Monday marked the closure of my teaching career. A rounded off twenty years of teaching: 19 in the classroom with 1 year as the credit recovery coordinator.
Our school holds a retirement breakfast and each principal or supervisor says a few words about their retiring staff member before handing over a handsome plaque. My principal did say a few nice words then stumped me with an obscure Shakespeare quote. With a reputation as the resident Bardinator he must have thought I would be able to quote what play it hailed from. If I had known there was going to be a pop quiz I would have studied the night before.
WHEREOF WHAT’S PAST IS PROLOGUE; WHAT TO COME, IN YOURS AND MY DISCHARGE. —The Tempest, 2.1 (missed this one, so distracted by Ariel and Caliban)
Our vice-principal, who handles most of the disciplinary issues, decided a mild roasting was in order. He declared me the most prolific behavior referral writer among the staff, keeping him busy (isn’t this called job security?) and handed me “Webb’s Greatest Hits”—a thirteen page document of all my discipline referrals over my classroom tenure. (Isn’t this just doing my job with dedicated zeal for behavior modification?)
Post breakfast meant turning in my phone, keys, and final farewells. Being homeless, since another teacher was moving into room with gusto, I left. Basically my teaching career ended before 10 am. That’s a ponderful thought: you can take away a teacher’s room but there is always room for teachers.
I spent the rest of the day reading, napping, finding a place to put away my accumulation of classroom stuff acquired over 20 years. That’s a very different post.
Over the past week people kept asking how it felt to be retiring. I had a different reply depending on the day. After all, it wasn’t over until my grades and keys were turned in. On this last day, the reality of leaving the career I inadvertently was herded into washed over me when a former student, now our study hall supervisor found me after the breakfast and said, “I’m sad you’re leaving. I’m happy for your retirement, but sad you’re leaving.” Yes, that’s exactly how I feel as well.
As how to spend the first day of retirement? It’s my birthday—so I’ll do whatever I want. It’s Flag Day to boot!
As an AP English teacher, Shakespeare is naturally part of the curriculum and it’s expected my students adore the Avon man as much as I do. Not usually the case. As for my regular sophomores? The groans when we approach Julius Caesar can discouraging. Yet, it is often in how Shakespeare is taught that makes a difference. This is a separate topic. The main topic is the assumption that Shakespeare is for everyone and they are going to like it. That’s like saying exercising is for everyone. It should be, but face it, not everyone embraces a push-up or a run around the block. Some like the idea of exercising and others have tried it, and many let others revel in it. So it goes with Shakespeare.
Is Shakespeare for everyone? Of course he is! Absolutely!
I just wish people would stop saying it.
In Shakespeare’s day, his plays — and plays by others, and theater generally — really were for everyone. All levels of society congregated to see and hear plays in performance, to share gossip and news, and to rub literal and metaphorical elbows. Not just a source for entertainment, Shakespeare’s theater was the internet of its day.
But beginning in the 19th century, theater (and opera and symphonies) became co-opted by the upper class who wanted to keep socially — often meaning ethnically and economically — “unacceptable” people out of the theater, turning what was originally popular culture into “high” culture and using the arts as a tool of status and exclusion.
Worse, as a by-product of imperialism, Shakespeare was imposed on non-English speakers in different countries, held up as the best playwright in the world with the understanding that only by learning his plays and accepting his greatness — and, by extension, the greatness of the English language and Anglo-European culture — could one become truly civilized.
So I get it: “Shakespeare is for everyone” is an important correction, a reminder that Shakespeare’s plays were written to be popular entertainments, designed to appeal to everyone from the groundlings to the nobility.
But I worry that “Shakespeare is for everyone” nowadays feels less like a promise and more like a threat; the implication being that if you don’t like him, there’s something wrong with you..
Because the truth is, Shakespeare isn’t for everyone, and it’s disingenuous to suggest that it is. Nothing is for everyone: Personally, I don’t like opera, baseball, or video games, and in London at the turn of the 17th century, there were tens of thousands of people who undoubtedly preferred to skip another one of Shakespeare’s epics and head to the bear-baiting pits instead.
So what’s the alternative? I prefer saying “Shakespeare is for anyone who wants him.” For many reasons (i.e., the comedies aren’t funny, the language is incomprehensible, the kings and their nobles are confusing, the references archaic), Shakespeare is demonstrably not for everyone. And that’s okay. But I’ll argue till my dying day that he can and should be made available to anyone who wants him, with many different entry points for people of all levels and interests, whether they be live productions, fascinating lectures, compelling museum exhibitions, excellent films and videos, or even, dare I suggest, pop-up books. One of the first steps in appreciating Shakespeare, it seems to me, is being honest about his output, for we can only truly appreciate his greatness by being discerning enough to recognize the parts that don’t measure up, and understanding that no matter what we do, he still won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
The “B” section is booming with cliché phrases. All these are from Christine Ammer’s Have a Nice Day–No Problem: A Dictionary of Clichés.
