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Bad Boys Meet the Swan of Avon: A Re-Visioning of Hamlet in Sons of Anarchy

Abstract

This article investigates the intersections between Shakespeare’s Hamlet and a popular TV series Sons of Anarchy (SOA), loosely based on the Shakespearean original. The crime drama series revolves around an outlaw motorcycle club that literally “rules” a fictional town in California like an old royal family with its own brutal dynastic power squabbles and dark family secrets. The club is governed by an unscrupulous President Clay and an equally violent, though more conflicted, Vice President Jax Teller, the son of the late President, who had died in mysterious circumstances. In the article I argue that the popularity of the series lies not in its graphic scenes of violence, over-the-top Harley chases, and sex intrigues, but rather in its Shakespearean and Renaissance structure. SOA, dubbed as “Hamlet on Harleys”1, is an appropriation rather than an adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy, which makes it a truly transmedial phenomenon. The article investigates a fascinating blend of seemingly marginal elements of modern American culture and the canonical British tragedy. It also addresses the connections between the lifestyles of the so called outlaw MC clubs and the early modern family structure as presented in Hamlet, focusing on the issues of power and gender relations.

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Differences Across Levels in the Language of Agency and Ability in Rating Scales for Large-Scale Second Language Writing Assessments

Abstract

While large-scale language and writing assessments benefit from a wealth of literature on the reliability and validity of specific tests and rating procedures, there is comparatively less literature that explores the specific language of second language writing rubrics. This paper provides an analysis of the language of performance descriptors for the public versions of the TOEFL and IELTS writing assessment rubrics, with a focus on linguistic agency encoded by agentive verbs and language of ability encoded by modal verbs can and cannot. While the IELTS rubrics feature more agentive verbs than the TOEFL rubrics, both pairs of rubrics feature uneven syntax across the band or score descriptors with either more agentive verbs for the highest scores, more nominalization for the lowest scores, or language of ability exclusively in the lowest scores. These patterns mirror similar patterns in the language of college-level classroom-based writing rubrics, but they differ from patterns seen in performance descriptors for some large-scale admissions tests. It is argued that the lack of syntactic congruity across performance descriptors in the IELTS and TOEFL rubrics may reflect a bias in how actual student performances at different levels are characterized.

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“Dig, What Makes Your Mouth So Big?”: Off-Modern Nostalgia, Symbolic Cannibalism, and Crossing the Border of the Universal Language in Clarence Major’s “The Slave Trade: View from the Middle Passage”

Abstract

African American literature on the Middle Passage has always challenged white supremacy’s language with its power to define and control. This article demonstrates how the border of such a “Universal Language” is challenged and trespassed in Clarence Major’s ekphrastic poem “The Slave Trade: View from the Middle Passage” in order to communicate – through the implementation of the voice of a disembodied water spirit Mfu – the black perspective on understanding the slave trade and effectively resist the symbolic cannibalism of Western Culture. The trope of antropophagy often appears in Middle Passage poems in the context of (mis)communication (which results in the production of controlling, racist images of blacks) and stands as a sign of Euro-American power to create the historical, hierarchical, racial reality of the Atlantic slave trade in its economic and symbolic dimensions. The strategy implemented by Major in his poetic confrontation with representation of historical slave trade in European and American Fine arts may be classified as “off-modern” (to use Svetlana Boym’s (2001) nomenclature), which immediately places his poem in a “tradition of critical reflection on the modern condition that incorporates nostalgia” as a means of a critical analysis of the heritage and limitations of a given culture. My claim is that the poem’s “off-modern nostalgia” perspective is a version of textualist strategy which Henry Louis Gates (1988) identifies as Signifyin(g). Major/Mfu successfully perforates and destabilizes the assumed objectivity and neutrality of the images of blacks and blackness created and circulated within the realm of the visual arts of the dominant Western Culture. In “The Slave Trade: View from the Middle Passage” Signifyin(g) takes the form of what could be called an ekphrastic (re)interpretation of actual works of art and joins in the critique of essentialist views often associated with understanding of meaning.

