Henry IV, Part Two

March 17, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

The second half of Shakespeare's Henry IV is difficult to stage, to say the least. It is an incredibly long play as well as staging scenes in thirteen different locations. It's ambitious goal was to develop characters. Shakespeare is one of the first to take an old style farce and develop these tropes into characters. Therefore, Henry IV, Part Two includes characters such as Silence, Feeble, Shadow, Mouldy and Wart. Interaction with these comedic characters further develops the characters we met in the first half of Henry IV, such as Falstaff, the Lord Chief Justice, and, of course, Henry V (Prince Harry). The names are funny, ironic, and serious, all of which adds to the development of the characters that interact with them. The New Cambridge Edition of Shakespeare's complete plays (1942) gives the following analysis of this play. They write:

“Whatever may be thought of the comparative merit of the historical scenes, there is no decline in the part of the play carried by Falstaff. The conversations between him and the Chief Justice, the Tavern riots in which Mrs. Quickly is developed from the sketch in Part I and Doll Tearsheet and Pistol are added to the group, and the scenes with Shallow and Silence in Gloucestershire are among the greatest triumphs of Shakespearean comedy. The part played by the Prince in these is a diminishing one, the dramatist clearly preparing him and us for his final withdrawal. When this occurs in the great scene following the coronation and the reconciliation with the Lord Chief Justice, the transformation of the wild prince into the hero-king is complete. This had obviously been contemplated by Shakespeare from the first and was, of course, inevitable. Yet few episodes in these plays have been more bitterly resented than the rejection of Falstaff. Much argument has been waged in attack and defense, all of which goes to show how completely and perhaps uniquely Shakespeare has succeeded in producing in his greatest comic creation the absolute illusion of reality.”

Add to that, the fact that this play relies upon slang language much more heavily than previous plays. This localized language is one more tool in the effective development of characters. For example, much of the play takes place away from royalty, in taverns, on the streets or even one poor residential home. Difficult language adds to the difficulty of reading the play and requires the curious reader to look up many terms. For example, the banter between Mistress Quickly and Falstaff is sarcastic, biting and witty. The tone is clear, regardless of whether one understands the actual terms, yet it is difficult to ascertain exactly what their insults mean without notes. Below, I have listed a few examples of curses common to the day, and no longer in use.

"Hostess [Quickly]: By my troth, this is the old fashion; you two never meet but you fall into some discord. You art both, I' good truth, as rheumatic as two dry toasts; you cannot one bear with another's confirmities. What the good-year! One must bear, and that must be you; you are the weaker vessel, as they say, the emptier vessel." (Act II, Scene iv, 60-66)   What the good year! = a common expletive

“Prince: This Doll Tearsheet should be some road.” (Act II, Scene iii, 183)  road = harlot

“Falstaff: Away, varlets! Draw, Bardolph; cut me off the villain's head. Throw the quean in the channel.” (Act II, scene i, 50-52)  varlet = dishonest or unprincipled man or someone acting as if a servant, false servant; quean = hussy; channel = gutter

“Page: Away, you scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe.” (Act II, scene i, 65-66)  scullion = servant assigned the most menial tasks in the kitchen; rampallian = villain, rascal; catastrophe = end, backside

Why did Shakespeare choose such language for the second half of Henry IV? Hal increasingly becomes kingly, and the reader sees this transformation in his language, style, education and affiliations. He no longer pals around with Falstaff. On the other hand, Falstaff continues to swagger, to boast, to command a handful of poor beggars, and to drink. This continuance of character is expected, which perhaps makes Henry V's condemnation of Falstaff all the more striking and painful. When the King banishes Falstaff, the reader hopes that Falstaff will eventually gain esteem again.

The 2013 BBC film version offered incredible cuts to make the film possible, believable and narratively tight. The writers melded scenes together in a way that made a lot of sense. Difficult language does not intrude on the film version because the actors enhanced body language and facial expressions. In addition, the movie successfully employed usual tactics such as sound, colors and set design. This play lacks the action of the other three in the series, but it was never intended to have battles and Hotspurs. Rather, this play focuses on the internal political battles between Prince Harry and Henry IV, and Henry V and Falstaff.

Thanks to all of those who discussed it in our ongoing Harrison Middleton University Film Series. I look forward to Henry V in April. For more information, email

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March 10, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Plutarch's Parallel Lives gives the reader a great amount of information about language. It is an invaluable resource when looking at language changes over a period of time. More importantly, Plutarch explains that language is affected both by cultural change, but also demonstrates how language change is based upon proximity to other cultures. I have mentioned in past blog posts how place names depend upon the current cultural story of a place. These names often overwrite previous stories of battle, heroism or tragedy. In this same vein, language itself, arrives already defined, but ever-changing. In thinking that language is static, we fall into a classic human error, until we realize that nothing is static, not even the dictionary.

