Friday, September 26, 2008

It's the oldest trick in the book, but it never fails

"So okay!" I say to my students. "Where does Britomart wind up next?"

"Uh--that castle. Castle Joyous?"

"Yes," I say. "Why is it called that? What's it like? What do the people do there?"

"There are--there are lots of beds there," says one student.

"And those lustful guys with the Italian names. And the Lady of Delight," says another.

"Good. What's delightful about her? What makes this castle so joyous?"

"Uhh. . . she's beautiful? And she seems to sleep with the visiting knights?"

"Yes!" I say. "Basically? This place is Castle Sex."

Amazing how much more diligent they become in their close-reading after that.


Jack said...

I was reading the following Edith Wharton passage on Wednesday (from "The Other Two," about a woman's third husband and his reaction to the presence of her previous beaus):

"She was 'as easy as an old shoe'--a shoe that too many feet had worn. Her elasticity was the result of tension in too many different directions..."

when a group of women on one side of the room began giggling uncontrollably. "Yeah," I said, "I know." And all at once the conversation became much more dynamic. I used to have trouble getting them to take anything about sex seriously. But I now realize that the giggling *is* taking it seriously. And in precisely the way Wharton intended. Props to my appropriately dirty-minded students.

A White Bear said...

Oh, Lord. These conversations always make me feel like a gross old 7th-grade Health teacher. Trying to get them to talk about the sex that's happening in the text without reverting to vague, childish "I think something dirty is happening!" stuff always seems to end with me saying, "You see, he's trying to insert his penis, his hand is on her vagina, and he's masturbating because he's lost his erection, probably due to premature ejaculation." Luckily, this semester, my Brit Lit survey is mostly middle-aged women who have had sex and conversations about sex before. When it's all sheltered nineteen-year-olds, they act like I'm harming their innocence. It's a poem, y'all!

Flavia said...

Ha! I love you, AWB.

I tend to get as explicit as I need to be, and am pleased by the way my students usually rise to the occasion: there's a lot of laughter, and clearly they love them some sex talk--but at the same time they all seem determined to show how adult and mature they are, which helps makes class (as Jack suggests) both fun and serious.

Or as I told a different class the other day, "You probably don't know this, but this is actually part of my job contract: 'Teach Shakespeare. . . and explain all the dirty jokes.' Seriously. I can show it to you."

Profane said...

My students rose to almost every occasion last semester when we read _The Tain_ (a text which has a full suite of bodily fluids). The one exception was a potential homoerotic passage which produced collective squirming. Next week we will see how this semester's batch reacts to the Miller's tale. . .

Pamphilia said...

I've always found that Yiddish helps me talk most comfortably about sex. It got a number of things going for it: 1) It sounds funny 2) It's often a pretty close substitution for a cuss-word and 3)it's just so onomatopoetic.

Q: "So why is Hamlet so angry at his mother?"

A: "Because she's shtupping his uncle."

Works most of the time.

Belle said...

My students tend to try and get around any reference to shtupping in Lystrata. They came in once, saying 'well, how do we deal with this language?' and I urged them to stick with it. They resisted. I pushed. Finally, they 'fessed up: they'd gone online to get a modern version and whoever had modernized it had gone for the shock factor.

The students were reluctant to admit that they'd not read the Dover (cheap) edition, figuring it was too hard. They were delighted to find it was something they could do without going for the shock. But they were astonished that the Greeks talked about .... sex.

Anonymous said...

I need to stop by the Brito-Mart after work to pick up a few things. Thanks for the reminder.

Bardiac said...

Wait... there's sex in Spenser? But but but... I thought he was one of those uptight religious sorts!

And Venus and Adonis are... friends! Not that there's anything wrong with that.