Thursday, 25 February 2010

Notes on John Updike's "Gertrude and Claudius"

Like the Star Wars films, John Updike's "Gertrude and Claudius" continues with the beginning. The novel imagines the life at the Danish court before the action in Shakespeare's "Hamlet", focusing especially on Gertrude. Indeed, Gertrude is fast becoming the most interesting and most written about character in the play (see my earlier article on Gertrude and maternal sexuality). Although the title implicates Claudius, as indeed the cover illustration would suggest, all the three sections of the novel concern themselves mainly with the Queen. Claudius enters the story rather late in the first section, after all the other main characters have been introduced.


The main aspect of the novel, or rather its main contribution to the literary realm, is its characterisations. In the play, most of the characters are only as deep as their alotted space in the play and the restrictions of drama will allow. In the novel, however, each character is given a history and a multi-faceted personality presented through their actions, thoughts and utterences and not least through what is said about them by other characters. Claudius, for one, is seen by most of the characters as a shifty, though resourceful character. He is represented mainly in comprarison with his brother, Old Hamlet. He is characterised, through a combination of fear and respect, by the other characters and also by Updike more directly as the traditional fairy tale hero king, much like in the play. The mediating character here is Gertrude. Although the role of narrator shifts through the novel, the space given her, her intimate relations to both brothers and her position as the only fully developed female character in a court of men modifies the view granted in the play. Also, by voicing the largely silent and appendant female character of Gertrude, Updike can introduce new perspectives and depths of character into the story. Her position and reflections on personality provides an aspect to the characters which Shakespeare in his male dominated environment was unable to provide.

It is also worth noting how Claudius is the only character in the novel whose basic ambitions remain ambivalent to the reader. Whereas the agendas of most of the characters both in the play and in the novel are fairly easy to grasp, we never really know if Claudius really wants the throne, Gertrude or both. We are also never really sure how he sees his fellow characters; is Gertrude the love of his life or just a tool for usurping the throne? The shiftiness of his character is emphasised towards the end where he on one page sees his fate linked to Polonius and on the next more drastically feels the need to remove him. Interestingly, the only other character that comes close to this is Hamlet, who in the novel (which does not offer as mych insight into his mind as the play does) appear haughty and somehow beyond reach for his surroundings.

The nomenclative measures Updike takes is another testimony to his skill. The characters change names through the three sections of the novel; Gerutha to Geruthe to Gertrude, Feng to Fengon to Claudius, Horwendil to Horvendile to Hamlet, Amleth to Hamblet to Hamlet and Corambus to Corambis to Polonius. In the last section, the change of names is partially explained through Fengon and Corambis entering new roles at the court and therefore adopting latin names. However, the changing names are a reference by Updike to earlier versions of Hamlet in which the characters wore different names, the first section to Saxo Grammaticus' "Historica Danica" from around 1200 and the second to Belleforest's "Histories Tragiques" from 1576. (In the First Quarto, some of these names still linger. On the First Quarto see earlier post.)

In the same vein, several textual references are made to Shakespeare's play. Not only the names, but several references to situations and lines from the play figure in direct or rewritten form in the novel. The sensitive relation to Norway, the reason why Hamlet idolises his father and why the crown is so intimately associated with Gertrude are amongst the issues that are built on the play. In addition several lines from the play are repeated in the novel, not necessarily by their original speakers. The last sentence in the novel, for instance, "All would be well" refers both to Hamlet's line "All is not well"(Act I,ii) and Claudius' line "All may be well" (Act III.iii). Elsewhere, Gertrude says "Elsinore has been a dungeon to me" (p.94) which of course reflects Hamlet's "Denmark's a prison", spoken to Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern in Act II,ii. Finally,one of my favourite quotes, indeed the one referred to in the sub-title of this blog, is reshaped on the novel's 38th page. "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, Rough-hew them how we will" (Act V,ii) becomes "There's a shape in things, fiddle and fuss however we will around the edges."

John Updike (2000), portrait in The New Yorker

Furthermore, Updike seems to have studied his European history. His contextual references are telling and manifold, referring to the Holy Roman Empire, Frankish battles against the Moors in Spain, Crusades, Genoa's struggles with Pisa over Corsica and Sardinia as well as a number of local references to Danish Kings. For someone with more time on their hands the temporal setting in the novel could probably be quite accurately pegged based on these references. Perhaps this is a fitting topic for a future post...

It is worth noticing how Updike not only seems to respond to different versions of Hamlet in his novel, but also to critical approaches to the play. In empowering Gertrude he responds to both Feminist and Psychoanalytic criticism and in incorporating lower social strata as well as contextual signifiers he reflects the attitudes of Marxist and Historical criticism. This testifies to a rigid and extensive pre-productive study process on Updikes part, and one which is surely reflected in the positive reception of this acclaimed novel.

