Thursday, 14 February 2013

Shakespeare Declares War on Modesty

While we may want to cherish Shakespeare's oratory and nobility, he was also the master-genius of the gross and shocking insult. In this blog will discover some of my favourite insults from the Bard.

I find that children love to explore these types of offensive language. Whether the words makes sense of not to modern ear, its worth attending to the sonic quality of the language.

And playing with these terms often helps to break down the stuffy, polite image of Shakespeare as the custodian of respectable values and the representative of a refined, civilised society.

A List of Useful Descriptive Insult Words (Adjectives)

Artless, Base-court, Bat-fowling, Bawdy, Beef-witted, Beetle-headed, Beslubbering, Boil-brained, Bootless, Churlish, Clapper-clawed, Clay-brained, Clouted, Cockered, Common-kissing, Craven, Crook-pated, Currish, Dankish, Dismal-dreaming, Dissembling, Dizzy-eyed, Dog-hearted, Dread-bolted, Droning, Earth-vexing, Elf-skinned, Errant, Fat-kidneyed, Fawning, Fen-sucked, Flap-mouthed, Fly-bitten, Fobbing, Folly-fallen, Fool-born, Frothy, Froward, Full-gorged, Gleeking, Goatish,Gorbellied, Guts-griping, Half-faced, Hasty-witted, Hedge-born, Hell-hated, Idle-headed, Ill-breeding, Ill-nurtured, Impertinent, Infectious, Jarring, Knotty-pated,Loggerheaded, Lumpish, Mammering, Mangled, Mewling, Milk-livered, Motley-minded, Onion-eyed, Paunchy, Plume-plucked, Pottle-deep, Pox-marked, Pribbling, Puking, Puny, Quailing, Rank, Reeky, Reeling-ripe, Roguish, Rough-hewn, Rude-growing, Rump-fed, Ruttish, Saucy, Shard-borne, Sheep-biting, Spleeny, Spongy,Spur-galled, Surly, Swag-bellied, Tardy-gaited, Tickle-brained, Toad-spotted. Tottering, Unchin-snouted, Unmuzzled, Vain, Venomed, Villainous, Warped, Wayward, Weather-bitten, Weedy, Yeasty.

The Despicable Thing Itself (Nouns)

Apple-john, Baggage, Barnacle, Bastard, Beast, Bladder, Bloodsucker, Boar-pig, Bugbear, Bum-bailey, Canker-blossom, Clack-dish, Clot-pole, Coward, Coxcomb, Codpiece, Death-token, Dewberry, Flap-dragon, Flax-wench, Flirt-gill, Foot-licker, Fustilarian, Giglet, Gudgeon, Haggard, Harpy, Hedge-pig, Hog, Horn-beast, Jolt-head, Knave, Lewdster, Lout, Maggot-pie, Malt-worm, Measle, Minnow, Miscreant, Mold-warp, Monster, Mumble-news, Nut-hook, Pigeon-egg, Pignut, Puttock, Rascal, Ruffian, Sow, Traitor, Turd,Villain, Wolf, Worm, Wretch.

The Turd's The Thing

We have Doctor Caius to thank for Shakespeare’s most unfortunate scatological line which occurs in The Merry Wives of Windsor:

If dere be one or two, I shall make-a the turd

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Shakespeare's Art of the Insult

Love ... and bitter insults ... in Shakespeare

If you’ve already overdosed on the cheap sentimentality of St. Valentine’s Day, it’s worth recalling that the Great Bard of Love, William Shakespeare, often portrayed love in its most bitter-sweet terms.Typically, love is a kind of sickness, or madness, leading to death.

Have you noticed how quickly romantic, unrequited love turns to death and decay (eros and thanatos) at the opening of his great comedy Twelfth Night?

If music be the food of love, play on; 
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, 
The appetite may sicken, and so die. 
That strain again! it had a dying fall: 
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound, 
That breathes upon a bank of violets, 
Stealing and giving odour! Enough; no more: 
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before. 
O spirit of love! how quick and fresh art thou, 
That, notwithstanding thy capacity 
Receiveth as the sea, nought enters there, 
Of what validity and pitch soe'er, 
But falls into abatement and low price, 
Even in a minute: so full of shapes is fancy 
That it alone is high fantastical.

But if you are really looking for a remedy for love (remedia amoris) why not try out these vile and disgusting insults?

Measure for Measure

Your bum is the greatest thing about you; so that in the beastliest sense you are Pompey the Great

O you beast, O faithless coward, O dishonest wretch. Wilt thou be made a man out of my vice

But it is certain that when he makes water his urine is congealed ice


Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain!
O vengeance! Why, what an ass am I!

King Lear

You whoreson cullionly barbermonger

Thou whoreson zed, thou unnecessary letter

Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood

False of heart, light of ear, bloody of hand, hog in sloth, fox in stealth, wolf in greediness, dog in madness, lion in prey

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited, hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave;

Henry IV Part 1

From the extremest upward of thy head to the descent and dust beneath thy foot, a most toad spotted traitor.

Thou clay-brained guts, thou knotty-pated fool, thou whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch!

That trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years?

