September 29 2022

Different sorts of stresses (Episode 9)

Different sorts of stresses and their superposition.  A lot on one line in Paradise Lost: "Is this the region, this the soil, the clime...?"  And a bit on one line in Yeats: "Vain gaiety, vain battle, vain repose."  And then the opening line of Paradise Lost: the stress in the word "first," the countervailing stress on the word "disobedience."

September 25 2022

What all poems are always about; ”We are Seven” (Episode 8)

What every poem is about: its own form.  Garden path sentences (e.g. "The old man the boat.") as showing how form is almost always announced.  Speaker vs. poet.   Dialogue that turns into one speaker taking charge. Wordsworth's "We Are Seven."

September 21 2022

More on lines

Ashbery's "Wrong Kind of Insurance" -- and how to read Ashbery.  Dactylic ending of that poem (or, yes, anapestic; it can be a matter of choice how you time it): "Each night / Is trifoliate, strange to the touch."  Then two Cummings poems. Hearing vs. seeing.  Reading vs. seeing (how the intelligence agencies dope out people who claim they don't understand a language). (NOTE TO JEFF: I learned this from Goffman's Strategic Interaction.  Text me as soon as you see this.) Brooks' "We Real Cool," and its line endings.



September 19 2022

What makes a line?

What is the most important criterion for a text's having a claim to being a poem?  What if it's not a text? what if it's oral poetry, like Homer? What authorizes us to say that there are five feet in a pentameter line, or six in a hexameter, when Milton and Homer recite their verses orally, or Shakespearean actors utter blank verse soliloquies on stage?  Are lines (unrhymed lines, anyhow) just artifacts of printing?  Hint: no.  Are they ever artifacts of printing? Hint: yes.

September 15 2022

Rhyme. And dialogue — alternation and conflict in ballads

Tennyson's "The Skipping Rope."  Dialogue: dramatic conflict and rhyme.  Ballad meter and alternation.  A note on Lyrical Ballads.

September 11 2022

Rhyme: Making the Arbitrary Make Sense

Cole Porter's "You're the Top."  Eighteenth Century bouts-rimés.  The poetic task of making arbitrary rhymes make sense. Jakobson on the poetic function of language.

September 8 2022

More on rhyme and meter

How trochaic words overlap iambic feet.  Loose onsets, strict endings.  "Brought death inTO the world"?  Or "Brought death INto the world"?  Or both? "After great pain a formal feeling comes."

September 3 2022

some more on ”b o d y” and then on Alice Notley’s ”The Comfort”

We talk about Merrill's "b o d y" and its relation to Macbeth and then the words et cetera = etc. et cetera, especially in Alice Notely's wonderful four line poem "The Comfort," with some attention to enjambment and end stop.

August 30 2022

First episode of Poetry: A Basic Course:James Merrill’s

This is actually the second class, since we had an introductory class last week.  This is a course in the close reading of poetry.   Today's class largely on James Merrill's poem b o d y, on the limits of close reading (if any), and on "Roses are red..."


Syllabus outline, to be updated periodically:




This syllabus is done by topics.  In order to remain flexible I will update weekly with specific readings.  Right now the syllabus is aspirational, and will give you a general sense of the order of topics and the issues we’ll discuss.  But if, as is likely, we don’t get to everything, we’ll have to decide what to spend less time on.


Th        Aug 25             Introduction, etc.

                                    Handout, including:

 “b o d y” (James Merrill)

“Easter Wings” (George Herbert)

“The Comfort” (Alice Notely)

Excerpt from Don Juan (Lord Byron)

“My sweet old Etcetera” (Cummings)                                  


T          Aug 30             Rhyme

                                    Cole Porter: “You’re the top”

                                    Skelton: “Tunning of Eleanor Rumming” (excerpts)

                                                  “Lullay lullay like a child”

                                    Auden:  “Lullaby”