Backseat driver: unwanted advice. In the 1920’s, those who could afford to do so, engaged a chauffer to drive them. The chauffer sat up front and the passenger or employer sat in the back and gave their driver instructions. Today the term applies to someone giving what they perceive as helpful advice, usually to the chagrin to the person doing the task. Other applicable phrases are Armchair General and Monday-Morning Quarterback.
Back to square one: back to the beginning Though it sounds like a math problem, thoughts on this one are related to games where the start is a square, as in hopscotch or in a number of board games. Putting in hard work only to start over is frustrating and this term goes with back to the drawing board when the blueprints don’t pan out.
Back to the salt mines: returning to work At one point in history, Russian prisoners during communist times were sent to work in the Siberian salt mines. While coming off of break can be tough, it probably is easier going that chipping away at rocks.
(The) ball is in your court: take your turn A current expression from sports, which is attributed in the mid 20th century which is said when one person is a)being polite b)pushing the other person to take their turn c)a strategy to get the other person to reveal their intentions through action or words.
Bald face or barefaced liar/lie: an obvious, if not bold untruth. Bare could be brazen, but it is likely is related to “beardless” which connects to only the young (not old enough to grow a beard yet) could so unashamedly tell such outrageous lies.
(To) bark up the wrong tree: waste time or effort going in the wrong direction Once when hunting racoons with dogs was prevalent, sometimes dogs, so pleased with themselves, would bound up to a tree so sure they had caught the varmint, would bark to their owners their success. Raccoons, being the clever creatures that they are often led the dogs astray by jumping to another tree or applying some other witty escape strategy. For those out there thinking they have solved the problem through what seems to be a long and productive chase, they might find themselves baying at empty branches and must go back to square one.
(To have) bats in one’s belfry: deemed slightly crazy Bats in flight fly in a more irregular than regular pattern. At one time people watching bat flight thought the irregular flight reflected how bats thought–erratically. Since then it has been proven bats have a sophisticated flying system that employs sonar which keeps them from bumping into obstacles. While belfrys are not much in current use, one might be considered batty if their thoughts or speaking seems random, which might at first seem like an insult, yet it’s actually a compliment since bats are considered sophisticated creatures.
(To) beard the lion: to take a risk If you haven’t heard this term recently, that makes two of us. Considered cliché for over a century, this phrase has Biblical roots coming from when David related how by grabbing a lion by its beard he slew him. Facing danger and vanquishing it is one thing, grabbing lions is quite another. Granted, David showed his bravery. Look how this lion’s beard–that’s up close and personal.
Beat (scare) the living daylights out of: to punish or scare someone tremendously A 19th century American colloquialism for a person’s internal organs was “daylights.” To punish or scare someone so severely that there innards would fall out is indeed severe.
Bed or roses: an implied place of comfort Metaphorically, lying in a bed of roses sounds pleasant, being surrounded by the fragrant petals. However, there are thorns to consider. And a literal bed of roses demands constant care, so this phrase implies the opposite, as in the situation is not comfortable.
When the Julius Caesar unit rolls around in sophomore English I ask what students know about the famous (or infamous) Roman. Their lack of knowledge is deplorable. Most think answering “salad creator” is going to win them points. It doesn’t. They are surprised, and some students think I’m joking when I trot out the fact the month of July is named or rather renamed for Julius Caesar.
Originally July was known as Quintilis, which was Caesar’s birth month. Quintilis means “fifth month” in Latin and in the Roman calendar that is where this month found.
Caesar was a man of action. Gaul is one example. When he wasn’t conquering countries and people he set about improving Roman life. The calendar is an example. It did need attention. The early Roman calendar had a glitch. Once every two years a month lasting 27 or 28 days would be added after February 23 to help even out accrued time. Caesar straightened this out and today’s calendar is pretty much the one he formalized 2000 years ago.
Whether July was renamed as a tribute to his leadership or as a nod to inventing the calendar requires further Googling.
Happy July. Stay cool. Watch out for stray sparkler flickers. Hydrate and wear sunscreen.
