Commonplace


Just Teach One

From Philadelphia to Arden and Back: Reading Shakespeare in The Story of Constantius and Pulchera

Sari Altschuler
University of South Florida

Though set in “the suburbs of the city of Philadelphia,” Constantius and Pulchera opens with our heroine, “on the terrace of an high building, forty feet from the ground…a most beautiful Lady of age sixteen…clad in a long white vest her hair of a beautiful chesnut colour hanging carelessly over her shoulders, every mark of greatness was visible in her countenance, which was overcast with a solemn gloom, and now and then, the unwilling tear unnoticed, rolled down her cheek” (4). A student put it best: “I turned the page expecting to her to shout, ‘O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?’ Or at least ‘Wherefore art thou, Constantius?’” Pulchera essentially does. “Constantius! Constantius!” she cries after filling the night air with the frustrated sighs of “cruel fortune,” a “cruel parent,” and a “banished” lover (5).

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C & P in the Atlantic World

Hester Blum
Penn State University

I taught The History of Constantius and Pulchera to twenty-four students in an upper-level undergraduate course on the American Novel to 1900 this spring. The class is one I teach frequently, and I vacillate between approaches: should a student taking such a class expect it to cover the canonical heavyweights presumed by the topic (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Scarlet Letter, Last of the Mohicans); or wish to be introduced to novels they might otherwise never have heard of (The Quaker City, The Morgesons, Clotel); or discover lesser-studied works by familiar writers (Pierre, The Heroic Slave, A Modern Instance)? When I talk with students about their own preferences, they too respond variously, some glad for the chance to discuss Moby-Dick in a classroom setting, others eager to learn about books that they might never otherwise encounter. I am realizing that what works best for my own pedagogical practice, if I can presume to have one, is to put a new-to-me text in direct conversation with a reliable classroom staple, and it was on these terms that I approached The History of Constantius and Pulchera.

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