Finally, on a more personal note, having read a number of texts which build on and expand aspects of the original play (such as Tom Stoppard's "Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are dead", Matt Haig's "The Dead Fathers' Club" and this novel), I have experienced one of the fascinating properties of literature. Literature seems to me to be but wordly shadows of some eternal stories waiting to be manifested though never fully copied through these shadows. While Shakespeare is widely acclaimed for having written "universal" plays, I find him to be no more than another link in the chain of representations, albeit perhaps a particularly guilded or golden one. Shakespeare, it must be remembered, was only in a limited sense an originator relying on a number of cultural aspects of what I called, rather pompously, an eternal story. I find it not only impossible, but also undesirable to even attempt to make a full, comprehensive and exact copy of this eternal story. However, each attempt to recreate a morsel of it, such as those mentioned above, has an receptively emotional and culturally multiplying value. To put it more bluntly, each new piece of literature or indeed any cultural expression adds to the amount of joy not only of the play but of the general cultural expression of this eternal story. Also, continuing the trend of "bluntness", each new addition creates a basis for new additions, heading like branches on a tree in new directions widening our perception of the eternal story in ways we did not think possible.

This is

for me

part of the allure of literature.

Sources: Updike, Johnn: Gertrude and Claudius, New York, 2001,,, last visited 25.2.2010

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Blast from the Past: "World's Wittiest Lonely Hearts Ads"

In 2006 I added this news story to my MSN space. It bears revisiting:

World's Wittiest Lonely Hears Ads

A collection of witty and eccentric lonely hearts ads from the London Review of Books have been brought together for a new book.

David Rose, the review's advertising director who launched the personal ads in 1998, is behind They Call Me Naughty Lola.

It features some of the most brilliant and often absurd ads from what's been billed as the world's funniest - and most erudite - lonely-hearts column.

Here's a selection of the funniest, beginning with the one which inspired the book's title:

'They call me naughty Lola. Run-of-the-mill beardy physicist (M, 46).'

'I've divorced better men than you. And worn more expensive shoes than these. So don't think placing this ad is the biggest comedown I've ever had to make. Sensitive F, 34.'

'List your ten favourite albums... I just want to know if there's anything worth keeping when we finally break up. Practical, forward thinking man, 35.'

'Employed in publishing? Me too. Stay the hell away. Man on the inside seeks woman on the outside who likes milling around hospitals guessing the illnesses of out-patients. 30-35. Leeds.'

'I like my women the way I like my kebab. Found by surprise after a drunken night out and covered in too much tahini. Before long I'll have discarded you on the pavement of life, but until then you're the perfect complement to a perfect evening. Man, 32, rarely produces winning metaphors.'

'My ideal woman is a man. Sorry, mother.'

'Your buying me dinner doesn't mean I'll have sex with you. I probably will have sex with you, though. Honesty not an issue with opportunistic male, 38.'

'Not everyone appearing in this column is a deranged cross-dressing sociopath. Let me know if you find one and I'll strangle him with my bra. Man, 56.'

'Are you Kate Bush? Write to obsessive man (36). Note, people who aren't Kate Bush need not respond.'

'Stroganoff. Boysenberry. Frangipani. Words with their origins in people's names. If your name has produced its own entry in the OED then I'll make love to you. If it hasn't, I probably will anyway, but I'll only want you for your body. Man of too few distractions, 32.'

'Ploughing the loneliest furrow. Nineteen personal ads and counting. Only one reply. It was my mother telling me not to forget the bread on my way home from B&Q. Man, 51.'

'Mature gentleman, 62, aged well, noble grey looks, fit and active, sound mind and unfazed by the fickle demands of modern society seeks...damn it, I have to pee again.'

'Slut in the kitchen, chef in the bedroom. Woman with mixed priorities (37) seeks man who can toss a good salad.'

'Bald, short, fat and ugly male, 53, seeks short-sighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite.'

'Romance is dead. So is my mother. Man, 42, inherited wealth.'

Source:, last visited 23.2.2010

Academic Earth

Some univertities embrace the possibilities of internet to a larger extent than others. While regular, physical attendance at lectures is still required in most forms of higher education, a number of American Universities have contributed to a digital lecture bank at

Consisting mainly of Ivy League contributors, the California based webpage philanthropically aims to provide quality lectures (availiable for grading) for free. It is based on what you might call intellectual donations, lectured volunteered by professionals with permissions from their respective institutions.