Throughout Parallel Lives, Plutarch gives language depth and understanding. He offers histories of battles and tragedies that bring the words to life. I often wonder if these stories of our everyday words would have been preserved otherwise. Either way, it seems that we owe a debt to Plutarch for enriching our understanding both of the words themselves, and also the process behind language.

As one example, I wanted to place the entirety of Plutarch's description of the term “ovation”. He situates the origin of this term between Latin and Greek, but also defines the term as different from triumph. His elaboration of the difference between triumph (as after a great battle) versus ovation (as after an elocutionary win, or one without force and battle) still remains true today. We retain remnants of these ancient practices, though without ritual sacrifices. For example, standing ovations occur in present-day politics, concerts or speeches. We even use the term 'triumph' often, but rarely grant it an understanding in relation to ancient Roman and Greek history. Therefore, Plutarch's passage instructs both the term and the historical and cultural practices surrounding them.

In “Marcellus”, Plutarch writes:

“Whence Marcellus was more popular with the people in general, because he had adorned the city with beautiful objects that had all the charms of Grecian grace and symmetry; but Fabius Maximus, who neither touched nor brought away anything of this kind from Tarentum, when he had taken it, was more approved of by the elder men. He carried off the money and valuables, but forbade the statues to be moved, adding, as it is commonly related, 'Let us leave to the Tarentines these offended gods.'

They blamed Marcellus, first for placing the city in an invidious position, as it seemed now to celebrate victories and lead processions of triumph, not only over men, but also over the gods as captives; then, that he had diverted to idleness, and vain talk about curious arts and artificers, the common people, which, bred up in wars and agriculture, had never tasted of luxury and sloth, and, as Euripides said of Hercules, had been -

Rude, unrefined, only for great things good, so that now they misspent much of their time in examining and criticising trifles. And yet, notwithstanding this reprimand, Marcellus made it his glory to the Greeks themselves that he had taught his ignorant countrymen to esteem and admire the elegant and wonderful productions of Greece.

But when the envious opposed his being brought triumphant into the city, because there were some relics of the war in Sicily, and a third triumph would be looked upon with jealousy, he gave way. He triumphed upon the Alban mount, and thence entered the city in ovation, as it is called in Latin, in Greek eua; but in this ovation he was neither carried in a chariot, nor crowned with laurel, nor ushered by trumpets sounding; but went afoot with shoes on, many flutes or pipes sounding in concert, while he passed along wearing a garland of myrtle, in a peaceable aspect, exciting rather love and respect than fear.

Whence I am, by conjecture, led to think that, originally, the difference observed betwixt ovation and triumph did not depend upon the greatness of the achievements, but the manner of performing them. For they who, having fought a set battle, and slain the enemy, returned victors, led that martial, terrible triumph, and, as the ordinary custom then was in lustrating the army, adorned the arms and the soldiers with a great deal of laurel. But they who without force, by colloquy, persuasion, and reasoning, had done the business, - to these captains custom gave the honour of the unmilitiary and festive ovation. For the pipe is the badge of peace, and myrtle the plant of Venus, who more than the rest of the gods and goddesses abhors force and war.

It is called ovation, not as most think, from the Greek euasmus, because they act it with shouting and cries of eua; for so do they also have the proper triumphs. The Greeks have wrested the word to their own language, thinking that this honour, also, must have some connection with Bacchus, who in Greek has the titles of Euius and Thriambus. But the thing is otherwise. For it was the custom for commanders, in their triumph, to immolate and ox, but in their ovation, a sheep: hence they named it ovation, from the Latin ovis.”

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Snap Chatting

March 3, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Snapchat offers a fast, easy, image-driven conversation over any smartphone. This twitter-like experience allows you to add a photo, granting new dimensions to the textual content of your words. I find this mix really interesting from the standpoint of communication studies. What are the potential repercussions of a chat space like Snapchat? What type of communication is it intended for and are the users aware of different styles of communication?

For those of you unfamiliar with Snapchat, it is a phone app that allows you to snap a quick photo, and send both photo and text to a friend or group of friends. The message is entirely temporal and is expected to disappear after it has been read. The company that owns Snapchat (Snap Inc.) says, “Our products empower people to express themselves, live in the moment, learn about the world, and have fun together”. sends a message that purportedly dissolves, then it is clearly not intended for use in business meetings or heart-to-hearts. They also explicitly state that it is intended for fun. This bridging of mediums does open new potentials. But it also opens up new questions.

