“Many of the authors of early British literature had some idea behind the work that they were creating.”

And so now, before the summer is quite over, your summer reading list. I guarantee that all these authors had some idea behind their works. Not so sure about the students who wrote papers or exam answers about them!

The Twelfth Knight. This must be one of Shakespeare’s lost plays, and that’s a shame because it sounds like a mystery story set in Camelot, and I’d love to read it! Students sometimes ask why I order actual textbooks instead of simply giving them a url, especially in the case of classic literature, and this example comes to mind as an excellent answer. I had taken over the class of an ill colleague, and he had assigned students to read Twelfth Night in an online version (to save them some money, a worthy intention). I had the feeling throughout class discussions that a number of the students hadn’t bothered to even look at it. The student who wrote his paper on The Twelfth Knight obviously never saw the text. His essay presented disjointed and collectively bizarre remarks gleaned from what he had heard (or mis-heard) in class, and he referred to the play throughout as The Twelfth Knight. If such a play does exist and you know where to get a copy, please contact me, because I’m a devotee of mysteries as well as of Shakespeare!

The Rime of the Ancient Marina. Losing the mariner of the title, we may also lose the antiquarian orientation that enables us to understand Coleridge’s “rime” as “rhyme”; and if we live on, say, the New England coast, we may envision a story of a decaying marina in winter, covered in frost. It’s a haunting picture, but not an albatross in sight, no wedding offstage, and no lesson to be learned. Again, unless a spell-check program changed “mariner” to “marina” on the basis of some typo, the student couldn’t have actually read the poem she refers to here.

The adventure in the land of the Homynyms, Part IV of Gulliver’s Travels. Okay, so “Houyhnhnm” is hard to spell. “Homonym” is a lot more familiar as a word, if almost as odd-looking. A Homynym lies somewhere between the two and is perhaps a creature who SOUNDS LIKE a member of a race of rational horses—who, according to another student, call the Yahoos “glutens.”

The beautiful sonnet “How Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?” This poem clearly reveals that Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

The Tragedy of Kind Richard the Third. Must be sharper than a serpent’s tooth to have a thankless kingdom, I guess. Nice kings finish last. Okay, this one is “just a typo.” I do tell my students, though, that when they type a mistake it’s a typo; when they turn in a paper bearing that mistake, it’s a mistake.

“One of the plays of the ’60s, such as Hair or Ol’ Calcutta.” Yes, the apostrophe was there. Do you suppose it had anything to do with the civil rights movement—perhaps integration of a place similar to Ole Miss? or somewhere to be carried back to?

J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye. An alcoholic baseball player.

But if you read all these now, what will you save for those long winter evenings? I’d recommend a prequel to the Bible’s story of Jonah: that lovely piece by Dylan Thomas, “A Child’s Christmas in Whales.”

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

4 responses to ““Many of the authors of early British literature had some idea behind the work that they were creating.”

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