Queen’s University Early Modern Play Reading Group

Early Modern Play Reading


Jan 29, Feb 26, Mar 12, Apr 2


Watson Hall 406

Enjoy reading a crazy, brilliant play that you might not otherwise come across this semester. The format is simple; come down and read aloud. I promise the play with make you laugh and shudder at the madness of the early modern world.

Bring your own food and drink, but please be considerate and clean up afterwards


Johan the Husband AND The Four pp

January 29 


Two for one! Early Tudor drama here presented by request and popular demand. Johan the husband is a comic tale of a man who believes his wife is cheating on him, while the four pp is about four men (whose jobs begin with the letter “p”) arguing about their professions.


Eastward Ho!

February 26


A play so scandalous that the playwrights were literally imprisoned! A city comedy that skewers pretentious London customs around the time of James I’s ascension. What is one to do in a world where you can buy titles and nobility and no one pays attention to class distinction?


Perkin Warbeck

March 12


Ford’s most acclaimed play! A history play about the man who claimed to be Richard IV—one of the so-called “Princes in The Tower” killed by the villainous Richard III. Eventually captured and killed by the Tudor regime, Perkin Warbeck refuses to give up his claim to be Richard IV


All for Love

April 2


Dryden’s take on the story of Antony and Cleopatra. A tragedy emphasizing elegance, seriousness, and high art at a time when ribald bawdry ruled the stage. The plot? Marc Antony and Cleopatra rebel against Rome. It doesn’t go so well for them.  Bring your own snake!




Early Modern Digital Guinea Pigs Needed

How would you like to be a digital guinea pig?

I am, at present, putting together an article that is looking at a number of affiliated early modern theatre history websites and databases. I’m looking for students (or instructors) to play with the websites for about an hour and tell me what your impressions are in terms of usability, utility, aesthetics, how you could see using this for research, how you could see using this in a classroom, “cool factor,” and anything else that would spring to mind.

If you are interested in testing out these websites, I want to hear from you! I was thinking of gathering everyone together at one time and playing with the websites en masse for about an hour. If you are willing to give me an hour of your time, I will provide pizza.

So what about it? Are you in? Email me (andrew.bretz@queensu.ca) or facebook or twitter or instagram me and let me know you are interested. I’ll set up a time and we can all talk early modern digital worlds!

Notes Towards a Lecture on Canonicity and Women’s Writing

Some thoughts on teaching the Canon

Pretty much every university has a survey English lit course that covers everything from Beowulf to Beloved, Hrotsvitha to the Hurt Locker. Most of the time these courses get shunted onto the junior faculty because, frankly, full professors want to focus on the research that got them their full professorship and that means specialized courses in the media representation of Virginia Woolf in the 1920s and 30s, not a smattering of Anglo-Saxon, a smattering of 18th century… Also, generalist courses tend to be filled with students who aren’t really as interested in literary studies as they are in figuring out what the hell this university experience is all about, which makes for teaching those courses a bit of a punishing experience.


As someone coming into the profession, I knew all this and I prepared myself to have the generalist courses thrown at me. The funny thing is that I never really got them.


I’ve only ever taught one first year historical survey half course and one first year genre survey half course in my ten years of teaching (which is pretty amazing when you think about it). I have always wanted to do a full year survey course however, because I have figured out what I want to teach.


  • 2 weeks Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim
    • the first post-classical playwright in Europe (ca 900s)
  • 2 weeks Margery Kempe
    • The first autobiography of a middle-class woman in England (ca 1400)
  • 2 weeks on Julian of Norwich
    • Mysticism, religious tradition post 1350
  • 1 week Isabella Whitney
    • Middle class poet of the 1500s
  • 1 week Mary Queen of Scots
    • Representation and negotiation of history
  • 1 week Elizabeth I
    • Royal poetry and power
  • 2 weeks of coterie poets like Mary Sidney Herbert, Katherine Phillips, Lady Mary Wroth
    • Cavalier poetry, coterie culture, patronage
  • 2 weeks Aphra Behn’s The Rover (or Oroonoko)
    • Restoration politics, slavery and gender

