Fine and Performing Arts

Sex, Memory, Teaching, Death, Chaucer, Hamlet and–Dick Jokes….

Sex, Memory, Teaching, Death, Chaucer, Hamlet and— Dick Jokes…

Nec Habeo, Nec Careo, Nec Curo![i]

Odi memorem compotorem.[ii]

I begin this ninth chapter with the rather improbable maxim that “no one can teach anyone, anything.” The most one can hope to do is to facilitate the learning process for one’s students. A teacher can make it relatively easier or harder for his or her students to learn, but he or she cannot “teach” them. A quick trip to the dictionary is helpful once again to illustrate my point. There, we find that the word “instruct” is from the Latin prefix “in”, in and the verb “struere” to pile-up or to build (New Century Dictionary 838). Teachers may build complicated hierarchies of facts, figures or skill-sets, they may pile these up in front of their students; but unless the students disassemble these and then reassemble them for themselves, no “learning” has taken place.

Teaching is a matter of creating strategies for student success. Charismatic teachers have little trouble developing these strategies for motivated, eager students. Most teachers can tell the difference between motivated students and lazy students. Motivated students generally sit toward the front of the classroom, take copious notes and turn their assignments in on time and according to the teacher’s specifications. Lazy students sit toward the back of the classroom, do not take notes and are usually late with their assignments. Eager students ask intelligent questions that are relevant to the information that the teacher is presenting; lazy students tend to either ask no questions, or ask questions that are off point, change the subject or are generally disruptive. In my experience, women have out-performed the men by a margin of at least two to one. [This is not a scientific observation, but merely an anecdotal one, based on my recollection. On the other hand, I am sure that if I or anyone else were to wade through the transcripts of the thousands of students who have sat in my classes over the years that this ratio would be met or even exceeded.]

One strategy that I sometimes teach to my students is to use memory systems; I teach three different systems, two are ancient and one is contemporary. Memory experts tell us that memory is based on associations we make between what we already know and what we are trying to learn. Memory systems give us the opportunity to control and create these associations to help us remember. The phrase “on the other hand” comes to us from the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Orators would associate the points that they wanted to talk about with the different parts of their hands by visualizing them on their hands. Another Ancient mnemonic device included “loci” or places; the orator would visualize the elements of his speech in different locations at his home. As he mentally walked through his home, he encountered in his imagination, each of the ideas he wanted to talk about.

In the 1970’s Harry Lorayne and Jerry Lucas published “The Memory Book”. In it they set out a very useful system of associating images that represent the things, names, dates, numbers, people, facts, words or ideas that one might want to remember. One of their basic principles was, as I remember it, to distort or exaggerate the images one is using to make the images very vivid and thus easier to remember. The more outrageous the image, the easier it is to remember. They also developed a system that exchanged letters or sounds for numbers, based on the shapes of the numbers. “T” or “D” equal 1 because both have a single down stroke; “N” equals 2, because it has two down strokes; “M” equals 3 because it (lower case m) has three down strokes; “R” equals 4 because “four” has a prominent “R” sound. “L” equals 5 because the top of the five looks like an “L” laying on its face; 6 may be represented by “sh” or “ch” because of the “ecks” sound. 7 is represented by K because it looks like the upstroke of a cursive k (7< sort of). 8 is represented by a cursive I or J; 9 looks like a p or b. 0 is represented by ssss or zzz. They also give a series of words that correspond to each number: Tie, Noah, Ma, Rye, Law, shoe, cow, ivy, bee, 10 would have the t or d sound and sss or zzz sound, so “Toes”. When one makes-up one’s own words for association, one should make sure that no other sounds from the list are used less one confuse one’s numbers. All sound values for the number associations are phonetic, and “close enough” is good enough, as long as a vivid mental association is formed. [I’m not citing the book here, because I am recreating this from memory, I lost the book over 25 years ago. I seldom have to memorize lists in order, but do have to remember dates and phone numbers; so I apply the basic system for those purposes.]

