Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Themes and Digital Culture (take two)

Ad Fontes- After I pressed publish on my post “Digital Libraries” it quickly became clear that I completed this assignment incorrectly. In my first post I spoke entirely about Ad Fontes in my digital culture.

Brave New Worlds- Recently I have been tempted to take the view that the digital culture is diminishing our ability to be in awe. Take one look at buzzfeed or related pop culture sites and you see a cultural pull to that. Every title is “the craziest thing you have ever seen” or the “most shocking event.” Nothing is as shocking or crazy as advertised, but they seem to be marketing to a community hungry for wonder.

What a Piece of Work is Man- I have been thinking about this a lot in relation to the Internet phenomenon, Humans of New York. Currently he is highlighting the stories of refugees arriving in Greece. I am familiar with the refugee problem and have read a few articles detailing the situation but nothing has effected me the way this series is affecting me. I think the key to his success is highlighting the humanity of the situation. The subjects tell their own story and represent themselves and their experiences as they see fit. The emotional connection achieved is incredibly powerful. This one project has caused me to contemplate my place in humanity and the magnificence and resilience of man.

Plough Boys and Bibles- I have recently done some research on BYU Idaho’s online courses for a family member and I am incredibly impressed. I have read articles and heard the frustrations about online education and how universities relying on the digital classroom exploit their students and value profit over education. This is a sad deception for those who have the hope of the ploughboy. BYU Idaho, however is tapping into the efficiency of online education and celebrating the cost efficiency instead of exploiting it.

Typographia Conservatrix- My previous post about digital libraries has interesting implications about the function of print in our society. The loudest complaint against digital literature in my own experience and in the article is the loss of atmosphere. "Without the books, you kind of lose the feel of a library." "It's a great study place, but I don't feel like I could read here anymore." “It's not really quiet anymore like a usual library is” (Antolini).  I also feel this loss but the digital revolution marches on.

Sprezzatura- Aside from social media I have seen the digital culture increase the expectation for a person with Sprezzatura. With information on current events and virtually any field of study or interest readily available you are expected to know a lot more. Due to the ease of access, the necessity of casual delivery is paramount.

A Whole New (Brave) World

Ad Fontes: I like what Isaac said about people quoting Founding Fathers and similar figures to have a stronger ethos. I think that we often appeal to the older generations to validate our opinions.  Especially in a digital age, where so many young voices are now clamoring for attention, using quotes from the Internet that come from an authority figure can make your point really stand out.  Then again, often people misattribute quotes and get away with it because no one is willing to do the research required to verify or reject what Abraham Lincoln really said in the Gettysburg Address.

Brave New World: "Space: the final frontier."  While the imaginations of young men and women across America were sparked by those iconic words, the real frontiers could be closer to home than we think.  Through the powers of digital modeling and graphics, many projects are currently underway to map famous landmarks throughout the world and provide a digital tour of these lands, now expanding our participation in different worlds.  Through the power of the digital age, I can stroll through ruins in Greece and a re-creation of the temple in Jerusalem.  

What a Piece of Work is Man: Indeed, and the more and more we get to know humanity, the more and more polarizing it seems to be.  Although the humanists lauded the ability of the human to grow and adapt throughout their lives, we are now seeing a startling contrast between the incredibly stupid and inept and the incredibly talented and driven.  While the stories of success in the teeth of failure inspire us, we laugh at the tales of human who should probably win a Darwin Award.  How would the humanists even feel about a Darwin Award?

Ploughboys and Bibles: Forget about accessibility; everyone on the planet who has a smartphone also has a bible.  Or maybe I should say a couple hundred bibles.  There are so many different versions of the bible in our digital age that now, the issue is not not having a bible, it's not being able to decide which one to read.  Interestingly this could cause a decrease in bible study as more and more people are put off by the division of Christian thought and turn instead to easier Atheism or Agnosticism.  

Typographia Conservatrix: Print has long been a way to insure that only the best (or what the intellectually elite call the best) is released in a big way to the general public, but that is no longer true.  The big question now is how to determine what is of worth and what is not in an age when anyone and everyone can post/publish on the internet.  This will hopefully lead to a generally more discerning public who will have to be required to determine on the merits of the work its worth.  

Sprezzatura: Swag was mentioned in another post, and I think that it is relevant to a point.  The ever-shifting sands of what is popular and what is not is a form of sprezzatura, and could be more important than we think.  For example, for a large proportion of the population that is over 18 but not yet discerning of political ideologies, the "swag" or sprezzatura of a presidential candidate could be the motivating factor to vote for them.  Certainly the channels of mass media are flooded not with the concrete political opinions of candidates, but rather with the manner in which they appear to speak or act.  

Our Themes in the Present

Brave New World: Nikkita mentioned travel blogs and food blogs as an example of discovery and I would like to add the series Humans of New York to the list. Although, I would commonly classify this series as an example of "What a Piece of Work is Man," the latest profiling of refugees’ experience has really felt more like a discovery of the refugee hardship.

Ad Fontes: I've written about this before, but I feel like the audio book is a way of going back to the source, in the sense that before literacy was the standard people's source of stories came from oral retellings. Although the audiobook simply verbalizes a pre-written text, I feel like it brings back the spoken word in a world that is full of independent readers, instead of communal listeners, if that makes sense.