Th        Sept  1            


T          Sept  6            

Th        Sept  8


T          Sept 13

Th        Sept 15


T          Sept 20            Meter

Th        Sept 22           


T          Sept 27            NO CLASS    

Th        Sept 29            First Paper Due                    


T          Oct  4             

Th        Oct  6             


T          Oct 11             Interplay between rhyme and meter

Th        Oct 13             NO CLASS (“Brandeis Monday”)                


T          Oct 18             NO CLASS (“Brandeis Monday”)    

Th        Oct 20            


T          Oct 25                        

Th        Oct 27             Metaphor


T          Nov  1             Second Paper Due

Th        Nov  3             More forms


T          Nov  8            

Th        Nov  9            


T          Nov 15             Revisions                                           

Th        Nov 16           


T          Nov 22           

Th        Nov 24             NO CLASS                


T          Nov 29           

Th        Dec  1              Two extremes: free verse and hip hop


T          Dec  6              Third Paper Due

May 4 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 28, Friday May 1 2020–LAST CLASS. Dolabella and Cleopatra’s dream

The last class this semester. Cleopatra and her dreams of Antony.  Her death.  Ass unpolicied vs. lass unparalleled.

May 1 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 27 April 30 2020 — The Death of Antony

We continue going through the play, to Antony's loss of himself ("the heart of loss"), his botched suicide, and his reunion with Cleopatra.

April 29 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 26, Tuesday April 28 2020: Act IV and Antony’s Extravagance

Beginning of Act IV.  More on Antony vs. "an Antony."  The latter is an object in the world, has worldly being.  The former is the extravagant, isolated subjectivity which is the tragic waywardness which is more and more where he is: in "the heart of loss." If extravagance -- waywardness, wandering outside of any world which is one's own, Binswanger's Verstiegenheit -- weren't more intense than worldliness, if things didn't get more intense as one loses everything, tragedy would be of no aesthetic interest.  A brief adumbration of the difference between daemonization (for Macbeth) and extravagance (for Antony).


April 24 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 25, Friday April 24, 2020: Act III concluded: Knowing Antony and knowing Cleoipatra

We conclude Act III, and discuss how well people know Antony, and how well Antony can know Cleopatra.  His anger at her, and his recovery from that anger.  Enobarbus' loyalty, and then his planned defection.  Enobarbus compared with Horatio, Kent, and Banquo.

April 22 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 24, Tuesday April 21, 2020: Act III continued: Antony profuse wastefulness

Antony's insistence on fighting by sea: his loss, and anger at Cleopatra

"I am so lated in the world that I..."

("Have lost my way forever.")


"Fall not a tear, I say."


This is where the play starts getting to be Shakespeare's greatest play.

April 18 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 23 Friday April 17 2020 — dramatic perspectives

We continue close reading of Act III, but then the last half hour, in response to a series of questions, is about how to interpret drama: what freedom and what constraints are there on how actors interpret? How should we interpret? Taking Dworkin's dictum that we should interpret in a way that makes the work the best possible work it can be, how does that apply to Shakespeare?  What is the meaning of canonicity?  Something like: a work that is open to lots of possibility for great interpretation. I thought that last half hour or so was interesting.

April 16 2020

Bonus aria on Wittgenstein

I am team-teaching a class on Wittgenstein this term.  The person I team-teach with, a philosopher, is too careful about how to put things to want the class podcast. The class largely consists of us disagreeing.  He thinks (like lots of Anglo-American philosophers) that Wittgenstein was sloppy and couldn't make his case in a systematic and well-organized way.  I defend Wittgenstein, and I usually do it in the spineless liberal way that I was brought up in: "Even accepting everything you say..." after which I try to say that LW is still great.  There may be a little of that in this, but in any case, in class the other day, I found myself talking non-stop for a bit, defending my Wittgenstein against his idea of Wittgenstein as a brilliant failure, and more generally against the idea of some systematized exposition of Wittgenstein, even Cavell's. I should say that in calling him my LW I am also very much indebted to a teacher of mine's LW, as you'll hear if you listen.  Anyhow, this short post is the non-stop portion of the class.