This system is especially suited to remembering dates. I require, in Art History that my students be able to see an image of a work of art and recall the name of the piece, the artist, the date is was started or completed, the culture or time period in which it was produced and its current location.  A complete answer includes at least three of these five bits of information. My students learn how to “convert” numbers into words and the words into evocative (sometimes, provocative) images. For example, the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling was painted by Michelangelo from 1508-12. The numbers convert to t or d, l,sss or zzz, I or J, t or d again and n; or we know that 15 could be “tool” 8 is ivy and 12 is toes. We could build a series of images and associations that include a friend named either Michael or Michelle, an angel, tool (s = 0), ivy, a ceiling and toes. Again, the more outrageous the scene is, the more likely we are to remember it.

In High School, I memorized an entire Economics textbook almost word for word. The teacher bragged that “nobody ever gets 100% on one of my tests.” Because his tests were taken almost verbatim from the text, I managed to get 100% for several weeks in a row. [About the seventh week or so I did not study—I was talking to this girl Cathy on the phone….  In my own defense, I still remember her name, but remember very little about Economics except it is all about supply and demand.] As an actor, I always had my script memorized before the rest of the cast. The way one memorizes texts varies a little depending on what type of text one is trying to memorize.

When one is memorizing a text book, one first reads the entire assignment to locate the key ideas. One then writes down the key ideas in order.  Then one reads the assignment again, one sentence at a time.  In each sentence one identifies the key words that have the most “visual” force. One must isolate enough key words for each sentence as one needs, to recall the entire sentence word for word. One then builds visual associations as described in the example above. Once these associations have been made for each sentence and all of the sentences have been linked together. One returns to the text a third time to review one’s associations and to check his or her recollection of the exact text. After this third reading and after checking one’s associations against the text, one should associate the key idea image to the first sentence of the section to which the key idea belongs. One then checks to see if he or she can recall the entire text with just the list of key ideas.

This may sound tedious but if one is very motivated, say to stifle a boastful teacher [or to impress Cathy] one really does not mind the tedium. In fact the anticipation of seeing the look on the teacher’s face week after week as I continued to “Ace” his tests was almost exciting enough in itself to be worth the effort. [But it was not as exciting as Cathy.] After a few chapters, the whole process becomes faster, and fewer associations are required to recall entire paragraphs.

Students will rarely find themselves in a class where they are required to memorize their textbooks. I have described how they might do so without a demonstration. In most classes students will only need to remember key facts and main ideas. So I will “demonstrate” how one might do this. For the purposes of this demonstration, I have chosen a passage from Walter Kaufman’s Tragedy and Philosophy. The full text of the passage reads:

Aristotle’s relative ranking of the six elements he found in tragedy is less persuasive in Shakespeare’s case than in Greek tragedy. [the six elements are given earlier by Kaufman as “plot [mythos], character [ethe], diction [lexis], thought [dianoia], spectacle [opsis], and music [melopoiia]….”  The brackets enclosing the Greek words, the italics and the terminal ellipses are his (52).] What raises Shakespeare above all other post-Greek tragic poets is not his arrangement of the incidents or his handling of the plot but rather—if we stick to Aristotle’s categories—his portrayal of character and his diction, or, as we should prefer to say, his poetry. The plot of Hamlet, for example, is far from being a model of taut organization, but the hero’s character has proved to be as fascinating as any in world literature, and in English only some of Shakespeare’s other plays rival its poetry.

This is not to say that the plot does not matter at all. The fact is that it touches on, and explores, so many crucial human relationships is one of the major reasons for the impact of the play. Yet the arrangement of the incidents, which Aristotle considered all-important although Sophocles, as we have seen, did not (Oedipus Tyrannus is an exception, not the rule), has an almost slapdash quality.

