Sunday, June 25, 2006

"Time that with this strange excuse..."

Edmund Spenser
Painter not Identified

One of the little ironies of teaching is that the bad students get all the good help.

I spend half an hour or more, even up to an hour on long papers, making corrections and writing comments on error-ridden student essays. As you might imagine, this can grow rather tedious rather quickly, and I've now been marking final essays for the past two weeks solid.

Thus with joy do I greet the occasional student essay that needs few markings but mostly an appreciative reading, such as one on "Edmund Spenser and Archaism" that introduces its topic as follows:

A poet's poet, known otherwise as "the prince of poets", Edmund Spenser lived in Elizabethan England [Britain] from 1552 to 1599. He wasn't born to all the privileges, but to a modest family in London. He received a decent education in Cambridge and was influenced by Richard Mulcaster the humanist and Gabriel Harvey, with whom he shared great interest in theories of poetry and quantitative versification in English. Spenser set out on his career by serving as personal secretary and aide to Dr. John Young, and later Lord Grey of Wilton. During his services, he got to know some important and powerful poets like Sir Philip Sydney, Sir Edward Dyer, and Sir
Walter Ralegh. One noticeable [notable?] thing about Spenser is that unlike these poets, he intentionally tried to be the great English poet of his age, and his principal interest was not in court, churches, or states. He began his work as a poet by translating some poems. His first major publication of his own poetry was The Shepheardes Calender in 1579. His well-known poems are The Faerie Queene, Amoretti, Epithalamion, and Prothalamion. In his works, he used a language that did not quite belong to his own time. Although Edmund Spenser pursued 'archaism' by copying some actual lines and language of Chaucer, he was more than a mere imitator because he not only reproduced what seemed like an archaic spelling to his contemporaries but also created his own unique archaic diction and became one of the most influential figures in English literature, inspiring many poets, including Milton.
As you see from the occasional red font, I've made a few corrections and suggestions. I even considered repositioning the comma in
"the prince of poets", Edmund Spenser
from after to before the quotation marks, but since this student spent some years abroad in England, I'll indulge her British punctuation and pardon her for writing well.

As you can see, this Korean student writes well, better than most native speakers of English. By this, I mean that she not only writes fluent and nearly flawless English but that she has a writer's sense for supplying details that answer a reader's inchoate questions even before the question is asked. A poor writer might remark that Spenser was "influenced by Richard Mulcaster," leaving it at that and us to ask, "Who's Richard Mulcaster?" But a good writer, like our student above, would add to "influenced by Richard Mulcaster" an identifying detail, such as "the humanist." Most of my students, both in Korea and over the years and lands, wouldn't add any designation at all, leaving poor Mr. Mulcaster a cipher.

Richard Mulcaster, incidentally, was one of 16th-century England's humanists and educational reformers, best known for his work devising a rigorous curricula for teaching Latin, Greek, and Hebrew and for his writings on humanist education.

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At 7:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A fine piece of writing. It even attends to commas, what Mulcaster called "a small crooked help our breath a little". But it would have been nice to see "Ralegh" given the correct spelling and Spenser's great work is the "Faerie Queene" not "The Faerie Queene". I am not sure about this "archaic spelling" bit. Yes, Spenser used Chaucerian echoes to build up a sense of native, ancient Pastoral, but spelling was highly unstable so his liberties were quite normal. And "He used a language that did not belong to his own time"...but he most certainly did. You are quite right in what you say about marking, it is geared to finding fault and the bad, that is why so much is being done in the UK on formative assessment models: on developing notations, targets for improvement and scaffolding prompts when marking so as the good student can improve. You must be getting tired after so many weeks.

At 7:44 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, in defense of my student, The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume 1 (Edition 7) spells Sir Walter's family name "Ralegh" and gives The Faerie Queene as the title to Spenser's epic romance.

Of course, the anthology could have both wrong in these postmodern days...

Yes, I'm tired, exhausted even, and nearly under the weather, but I have to soldier on through various duties.

At least, I have the marking behind me now -- I just finished the last essay ... except, perhaps, for a few stragglers.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, doesn't marking make pedants of us (I include myself! Shame on me!) Go and watch some football: footballers are good at marking, mind you they get paid a lot for it! Hope your year's work ends soon.

At 7:49 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Steph, yes, the comma inside of quotation marks is required by American rules of punctuation.

On "Elizabethan Britain," which may be incorrect (for all I know), I was considering the fact that Spenser lived for many years in Ireland as part of the colonizing force there, and I don't consider Ireland to be part of England.

What do you suggest?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 7:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, that was a quick reply. Thanks for the encouragement. Unfortunately, I now have to help clean the apartment...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The old Oxford edition by J.C. Smith (two volumes, 1909), which I used in graduate school, has "Spenser's Faerie Queene" on the fronts and spines of the jackets, and spines and title pages of both volumes. No definite article.

But the included facsimiles of the 1596 edition's title pages, and the table of contents of each volume, do have the definite article.

In his introduction, Smith uses "the" -- but without a capital, and not italicized, so it isn't quite an official part of the title as he presents it.

In a case like this, (as in the preferred spelling of Elizabethan names) I would accept the practice of the assigned textbook, rather than introduce confusion.

At 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Norton Anthology, eh, ah well that's the danger of anthologies for you, they name the flowers wrong. Your poor Korean students...
they do amazingly well considering that the "English" can't even spell their own names. Raleigh is correct, but Elizabethans knew him as "Ralegh" and though Wikipedia and the definitive Oxford text drop "The" works by Spenser experts re-instate the definite article. I suggest your poor student write: "Spenser was an Elizabethan" and that he certainly was! How well they write, as EAL2 speakers grappling with such a remote culture, and let me be honest...they write better than many English students. I have taught quite a few young South Korean children... after two years they had passed many in their class as writers of formal English. And such damn precision in English and Art! I have to go and clean too...and cook... a Renaissance man's work is never done!?

At 8:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eshuneutics, thanks for the flower reference, which sent me on an etymological expedition to gather flowers.

About your experience with Korean students...

Korean students grow up in a culture that strongly emphasizes education, but it's mostly memory work here in the Korean school system until the students reach university, where (traditionally) they haven't been expected to work hard at all.

Except for my class...

Actually, the system is changing as universities 'globalize,' but only slowly.

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley, my best students were East Asian (Chinese, Korean, Japanese), for they combined the Confucian emphasis upon education with a Western-style system of scholarship and far outperformed the other students.

That's what lies behind your experience with Korean students.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:26 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Ian, thanks for the extra bits of information.

Jeffery Hodges

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