Monthly Archives: June 2012

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is a little like Brussels sprouts.

Bear with me.

Like Brussels sprouts, many people grow up with an aversion to Shakespeare. A lot of people think they like neither, though they never necessarily give them a chance.  Something about their names, Shakespeare and Brussels sprouts, has come to be associated with that which is undesirable or unattainable. Likely causes are bland preparation and dull teachers; however, a teacher in love with Shakespeare can talk about his plays intelligently and make them accessible to any reader, which produces the same effect for his work as a 400-degree oven, garlic, salt, and pepper do for Brussels sprouts.

At least, this is what I learned this semester in my Shakespeare class.

One of the first plays that we read for that class was Twelfth Night. Written in the second half of his career, about 1601, this play didn’t quite fit neatly alongside A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the comedies or with Hamlet and Macbeth in the tragedies. Twelfth Night, as well as Measure for Measure, fit into a new category often referred to as “problem comedies.” Though still comedies, they are darker; in Twelfth Night, for instance, while everyone else gets married at the play’s conclusion, Malvolio closes with a vow of revenge.

The most interesting aspect of this play for me, however, connects back to the novel Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides that I wrote about last, and its discussion of gender. At the heart of Twelfth Night lies an intriguing commentary on gender roles, and it features my personal favorite of Shakespeare’s women, Viola.

Viola, believing her twin brother to be dead, decides to honor him by risking her life to dress like him and work for Orsino, Duke of Illyria. Meanwhile, Orsino fancies himself in love with a Countess called Olivia. Unfortunately for him, Olivia cannot be bothered by his excessive expressions of love (which is actually what he wants because he’s all about the chase, anyway) as she is so busy making a show of mourning for her dead brother.

This is where Viola comes in. She uses her cross-dressing, gender-bending role ambiguity to resolve this classic Petrarchan stalemate between Orsino and Olivia. By befriending Orsino as a male they see each other as equals, so when she falls in love with him (and he with her, once he finds out she is a woman), they present the alternative idea of a companionate marriage.

Of course, after being sent with messages of love from Orsino to Olivia, the Countess falls in love with Viola (disguised as Cesario at the time). This is presumably due to Viola’s unique perspective of the situation as a woman in a man’s clothes, but as the play is a comedy, luckily for Olivia, Viola’s believed-to-be-dead twin brother comes back for her to marry.

Whereas most of Shakespeare’s women fall into the “obedient” stereotype of the Medieval view of women, the ones that do have some sort of drive or agency tend to be evil or otherwise unpleasant (ahem, Lady Macbeth). Viola, however, uses the means she has available (cross-dressing, naturally) in order to present a positive, influential female character. And I think that in itself is enough to make this play worth reading.

As an interesting side note, if you’re wondering what on earth the title “Twelfth Night” has to do with the play, the 12th night of Christmas is the Feast of Epiphany, also known as the Medieval feast of fools. It is a secular holiday when all social distinctions are erased for a day (within reason, of course). On the Twelfth Night, boundaries break down and dissolve gender and social divisions. Oh, and don’t forget the food, drink, and music in quantities beyond the limits of reason. ;)

 

* This post would not be possible without everything I learned from that Shakespeare class with Dr. Miller-Tomlinson. Before this spring, I definitely fell into the “Shakespeare isn’t for me” group, something I am not trying to overcome. :)

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Book Matting

 

I took one interior design class in high school. I enjoyed the class, but I don’t even remember how I ended up in it. Needless to say, I am not qualified to tell you how to design your home. I simply think very few homes benefit from bare walls and only necessary furniture. Even minimalism shows intent, prison cells do not.

When I was living in a college dorm, I had a friend that frequently described his single-occupant room as looking like a jail cell. I repeatedly told him that I was sure it couldn’t be that bad, but when I finally saw the room for myself, I was a little surprised by how accurate his prison description was, save for the single poster hanging on the wall: a map. (A motif I can absolutely get behind: here, here, and here.)

In an effort to liven up his room a little, I drew a dinosaur on a sheet of paper. And in a great show of friendship, he left it hanging for the rest of the school year. I am certainly no artist.

I’m not saying I blame him for not trying to turn his walls into a museum of his life; college dorm living is all about the temporary and living off of things that will all fit in your car in the spring. His room caused me to really see the benefit of putting a little of yourself into your decoration.

The way I see it we are as much a reflection of the space around us as the space around us is a reflection of who we are. Yeah? Maybe you like pastels. Awesome. Maybe you like black and white contrasts. Fantastic. Maybe you can’t get enough prints. More power to you. Your individual tastes will find a way into your space one way or another, through fabric choices, pictures on the walls, whatever you want, and that’s the best part of designing any space. Then, your space will get to design you a little. What? I just mean that if bright red lipstick can make you feel bold, why can’t your walls? Blues can be relaxing, yellows energizing. But it also goes beyond that. The sculpture sitting on your bookcase that can make you smile every time you see it, the piece of artwork on your wall that you created yourself, these things form the real sense of a “homey” environment, not the wall treatment.