What a Piece of Work is Man: Nowadays, opinion blog pieces get circulated with more frequency than well researched academic work, and I think this comes from a sense that the human mind's thoughts carry more weight and power of persuasion than the truth of science or facts. The musings of the human brain are praised as the final word on a lot of current issues.

Ploughboys and Bibles: The church's recent "I'm a Mormon" campaign is a good example of individuals taking to social media to educate others about what it means to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In addition each person has the right to add their own twist to how they interpret and apply their religious beliefs on an individual basis.

Typographia Conservatix: Jazz expressed sadness over the thought that someday print books might go extinct, and I echo this sentiment while refusing to believe the printed word will go out of style. The life span of a book will always ensure that print versions stay relevant; servers wear out and links die out eventually, but we still have copies of ancient text nowadays. Nevertheless, I feel that Kindles have contributed to the preservation of not only texts, but also reading. Just like the printing press made it possible for people to own their own copies of the Bible, the kindle makes it so that someone on a budget can purchase a book for a lower price, if not free sometimes.

Sprezzatura: Dating apps, dating apps, dating apps! Just like Queen Elizabeth used the courting culture to simulate a courting scenario, dating apps use a seemingly effortless skill (like swiping right or left) to create the oh so complicated romantic/dating relationships of today.

Digital Library

The most significant connection between the Ad Fontes of the renaissance and the Ad Fontes of the digital age is the shear accessibility of the Fountain. Professor Burton’s explanation of the ‘Long Tail,’ in a previous post titled Revisiting Research Resources, is an excellent explanation of this digital phenomenon. This new medium allows us unfathomable access. NPR recently reported on Cushing Academy’s transition to an all-digital library. The shift itself is a clear indication of a change in the way we research, but the student’s reactions are also telling.

One could question if the library still exists. The books were removed, the circulation desk turned into a café, and the room is now a room of chairs and tables. The library turned into a rentable kindle. Cost and student culture influenced the discussion, but the jump from an archive of 200,000 to unspecified millions is the most significant benefit. Resources increased exponentially and in a way they will actually utilize.

“Dean of Academics Suzie Carlisle says school officials had noticed the trend. She says surveys they conducted showed students weren't turning to printed materials for research. Instead, they were immediately going online”(Antolini).

Since this transition, circulation has already increased. Digital libraries are evolving and it seems to a move less out of an interest in modernization than out of necessity. Our generation simply researches differently. It only makes sense that the research would change with us.

Antolini, Tina. "Digital School Library Leaves Book Stacks Behind." NPR. NPR, 9 Nov. 2009. Web. 30 Sept. 2015. <>.

How to Renaissance

Ad Fontes: Currently "Trending" is collecting the material culture reminiscent of past decades. The pursuit of originality and authenticity is found by a return to the artistic expressions of previous eras. It's not uncommon for popular bands to cover songs from past artists, just as Eddie Vedder and Beyonce collaborated to perform Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." There is a validation that comes from modern artistic expression when previous forms of media are referenced.
Brave New World: Although there are less places uncovered by exploration, a popular atitude of travel reverence, or the personal necessity of travel, has made the exotic of foreign world's just as popular today as it was during the renaissance. Food travel blogs, especially those that come with a bevvy of visual graphics are extremely popular. Social media accounts such as Tumblr and Pinterest display images of foreign places along with the sacredity of wanderlust - the same pursuit of finding a new place beyond the things of man.
What a Piece of Work is Man: Social media has enabled minority groups to make their view point more accessible to the masses. This could be seen in the Egyptian rebellion of the Arab Spring when Facebook was used as a tool to gain international awareness, warn protestors of police dispatches, and coordinate protests. Similarly, in places like Baltimore or Ferguson where African American protestors feel they are being unfairly represented by the media they turn to protesting on social media platforms. That these protests have been recieving recent attention, despite the size of the groups they represent, shows an increase in concern over the welfare of the individual.
Plough Boys and Bibles: Education is an indisputable right and most often there have been charitable movements to educate those who are either prevented or find themselves unable to access schooling. Recently, Emma Watsons' UN campaign #weforshe has been pushing to educate cloistered girls and women, in order to help them liberate themselves. Whereas education had been seen as a necessary process in order to establish oneself in a career, it is still seen as a basic right and the key to independence.
Typographia Conservatrix: Recent material culture, most notably smartphones, are important in modern communication which has extended beyond enabling two way conversations. Smartphones are a necessary tool of connection and knowledge because they enable the use of apps, like Facebook,  Twitter, and Instagram, where anyone who has access to such websites can have an account. This enables the possessor of a smartphone to be in communication with all contacts at once, and extending beyond that make contacts with new people.
Sprezzatura: There is a certain uncultured attitude which is striven for in digital culture. When most of a person's identity is gleaned from how they display themselves on social media, there are unspoken rules about how a person can express themselves in a socially acceptable way. By speaking to a computer, essentially a non-responsive communication partner, people are speaking simultaneously to all people and to themselves. This duality creates an identity that is idealistic and carefully maintained.

Through Which Lens Am I Seen?

A photo I took a couple weeks ago.
It was a reflection on my iPod screen;
but you wouldn't know it just
from seeing it. 