Up until teaching Shakespeare to my high school English students, my exposure and awareness of Stratford Upon Avon’s poet/playwright had been limited to the usual reference of Romeo and Juliet being a play about two teenagers who have a tragic romance. I saw it as a film in junior high. It was rated “M” for mature audiences (being a 13 year old counted as mature then). Certain scenes were embarrassing and I doubt we were mature enough to handle the morning after flesh flash of Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Plus, I had a really difficult time understanding what they were saying—were they speaking English?
That was then and this is now. At present I’m the resident Bardinator at school, being the advisor of the Students for Shakespeare Club and being known for my Shakespeare zeal. We’ve brought Shakesperience to the high school several times, I’ve helped with our own drama club’s version of Romeo and Juliet, designing sets and watching my son contribute his thespian skills, and I do my best to engage and interest students to embrace Shakespeare, nudging past groans when studying his works. My appreciation for Shakespeare has nudged me to leave my usual homebody mode to travel cross country to Washington DC to attend Folger’s week long Hamlet academy. I’ve gone beyond the usual Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar school curriculum offerings and have introduced students to Othello, Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and provided background Bard Bits.
How and why did I go from a Shakespeare illiterate to Shakespeare informed?
First of all, I had to overcome the language barrier. Reading Shakespeare wasn’t working so well. Watching well-produced film adaptations, such as Kenneth Branagh’s Henry IV helped tremendously. Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read.
Secondly, the more I taught Shakespeare (teaching the same material year after year does have an upside), the more I understood what I was teaching. And if I understand what I’m teaching I can teach the material better to my students.
Beyond teaching the plays, I began reading about the man who wrote them. Since there is so little solid biographical information about Shakespeare, I began researching and became more and more intrigued. Who was this guy and did he really write all these plays and what was theatre like in Renaissance England led to other aspects such as learning more about Queen Elizabeth I and other aspects of that time period.
And I branched out to other plays, learning all about one play before committing to another. The benefit being that Shakespeare’s language was no longer puzzling to my ear, it had become a melody of written expression.
My dream curriculum is to teach a course that is all Shakespeare. We would of course study selected plays and sonnets, but also play Bard Bingo (it’s fun, really), create Flash Mob scenes for the community (field trip!), stage fight (sword fights and Hamlet are a natural), and put on a Shakespeare night for the school—best scenes talent show. I think I would call the course, “Shakespeare Then and Now” or maybe “Shakespeare—the Undiscovered Country.” At least a dozen students would need to sign up to make it a go, then again it could become so popular two sections (or more) would be required as Shakespism transforms into Shakesthusiasm.
I can hope.
Do you suffer from Shakespism or are you a Bardinator or maybe somewhere in between.
Affect or effect? Is it all right or alright? Was it a blatant or flagrant mistake?
Using the right word correctly is part art and part science. Knowing the word’s definitions is a start.
Affect: transitive verb 1. simulate, as in “He affected a suave demeanor with his knowledge of lexicon usage.” 2. to show a liking for, as in “She affects huckleberry gelato.” 3. to tend by nature, as in “We read how the weather affects health.”4. to imitate or copy: “Spenser, in affecting the ancients, writ no language (Ben Jonson, Timber) 5.to have an influence on as in “The rain affects the tourist economy.” 6. to attack or infect, as in “Pollen can affect allergies in spring.”
Affect: noun 1. feeling or emotion, as in “The music was selected for its thrill of affect.”2. obsolete
Now that affect is squared away, let’s get effect squared away:
Effect: noun 1. a result, as in “Every negative comment has a lasting effect on the final vote.” 2. influence, as in “The child’s laughter had an immediate effect on the crowd.” 3. advantage, as in “The teacher used the rainbow as a positive effect of the rainstorm.” 4. a scientific law 5. a condition on full force, as in “The hands free cell phone policy goes into effect July 1.” 6. creating an impression, as in “The tall ceiling effects the sense of dimension.” 7. basic meaning, as in “He said he would never return, or words to that effect.”
Why are affect and effect confused and misused? For one, they sound the same and are nearly spelled the same. However, affect is a primarily a verb, while effect is primarily a noun (it can be used as a verb as in producing a result: “The change is primarily effected by the mixing of breeds.”
No wonder there is confusion. Try to remember if it is an action (affect/verb) or a noun (effect), as in “The abundant harvest affected the workers in a way of relieving them of worry for the upcoming winter, which created an lasting effect of peace and assurance.”
Affect/effect is a major contender for the confused and misused category. Here are a few other entries:
All right/Alright. All right is the correct and accepted spelling, at least formally. Some confusion may arise since words like, altogether and already are in use and accepted, which seems to clear the usage of alright—but it’s not correct. We don’t say “meese” for the plural of moose because we say geese for the plural of goose.
