Saturday, November 9, 2013

Washington Irving Biography

Washington Irving (1783-1859)

v     Irving was America’s first internationally best-selling author.

v     He was also an essayist, biographer, historian, and diplomat, serving as minister (ambassador) to Spain from 1842-46.

v     He’s most famous today for his short stories Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, both included in his collection The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., published in 1819. Geoffrey Crayon was the narrator for many of his books.

v     Irving started his career in 1802, age 19, by writing letters to a newspaper, The New York Chronicle. He used the pseudonym, or fake name, Jonathan Oldstyle.

v     In 1807, he and his brother William started a magazine named Salmagundi which made fun of New York culture and politics––similar to today’s Mad Magazine. In this magazine he coined the name Gotham City, for New York City. Gotham actually means “goat’s town.”

v He used many pseudonyms (also called pen names) including William Wizard, and Lancelot Langstaff. Pen names were common in the US in the 19th century, as writers feared literary critics who could ruin their reputations. 
v     In this magazine he coined the name Gotham City, for New York City. Gotham actually means “goat’s town”.

v     He wrote a 5 volume biography of George Washington and another of Mohammad.

The Alhambra, an 11th century palace in Granada, Spain

v     He wrote history books about Christopher Columbus, the Alhambra, and New York City (NYC). His history of NYC, written under the pseudonym Diedrich Knickerbocker. The New York Knicks basketball team is named after him - for a long time Knickerbocker was synonymous with New Yorkers. It's also the name of a kind of trouser worn by the Dutch, still worn today in American football and baseball - baggy, and ending just below the knee:

v     In the history of New York, Irving wrote of a dream of St. Nicholas flying in the sky in a wagon, starting the myth of Santa Claus as he’s known today.

v     Irving was appointed first chairman of the Astor Library, beginning the New York Public Library.

v     In England, he won a medal from the Royal Society of Literature, and an honorary doctorate from Oxford.

Personal Life:

Washington Irving was born in Manhattan, NYC, the youngest of eleven children (eight survived. One was actually named Ebenezer! Can you believe it?). His parents were Scottish-English immigrants and merchants. He was born the same year that the USA won the American Revolution, so he was named after Gen. George Washington. At six, he got to meet George Washington, who was living in New York at the time.

Irving’s health was always weak, so his family sent him on many journeys to get him out of the city. He traveled all through New York State and the Catskill mountains, and then throughout Europe. Coming home, he started the magazine Salmagundi, and then started a marketing campaign for his History of New York City. He posted missing-person ads in various newspapers for Diedrich Knickerbocker, as if he were a real person. And, when he published his book under the same name, it was so famous it was an instant hit.

In the War of 1812, Irving served on the staff of Governor Daniel Tomkins. Afterwards, he moved to England in a failed attempt to revive his family’s merchant business, and stayed there for seventeen years, devoting his life to writing stories. He had troubles with copyright piracy. He sent his stories to be published in New York, only to find copies being printed in the UK. So, he found a good publisher, John Miller in London, and started publishing his works at the same time in America and England.
In 1826 Irving went to Madrid to study some documents that had just been made public concerning Columbus and the conquest of America. He wrote A History of the Life of Christopher Columbus which was very successful, and his first work published in his own name. He mixed fact with fiction, creating the genre romantic history. He began the myth that, before Columbus, Europeans believed the world was flat.
In 1832 Irving returned to America and toured the American west, writing A Tour On The Prairies.

Sunnyside, Irving's home in Tarrytown, NY

He bought a home (now a museum) in Tarrytown, near Sleepy Hollow, where he entertained and encouraged many younger authors, including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, who came during his American tour. Poe, the "tomahawk man", wasn’t so kind in return, saying,
Irving is much over-rated (precenený), and a nice distinction might be drawn between his just and his surreptitious (secretive) and adventitious (accidental) reputation—between what is due to the pioneer solely (len ako priekopník), and what to the writer.” He was also criticized by others for spending too many years in Europe, writing, “of and for England, rather than his own country.”
Irving’s appointment as Minister to Spain was very difficult, due to the turbulent politics there. He wrote:
“I am wearied and at times heartsick of the wretched politics of this country. . . . The last ten or twelve years of my life, passed among sordid speculators in the United States, and political adventurers in Spain, has shewn me so much of the dark side of human nature, that I begin to have painful doubts of my fellow man; and look back with regret to the confiding period of my literary career, when, poor as a rat, but rich in dreams, I beheld the world through the medium of my imagination and was apt to believe men as good as I wished them to be.”
He died, age 76, of a heart attack in his bedroom. According to legend, his last words were, “Well, I must arrange my pillows for another night. When will this end?” His death was commemorated in a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