Winter Break

  • 1 week on Phyllis Wheatley’s Poetry
    • Enlightenment, Slavery and discourses of education
  • 2 weeks on Austen’s Northanger Abbey
    • The Gothic, Relationship to literary inheritance
  • 3 weeks on George Eliot’s Middlemarch
    • Victorian realism, Relationship to literary inheritance
  • 2 weeks on Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway
    • Modernism, consciousness
  • 2 weeks on Toni Morrison’s Beloved
    • Memory, Trauma, History
  • 2 weeks on Paula Vogel’s How I Learned to Drive
    • Trauma, Memory, American Culture (late 20th C)
  • 1 week on Miss Lou
    • Diasporic culture, orality & oral traditions, performance, Canada/Jamaica


It’s a course that covers all the major elements of English literary history that you’d find in other courses of the same ilk. You have representative texts from all the major genres, even somewhat conservative in some ways. For instance, I’m not including philosophical texts, or poetry that doesn’t “look like” poetry. It has a bias towards single authored texts and towards a certain straightforward and uncomplicated sense of agency.


Thing is that I could never actually teach this course. Or, at least, I have not yet been able to get it past an undergraduate chair. Why not?


Where is the Shakespeare? The Chaucer? The Milton? I’m a specialist in Shakespeare, that is why people hire me, so why would I choose to create a course without the canonical poets who are, in many ways, my particular speciality?


The obvious answer, of course, is that the very structure of the course interrogates the understanding of the canon that is inherent in such survey courses. I could do this course, and have been told so, so long as I put the words “Women’s Writing” somewhere in the title. The problem? Adjectival modifiers demarcate power. “Women’s writing” isn’t just “writing” – we don’t obv have a course for “Men’s writing” BC that is just the canon. (And it is one of the reasons why it doesn’t make sense to have a straight white hetero dude pride day. Every fucking day is my people’s day.) Hell, when I did offer a course that was exactly half and half female to male writers from 800-1660, I experienced push back from my students who thought that the “feminist bias” in the course was not representing what literature “really is”.


From contemporary lit, students like those who pushed back against the inclusion of half female writers often have no problems with inclusiveness. Aboriginal writing, women’s writing, African-American and -Canadian writing are accepted parts of the canon of present day writing. We want to see how the systems of power that are alive today are being resisted, corrupted, subverted through textual means. We want to see how the things that they enjoy (like Harry Potter) are working within a much larger world of power and privilege.


From historical literature, I think that students and professors often want to see the certainty of the canon. We want to see the power and privilege of the canon so they can react against it. They want to set up a contrast between the past and the present. Bad past, good present. Racist, sexist past – racially diverse, sexually liberal present. The past is that thing we react against, the present is the battleground of personal identity.


I don’t want to let students do that. The past, obv, is created by the present. The terms of subversion and resistance that we priv today are overdetermined just as the past itself is a realm that is determined by those terms. No wonder they don’t get it. I’m not clear about the role that the canon plays in their own minds. They presuppose certain things to be literary (plays, novels, poems) and thereby cut out a wealth of other possibilities (sermons, biographies, hagiographies, diaries). When those other possibilities are cut out, not only are you forced to see the past in terms that reflect more about you than about the past, you limit the possible stories you can tell about the past to those things that reinforce patriarchal, hegemonic norms.


The past becomes a world against which we can define ourselves, but little else. What I try to do is to point out that because you made the past, thou art that.

5 Voice Tips for Teaching Type Individuals

This is for you J.


I know, I have terrible posture so this is a bit rich of me to be extolling the virtues of proper posture to someone else, but seriously, this is important. The resonators that allow you to project your voice are in two main areas – your face (nasal cavities) and your chest (lungs etc). If you roll your shoulders forward and collapse in on the chest, you are killing off those resonators’ capacity to resonate and suddenly your voice shrinks. Then, in order to be heard, you have to strain by overworking your diaphragm and other muscles. Thus, when your shoulders are out of place, that often emerges as your voice becoming less powerful, scratchy, or coarse.

Thankfully, there are ways around this! Yoga, obvs. Regular stretching, again, obvs. The key is to build up your core strength and open up your shoulders at the same time. If your core is strong and the area around your collarbones free, you are laughing.


Suggested Exercises:



Without breath, there is no speech. It’s just that simple. The problem is that breathing tends to be something that we do without attending to it, leaving us open to all kinds of bad habits and behaviours. Building up breath-power is a slow process, but it all goes down to the massive muscle that is the diaphragm and the way in which we keep our ribcage open and supple. A weak diaphragm means a weak and unsupported voice. A strong diaphragm means a lot of power in reserve to support your voice.


Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercise

  1. Lie on the floor face up with knees slightly bent and place your hands lightly on your stomach.
  2. Focus on breathing using your diaphragm. Try not to let your ribcage move. Feel the stomach rise as the lungs fill from the bottom.
  3. Let the stomach fall naturally when breathing out by relaxing the diaphragm.
  4. Progress by placing a small weight on the stomach, such as a small book, on do it all again.
  5. Now, stand up and place your hands on your stomach again, feeling how you breathe. The feeling standing will be very different, so just try to feel your body and be aware of what the differences are


Opening the Throat

Do me a favour – vocalize right now. Just say “ahhhh”.

Now Yawn. Yawn and say the same thing. That yawn should open up your vocal tract (because that is physically what yawns do) and should have made that vocalization more powerful and more clear. When opera singers or classical actors perform, their vocal tracts are basically as open as yours is when you yawn. They have played with their voices enough to know how to make the vocal apparatus open in the same way as it would when you yawn, but without the need to yawn. How do they do this you ask?

Well, I am glad you asked… The yawn is one way to get it done, but it isn’t necessarily the best. This article goes through a number of the different techniques and the problems with each. I find that with large classes and rooms with crappy acoustics, this tends to be a big issue for me because I know that I tends to speak with a closed throat and place my voice in my chest. If you do that too much, you simply end up sounding hollow. I have to be very conscious about keeping my vocal tract open so that the breath can power my speech.


Warm ups

I actually do tongue & mouth exercises before class on a regular basis. It may look ridiculous if some student were to be watching me from the back of the room, but I don’t care. I know they work. These tongue and mouth exercises are just designed to open up my jaw (where I tend to store a lot of my tension) and to prepare my lips for the task of speaking. Just as you would stretch out before you leapt into a rigorous workout, you should do a few quick exercises with your tongue and your mouth before class to get yourself ready for the task that is speech.

Thing I also like about it is that it situates me as being “in class” when I do these exercises. I don’t do them at any other time, so when I do actually do them, my body knows that now is the time to perform. It activates something in me that lets me click into performance mode. Don’t ask me how it does it, but just doing these exercises does help.



After care

It’s so easy to treat your voice (and your body) not as an instrument that you need in order to do your job as an academic but as a hinderance to overcome, if only because I think a lot of us think of ourselves as brains on sticks in some way, shape, or form. That leads to a lot of bad habits. Yes, we are academics and we are terrible at posture, at locating our voice in our heads and chests, and we aren’t even very good at breathing (!), but the worst thing of all is the care we tend to take of our instrument when we are not “on” because all the things we tend to do to alleviate stress are bad for us. Drinking? Alcohol is terrible for your voice. Smoking (pot or tobacco)? Also very bad for the vocal cords. Coffee? Ditto. Even going to a club or a loud environment such as a pub can be very harsh on your voice as you try both not to be heard and to be heard at the same time.

This isn’t to say give up your vices entirely, but rather if you are going to be working through your voice you need to balance those vices with some virtuous behaviours.

  • Drink more water! I carry a water bottle around with me all the time specifically to help remind me to do this
  • Stop smoking if you smoke. It’s just bad for you. If you need that buzz of nicotine or THC, there are better ways to get it into your system without the need for smoking.
  • Give yourself vocal rests throughout the day. If you lecture, don’t schedule office hours immediately afterwards. Give yourself an hour before you use your voice again.
  • Invest in a humidifier for your home. (That said, if you live RIGHT BESIDE THE SEA, you may not need this one.)


Towards a Teaching Philosophy Statement – Notes

All this is provisional, so take it for what it is worth.


I had a conversation over the weekend with a friend and colleague that has left me a little confused about my own position and I think I need to write down my ideas before I let them fall away into the mists of time.


See, I regularly have problems with students and TAs, though I have noticed over the years that there is a common pattern. The people I have problems with tend to be young men. With one notable exception, they tend to be young men who are generally quite gifted or good at their job, yet nevertheless they bristle under my tutelage. I have always ascribed it to a very gendered position of growing into adult masculinity. As I am an authority figure, the younger man feels he must in some way defeat the older man to assert his adult masculine authority. It’s all very Freudian and all very frustrating because I recognize that Freudian thought is so embarrassingly sexist. Thing is, now I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps I might not be setting myself up for this through my own teaching and learning style.


