Thursday, April 19, 2007

Brush Up Your Shakespeare!

Yes, I know, this is a Classics blog, and how many of us are sick of people asking, "Oh, so you study Shakespeare?" But fear not, I shall related this back to our world of Classics.

I actually did attend phenomenal performances of both Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night last weekend, so it saddens me to read that Shakespeare, like our Classical studies, is on a decline. It does not, however, surprise me. I started as an English major, and I too was vexed that my school did not make Shakespeare a requirement for the major. And I have to agree that "earning a bachelor's degree in English without the study of Shakespeare 'is tantamount to fraud.'" (And speaking of which, I think reading these books would also be "tantamount to fraud!)

At this point in college, we cannot assume that every student has read Shakespeare in high school before--because they haven't. Moreover, even if they did, they weren't analyzing his work at the level you do in college. How can you possibly be an English major--no matter what your field--without some Shakespeare?

Back in my earlier undergraduate days, when I was still naive and filled with grand illusions about, well, many things, I took a class called Shakespeare & His Contemporaries. One of the works we were reading was Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida. There were English majors in that class who hadn't read Shakespeare before (an upper-level English class, and thank goodness these were the ones honest enough to rectify that situation), and moreover, when the prof asked if there was anyone who didn't know the basic story of Troy (this was before the bad movie), sure enough there was at least one person willing to admit that she didn't. She, at least, was willing to learn, but I wonder about a system that allows us to get by without Shakespeare and without Homer. How many English majors are walking away without Shakespeare and thinking that the wretched movie Troy IS actually Homer? There was a time when studying English literature meant you knew something about the Greek & Latin Classics also. Now, some English departments still teach it, but I had a Classics major friend who was seriously told by his English grad student TA that the Iliad and Odyssey were written around 2700 BC (yes, you read that right). My friend told the TA that he was wrong. The TA would not back down. My friend pulled out a reference. The TA said, "Well, there's some debate."

I could tell other horror stories about the Classics (or lack thereof) in English classes, and it's bad enough that Homer's going, but Shakespeare? What kind of English majors are they producing??

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

It's springtime for Glaukopis!

Firstly, Glaukopis does not like blogger's change that forces her to associate this account with a gmail account. Glaukopis is sorely displeased.

Glaukopis also offers apologies for not updating much lately, but Glaukopis has been busy (and jetlagged last week) since her return to the UK.

Also, it's springtime, and you know what that means? It means Glaukopis' allergies are acting up. Fortunately, they are not generally as bad in this country, because it's not riddled with cherry blossoms the way the D.C. area is. You laugh, but Glaukopis has a cherry blossom tree outside her bedroom window at home. You do the math.

However, despite the fact that Glaukopis is using some Claritin equivalent (so says the pharmacist) here, the pollen allergies are now making her sensitive to books. Usually, her book allergies are only set off by ~200 year old books (as she learned when she wrote a paper on John Quincy Adams), but in SPRINGTIME, Glaukopis is apparently sensitive to books printed with bad quality paper. This means Glaukopis is sniffling in the library and bothering both herself and everyone else. Glaukopis would, of course, be indebted to anyone who could offer a medicine that might work against these accursed allergies. Benadryl is not an option, as it puts Glaukopis to sleep!

Anyway, as a reward for reading through all that whining, Glaukopis presents you with a clip found by a friend of hers--an animated version of the Bayeux Tapestry! Glaukopis bets y'all are jealous you didn't think of this first. Glaukopis sure is.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Then unite heart in hand like Leonidas' band . . .

So finally 300 has been seen by me! I must say first that I'm with those who love it. It's not meant to be a "real history" like the abominations that were Troy and King Arthur. It's meant to be based on a graphic novel. For something based on a graphic novel loosely based on history, I think they did a fair amount of research but also took artistic liberties. And for how little clothing the women were wearing, it's pretty amazing I can say the men were wearing even less . . .

I have to confess also that the movie reminded me weirdly of The Lord of the Rings and Braveheart with some Hunchback of Notre Dame (well, Hunchback fo Thermopylae) thrown in.

I personally could have done with less blood, but I did like how they showed some of the fighting. A lot of it was obviously fictionalized, but it wasn't completely ignorant.

Also, though the story does seem exaggerated and at times hypocritical (in that they're talking about freedom but secretly they have helots), it makes sense because a Spartan is telling the story. It seems, to me, like the beginning of a mythology, and I like that.

Anyway, many people have been comparing this movie with America (which I won't really comment on in terms of current politics, except to remind people that the graphic novel was done before the currenet political situation), but this story has been associated with America since the nation's inception. A song written by Thomas Treat Paine (not the famous Thomas Paine of "Common Sense"--he would never have written something with this title!) in 1798 called "Adams and Liberty" ends such (to the tune of the Star Spangled Banner):

Let Fame to the world sound America's voice;
No intrigues can her sons from their government sever;
Her pride is her Adams; Her laws are his choice,
And shall flourish, till Liberty slumbers for ever.
Then unite heart and hand,
Like Leonidas' band,
And swear to the God of the ocean and land;
That ne'er shall the sons of Columbia* be slaves,
While the earth bears a plant, or the sea rolls its waves.

It's worth clicking the link to the entire song to see how mythology and the ancient world were wrapped into America's notions of freedom at the time. It's also just an amusing song--especially with the image given of George Washington!

*"Columbia" being America, as I guess they were still deciding whether Christopher Columbus or Amerigo Vespucci deserved more credit.