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Intensity of the Reader’s Voice in the Reading Aloud of Fiction: Effects of the Character’s Gender

Abstract

The speaker’s gender is a crucial factor affecting the acoustic features of the voice. One such feature is voice intensity, also known as sound pressure level (SPL). Previous studies have indicated that the female voice may involve lower values of SPL than the male voice. Moreover, there are suggestions that the variability of voice intensity tends to be lower for women than for men as well.

The major aim of this paper is to examine the effects of literary character’s gender on the reader’s SPL, measured in decibels (dB), and the variability of voice intensity, measured as the standard deviation (SD) of SPL, while reading prose aloud. The secondary aims are to investigate the general shifts of SPL and SD of SPL in dialogues independently of other variables and to consider the possible effects of the reader’s gender and the reader’s dialect. In order to accomplish these tasks, a representative sample of dialogue excerpts with male and female characters was used. Each fragment was located in the corresponding audiobook and analysed in terms of the two acoustic features under discussion. Typical values of SPL and the SD of SPL for different readers were measured in the entire chapters from which fragments were selected and the results were compared with those obtained from the extracts. In this way, it was possible to establish the relative shifts of SPL and the SD of SPL for each of the analysed fragments.

Contrary to what had been expected, a statistical analysis of the results revealed no effects of the character’s gender on any of the response variables. However, conclusions concerning secondary aims were more definitive. A general trend to decrease the SD of SPL in dialogues in comparison to the rest of the text in a novel was observed. This tendency is independent of any of the factors included in the study. It was also observed that male American readers tend to lower their voice intensity when reading dialogues. All these findings may be applied in developing text to speech software.

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Laurence Housman’s The Moon-Flower and Victorian Mystic Imagination

Abstract

The paper explores the theme of mysticism in Laurence Housman’s fairy tale “The Moon-Flower” (1895). It presents the main assumptions of a Victorian inner journey toward a mystical union and analyses symbols which construct the inner landscape which undergoes a mystic transformation. The author attempts to show the metamorphosis of the fairy tale’s main characters and identify its roots in both fairy tale and religious traditions. It is argued that Victorian fairy tales reflect a credible quintessence of the universe. The retold tales of an archetypical quest full of powerful symbols uncover the sublime world hidden under the dull reality. Hence, “The Moon-Flower” is believed to tell the story of inner transformation and open the doors to the myriad stories which were told before and create countless possibilities of interpretation.

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The Loss of Grammatical Gender and Case Features Between Old and Early Middle English: Its Impact on Simple Demonstratives and Topic Shift

Abstract

In this paper we examine the relation between the loss of formal gender and Case features on simple demonstratives and the topic shifting property they manifest. The examination period spans between Old English and Early Middle English. While we argue that this loss has important discourse-pragmatic and derivational effects on demonstratives, we also employ the Strong Minimalist Hypothesis approach (Chomsky 2001) and feature valuation, as defined in Pesetsky & Torrego (2007), to display how their syntactic computation and pragmatic properties have come about. To account for the above innovations yielding the Early Middle English ϸe (‘the’), we first discuss the formal properties of the Old English demonstratives which distinguish number, gender, and Case features. This inflectional variety of forms allows the Old English demonstratives to be used independently and to show the anaphoric and discourse-linking properties of topics. Crucially, the same properties characterise also German and Dutch demonstratives that manifest Case and/or gender morphology overtly, which shows that the syntactic distribution of LIs and their morphological richness should be considered as intertwined. The above properties are then confronted with the determiner system in Early Middle English, whose forms undergo inflectional levelling producing the invariant ϸe/ðe form that loses its distributional independence and acquires the article status. The levelling process in question is argued to stimulate the shift of the [+ref/spec] feature from the formal to the semantic pole. This suggests that the Early Middle English ϸe form no longer counts as an appropriate anaphor in topic shift contexts owing to its indeterminacy of Case, gender, and φ-features, which means that it cannot satisfy the Full Interpretation requirement at the interfaces.

