Shakespeare Folios

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Yesterday, at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA, The English Department Creative Writing Program along with The Friends of the Lehigh Univeristy Libraries sponsored an event called Sonnet Slam!  This event featured readings of poetry, a celebration of the student literary magazine Amaranth, and the 400th year of Shakesepeare’s life and showcased a display of extraordinary importance for lovers of Shakespeare.

The event was held in the Bayer Galleria, a beautiful room, filled with special holdings in its bookshelves, an old fireplace, plenty of seating, and a very important display. Lehigh University has an extraordinary collection of early Shakespeare texts: in the case were the First Folio, the Second Folio, the Third Folio, and the Fourth Folio.

Shakespeare is one of my main areas of study, and as a Shakespearean, viewing these rare and important volumes was nearly a sacred experience.  I have loved Shakespeare since I was a teenager; I have studied his work, loved reading the plays and poetry, acted in some plays, directed a play, and taught his work.  Having been intricately connected with Shakespeare, being able to see these early texts was a moving and deeply powerful experience.

When the event began, I read two sonnets and had fun with that.  When I was younger, I had a goal to memorize all of them, but let’s say that was not entirely successful!  Then undergraduate students, a graduate student who is the advisor for the literary magazine and an excellent poet, and a professor read.  At that point, I had to leave to prepare to teach my upcoming class, but it was a wonderful and moving experience.

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Dining With Authors: A Bit Of A Mystery

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I am currently teaching a course Medieval Literature at The Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College, and I am having a great time exploring these texts. Among the texts we are studying are Beowulf, Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, and Le Morte D’Arthur. Many themes and historical circumstances connect these works, but for the purposes of this post, I am concerned with the mysterious nature of their authors.

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Unknown Author Beowulf, British Library Cotton Vitellius A.XV

Beowulf is an old English poem, probably written during the 800s or 900s A.D. and is arguably the oldest piece of English literature.  That is a scholarly debate and interesting, but it is not my main point here. The works deals with a warrior hero and is set in ancient Scandinavia.  The poet is usually called “the Beowulf poet.”  We have neither a clear idea nor evidence to indicate who he might have been.  That he was educated is clear, but was he a member of the clergy or nobility or someone else? We don’t know.

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 Howard Pyle from The Story of King Arthur and His Knights (1903)

We also do not know the identity or background of the person who was the poet of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight. An argument can be made about the approximate area of Britain from which he originated, but even that is scholarly supposition.  We simply do not know who this writer was.

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On first glance, a different situation might seem to be the case with Le Morte D’Arthur, since an author’s name is attached to the work: Sir Thomas Malory. There is, however, a problem because there were at least seven people who claimed that name at that time, and we cannot be certain which one, if any, wrote the work.  Ah the interest of the literary mystery!

Given that uncertainty surrounding the identities of these three writers, I thought I would issue an invitation to these three unknown authors to dine at a pub with me and see who arrives.  Who do you think might be there? Who might choose to sit and dine with me and discuss their writings?

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Quotations from Harper Lee And Umberto Eco

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To honor the writings of the two recently deceased great writers, Harper Lee and Umberto Eco, I wanted to offer these quotations in remembrance:

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  “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”                                                                                                      Harper Lee  To Kill A Mockingbird

  “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”                                                    Harper Lee To Kill A Mockingbird

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https://es.wikipedia.org

 “Love is wiser than wisdom.”                                                                                                        Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose

“This, in fact, is the power of the imagination,  which, combining the memory of gold with that of the mountain, can compose the idea of a golden mountain.”

                                                 Umberto Eco The Name of the Rose

 

R.I.P. Umberto Eco and Harper Lee

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The world lost two of its most important writers today, Friday February 19, 2016: Harper Lee and Umberto Eco.  I offer this small post in remembrance of their brilliance.

