtesy of EEBO.]


Friday, August 1, 2014

What I did on my summer vacation (and, um, my spring semester!)

After a couple of months of focusing on research and teaching, I'm excited to surface and share what I've been up to. On campus in the spring, apart from developing two new classes ("Literature and Medicine" and "Literature by Women"), I helped to plan a day-long birthday party for Shakespeare, featuring three live scene performances and an "insult smackdown." Here's a YouTube clip of me talking about the events:

Especially after hearing Coppelia Kahn's thoughtful SAA talk on commemorating Shakespeare, my colleagues and I were enthusiastic about staging the texts themselves. 

My year's Shakespeare theme continued when I spent the month of June in Washington, DC, taking a paleography course with Heather Wolfe at the Folger Shakespeare Library. We learned to read secretary and italic hands, and spent hours in the reading rooms, poring over manuscripts. For our final project, my class transcribed selections from the miscellany of Henry Oxinden, c. 1642-1670. Here's what my chosen opening looks like:

(For a larger version of the page, displayed on the Folger's fantastic (and free!) Luna manuscript database, just click on the image.)

Finally, I'm capping off my summer in three ways. First, I'm finishing an article on watching the sleeper in Macbeth. I'm also taking part in a summer reading workshop for teachers of Paideia (an introduction to the humanities course). My group has just finished We Need New Names, a compelling novel about diaspora and identity that won the PEN-Hemingway prize earlier this year. Finally, I'm preparing to welcome my first group of advisees to their new college careers. So it's been a busy but productive few months!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy Twelfth Night!

There was a great social media post earlier today: "Because it's Twelfth Night, Nature has decided to become the Lord of Misrule." (Hence the -60 windchills tomorrow, etc.) And that got me thinking a bit about the Elizabethan calendar--which seems to have a whole different attitude toward winter than we do now. While they celebrated the New Year on March 25th, with lots of fancy gifts to the queen, we've decided to plonk the same holiday just a week after Christmas, when our weather is at its coldest, and the nightly darkness hasn't really begun to recede. I'm beginning to wonder if the Elizabethans didn't have the right idea: spread out the holidays, and celebrate newness when the daffodils are actually coming up.

There's another ramification, as well. Because our New Year (January 1) actually happens before Twelfth Night/Epiphany, we tend to bundle both celebrations up into one snowy/cold idea of renewal, mystery, and frenetic buying of fitness equipment--that is, if we even think about Twelfth Night at all any more. For the Elizabethan court, though, Twelfth Night (associated with the gifts delivered by the Magi to the Christ Child) was a time of snuggly indoor dramatic revelry, with carbtastic cakes and momentary reversals of position. As a release valve in the middle of the winter season, Twelfth Night provided a way to confront the dullness and unrelentingness of winter, without implying that one was supposed to feel renewed, or even "new," in the midst of subzero temperatures. As a person who gravitates toward warmth and little flowers, I like this idea.

However: the best thing, I think, would be to combine the Elizabethan and contemporary New Year celebrations, while keeping Twelfth Night (preferably with lots of plays by Shakespeare). All that needs to happen is for March weather to start in January. (Or, failing that, maybe I could try to grow some early daffodils.)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sleep, Virtuous Behavior, and the Adage

In a Newsweek article called "Sleep in!" (June 4 & 11, 2012, page 19), Trevor Butterworth gleefully debunks the myth that getting up early is somehow virtuous. In fact, he quotes sleep researcher Till Roenneberg, who says "We need to get rid of the old rule that the early bird catches the worm." But how old is this rule--and what are the sneaky links between early rising and moral standing, from a historical perspective?

"Early to bed, early to rise,/ Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." Current in the eighteenth century, this saying links not only intelligence but also wealth to sleeping habits--presumably because those who rise "early" do so in order to work at some form of remunerative labor. Less well known--but no less morally laced--is this early modern adage, quoted by A. Roger Ekirch in At Day's Close (265): "Nature requires five [hours of sleep], custom takes seven, laziness nine, and wickedness, eleven." From a historical standpoint, then, not only the time of rising, but the length of sleep itself reflected a person's inherent moral character.