What is true in the highest degree of Hamlet is also true, if not quite so strikingly, of Shakespeare’s other tragedies. There is nothing very revolutionary in this claim; it was largely on account of his handling of plot that Shakespeare was for some time considered a barbarian, compared to the Greek and French tragedians. (272-273)

There are some key ideas that I have added to Lorayne’s basic system. [If he used them I cannot remember, all I know is that they work very well.] The first idea is that words can be manipulated so that the “sound” of the words we use to create our associated images reminds of us the original word or name. Most people, for example, would not be able to conjure an image for “Aristotle”. Most people can immediately conjure a variety of images for “Hair is total”. “Hair is total” can be applied to a wide variety of imaginary scenes and easily reminds us of “Aristotle”.

Plato is seen here telling Aristotle a dick joke...the painting is by Raphael

A corollary to this rule or principle is to use the way the word is spelled to create a part of your imaginary scene. For example, “diction” is a very difficult word to create a picture for. Phonetically I suppose one could imagine a friend named “Dick” “shunning someone—but I am not sure that the image of “shunning” would register in one’s mind in any convincing way. However when we use the spelling of the word, we find the image of a person with a “dick-tie-on”.

This brings us to the third principle which is, I am fairly certain my own original addition to Lorayne’s system. That is, one should use sexually charged images as often as one can. These images work better than mundane images because they are “taboo” and thus, perhaps engage both the conscious and subconscious minds. [What we do in the privacy of our own imaginations is nobody’s business—just be sure that when the test rolls around you do not write “dick tie on” as one of Aristotle’s elements of tragedy.]

Now, to construct our first little vignette; we begin with “Hair is total” the first element is “plot”—we imagine a cemetery plot filled with hair.  The second element is “character”; we visualize an actor covered in soot and ash (a “charred actor”) from head to toe, lying on the pile of hair in a cemetery plot. The third element is “diction”; as we look at out actor again we notice he is wearing a white tie with a picture of an erect red phallus on it, or that he has “a dick tie on.” Suddenly a “thought” bubble appears above his head; we notice that the thought bubble is filled with a pair of “spectacles” that are, miraculously, singing (“melody”).

We can create a similar set of imaginary associations to help us remember the Greek words for each of the elements of tragedy. These do not seem to lend themselves easily to the kinds of association crafted above (narrative images). Instead I have chosen to link them to the “hooks” for the number associated with them by Aristotle’s list. Our hook for the number one is tie; the first word is mythos. This word in Greek sounds like “me toes”—so I picture tiny little ties on all of my toes.  The second hook is Noah, and in Greek, the second word sounds like “ate a”; one could picture Noah eating anything, but “ate” in the vulgar vernacular has sexual connotations, so we should use it in the sexual sense; [There is no one around for Noah to “eat”, so we can associate him with the next hook “ma”—for God’s sake never use your own mother!] we will imagine that he is “eating” or that he “ate” a young ma—we know she’s a ma because she has a little baby on her chest. Let’s use Kendra Wilkinson, she’s a new “Ma” ….The third hook is ma so all of a sudden Kendra lifts the baby up by its legs, gives a leg a kiss—because the third element in Greek sounds like “leg-kiss”—and then lays it down in its crib near the bed. [At this point, I took a break to go call Child Protective Services—because—well, that’s just wrong all around!—let’s make the baby look like Hugh Hefner….]

The fourth hook is rye and the fourth element in Greek sounds like “dE a noi ya”; I picture a very annoying acquaintance of mine in the middle of a large rye bread sandwich looking up at me and asking “(di)d I annoy ya?”  The fifth hook is law and the Greek word sounds like “op sees”; I picture a cartoon like policeman walking up to my car window; the window is rolled down, just as he gets to the window he slips and falls like a slapstick stooge. As he falls I hear him yell “oopsies!” The sixth hook is shoe, so I picture a large, menacing brown oxford, the laces are knotted into a sinister looking face, he holds a large knife, and is “peeing” at me. This is because in Greek the last element sounds like “may lop o’ee ya”; the shoe is threatening either to lop something of mine off or pee on me. This brings us to other principles about making associations: I am borrowing the “p” from lop to use in front of the “ee”’s , I have to remember that I have done this, and always be sure to edit mentally before using the word in a lecture. Also, the sentences we use to create our little scenes do not have to make sense grammatically, nor do they have to be “politically correct”. In fact, as argued above, the more they transgress, the more successful they are.