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https://en.wikipedia.org

Umberto Eco was a renowned professor of semiotics, the study of language and signs, as well as a best-selling novelist, and he died at the age of 84. He is probably best known outside of the academic world for his novel The Name of the Rose and the successful Hollywood film based on it, which  starred Sean Connery.  The book was, on the surface, a medieval murder mystery that was heavily influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his great detective Sherlock Holmes. It was also a multi-layered exploration of the medieval as well as the contemporary world. Eco incorporated a difficult series of puzzles and codes within the text by utilizing his knowledge of semiotics, and his labyrinthine library was based on the writing of Jorge Luis Borges.   The Name Of The Rose established Eco’s career as a novelist, which he followed up with books like Foucault’s Pendulum.   His writing entertains on  the surface and then challenges the reader to delve deeply into intellectual exploration of the world.

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https://ru.wikipedia.org

Harper Lee,  the novelist whose seminal work on racism and justice in America To Kill A Mockingbird, also died today.  She was 89 years old. Her book focused attention on racism and the lack of justice in southern small-town America as well as the attempt by her hero Atticus Finch to fight for the life of a black man accused of raping a young white woman. This book, and the enormously successful film based on her novel by the same name and starring Gregory Peck, a powerful adaptation, are both beloved and masterpieces of literature and film. In 2015, Lee released a book that can be seen as a sequel, prequel, or adaptation of To Kill a MockingbirdGo Set A Watchman.

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http://thereadersreview.org

As a reader, I have loved their writings.  I have also used To Kill A Mockingbird and The Name Of The Rose in my college classes.  Both books presented challenges to my students as well as great rewards for the studying of them.

The world has lost two powerful and deeply important writers.

Rest in Peace: Harper Lee and Umberto Eco.

 

Writing Update

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It has been a while since I have posted my writing progress, so I want to give an update on what I have been doing. I posted a while ago that I want to write a first draft of a novel every six months or so, and I am on target with that goal. I hope that the first draft I am currently writing will be between 200-250 pages, and I currently have about 40 pages written.  At the pace I am going, I should have it complete in June.  This is book two in my YA series.

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I am also very busy working on revisions of my horror novel Evil Lives After and the first book in the YA series. In both cases these revisions are minor. I believe both books are ready for submissions; I will see what kind of results I get.  In the case of the YA, I have been getting excellent feedback and reaction from readers. I have also received excellent advice on the horror novel, and I have cut some and rearranged chapter order, so I believe it moves along much faster and better than before.

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On the academic writing front, I am working on revising an article on Gothic literature as well as conducing research for a book on an obscure Irish playwright, Seamus Byrne. I hope to send the article out again soon, and I will work on drafting a chapter of the book in the summer.

I will give an update every month or so on my progress.

 

 

 

 

Take Time to Read

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“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

                                                                                  Stephen King

 

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“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it.
Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”

                                                                              William Faulkner

 

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“We live for books.”   Umberto Eco

Searching for Innocent Bystander

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I need help with a project I am currently working on.  In May 2014 I completed my dissertation From the Political to the Personal: Interrogation, Imprisonment, and Sanction In the Prison Drama of Seamus Byrne and Brendan Behan. I found this work to be extremely interesting and satisfying especially because the study of Irish Theatre in the 20th Century has been central to my academic work. One of my immediate discoveries was while an abundance of research has been done on Brendan Behan, very little has been written on Seamus Byrne.

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I am currently working on a book focused on Seamus Byrne. In it, I will examine his life and his three plays that were produced. His last play, Innocent Bystander, is presenting itself as the most mysterious. According to the site, PlayographyIreland, it was produced at the Abbey Theatre in November of 1951. Other than some small pieces of information, I have found neither a copy of the play itself nor more specific and detailed accounting of the production.

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I was wondering if any of you have any suggestions about places to hunt for this play in Ireland. I have contacted the Irish National Library, which has a manuscript copy, but the fee for them doing the copying is extremely high.

Thank you in advance for any help or suggestions you might have!

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