Monthly Archives: March 2017

Monday, 06 Mar 2017


The Cherry Orchard (Acts 1 & 2)

Chekhov’s play is out of copyright. There are many good translations available. I have not assigned any particular edition. One good free text is from Project Gutenberg.


The Cherry Orchard (Acts 3 & 4)

Thursday, 09 Mar 2017


Weblog Portfolio

Recall that I’ve asked you to demonstrate your ability to respond to texts in depth, in a timely fashion, to spark and participate in discussions, and to post SOMETHING for every required text. I don’t expect every post on your blog to excel in every category. Your portfolio is your opportunity to showcase your work, reflect on your progress, and develop a plan for improvement.

To complete this portfolio assignment, click the “Login/Blog Me” button on this page,  in order to create a new blog entry. (The text that pops up will be the standard template, but you can ignore those default instructions in favor of these more precise instructions.)

The precise categories that I’ve created for the the portfolio assignment change a little from class to class, so the examples below don’t precisely match what I’m asking you to do; however, if you’d like models of blog portfolios from other classes, here are some good ones:

Either way, note that the portfolios are more readable because the links the students created are not just the ugly URL dropped from the sky, but carefully chosen words that help the author to make a particular point.

A note about non-public contributions:

Most of our work will be on your blogs, but if you want to make a reference to something you posted to Canvas, recognize that most potential readers of your blog won’t be able to access those files. I recommend that you emphasize your public contributions, but if you do refer to your non-public contributions, you can publish them as additional entries on your blog, or you can just quote from those private contributions.

In order for work that you’ve already submitted for another assignment to have much value in your blog portfolio, I would expect you to do more than copy-paste your work from one area to another. Thus, you might write something like “I struggled with the same problem in the close reading workshop, where I write ‘blah blah blah,’ and I was happy that my classmate Jim Smith explained that the real problem was…”)

20130209-111011.jpgBecause any college class worth the tuition asks you to venture into new territory, I’m asking you to think of a “Safe vs. Risky” category, where you can demonstrate your ability to differentiate between posts that are mostly “Safe” because they stick close to what you already know and understand, and “Risky” because you are trying something new.

Bloom’s taxonomy would describe as summarizing/understanding/applying as safer intellectual activities, and analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and creation as riskier ones. (See image at right, or Bloom’s New Taxonomy.)

Portfolio Categories

First, a cover post that introduces your blog (so that a stranger who came across this page would understand its purpose), and that introduces a main idea that the following details will help you to support. Provide a conclusion that connects what you have blogged to your progress towards meeting the course goals. (Check the syllabus.)

  • Depth (you have gone into more than usual detail, in terms of length, complexity of argument, use of quotations, etc.)
  • Riskiness (you have not only posted several entries that build on your strengths, you have also taken risks that take you out of your comfort zone);
  • Intertextuality (something someone else wrote — in a class assignment, in a reading on the syllabus, or just about anywhere — wrote sparked you intellectually; perhaps you linked to a classmate’s blog post, quoted something someone said in class, brought in a current event or something you learned in another class, or otherwise demonstrated your ability to draw on more sources than just the assigned textbook)
  • Discussion (something you wrote on your blog or on a classmate’s blog launched or participated substantially in an extended, thoughtful discussion — one that you helped to sustain by returning and posting further comments)
  • Timeliness (you were unusually early with your post; or, you on the spur of the moment blogged something that you weren’t required to blog, outside of class time; or, you chose to return to an older post and expand or update it)
  • Coverage (sometimes just keeping up, or catching up, is worth a pat on the shoulder; every post you write doesn’t have to be brilliant; here is where you can demonstrate you posted something on your blog each time you were asked to respond to a reading).
  • Cover Post/Conclusion (begin with an introduction and a main claim; use the details above to support your claim; to what extent does your post provide documentation of your progress towards achieving the course goals? Review the course goals, as stated in the syllabus; pick one or two that are most important to what you want to get out of this class, and using the information you have provided in your portfolio, assess your progress.)

Somewhere in your blog portfolio, I ask that you include a post that you wrote that draws upon what you learned by watching SHU’s production of Nine. (Don’t just throw in a random “Here is my post on Nine.” Instead, as part of the paragraph you write that presents your examples of riskiness, or depth, or whatever, I’m asking you to demonstrate how what you learned about Nine fits into the accomplishments you are presenting in your portfolio.)