I take as the starting point of all learning the anxiety that one feels when one is faced with a new fact or new piece of information. The new datum must be assimilated into the overarching scheme of the world and thus needs to either be subservient to that scheme or it must change that scheme entirely. As each new data point has the potential to totally overturn the world-view of the learner, the more one invests in learning that particular piece of data, the more anxiety is produced. We want our worlds to be stable because it gives us a sense of identity, yet each new element that we learn, if we learn it with depth and thoughtfulness, has the potential to uproot our entire world and thus our entire sense of who we are as individuals. Anxiety is not to be overcome within a learning environment, but it is to be celebrated because anxiety at the appearance of new data only goes away with the false sense of security that now, I too, own this knowledge. Now, I understand the world. Now, this is how it is.


If you take that moment of anxiety as the starting point of learning (and indeed, in some ways, the goal of education), then you are left at odds with the way that learning is structured and has been theorized in recent decades, which has tended to look at the well-being of the individual learner as a whole being. It is not the case that one is ever wholly a student, but one is a student with a disability, with a certain sexed body, with a hunger because one can’t afford breakfast, with… and so on and so on. The whole being of the student, the recent theories of education have it, must be addressed in order for education to be effective and the conclusion of most of these theories (at least in terms of application) has been to try to ameliorate the very possibility of anxiety. Anxiety and the disorientation that comes of assimilation of new facts are to be avoided insofar as they are apparently detrimental to a student’s mental health. Of course, the most subtle theorists have pointed out that it is not anxiety per se that should be eradicated, but the anxieties attendant upon hunger, bodily difference, trauma, etc that must be eliminated for the student to be able to attend to the problems posed by new information.


The result of this focus on the whole being of the student (student-as-person), rather than the student-as-student, has been the creation of a vast network of ancillary services in universities from food banks and disability resource centres, to books available in alternative formats and sponsored extracurricular clubs that promote health and social well-being like the Quidditch clubs and the Ultimate Frisbee clubs that dot many university campuses. This is all to the good. I do believe that students need to be addressed as whole human beings by the administration of a university (and by government) such that their basic needs are addressed and cared for, so that they can sit in that moment of anxiety caused by the moment of learning. Students need every possible support so that they can understand the world in a way that is different from the way they understood it when they came out of high school.


In this sense, I may sound like a modified, small-L liberal theorist who bandies around terms like “intersectionality” and “identity politics” with some abandon. And you would be right, I do that. The difference with my position vis-a-vis teaching comes back to the disorienting moment of learning.


To me, any moment of learning is ultimately a kind of temporary submission to the contingent and limited authority of an external text, where that text is either a book, a concept, or an individual. When I first started formulating this idea, I focussed on the idea that learning was about the submission to the authority of an expert, but that doesn’t encapsulate what I mean by this relationship. One doesn’t simply do what the educator expects just BECAUSE. That authoritarian model of education, very late 19th century, has been demonstrated to be both ineffective and inculcates a kind of mental dressage that does coercive violence and reinforces systems of hierarchical and unjust power in society. Rather, what I am trying to get across is the far more mundane idea that when we are learning how to do something, we go to experts. Those experts show us how to do X, but they are not the voice of God. We submit to their authority, but eventually we get to the point where we can challenge them by pointing out internal incoherence and inconsistencies in their positions. We do not expect them to be experts in all things, but merely experts over a specific, given area of knowledge. I won’t go to my Orthodontist for car trouble, for instance, I go to my mechanic. When I do go to my mechanic, I will submit to her authority because she has a form of expertise over this specific area of knowledge that I must recognize, otherwise, why am I here in the first place? Similarly, in order to read a book or understand a philosophical position, the way to engage it is to submit to it first, and then start pointing out the flaws of the system once you have, yourself, gained an expertise over it. When you really read a book, you are engaging with another way of worlding. One can simply look at that difference and recognize it as different (in which case, I would argue you have not engaged that difference) or one can approach that difference and try to understand the mechanisms by which that worlding is taking place. You can never think your way into the mind of another (be that through a book or a lecture) but you can try to unpack the modes of thought that led to the conclusion(s) of the other on their own terms. What I am suggesting requires a great deal of humility when approaching texts (be those texts written “texts” or people or ideologies). You must suspend your own approaches and try to understand the other on their terms to the best of your ability and that suspension is a kind of submission to their authority.