The Academic Earth Homepage (click to enlarge)

At the moment, Academic Earth offers 23 subjects, some with quite comprehensive lecture series. These range from literature studies to computer science and media studies. Taking the lectures do not give any official recognition of competence, but they give valuable insight into whatever interests you.

In an age of insatiable search for profit and lacking knowledgeability it is comforting to find a reliable, non-profit vehicle of education like Academic Earth. I, for one, plan to spend parts of my summer vacation taking the psychology and literature lessons.

A weather forecast out of the ordinary

My sister watches "Super-news", a special news service for kids. At intervals, some fascinating news stories and film clips appear and when they do, she seeks them out and forewards them to me. So, courtesy of my sister and "Super-news":

My favourite parts are the way he says "an associated cold front brushes the south... but... AAAAAH!" and the very Aussily pronounced "mentally scarred".

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Sleep Talkin' Man

I've promised everyone I would post a link to this blog without following up, so now it's time to deliver the goods.

A lady in England, Karen, married her childhood sweetheart, Adam, only to discover that Adam was quite talkative in his sleep. Not only that, he seems to be most creative in his sleep as well. So she started recording his sayings and posting them on the web at the following address:

Now, before I post my favourite quotes, there are a couple of things you should know about Adam. Firstly, Adam watches lots and lots of nature shows on TV. Secondly, Adam sleeps soundly and wakes abruptly without properly transitional phases in-between and, finally, he is not like that when he's awake...

After a painful process of elimination, I have found that my favourite quotes are as follows:

"Badger tickling... proceed with caution"

"Buttcheeks ahoy! Thar she blows! Yeah, you can't be a pirate if you haven't got a beard. I said so. My boat - my rules"

"Really? If you can pee that high, DEFINITELY join the fire brigade. Yah."

"Oh, don't worry, dear. The spot doesn't make you ugly. No no no. The rest of your face, now THAT makes you ugly. The spot's just a highlight."

"I made this picture using pasta... Fuck you, it IS artistic!"

"Snail fiddling is not an occupation I'd be proud of. You dirty fucker."

"The stain, the stain. How am I going to explain that fucking stain?... Oh bollocks."

"My badger's gonna unleash hell on your ass. Badgertastic!"

and finally:

""You can stop clapping now if you want. Really. You'll need your energy for
cheering me later. Shhhhhhhh. shhhhhhhh."

[yelled upon waking] "COCK HUNTER!"

Karen's note: This was all early in the morning. The
batteries had run out on the recorder, so it was like the old days, I was
furiously typing, trying to keep up. I'm pretty sure that's the "clapping" that
Adam was referring to. So, meanwhile, I'm still typing my brains out, and he's
going "Shhhhhhhh. shhhhhhh."

Also, just after he shouted "COCK HUNTER"
and woke up, he looked at me with fear in his eyes and said, "um, did I just
shout cock hunter?" It's been worrying him ever since."

Monday, 15 February 2010

Who Wants to be a Millionaire?

If I had any pluck, I would invest in apps. "What are apps?", you ask, silently. Apps, or applications, are special programs for your phone which give you maps for the strange city you are in, let you follow the temperature, the news, the stock market or the hit lists. The app is what makes your smart phone smart. There is an app for everything and everyone buys apps. The market is estimated to be worth around $ 6 million this year, which is a doubling of last year.

Just a few of the iPhone apps

At the moment Apple is hogging most of the shares through their iPhone app flora, but recently 24 operators and smart phone manufacturers have joined forces in the Wholesale Application Community (WHAC). They want to create an open platform to compete with Apple, a platform from which Apple is excluded. As it is, only iPhones take the Apple apps, but WHAC envisions a more adaptable set of apps which not only gives the customer more choice and vitalises smart phone development, but also diversifies the market and promotes competition.

For now, smart phones constitute only about 20% of the market, but as both the smart phone and the app market is expanding at an astonishing rate, it would probably be a good idea to invest in such stocks as early as possible.

Sources: CNN,, last visited 15.2.2010

News for Rabbits

In 1979, four years after Monty Python's infamous dreaded "Killer Rabbit of Caerbannoch", President Jimmy Carter was fishing in Plains, Georgia. He then had a brush with wildlife:

Click for larger image

It is not known whether the rabbit was a Russian assassin in scuba and lepal disguise. However, rabbits are known to cause some damage if cornered. For those who doubted the veracity of the species, this image was supplied:

Here, the malicious rodent can be seen fleeing in wild-eyed disarray after its aquatic assault on the American Primus Inter Pares had been foiled by the latters fervent paddle-bashing.