To summarize the long passage from Kaufmann, I wrote:

Shakespeare’s characters and diction are more important than his plots. Hamlet is a good example.

Hamlet has impact because Shakespeare explores “crucial human relationships”.

His handling of plot caused Shakespeare to be regarded as a “barbarian” compared to Greek and French tragedians.

Aristotle thought plot was the most important of all of the elements, Sophocles did not.

By now the reader no doubt understands how to build associations between and among key words; we have seen several of these words in the previous examples and we need not belabor the point here because I want to discuss memorizing other kinds of texts. I would however like to give a few suggestions about words that might be too bland to create emotionally or sexually “charged” associations.  Shakespeare is obvious enough one needs only to imagine a cartoon Shakespeare with a spear where his penis should be. “Barbarian” and Hamlet (a little ham dressed in Elizabethan clothes with cartoon arms and legs) are “relatively charged” words. “Sophocles” is easy too if know the Greek pronunciation “Sofa-clays”—picture a “clay sofa”.  Words like “important”, “elements” and “crucial” are not very evocative or sexy.

Bland words can be changed to other words that are not as bland. “Important” can become “impotent”, “elements” can become “elephants” and “crucial” can become “cruel”. The student is not likely to be quizzed about elephants in a theater history class and so he or she should easily remember the substitution. The important rule to follow when making substitutions, one should leave enough of the original word intact so that it can easily be recognized later. I believe that almost everyone could recognize a group of “totally hairy, impotent elephants acting out a Greek Tragedy on a cemetery plot” as “plot is the most important element of Greek Tragedy for Aristotle.” If one added an image of “Shakespeare sitting on a clay sofa next to a charred actor with his best dick tie on, at the performance; Shakespeare is shaking his head “no” with his arms crossed in disgust, one has the whole picture!

[And now a quiz— cover the top part of the page with a sheet of paper. No cheating or I’ll call your mother.]

[According to Aristotle, what are the six elements of Tragedy? Once more, in the Greek?]

[According to Aristotle, which of the elements is the most important?]

[According to Kaufmann, which play is a good example of the importance of ------which two elements-- of tragedy? Why?]

[Why do you have the image of elephants performing tragedy for Shakespeare and a charred actor sitting on a clay sofa as Shakespeare shakes his head, in your head?]

[Alright, be sure your names, the date and the name of the book and my name are all on your paper then send it to my publisher. The address is in the “front matters” of the book. Yes, you have to buy your own stamps and envelopes! Geesh!!]

One of the more difficult assignments faced by English majors, either as undergraduates or graduate students, is to memorize the first 18 lines of the Prologue from Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English. English is a “living” language. “Dead” languages like Latin and Ancient Greek or Ancient Hebrew will never change. English continues to grow, adding vocabulary from other languages; losing vocabulary through disuse or neglect. Sometimes the meanings of words can even change 180 degrees. When Pope Julius II saw Michelangelo’s ceiling for the first time he called it “amazing, amusing and awful”. [He said it in Italian—but this only serves to prove my point in two languages.] “Amazing” means the same today as it did in 1512; “amusing” meant “inspired by the muses”; and “awful” meant “awe-inspiring”. Because English is a living language, the Middle English of Chaucer’s day bears a closer resemblance to the Old English of Beowulf, than to contemporary English.