Characteristics of a “C” portfolio

  • sections are labeled, and reasons for placing each post in each category are clear
  • a stranger who comes across your portfolio entry would be able to figure out the purpose of the post
  • your instructor can follow links to the work that you identify as most representative of your online contributions
  • “coverage” may be one of the bigger categories
  • a small number of good entries appear in multiple categories
  • hyperlinks may be just the title of an entry or the URL of the entry, rather than meaningful words chosen as part of a well-crafted, engaging reflection on your own writing
  • conclusion includes a thoughtful statement, supported by the evidence found in the rest of the portfolio, that reflects on strengths and weaknesses, and includes a plan for improvement
  • submitted via a working link

Characteristics of an “A” portfolio

  • sections are labeled, and reasons for placing each post in each category are clear
  • several engaging items (not just a single example) help you make substantial points under the “Depth,” “Timeliness,” and “Riskiness” categories,
  • each category contains more than a stark list of posts, but a narrative that demonstrates your willingness and ability to analyze your own work. (For instance, you might explain why a particular post illustrates “Depth” at a “safe” level, yet a different post illustrates “Depth” at a “riskier” level.)
  • the “Coverage” section is small (you’ve been able to classify almost all of your posts in some other category)
  • a stranger (or future potential employer) who comes across your post would find not not a routine “blogging homework” assignment, but an engaging essay (with well-chosen hyperlinks links and a persuasive through-narrative that demonstrate you are taking advantage of this opportunity to develop critical thinking skills, using evidence to support your position on a complex topic without a single obvious answer)
  • the portfolio may not reflect perfection; in fact, even the best portfolios will include an insightful self-assessment that includes a plan for further development
  • submitted via a working link

URL Alert: To get full credit for your portfolio, make sure that your links work — if there is a “php” somewhere in your URL, that’s a link to the editing page, and anyone who clicks it will be prompted to log in with your user ID and password (not helpful!).


Aristotle on Tragedy (Summary)

Here is a very concise summary of Aristotle’s views of tragedy.

Aristotle (who lived about 350 years before Christ) was a student of  the famous philosopher Plato.

Aristotle started his own school that rivaled Plato’s school. While Plato’s school focused on theoretical math — considered the purest form of knowledge — Aristotle’s school was focused on observing the universe, the basis of the modern scientific method. Aristotle’s school also explored literature and politics, and is in many ways the precursor to what we know as the liberal arts school.

I’ll have more to say about theater in the ancient Greek world, but for now I’ll just say that theatre in the ancient Greek world was divided into two camps — comedy and tragedy. Comedy was bawdy, rude, irreverent; think Saturday Night Live at its most offensive. To Aristotle, comedy was a depiction of humans as worse than they really are. We don’t know very much about what Aristotle thought about comedy, because that section of his great work The Poetics is missing. History has preserved what Aristotle thought about tragedy. We know that Aristotle thought that tragedy represented humans as better than they really are; that well-constructed tragedy requires the protagonist to have a fatal flaw, a weakness; that the tragic hero begins in a position of power and falls as a result of actions the hero takes (actions that are prompted by the fatal flaw). At the beginning of an Arisotelian tragedy (the kind of tragedy Aristotle thought was best), a community has already been damaged by the actions of the hero; and that by watching the hero suffer, we feel emotions usually translated to English as “pity” and “fear” — we pity the other person’s suffering, and we fear that something like that could happen to us. The result of feeling pity and fear generated by an actor is that we purge those negative feelings (a process Aristotle called “catharsis”).

Aristotle’s Poetics does not explain exactly what “catharsis” means, and because we don’t have the section on comedy we don’t know whether perhaps he thought comedy also involved some kind of catharsis. I see it like this… during a time in my life I had a recurring dream that I was in a car accident and damaged my vehicle. I had that dream so frequently that at some point I began, while still dreaming, to recognize that I was having “that” dream again — and then I would make myself wake up, and when I realized that I didn’t actually wreck my car, it was a great feeling. I began to look forward to having that dream, because it felt so good when it was over. So, watching someone else suffer through tragedy helps us rehearse, emotionally, how to process the tragedy that we are likey to encounter; but knowing that a tragic play is all pretend keeps us from being overwhelmed by the tragedy. (This paragraph isn’t summarizing Aristotle, it’s just my own attempt to make sense of his attitude towards tragedy.)

Aristotle would say that a tragic resolution requires the hero to suffer due to the tragic flaw; the hero’s death is usually what is necessary to restore balance and heal the damage done to the community.

In class I have mentioned that a comedy begins with an ordered community that is threatened — perhaps by a newcomer who upsets the order of things, or perhaps by an insider who suddenly changes. Resolution in a comedy requires either expelling the threat to the comic order, or absorbing that threat, so that order can continue. A traditional ending to a comedy is a wedding, since so much of society revolves around the institution of marriage.

