More fun with the Wife of Bath

Quite some time ago, somebody (Bardiac?) asked for suggestions about teaching the Wife of Bath. Here’s another one; as written, it requires familiarity with the Miller’s Tale, too, but could be adapted to work with other tales, or just with WOBP characters.

In groups of 2-3, or working alone if a student prefers that, write a dialogue between a Miller’s Tale character (Alison, John, Nicholas, Absolon, Gervase) and a WOBP character (WOB, old husband, 4th husband, 5th husband, friend Alison). Use as many lines as you can from the WOBP, to give the language an authentic flavor.

Students can choose their own topics, or use one of the following suggestions: advice (on dealing with husbands, wives, lovers); invitation to travel on a pilgrimage; debate on whether/why to re-marry, or remain unmarried; discussion of whether clerks are better than other people (better at tricks, or better as husbands/lovers).

Collect the dialogues. Pick the most legible ones, and call for volunteers (or volunteer people) to read them aloud: usually not the people who wrote them.

Then ask the class what they learn from this exercise.

It’s very interesting to see what lines and characteristics really stand out in my students’ minds.

Takes one to know one

In a coffee shop this morning, Sir John pointed out to me a very small girl, in glasses, peering at an advertising flyer on one of the tables. “A scholar in the making,” he said.

Her dad tried to get her to go with him to order something. “No!” she said, clinging to the flyer.

“She has the temperament,” I said.

Awhile later, she wanted to leave through the front door. Her dad said, “No, we’re going out the back, because our car’s in the garage.”

“Definitely a scholar,” I said to Sir John. “She doesn’t remember where the car is.”

We went out the back too. But I forgot which level we’d left the car on.

Blogging the lost

I’d like to find some things that have gone missing.

Probably Basement Cat finally got his mitts on my cubic zirconia earrings. But what in the world does he want with my Pearl Jam CDs?

Updated to add: and the billed hat I wear to keep rain off my glasses . . . where has that gone? I cleaned the coat closet, but it’s not there.

Updated again: the earrings were in Basement Cat’s room. I think I took them off one day when I was napping in there. CDs and hat are still missing.

The other Basement Cat

Basement Cat has a split personality. We have Bitey BC and Purry BC. Usually we get Bitey BC.

About half an hour ago, as I was finally about to leave for the gym, Purry BC showed up and got in my lap.

So I’m still trying to find things I can do without getting up. Can’t waste the opportunity for quality time with Purry BC.

Midterm cheers & jeers

It’s that time, isn’t it? Most of the blogosphere is complaining of Ms. Mentor’s October Exploding Head Syndrome. Yesterday I was feeling a tiny bit smug, because I planned this week (the 8th of our semester) to have no undergraduate papers coming in, and very little class prep. I can catch up on the stray papers that came in late that I haven’t got to yet, deal with a handful of stuff for the grads, do a little research work, tinker with upcoming assignments, and take a couple of deep breaths before tackling the second half of the term.

Ha ha ha. There’s this committee I’m on . . . . I’m sure you can see the punchline coming. My inbox is full of stuff to read and revise in the name of service.

It’s a lot like being overwhelmed with grading, only the writing is that of my colleagues, and every time I think I have a good grading rubric, a different set of colleagues says no no no, that rubric won’t work, re-do it.

Love you all madly, now go away and let me think about Gower and Henry IV.

Back on the literary front . . .

I’m supposed to be ordering books for my spring classes, which means I should know what texts I plan to teach. Of course I don’t know. I have a long list of things I’d like to teach, which needs to be cut down to what we can actually do in one semester, during which my students have other classes (and I have two conference papers to write and give).

In spring, I’ll be teaching Arthurian Literature to upper-division English majors. I usually avoid anthologies, and tend to prefer to teach whole works (or large chunks, such as the Arthurian section of the Brut). But I’m thinking that I would like to teach some smallish excerpts from Spenser’s Faerie Queene: Merlin’s prophecies from Book III, and the cantos from Book I in which Prince Arthur first appears.

