Thursday, April 2, 2009

Parvum Opus 319 ~ Eve Span

When Adam Delved and Eve Span,

Who Was Then a Gentleman?

Germaine Greer’s new book, Shakespeare’s Wife, seeks to restore the reputation of Anne Hathaway, who has a bad name among Shakespeare scholars for no real reason. Yet right off the bat Greer resorts to the same kind of speculation that others are guilty of: “it may have been” — “we can imagine” — “very possibly” and so on — in order to denigrate Shakespeare’s mother, of all things. If the largely male literary critics and historians allowed their sloppy research and prejudices to construct an imaginary Anne Hathaway, what’s Greer’s reason for inventing, then resenting, a bad mother who taught the “brilliant boy” his first syllables?

She also sneers at another scholar whose research indicates that Shakespeare was Catholic, or “more Catholic than the Pope” in Greer’s words, but that’s just typical academic sniping.

While she did copious historical research, and no doubt examined original documents, much of her historical verification consists of presenting songs and literature of the period to show how people commonly thought, since she didn’t have new original source material regarding the Shakespeares. I’d like to see the book printed in three parallel columns: (1) history, (2) literature, (3) speculation.

Knowing what I do of Greer’s own life, it’s easy to guess about her own motives for spinning history, and I’d have more foundation than she does for some of her insinuations (they can’t be called conclusions).

The book isn’t really so much about Anne Hathaway after all. It’s worthwhile if you want to learn more about that period, but I was disappointed and didn’t finish the reading it.

It’s the Thought That Counts

According to Facebook, Obama is my fourth cousin once removed. I believe Facebook implicitly, so as family, it’s time for me to speak out about his gift-giving to important people in England. First, he returned a bust of Churchill that had been a gift to the White House. Then a couple of weeks ago he gave the Prime Minister a box of DVDs (which didn’t work with the British system). The PM gave him a pen holder made from the timbers of the 1878 ship HMS Gannet, once called HMS President, which patrolled the Mediterranean and Red Sea against Islamic slavers; furthermore, “oak from the Gannet’s sister ship, HMS Resolute, was carved to make a desk that has sat in the Oval Office in the White House since 1880. Mr. Brown also handed over a framed commission for HMS Resolute and a first edition of the seven-volume biography of Churchill by Sir Martin Gilbert.” The Obamas’ children received dresses from a nice English shop, plus some books. Mrs. O gave Mr. Brown’s children plastic helicopters.

The O’s didn’t learn from this embarrassing exchange. This week, “Obama gave Queen Elizabeth II an engraved iPod during his visit to Buckingham Palace … with headphones and already loaded with songs. The president and first lady also gave the Queen a rare book of songs signed by The King and I composer Richard Rodgers.” Bet her toes are tapping now. She already had an iPod? Oh.

Some of the best gifts I ever received cost little or nothing, but thought went into them. Don’t they have People in the White House to take care of protocol, or did they fire everyone who knew how to do things?

My apologies to my English friends.

I hardly know where to begin to comment on Obama’s actual work so far, all of which demonstrates the same kind of care and intelligence he’s put into gift-giving. Shape up, cuz.

(By the way, I love Daniel Hannan. He’s a real straight shooter.)

Shame on Us

We can always count on a classroom horror story to bring out Anne DaBee:

At least the student wrote "he WAS the man...". I remember arguing about this sort of "English", whether spoken or written, back in 1974. I've already told you about the language arts teacher (black) who instructed her 8th grade students that, no matter how they spoke at home or among themselves, she expected correct English in her class, again whether spoken or written. The black students interpreted "correct English" to mean "white English", and rebelled. The teacher was reprimanded. Possibly the student quoted in Carey Harrison's piece was a relative of one of our 1974 8th graders... God help us all, if educators are still being forced to accept substandard language, whether spoken or written.

(I’ve told adult students that what I was teaching was standard English, and knowing standard English is a survival skill. If they wanted to study slang or dialect, that's not my specialty.)

I also remember that, when I was a classroom aide in an elementary school a few years earlier, I wasn't to lower a student's grade for incorrect spelling unless the paper was a spelling test. So a student writing about the planets could refer to "Uriness" without penalty. I could circle the "bad" word, but not lower the grade, even if the bad spelling appeared several weeks in a row, as it usually did. AARGH. And we called ourselves "teachers"?

(Here I must repeat the story about a student who complained to me that “it’s not fair that some students get better grades just because they write better” — in an English class.)

Self esteem, the magic goal for which all standards have been compromised, from the rules of grammar to the scoring of SATs. What about those who scored a perfect 1600 way back when, while today's 1600 (if it happens) is the equivalent of perhaps a 1200 back then? Nothing wrong with 1200, as long as it's not allowed to masquerade as "perfect".

When a freshman requirement at a highly rated local Community College is remedial English, doesn't it make you wonder what goes on in HS English classes? And why do you suppose so many colleges are no longer considering SAT scores when considering students for admission?

Colleges rely on keeping students for income, but what’s the excuse for public schools?

No. 1

Once again I got HBO just to watch a particular series. Last time it was the excellent series on John Adams. Now it’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I’m a fan of Alexander McCall’s Smith’s novels, and even he thinks this production, filmed in Botswana, is a good rendition of his stories.

In the books people address each other as Mma (female) and Rra (male). I always wondered how to pronounce those titles, and if they’re abbreviations or words. At least now I know how they sound: pretty much as they’re spelled.

Smith had this to say in an HBO interview:

HBO: In the series, the characters speak with a certain distinction, is that reflective of African English?

ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH: Yes. It's very correct. When one considers the awful things that are happening to the English language in various parts of the world, where it's becoming debased and unduly simplified... where a lot of the richness is going. It's very nice to hear English used correctly and to hear people speaking in sentences, which one certainly finds in the English speaking countries in Africa.

Do watch this series (and read the books): charming, sweet, sometimes serious.

Little Miss What?

Michael Galanes is the founder and director of the Little Miss Perfect pageant, which is featured in a WE reality TV series just now. If you can call that reality. It’s a beauty pageant for little girls. In an interview, Galanes said:

“They perform on Little Miss Perfect so they can perform in real life as a doctor or a lawyer or [ a Native American ] chief.”

Note the brackets, which indicate that what he actually said has been corrected or replaced. He must have been using the old children’s counting rhyme and the editor thought “Indian chief” was offensive, or thought he was supposed to think it was offensive.

What Galanes said on TV about the “Wow wear” part of the contest, which stands in the place of talent competition, was not edited. Galanes explained that the little girls try to “wow” the judges by extra cute or extravagant clothing … “you might see a cowgirl or a gymnast or a nurse or a doctor who just came from the best little whorehouse in Texas.”

Aww, isn’t that cute? The children are our future.


Trivium pursuit ~ rhetoric, grammar, and logic, or reading, writing, and reckoning: Parvum Opus discusses language, education, journalism, culture, and more. Parvum Opus by Rhonda Keith is a publication of KeithOps / Opus Publishing Services. Editorial input provided by Fred Stephens. Rhonda Keith is a long-time writer, editor, and English teacher. Back issues from December 2002 may be found at Feel free to e-mail me with comments or queries. The PO mailing list is private, never given or sold to anyone else. If you don't want to receive Parvum Opus, please e-mail, and I'll take you off the mailing list. Copyright Rhonda Keith 2009. Parvum Opus or part of it may be reproduced only with permission, but you may forward the entire newsletter as long as the copyright remains.

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