You starvelling, you eel-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, you bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish–O for breath to utter what is like thee!-you tailor’s-yard, you sheath, you bow-case, you vile standing tuck!

Richard III

Thou lump of foul deformity!

A knot you are of damned bloodsuckers.

The Taming of the Shrew

You peasant swain! You whoreson malt-horse drudge!

The Tempest

I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed monster!

Thou liest, most ignorant monster: I am in case to
Justle a constable. Why, thou deboshed fish thou,
Was there ever man a coward that hath drunk so much
Sack as I to-day? Wilt thou tell a monstrous lie,
Being but half a fish and half a monster?

Further Reading

Shakespeare Declares War on Modesty 

Rude Shakespeare


Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

On Valentine's Day Poems and Songs

Robert Burns to Bob Dylan
Sadly for tradition, it’s quite possible that we are celebrating Valentine's Day on the wrong date, however, due to precession of equinoxes and the use of  a Gregorian calendar since 1582. Alternatively, you might celebrate fertility, in the ancient Roman tradition of Lupercalia during 13-15th February. If you forget today, then go with the Eastern Orthodox Church, which offers both the 6th and 30th July.

What's most delightful about Valentine's Day is that it is an opportunity for lovers to reach for their pens. This may not be great news for classic literature, but I think that we should celebrate the creative and the linguistic turn that is inspired by love.

Romantic clichés are not in fact the invention of the modern commercial world:

    The rose is red, the violet's blue,
    The honey's sweet, and so are you.
    Thou art my love and I am thane;
    I drew thee to my Valentine:
    The lot was cast and then I drew,
    And Fortune said it shou'd be you.

This example comes from a collection of English nursery rhymes called Gammer Gurton's Garland published in 1784.

The ‘roses are red echoes’ theme is quite common and may be traced back to Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene (1590):

    She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
    And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.

After Robert Burns’s 1794 Song ‘O my Luve's like a red, red rose’ such sentiments became the stock-in-trade of the greetings card industry.

The most famous tragic Valentine's Day reference is delivered in a speech by Ophelia in Shakespeeare’s Hamlet (1600–1):

    To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
    All in the morning betime,
    And I a maid at your window,
    To be your Valentine.
    Then up he rose, and donn'd his clothes,
    And dupp'd the chamber-door;
    Let in the maid, that out a maid
    Never departed more.
    Act IV, Scene 5

The earliest reference to Valentine's Day in English Literature comes from the medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer. In The Parlement of Foules (1382) he wrote:

    For this was on seynt Volantynys day
    Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

    For this was on Saint Valentine's Day,
    when every bird comes there to choose his mate.

One of the earliest surviving Valentines appears in a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orléans to his wife. At the time he was being held prisoner in the Tower of London, after the Battle of Agincourt:

    Je suis desja d'amour tanné
    Ma tres doulce Valentinée

The legend of the marriage of the birds is picked up by John Donne in a poem that celebrated the marriage of Lady Elizabeth and Frederick V, Elector Palatine, on Valentine's Day:

    Hayle Bishop Valentine whose day this is
    All the Ayre is thy Diocese
    And all the chirping Queristers
    And other birds ar thy parishioners
    Thou marryest every yeare
    The Lyrick Lark, and the graue whispering Doue,
    The Sparrow that neglects his life for loue,
    The houshold bird with the redd stomacher
    Thou makst the Blackbird speede as soone,
    As doth the Goldfinch, or the Halcyon
    The Husband Cock lookes out and soone is spedd
    And meets his wife, which brings her feather-bed.
    This day more cheerfully than ever shine
    This day which might inflame thy selfe old Valentine.
But I’m choosing Scottish poet Robert Burns and I am looking forward to warmer weather in June for my Valentine love inspiration:

O my Luve's like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve's like the melodie
That’s sweetly play'd in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

(Apparently Bob Dylan said that this 1794 song had been his greatest inspiration.)

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Harrowing Racial Conflict: Slavery and Property

If you have been reading Valerie Martin's Property which is an optional exam set text in Britain for many 16+ A-level students, you will be familiar with the horrors of slavery, and the problems of voice, representation and point of view in black literature.

I'm always surprised that so many teachers recoil from teaching texts that may be harrowing. After all, the postmodern ennui that pervades so much of contemporary society does far more harm by turning away from our violent heritage and the continuation of hatred, exploitation and abuse across all societies today.

If you have not come across it, I'd also strongly recommend reading Langston Hughes' How to be a Bad Writer (In Ten Easy Lesson)

1. Use all the clichés possible, such as “He had a gleam in his eye,” or ‘Her teeth were white as pearls.”

2. If you are a Negro, try very hard to write with an eye dead on the white market – use modern stereotypes of older stereotypes – big burly Negroes, criminals, low-lifers, and prostitutes.

3. Put in a lot of profanity and as many pages as possible of near pornography and you will be so modern you pre-date Pompeii in your lonely crusade toward the bestseller lists. By all means be misunderstood, unappreciated, and ahead of your time in print and out, then you can be felt-sorry-for by your own self, if not the public.

4. Never characterize characters. Just name them and then let them go for themselves. Let all of them talk the same way. If the reader hasn’t imagination enough to make something out of cardboard cut-outs, shame on him!