Of course, you don’t stay bound by the authority of the other throughout the learning process. If that were true, then the moment of frustration and anxiety that is at the heart of education would be simply overglossed by the satisfaction that one is now “right” because one is following the advice of the “expert.” That moment of humility when approaching a text must necessarily be followed up by a moment of internalization of the “expert” position, which involves critiquing the expert position. Is this expert position internally coherent? Does it mesh with every other aspect of the world as you know it? Is this actually an expert position over a given field or are you taking, say, the financial advice of someone who is an engineer and who has no background in finance? Submission is not permanent, it is not whole, and it is has very clear boundaries.


You can see that, in many ways, this idea is a variation on the deeply and troublingly patriarchal position of medieval biblical exegesis and late 19th C theories of education that posited the teacher as the voice of authority. I will grant you that some aspects of those theories are in here…. And that those theories probably resonate with me because I am a cis-white-settler male. Thing is, the concept of submission to authority, I think, is most applicable to cis-white-settler males insofar as it forces them to listen.


When I was an undergrad (and throughout most of my grad career, if I am perfectly honest), I was a bit of a shit. I talked in class, a lot. As anyone who has had a young man in class who is willing to speak about the text can attest, that is a mixed blessing. I ended up dominating conversation because I wanted to work out orally what I should have already worked out in my head. Also, I felt (whether I recognized it at the time or not) that I had the right to take up that space within the room. The right stemmed (I felt) not from my skin colour or my socio-economic position) but because I was clearly engaged with the text and the other people weren’t.


Of course, now I know (having worked the other side of the table for 10 years) that I wasn’t the only one engaged. I just took up all of the oxygen in the room and left no space for other voices to speak. I did what every cis-white-settler dude does. I didn’t listen, I talked at people.


This is one of the reasons why I think that I have come around to thinking of education in terms of submission, but with a litany of caveats. I needed to submit to the authority and experience of others in the room (not just the teacher but other students), even if I didn’t recognize their authority at the time because I needed to learn that the experience of others had at least as much value as my own. I needed to unlearn my position of power, which, ironically, has only come with the realization of my own position through my own degrees and career. As I have grown, I’ve learned more and more to be silent and to listen to others. I’m not great at it now, but I do wear as a badge of pride the title “acceptable man” given to me by Marcelle K. I am “acceptable” (I think) because I am and want to be an ally and help others gain their voices.


So, how can I reconcile the educational model of submission to authority (even temporary, even contingently, even partially) with the idea that it is my duty to use the systemic powers, with which I have unjustly been invested, to bring out the voices of the silenced and those who do not have power? I don’t know


I do think that the moment of learning is one of humiliation before a text. You have to be humble before a text because that text will, can, and should change the way that you read an entire world. That moment of encounter and engagement with difference must start from a place of humility because, no matter the text, the “you” that engages it at first should not be the “you” that steps away. Learning is always a process of productive self-destruction.


At the same time, I recognize that this rhetoric of humiliation before a text, submission to authority, etc., can (and does) work to reinforce patriarchal and imperial systems of power that do violence, marginalize voices, and encourage injustice. Me, as a cis-white-settler male telling a person of colour or a woman or other marginalized voice to “humiliate themselves before the text” is pretty damned rich. I can afford to provisionally push aside my ego – this is a world that is created for me by men who look like me, so I can always come back to the comforting fiction of the real world if I get tired to accommodating the different modes of thought that are embedded in the text. POCs, women, LGBTQIAA, etc cannot do what I can do, which is to provisionally humiliate myself before a text, provisionally submit to the authority of others, and then happily come back to a place of authority and privilege.


Also, I mean, this entire sketch of the system that I’ve lain out here is so laden with caveats and hedging terms to try to bring together two totally opposite systems of thought that I have to wonder if perhaps there’s any point in this whole project.


So what am I left with? A teaching strategy that only works on some dudes? After all, this whole introspection began with the attempt to try to understand why certain young men are called to challenge my authority. Well, there you are. It is embedded in my actual teaching strategy. I perform authority in such a way that the provisional acceptance of it is a part of the theory. They are just jumping ahead a few steps and questioning my authority before they have a full grasp of the material. It’s right there, embedded in the theory that they should do that.