Blatant/Flagrant. These are not interchangeable. Blatant means noisy or fail to hide while flagrant focuses on the intended wrongdoing. While blatant is often used to mean “obvious,” this is not an accepted usage. The sentence, “Sam admitted to his blatant lie” should be changed to “Sam admitted to his flagrant lie” since flagrant refers to being offensive rather than it being unpleasantly loud. Although if Sam screamed his lie at the top of his lungs maybe it is a case for being a blatantly flagrant fib.
Capital is the official recognized city government.
Capitol is a building where the state legislature convenes.
Complement completes, as in “The added mushrooms complements the stew ingredients.”
Compliment is to praise, as in “The diner complimented the chef’s ability to create a sumptuous lamb stew by adding mushrooms.
A council is an assembly of people who deliberate, while counsel is advice. I imagine those involved in the council receive counsel regarding their decisions.
Fewer/less. Ah, the quick checkout dilemma. Fewer is used when counting things, as in “There were fewer than five pizza slices.”Less is used in reference to mass of measurable content, as in “There is less than a quart of ice cream left.” So when at the grocery store and you are looking to quickly checkout with your handful of items, select the line that has the sign stating, “15 items or fewer.”
PET PEEVE ALERT
A. Hopefully it won’t rain on Saturday’s picnic.”
B. “It’s hoped it won’t rain on Saturday’s picnic.”
Which is the correct sentence? If you chose B you would please the lexiconical folk. If you selected A, you are among the majority. While A is most frequently used, it is not considered acceptable by grammarians—not really clear on why, but as in the way of most of our language. Note:once it becomes widely used it becomes accepted, just look at how “their” is now embraced as a singular pronoun instead of a plural one. I had to finally let my teacher red ink dry on that one.
Inflammable/flammable both mean easily ignited. Nonflammable indicates not being able to catch on fire. Don’t let the “in” prefix fool you.
Irregardless—don’t go there. This is a blunder. It might be a blend of irrespective and regardless but it is nonstandard, so walk away. Stay with regardless.
UPDATE: Webster’s Dictionary has acquiesced and has recently added irregardless to the dictionary—I wonder if usage or peer pressure is the deciding factor.
Lay/Lie. Quick and easy: lay is a transitive verb and takes a direct object (noun) (think what was laid)—“He laid the letter (what) on the desk.”
Lies is an intransitive verb and does not take a direct object, as in “Auntie lies down after working in the garden.” There is no noun, direct object—lie is the stated verb of action. *Sigh* I’m still working on this one.
PET PEEVE ALERT
“I could literally scream until I am red in the face the way people pop literally into their sentences.“
Nope. Literally used as an intensive is incorrect since it means to be taken in truth. If I screamed until my face turned red I best be heading to the ER for a possible heart attack commencing, because that is a fairly intense reaction. I should be using virtually or figuratively instead. The next time you hear a sentence like, “I laughed so hard I literally thought my insides would burst” I suggest one of the above substitutes or maybe a dust pan.
And last of all is the old favorite: A principle is a statement or belief of truth and a principal is the leader of the school—think of him as your pal, who wants to impart truths while you are at school.
Hopefully this cleared up some of the confusion; irregardless if I muddled up the explanations, I literally tried so hard to make it clear that my brains nearly fried.
I wouldn’t lay, um, lie about my intended affect on your attaining greater knowledge.
[Ha—Wordpress has yet to perfect their auto correct].
This month we shall partake in enjoying learning about words that are about words or using words.
1. conlang: an artificially constructed language used by a group of speakers, as opposed to one that has naturally evolved–for example Klingon.
2. linguaphile: a language and word lover.
3. polysemy: a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation. For example, cleave means to separate and it can mean bring together. [semantics can be tricky on polysemic words]
4. sesquipededalian: given to long words.
5. epiphonema: a sentence that is an exclamation, a general or striking comment, or a succinct summary of what has previously been said.
6. contramine: a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings–let’s return to cleave, how it can mean “split” or “put together.”
7. breviloquent: speaking or expressed in a concise or terse style; brevity of speech.
8. quidnunc: a person who is eager to know the latest news and gossip; a gossip or busybody.
9. voluble: characterized by a ready and continuos flow of words.
10. lacuna: a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument.
Words about words. I love how sesquipededalian is the manifestation of its derivative. And what about quidnuc? Why doesn’t that one pop up more in more English village novels? I can’t help but be amused that breviloquent is not brief in formation. Definitely not a descriptive of Polonius. It’s also such a score to provide one exemplar twice, as in contramine and polysemy.