To sum Elizabethan court life into a single word, perhaps the most telling would be impression. The ideologies of noblesse oblige, of the correlation between inward and outward beauty, their obsession with courting Elizabeth and reciting poetry, the perfectly logical act of selling five hundred acres of land in exchange for a chest of clothes, the painting of their faces with lead and the plucking of hair to produce a high forehead, the values of education and athleticism, the spectacle  and the display – all of these nuances stem from a desire to present oneself as a particular sort of person.

I remember, not too long ago, a public discussion amongst my peers of the same subject. There was some discontent over the disparity between the reality of a person’s life, and what they presented of it online. One side maintained that people ought to share the mundane, the normal, and the unpleasant – because otherwise the online community received the impression of a life much better than it actually was. This subsequently created expectations that a life ought to be so surreally happy all the time, and wreaked havoc in the audience’s self-esteem and evaluation of success.

The other side maintained that negative thoughts were irritating online, and had no place in being there. That we ought to post the happy and the good in order to (1) celebrate them as a community and (2) uplift others through positive thinking. Happiness is contagious, right? Therefore: spread it. Spread it everywhere.

It is, nonetheless, true that we selectively post and share things online to create a particular image of ourselves. And we judge others based on the same. Think only to your Facebook friends: the one who posts politics, the one who posts cat pictures, the one who complains about dumb people, the one who posts three hundred selfies in a morning, etc.

Within the LDS community, there is pressure to be a particular kind of saint online. Remember in 2014, when Elder Bednar said to sweep the earth as with a flood? Or in 2007, when Elder Ballard declared, “Every disciple of Christ will be most effective and do the most good by adopting a demeanor worthy of a follower of the Savior.” Other church standards – some explicit, like keeping those belly buttons covered; some implicit, like what sort of makeup a Mormon woman might use and what sort of “look” she might wear (simple and natural, ladies) or what cut of jeans is appropriately cute – are all aimed toward creating a visual rhetoric around ourselves. It’s sort of a “this is what a Mormon looks like; if you’re a good Mormon, you’ll adjust your appearance to look the same. You’ll post these sorts of things on the internet; you’ll respond in these ways to commentators on the church.”

Think also to blogs and memes – despite many authors and many sources, most feature a very similar voice. Sharp. Wholesome. Witty. Intelligent. Conversational. Competent, but informal. We are not all that person – but we all try to pose as one.

In other words, just as Elizabethan nobles carefully crafted and presented themselves to be a certain kind of person, the digital community does the exact same thing – but in the name of individuality. Ironic, isn’t it?

Works Cited

Ballard, M. Russel. “Sharing the Gospel Using the Internet.” The Ensign July 2008. Web. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. 29 Sep 2015.

Elder Bednar’s talk can be found here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ad Fontes in the Tempest

My main focus for my first look at the theme of Ad Fontes in the Tempest was on Prospero. The plot of this story depends on Prospero, his supernatural powers, and how he uses them to bring about his justification. Our introduction to Prospero comes from the self-told narrative, detailing his fall from social power and rise into supernatural power. In Act I, Scene II, line 72, Prospero explains that he was a dignified for his unparalleled knowledge of the liberal arts. He is so consumed with his study his brother is able to overthrow him. This study however, is the beginning of his “secret study.” This secret study and his library are what give Prospero his control over Ariel, Calaban, Maranda, and the tempest.

This discovery of a long forgotten power through the study of the liberal arts parallels some of the key elements of the Ad Fontes theme. Petrarch too found a source of rhetorical power from an in depth study of the liberal arts. What interests me is the way the Tempest empowers the texts themselves. Though Prospero is the conduit of the magic, it ultimately resides in the books.

Calaban demonstrates this in his plot to overthrow Prospero the magician. In act III, scene II, line 90, Calaban emphasizes the importance of Prospero’s books to the plan, “First to posses his books, for without them he’s but a sot, as I am, not hath not one spirit to command. They all do hate him as rootedly as I. Burn but his books.”

Prospero himself reveals how necessary the books are to his success. In act V, scene 1, line 56, Prospero’s plan to relinquish is supernatural control hinges on drowning his books. This clear restriction of power to the literature allows the concept of Ad Fontes to say something interesting. I want to better explore how this treatment of primary texts informed by Petrarch’s movement to return to the sources.

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Each of our themes this semester represents a timeless human question that popular technology is quick to try to answer. Hit the jump break for more incredibly informative sentences.

A Digital View of our Themes

1. Ad Fontes: I think we are becoming increasingly interested in the past and the "sources." One example I can think of is my brother's obsession with classic hip hop music. There is plenty of hip-hop music today that he could listen to, but he chooses and actually enjoys the classic hip hop sound much better. There is something about the "classic" and "original" idea of something that makes us gravitate toward it more than what is mainstream in our culture.

2. Brave New Worlds: In a sense, I think this whole digital culture we have now is a New World. I'm taking a Digital Culture class and we're studying Digital Rhetoric by Douglas Eyman. He implies that this digital world is so new, that we don't completely know what to do with it yet and we don't fully know what the consequences are going to be in the long run. With that being said, I think our digital culture and our courage to venture into this new world is brave (especially by those who are not digital natives).