In The Churchyard In Tarrytown
How sweet a life was his; how sweet a death!
Living, to wing with mirth the weary hours,
Or with romantic tales the heart to cheer;
Dying, to leave a memory like the breath
Of summers full of sunshine and of showers,
A grief and gladness in the atmosphere

The Tell-Tale Heart, by Edgar Allan Poe

The Tell-Tale Heart
by Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)

    TRUE!—nervous—very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses—not destroyed—not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

    It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture—a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees—very gradually—I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

    Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded—with what caution—with what foresight—with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it—oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly—very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man's sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!—would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously—oh, so cautiously—cautiously (for the hinges creaked)—I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights—every night just at midnight—but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he has passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

    Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch's minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers—of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back—but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

    I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out—"Who's there?"

    I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;—just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

    Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief—oh, no!—it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself—"It is nothing but the wind in the chimney—it is only a mouse crossing the floor," or "it is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp." Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel—although he neither saw nor heard—to feel the presence of my head within the room.

    When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little—a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it—you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily—until, at length a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the-crevice and fell full upon the vulture eye.

    It was open—wide, wide open—and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness—all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man's face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

    And have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses?—now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

    But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment!—do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me—the sound would be heard by a neighbour! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once—once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

    If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

    I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye—not even his—could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out—no stain of any kind—no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all—ha! ha!

    When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o'clock—still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart,—for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

    I smiled,—for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search—search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

    The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct:—it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness—until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

    No doubt I now grew very pale;—but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased—and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound—much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath—and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly—more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men—but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed—I raved—I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder—louder—louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God!—no, no! They heard!—they suspected!—they knew!—they were making a mockery of my horror!—this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die!—and now—again!—hark! louder! louder! louder! louder!

    "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed!—tear up the planks!—here, here!—it is the beating of his hideous heart!"


1. Is the narrator crazy? Why?

2. What job does the narrator have?

3. The narrator says he hears the old man’s heart. What does he really hear?

Monday, November 4, 2013

William Shakespeare: Biography

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

v     Poet and playwright, considered the greatest writer in the English language. His plays have been translated into every language and are the most popular on Earth.

v     While popular in his own lifetime, Shakespeare’s popularity grew to its highest point in the 19th century.

v     He wrote 38 plays consisting of comedies, tragedies, historical works, and romances, also known as tragicomedies.

v     Shakespeare’s comedies include: As You Like It, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, and The Taming of the Shrew.

v     Shakespeare’s tragedies include: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and Julius Caesar.

v     Shakespeare’s histories include: Richard II & III, and Henry IV, V, VI, & VIII.

v     Shakespeare’s romances include: The Tempest, and The Winter’s Tale.

v     He also wrote 154 sonnets, 2 long narrative poems, and other poems. His poems Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, and A Lover’s Complaint all deal with the guilt and confusion that result from uncontrolled lust.

v     Not very much is known about Shakespeare. Few documents survive, making him a mysterious person. His sonnets offer tantalizing clues, but nothing concrete about his personal life. Even portraits of him were drawn or painted after his death.

v     We know that Shakespeare collaborated with other authors in many of his works, but it’s not always clear who worked with him or when. Scholars say George Wilkins wrote half of Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Thomas Middleton may have helped with several plays. And John Fletcher also worked with him on a few.

v     There are theories that some of his works may have been written by others, such as Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, or Edward de Vere – but there’s no evidence to prove it.

Shakespeare's First Folio, Title Page
Engraving by Martin Droeshout

v     The first authoritative edition of his work is the First Folio, published in 1623. Other versions existed before, called quartos. Quartos were printed on cheap paper, and had many errors. They were similar to the pirated versions of films and CD’s which people sell today.

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

v     His home town of Stratford-upon-Avon is home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, a theatre troupe which performs his plays in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. 3 million tourists visit there every year.

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, in London

v     In 1997 Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre was reconstructed and opened in Southwark, London, near its original spot.

Famous Quotes:

“Brevity is the soul of wit.”

As You Like It – “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts...”

Hamlet – “To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

Julius Caesar – “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Romeo & Juliet – “What is in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?”

Sonnet 18 – “Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate...”