5. Write about China, Greence, Tibet or the Argentine pampas — anyplace you’ve never seen and know nothing about. Never write about anything you know, your home town, or your home folks, or yourself.

6. Have nothing to say, but use a great many words, particularly high-sounding words, to say it.

7. If a playwright, put into your script a lot of hand-waving and spirituals, preferably the ones everybody has heard a thousand times from Marion Anderson to the Golden Gates.

8. If a poet, rhyme June with moon as often and in as many ways as possible. Also use thee’s and thou’s and ’tis and o’er , and invert your sentences all the time. Never say, “The sun rose, bright and shining.” But rather, “Bright and shining rose the sun.’

9. Pay no attention really to the spelling or grammar or the neatness of the manuscript. And in writing letters, never sign your name so anyone can read it. A rapid scrawl will better indicate how important and how busy you are.

10. Drink as much liquor as possible and always write under the presence of alcohol. When you can’t afford alcohol yourself, or even if you can, drink on your friends, fans, and the general public.

If you are white, there are many more things I can advise in order to be a bad writer, but since this piece is for colored writers, there are some thing I know a Negro just will not do, not even for writing’s sake, so there is no use mentioning them.

-    -    -    -

If you want o know more about the history of slavery which will be highly relevant for your reading of  Valerie Martin's Property I strongly recommend a viewing of the documentary narrated by Morgan Freeman.

Speaking Out: Violence and Literature since 1688

Everywhere humanity appears to be at war with itself. Yet we spend so much of our time with our mildly pained faces averted. Often we just don't know what to do. That's why creative writing really matters. It takes facts and documents them vividly. But writers also reconstruct life. By speaking out, writers re-invent the world in words. In doing this, they create new zones of possibility for liberation.

Historically, the anti-slavery movement was very effective in using the printing press both to document and to imagine the life of a slave. For the critical reader these are often both historical works and timeless aesthetic creations. In most cases there will be limited perspectives and distortions of point of view. Voices stutter and stammer, and cover up, and style eloquently glosses, justifies and glorifies. Language offers enlightenment but also clouds judgments. There is much to be learned from reading a range of pro and anti-slavery texts. There are contradictions on both sides, and neither progress nor cruelty is ever inevitable.

As we sharpen our critical faculties as readers the hope is that we might develop a deeper awareness of our own times, and perhaps we will free ourselves in turn from the likelihood of becoming passive mind-slaves to dominant conventions and cultural codes.

The historic struggle between established white supremacies and black minorities is just one harrowing narrative of the human enslavement of thoughts and feelings on many levels. The struggle is ongoing, and what we often fail to observe is the suffering on our own doorstep - whether it is prostitution or child exploitation, homelessness or mental illness, or racism, or homophobia.

Historical texts are also often a tangle of complex codes. If you have not come across Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, I would strongly recommend reading it. Many historians take Defoe's Robinson Crusoe to be the first English novel. But Behn's Oroonoko is an earlier fiction that combines a romance-genre sense of love and adventure with a delight in the exotic otherness of the raw subject matter.

William Spengemann has curiously called it 'The Earliest American Novel'. Indeed it does lay claim to being 'the first literary narrative in English about an American colony' and 'the first literary work in English to grasp the global interactions of the modern world.' (Catherine Gallagher, p.ix, p. 3). Clearly it is appealing to start the American or English novel tradition with a book by a woman, on the subject of slavery. Gender and race oppression shared many common features, after all?

The story is at times elegant and witty; bit it is also racy and episodic. But in Behn's Oroonoko there is also a lurid, ambiguous and contradictory fascination with the grotesque, especially at the end of the story. In brief, the hero kills his wife before meeting his own violent death. The cruel, almost absurdly comic spectacle of the smoking corpse at the conclusion of the narrative is, on my reading, a brave imaginative treatment of the ideological violence at the core of this text. Books are also comedies, and Behn has something to sell. Is that what intended? We have been trained not to ask or to answer such questions!

Sample from the last pages of Aphra Behn's Oroonoko (1688):

He (grieved to death, yet pleased at her noble resolution) took her up, and embracing of her with all the passion and languishment of a dying lover, drew his knife to kill this treasure of his soul, this pleasure of his eyes; while tears trickled down his cheeks, hers were smiling with joy she should die by so noble a hand, and be sent into her own country (for that's their notion of the next world) by him she so tenderly loved, and so truly adored in this: for wives have a respect for their husbands equal to what any other people pay a deity; and when a man finds any occasion to quit his wife, if he love her, she dies by his hand; if not, he sells her, or suffers some other to kill her. It being thus, you may believe the deed was soon resolved on; and 'tis not to be doubted but the parting, the eternal leave-taking of two such lovers, so greatly born, so sensible, so beautiful, so young, and so fond, must be very moving, as the relation of it was to be afterwards.

