Childhood's End-Clarke

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Before the Big Bang, There Was . . . What?

What was God doing before he created the world? The philosopher and writer (and later saint) Augustine posed the question in his ''Confessions'' in the fourth century, and then came up with a strikingly modern answer: before God created the world there was no time and thus no ''before.'' To paraphrase Gertrude Stein, there was no ''then'' then.
Access the rest of the article from the New York Times here.

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Father of Us All?

By Michael Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman
In life, the creature probably resembled a chimpanzee more than anything else. It moved through a lakeside landscape of grasslands and forest searching for food, accompanied by small bands of its fellows, most likely, and keeping a sharp eye out for pythons, crocodiles and saber-toothed cats. This animal probably shared the forest with apes and monkeys and, like them, spent some time up in the trees. It may have walked upright, which apes rarely do for very long at a stretch. But at a casual glance, it would have seemed to our eyes like just another chimp.
Access the rest of the article from Time Magazine here.

“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”

As part of reading John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, it is essential that we learn about the time period in which it is set, the effects of the Great Depression, and the strategies that F.D.R. proposed in order to strengthen America and get the nation out of the darkness.... 32fr_header_sm.jpg

Franklin D. Roosevelt had campaigned against Herbert Hoover in the 1932 presidential election by saying as little as possible about what he might do if elected. Through even the closest working relationships, none of the president-elect’s most intimate associates felt they knew him well, with the exception perhaps of his wife, Eleanor. The affable, witty Roosevelt used his great personal charm to keep most people at a distance. In campaign speeches, he favored a buoyant, optimistic, gently paternal tone spiced with humor. But his first inaugural address took on an unusually solemn, religious quality. And for good reason—by 1933 the depression had reached its depth. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address outlined in broad terms how he hoped to govern and reminded Americans that the nation’s “common difficulties” concerned “only material things.”
Click here for the audio of
FDR’s First Inaugural Address

I am the Cheese-Cormier

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NPR Review

I Am the Cheese opens with Adam Farmer riding his bike. He carries a package for his father and needs to get it to him fast. So far, it's a perfectly harmless adventure story.

But something is strange about this bike trip. First of all, Adam's father is far away. To get to him, Adam must ride from Massachusetts to Vermont, on a kid's bike with a single speed. Can you even do that? He's just begun, and he's already exhausted. The troubling questions come flooding in. Why is Adam alone? What's going to happen when it gets dark?

I Am the Cheese made me worry. I was 12, and until then, books were to be trusted, and their stories — the plots and characters — were exactly as they seemed.

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The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare

Here's a quick video on Iambic Pentameter.

What's your favorite line of verse from Romeo and Juliet? Post it using the discussion tab above.

Love’s Flames Amid a City in Flames
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Richard Termine for The New York Times
Romeo and Juliet Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale, in modern dress, play the two lovers in the Royal Shakespeare Company's summer visit to the Park Avenue Armory. More Photos »


Published: July 12, 2011

Fire breathes from just about every scene in Rupert Goold’s hot-tempered, hard-charging staging of “Romeo and Juliet,” the second production in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s repertory season at the Park Avenue Armory. The warring Capulets and Montagues show occasional signs of pathological pyromania, and the buildings of Verona appear to be wallpapered in mesmerizing images of flames.

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But the rapturous love between the title characters, depicted here as strong-willed contemporary teenagers determined to get their own in a lust-ruled economy, burns at a disproportionately low temperature. Although it rivets the attention with its vivid images of a society disordered by unruly, destructive passions, Mr. Goold’s “Romeo and Juliet” utterly fails to stir the heart.

A well-regarded British director whose productions of “Macbeth” (with Patrick Stewart) and “Enron” were seen on Broadway, Mr. Goold sets the play in a time-jarred Verona that is at once contemporary and traditionally Elizabethan. The prologue is presented, amusingly, as one of those audio recording guides you’re given at a museum: Sam Troughton’s Romeo shuffles onstage wearing Doc Martens and a Mod-style parka, mooning over digital photos he’s taken of his beloved Rosaline as he listens to the anonymous, foreign-accented speaker on the recording.
While the other characters in the play are garbed in traditional Shakespearean attire — the men in doublets and hose, the women in dark-hued period dresses — Mariah Gale’s Juliet is clearly Romeo’s contemporary. Scampering onstage in high-top sneakers, she is visibly bored and slightly contemptuous as she listens to her mother and her nurse trade small talk about the possibility of her marriage. As she twirls a toy lariat in obvious irritation at their exchange, you half expect her to fling it at one of them. She exudes the wised-up attitude of a teenager cynical beyond her years.