If I wish to develop a teaching strategy that is truly embracing and which avoids the embedded problems of young men challenging me in this very Freudian manner, then I have to look to the women, the POCs, the LGBTQIAA people in the class. I have to find a way to reconceive of my teaching in a way that recognizes their experience, while at the same time allows for that disorienting, anxious moment that is the heart of learning. Right now, I can’t see a way out of the problem. Yes, you submit to a text and that submission creates anxiety and thus allows for learning. Also yes, marginalized voices don’t need to be told (implicitly or explicitly) to submit to the authority of a text because that is already embedded in their psyches as a structure of this culture. Such a statement would be furthering the goals of an unjust, racist, sexist, and sick culture.


I can’t get rid of the idea that you have to be humble before the text and the discipline, but I can’t get rid of the idea that humiliation and submission to authority is already embedded in the identities of most of my students anyhow.


I guess in some ways, what I am talking about is the theorization of the encounter with difference. It would be so easy to say “Well, white dudes need to submit, but everyone else can encounter these texts on their own terms” but I think that that would be equally problematic and only go to perpetuate the problem because white dudes can still provisionally submit and come back to a position of power when the provision has ended. Perhaps this comes back to the problem I have been thinking about as regards the education of women in the early modern period – how does education work both to reinforce ideological systems that promulgate conservative authority while at the same time undermining those same systems and replacing them with a broader sense of what it is to be human?


Maybe it is a bit like quantum physics and classical, Newtonian physics – two mutually contradistinctive systems that cannot be easily reconciled but are nevertheless referring to two different scales of the same processes. The moment of learning itself is inherently conservative because it relies on submission, humiliation, and selflessness in order to recognize that the new information does not fit into one’s worldview. But the act of learning comes not in the recognition of the disjunctive data that must be assimilated into the worldview, but in the act of assimilation. You can’t escape your own historical and ontological location as a student. Individual bits of information may not fit in the world that you know as a student, but as you fit them in, it isn’t just your own world that grows, but THE world. Perhaps the act of assimilation of new data and recognition of difference as difference, not the anxiety that stems from the lack of assimilation and recognition, is the key aspect of learning. It is the tropological moment. It is the moral moment. It is the way the student assimilates the information into their identity as a human being. THAT is learning.


Of course, that has to happen outside of the classroom.


Ay, there’s the rub.


In education, we can help students with the literal meanings and the typological meanings of a text. We can unpack contextua and develop one’s understanding of individual words over time such that the text becomes more or less “transparent” to the reader. It is not our job to force students to assimilate that knowledge into who they are as an individual. We are not preachers, priests, and councillors. We do not get paid for emotional labour. We are not moral leaders (Well, I’m not a moral leader) and we cannot guide another person into the assimilation of new information. That assimilation has to come from within. It has to be a student-guided, student-centred process. It must also, therefore, be outside of the classroom.


After all, how can I possibly ask a student “How did reading Utopia change you as an individual?” How would I assess that? How could I possibly know? I can’t. The student centred nature of the moral learning that stems from the assimilation of anxious facts is ultimately inaccessible and in-assessible. The movement towards student-centred learning is trying to ensure that this stage of learning is developed – that every student leaves the classroom not the same person who came in, but the problem is that it cannot possibly be known. Moral change (and that really is what we are talking about when we are talking about assimilation of the anxious datum) cannot be assessed and nor should it. It can only be encouraged by individuals taking an interest in and doing emotional work for students. Such change can take a lifetime (and that’s not a bad thing). Such assimilation of data can take several lifetimes to play out across the face of a culture. To assess it within the context of a 12 week course is not only foolhardy, it is asking something of the learning process that is contrary to the way that learning works. Learning, deep learning, is slow. It forms from droplets to stalagmites. The individual student who engages deeply with a text or set of texts and sees themselves change because of that… that is a slow process. I should know. It took me a long time to shut up and listen to those around me.


This has got a lot longer than I intended.