In other news for rabbits, this time of a newer date:

In 2007, North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung promised his people a giant bunny in every pot. Embassy employees in Germany approached Karl Szmolinsky, famed giant rabbit-breeder, requesting his service for "feeding the population". He sold them four female and two male German grey giants and later visited them so see how the project was coming along.

The proud breeder flaunts his prime product.

The North Korean people is living mainly on foreign aid, due to Kim Il Sung's misguided policies which, in the 90's, lead to widespread famine and 2 million dead.

The rabbits are so large, they find it hard to hop and they have to be fed like pigs to get this big which begs the question; why not breed pigs instead?

Only the binge-drinking, Elvis-loving dictator knows.

Sources:;jsessionid=6F46F25BCCB20CD7C0A062929B411B34,,,,5285665, last visited 15.2.2010

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Janet Adelman's ""Man and Wife Is One Flesh": Hamlet and the Confrontation with the Maternal Body" Revisited

Janet Adelman, in her psychoanalytic approach to Hamlet, studies the role of Gertrude, Hamlet's mother, in the play. However, she starts by explaining how Hamlet fails to identify with his idealised dead father. Contrasting himself to Old Hamlet and doing the same with Claudius, his stepfather, makes him by extension associate himself with Claudius. Psychoanalysts take great delight in uncovering layers, some would say constructing layers, within literature and Adelman sees this conflict as a mere superficial layer. She moves on to examine the idea of the contaminated female body in Hamlet.

She uses the soliloquy in act 1 scene 2 (1.2.129-159) as a symbolic manifest, dividing the father figure into a positive sun god, Old Hamlet and a negative, incestuous satyr, Claudius. Then, likening Gertrude to an unweeded garden, the queen or rather her sexuality becomes the grounds for comparison for Hamlet, Adelman claims. The soliloquy is the textual evidence for Adelman's theory that the conflict in the play is more about the mother's remarriage as a vehicle of her sexuality than the loss of a father. The idealised father and Hamlet then become products of Gertrude's sexuality and the play proceeds with Hamlet's efforts to desexualise his mother, thus freeing himself and his father from her corruption. It is also worth noticing how her sexuality becomes synonymous with death; it lead to the death of Old Hamlet, Hamlet himself is its product with the terminal implication of origin and Old Hamlet's death also kills Hamlet's identity and leaves him in the power of his mother. Death becomes the sexualised Gertrude's legacy to her son.

However, the idealised father also played a role in relation to this sexuality. Adelman's response to this is to point out how Hamlet deflects the guilt of the father figure on Claudius while attributing most of the positive aspects to Old Hamlet. Later in her article, she also points out how Old Hamlet supposedly was able to control her sexuality (referring to the same soliloquy), making life livable for Hamlet. Therefore, the presence of the sexualised mother threatens the ideal of the idealised father being in control. Furthermore, it threatens to eliminate the oppositions between past and present, Old Hamlet and Claudius (both being subject to her sexuality) and the virginal image of Old Hamlet's wife and the "unweeded garden" of Claudius' wife. Finally, Hamlet's obsessing over Gertrude's appetite liken him to Claudius, the negative father image.

The central theme of the play, then, becomes the contamination of the female sexuality. Hamlet sees his mother's sexuality as a force which threatens his concepts of the world and causes its corruption. Adelman refers to what she calls "the deep fantasy of the play" (p.268) in which man is corrupted through contact with the corrupting female (seeing the act of intercourse as an origin of corruption) and in which the blame for the murder of the idealised father pass from Claudius to Gertrude. Her display of love becomes synonymous with murder, so much so that Claudius' political ambitions are subjugated to it and Hamlet in the closet scene (3.4) labels Gertrude the active murderer:

QUEEN GERTRUDE: O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!
HAMLET: A bloody deed! almost as bad, good mother, As kill a king, and marry with his brother.
QUEEN GERTRUDE: As kill a king!
HAMLET: Ay, lady, 'twas my word.
Hamlet initially fears the male under the power of a female and therefore withdraws into his antic disposition, an introvert mode of existence where he, the male and (ideally) the image of the idealised father, is in control and able to effectively impact the world around him without being affected.

Dreaming of men

The main threat, according to Adelman, is Gertrude as she is the only sexualised female in the play. Her role is as a part of Hamlet's psyche (the other) with which he must come to terms. This is done in the closet scene where Hamlet gets Gertrude's seeming assent to stay chaste and honour Old Hamlet's memory. When this is done, Hamlet can focus on his real objective, the revenge. He has remade his mother, "ended" her sexuality and thus brought both his father and himself to prominence, displayed on stage as the Ghost leaving, supposedly for heaven.