Canterbury Tales

One of the problems students face when reading Chaucer or trying to “perform” Chaucer, is that Chaucer’s English may have familiar looking words, and letters, but the pronunciation is different and there for the language sounds different than contemporary English. When the student sets out to memorize the lines, he or she should memorize them phonetically. Using Lorayne’s memory system as adapted above, this requires a good deal of creativity and imagination. Because the piece is going to be performed aloud, we can add another adaptive principle to those already given; that is, our associations may be composed of sounds from two or even three adjacent words. Although we, as in other cases, must remember we have made this adaptation, in order to keep each word distinct in performance. Let us look then at the entire selection:

Whan that aprille with his shoures soote

The droughtes of March hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour

Of which virtu engendered is the flour:

Whan Zephirus eek with his sweet breeth

Inspired hath in every holt and heathe

Tendre croppes and the yonge sonne

Hath in the ram his halwe cours y ronne

And smale foweles maken melodye

That slepen al the nyght with open ye

(So priketh hem nature in hir courages):

Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

And palmers for to seken traunge strondes,

And specially from every shires ende

Of Engelond to Canterbury the they wende,

The hooly blissful martir for to seke,

That hem hath hoplen whan that they were seke.

Now, this is a book about teaching and learning in the Arts and Humanities, and not a master’s course on Chaucer; and this chapter is about using learning strategies like mnemonic systems, not about helping the student pass his or her oral finals. [No JOKES] So, we will not break down the entire piece;[I’M WARNING YOU] but I will give some examples of how Chaucer’s language is different from our own, and a few examples of how to adapt Lorayne’s system to memorize these first few lines.

Chaucer started writing this sometime around 1386; the “tales” [pronounced “tah-lez”] of the title are stories that each of a group of pilgrims tell each other each evening as they make their way to the shrine of Thomas a Becket at Canterbury. Becket was the Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II (whom we have already met—in another part of the blog…). The language he wrote in was a language in transition from the Germanic languages of the Jutes, Picts, Angles, and Saxons, through the French and Latin introduced by William the Conqueror’s Normans, to the Early Modern English written by Shakespeare 200 years later. The mixture of sounds we hear when listening to Chaucer are therefore Germanic, French and Latin—along with a few that have long since vanished from our cultural memories. [How the English language developed is a fascinating subject, but far too complicated to relate here. Students who wish to pursue the subject should find a copy of Robert McNeil’s book The Story of English; one might even find it on DVD at the PBS website.]

Some general rules for pronunciation are borrowed from these languages. “A” is not “a” as in “cat” but “a” as in “father”. Almost all syllables are sounded in most words. “O” has a variety of sounds: “o” as in “open” as in “soote” and “roote”; “o” as in “from”, “of” and “croppes”; when doubled as in “goon” the first “o” is as in “open” the second “o” sounds like “e” in “hen”, when doubled as in “hooly” it sounds like “oo” in “boot”. Whereas in “night” the “gh” is silent, in “nyght” the “gh” is sounded as “g” in “get”, in “droughtes” as “k” or “ch” in “Loch”. “I” can be short as in “in”, long as in “I”, or sounded as long “e” as in “keen”. “E” can be long as in “seen”, short as in “end”, or as long “A” before “y” as in “veyne”, when doubled in “seeke” or eek, it may look long as in “seek”, but stays short as in “hen”. “Ou” can be “oo” as in “boot”, or “a” as in “father”: as in “shoures” and “droughtes” respectively. There are a few special cases too: “Tendre” is French, therefore “tahn-drrr”; “virtu” is Latin, therefore “vir-teue” (think “ee”, say “oo” as in boot). For “th”, think “d” say “thh”. In “ye” the “y” is silent and the “e” is long.

Rendered phonetically, the first few lines sound like this:

Juan dthaht up-rrEl-leh widt hiss shoo-ress sOt-eh (long vowels will be capitalized)

Dtha drakhts uv march hadth par-ked tO dtha rOt-eh

Ahnt bah-dthet A-ver-E vAn-eh in switch lik-oorr

uv which veer-tewe en-jen-dair-ed ist dtha floo-er

[n.b. “foweles” is not “fow-el-es” but “foolz”. “Inspired” is not “in-spI-er-ed” but “in-spee-rrred”. Terminal “e”’s are barely sounded as “eh”.]

Once one has sorted out the entire selection phonetically, he or she may begin to play with the sounds and start to associate other words with those sounds, and images with the words. As he or she proceeds the student should find that he or she needs fewer and fewer associations to remember the entire piece. When performing the piece the student should understand where the “thought-breaks” are, not the line breaks. If we look at the punctuation we can determine where the breaks are.

