Monthly Archives: January 2018

Brewer’s Curious Titles: All’s Well that Ends Well

“One of the ‘dark’ comedies (c. 1604) of William Shakespeare (1564-1616). The plot is based on a traditional folk tale found in Boccaccio’s The Decameron. Helena, enamored of Bertram, count of Rousillon, is given to him in marriage by the king of France, whose life she has saved. However, Bertram spurns her (‘A poor physician’s daughter my wife?’) and leaves for the Italian wars. From there he writes to her:

‘When thou canst get the ring upon my finger, which never shall come off, and show me a child begotten of thy body that I am father

to then call me husband, but in such a then, I write a never.’ III. iii

However, in disguise, Helena follows him to Italy, where she finds he is in love with a Florentine maid, whose place she takes in the dark, gets the ring, and conceives his child. In the end, she wins his love, after he has believed her dead.

The title All’s Well that Ends Well is from an old English proverb, known from the mid-13th century. It is somewhat ironic given the dark mood of the play, although it also has the suggestion of the ends justifying the means. At the end of the play the king, after all has been resolved, says:

‘All seems well; and if it end so meet,

The bitter past more welcome the sweet.” V. iii

He then adopts the role of epilogue, and, in accordance with theatrical convention, begs the audience’s indulgence for the play:

‘The king’s a beggar, now the play is done.

All is well ended if this suit be won,

That you express content; which we will pay

With strife to please you, day exceeding day.

Ours be your patience then, and yours our parts;

Your gentle hands lead us, and take our hearts.’”       V. iii, Epilogue

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

Word Root Exercise: Hepta, Hept

Here, on the final day of January, 2018, is a short exercise on the Greek word roots hepta and hept. They mean seven.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Rotten Rejections: Ironweed

[As this blog probably indicates, or more accurately belabors, I find the folklore of books and publishing endlessly fascinating. I think the choices publishers make, based as often as not on their assessment of the market for a book, says a lot–and much of it not good–about a culture and a society. One of the most famous rejections in publishing history concerns William Kennedy’s magisterial novel Ironweedwhich broke down the barrier to publication of the remainder of his distinguished oeuvre. The serial rejection of Ironweed so exercised Saul Bellow that the Nobel Laureate famously said to Cork Smith, an editor at Viking, that “the author of Billy Phelan should have a manuscript kicking around looking for a publisher is disgraceful.” In the end, Bellow intervened on Kennedy’s behalf at Viking. The rest, of course, is publishing history, as The Albany Cycle as the novels that accompany Ironweed are known, joined the ranks of great American literature.]

“There is much about the novel that is very good and much that I did not like. When I throw in the balance of the book’s unrelenting lack of commerciality, I am afraid I just have to pass.”

“I like William Kennedy but not enough. He’s a very good writer, something no one needs to tell you or him, and his characters are terrific. I cannot explain turning this down.”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.

Parsing Sentences Worksheet: Adjectives

Here, early on a Tuesday morning, is a parsing sentences worksheet on adjectives. While I realize that it’s an old-fashioned activity subject to a variety of criticism, most of it valid. However, I’ll still argue there is an argument to be made for the cognitive exercise involved in parsing sentences, particularly for students struggling with literacy issues. If nothing else, a short exercise such as the one on offer here provides students with an opportunity for a moment or two of mastery, which can make all the difference in a class period–if not an entire school day–in meeting the emotional needs of our students.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Year One

The year 2696 used to be considered the start date for Chinese civilization, for the winter solstice of that year was held to be the beginning of the reign of the Yellow Emperor. Most historians had accepted that that the period of the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors is mythic time, though Huangdi was honored as the man who taught the Chinese to how to build shelters, tame wild animals, build boats and carts, and plant and reap the five cereals, while his wife taught weaving and silk-making, and their chief minister set out how to write, keep laws, and the annual calendar.

If we were all to agree to a new world calendar system, the Chinese Year One would not be such a bad start date, for it calibrates pretty closely with other great memory pegs of world history, such as the construction of the first pyramid (2630 BC), the first era of Stonehenge (3100-2400 BC), and the first recorded king (Enme-Barage-Si of the Sumerian city-state of Ur, c.2600 BC).”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

Zealot (n)

Here, on a relatively warm Monday morning, is a context clues worksheet on the noun zealot. I wrote this, if memory serves, to attend a lesson on Maximilien Robespierre.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Inside Our Schools

It’s Friday morning, and I want to go into the weekend touting a worthy website that is the brainchild of a New York City teacher named Brett Gardiner Murphy. She has recently published a book called Inside Our Schools and her work is worth a look.

Elsewhere on this blog I have extolled the virtues of The American Educator, a periodical published by the The American Federation of Teachers. This is the union that represents almost 1.6 million teachers, including those of us here in New York City, under the aegis of the United Federation of Teachers. Unlike the Teamsters Newsletter I received when I was a truck driver and warehouseman (worthy enough, but mostly featuring stories like “Elmer Fudd Celebrates One Million Miles of Safe Driving at Yellow Freight Lines”), The American Educator actually exists to present professional educational research that is genuinely useful to teachers.

Ms. Murphy published an article titled “The Profession Speaks: Educator Perspectives on School Reform” in the Winter 2017-2018 issue of The American Educator. She does a very nice job of explaining the absolute necessity of teachers’ involvement in the discourse surrounding school “reform.” I commend and thank her for her efforts, because she has insight into policy issues, an area of discussion that mostly annoys me because of the overall and overweening ignorance (cf. the basic idiocy of Betsy DeVos) of school reformers; I simply haven’t the patience to try to hold discussions with the aggressively ignorant. Ms. Murphy makes the basic point that when it comes to discussions of school reform, educators have no voice.

She aims to change that, as she spells out in her article, with the website Inside Our Schools. Rather than try to characterize the site, I’ll quote Brett Gardiner Murphy from her article in The American Educator:

“Say what you will about how the Internet has shortened students’ attention spans, it has democratized whose point of view can be heard, including our own. I started a website connected to the book,, where anyone involved in public schools–teachers, parents, and students–can upload their stories through videos, audio recordings, or written reflections. It’s just one of the many ways we can use our voices in the years ahead.”

Enough said. I urge you to take a look at Ms. Gardiner’s site, and consider buying her book to support her efforts. I bid her Godspeed and best wishes for the future. New York City’s schools are lucky to have her.