Adelman claims that the objective of revenge had been secondary to the objective of reform throughout the play. This is exemplified through the play-within-the-play, which seems more suited to catch the conscience of a queen rather than a king, and also to the fact that the opportunity for revenge in act 3 scene 3 is presented as a minor digression in the play. Also, it seems that Hamlet is unable to act and come to terms with his situation until the point where he resolves his issue with Gertrude. Whether or not she is actually reformed is not clearly stated, but the play is ambiguous enough to at least suggest so.

This psychoanalytic criticism of Hamlet exemplifies in my opinion the best and the worst aspects of psychoanalytic literary criticism. It wonderfully expands the characters and the relations between them. It helps us investigate motivations and inhibitions and discover patterns of behaviour. However, it uses prefabricated theoretical structures and imposes them on the play, sometimes with minimal texual evicence. At times, the textual passages referred to are so open to interpretation that any approach would be able to build a case on them. In this case, the image of the unweeded garden is a minor metaphor of with a number of possible signifieds, and it is an image which is not repeated in any form which cannot be linked to a number of other images. It thus forms a large theoretical structure on an inconsistent and insufficiently broad basis. In this way, the article can be seen as providing much of its own fundament, building theories on theories and drawing conclusions from its own conclusions. There is, for instance, nothing in the text's imagery, characteristics and plot to justify the statement that "the mother's body brings death into the world because her body itself is death" (p.271). This is a product of psychoanalysis rather than a thorough reading of the text. Also, the theory that Hamlet's accusing his mother of active murder is a bit far fetched, as the textual evicence points towards another meaning. The Ghost had told Hamlet that "the serpent that did sting thy father's life Now wears his crown" (1.5.38-39) and to leave his mother alone. Bearing in mind that Claudius has now entered Hamlet's consciousness more urgently as he thinks he is the one dead behind the arras, it is highly unlikely that Hamlet would be unclear as to the mother's role in the murder. The role of the player queen in the play-within-the-play further argues this point. It is more probable that "as kill a king and marry with his brother" is a simple postulation of the royal couple's individual crimes. Here, psychoanalytic criticism builds itself a theory so alluring that it obscures what is actually stated in the text.

Finally, the central theory of the reform of Gertrude could simply be nothing but a generical requirement. Hamlet being a tragedy, Gertrude could not die a "bad" woman. That would lessen the effect of her death. The fact that one could come up with an alternative, valid theory to explain the necessity of her reform in such a simple stroke is a testimony to the artificiality of much of psychoanalytic criticism.

Sources: and, last visited 14.2.2010
Janet Adelman in Shakespeare, William: Hamlet, ed. by Wofford, Susanne L., New York 1994

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Revision game

Before starting on their preposition handout this week, Sportyclass got to play a revision game I invented during the first sleepless hours of a cold, pre-solistice night.

During the introductory grammar course this fall we touched on word groups such as nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives. Before reentering the confusing realm of grammar we had to refresh some of these groups.

Sportyclass is particularly partial to competitions, so I decided to use this form for revision, why not. Building on a game we played in the army, I had the whole class stand on their desks. Then I proclaimed that the whitebord (forward) was nouns, the windows (left) were verbs, the door (right) was adjectives and the back was adverbs.

The idea was for the students to turn towards the word group they thought each of the words I was to pronounce belonged to. I had, beforehand, printed out a number of examples of each word group so I would have the posibility to concentrate on choosing words of appropriate difficulty. If a student turned the wrong way, he or she would have to get down from his or her desk and watch the game from their chairs.

Initially I thought I would need one or two pairs of eyes to help me, but this proved unnecessary since we were in quite a large room (using the height rather than the width of the room). However, I found it necessary to limit the time available for pondering by counting down from a few seconds, further adding to the excitement.

It all went really well. No students fell off their desks, and everyone watched those who were left implicitly registering the word group of each given word. By altering the tense of verbs, the degree of adverbs and adjectives, altering between singular and plural nouns and so on, I also managed to have them repeat the properties of each class, and all in a kinestetic and playful environment.

The students politely asked for grammar revisions. Twice.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Open Endings

I hate open endings!

This would be much easier

If I didn't love them

Monday, 8 February 2010

Fear-inducing, Fascinating Ophelia

This spring I am studying Hamlet. Extensively. This includes not only a thorough analysis of the characters but also various critical approaches to both them and the play. It seems, as anticipated, that the feminists are mainly concerned about Ophelia. Ophelia is Hamlet's girlfriend who is told by her fater Polonius and her brother Laertes to stay away from him and to "Be somewhat scanter of [her] maiden presence; Set [her] entreatments at a higher rate". This drives Hamlet to reject her which in turn drives her mad. Later it is told by Hamlet's mother Gertrude that she has fallen in the water and drowned, whereupon Laertes kills Hamlet.

