Your inside is out when your outside is in

Friday, January 13, 2012

Unknown artist, c. 1665-1670
Notice that Rochester, all cool dignity, is holding the implements
 of his poetic achievement in one hand, while he shows his real feelings
 about hipster acclaim by crowning his pet monkey with the laurels of literary greatness.
Meanwhile, the monkey, well... everyone's a critic.

This week I introduced my students to the key ideas in Restoration and Eighteenth-Century theatre with a picture of the Earl of Rochester (pattern for all rakes) that I've subtitled, "Everybody's got something to hide, 'cept for me and my monkey."

I think they really enjoyed our little foray into the life, poetry and portraiture of Rochester, kidnapper of brides and gynecological masquerader (apparently he spent some time under the name Dr. Bendo, charismatic quack specialist in women's complaints). Except for the quarter of the class who tried to tamp down increasingly urgent expressions of alarm and disgust.

Excerpts from our conversation:

I:    "So what is the difference between a a rake and a fop, really? Do you see a difference between this portrait of Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington and this picture of the Earl of Rochester?"
Colley Cibber as Lord Foppington
in Vanbrugh's The Relapse
(John Simon after Giuseppe Grisoni, c. 1700-1725)
Those sleeves are trying way too hard.
Students:    "Rochester is dressed less elaborately."
     "He seems more relaxed."
     "Yeah, there's a confidence about Rochester."
     "Lord Foppington just looks so stiff and false."
I:    "Right. you can see it in the eyes, the body language. Rakes are, to use a sophisticated piece of academic jargon, cool. Fops *want* to be cool. Rochester's got it going on, Foppington's trying too hard to get it. Rochester's invested in the pose of devil-may-care effortlessness (see the "toga" above), Foppington's all obvious artifice." 

There followed a not altogether brief discussion of the perfection of Johnny Depp's casting as Rochester.

I may also have referred to A School for Scandal as "The Gossip Girl of the Eighteenth Century." I'm not ashamed. (Mostly.)

2 Responses so far.

  1. willaful says:

    Wonderful! I wanna take your class!

  2. My class is filled with wonderful students this time 'round, I have to admit! And I've certainly started them off on a bawdy note. This is the class where, when I asked them why wives had greater freedom of activity in A School for Scandal than unmarried daughters, a student answered, "Because they've got you by the balls."

    Except that I didn't hear him the first time, so I asked him to repeat himself, and to speak up so the whole class could hear.


    "Er, yes," I replied, "Well put. I'm so glad I made you say it a second time. But what precisely does that mean here?"

    And that's when he, bold soul, began to blush. And then answered the question impeccably.

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