At the Capulets’ ball, depicted here as a wild bacchanal performed to throbbing music by Adam Cork that recalls the theme from television’s “Survivor,” this self-assured Juliet dances with a heated abandon to match that of her most debauched seniors. (Is that Lady Capulet groping at a man who’s definitely not her lord?) Juliet’s obvious precocity belies the character’s fundamental innocence, but it might still work if we came to see how the first stirrings of true love kindled something deeper and purer in her soul, how Romeo and Juliet’s discovery of each other provided an escape from their shallower selves and the corrupting society that entraps them.

But this idea is never convincingly articulated in the performances. Although she speaks the role with the commendable clarity that all the company brings to the verse, Ms. Gale’s Juliet remains willful and tempestuous even when under the spell of Shakespeare’s soul-shaking love. At her first meeting with Romeo after the ball, the celebrated balcony scene, Juliet negotiates her avowals of affection from him with a clear head for transactions. The transporting wonder and confusion of first love never quite come through, so that when she speaks that much-quoted line about parting being “such sweet sorrow,” it’s as if she were making a dry joke, and it earns a laugh.

This manipulative Juliet is obviously used to getting her way by raising her voice and bellowing at Mom, Dad, Nurse and anyone else who thwarts her, and Ms. Gale pumps up the volume at regular intervals throughout the play. By contrast, Juliet’s tenderness, and the nobility of feeling that inspires her transports of lyricism, are only faintly glimpsed. (When Lord Capulet angrily dismisses her as a “peevish, self-willed” girl after her refusal to marry Paris, it rings all too true, and by this point in the play, it really shouldn’t.)

Mr. Troughton’s Romeo — likewise clearly spoken — never touches the depths of the character’s love and pain either. He runs, jumps and slides (and bikes) across the stage with an antic energy that signals intensity of feeling, and Mr. Troughton’s piercing blue eyes continually blaze out from the darkness of Howard Harrison’s shadowy lighting. (Mr. Troughton injured his knee during Tuesday’s matinee and was replaced by an understudy, according to a company spokeswoman. Whether he would act in future performances was not immediately clear.)
But we don’t sense how deeply Juliet’s love has transformed Romeo, turning him from a callow youth who pantomimed romance into a man who understands the gravity and beauty of what has befallen him. The cocky, triumphant gesture Mr. Troughton’s Romeo uses to signal his joy — arms spread wide, suggesting excitement at a victory for his favorite football team — never leaves his repertory.

Although the love story at its center sometimes seems stuck in a soulless groove, Mr. Goold’s production moves with a sweeping momentum, enlivened by scenes of conflict and comedy that are staged with robust invention. The brawls between the Capulets and Montagues emit a charged intensity that’s as exciting as it is unnerving in the intimacy of the theater, at least when those flames start leaping up from a hole in the center of Tom Scutt’s simple, Gothic-inflected settings. The heady bacchanal is choreographed with erotic flair by Georgina Lamb, with the guests cavorting in gold death’s-head masks as the drums beat insistently. Mr. Cork’s sound design rumbles and echoes with increasing ominousness as the lovers approach their doom.

Christine Entwisle and Richard Katz are well matched as a particularly repellent Lord and Lady Capulet, alike devoid of any true affection for their daughter. As the Nurse, Noma Dumezweni does not exactly exude the doting, maternal love for Juliet that is associated with the character. She seems positively sadistic when she tormentingly withholds from Juliet the news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment; until Juliet obliges with a back massage, she refuses to divulge the truth. As Friar Laurence, Forbes Masson strikes a contemporary style in his verse-speaking, but doesn’t manage to convince us of the paternal feeling that inspires him to conspire to help Romeo and Juliet, however misguidedly.