What is particularly interesting about Ophelia is the way she has been subject to constantly changing interpretations even though there is not really all that much to interpret. These have at times been rather ridiculous, but some give interesting glimpses into human nature and even French fashions. "How is this, Sir Bob?". Well, it comes about as follows...

The play was first performed about 1600. In 1603 a printed version known as the "First Quarto" or the "Bad Quarto" was published, presumably by an actor bootlegging it. (Theories point to the one playing Marcellus since his lines are the ones most true to the other versions). Then, in 1604, the official "Second Quarto" was published, and finally the "Folio" version was published in a "Best of"-publication in 1623, seven years after Shakespeare's death. All three versions differ in various respects, though not so much in respect to Ophelia. What is interesting, though, is two contextual pieces of information.

Firstly, at the time there were concerns about the male characters being too unmanly. When Laertes cries over Ophelia's death he has to say "when these are gone, the woman will be out", on other words, his tears are an aspect of femininity which he has to rid himself of. Also, while Ophelia was originally played by boys, Hamlet was the only heroic male of Shakespearean drama who was repeatedly played by actresses (following the middle of the 17th century). Secondly, as Ophelia was portrayed as innocent and naive, Shakespeare could have a little joke on her through Hamlet. In Act 3, Scene 2 we find this dialogue (110-113):

OPHELIA: I think nothing, my lord.
That's a fair thought to lie between maids' legs.
What is, my lord?
As it turns out, "nothing" was slang for the female genitalia in Elizabethan time, which just goes to show how the Renaissance had blessed Shakespeare's contemporaries with enhanced powers of observation as well as refined language. This also puts Shakespeare's "Much Ado about Nothing" in rather a new light.

Then came the 18th century with its Neo-Classicism and their emphasis on self-control, respectability, seemliness and decorum. Ophelia became curiously self-controlled for a madwoman. Originally singing rauncy songs and throwing flowers about (deflowering herself, hm-hm-hm), she now wore a white dress, loosely organised hair, strategically placed wildflowers and an attitude of dignified suffering. How on earth they were supposed to imagine her climbing a tree and falling/jumping into the river in a manner consistent with this representation, I do not care to imagine. (By the way, the jury is still out on the question of suicide mentioned above).

In the Victorian 1800's with all its repressed creative madness, Ophelia became a channel for all kinds of weird behavior. Pre-Raphaelite Romantic painters such as J.W. Waterhouse, Arthur Hughes and J.E. Millais discovered that the death of Ophelia not being actually enacted during the play allowed them to impose their own perspective on the scene. Thus, a number of highly sensual, flowery depictions of nymph-like, watery sirens were made, allowing the Victorians to give vent to their repressed sexuality through the appreciation of art and literature.

As if this was not enough, the invention of photography presented new opportunities for weirdness. Ophelia mad, and her version of madness (flowers, wild hair, flowing garments etc.) was becoming the standard way of presenting madness, that is, mad women were expected to derss and act like Ophelia. This was taken a step further with the introduction of photography. Dr. Hugh Welch Diamond, working in mental asylums such as the Surrey Asylum and Bethlehem ("Bedlam"), claimed that being photographed could cure madness. He then dressed up his patients as Ophelia and had them pray as he photographed them. His photos may have inspired the French Jean-Martin Charcot, who in addition to taking pictures of his patients hypnotised them and had them perform roles from Shakespeare.

In 1827, a young Irish actress called Harriet Smithson took Ophelia to new levels during a performance in Paris. She dressed in a black veil in which he stuck some straws. She also made a few hortocultural additions to her hairdo. Following a most unorthodox performance, including a cross made of flowers on stage, her straw-interwoven costume became the inspiration of the Paris fashion milieu. This is why old ladies today wear capes with patterns of coloured straw in them.
Finally, the 20th century arrived with its explicit focus on sexuality (thanks a lot, Freud!). While a large bed was added as a prop in the closet scene of the play, theories of Oedipus complexes and incestous relationships in Hamlet abounded. Ophelia was resexualised and the most extreme, Freudian theories argued that Ophelia had an incestous, Oedipal relationship to Polonius, parallel to that of Hamlet and Gertrude. Other creative critics invented a past for Ophelia, involving child molesting, unfaithful knights raping and killing her friends and Ophelia experiencing several different consecutive forms of mental illness.
The best version, however, and in my opinion the best example with which to conclude this article, is Melissa Murray's play "Ophelia". This was performed in 1979 by the English women's theatre group "Hormone Imbalance". In this play, Ophelia becomes a lesbian, runs off with a serving maid and joins a Danish guerilla commune. You cannot possibly get better drama than that.