3. What A Piece of Work is Man: Yes, what a piece of work is man as displayed in their Facebook updates and tweets. On one hand I think that we are able to see the goodness in people on a wide-scale through the digital world. The Church is able to spread news and messages of our divine nature to thousands in an instant. People can share good acts of people on their pages with all their friends. This reminds me of a video that I watched on Facebook that my cousin posted about a man who gave a homeless man $100. The man followed the homeless man to see what he would do with the money, only to discover that he went to the store and bought all the other homeless people in the community food. Videos like this show us the goodness of man. Other posts (I'm sure we're all familiar with) are less positive, sprinkled with swear words (probably misspelled, too) and other trashy or unnecessary photos. I think more than ever we're exposed to the wonder that is man.

4. Plough Boys and Bibles: Like the Reformation, I think there is an increase in self-awareness and the ability to find things out on our own through the internet. It might not always be about religion, but information is now easily accessible to thousands. For example, the Church has answered a number of controversial issues on the website, a place where anyone can find it, read it, and maybe even do more research on their own. The Church welcomes members and non-members to investigate on their own and they are able to do that partly through the internet and its website.

5. Typographia Conservatix: Jacob mentioned that the printing era is dying out and I really hope it doesn't. I still would prefer a hard copy of a book over an ebook. The Church has encouraged its members to bring electronic versions of scriptures and other things to Church which is a different spin on this theme since the printing is electronic now. Which makes it even more wide-spread and even easier to use.

6. Sprezzatura: One thing that I think is still dominant in our digital culture from this theme is having the air of doing difficult things with ease, the court "swag." This shows in our digital world through the types of things people post. We want to post pictures of the interesting things in our life, to show others that we have cool life, to show our fancy activities and fancy clothes, to show that we have an air of "court swag." In our class discussion we talked about how most of our posts, if taken honestly and realistically as a reflection of our lives would be quite average. Yet, through our posts and this digital age we continue to highlight the extraordinary and interesting part of our lives to show that we are adventurous and well-learned like those in the court during the Renaissance.

Digital Era Themes

I have a few concrete ideas and practices and more general questions at this point. To my fellow classmates: please comment and share your opinion to let me know if you get my meaning or if I’m off in my line of thinking with connecting the 6 themes to today.

Here is a list of digital era practices/concepts that I think fit well within the 6 themes we are using to explore the Renaissance:

1. Ad Fontes
We continually search for “original” content in our digital realm. Whether they be originally done songs or skits on YouTube or essays and blogs from a variety of people through a variety of mediums: Twitch, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. Apart from just consuming “original” content, we are also still propagating the print tradition in our digital tradition. Such as we discussed in class. I believe there are also examples of people looking at original works (be it in print, archeological excavations, indexing, or otherwise) and learning from them and translating them in our digital age.

2. Brave New Worlds
In our opportunity for connecting with other people regardless of distance, we are in a sense destroying the “New World”. In our discussion of The Tempest the island is a magical place that is apart and different from where we live. I believe that people living in our time and age who go from day to day remaining ignorant of the world around them have this magical image in their heads of normal places. A few examples would be a romantic notion of Hawaii, Canada, Jamaica, and all of Europe. The interconnectedness of the web helps educate us and discover that we share more in common than what we have in differences with our fellow man. Very much like how the characters in Shakespeare’s play looked to colonize the new worlds before them, we our conquering ours in the pursuit of getting to know one another either personally as we live together or through our communications on the web.

3. What a Piece of Work is Man
In exploring our new worlds, we find our fellow man and we ask the questions of good and evil within ourselves. The internet shows us the very brightest of mankind with stories, pictures, and videos of loved ones, hope, courage in the face of adversity and anything you can attribute to good. There is also the flip side to that as we traverse the underbelly and decide whether this device of communication will be a boon to us or our downfall. In Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and blogs we can see how some people put thought into what they are saying and how raw human emotion may bypass that thinking and lead to regrettable actions and hurtful words/messages.

4. Plough Boys and Bibles
In the discussion about religion and its merits we have every option to explore. I saw a video the other day of how a Muslim interpreted the Koran to have faith in Christ and convert to Christianity. I see a countless list of items resulting from a google search for the question, “Why Christianity is Evil”. The world we live in is much the same in that we love and adhere to our traditions passed to us by our parents or other authority figures. Our courage to question the sources and use that to either prove or disprove what works for us is our key for enlightenment. Who’s to say we won’t have a modern day Luther who questions our status quo for typical Facebook posts and challenges us to strive for a higher purpose?

5. Typographia Conservatrix
The written word is man’s treasure for passing knowledge on. As mentioned before, our digital age allows us new ways to use the internet as a tool and we don’t have to adhere to the same limitations as the paper and pen dictate. Yet there will always be residual. Our texting habits show an ease of communication. But at what cost? Is our language doomed to delve backwards into common colloquialisms/abbreviations or is this the way forward to how we can better connect with each other? We see how links over the years become dead and we lose precious information that can feasibly last forever on our digital disks. Perhaps the eBook will become the new standard for how the majority of people will read as those of us who grew up in the “Printed Age” die out.

6. Sprezzatura

The court culture of the Renaissance sported an actual court and with it a court culture/ideal. Tying well with Humanism, these ideals called for what the privileged of the world had to offer their fellow man. In today’s era we continually talk about how great America is. Questions of our ideals and how we deal with other nations range from the politically correct to an attitude of colonialism. Rather than talk about how we as a nation should act, I feel how we approach day to day life is a reflection of Sprezzatura. Our practices of dressing up for the job interview, service projects, helping others come to my mind when I think of our own Sprezzatura that we practice today. The discussion of our nation’s education system and whether or not art, music, and the humanities should still be taught is in debate when weighed against more technical, “useful” subjects.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Assignment: Thematic Chapter Based on The Tempest

As my students begin synthesizing and writing about the six themes to which they have been introduced, I want them to shed any semblance of their writing being an exploratory response to a text, or a mere report of a researched source. It's time to begin drafting our book.