I guess that I have come to the conclusion over the course of this that there are two modes (at least) of learning that I believe in and that I recognize. The first is characterized by submission to a textual authority, but that is only half of the system. It is the only part of the system that can be really assessed, unfortunately, because it is the only part of the learning process that is accessible in any way. Submission take the form of knowing, memorizing, summarizing, etc. and is characterized by the anxiety of being faced with objects of knowledge that are outside of the student’s experience. The second part of the system is directly contrary to this first part, but bizarrely springs out of it. Here, the assimilation of the objects of knowledge that are outside of the student’s experience is the key. How well or poorly these objects of knowledge are assimilated is something that is inaccessible insofar as we cannot put windows into the souls of our students (nor do I particularly want to). The first part of the educational process is conservative in orientation, the second part is radical. The first part is relatively quick, but the second part can take years and years and years. Finally, the outcome of the second part is a changing of the first part. That is, the objects of knowledge themselves change as a part of the process of assimilation into the new worlding of the student, which forces a re-engagement and re-investment in the educational process as a whole. You are never done learning.


Cis-white-settler men are actually at a tremendous advantage for the first part of learning and a terrible disadvantage for the second part. Why? Because although the anxiety that is produced in the initial encounter with new information is the same, the assimilation will be all the easier. The ways cis-white-settler men world (“world” as a verb) are consonant with most forms of new information that will be available in university settings and when they are not, then they can simply retreat from engagement with this information and live in the bubble of their own privilege. For these individuals, the anxiety is easy to overcome because it is easy to assimilate information into something that looks familiar, safe, and heimlich.


For marginalized voices, although submission to the text is consonant with the social structures of submission to authority, the contents of the canonical texts are always going to be alien and thus difficult to assimilate. That moment of encounter may be characterized by submission, but the act of assimilation is characterized by negotiation and adaptation. By their very nature, canonical texts are unheimlich to marginalized voices and that second step of the educational process is dealing with that discomfort on a day to day basis. Scholars of colour, women, LGBTQIAA scholars have to take that initial act of submission to patriarchal authority and (in order to make it resonate with their experience of the world) change it. When it is changed, it becomes a new object of knowledge. When it becomes a new object of knowledge, then the process can start all over again.


Oh geez… did I just argue that cis-white-settler men cannot produce new knowledge? Great. Time to quit my job.


The more a scholar steps outside their comfort zone – the more that one accommodates the voices of those who do not share the same privileges and identity structures that you do – the more you listen, the more you learn. The more you learn, the more you change. The more you change, the better you can teach.


So, there is submission (albeit limited) in my theory of education. It is a part of it. But it is only one part of a two pronged theory. The second half is much more nebulous right now, but something I need to think through over the course of the next bit. How does education work as a subversive activity (to quote Postman)? How can it? For whom? Why?


If I want to stop having young men challenge me on such a regular basis, then I have to move away from the pedagogical model that privileges the mode of submission, then challenge, and towards a model that recognizes the life-long process that is learning.

Early Modern Play Reading Group: Queen’s University Fall 2017

The Witch of Edmonton

Monday 25 September 5:30

Watson Hall 406

49 Bader Lane Kingston, ON



Based on a true story… sort of… This collaborative play from 1621 tells the story of Elizabeth Sawyer. A social outcast, Sawyer sells her soul to the devil to get revenge on her neighbours, one of whom is a bigamist and one who befriends her talking dog, Black Tom. Talking dogs! What more do you need?!

The Fair Maid of the West (Part 1)

Monday 30 October 5:30

Watson Hall 406

49 Bader Lane Kingston, ON



From the rough-and-tumble pubs of Plymouth harbor to the royal court of Morocco, this play follows the adventures of Bess Bridges against the backdrop of the 1590s Anglo-Spanish War. Follow Bess as she seeks the love of her life, Spencer, in a rollicking tale of cross-dressing, high seas adventures and a little piracy for good measure!

The Shoemaker’s Holiday

Monday 27 November 5:30

Watson Hall 406

49 Bader Lane Kingston, ON



This play tells the heroic and romantic stories of a handful of shoemakers in London, who rise above their humble calling to sit beside kings and lords. The aristocrat Rowland Lacy disguises as a shoemaker to marry the woman he loves; Ralph Damportt goes off to war and returns home without a leg; and Simon Eyre’s career rises through a series of unexpected twists and adventures from lowly shoemaker to the Lord Mayor of London itself! Spectacle, romance, heroism, early modern singing!