Sources: Shakespeare, William: "Hamlet", ed. Wofford, Susanne, New York, 1994
Pictures: and Link, last visited 8.2.2010

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Definition of Silly

This has to be the ultimate definition of "silly" from the history of film. The following clip is from the Bollywood film "Alluda Majaka" (1996) starring the Indian Chuck Norris; Chiranjeevi.

Please notice the toughest and most versatile horse in the world.

A horrid lapse in standards

*WARNING* severe lowering of standards immediate!

This will soon be remedied and hopefully not repeated. Howard Stern is not suitable for anything and should be appreciated as much as a dose of clap or a medium size car to the head.

However, the following clip goes to show the value of practicing one's spoken English.

Once more, I'm sorry.

Sir Bob Ferry

I just found this film on youtube:

Due to not having been conceived yet at the time I am unable to confirm that this is real and not a parody. Sir Bob's swaggering and slightly out of rhythmn movements and his facial expressions should certainly suggest the latter.

This is not to say the song isn't great, of course. I wonder if there was ever a lady who would find this dance sexually attractive or not...

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Whatever happened to Dustolv?

The Norwegian public has a constant thirst for idiots. This is because idiots make it smart, successful and sophisticated by comparison. By reading about people doing stupid things and getting themselves into complicated situations we can not only enjoy seeing them reap what they sow and revel in the unlikelihood of the same happening to us, but we can also huff at their receiving attention. However, the joy of learning about idiots offing themselves is a genuine biological feeling.

Everyone has some degree of concern for the future of human kind. Seeing how a member of the more shallow end of the gene pool has misspelled his own name in graffiti, discussing some matter with a concerned friend of a friend composed of unrighteous wrath and enlightenment in unequal measure or seeing the snotty and obnoxious neighbour kids really makes you appreciate the wonder of contraception.

This is not an expression of social Darwinism. As with any controversial issue; race, sexual orientation, gender, class, I hate everyone irrespective of any physical or personal qualities. It is a natural, biological reaction from when we were all wearing revealing loincloths laughing at Bob Zog falling into the animal pit or being trampled to a wafer thin slice of meaty pancake by a mammoth or feeling the frustration of Bob Zag falling out of the tree spoiling the carefully planned ambush. This is also why we found Dustolv entertaining.

Dustolv went to Africa, worked as an obscure mercenary and shot a Congolese driver in an area full of government soldiers, was duly imprisoned and had his complimentary sub tropic disease. There were calls from the dungeon and the more nationalistic, right wing, tractor-pulling, trailer-inhabiting Norwegians for the intervention of the Norwegian Foreign Office but these were politely slapped down by Sir Bob Gard-Støre. And then, just as we were waiting to hear of Dustolv’s death sentence being converted to life imprisonment, nothing. A new year came… nothing. What happened was that it became cold in December and Norwegian media were somehow surprised. To be fair, one might say that the Norwegian Minister of Fishing and major fish farm tycooness stole some of his limelight by being extraordinary blockheaded, but still; nothing. I hate to sound saucy, but it seems Dustolv was milked dry by the Norwegian media and left to rot.

This also goes to show that the attention span and consistency of the Norwegian public and their opinion are disappointingly short. We are not really concerned with the fate of idiots although we would like to think so. What we really want is five minutes of snorting resentment at the breakfast table, as the great Sir Bob Fry said, whether it is aimed at wounded national pride as in the Dustolv case or the impertinence of fellow Norwegians such as Jarle Traa, who injured himself in a ridiculous manner in the Himalayas and expected to be saved by the state. For this purpose there are no more fitting groups than the idiots.

Idiots will also be the subject of a later post, where I will introduce and present my favourite Darwin Award winners.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Teaching Shakespeare on vocational studies Vol.1

I believe in challenging myself pedagogically. In fact, I find it necessary to do so to avoid getting bored by my job. So, I have decided to spend 3 weeks (three 1,5 h lessons) teaching Shakespeare to my Advanced Zapperclass.

This class consists of 19 boys and 1 (rather bright) girl. The boys are interested in tractors, playing cards and electricity, and not in Shakespeare, poetry or literature about love whatsoever. So, I chose "Romeo and Juliet".

Admittedly, I will spend two of the 5,5 hours watching Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet". I find that the modern setting, the guns and the pure drama of the film makes the play more appealing to the students. Also, I get a chance to have them follow their chosen character throughout the film as well as working on both setting, plot and theme. More of this to come.