“Thought breaks” are complete thoughts, the lines conform only to the metrical pattern established by Chaucer or any other poet. Pauses should only be taken after thought breaks, not after every line; then the performance sounds more natural; even though the couplets rhyme we want to perform against the rhyme, to avoid sounding “sing-song”. Thus, roughly translated: “When April with his soothing showers has pierced March’s drought to its roots; (mini break) and washed all the vines with his sweet liquid, (mini break) the potency of which brings forth the flower.” (Thought break.)  So, in the original there is no pause after the first line. The pause comes after the second line. Likewise, there is no pause after the third line; we can take a pause after the fourth line that is a little longer than the first—and thereby indicated that a new but related thought is beginning.

As we play with the sounds Chaucer has given us, we should keep the thought breaks in mind as we arrange our sounds/words/images and the associations we create among them. [In acting these thought breaks are called “units” and “beats”. I’m just stalling while I think up images for the first four lines.] “Juan” is obvious—a man named “Juan” (“Whan”) has a “hat” (“that”) with an “up-reel” (“apprille”) on it, he’s reeling-up with “his chewer’s oats” (“shoures soote”) (a large Quaker oatmeal box, the man on the box is chewing messily) “the dark sub” (close as I can get to “the droughtes of”). Meanwhile “Mark” (“march”) writes the word “toe” on the side of the sub, that is now in “park” next to “Ed” McMahon; Juan comments and points at it “Toe, he wrote!” (“to the roote”). The order does not really matter as long as all of the elements are there. The same is true of the sounds and letters, i.e.: “dark”, “drak”; “chewer’s oats”, “schewer soat”. If your mind is very facile, and since you have made it this far, I assume it is, you will be able to move easily from one set of images within each thought group. Eventually you should be able to link just the first word and the last word moving from group to group until the entire piece has been recited.


There are two more types of texts that I would like to discuss before the end of this chapter on memorization and learning strategies. They are lines from a play—for actors and vocabulary words from dictionary entries—for everybody. The first involves not only learning one’s own lines but also one’s cue lines, entrances, exits and stage business. The second is learning new words, their meanings and their etymologies. The basic techniques are the same as we have discussed earlier, with some slight variations. Actors can use the “loci” technique in addition to regular imaginary associations. Vocabulary exercises often require remembering what language roots and stems are in and sometimes they are not in the same language.

Jean Simmons and Larry Olivier in Hamlet--playing the country matters scene....

Hamlet is a difficult play for most actors and directors. [Although the great English Actor Edmund Keane is said to have remarked once that “…any fool can play Hamlet, but comedy is serious business.” David Garrick is supposed to have uttered on his death bed the words… “Dying is easy, comedy is hard…” I think…I don’t remember…. But that didn’t stop me from misquoting either of them…] Shakespeare’s work is riddled with puns, slang and hidden meaning. If we as students, teachers, actors and directors know what these are and where they are, they can help us act or direct the scene; these can also help us to remember the lines, because many of them are sexual in nature. For all of our purposes here, we will only use a short snippet from the script so that we can take note of the Dover Publications, Inc. editor’s “interpretation” and an interpretation based on the work of the noted scholar of Shakespearean scatology and sexual innuendo Eric Partridge, (1884-1979), as gleaned from Shakespeare’s Bawdy. Then we can test our proposition that knowing what the words really mean, aids us in remembering the scene, or at least in building our associative images. [Ham is Hamlet, Oph is Ophelia his girl, whom he has just called a whore and told her that she should go to a brothel.]

King [Claudius—boooo] What do you call the play?

Ham. The Mousetrap. Marry, how. Tropically? This play is the image of a murder done in Vienna. Gonzago is the Duke’s name; his wife, Baptista. You shall see anon. ‘Tis a knavish piece of work, but what o’ that? Your majesty, and we that have free souls, it touches not. Let the galled jade wince, our withers are unwrung.


Oph. You are as good as a Chorus, my Lord.