Elegant and Noble Murder

All that love could say in such cases being ended, and all the intermitting irresolutions being adjusted, the lovely, young, and adored victim lays herself down before the sacrificer; while he, with a hand resolved, and a heart breaking within, gave the fatal stroke, first cutting her throat, and then severing her yet smiling face from that delicate body, pregnant as it was with the fruits of tenderest love. As soon as he had done, he laid the body decently on leaves and flowers, of which he made a bed, and concealed it under the same cover-lid of Nature; only her face he left yet bare to look on: but when he found she was dead, and past all retrieve, never more to bless him with her eyes and soft language, his grief swelled up to rage; he tore, he raved, he roared like some monster of the wood, calling on the loved name of Imoinda. A thousand times he turned the fatal knife that did the deed toward his own heart, with a resolution to go immediately after her; but dire revenge, which was now a thousand times more fierce in his soul than before, prevents him: and he would cry out,

"No, since I have sacrificed Imoinda to my revenge, shall I lose that glory which I have purchased so dear, as the price of the fairest, dearest, softest creature that ever Nature made? No, no!"

Then at her name grief would get the ascendant of rage, and he would lie down by her side, and water her face with showers of tears, which never were wont to fall from those eyes; and however bent he was on his intended slaughter, he had not power to stir from the sight of this dear object, now more beloved and more adored than ever.

He remained in this deplorable condition for two days, and never rose from the ground where he had made her sad sacrifice; at last rousing from her side, and accusing himself of living too long, now Imoinda was dead, and that the deaths of those barbarous enemies were deferred too long, he resolved now to finish the great work; but offering to rise, he found his strength so decayed that he swayed to and fro, like boughs assailed by contrary winds; so that he was forced to lie down again, and try to summon all his courage to his aid. He found his brains turned round, and his eyes were dizzy, and objects appeared not the same to him they were wont to do; his breath was short, and all his limbs surprised with a faintness he had never felt before. He had not eat in two days, which was one occasion of his feebleness, but excess of grief was the greatest, yet still he hoped he should never recover vigour to act his design, and lay expecting it yet six days longer; still mourning over the dead idol of his heart and striving every day to rise, but could not.

In all this time you may believe we were in no little affliction for Caesar and his wife: some were of opinion he was escaped, never to return; others thought some accident had happened to him: but however, we failed not to send out a hundred people several ways, to search for him. A party of about forty went that way he took, among whom was Tuscan, who was perfectly reconciled to Byam. They had not gone very far into the wood but they smelt an unusual smell, as of a dead body; for stinks must be very noisome that can be distinguished among such a quantity of natural sweets as every inch of that land produces: so that they concluded they should find him dead, or some body that was so; they passed on towards it, as loathsome as it was, and made such rustling among the leaves that lie thick on the ground, by continual falling, that Caesar heard he was approached: and though he had, during the space of these eight days, endeavoured to rise, but found he wanted strength, yet looking up, and seeing his pursuers, he rose, and reeled to a neighbouring tree, against which he fixed his back; and being within a dozen yards of those that advanced and saw him, he called out to them, and bid them approach no nearer, if they would be safe. So that they stood still, and hardly believing their eyes, that would persuade them that it was Caesar that spoke to 'em, so much was he altered; they asked him what he had done with his wife, for they smelt a stink that almost struck them dead. He, pointing to the dead body, sighing, cried,

"Behold her there."

They put off the flowers that covered her, with their sticks, and found she was killed, and cried out,

"O monster! that hast murdered thy wife."

Then asking him why he did so cruel a deed; he replied, he had no leisure to answer impertinent questions. "You may go back," continued he, "and tell the faithless Governor he may thank Fortune that I am breathing my last; and that my arm is to feeble to obey my heart, in what it had designed him."

But his tongue faltering, and trembling, he could scarce end what he was saying. The English, taking advantage of his weakness, cried,

 "Let us take him alive by all means."

He heard 'em; and, as if he had revived from a fainting, or a dream, he cried out,

"No, Gentlemen, you are deceived; you will find no more Caesars to be whipped; no more find a faith in me: feeble as you think me, I have strength yet left to secure me from a second indignity."

They swore all anew; and he only shook his head, and beheld them with scorn. Then they cried out "Who will venture on this single man? Will nobody?"

They stood all silent while Caesar replied, "Fatal will be the attempt to the first adventurer, let him assure himself" (and, at that word, held up his knife in a menacing posture).

"Look ye, ye faithless crew," said he, "'tis not life I seek, nor am I afraid of dying" (and at that word, cut a piece of flesh from his own throat, and threw it at 'em), "yet still I would live if I could, till I had perfected my revenge. But oh! it cannot be; I feel life gliding from my eyes and heart; and if I make not haste, I shall fall a victim to the shameful whip."

At that, he ripped up his own belly, and took his bowels and pulled 'em out, with what strength he could; while some, on their knees imploring, besought him to hold his hand. But when they saw him tottering, they cried out,

"Will none venture on him?"