In fact, simple human affection of any kind appears to have been consigned to the flames in the dead-souled, jaded Verona that Mr. Goold evokes. The keynote is struck by Jonjo O’Neill’s gleefully ribald Mercutio, a great smack talker who makes endless sport of Romeo’s infatuations. As delivered by Mr. O’Neill (Orlando in the concurrently running “As You Like It”), Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech becomes a fancifully vulgar rant enumerating the ugliness of human appetites.

The charismatic Mr. O’Neill strikes a still more exuberantly coarse note when he and Benvolio (the fine Oliver Ryan) trade jokes about their moonstruck friend Romeo. To Shakespeare’s puns and innuendoes about the fruit of the medlar tree Mr. O’Neill appends a long, outlandishly coarse pantomime that would merit an NC-17 rating on film.

Although it is too flashy and suffused with violent energy ever to be boring, Mr. Goold’s “Romeo and Juliet” is ultimately more notable for its dirty jokes than for its depiction of a love so pure that it can find no place in a world ruled by enmity and mistrust. The production’s scorching, harsh humor sears in a way that the tragedy of a transcendent love destroyed never does.

Check out all these different works inspired by Romeo and Juliet. The universal scope of the themes in the play seem to transcend time. Use the Discussion tab above to comment on what you think are the pervasive elements of the story which promote such consistent retelling of the plot in so many different forms?

A rose by any other name: modern-day retellings of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

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Valentine’s Day is the only holiday during the year when the Average Joe miraculously transforms into a modern-day Romeo, the colours pink and red actually complement each other, and chocolate from heart-shaped boxes becomes the unofficial sixth food group. But best of all, it’s the perfect excuse to read that lovey-dovey romance novel you’ve been too embarrassed to read all year – you know, the one that’s currently in hiding, either stashed behind your copies of Middlemarch and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or shamefully tucked away in a drawer and out of view? Yup, that’s the one. Valentine’s Day gives you a free pass to read said romance book, because who can blame you for wanting to bask in its cheesy goodness on the most romantic day of the year, right?

Luckily for us, there is no shortage of romantic literature to choose from. From The Notebook and Pride and Prejudice, to Harlequin romances and Outlander, there is a romance novel for every taste preference. Perhaps the best known of the literary love stories, however, is Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which was first published in 1597.
Now, if we are being honest with ourselves, and I’m talking about the I-don’t-care-what-my-English-literature-classmates-or-publishing-co-workers-think-of-me honest, no one really wants to re-read the story of the star-crossed lovers in the Bard’s original language and form. I will unashamedly admit that the two times I was required to read the play throughout my educational career was enough, thankyouverymuch, and for anyone who says otherwise, “the lady [or lord] doth protest too much, methinks.”
But not to worry, there are many modern-day adaptations of Shakespeare’s famous romantic tragedy, so us [closet] romance junkies can still get our Romeo and Juliet fix, without having to decipher every line, obscure allusion, and rhetorical flourish. Indeed, there is a retelling of Romeo and Juliet suited for everyone. Though not the original work – as Shakespeare himself would say – “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

This February, I invite you to fall in love (again) with the story of Romeo and Juliet, without having to break out your Shakespearean dictionary.

[Descriptions of novels from Chapters]

For the hopeless romantic – Adult Fiction:

external image 1554684994.jpg?lang=en&width=210&quality=85&altimages=true&csvids=Juliet by Anne Fortier: When Julie Jacobs inherits a key to a safety deposit box in Siena, Italy, she is told it will lead her to an old family treasure. Soon she is launched on a precarious journey into the true history of her ancestor Giulietta, whose legendary love for a young man named Romeo turned medieval Siena upside down. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in Shakespeare’s unforgettable blood feud, she begins to realize that the notorious curse – “A plague on both your houses!” – is still at work, and that she is the next target. It seems the only one who can save her from her fate is Romeo . . . but where is he?

Full of sleeping potions, secret processions, and the glorious Italian countryside, Juliet is at heart an epic romance that proves that love is strong enough to conquer even death.

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O, Juliet by Robin Maxwell: Before Juliet Capelletti lie two futures: a traditionally loveless marriage to her father’s business partner, or the fulfillment of her poetic dreams, inspired by the great Dante. Unlike her beloved friend Lucrezia, who looks forward to her arranged marriage, Juliet has a wild, romantic imagination that knows not the bounds of her great family’s stalwart keep.
The latter path is hers for the taking when Juliet meets Romeo Monticecco, a soulful young man seeking peace between their warring families. A dreamer himself, Romeo is unstoppable, once he determines to capture the heart of the remarkable woman foretold in his stars. The breathless intrigue that ensues is the stuff of beloved legend. But those familiar with Shakespeare’s muse know only half the story. . .