Ham. I could interpret between you and your love, if I could see the puppets dallying.

Oph. You are keen.  My lord, you are keen.

Ham. It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge.

Oph. Still better, and worse.

Ham. So you mistake your husbands. Begin Murderer. Pox, leave thy damnable faces and begin. Come, the croaking raven doth bellow for revenge (III, ii).

[That’s probably enough to make my point.]

We’ll begin by looking at the words the Dover editor glossed, and its “meaning”: “Tropically” is given as “metaphorically” (n.42); “free” is rendered “innocent” (n. 43); “galled jade” is given as “a horse rubbed sore (by a saddle or harness).” (n.44); “unwrung” they interpret as “not pinched” (n.45); “keen” they write means “bitter” (n.46); “groaning” they call “sexual intercourse” (n.47); “edge” they say is “sexual appetite” (n.48); and “mistake” they interpret to be “take in error” (Dover ed. 64).  Now we can look up each in Partridge’s “Glossary”, and list the ones we find there [As we do though we should remember that Partridge first published his book in 1947]:

free, adj. Of a woman that grants a man the freedom of her body; cf. liberal… (111).

liberal, Of a woman, liberal with her body to a man; of a man, licentious, or broad in speech…(135).

Jade, See the quotation at bear. [That quote applies better to another play.] A jade, here is a worn-out stallion; hence a “surfeit-exhausted man”. (The usual sense is a ‘battered, peevish, woman of little reputation’.)…(128).

keen, sexually ardent or excited. … (129).

groaning, A woman’s cry or groan of pain at losing her virginity. See the quotation at edge. …(117). [The quote at “edge” quotes the scene we are reading. It adds only that edge has specific reference to the erect penis (98).]

So we do see that through our research we find that a much different scene has emerged. Hamlet has insulted everyone in the room: His stepfather Claudius, his mother Gertrude and his girlfriend Ophelia. The play they are going to watch is the play that Hamlet was based on, The Murder of Gonzago. Hamlet’s goal is to get Claudius to confess when he sees the murder scene, since Gonzago is killed the same way Claudius killed the senior Hamlet. The sexual tension between Hamlet and Ophelia is a sub-theme or a counterpoint to the main action or inaction of the play.  Hamlet has been instructed to kill Claudius; but Hamlet delays, philosophizes and hatches loony plots. As a result of Hamlet’s indecision, his two best friends, his girlfriend’s father, his girlfriend, his girlfriends brother, his mother and his stepfather and Hamlet himself all end-up dead.

Certainly the scene between Hamlet and Ophelia is much more sexually charged if we take Partridges notes rather than the Dover editors’ notes. To say for example, that “groaning” refers to “sexual intercourse” is far different in degree of intensity, than to say that it refers specifically to “A woman’s cry or groan of pain at losing her virginity.” This also affects the rest of the scene; now we may surmise that Ophelia suspects that Hamlet just wants to use her, take her virginity and toss her aside. She says he is just horny, and he pretty much says she is right.  This gives Ophelia a reason to commit suicide! [In the play, Hamlet should be about 20 years old and Ophelia about 12 or 13; in reality Hamlet was played by a fat, balding and usually drunken Richard Burbage, in his 30’s; and Ophelia would have been played by a 12 or 13 year-old boy, whose voice had not yet changed. That the boy actors sometimes worked as prostitutes in the “Gentleman’s Room” is a well-established fact that is usually omitted from Theater History textbooks. But, let’s get back to memory exercises…by the way, I’m still 47.--Actually I'm 51 and a half, this month....When I wrote this I was 47....]

By this point the reader should be well aware of the procedures associated with building mnemonic associations that are provocative and evocative of images and remind us of the words they represent. Shakespeare’ writing is full of such words at this point a list of some of each for the actor playing Hamlet and the actress playing Ophelia, should suffice. Hamlet’s words might include: “marry”, “tropically”, “withers”, “unwrung”, “puppets dallying”, “cost”, “groaning”, “edge”, “mistake” “husbands”, “murderer”, “pox” and “come croaking”. Ophelia’s words might include: “chorus”, “keen”, “Lord” “keen”, “still”. As they prepare for their scene, the actors should remember to associate their cues as well as their key words.  It is generally not wise to choose the last word in the sentence from the other actor’s line. This may cause the scene to be too choppy and have too many pauses. e.g. the actress playing Ophelia hears Hamlet say “jade” she immediately sees a “jade chorus” and so forth.