A bold Englishman cried, "Yes, if he were the Devil" (taking courage when he saw him almost dead), and swearing a horrid oath for his farewell to the world, he rushed on him. Caesar with his armed hand met him so fairly as stuck him to the heart, and he fell dead at his feet. Tuscan, seeing that, cried out,

"I love thee, O Caesar! and therefore will not let thee die, if possible,"

and running to him, took him in his arms: but, at the same time, warding a blow that Caesar made at his bosom, he received it quite through his arm; and Caesar having not the strength to pluck the knife forth, though he attempted it, Tuscan neither pulled it out himself, nor suffered it to be pulled out, but came down with it sticking in his arm; and the reason he gave for it was, because the air should not get into the wound. They put their hands across, and carried Caesar between six of 'em, fainting as he was, and though they thought dead, or just dying; and they brought him to Parham, and laid him on a couch, and had the surgeon immediately to him, who dressed his wounds, and sowed up his belly, and used means to bring him to life, which they effected. We ran all to see him; and, if before we thought him so beautiful a sight, he was now so altered that his face was like a death's-head blacked over, nothing but teeth and eye-holes: for some days we suffered nobody to speak to him, but caused cordials to be poured down his throat; which sustained his life, and in six or seven days he recovered his senses: for you must know that wounds are almost to a miracle cured in the Indies; unless wounds in the legs, which they rarely ever cure.

When he was well enough to speak, we talked to him, and asked him some questions about his wife, and the reasons why he killed her; and he then told us what I have related of that resolution, and of his parting, and he besought us we would let him die, and was extremely afflicted to think it was possible he might live: he assured us, if we did not dispatch him, he would prove very fatal to a great many. We said all we could to make him live, and gave him new assurances; but he begged we would not think so poorly of him, or of his love to Imoinda, to imagine we could flatter him to life again: but the surgeon assured him he could not live, and therefore he need not fear. We were all (but Caesar) afflicted at this news, and the sight was ghastly: his discourse was sad; and the earthy smell about him was so strong that I was persuaded to leave the place for some time (being myself very sickly, and very apt to fall into fits of dangerous illness upon any extraordinary melancholy). The servants, and Trefry, and the surgeons, promised all to take what possible care they could of the life of Caesar; and I, taking boat, went with other company to Colonel Martin's, about three days' journey down the river. But I was no sooner gone than the Governor, taking Trefry, about some pretended earnest business, a day's journey up the river, having communicated his design to one Banister, a wild Irishman, and one of the council, a fellow of absolute barbarity, and fit to execute any villainy, but rich; he came up to Parham, and forcibly took Caesar, and had him carried to the same post where he was whipped; and causing him to be tied to it, and a great fire made before him, he told him he should die like a dog, as he was. Caesar replied, this was the first piece of bravery that ever Banister did, and he never spoke sense till he pronounced that word; and, if he would keep it, he would declare, in the other world, that he was the only man, of all the whites, that ever he heard speak truth. And turning to the men that had bound him, he said,

"My friends, am I to die, or to be whipped?"

And they cried, "Whipped! no, you shall not escape so well."

And then he replied, smiling, "A blessing on thee"; and assured them they need not tie him, for he would stand fixed like a rock, and endure death so as should encourage them to die;

"But, if you whip me," said he, "be sure you tie me fast."

He had learned to take tobacco; and when he was assured he should die, he desired they would give him a pipe in his mouth, ready lighted; which they did. And the executioner came, and first cut off his members, and threw them into the fire; after that, with an ill-favoured knife, they cut off his ears and his nose and burned them; he still smoked on, as if nothing had touched him; then they hacked off one of his arms, and still he bore up, and held his pipe; but at the cutting off the other arm, his head sunk, and his pipe dropped, and he gave up the ghost, without a groan or a reproach. My mother and sister were by him all the while, but not suffered to save him; so rude and wild were the rabble, and so inhuman were the justices who stood by to see the execution, who after paid dearly enough for their insolence. They cut Caesar in quarters, and sent them to several of the chief plantations: one quarter was sent to Colonel Martin, who refused it, and swore he had rather see the quarters of Banister, and the Governor himself, that those of Caesar, on his plantations; and that he could govern his negroes without terrifying and grieving them with frightful spectacles of a mangled king.

Thus died this great man, worthy of a better fate, and a more sublime wit than mine to write his praise: yet, I hope, the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his glorious name to survive all the ages, with that of the brave, the beautiful, and the constant Imoinda.

The Indian Queen - John Dryden
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of Secret Sexualities: A Sourcebook (London and New York: Routledge) and Sexual Outcasts 1750-1850 (Four Volumes. Subcultures and Subversions. Routledge). He has recently contributed a chapter on gothic sexuality published in Sex and Death in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Jolene Zigarovich (Routledge, 2013). A new book on Shakesperean Tragedy will be published in 2013.

Further reading

Aphra Behn, Oroonoko, edited by Catherine Gallagher. (Botson and New York: Bedford St Martin's, 2000)

Andrade, Susan Z. "White skin, Black masks: colonialism and the sexual politics of Oroonoko." Cultural Critique 27 (1994): 189-214.

Ballaster, Ros. "New Hystericism: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: The Body, the Text and the Feminist Critic." New Feminist Discourses: Critical Essays on Theories and Texts (1992): 283-95.

Chibka, Robert L. "" Oh! Do Not Fear a Woman's Invention": Truth, Falsehood, and Fiction in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Texas studies in literature and language (1988): 510-537.

Ferguson, Margaret W. "Juggling the categories of race, class and gender: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Women's Studies: an interdisciplinary journal 19.2 (1991): 159-181.

Ferguson, Moira. "Oroonoko: birth of a paradigm." New Literary History 23.2 (1992): 339-359.