My current arrangement for the book is three sections:

  1. Part One: Six Renaissance Themes
  2. Part Two: Shakespeare's Tempest in Six Themes
  3. Part Three: Six Lenses on Our Digital Renaissance

In Part One, teams will work together to introduce their assigned theme. This must be based on direct readings of primary texts by the student authors.

Part Two will be a collective reading of Shakespeare's Tempest that uses this play as a way to demonstrate how the six themes are deeply integrated within a well known Renaissance text and therefore really represent Renaissance thought.  More on drafting this below.

Part Three will be focused on the present and the changes and opportunities open to our society through a massive change in our media. The Renaissance themes will be used as a way to talk about and critique current digital age culture.

For the moment, I want my students to focus on Part Two.

Humanism as a Source of Might in The Tempest

In Goran Stanivukovic's article on the importance of humanism within The Tempest he points out many instances that indicate that the weight of the play is not on the colonial or the imperial but rather on the individual.  Particularly interesting to me was the idea that the power wielded by Prospero came to him through the humanistic education that he received himself, and that the influence that he has over Miranda and Ferdinand has much more to do with his humanist ideals than his brute magical force.  

Interestingly, Stanivukovic views Prospero's humanism as a negative influence in the beginning of the play, pointing out how his secret studies cause him to be "enraptured, transported, and fascinated by one sort of power so that he does not care for, and loses secular power" (96).  However, I find the very idea that he would gain the magical powers that he does gain from a secular source as a sign of humanism's victories. Rather than resorting to some kind of angelic or devilish source for his powers, he instead studies the classical authors and ideas that are so prevalent in humanism.  This is a demonstration that man can be powerful without the crutch of religion, whether in a positive or negative light.  Although Prospero initially loses his kingdom because of his studies, those very studies are what allows him to eventually dominate his island and return to power as a wiser ruler, perhaps indicating that humanism, although new and unaccepted by many, will bring wiser rulers to those nations that embrace it.  

This source of power can be traced back to particular humanist scholars and philosophers.  Tiffany Grace mentions (in an article critiquing Stanivukovic's article) that the idea of "the relevance to Prospero's powers of Pico della Mirandola's distinction between demonic and natural magic" (71) is a topic long discussed by multiple scholars. Pico della Mirandola suggests that magic is a sort of power that allows humans to determine for themselves their path rather than trusting their lives to the will and might of an all-powerful God.  His idea that God should not and does not interfere directly with the lives of men is a very humanist idea, a sort of beginning of Deism.  

Although there are multiple points throughout the play that emphasize humanism, I think that the concept of humanism as a source of might rather than religious affinity or God is an especially important point to consider in this context.  After all, if Prospero had no magical might, there would have been no Tempest at all.  

Stanivukovic, Goran. "The Tempest and the Discontents of Humanism." Philogical Quarterly 85.1 (2006): 91-114.
Tiffany, Grace. "The Tempest and humanism." Shakespeare Newsletter Fall 2008: 71. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

The Tempest and the Protestant Reformation

The Tempest is said to be centered around “reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith in future generations.” However, the actuality of forgiveness and reconciliation in the lives of the characters has been debated. In a matter of words, Ariel tells Prospero, who is unafraid to put the men through misery, that his actions are not Christlike: “if you now beheld them / Your affections would become tender.” As I researched, I found that many critics believe this exchange represents a transformation within both Prospero and society. Throughout the play motives are constantly being examined, questioned, and reconfigured. The confrontations and realizations between characters speak to the drastic changes society went through during the Protestant Reformation. The reformation brought about large-scale change, but that change began within individuals—people were given the opportunity to search within themselves for answers and to decide where they stood as new systems were put in place. Communities involved in the Protestant Reformation had to find personal reconciliation amongst the chaos, weighing their religious background with modern reality. Forgiveness for mistakes made was necessary for those who disagreed with changes or realized they were not living as they could or should have. Faith in future generations, perhaps most of all, was an integral part of the reformation, as those promoting change had to believe that the religious revolution would affect the coming era for the better; in order to evolve most effectively, faith in the outcome of the reformation had to be strong. I found it interesting that the King James Bible and The Tempest were published in the same year. This play came out at a crucial time of religious reform, when audiences expected plays to contain exciting plotlines, but also be symbolic of the present.

Mabillard, Amanda. Forgiveness and Reconciliation in Shakespeare's The Tempest.Shakespeare Online. 15 Dec. 2010. < >. 

Hamlin, Hannibal. "The Bible and The Tempest." Manifold Greatness Blog. N.p., 27 July 2011. Web. 28 Sept. 2015.