Personal Life:

Shakespeare's childhood home in Stratford

Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, a small town near Birmingham, in central England. He is remembered there as the “Bard of Avon”. His father, John, was a glove maker and an alderman (a town council member). Shakespeare was the 3rd of eight children, and the eldest surviving son. Scholars believe he attended the King’s New School in Stratford, which would have taught him Latin and grammar. He never attended university. Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden came from a Catholic family, at a time when Catholocism was outlawed. It’s possible Shakespeare was Catholic, but there’s no evidence.

            At eighteen, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, age twenty-six. They had three children, Susanna (born six months after the wedding), and twins Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet died at age eleven. Susanna grew up and married a physician. Judith married a vintner, just two months before Shakespeare’s death.

At twenty-one he started an acting career in London, joining a theatre troupe called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which performed throughout the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, and into to reign of King James I, who became their patron. Shakespeare wrote plays and sometimes acted, rarely taking the leading roles. He also acted in many plays by Ben Johnson.

They played in a number of theatres. After a dispute with one landlord, they tore down the theatre, and carried all the timbers to Southwark where they rebuilt it, naming it the Globe Theatre. It was the first theatre built by and for actors. It burned down in 1613, the same year Shakespeare retired – someone had fired a cannon during a performance, and it hit the roof, starting the blaze. In 1614 it was rebuilt, but it closed down again in 1642. Plays were often closed due to plague – there were 60 months of closure between 1603-1610.

The Globe Theatre, in 1647, illustrated by Václav Hollar
            In 1613 Shakespeare moved to Stratford-upon-Avon, age 49, a wealthy man. He died three years later. Although he has a commemorative plaque at Westminster Abbey, he wasn’t buried there. He was buried in Holy Trinity Church and his body still rests there. An epitaph reads:

Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be ye man yt spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Raven Vocabulary

dreary/bleak/desolate – depressing, giving no hope. Typical of a cold, wet, gray day, when all the leaves have fallen from the trees.

to ponder/divine – to wonder, or think about some mystery

weary - tired

lore – stories and legends

ember – a piece of wood or coal that’s burning in the fire

surcease (of sorrow) – and end (of sadness)

to entreat – to ask for or beg

to implore – to beg very strongly

a window lattice – a window decoration, made of wood or iron:

a flirt and flutter of wings – birds fly by flapping their wings.

days of yore – the past

obeisance – a sign of greeting, usually to bow.

a mien/bearing – an attitude, how someone feels at the moment, usually seen through body language.

to perch – to sit. We use this word mostly for birds.

a bust – a sculpture of a person’s head. In this poem it’s the head of Athena, goddess of wisdom:

a placid bust – a quiet and peaceful bust.

to beguile – to trick someone. The narrator is tricked into smiling.

a grave/grim/stern/ghastly countenance – strict, shocking, and horrible appearance.

the crest of a bird – the feathers on his head.

a craven – a coward, (zbabelec).

a fowl – a bird

a gaunt/ungainly fowl – a bird with ugly proportions, a bit fat.

discourse – speaking. The narrator is surprised the raven can speak.

sublunary – lunar means ‘of the moon’, so sublunary is anything ‘under the moon’ – earthly, mortal. ‘Sublunary being’ here means people.

to speak aptly – to speak well, skillfully.

your only stock and store – your only ability. The narrator thinks this bird has only learned one word. If you can only play one song on the guitar, that’s your only stock and store.

to adjure – to ask for, or advise. Here it means to ask for. The narrator thinks the previous owner of this raven must have had a sad life, asking for hope and getting only despair.

to link fancies – to think about a mystery, connecting the dots.

to croak – to make a sound like a frog. If you have a very dry mouth and try to speak, it might sound like a croak. The writer is making fun of the bird's voice. In slang, to croak means to die.

velvet – (zamat), a soft fabric used for clothing and furniture.

to gloat – to shine

a censer – (kadideľnica) a container for incense (kadidlo), burned in churches during mass (omša):

respite – peace and relaxation, to rest between hard work or suffering.

nepenthe – anesthetic, a drug that relieves pain.

to quaff – to drink

the Tempter – the devil, the one who tempts you.

a tempest – a storm

undaunted – resolved, determined, with no doubt or hesitation.

balm in Gilead – a balm is a medicine. This reference comes from the Old Testament: Jeremiah chapter 8 v. 22: “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wounds of my people?” Also, ‘There is balm in Gilead’ was a traditional folk song at the time.

to adore – to love

Aidenn – heaven, a different spelling of Eden, as in the Garden of Eden.

to clasp – to hold

to part/quit the bust – to leave or separate. “Be that word our sign in parting” means get the hell out.

a plume – a feather

a token – a souvenir

a beak – the mouth of a bird, (zobák)