April 15 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 22 Tuesday 4/14/20 Leaders and advisors and news management

We continue reading through the play: Pompey disappoints Menas; Ventidius comments on who gets credit; Menas, Agrippa, Ventidius, and Enobarbus are represented as belonging to the same type (so that Menas's turn away from Pompey will adumbrate a very intense later scene); the love between Octavian and Octavia; her contrast with Cleopatra; Cleopatra's news management; Charmian's encouragement.  Alexandrian vs. Roman Feasts.  We're now well into Act III.

April 6 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 21 Friday 4/3/2020 Messengers

We continue with Act II.  The treaty between Pompey and the Triumvirate.  Cleopatra and the messenger who reports Antony's marriage.  I should have said that her relation to the messenger is a version of the third person imperative force of the play: she demands what can't be demanded, that the truth be different from what it is.

April 1 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 20 Tuesday 3-31-20 She did make defect perfection (Continuing Act II)

News for Pompey.  Characterization of Antony in his absence, again.  Delicate negotiations.  Octavia.  Enorbarbus predicts what Antony will do: his amazing description of Cleopatra.  Antony confirms that he'll go back to Alexandria. 

March 27 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 19 Friday 3-27-20 Act I concluded

Cleopatra's character.  Antony and Cleopatra as, essentially, the one life-affirming tragedy: the tragedy that does what comedies do.  "Strong as death is love."  Versions of the verb "to bear." Jokes at Mardian's expense.  Apostrophes to Antony.  How they are together in separation.  What I didn't quite say is that Rome and Alexandria are established as social spaces, while Antony is between them and so gone during the period of his transition from one to the other,.  More uses of the word where: Where is Antony? Where he is asking, Where is Cleopatra?

March 22 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 18 Friday 3-20-20 Antony and Cleopatra Act I continued

We continue our close reading, especially of the clash of mood or tone between characters in scenes 2 and 3, in the way Shakespeare is representing people trying to set the dominant mood of the scene: Antony and Enobarbus, and then Antony and Cleopatra.  Some attention to the extremely subtle foreshadowing and creation of perspective in those scenes.  Similarities and differences between Antony's relation to Enobarbus and his relation to Cleopatra.  

March 18 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 17. Antony and Cleopatra 2.1: the soothsayer and Cleopatra’s women

Since we're now online, and since it is Antony and Cleopatra, we're going to go through the play scene by scene.  Here we looked at the clash of tonalities between the soothsayer and Cleopatra's women, in 2.1, and also the way Antony treats the messengers from Rome.  

March 14 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 16 Being Mark Antony

First class on Zoom.  I recorded the class as though in class but I was sitting at my computer.  That means there's more me and less them, alas. 

Anyhow: we talked about being Mark Antony (cf. Being John Malkovich) and the odd phrase "an Antony."  Comparing that to the king's two bodies.  And we talked about time frames again: how Octavian is always the age he is at the beginning, and Antony and Cleopatra always the ages they are at the end.

March 11 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 15, 3-10-20 Ages of the characters — Shakespeare’s temporal preferences

After a 15 minute discussion of Covid-19 (not recorded here) we talk about the actual ages of various characters, and the ages that Shakespeare wanted them to be: not only in A & C but in Richard II1 Henry IV and the romances: the idea that you can go from the start of adulthood (Octavius) to the maturity that makes you fit for tragedy and old enough to have lived long enough (Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra) within 16-18 years or so.  Shakespeare's highly skillful stage setting in scene 1.  Too all over the place, but I am hoping that if classes aren't canceled as they're being at many of our sister institutions, we'll settle down in to focused discussion.

March 7 2020

Advanced Shakespeare 14 3/6/2020 Opening of Antony and Cleopatra

We finally really begin Antony and Cleopatra, discussing Plutarch's interest in character, and Shakespeare's, and what makes a tragic character interesting since we know what the plot will be.  Aristotle on pity and terror again: usually the protagonist or main is someone innocent or at worst someone like ourselves: not so in Macbeth.  After which we start analyzing the opening scene, with comparisons to Lear and to Hamlet as well (on the quantification of love).  Many corny jokes.

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