Happy Birthday To Edgar Allan Poe (one day late!)

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Happy birthday to Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s greatest writers! (I am a day later, so I offer apologies.) Not only is Mr. Poe one of the most important writers of Gothic literature, in which he explored the darkness in the human soul, but also he is considered to be the father of the modern detective story. In his detective M. Dupin, Poe laid the groundwork, in terms of observation and deduction, for the great Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Among his best short stories are “The Fall of the House Of Usher”, “The Masque of The Red Death”, “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Purloined Letter.”

Equally as important as his fiction is his extraordinary poetry. My two favorites are “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven.” When reading these, please try doing it out loud. Hearing the words gives life to the rhythm of the poems.

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I first encountered Poe as a student in 8th grade. For some reason, many consider his works to be juvenile writing, but that is a complete misreading of his deeply complex work. I have studied his writing in graduate school, and I also teach his work in a variety of college courses, both at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

If you have never read his work, do yourself a favor, and read from one of the masters of writing.

Again, here’s to you Mr. Poe!

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Quotations From Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream–A Play That Has Had An Enormous Impact On Me

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William Shakespeare has had a very large influence on my life. I have loved his work since the first time I saw this play as a 16 year old. It was performed by a traveling professional company at Lafayette College in Easton, PA. I was entranced by the physicality of the actors and the words of the production. Since that time, I have studied and seen as many of his plays as possible. Shakespeare was one of my areas of focus in graduate school at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare is one of my favorite plays, and I have had a life long connection with this work. I have read it, seen numerous productions, acted in it, directed it, studied it in college and graduate school, written about it, delivered a conference paper on it, and taught the play in college at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. So, you can see that I have had quite a relationship with this wonderful play.

If you ever have the opportunity to see a live production of this play, I hope you take advantage of it.

As a simple tribute to Shakespeare and this play, I offer a few quotations from A Midsummer Night’s Dream:

“Captain of our fairy band,

 Helena is here at hand,

 And the youth, mistook by me,

 Pleading for a lover’s fee.

 Shall we their fond pageant see?

 Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

                                             (Act 3. Scene 2. Lines 110-115)

 

“I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was.”

                                             (Act 4. Scene 2. Lines 203-204)

 

“If we shadows have offended,

 Think but this, and all is mended,

 That you have but slumbered here

 While this visions did appear.

 And this weak and idle theme,

 No more yielding but a dream,

 Gentles, do not reprehend.

 If you pardon, we will mend.

 And, as I am an honest Puck,

 If we have unearned luck

 Now to scrape the serpent’s tongue,

 We will make amends ere long;

 Else the Puck a liar call.

 So, good night unto you all.

 Give me your hands, if we be friends,

 And Robin shall restore amends.” (Act 5. Scene 1. Lines 418-433)

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Books That Have Influenced Me: Part Two

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(Just A Girl And Her Camera)

 

Among the many books that I have enjoyed or have had a large influence on my life are some that I discovered when I was young.  One of the most important such works is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings. This magnificent work, which is one novel, divided into three books: The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return Of The King, is not only the most important work of modern fantasy, but it is also the contemporary work of British mythology. It is, in my not so humble opinion, one of the most important novels of the 20th Century.

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Released in 3 parts from 1954 to 1955, this work has not only become an extraordinary bestseller, but also it influenced story-telling, writing, and movie making continually to the present day.

I was a young teenager when I read the book, deep in the heart of the Vietnam War era, in a time when everything was being questioned, and corruption was rampant in our society.  Actually, it has not seemed to change all that much, with the exception of the myriad of good and decent people who are trying to make positive contributions to our world.  This book captured my heart and mind immediately, and I have reread the entire book about once every ten years or so. I am due for another rereading soon.

Tolkien was a deeply important linguist, and he developed a new language—Elvish, complete with syntax, vocabulary, and an alphabet.  This work and his academic work would have made him one of the preeminent thinkers of the 20th Century. His writing of this novel puts him in the upper echelon of writers.

Almost any theme that can be considered is included in this work: life and death, good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, the consequences of the industrial age on an agrarian culture, the place of war, the importance of ordinary people as well as leaders, the hero and the quest, and the workings of the human heart are just a few that could be mentioned.  I have been concerned my entire life with the issue of good and evil and when evil must be confronted.  Tolkien, who fought in World War I and saw the horror of World War Two, examines this issue in depth.  For a world that experienced the twin terrors of those wars, Tolkien’s book becomes a place to examine how such fighting impacts people.

No matter how many times, I read this magnificent work, I never cease to be astounded by it. It is not a book intended for children, as The Hobbit is, as some have mistakenly thought. It is a work for adults and through the lens of fantasy, deals with extremely important human issues.

I am also pleased to say that I will be teaching The Lord Of The Rings in my course: Epics of Humanity at the Wescoe School–the adult evening college– of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA this coming fall semester.

I know I will read The Lord Of The Rings throughout the rest of my life.

In my next installment, I will discuss a particular play that has had huge impact on me.

