Author Archives: Robin Bates

Finding Freedom in Masquerade

Looking for sexual freedom in a rigid confines of the marriage plot, 18th century playwrights Susanna Centlivre and Hannah Cowley turned to the masquerade motif.

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Fantasy, a Portal to the Numinous

People are often drawn to fantasy in our post-Enlightenment world because they hunger for the numinous.

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Women Battling the Marriage Plot

Although men got the quest plot while women were relegated to the marriage plot in the 18th century, a number of women writers found imaginative ways to circumvent it. Among these were Aphra Behn, Eliza Haywood, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

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Why the Alt-Right Austen Takeover Will Fail

The alt-right has tried to appropriate Jane Austen. Their readings are alternately hilarious and horrifying.

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Desire Intensified by Separation

In my current living relationship, I see my wife for only short periods every two or three months. A passage in John Fowles’s “French Lieutenant Woman” is helping me get through the long absences.

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Trump as Lear, Howling in the Storm

Donald Trump has a lot in common with King Lear. I suspect, however, that Lear has the happier ending.

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Democrats Have Dickens, GOP Ayn Rand

We see the hand of Ayn Rand in Trump’s proposed budget cuts. Charles Dickens would understand what’s going on.

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Our Second Self, the Woman at the Well

A Carolyne Wright poem about the Samaritan woman at the well shows us a figure searching for spiritual truth beneath the “brackish water” of her life.

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RIP, GOP Insurance Plan

Rachel Kranz composed the following piece of doggerel in honor of the GOP Insurance Plan to Obamacare, “a.k.a.: RIP.”

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Resolving Shakespeare’s Shrew Problem

“The Taming of the Shrew” is one of Shakespeare’s problem plays because it seems to endorse Kate signing on to a male domination fantasy. Modern productions such as the Synetic Theater’s non-verbal version have to make adjustments to satisfy modern audiences.

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Reading Aloud, Shared Intimacy

If you want to become close to someone, read literature aloud. Doing so circumvents defenses and helps you make connections that are otherwise difficult to access.

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The Work of the World Is Common as Mud

Marge Piercy’s poem “To Be of Use” essentially shows why Barack Obama’s legacy is likely to survive GOP repeal efforts. The difference is work that comes from a deep place as opposed to shallowly grounded executive orders.

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The Bigger Ego: Trump’s or Zaphod’s?

If you know anyone with an “ego as big as the universe,” compare him/her to Zaphod Beeblebrox in “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” In Beeblebrox’s case, it is shown to be literally true.

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Clifton Poems Make Connection Possible

In a recent event honoring the memory of Lucille Clifton, poet Toi Derricotte read a poem about how Clifton’s poetry opened up a relationship with the mother of a sick child. Here I share Derricotte’s poem as well as the poems she read to the mother and examine why they had the effect they did.

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Trust in God, Argue For Justice

This Raymond Foss Purim poem reminds us that Queen Esther can be seen as standing up for oppressed people everywhere. The poem is particularly relevant in these dark times.

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Trump Is Gatsby (But a Lot Meaner)

Donald Trump is Jay Gatsby, albeit a Gatsby with a mean streak. Nevertheless, the rise of the character helps us understand the success of our current president.

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Immigrants Face a Sophie’s Choice

Republicans have recently been outdoing themselves in cruelty, both regarding immigration and health care. William Styron and William Blake weigh in.

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“Julius Caesar” Is Only Too Relevant

“Julius Caesar” has been showing up in the news recently, and for good reason. New York leads off with the play this summer in “Shakespeare in the Park” (the political parallels are overwhelming) and there is an “Ides of Trump” postcard writing campaign scheduled for March 15.

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Climate Change, Fairies Fighting

Some of the extreme climate events we are currently experiencing are described in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” where they are the result of fairy infighting

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Lit, a Heroic Bulwark against Trumpism

Author George Saunders sees literature playing a vital role in opposing Trumpism. He has also written a very comic poem about the president.

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Finding a Paradise Within Happier Far

Milton’s “Paradise Lost” provides a powerful account of how we lose sight of God and how then have we can reconnect with the divine.

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Brown & Gold & Blood vs. Trumpian White

In the face of white nationalists, we need poems like Fatima Asghar’s celebration of South Asian diversity in America to remind us who we really are.

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Atwood Predicts the Fire Next Time

Atwood’s disturbing dystopian short story “Torch the Dusties” points to the uneven way that our society is apportioning its resources, along with the resulting anger.

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The Soldier Knew Someone Had Blundered

Donald Trump is refusing to take responsibility for the failed Yemen raid where a Navy Seal was killed, along with 30 civilians. The raid brings to mind the “Charge of the Light Brigade,” although more appropriate might be the Rudyard Kipling sequel, where the poet blasted England for failing to take care of the survivors.

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“Enemy of the People,” Badge of Honor

Donald Trump has been attack the media as “the enemy of the people,” bringing to mind Heinrik Ibsen’s 1882 play. The play is about a truth-telling scientist but the parallels are still very apt: stand up for truth, regardless of the consequences.

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Bannon: Deconstructionist or Con Man?

When Steve Bannon said that he plans to “deconstruct” the administrative state, it sounds vaguely impressive but maybe just be a pretentious way of saying that he’s planning on gumming up the works. A discussion of deconstruction is in order.

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All Our Seeing Rinsed and Cleansed

Edwin Muir’s “The Transfiguration” is filled with images of cleansing and renewal as the disciples imagine returning to the Garden of Eden as it was before the fall.

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Not a Reader (and Proud of It)

What do a president’s reading habits say about his/her vision of America? Obama’s celebration of a diverse America is the vision of a voracious reader. Trump’s shallow narrative is the vision of one who doesn’t read.

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Shakespeare Would Support Transgenders

As Donald Trump rolls back transgender protections, it’s worth going back to Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” which honors the sense that many have (not just transgender individuals) that they have the other gender hidden away beneath their exteriors.

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The Ugliness of Racial Resentment

“The Merchant of Venice” is a story of resentment and thus is only too relevant in today’s political landscape of inflamed passion. Those who have been victimized–or who feel that they have been victimized–are only too ready to stick it to others when they are in power.

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After Surgery, World Is No Longer a Monet

My brain is still trying to adjust to my new eye following cataract surgery, which has me thinking of various passages about seeing in “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” My having an operation, I also opted for a different path than Claude Monet, at least according to this wonderful Lisa Mueller poem.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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