What have you done, Prospero?: Humanism in The Tempest

Shakespeare's geographical irregularity extends beyond criticism of the subjugation of the people of the new world but also lends itself to the people of the old world as well. Rather than a criticism of how foreign people are treated, it approaches how different people approach humanist topics - like politics, philosophy, and art (Stanivukovic). Instead of analyzing colonalism as one people subjugating another, The Tempest can be read as the impact of ideosyncratic ideas of humanism from one culture to another.
Humanism finds it's avatar in Prospero's character. He is learned, stubbornly opinonated, and incredibly powerful. He uses these powers over everyone on his island, including the New World natives Caliban and Ariel, as well as members of the Old World. The main subject of the play is not action; although the plot of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano provides the play's comedic entertainment, most of the focus of the play is Prospero's humanist arguments.
Both Prospero and his daughter, Miranda, measure their affection by the knowledge they are willing to bestow. In the second scene of the first act, Miranda bitterly recalls that despite the "great pains" she took to "make thee speak, taught thee each hour one thing or other"(1.2.355-358), nothing could leave "any print of goodness"(1.2.354) on Caliban's character. Caliban is considered a monster because of his reception of their humanist knowledge, which he rebels against. A contrast to Caliban would be Ferdinand, who wins the chalice - Miranda - by his acceptance of Prospero's teachings, even to the point where he wishes to stay on the island indefinitely under Prospero's rule.
The major difference between Prospero's humanist ideology which he practiced in his kingdom in the Old World and the way he rules the island of the New World is that he has more power to subjugate an equally unwilling populace, which is perhaps where Shakespeare's loudest criticism of colonialism and cultural imperialism can be heard.

Stanivukovic, Goran. "The Tempest and the Discontents of Humanism." Philogical Quarterly 85.1 (2006): 91-114.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest.

Happy Chains: Sprezzatura Work Ethics.

Prying the Elizabethan culture of courtship and sprezzatura from The Tempest was not the labor of layered symbolism I thought it to be; sprezzatura lurks just beneath the surface. Of course it would. In a play where nearly every character lays claim to nobility of some sort – even Caliban, original sovereign of the isle – everything they do and say is a reflection of courtly life.

Instance the first: Ferdinand’s obsession with Miranda, and their relationship, of sorts. Their first impressions of each other are, “Oh! How beautiful” – a reflection of Castiglione’s argument of beauty being inherent of goodness. Declared Miranda, “There’s nothing ill can swell in such a temple” (1.2 Line 457). It's the classic "you look awesome; therefore you can do no wrong" attitude of the day. 

More interesting, however, is the way the different characters approach leadership and servitude.

In Act 2 Scene 1, lines 148-165, Gonzalo proposes an idyllic government reminiscent of the Garden of Eden. Not a soul would toil nor engage in commerce, the land would produce – on its own – everything necessary for life, and the people would live in a state of perfect peace. His idea is shot down rather quickly, but it demonstrates, perhaps, two ideals. One: that nobility is marked by not needing to work. In Gonzalo’s island, everyone would be idle and happy. Two: such a state of existence would be the direct result of Gonzalo’s leadership. Somehow, by doing nothing, his subjects wouldn’t have to do anything, either.

"Rich and privileged as the nobility are," wrote Ian Mortimer, "it is the gentry to own and run England. They are the five hundred or so knights with country estates, and approximately fifteen thousand other gentlemen with an income from land sufficient to guarantee they do not have to work for a living."

This is reflected in Miranda’s attitude toward Ferdinand performing regular household chores. Her implorations for him to rest become somewhat of an argument: each is convinced that the other is too dignified for menial work, and each is insistent on doing it (the chore) to alieve the other’s burden. Said Ferdinand, “I had rather crack my sinews, break my back / Than you should such dishonor undergo / While I sit lazy by” (3.1 25-27). To which Miranda replied, “It would become me / As well as it does you” (3.1 28-29). (Somewhat unrelated to Sprezzatura, this latter declaration was fascinating to me in that Miranda asserts herself as Ferdinand’s equal – in dignity, and in her capacity to perform physical labor.)

PEP - the preferred vitamins of indentured servitude! By Kellogg, for some reason.
Original Image

Ferdinand’s insistence – indeed, obsession – with serving Miranda is reminiscent, in turn, of Elizabeth’s position as the unattainable virgin. Her beauty inspires those around her to serve and protect her, quite selflessly. As noted by Ferdinand, “The mistress which I serve quickens what’s dead, / And makes my labours pleasures” (3.1 6-7). As contrasted by Caliban’s servitude, inspired in turns by fear of punishment and desire for liquor. Ferdinand seems to represent what happy servitude looks like and ought to be; Caliban, on the other hand, is nothing noble and seems to show how not to go about it.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Virginia Mason Vaughan, Alden T. Vaughan. Bloomsbury 
Arden Shakespeare: London (2014). Print. 

Mortimer, Ian. "The Gentry." The Time Traveler's Guide to Elizabethan England. Penguin (2013). Print. 

Court Marriages and Daddy Rules

In A Midsummer Night's Dream, Egeus, the father of Hermia threatens to kill his own daughter or force her to be a nun if she does not marry the man he wants her to marry. (This might suggest other "court" issues that I mentioned in my previous post where the Queen or a female ruler is more suited to rule anyway, but we won't focus on that here). This absolute rule by Kings and males was a definite aspect of Renaissance culture at the time (and fear of female rule), but probably more so in the court, where riches, land, etc were on the line. This reminded me of our class discussion about arranged marriages and how it might seem like a more reasonable choice. It makes sense that arranged marriages and parental rule is dominant in Renaissance and court culture. I found an article that cited Rudolph M. Bell, in which he says, 

"The idea of 'roles' in Renaissance marriages was clearly defined. There was no question to the fact that fathers, meaning males, should rule (Bell 220)." 