For the hopeless romantic – Young Adult Fiction

external image 0061366919.jpg?lang=en&width=210&quality=85&altimages=true&csvids=The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper: Kate Sanderson inherited her good sense from her mother, a disciplined law professor, and her admiration for the Bard from her father, a passionate Shakespeare scholar. When she gets dumped, out of the blue, for the Practically Perfect Ashley Lawson, she vows never to fall in love again. From now on she will control her own destiny, and every decision she makes will be highly reasoned and rational. She thinks Shakespeare would have approved.
So when she is accepted to a summer Shakespeare symposium in Verona, Italy, Kate sees it as the ideal way to get over her heartbreak once and for all. She’ll lose herself in her studies, explore ancient architecture, and eat plenty of pasta and gelato. (Plus, she’ll be getting college credit for it – another goal accomplished!) But can even completely logical Kate resist the romance of living in a beautiful villa in the city where those star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet met and died for each other? Especially when the other Shakespeare Scholars – in particular Giacomo, with his tousled brown hair, expressive dark eyes, and charming ways – try hard to break her protective shell?

external image 2095336.jpgSaving Juliet by Suzanne Selfors: Mimi Wallingford, Great Granddaughter of Adelaide Wallingford, has the life that most girls dream about, playing Juliet opposite teen heartthrob Troy Summer on Broadway in Shakespeare’s famous play. Unfortunately, she has no desire to be an actress, a fact her mother can’t seem to grasp. But when she and Troy are magically thrust into Shakespeare’s Verona, they experience the feud between the Capulets and Montagues first hand. Mimi realizes that she and Juliet have more in common than Shakespeare’s script – they are both fighting for futures of their own choosing. Mimi feels compelled to help her and with Troy’s unexpected help, hopes to give Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy a happily-ever-after-ending.

For the paranormal romance type:

external image 0061976245.jpg?lang=en&width=210&quality=85&altimages=true&csvids=Romeo & Juliet & Vampires by Claudia Gabel: “You are deluded, Romeo. Vampires do not have the capability to love. They are heartless.” The Capulets and the Montagues have some deep and essential differences. Blood differences. Of course, the Capulets can escape their vampire fate, and the Montagues can try not to kill their undead enemies. But at the end of the day, their blood feud is unstoppable. So it’s really quite a problem when Juliet, a vampire-to-be, and Romeo, the human who should be hunting her, fall desperately in love. What they don’t realize is how deadly their love will turn out to be – or what it will mean for their afterlives. . .

For those seeking an alternative viewpoint:

external image Romiette%20and%20Julio.jpgRomiette and Julio by Sharon M. Draper: When Romiette Cappelle meets Julio Montague, she feels as though she has met the soul mate who can rescue her from her recurring nightmare about fire and water. But like the Shakespearean characters whose names echo theirs, Romiette and Julio discover that not everyone approves of their budding romance. In their case, it is because Romiette is African-American and Julio is Hispanic, and the Devildogs, a dangerous local gang, violently oppose their interracial relationship.
When the Devildogs threaten to teach them a lesson, Romiette and Julio come up with a risky plan to escape from the gang’s fearsome shadow. But things go terribly awry, and the two find themselves caught up in a deadly reality more frightening that Romiette’s nightmare – and in a desperate struggle to avoid the tragic fate of Shakespeare’s famous young lovers.

external image 9780805075007.jpgRomeo’s Ex: Rosaline’s Story by Lisa Fiedler: Rosaline won’t let anyone or anything get in the way of her future as a healer. That is, until she meets Benvolio. Where Romeo’s words had been hollow and unfounded, Benvolio’s are filled with sincerity and true love. Now Rosaline finds herself caught between her feelings, her ambition, and her family’s long-standing feud with the Montagues.
When Romeo turns his affections toward Ros’s cousin, Juliet, their relationship brings the feud of the two houses to a new level. Rosaline and Benvolio hatch a plan to bring peace to the two families. But will they succeed?

