John Donne and the Sonnet Problem

What makes a sonnet? For most early modern examples, the answer is clear: a 14-line rhyming poem, its form either Shakespearean (three quatrains and a couplet) or Petrarchan (an octave and a sestet). There are exceptions to those formal rules, but most sonnets meet them.

Formal rules are the conventional answer. And that answer works for conventional sonnets, which are the vast majority of sonnets.

But if you enforce formal rules too rigorously, you encounter a few interesting problems. These are the problems that my project is investigating. Moments’ Monuments: The ACL Database is collecting as many sonnets as possible, so I can get a more definitive answer to this question: Is the sonnet a form or a genre? The trouble is, you need to decide first what qualifies as a sonnet.

Continue reading “John Donne and the Sonnet Problem”

Teaching Shakespeare with Twitter

So it’s official, now: I’m teaching with Twitter in my English 205 (Shakespeare) course this fall.

How? By requiring all students to submit questions that the reading material provokes in them, after they’re finished reading a text. I’m explicitly not encouraging multi-tasking, or tweeting while reading; on the contrary, I underscore the benefits of solitude, of focus, of (as Milton put it) “the quiet and still air of delightful studies.” Continue reading “Teaching Shakespeare with Twitter”

Managing student questions

I’m going to try two online systems for managing student questions, on anything related to the course.

The first is Google Moderator, which I’d not heard of before I read a New York Times story today. In theory, this tool “lets a class type questions and vote for the ones they would most like answered.” I’m interested to see how it works in practice. Here’s the link.

The second is Quora, a sort of social network for questions and answers. Here’s the link to the Fall 2011 English 205 topic I started. Note that it uses the same code (F2011 ENGL205) as this blog, which I borrowed from Blackboard.