I thought this was interesting because it highlights two major ideas of male roles, in The Tempest: a father and just a dominant male in general. Prospero, for example, says that he used to be a Duke, which places high court authority upon him. His dominance is shown over characters like Ariel and his own daughter Miranda. Like Egeus, Prospero wants his daughter Miranda to marry someone that he sees fit to marry her, for financial and political purposes that would most benefit his "court." In the play, Prospero puts Miranda to sleep by simply using magic, which can suggest this absolute fact that a father rules. I also think that because Prospero acts as a Kingly figure in the play, his dominance over female characters represents a prominent aspect of court culture and marriage within the court. 

Bell, Rudolph M. How to Do It: Guides to Good Living for Renaissance Italians. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999

Mine! Mine! Mine!

There are several concepts in The Tempest that fit in our theme of “Brave New World”: There is the setting of an undiscovered island in which the entire play occurs, there’s the history of the island and its many rulers, the concept of other-worldliness/spectacle from all groups of characters in the play, and pure wonder.

Isaac Lyman in his Brave New World post put it best, “Shakespeare writes a play set in Cyprus: no magic. Shakespeare writes a play set in Messina: no magic. Shakespeare writes a play set on a Mediterranean island: magic. (?)” This new world that Shakespeare and his fellow countrymen had learned of had this magic to it because of it being unknown. All reports about the new world came from stories from the Captains and crew of ships that had made the journey. As we discussed in class, a few details of these stories may have been exaggerated due to human error and the natural state of storytelling.

In the play Act V scene I has the best example of the wonder and other-worldliness experienced by all groups of the play. Miranda says, “O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in't!” She says this in response for seeing the whole group of people that had been in the shipwreck. They react in kind to her by Alonso asking Ferdinand, “What is this maid with whom thou wast at play? Your eld'st acquaintance cannot be three hours: Is she the goddess that hath sever'd us, And brought us thus together?” Of course not all new encounters were all in good terms. Caliban as he meets Trinculo and Stephano is at first a confused scene. It ends somewhat well when Caliban gets a drink and trades his current master for another.

The island had been ruled first by Sycorax Caliban’s mother. She was defeated by Prospero and he rules the island. In the play the idea of gaining new dominions and freedom is presented at several lengths. Prospero’s own banishment was the result of this ambition by his brother. The kings own followers think of thoughts of killing the king himself in order to gain land back home. Stephano gains a vision of being ruler when Caliban suggests to him to kill Prospero. Even in a moment when Gonzalo is trying to console Alonso, he imagines a Utopia on the island with him as ruler.

Despite all the wonder and imagination of dominion that the newcomers to this island portray. There is always an idea of home that is apart from the island. Stephano when he meets Caliban even remarks how if they were in London how things would be different.

Works Cited

Mabillard, Amanda. "Miranda" Shakespeare Online. 2000. 27/September/2015< >.

Lyman, Isaac. “Barbaric (read: brave), Ancient (read: new) Islands (read: worlds)” Website Blog. eRenaissance project blog. Gideon. September 8, 2015. Web. September 27, 2015.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Yin & Yang of Human Nature

For years The Tempest was seen as the closing masterpiece of Shakespeare’s career as a playwright, and some critics have looked at it through a postcolonial lens. The problematic relationships Prospero has with Ariel, Caliban, and Miranda have raised questions about the political and social dynamics of colonizers vs. colonized. 

When scholar Robert B. Pierce originally critiqued The Tempest he expressed a sympathetic view toward Miranda and Prospero. Yet the development of academic discourse on Shakespeare’s final play, most specifically the New Historical and anti-colonial readings, forced him to re-evaluate his original sympathetic reading. Pierce’s conflicted understanding of The Tempest lead him to the conclusion that we need to redefine the way we understand the meaning of the play.Rather than rejecting one reading over the other, he accepts both as valuable and necessary to his understanding of the play. Prospero and Miranda’s exile is worthy of sympathy, but at the same time the colonist relationships that permeate the work give rise to a less than friendly view of Prospero and Miranda. 

These two ideas may seem difficult to reconcile, but we don’t have to. Prospero can be both a victim and a perpetrator of the evil that exists in his world. With Prospero as a character that embraces both the virtuous and questionable aspects of human nature I realized that while the "Brave New World" theme is easily identifiable in Shakespeare's The Tempest, our theme of "What a Piece of Work is Man" also emerges as a necessary companion. If Prospero is both a victim and a perpetuator then we are forced to ask ourselves how characters like Caliban or Miranda may likewise be the embodiment of seemingly opposite  characteristics. 

Works Cited: Pierce, Robert B. "Understanding "The Tempest"" New Literary History 30.2, Cultural Inquiries (1999): 373-88. JSTOR. Web. 27 Sept., 2015. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sprezzatura through Poetry: Wooing an Aging Elizabeth.