Fogarty, Anne. "Looks that Kill: Violence and Representation in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." The Discourse of Slavery: Aphra Behn to Toni Morrison (1994): 1-17.
Gautier, Gary. "SLAVERY AND THE FASHIONING OF RACE IN" OROONOKO,"" ROBINSON CRUSOE", AND EQUIANO'S" LIFE"." The Eighteenth Century 42.2 (2001): 161-179.

Hoegberg, David E. "Caesar's Toils: Allusion and Rebellion in Oroonoko." Eighteenth-Century Fiction 7.3 (1995): 239-258.

Holmesland, Oddvar. "Aphra Behn's Oroonoko: Cultural Dialectics and the Novel." ELH 68.1 (2001): 57-79.

Houston, Beverle. "Usurpation and dismemberment: Oedipal tyranny in Oroonoko.." Literature and Psychology (1986).

Johnson, Edwin D. "Aphra Behn's" Oroonoko"." Journal of Negro History (1925): 334-342.

Kaul, Suvir. "Reading Literary Symptoms: Colonial Pathologies and the Oroonoko Fictions of Behn, Southerne, and Hawkesworth." EIGHTEENTH CENTURY LIFE-PITTSBURGH- 18 (1994): 80-80.

Kolodny, Annette, and Stephanie Athey. Subjects and citizens: Nation, race, and gender from Oroonoko to Anita Hill. Eds. Michael Moon, and Cathy N. Davidson. Duke University Press Books, 1995.

Kroll, Richard. "“Tales of Love and Gallantry”: The Politics of Oroonoko." Huntington Library Quarterly 67.4 (2004): 573-605.

Lipking, Joanna. "Confusing matters: searching the backgrounds of Oroonoko."  Aphra Behn Studies 259 (1996): 81.

MacDonald, Joyce Green. "The Disappearing African Woman: Imoinda in Oroonoko after Behn." ELH 66.1 (1999): 71-86.

Pacheco, Anita. "Royalism and Honor in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 34.3 (1994): 491-506.

Pender, Patricia. "Competing conceptions: rhetorics of representation in Aphra Behn's oroonoko." Women'Writing 8.3 (2001): 457-472.

Rivero, Albert J. "Aphra Behn's Oroonoko and the" Blank Spaces" of Colonial Fictions." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 39.3 (1999): 443-462.

Rosenthal, Laura J. "Oroonoko: reception, ideology, and narrative strategy." The Cambridge Companion to Aphra Behn 162 (2004).

Spengemann, William C. "The Earliest American Novel: Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Nineteenth-Century Fiction (1984): 384-414.
Sussman, Charlotte. "The Other Problem with Women: Reproduction and Slave Culture in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko." Rereading Aphra Behn: History, Theory, and Criticism (1993): 212-233.

Visconsi, Elliott. "A Degenerate Race: English Barbarism in Aphra Behn's Oroonoko and The Widow Ranter." ELH 69.3 (2002): 673-701.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

In Pursuit of Active Reading and Creative Writing

The Melancholy of the Abandoned Book?

Reading is far more than just mouthing the words on the page. While there is a lot to be said for silence and solitude in reading, there's also a clear benefit from group discussion and collaborative exercises. For me reading is part of a continuum of activities which have been designed to be creative and engaging for the participants.

For adults, as well as children, reading ideally involves creative and critical reflection. Reading harnesses a variety of brain functions, so we should cater for multiple learning styles in our approach to the activity. There is far more that can be done than the traditional closed-answer comprehension exercises.

These are some of the activities that work well with readers and encourage them to be more actively engaged in storybooks:

Explain what you liked or disliked about the book’s illustrations. Why not create your own illustrations, or devise a collage of cut-out images?

What colours best represent your impression of the story?

If you could add a soundtrack to the book, what would be you choice?

Many books are turned into films. Why not create a film-style poster/advertisement about your favourite book? Explain why you have illustrated the book in a particular style. This is also an opportunity to use the blurb as a guide, and to creatively modify it. Justify your choice of characters shown or incidents represented.

Do some research on the author. Books do not, and should not, exist in a vacuum! How does the book relate to the background of the author? Are there any links or influences?

Create a short improvised play based on a key turning point in life of the characters.

Create a video clip or animation improvised play based on a key turning point in the story.

Research. Find out where your favourite writers get their inspiration from.

Write a letter to the author or publisher, saying what you thought about the storybook. This is also an opportunity to ask them some difficulty WHY questions.

Other members of the class may want to research the answers to these questions.

Compose a different ending to the story.

Retelling: how would you make this book more serious and sad, or funny and ridiculous. This is an opportunity to think on at least three levels: character, story, language.

Write a short sequel (follow up) or prequel to your story, and why not experiment with a different time in history and a different geographical location?

© Dr Ian McCormick. But please feel free to share and attribute!

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)

Other Perspectives on Reading.

'I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.' ---  Groucho Marx.

‘A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.’ 
--- C.S. Lewis.

'Reading or making love, we should be able to lose ourselves in the other, into whom – to borrow Saint John's image – we are transformed: reader into writer into reader, lover into lover into lover.' --- Alberto Manguel, A Reader on Reading.