It's quite interesting, then, to realize that Butterworth's article is calling for a sea change in the way that we ascribe morality to sleep practices. Instead of judging those who sleep late, Butterworth claims, we should view them as victims of "social jet lag"--which "happens when your internal body clock wants you to stay asleep but your external social clock wants you to wake up" (19). Here, the terms of the debate seem to have switched: a sleeper's body is now framed as the correct (or, at least, legitimate) arbiter of waking and sleeping times, and society stands as the cruel taskmaster, forcing the body into routines that can lead to obesity and exhaustion. I'm not quite sure what to make of this shift--but I'm very interested in the way that it tries to decouple sleep from morality, despite hundreds of years of proverbial linkages. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"Shakespeare's Hand": Collaboration Studies and Shakespeare

There's an article in the New York Times this week called "Much Ado about Who: Is it really Shakespeare?" The subtitle is "Further Proof of Shakespeare's Hand in the Spanish Tragedy." It's a great exploration of the modern, tech-driven scholarship that's exposing the intricacies of early modern collaborative authorship practices. But it's also a fascinating example of the ongoing glorification of Shakespeare as, well, "Shakespeare." In other words, the article is simultaneously saying that collaborative authorship existed and holding Shakespeare above his peers--as a supreme collaborator, or first among equals.

Here's an example. Near the end of the article, a quotation from the scholar Douglas Bruster explains the ramifications of locating Shakespearean text in the play The Spanish Tragedy--largely written by Thomas Kyd. Bruster says, "...once you realize that it’s Shakespeare’s handwriting that’s responsible for the misreading, it’s no longer a bad line... It’s actually a gorgeous passage." On one level, Bruster is saying that the printer read Shakespeare's handwriting incorrectly, and inserted textual errors that mess up the inherent loveliness of the poetry. It makes absolute sense, then, that fixing these errors would improve the reading experience.

On another level, though, the quote (framed within the context of the article) could be read to pivot on the identification of Shakespeare himself. Here's how it reads with the framing in place:

"Mr. Bruster once counted himself among the many scholars who have thought the passage in the quarto was simply too poorly written to be Shakespeare. “But once you realize that it’s Shakespeare’s handwriting that’s responsible for the misreading, it’s no longer a bad line,” Mr. Bruster said. “It’s actually a gorgeous passage.”"

Within this crucial framework, it's Shakespeare's handwriting (not, say, Kyd's), and therefore the passage can now be read as "gorgeous." Moreover, assessing whether something is Shakespearean becomes, implicitly, a matter of assessing its literary quality: while Thomas Kyd could conceivably write something bad, Shakespeare, clearly, would never do such a thing.

All of this points to an interesting problem for the larger scholarly community. When we explore collaborative practices, whose collaborations do we privilege, and why? (And where do we find aesthetic beauty, and what's at stake in that beauty, or in newly identifying beauty where it previously didn't seem to exist?)  

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Things I Learned While Writing About Sleep

At the close of my project, I thought I'd take a minute or two to reflect about what it meant to write a dissertation on sleep. When people have asked me about my project, they tend to have a slightly disbelieving smile on their faces: "You write about looking at sleeping people?" ["And you talk about this for two hundred and eighty-eight pages??"] Indeed, yes--and I've learned some unexpected things from doing so.

1) Talking about sleep is great. It's recreational. College students in particular really enjoy that element of my topic: "I'd love to have a nap right now!" or "Man, I wish I could think about sleep all the time." Sleep is a desired state of being, and many people self-identify as lacking sleep--or, at least, lacking as much sleep as they'd like to have. So sleep is a fabulous conversation-starter, and almost a modern rhetorical commonplace.

2) Talking about watching the sleeper is weird. The same college students who are interested in sleep, in general, look at me very strangely when I say that I specifically wrote about watching people sleep. I'd like to tie this, in part, to the modern (roughly post-Cartesian) emphasis on a person's internal experience of sleep, which has almost completely subsumed the early modern idea of watching and (ideally) safeguarding one's bedfellows. (The early moderns definitely did think about a person's experience of sleep, as well--but they also often contextualized it within a community setting, in ways that we no longer frequently think about.) In other words, the idea of watching a sleeper is "weird" from a modern stance because the idea of being watched in a vulnerable state openly challenges the idea that the internal person always retains power over himself. It makes folks uncomfortable. There are overtones of surveillance, peeping-tom-ness, judgment, and maybe even desire--signalling both its complexity and the multifaceted nature of its ethical ramifications.

3) Sleep can't be detached from communities. Whether I'm talking about sleep or actually sleeping, there are always people nearby, and their presence makes sleep an essentially ethical and relational matter. Although the sleeper himself or herself does not actually perceive this community, its existence forms the vital context against which the sleeper signifies, and within which the sleeper can be either safeguarded or harmed.