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The Language of Gender Violence

Oppressors deny their own agency and dehumanize their victims by using the passive voice. I want my students to recognize this deliberate strategy, and to look for hidden actors and dehumanized recpients of injustice. (I try to teach about active and passive verbs in a more lighthearted way, but I only bothered to photograph and caption sillly Lego scenes becuase I wanted more of my students to pay attention to…

Shakespeare’s Genius Is Nonsense

Just as comedians generally don’t laugh at their own jokes, Shakespeare doesn’t call too much attention to his own linguistic cleverness, which is one reason his work rewards close scrutiny. It’s not that he was being deliberately obscure or flowery — though some of his obsequious characters definitely exhibit such speech patterns. One line of inquiry into Shakespeare’s language explores how the brain processes sequences of images. As a playwright…

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T.S. Eliot: “when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.”

I remember being fascinated with and challenged by The Waste Land in high school, though it wasn’t until I read some of Eliot’s essays in college that it all sunk in. The same man who could write such clear, sensible prose when he wanted to explain could also construct densely packed, layered, gnostic verse. What he wrote in 1921 about the difficulty of communicating outside our silos of expertise is…

Old English Has a Serious Image Problem

This fall I will be teaching Shakespeare again; but thereafter, as part of a curriculum redesign, Shakespeare will be rolled into a “Shakespeare in Context” course that will also need to address Beowulf, medieval drama, Arthurian legend, Chaucer, Marlowe, etc. I intend to do this by teaching five different Shakespeare plays, focusing on one play for a week, then on some other literary work for a week, and then on…