"In this major collection of his essays, Alberto Manguel, whom George Steiner has called “the Casanova of reading,” argues that the activity of reading, in its broadest sense, defines our species. “We come into the world intent on finding narrative in everything,” writes Manguel, “landscape, the skies, the faces of others, the images and words that our species create.” Reading our own lives and those of others, reading the societies we live in and those that lie beyond our borders, reading the worlds that lie between the covers of a book are the essence of A Reader on Reading.

The thirty-nine essays in this volume explore the crafts of reading and writing, the identity granted to us by literature, the far-reaching shadow of Jorge Luis Borges, to whom Manguel read as a young man, and the links between politics and books and between books and our bodies. The powers of censorship and intellectual curiosity, the art of translation, and those “numinous memory palaces we call libraries” also figure in this remarkable collection. For Manguel and his readers, words, in spite of everything, lend coherence to the world and offer us “a few safe places, as real as paper and as bracing as ink,” to grant us room and board in our passage.

Alberto Manguel is one of the world's great readers. He is a member of PEN, a Guggenheim Fellow, and an Officer of the French Order of Arts and Letters. He has been the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Prix Médicis in essays for A History of Reading, and the McKitterick Prize for his novel News from a Foreign Country Came. Among his most recent books is The Library at Night, also published by Yale University Press. His work has been translated into more than thirty languages."

Sunday, 3 February 2013

63 Tips for More Effective Memory and Recall of Quotations, Texts and Speeches

As a tutor I am often asked to help students who are having trouble with their recall of texts and quotations.

But before I outline my 63 memory-recall tips, it is worth observing that many public speakers avoid trying to memorize speeches with word-perfect duplication of the original.

Spontaneity and improvisation in speech making is far more natural and attractive than stressing-out over perfect recall.

Momentary silences focus attention and create a sense of and sincerity, which may draw more applause than a speech that sounds arrogant and excessively confident. We want pathos not parrots.

In fact, some audiences will be turned off by an artificially memorised speech that sounds like a robot in replay mode.


But if you are learning a classic text, such as a speech from Shakespeare, you will need to aim for highly accurate recall, as the audience will spot errors, and mistakes may also upset the delightful rhythm of the poetry.

Effective memory and recall involves far more that repeated re-readings of the words on the page:

Rote learning is dull; creative memory is fun.

Effective Memory Skills depend on factors such as the use of structure, selection, visualisation, comprehension, cue association, emotional impact, repetition, speaking and listening, sequence, context, and unstressed learning and recall.

Here are my Top Tips for Success ...


1. Start by rewiring your brain to this script “I AM ENJOYING MYSELF”,




2. Everyone finds memory work difficult. It is a complex process and it requires patience.

3. Gaps between learning episodes are gradually increased as the memorized items shift from being short term to finding an anchor in the long term memory (LTM)

4. Success needs to be paced in small steps, not giant leaps.

5. You will need to take short rests in-between your 20 minute learning sessions.

6. Also ensure that you take longer breaks after 2 hours of work.

7. Avoid distractions that would affect your concentration

8. Actively remove any temptations away from your work


9. Generally, 6-8 hours of work over a 16 hour period is more than enough. You need to be realistic about work input and recall outputs

10. Sleep is essential for memories to become rooted in the LTM.

11. If you are tired, learning will be very slow

12. If you are very hungry, or bloated with excess food, the effectiveness of your learning will be reduced.

13. Also avoid alcohol and excessive stimulants such as caffeine.

14. General physical and mental fitness also support learning.


15. Design a reward system as you complete different success stages in your memory-recall work. This builds motivation.


16. Divide your speech into 3-7 short sections or paragraphs

17. Design a structured workplan for learning based on this document and tailored realistically to your needs and character.

18. At this stage some people like to use a flowchart or diagram for the speech as whole.

19. Choose an appropriate colour scheme for each section

20. Select a key word for each section, and memorize the main sequence.

21. Choose a memorable image that links with the key word. Ideally this will be quite vivid or even humorous in order to create a strong link.


22. Select a key word from each sentence.

23. Choose a memorable image that links with the key word

24. These are the foundation building blocks for memory


25. Your speech text should be well-spaced with LARGE capitals for the most significant words.

26. Use colour highlights

27. Use single and double underlining if necessary.

28. But don’t make your system of visual cues too complicated


29. The words on the page must become a core part of your emotional and intellectual being.

30. This means that the words must make sense and feel right to you. Identification is essential. Become what you want to recall.

31. It’s very hard to remember what we don’t understand or relate to.


32. Some memory techniques employ the notion that your key words should be linked, logically, absurdly, or by mnemonic devices.

33. Kinetic memory: this is rather like encountering Word Objects in the course of an imaginary journey/ walk.


34. Learn one section or sequence at a time. This approach avoids the sense of overload, panic and helplessness.


35. Some people try to learn each section in a different part of the house, garden, or in the car, or the garage.

36. Or try learning a section in an odd space, such as underneath a table, in the bath, or by candlelight, or looking into a cracked mirror!

37. Sometimes it helps to have a specific odour associated with each section. Try lavender or mint, or perfume, or aftershave.