To start off, I used an edition of my colleague, Lady Liz Tatton's Shakespeare relay race. I placed three pieces of paper with partly overlapping information about Shakespeare in three hard to reach places. Then, I divided the students into groups of three, giving each group a set of questions and a pen. The groups then had to find the information notes and the answer to each question, but they were not allowed to bring any paper. In other words, they had to remember each question and answer while guarding their piece of paper.

Here are some quotes to show how it went:

Zapperkid 1: He was born in 1564.
Zapperkid 2: But we need the date!
Z1: Oh...
Z2: (*hrmpf) Never mind. You take the paper and sit there guarding it. Both of you. I will do this myself (runs off)

Zapperkid 3: His wife was called Ann Hathawaysomething
Zapperkid 4: Ok...
(Z3 runs off, Z4 searches and wonders. Z3 returns)
Z4: Listen, that wasn't the question. You were supposed to find William's age when they married, you idiot.
Z3 (running off again): Oh, shite!
Z4: What did I do to deserve....

Zapperkid 5: Zapperkid 8 is hiding the notes high up! It's unfair, I'm short!
Zapperkid 6: Zapperkid 7 takes photos of of the notes with his cell! STOP NICKING MY PAPER!

In the end, Zapperkid 1 and 2's team won, with great objections. Especially from Zapperkid 7 and 8.

Afterwards, a general introduction to Elizabethan entertainment, the Globe and Shakespeare was given through Terry Deary and Gyldendal Experience Website. An introduction to both Shakespeare (with answers to the race quiz) and Romeo and Juliet was given using power-point (emphasising adaptations and history) and BBC.

This page, by the way, is wonderful for teaching literature, just as this is for teaching Shakespeare!

(Source: Picture:, last visited 3.2.2010)

Court Case

I have just had the most amazing teaching experience in sportyclass. We read a short story called "Tony's Story" in which the protagonist, Anthony Sousea, a Pueblo Indian, kills a New Mexico state trooper. In New Mexico, this is punishable by death by lethal injection. So we had to stage a court case; "The state of New Mexico vs. Anthony Sousea".

One (bright) student wanted to be the defendant. Then, I described all the roles in the case; we needed:
  1. Counsel for the prosecution
  2. Counsel for the defence
  3. A jury of about 5 students
  4. Witnesses
  5. Character witnesses
  6. Expert witnesses

I, the teacher was the judge (gavel and all). Then, three students were chosen for each of the counsels. I picked out students of varying skill in order for them to work together. A number of students were not present and these got to be the jury. When they returned their job was to read the short story carefully. Then, two and two students got to represent each witness; friends, the first to get to the scene of the crime, the Governor of the Pueblo, psychologists and so on.

When everyone had got a role, I explained about death penalty and lethal injection in particular. Then, I explained about the procedure of the court case and helped the students by guiding their research. In this case, I had to give the counsels legal advice as best as I knew how ("plead insanity" etc.).

After 1,5 hours of preparation, we arranged the desks as if in a court. Then, I opened the trial by using television phrases ("Hand on the English book and repeat after me: I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth") and invited the counsel for the prosecution to call witnesses. This done, the witnesses were questioned by the prosecution and then cross-examined by the defence, all practicing their speaking skills. Then, the counsel for the defence were allowed to do the same. Most witnesses were called, and the prosecution clinched the deal early by getting the psychologist to give testament to the defendant's sanity. The defence then had to argue self defence, but did so poorly, getting less than optimal testament from Tony's friend Leon.

A few misguided and overruled objections later, the court was told to adjourn after a 10 minute break (while the judge put the desks back in their places and the jury deliberated). The jury, being excessively bloodthirsty, actually asking to prosecute the village priest as well, spent little time in condemning the poor Native American to death. The verdict passed, the students were allowed to leave, and colleagues, who had been wary of such experimental teaching techniques, were informed of the success.

Now I am lending out my gavel to them.

Lovely, German weirdness

Another post in the "Weird and Wonderful" section. This time I've included a strangely catchy German Country song from 1977 called "Papa trinkt Bier". The text goes something like "Daddy drinks beer, Mommy is ill and there are no money in the bank (...) Mr. President, my father has too much spare time, Mr. President, that doesn't work well". What could be more weird and wonderful than a German country song about unemployment and alcoholism?

Ah, yes, a German 90's splatterfilm about "Staplerfahrer Klaus" (Forkliftdriver Klaus)

Update (17.02.2011)
This post presents another case of lovely German weirdness; a German western with a German speaking French actor playing the Apache Winnetou.