The first day of class is always administrivia day, so the real fireworks begin tomorrow. In the Victorian survey, we follow the sacred--um, in my world--tradition of starting with Tennyson's "Mariana" and "The Lady of Shalott," which, besides being great poems, have my favorite "gotcha!" moments for teaching students how to pay close attention to the text. In "Mariana," the students have to watch the quatrain at the end of each stanza. What is "dreary"?
The poem "corkscrews" as it goes along, tightening to that moment of anguished realization when Mariana finally says "I" (it's my subjectivity, my perception at issue).
"The Lady of Shalott," meanwhile, has that brilliant crack in its endless "Camelot/Shalott" refrain, as Sir Lancelot, riding in and out of the mirror, shatters the poem's structure--among other things. And then there's the little matter of what the Lady actually sees when she looks out the window. (We always spend some time talking about Plato's allegory of the cave. I'm happy to say that my students generally have at least a vague notion of what the allegory is all about.)
Things are still Victorian in the honors comp course, where we'll have a go at Act I of The Importance of Being Earnest. This play is really our warm-up for the ominously onrushing freight train that is George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman (which, thank goodness, we'll be seeing without Act III; it might be interesting to see it with Act III, sure, but then we'd be in Canada until sometime next year). Then it's back to administrivia with the graduate students, although I'm going to have them do a bit of in-class writing before I allow them to escape.