Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Students' unintentional humor...

(Image from Wikipedia)

I should be saving up the inadvertently funny things that some of my students write about literature, but my own examples would pale to humorlessness beside the lines that Peter Herman has assembled from years of student papers in:
"The New Literary History: the Bible to the Renaissance."
This can be read in its entirety in the Milton List Archives, but the format is screwed up, making the text obscenely difficult to read, so in the interest of recovering fine literature for the masses, I'll post the most memorable lines below, beginning with this anonymous epigram penned by a student and attached by Herman as a motto to the entire text:
"Many phallacies are believed but not understood."
Well ... some phallacies must actually be seen to be believed. But, yeah, belief isn't quite enough. You need to work at getting a handle on them so you'll be ready when others try using them to manipulate you. Be careful, though, for if you play around too much with phallacies, you can even go blind:
In Oedipus the King by Sophocles I, Oedipus exasturbates his pain by blinding himself."
And you thought that this bit of childhood rumor was just a phallacy! Anyway, moving on from the dangers of onanism to other perversions, we find that:
"Through Jane Chance's analization of Beowulf, we see the poem through a female's eyes."
If that's not to your taste, then the scholar John Leyerle is reputed to provide the white male gaze:
"Leyerle's [analization] comes through the eyes of a male."
A difficult feat, remarkable even -- but what is this fascination with voyeurism, anyway? We need true men of action, men like the great and courtly Gawain in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, who does his mighty best to resist seduction by the beautiful, alluring Lady Bercilak ... though it's sometimes really, really hard:
"Gawain acted like a boar by shooting upright when the Lady came in."
Shakespeare's rough, rude-hewn Vincentio, however, had no such compunctions:
"[I]n The Taming of the Shrew, Vincentio shows that he likes to flex his patriarchal muscle."
More complex, though, are the posterior views of Richard II with respect to his desparate, rearguard action:
"Richard the Second houses his political movements and doctrine within his inflated ego. By ornamenting himself with a crown, he fully believes he will be endowed with an ultimate power to rule his seat's right royal majesty."
I think that the student was using "ego" as a euphemism for the "ultimate power" thing that Richard is "endowed" with ... but this is all rather oblique. Another student, fortunately, takes a more direct approach to Shakespeare interpretation:
"I believe these Sonnets can be viewed as Shakespeare's device to attack Victorian morality as they touch on the obvious sexual organs."
Now, that's going to the root of the matter. Shakespeare obviously knew what was coming down ... even 300 years before the events! Ah, Shakespeare, you prophet bard of naughty England!

But as Milton knew, Victorian morality all began with man's first, unhappy fall:
"After the Fall, Adam and Eve cover up their genial organs."
The real meaning of felix culpa? Alas, the world has been uncongenial ever since, and ever awaits the missed congeniality...

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At 7:54 AM, Blogger A.H. said...

Wonderfully funny!

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, they are funny.

I really need to start saving students' comments myself.

By the way, you ought to join the Milton List...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:46 PM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

When I was in high school, I attended a debate at which one student loudly claimed that steroids are bad because "they shrink your Gentiles."


At 1:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

That guy must have been reading the Protocols of the Gelders of Zion.

You should have accused him of being antisemantic...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:41 PM, Blogger stewdog said...

Loved it. It was right up my alley.

At 2:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I always thought that you belonged in the 'Stews,' Mr. Dog.

Jeffery Hodges

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