Will this work, if I provide plot summaries for the rest of Books I and III? Or is it too in medias res for students to cope with? Sometimes they seem to prefer the whole-book approach, even if it’s something like Spenser with archaic language. Those of you who teach surveys and excerpts, please comment!


Yesterday my grad class met in the library, and looked at facsimiles of three Canterbury Tales manuscripts and Caxton’s edition. I’d made up a worksheet for them to fill out, things to look for in each book, and sometimes hints about where to find them. They worked in groups, 3 students on each book at one time, and every 15 minutes moved on to another one. I wandered around the table, taking questions, dropping hints, listening to discussion. They were enthusiastic, interested, intent.

And then we met as a big group to discuss findings, and discussion suddenly flagged. I wasn’t sure if it was just the late hour, or what. After class I asked one student, someone I’ve taught before, what she thought. She thought a lot of the problem was that they’re not used to looking at manuscripts and it’s hard to remember what you saw in each one; it’s clear when the page is in front of you, but not later on.

That made perfect sense to me. I should have remembered what that stage is like. Now I have a better idea of how to guide students in taking notes on manuscripts that will help them re-visualize what they saw.

I don’t think of myself as having a good visual memory. It’s certainly not photographic. Sometimes I retain information via placement (top of the left-hand page), but that seems to be spatial perception rather than visual re-creation; and I don’t always file information that way; and sometimes I think I have but I’m wrong. One of my brothers is red-green colorblind, and the other sees those colors but has trouble processing information involving them. Though I’m certainly not colorblind, I don’t have accurate color memory. In my graduate paleography course, I always focused on the wrong details, the ones that don’t tell you much, that appear in half-a-dozen different scripts or are a standard feature of a given script rather than the tell-tale identifier of a particular scribe.

But apparently, over time, through sheer persistence, I have trained myself to have a better memory for manuscript pages than I thought. There are a handful of manuscripts (or facsimiles thereof) whose general “look” I can summon up fairly accurately, and a few more whose pages I recognize when I see reproductions. I’m happy to be able to see how I’ve improved, because I’ve been struggling with this graduate-school-era sense of my abilities for a long time. And I’m really happy to feel I have some idea of how to teach this skill, that it is a skill that can be learned and not simply a talent that one either has or doesn’t.

s. . . l . . . o . . .w . . . .

Bloody Blackboard. I don’t remember it being such a pain in the patootie in past semesters; before sabbatical, I thought it was great. Save a tree! Zip through grading electronically! Now it’s slow as mole-asses (compared to the asses of hares, or housecats at top speed), and it is taking forever to upload files with comments, grade quizzes, and update various things.

Earlier in the day I was quite happy to set up on the couch with two laptops (the one I work on and the orange furry one who prefers to have his screens closed, and doesn’t like being typed on), and read the rest of the grads’ papers. They were mostly pretty good. And the good news is that I’m done with that set of grading. There was even a stretch of uploading comment files when Blackboard was fairly speedy. But the couch-with-laptops routine gets old when you’ve been at it for 6 hours altogether.

The bad news . . . I can’t bear to list all the stuff that remains to be done for the undergrads. Let’s put it this way: nine different items should be multiplied by 30 to 35 (though some of these are simpler than others, like updating attendance records). Two of the items involve papers; two more involve quizzes, though I’ve done 8 of the quizzes (so multiply by 25). And Blackboard is not helping me speed through this.

Speaking of housecats at top speed, Basement Cat has been behaving quite well lately. It makes for fewer good BC stories, but for much better feline relations. He and the Grammarian even spent awhile dozing near each other on the couch this afternoon; the Grammarian used to hate BC’s guts, while BC just could not leave the Grammarian alone. Oops: BC just came upstairs with the drain strainer from the laundry sink. Perhaps Sir John has a point about keeping him out of the basement. It seems sort of like unusual punishment.

There is other good news this week: I got into the workshop at Famous Library. And I had an abstract accepted for a conference Abroad next spring. The conference paper is supposed to be a section of the New and Improved Book Project. Lots of writing to come . . . if I can just get outside of the grading.