For the non-fiction type:

external image 5033362022_4b8608cb33.jpgLetters to Juliet: Celebrating Shakespeare’s Greatest Heroine, the Magical City of Verona, and the Power of Love by Lise Friedman and Ceil Friedman: Juliet. She’s one-half of the world’s most famous couple, whose enduring legend draws millions of visitors to Verona every year. But that’s only part of the story. Since the 1930s, Juliet has received an untold number of letters from writers all over the world. Most of the missives talk of love, of course – love found and love lost, love sought and love remembered. They may be written by teenagers in the throes of a first crush or struggling with parental censure. They may be from adults celebrating a hard-won love or wrestling with commitment. They come by the truckload, in almost every imaginable language – composed on ornate stationery, scrawled on loose-leaf, or scribbled on whatever scraps were handy. Frequently addressed simply, “Juliet, Verona,” all of these letters reach their destination and, amazingly enough, all of them receive an answer.

“Letters to Juliet” is the story of these letters and the volunteers who have been answering them for more than 70 years – volunteers who first acted privately, and who are now sanctioned by the city of Verona to answer thousands of letters each year as part of the Juliet Club. Complete with selected letters, this romantic and poetic book also contains the history behind Shakespeare’s tale and the monuments that fuel the legend. Utterly unique and magical, “Letters to Juliet” is perfect for anyone who’s ever felt the pangs of love.

For the young and young at heart:

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Crushing on a Capulet: Romeo and Juliet by Tony Abbott and Gris Grimly (Illustrator): Frankie and Devin never expected to become Shakespeare experts until they are launched into the romantic tragedy Romeo and Juliet. But this time, instead of just acing their book report, they learn a hard lesson about love and sacrifice.

For the anti-Romeo and Juliet reader:

external image 0385740166.jpg?lang=en&width=210&quality=85&altimages=true&csvids= Juliet Capulet didn’t take her own life. She was murdered by the person she trusted most, her new husband, Romeo Montague, a sacrifice made to ensure his own immortality. But what Romeo didn’t anticipate was that Juliet would be granted eternity, as well, and would become an agent for the Ambassadors of Light. For 700 years, she’s fought Romeo for the souls of true lovers, struggling to preserve romantic love and the lives of the innocent. Until the day she meets someone she’s forbidden to love, and Romeo, oh Romeo, will do everything in his power to destroy that love.

Other literary love stories that are Romeo and Juliet-esque:

external image 0446520802.jpg?lang=en&width=210&quality=85&altimages=true&csvids=The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks: Every so often a love story so captures our hearts that it becomes more than a story – it becomes an experience to remember forever. The Notebook is such a book. It is a celebration of how passion can be ageless and timeless, a tale that moves us to laughter and tears and makes us believe in true love all over again . . . At thirty-one, Noah Calhoun, back in coastal North Carolina after World War II, is haunted by images of the girl he lost more than a decade earlier. At twenty-nine, socialite Allie Nelson is about to marry a wealthy lawyer, but she cannot stop thinking about the boy who long ago stole her heart. Thus begins the story of a love so enduring and deep it can turn tragedy into triumph, and may even have the power to create a miracle . . .

external image 0316024961.jpg?lang=en&width=210&quality=85&altimages=true&csvids=New Moon by Stephenie Meyer: In New Moon, Stephenie Meyer delivers another irresistible combination of romance and suspense with a supernatural twist. The “star-crossed” lovers theme continues as Bella and Edward find themselves facing new obstacles, including a devastating separation, the mysterious appearance of dangerous wolves roaming the forest in Forks, a terrifying threat of revenge from a female vampire and a deliciously sinister encounter with Italy’s reigning royal family of vampires, the Volturi. Passionate, riveting, and full of surprising twists and turns, this vampire love saga is well on its way to literary immortality.

external image 0684830426.jpg?lang=en&width=210&quality=85&altimages=true&csvids=The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Timesnoted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

The Once and Future King White

A Tale of Two Cities Dickens

The Odyssey Homer

The Canterbury Tales Chaucer, retold by McCaughrean

The Old Man and the Sea Hemingway

Of Mice and Men Steinbeck

And Then There Were None Christie

Great Expectations Dickens

Antigone Sophocles

I am the Cheese Cormier

The Alchemist Coelho

A Separate Peace Knowles