One of the courtiers of Elizabeth's court was Phillip Sidney, a contemporary of Walter Raleigh.  The Renaissance was a period of flowering romantic poetry, often used to prove the sprezzatura and skill of courtiers.  Philip Sidney, a Renaissance poet during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, wrote two very famous romantic poems; New Arcadia and Astrophil and Stella.  Astrophil, or “lover of stars” and Stella, whose name is Latin for star, are the names of the two main characters in his later poem.  Astrophil vainly attempts to pursue the love of Stella, who is married, chaste, and aloof throughout the work. This is a clear parallel to the position of the courtiers at the time, but furthermore Sidney uses the image of Diana or the moon to demonstrate the frustrated desires of the protagonist and the impossibility of the consummation of his love.

This forbidden love was a common theme during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who was often characterized indirectly as the object of the affections rendered in the poem.  Philip Sidney, being a noble in the court as well as a poet used Stella as a representation of Elizabeth, “a virgin queen, who, although of an age to be the young courtier's mother, must in the prevailing pageantry of the day be routinely "courted" as a Petrarchan or Neoplatonic beloved.”  Her image was by necessity ever-desirable, but politically and socially unattainable, which is reflected in the mythological imagery.

Elizabeth was shrewd in her continuing to be a virginal monarch, because through this position she was able to manipulate and control most of her European allies. However, as her age caught up to her and more and more the praises to her were hollow, one begins to wonder when the sprezzatura ought to stop. Raleigh wrote a similar poem about The Ocean/Water/Walter and Cynthia/Diana/Elizabeth, alluding to his supposed desire for the Queen despite his secret marriage to Elizabeth Throckmorton. This poem and Sidney's demonstrate how "men in the royal circle were to think of themselves" that is, as dispensers of love and lavishment without any reciprocation.

Dees, Jerome.  “Sidney Newsletter and Review”, review of Of Chastity and Power: Elizabethan Literature and the Unmarried Queen, by Philippa Berry.  London and New York; Routledge, 1989.

Princes and Princely Culture: 1450-1650 edited by Martin Gosman, Alasdair James Macdonald, A. Alasdair A. MacDonald, Arie Johan Vanderjagt  2005. Web. 9/23/2015

The Foodstuff of Dreams

Ever had a dream that you ate a delicious meal, and then you woke up starving? What about a dream that you had to pee but couldn't find a bathroom? Let me reassure you that these dreams are part of the universal human experience.

Feeling Dandy

Msr. Bembo: "I cannot see, when he is well drawn in years, how it will stand well with him to be a lover, considering, as it hath been said the other night, love frameth not with old men, and the tricks that in young men be gallantless, courtesy, and preciseness so acceptable to women, in them are mere follies and fondess to be laughed at, and purchase him that them hatred of women and mocks of others"(Hoby 1).
Countess Nikkita: "Oh Bembo, how you do go on about being old."
Msr. Bembo: "But I am the more capable of lov-"
Countess Nikkita: "Do you hear that? I think that's someone calling me? Terribly sorry, I must go."

Oh Bembo (Or Hoby) what interesting points you make. But he does illucidate the more complicated ideas behind the practices of Renaissance court life. Selecting which mask to hide your face in public that also communicates your intents and status in society, how to court someone, which clothes to wear, how to laugh and dress and keeping up with fashion sounds completely maddening, but I want to focus on the masks in public.

Whenever members of society went places that required a mask (ie parks) they did so almost exclusively to be seen and to observe. To glean and create gossip. What was the point of the mask then? Easy parallels can be made to the modern tech renaissance, with the presentation of the self over social media. There is a right way and a wrong way to take off the mask, and although it would be difficult  to explain exactly how that is done, it's something that succesful users of social media inherently know.

I'm also including a link from the Toast which shows how women had to politely deal with the Bembo's of the Renaissance world:

Hoby, Thomas. The Courtier. Women Dropping Polite Hints in Western Art History

A Self-Made Queen

The social craft described in The Courtier seemed strikingly familiar to the social craft, though less documented, of today. The concept of Sprezzatura, in particular, caught my interest. As I made my way through the additional readings, the mentality of the courtier shed light on court culture, especially the persona of Queen Elizabeth I.

The most telling element of sprezzatura is its method of self-making. In the Courtier it comes across as a sort of vain trick. It guides you to reluctantly and casually revealing your qualities to give an air of superiority. It manipulates what your peers see and focus on in order to gain favor. Though vain, it is clearly a political tactic. It was a tactic so popular and effective that we know and use it today. From the research I have done, it seems simplistic to characterize Queen Elizabeth’s political strategy as sprezzatura, but her presentation of self and control of how she is perceived by her country derives from the same place.  

Queen Elizebeth walked a fine line as a female monarch. She commanded the job of a man while cultivating the social benefits of a virgin queen. This play and bend of gender roles is her most difficult and important moment of self making.

“I call this rather odd thought construct the "virtual gender" of Elizabeth I. "Virtual" here signifies that she has full potentiality to perform feminine roles as a wife and mother but also that it is valid for her, as sovereign, to leave these feminine roles unactualized, concentrating instead on the office, qualities, and roles of a monarch. I have found "virtual gender" to be a primary component of the rhetoric of Elizabeth's public self-representations”(Meuller 3).

The art depicting Queen Elizabeth clearly shows this claim of both genders. Iconic Images such as the one above show a woman taking up the space of a man. Her femininity is asserted just as her masculinity and dominance is asserted. The video below is a clip from a film dramatization of her life and it is an excellent example of a virgin queen claiming the leadership and loyalty of king.