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“Next Unto the Gods My Life Shall Be Spent in Contemplation of Him”: Margaret Cavendish’s Dramatised Widowhood in Bell in Campo (I&II)

Abstract

Margaret Cavendish (1623–1673) is nowadays remembered as one of the most outspoken female writers and playwrights of the mid-seventeenth-century; one who openly promoted women’s right to education and public displays of creativity. Thus she paved the way for other female artists, such as her near contemporary, Aphra Behn. Although in her times seen as a harmless curiosity rather than a paragon to emulate, Cavendish managed to publish her plays along with more philosophical texts. Thanks to the re-discovery of female artists by feminist revisionism, her drama is now treated as a valuable source of knowledge on the values and norms of her class, gender, and, more generally, English society in the seventeenth century.

Cavendish’s two-partite play Bell in Campo (1662) is a fantasy on the world where women can fight united not only against misogyny but also against an actual enemy. While the two plays seem to be focused on the valiant Lady Victoria and her female “Noble Heroicks”, Bell in Campo likewise offers an odd subplot featuring two widows and their lives without their beloved husbands. In the secular discourse of the seventeenth century, widowhood has been seen as either liberating – as when the woman became the sole owner of her husband’s estate and goods, or regained her own, and thus more independent – or degrading – when she became the not-so-welcomed burden on her children’s shoulders and pockets. Other studies on widowhood likewise state its symbolic function, showing women as the bearers of memory, predominantly of the husband and his virtues, and often attending to the spouse’s site of memory. While discussing the cultural history of properly performed widowhood, seen as the final (st)age of a woman’s life, and taking into account Cavendish’s remarkable biography, the present paper offers a close study of her propositions for appropriate widowhood and its positioning in contrast to other states of womankind as presented in Bell in Campo.1 It will likewise take into account the more or less sublimated evidence for gerontophobia, particularly in relation to women, as shown in Cavendish’s play and seventeenth-century culture.

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Regional Variation in Jespersen’s Cycle in Early Middle English

Abstract

In this paper we investigate the place of origin of the change from Jespersen’s Cycle stage II – bipartite ne + not – to stage III, not alone. We use the LAEME corpus to investigate the dialectal distribution in more detail, finding that the change must have begun in Northern and Eastern England. A strong effect of region and time period can be clearly observed, with certain linguistic factors also playing a role. We attribute the early onset of the change to contact with Scandinavian: North Germanic is known to have undergone Jespersen’s Cycle earlier in its history, and the geographical distribution of early English stage III fits neatly with the earlier boundaries of the Danelaw.

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The Status of Old English Dare Revisited

Abstract

The development of dare in the history of English has played an important role in the literature on grammatical change and (de)grammaticalization. This paper aims to clarify two issues regarding the syntax and semantics of dare in earlier English: when it is first attested with to-infinitives, and to what extent it can be said to have been semantically ‘bleached’ in a number of Old English attestations. The conclusions are, firstly, that dare is not attested with to-infinitives in Old English (pace Tomaszewska 2014), and that a number of Middle English attestations that have been suggested in the literature are not convincing (pace Visser 1963–73; Beths 1999; Molencki 2005). Secondly, it is argued that the co-occurrence of dare and verbs like gedyrstlæcan ‘venture, be bold, presume’ in Old English is not an indication of semantic ‘bleaching’ of dare, and that the verb was not more ‘auxiliarized’ in Old English than it is today.

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Travellers, Connoisseurs, and Britons: Art Commentaries and National Discourse in the Travel Writings of Daniel Defoe and Tobias Smollett

Abstract

This article seeks to explore the interrelationship of two facets characterising eighteenth-century travel writing – art commentaries and national discourse. It is demonstrated that one of the reasons behind the travellers’ repetitious attempts to fashion themselves as connoisseurs was a need to re-affirm their national identity. To this end it offers an analysis of two travel texts coming from two different political moments – Daniel Defoe’s A Tour thro’ the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–1726), constituting an attempt to read the British as a “great” and prosperous nation after the union of 1707, and Tobias Smollett’s idiosyncratic Travels through France and Italy (1766), shedding light on the British attitude towards the South in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War and at the outset of the cult of feeling in Britain. It will also be argued that the numerous art commentaries throughout the narratives had a political agenda and supported the national discourse underpinning the texts.

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