[I get the feeling the chapter is almost over, so we should move on to vocabulary; why do we build a better vocabulary—mostly to pick-up women—girls too! Anyway, do you think that the Introduction, first and second chapters were too small? Do you think size matters? According to experts who have taken the time to do studies of Ancient Greek pottery and the like, and to do the math, the average Greek males erect penis was 4.25 inches. If one reads the plays of Sophocles in the original or in faithful translation, one finds that males with large penises were made fun of. For the benefit of my male readers, I would like to report the results of my informal poll over the last thirty years most women believe that men of average or a little above average penis size who try harder are better lovers. In 1959 I think Masters and Johnson established the average size as 6”—but they may have shrunk some since the woman’s movement in the late seventies…. Maybe I should go back and add an addendum, or addenda to the intro, and chapters one and two…. Oh. And I’m a bit better than average—although as a teacher I have no genitalia….]

There is a hard way to do this and an easy way, my reader should suspect by now that I will take the easy way. And even if I am in mid-sentence, I have resolved to quit at the bottom of the next page so I can move on to a topic that I like better: teaching criticism, literature and history with Shakespeare’s “History Plays”: in particular Richard III and The Wars of the Roses.

All of the entries are gleaned from the New Century Dictionary:

Uliginose  a. (U-lij-i-nOs) [Latin uliginosus, moist or marshy.] marshy, muddy…(2079). I picture a guy in a toga sinking in a marsh, his nose is missing; he has one leg and a giant nose where the other should be, as he sinks he yells out “Hey! Is you leg a nose?”

Prognathous a. (prog-na-thus) [Gr. Pro, before + gnathos, jaw] having a protruding chin (1402).  I just think of Jay Leno.

Sesquipedalian a. (ses-kwi- pE –dA- lEan [L. sesquipedalis (neut. Pl.)] a foot and a half long (1672). [Insert your own dick  joke here.]

Contumelios a. (con-tU-mE-lE-us) [L. contumeliosus] humiliatingly insolent (318). I just picture myself.

Endogamous a. (en-dog-a-mus) (see endo and gamous—[once you get married it’s the end o’ your gamous…)  marrying within the tribe (498). I just picture everyone I’ve dated except my first wife.

Hardiment (har-di-ment) n [O.F. hardi] boldness and daring (713). [Despite Wordsworth, it’s something you have or not, not something you have to prove.]

Kshatriya (kshat rE ya) noun  [Sanskrit  kshatra, rule]  member of the military caste (908).  Okay, so now I’m just fuckin’ with you.

Per spic u ous (per-spik U- ous)  [L. perspicuous] Transparent as crystal. Clear in expression or statement, or lucid. (1290). [Okay so I don’t want to give up “perspicuous”. But now I’m done.]

a Kshatriya



[i] “Don’t have, don’t want, don’t care!”

[ii] (Loosly) “I hate drinking buddies with good memories!”

[iii] “Okay, That’s enough of that!”






Lorayne, Harry and Lucas, Jerry. The Memory Book, [I don’t remember anything else about it…]

Kaufmann, Walter. Tragedy and Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Shakespeare,William. Hamlet. [go look it up jackass!]

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992.

The New Century Dictionary of the English Language, Vol. I. Ed. H.G. Emery and K.G. Brewster. Revision Ed. Catherine B. Avery. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1953.

The New Century Dictionary of the English Language, Vol. II. Ed. H.G. Emery and K.G. Brewter. Revision Ed. Catherine B. Avery. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1953.

Partridge, Eric. Shakespeare’s Bawdy. London, New York: Routledge, 1996.