From its beginnings, teens have been quick to capitalize on this message board for silly notes, procrastination device and also mini-journaling. One can include a saved image in the text, or you can take a new image, giving prominence to a local eatery, travel destination, artwork or whatever you're doing right now. (I have yet to see someone vacuuming, but maybe I haven't looked hard enough). It seems obvious to me that this type of dialogue should be saved for use among your relatively close and personal friends and family. However, this is not clear to all of the users. Unfortunately, there are those who have sent messages only to have the message backfire in some way. This brings up questions of legality and audience.

Since a high percentage of Snapchat users are young, it is important that they be armed with information about communication styles and technological literacy. Despite the best intentions of Snap Inc., it is not difficult to save an image from Snapchat. Also, in real life, in real face-to-face conversation, we are often painfully aware of audience. Reactions are immediate and can be embarrassing, thrilling, hilarious, frustrating or painful. Facial features and bodily gestures grant a large amount of communication in face-to-face conversation, none of which is present in a Snapchat, obviously. Also, jokes (one of the most common forms of communication in this quickchat session) can be relatively difficult to read without the physical presence of the speaker. For example, sarcasm can be wholly missed without enough content. And finally, Snapchat is really less about chatting than about an instantaneous impression, message or emotion. Though you can respond and have some “conversation” among a series, it is not intended for lengthy discussion.

The company name clearly indicates this by the inclusion of “snap” which refers not just to snapping a photo, but also to the quick and short movement of the conversation. It should also be noted that snap can have a somewhat negative connotation in terms of conversation. Check out the following meanings supplied by Merriam-Webster;s definition of “snap”:

- to utter sharp biting words : bark out irritable or peevish retorts

- to give way suddenly under emotional stress or strain

- to undergo a sudden and rapid change (as from one condition to another)

- to break suddenly : break short or in two

In the first example, a person who utters “sharp, biting words” is not in the mindframe for conversation. I wonder, does the image enhance our ability to open our mind and understand the other person's viewpoint or words? Or does the image grab more attention than the text of a particular Snapchat thus making the words more inaccessible or devalued? Either way, a sharp tone indicates the opposite of conversation. The next three examples also offer questions about the temporality of such a medium. Snap indicates sudden and rapid, which is a style of communication, but not of conversation.

While Snap Inc. focuses on the fun aspects of their technology, users rarely restrict themselves in playing with new technologies. In fact, creativity is often encouraged, and I see no reason why experimentation should not be encouraged. I do wonder, though, how Snapchat will change (if at all) conversation styles? Or, more clearly stated, I wonder if Snapchat will more clearly elucidate our various ways of conversing. More importantly, I wonder what will happen if dissolving conversation is taken as a foundation or replacement of face-to-face discussion?

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Southwest Popular Culture Conference

February 24, 2017

Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

Last week was a busy one for me, even though the majority of it was spent in a chair. I attended the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association Conference (SWPACA). Dr. Deborah Deacon, HMU Dean and Tutor, attended with me as we both had scheduled presentations. In addition to presenting, we had a blast with the variety of topics and discussions. I just wanted to give you a hint of what they offered this year in case you too have an interest in mixing the classics with popular culture.

Though we sat for three straight days, the wheels in my brain never stopped. Many presenters make fantastic, interdisciplinary correlations. I feel that these endeavors enlighten and enrich our everyday experience of living. Our current world can feel so chaotic, and yet, I found it really interesting that in attending a diverse platform of discussions, similar threads ran through many of presentations.

Dr. Deacon and I met at a number of discussions, though she focused on art and war, while I focused on art, literature and creative writing. In these seminars, many people presented on ideas that seemed laughable on paper. Yet, in the construction of a narrative, they found some inherently complicated idea at the heart of what seems silly or esoteric. Groups discussed the Grateful Dead, Native American rights, Computer Culture, Joss Whedon, Fandom, and Harry Potter (just to name a very few of the topics).

I presented a paper about translating wheat breads into wheat-free breads. Our culture has termed this type of bread "gluten-free". I discussed the idea that by foregrounding wheat as the essential category, any other grain is thus limited to a category of lack or deficiency (insinuated by removal of something from gluten, as if gluten is the original). Dr. Deacon presented on female artists who depict the many layers of war. She focused on artists such as Nancy Spero, Shirin Neshat and Mahwish Chishty. Through the lens of food, or art, or creative writing, or zombies, or whatever, conference attendees became highly aware of current cultural rhetoric.

In her 2010 TED Talk, Neshat said: “Culture is a form of resistance...but also, culture risks to be a form of entertainment.” And I believe this is the spirit which breathes life into conferences such as SWPACA. The idea that if we think of popular culture as entertainment alone, devoid of meaning, then we risk losing an ability to analyze where we come from and who or what we are creating. Many frivolous sounding experiments, such as analyzing food or young adult literature become absolutely absorbing when placed in social and political context. In a digital world, our landscape changes quickly and this conference offers one way of navigating the chaos. I am already plotting next year's entry.....

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