You’re a part of everything you create, and everything you create is a part of you, even if it’s just a simple project to give your space some life.

Book matting idea from this book.

You will need a frame, an image you’d like framed (I used cards that came with the special edition CD of a band that I love), an old book you will never read again, scissors or an exacto knife, and a ruler. Not pictured: all-purpose glue, white paper and a black marker or black paper, and clear tape (optional).

All you’re doing is cutting out random shapes from the pages of the book. I like to trim off the margins so there’s less blank space in the final product.

Then you just start gluing to the cardboard backing of the frame. Or a piece of paper the size of your frame. Whichever you prefer. And it’s alright if you don’t cover all the way to the center because your chosen image will cover it.

For the corners, I just cut a strip of white paper about ½” wide and color it with a black marker. Cut it into four pieces and then just wrap them around the corners.

The back of the image will look like this in the corners.

Glue or tape the image to the back of the frame and you’re done! Find a nice spot for it on your mantel or on a book shelf, then step back and admire.

* This same concept would also work really well with other types of paper such as sheet music or scrapbook paper.

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Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles

I live in the green chile capital of the nation. Most people that grow up here develop a sort of addiction to it, wanting it at every meal of the day. It’s really not a problem as long as you continue to live here, but once you move away, wow. Even if you can find cans of chopped green chile, people come back with horror stories of not being able to find what they really need: whole chiles. It’s the curse of the canned vegetable; flavor goes out the window, but at least you can console yourself with that oh-so-familiar texture. But perhaps most importantly, you can’t make chile rellenos with chopped chile. Chile rellenos are magical, in case you’re living some place where you’ve never heard of them. Whole green chiles, stuffed with cheese, dipped in batter, and then fried. Seriously, come visit the Southwest. A friend from New England recently made a journey down here, and the first thing he did upon his arrival was become hopelessly addicted to chile rellenos.

As whole chiles are not available everywhere, you can, however, use these cookies to bribe people to freeze and ship some to you.

My sister didn’t even go very far, one state over, and she gets picked on for wanting to add chile to everything.  A list:

Breakfast burritos with green chile,

Green chile Alfredo,

Green chile mac and cheese,

Green chile bagels,

Pizza topped with green chile,

Red chile honey,

Red chile brownies,

Hot cocoa with red chile.

That last one seems to be the inspiration for this recipe, which I found in a cookbook. So, even though it’s not a local recipe, it should feel right at home alongside them. Like the chile brownies I recently had, these cookies are more chocolate snickerdoodles than anything else. The spice from the cayenne pepper just tickles your mouth as an afterthought and makes you crave another. It’s that unexpected moment of “oh, well that’s interesting,” that makes these cookies special. Plus, cinnamon sugar topping. What could be better? Maybe that this recipe is originally written vegan. I only had dairy milk on hand, but that still means no butter and no eggs. So, for a cookie, that’s pretty healthy, right?

Just look at that cayenne…

These were so easy to form, though usually that’s the hardest part. But that could just be me.

And I can’t decide if they’re cuter going into or coming out of the oven.

Don’t forget your milk; it’ll cool your mouth a little. :)

Mexican Chocolate Snickerdoodles

From Vegan Cookies Take Over Your Cookie Jar

Topping*:

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Cookies:

½ cup canola oil

1 cup sugar

¼ cup pure maple syrup

3 tablespoons milk of your choice

2 teaspoon vanilla extract (original recipe calls for one teaspoon vanilla extract and one teaspoon chocolate extract, but alas, I had none)

1 2/3 cups flour

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (the recipe specifies not Dutch-process, which is presumably because of the higher fat content of the regular unsweetened cocoa powder. As these cookies have no butter, they need that extra source of fat in there.)

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cayenne (this may not seem like a lot, and I even considered addling a little more, but this ½ teaspoon turned out to be the perfect amount.)

1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

2 Mix topping ingredients together on a large dinner plate. You will be pressing the cookies into this mixture later, so a plate will work better than a bowl.

3 In a medium-size mixing bowl, use a fork to vigorously mix together the oil, sugar, syrup, milk, and extract.

4 Sift in the remaining ingredients, stirring as you add them. Once all the ingredients are added, mix until you have a pliable dough. It may seem a little wet and sticky, but it should still roll out well.

5 Roll the dough into balls about 1”-1.5” in diameter. Pat the dough balls into the sugar topping to flatten into 2-inch discs. Transfer the dough balls to a baking sheet, sugar side up, at least 2 inches apart, as they do spread a little. This should be easy as the bottom of the cookies should just stick to your fingers, so you can just ease them onto the tray.

6 Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. They should be a bit spread and crackly on top. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies will be soft in the center and have perfectly crisp outer edges.

*you will have some of this cinnamon sugar mixture left over. Since there’s no raw eggs being pressed into it, I like to sprinkle a good amount on buttered bread before throwing the whole thing in the toaster oven. I have childhood memories of that deliciousness.

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