The Wisdom of Walt Whitman–to Question Everything

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I have taught Walt Whitman in several classes both at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, PA and at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, in traditional and adult classes.

This excerpt is from his introduction to the 1855 First Edition of Leaves of Grass.

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(http://www.whitmanarchive.org)

Whitman was one of the greatest American poets and has been called the Bard of Democracy. He challenged the existing views of normalcy in the United States across a wide range of topics. We live in a time, perhaps even more than in the 1800s, when great pressure exists to conform to what society defines normalcy to be. I believe it is crucial for individuals to find out who they are, for what they have passions, and what they believe. With this thought in mind, I want to share this small excerpt:

“re-examine all you have been told at church or school or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem”

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Whitman shattered the conventions of his time, and his admonition to us to question everything is as important today as it was in the mid-1800s.

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Please, keep Whitman’s idea in mind, and question everything.

Who Are Some Of Your Favorite European Poets?

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As I continue this series about favorite writers, I am trying more and more to narrow each grouping. I am not sure this is narrowed enough, but since this is not an academic project, I will go with these groupings.

Here are a few poets, among the many possible, who are some  of my favorite European poets:

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William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is not only the greatest playwright, but he is also among the best poets. I have the honor this semester of teaching his poetry, and we are focusing on his sonnets, in my Renaissance Imagination class at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. If you have not read his sonnets, then I recommend them highly. He deals with intensely personal issues that resonate throughout much poetry, of life and death, aging, time, and love.

 

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney was a brilliant poet, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature and whose work ranged from the deeply personal to that which dealt with contemporary issues in Ireland, including the Troubles to his extraordinary translation of Beowulf, the one that I use when I teach the ancient English poem.

 

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Dante Alighieri

Dante is someone whom I think all people who consider themselves to be educated, formally or self-educated, should read. His work spans the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and his extraordinary The Divine Comedy, consisting of Inferno, Hell; Purgatorio, Purgatory; and Paradiso, Paradise is one of the most crucial poems ever written. This narrative poem takes the reader through Dante’s vision of the afterlife, and he is guided by the Roman poet Virgil and then his perfect woman, Beatrice.

I ask all of you–who are some of your favorite European Poets?

Who Are Some of Your Favorite Playwrights?

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It is time to continue this series about favorite writers, and I do not think I am close to finishing it! I have many ideas in mind about writers and questions about which ones you like.

For this post, I am wondering about playwrights. I have been involved with theater and drama since I was very young. I have been an actor, a director, an acting coach, and I teach drama at college, mainly at the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA.

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The first of my favorite playwrights begins with the one who is the center of literature, William Shakespeare. I have also been involved with Shakespeare most of my life. I have read his plays many times, and it is difficult to choose the ones I think most important, but I will try. My favorite Shakespeare plays are A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Henry V, and Hamlet.

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(https://en.wikipedia.org)

Arthur Miller, a modernist American playwright, worked in the 20th Century. Among his best plays are Death Of A Salesman, All My Sons, and The Crucible. His work is powerful, and he explores major themes of America and the world.

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(By Thebogsideartists – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43934304)

My third choice is Brian Friel, a playwright who lived from 1929-2015. He emerged as an Irish playwright and became one of the most well known and important writers in the world. Among his plays are Translations, Dancing At Lughnasa, and Philadelphia, Here I Come!

My question to all of you then is — who are some of your favorite playwrights?

Dining With Character, Part 3 — Revisited

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To continue this series, I wanted to invite major characters from British mythology.  As before, I am imagining what it would be like to invite a few fictional characters to a dinner and have conversation with them.

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https://en.wikipedia.org

(This is the first page of the extant original copy of Beowulf, written in Old English.)

 

Today’s guests are Beowulf, King Arthur, and Aragorn, all kings from British epics: Beowulf by an unknown poet, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. These books range from the Dark Ages, circa the mid 800s to the Middle Ages, circa 1485 to the contemporary world in the mid 1900s. These texts are all important to me, both as a reader and as a teacher, because I have used all of these books in different college classes, primarily in the Wescoe School of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA. While covering a very long historical range, they all deal with the difficulties faced by leaders especially when the fate of their kingdoms rests in their decisions and actions.

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https://commons.wikimedia.org

(King Arthur and his knights)

For this entry, we would dine again at a traditional British pub, and we would be seated around a fairly large, wooden, round table.  This seems appropriate, given the attendees.

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“Aragorn300ppx” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aragorn300ppx.png#/media/File:Aragorn300ppx.png

I would like to ask these three kings what it was like to lead soldiers actively into combat. Unlike the leaders of contemporary armies, they faced death directly with their fellow fighters. I would also ask them what they see the main responsibilities of leaders to be. I would also like to ask them if they consider fate to be real, or are they in control of their own destinies?  Given the variation in optimism and pessimism that ranges in their attitudes, their approaches to facing the difficulties of life and death would be fascinating to explore.

I would certainly be curious to see how these three warrior kings spoke with each other. I think a checking of the swords at the door might be a very good idea.

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What questions would you ask these leaders or other leaders in mythology?