38. These contextual clues support vivid encodement and quick recall. The sense of smell activates the oldest parts of the brain, and it’s a highly underestimated technique.


39. Gradually repeat your chosen sentence with longer gaps between reading/speaking and the act of attempted recall.

40. Initially try intervals such as 1 minutes, 3 minutes, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 120 minutes, 3 hours, 6 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours.

41. Sleep also helps to fix memories in the brain. That’s why staying up all night before an exam is counter-productive.


42. If you get stuck try to use your intellectual and emotional understanding of the words in order to finish the sentence.

43. Unless you are memorizing a classic text you do not need to be word perfect every time.


44. If you get stuck during the performance, improvise. This is the mark of a great artist: spontaneous creativity!


45. Act out your speech as you learn it.

46. At first use melodrama and exaggerated gestures in order to make the experience more vivid

47. Method acting: think and feel your way into your character


48. Try associating music or other sound cues with your sections, sequences, sentences or words

49. Speaking the words is often far more effective than simply reading them silently.

50. Try recording and playback of your voice, or someone else’s

51. Experiment with serious or funny voices

52. Imagine your favourite actor reciting the speech

53. Experiment with very slow and fast pace in your recitation

54. Listen to the natural rhythm, rhyme, metre, and punctuation

55. Pay attention to assonance and alliteration as sound clues


56. Work with friends or family to support your learning

57. Establish a small study group

58. Quiz and test each other


59. Stress is natural in some degree on the day of your performance.

60. But stress may block effective recall when it turns to anxiety and panic.

61. Practise breathing exercises and meditation in order to reduce anxiety.

62. On the day, again, rewire your brain POSITIVE ACTION MODE to






63. Rote learning is dull; creative memory is fun.

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)
Further Reading

For and Against Memorizing Poetry  Here.

"Many people in Great Britain and the United States can recall elderly relatives who remembered long stretches of verse learned at school decades earlier, yet most of us were never required to recite in class. Heart Beats is the first book to examine how poetry recitation came to assume a central place in past curricular programs, and to investigate when and why the once-mandatory exercise declined. Telling the story of a lost pedagogical practice and its wide-ranging effects on two sides of the Atlantic, Catherine Robson explores how recitation altered the ordinary people who committed poems to heart, and changed the worlds in which they lived. Heart Beats begins by investigating recitation's progress within British and American public educational systems over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and weighs the factors that influenced which poems were most frequently assigned. Robson then scrutinizes the recitational fortunes of three short works that were once classroom classics: Felicia Hemans's "Casabianca," Thomas Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," and Charles Wolfe's "Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna." To conclude, the book considers W. E. Henley's "Invictus" and Rudyard Kipling's "If--," asking why the idea of the memorized poem arouses such different responses in the United States and Great Britain today. Focusing on vital connections between poems, individuals, and their communities, Heart Beats is an important study of the history and power of memorized poetry." See Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem by Catherine Robson (Princeton University Press 2012)

"What has happened to the lost art of memorising poetry? Why do we no longer feel that it is necessary to know the most enduring, beautiful poems in the English language 'by heart'? In his introduction Ted Hughes explains how we can overcome the problem by using a memory system that becomes easier the more frequently it is practised. The collected 101 poems are both personal favourites and particularly well-suited to the method Hughes demonstrates. Spanning four centuries, ranging from Shakespeare and Keats through to Auden and Heaney, By Heart offers the reader a 'mental gymnasium' in which the memory can be exercised and trained in the most pleasurable way. Some poems will be more of a challenge than others, but all will be treasured once they have become part of the memory bank." By Heart, By Ted Hughes (Faber 2012)

"The ancient Greeks, to whom a trained memory was of vital importance - as it was to everyone before the invention of printing - created an elaborate memory system, based on a technique of impressing 'places' and 'images' on the mind. Inherited and recorded by the Romans, this art of memory passed into the European tradition, to be revived, in occult form, at the Renaissance, and particularly by the strange and remarkable genius, Giordano Bruno. Such is the main theme of Frances Yates's unique and brilliant book, in the course of which she sheds light on such diverse subjects as Dante's Divine Comedy, the form of the Shakespearian theatre and the history of ancient architecture. Aside from its intrinsic fascination, The Art of Memory is an invaluable contribution to aesthetics and psychology, and to the history of philosophy, of science and of literature." The Art Of Memory, by Frances A Yates (Pimlico, 1992)

"Mary Carruthers's classic study of the training and uses of memory for a variety of purposes in European cultures during the Middle Ages has fundamentally changed the way scholars understand medieval culture. This fully revised and updated second edition considers afresh all the material and conclusions of the first. While responding to new directions in research inspired by the original, this new edition devotes much more attention to the role of trained memory in composition, whether of literature, music, architecture, or manuscript books. The new edition will reignite the debate on memory in medieval studies and, like the first, will be essential reading for scholars of history, music, the arts and literature, as well as those interested in issues of orality and literacy (anthropology), in the working and design of memory (both neuropsychology and artificial memory), and in the disciplines of meditation (religion)."  The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature) by Mary Carruthers

Dr Ian McCormick is the author of The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences
(Quibble Academic, 2013)