Revisit the page that summarizes Aristotle’s views on tragedy.

For your reading response, consider

  1. what I have written on this page,
  2. the summary of Aristotle’s views on tragedy,
  3. and (optionally) any section of Foster

and use these ideas to explore the comic and tragic elements of The Cherry Orchard.




Read Vera Zubarev’s article, “Chekhov as a Founder of the Comedy of a New Type.”

If you use your SHU credentials, you should be able to view the full text of the article by clicking the link.

(I will also upload a PDF of the article to Canvas.)

This article only mentions The Cherry Orchard once. While I don’t expect you to have read all the works that Zubarev mentions, I am asking you to demonstrate your ability to apply Zubarev’s analysis of other Chekhov works to The Cherry Orchard. Particularly, Zubarev uses the metaphor of chess — instead of characters who perform actions that drive a plot (which Arisotle understood to be central to drama), and instead of revealing a psychology that changes over the course of the play (which is central to our modern understanding of drama), Zubarev suggests that Chekhov writes “positional” drama. (I’ll let you read the article in order to engage more deeply with that idea.)

Respond to this essay as you would respond to any other assigned text; quote brief passages, make connections, and consider opportunities for engagement that emphasizes depth, intertextuality, riskiness, and so forth.


Thursday, 16 Mar 2017


Fosso, “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King”

Students who ask me “Can’t you just tell me what this symbol means?” sometimes seem to expect that all literature professors agree that a particular passage has a specific meaning, and that understanding literature is a matter of looking up and memorizing the “right answer” so that they can spit it back on a quiz.

I once had a similar understanding of math. Isn’t math about following instructions, looking up the correct formulas, and understanding how to plug in values without making mistakes? And isn’t medicine about looking up what symptoms point to what diseases, and what surgery or medicine fixes what problems? And isn’t business about buying things for less than they are worth, and selling them for more money? And isn’t sculpting an elephant all about starting with a chunk of rock and cutting away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant?

Scholar Kurt Fusso wrote an article a few years ago that challenges the generally accepted interpretations of Oedipus Rex, seizing on a detail that seems like a momentary glitch — Oedipus’s desperate observation that, by report, it was a band of bandits who ambushed the royal party, while Oedipus knows he himself acted alone. Fosso suggests that this detail, if we don’t gloss over it, suggests that Teiresias may have accused Oedipus falsely.

The assignment asks you to read the full text of Fosso’s essay, which I found in the Academic Search Elite database via the EBSCOhost server.

Fosso, Kurt. “Oedipus Crux: Reasonable Doubt in Oedipus the King.” College Literature, vol 39, no. 2, Summer 2012, 26-60.

Please note that Fosso is quoting from a different translation. In order to fully understand Fosso’s argument, I ask that you check the passages he cites against the same details in the text we are studying. The editorial decisions made by Alan Stanford may have produced a text that makes a stronger or weaker case than the text Fosso cites.

Rather than rejecting Fosso’s claims because your text doesn’t support his reading, and rather than accepting Fosso’s claims because your text happens to support it, I ask that you carefully consider his argument.

His article explores issues such as fate, guilt, Oedipus’s suspicion of Teiresias, the reliability of eyewitness testimony, and math (to tally up the members of the slaughtered party, as described by Jocasta and as remembered by Oedipus). The timeline of events, Oedipus’s motives, just exactly who was the father of the swollen-footed baby Jocasta handed to the Corinthian messenger are also worth deeper scrutiny, and competing possible meanings of the name “Oedipus” are all worth exploring.

Instead of responding personally and generally to the ideas I have summarized for you here, this assignment asks you to demonstrate your ability to respond academically to the scholarly evidence presented in the article.

As always, I am not interested in evaluating your ability to summarize; nor am I interested in your personal opinions on parricide, free will, or incest; rather, I want to see you take a non-obvious, evidence-based stand on a complex issue that arises from a college-level scrutiny of the assigned text, and I want to evaluate your ability to use evidence to support your position.

Monday, 20 Mar 2017


Oediups Rex (1 of 2)

See Canvas for the translation we’ll be using.


Oedipus Rex (2 of 2)

Monday, 27 Mar 2017



During class: write a response to the text of Medea.


Thursday, 30 Mar 2017


Collier, “On Translating ‘Medea'”

Use the library database to find the full text of this article.

Collier, Michael. “On Translating ‘Medea.'” Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 80, no. 1, Winter 2004, pp. 194-198.