Thursday, May 29, 2008

Progymnasmata: Anecdote from Shakespeare

In my course Great Books Writing Workshop: Christendom the students are writing essays about Shakespeare's Henry V this month. This student, J.D., chose to do the Progymnasmata exercise "Anecdote Amplification," which has a particular structure prescribed for it. (Explore the topic at my web site.) J. does a nice job with a very small side note in the play, and I present this essay as an example of what a clean, clear little essay can look like. Enjoy!

(Posted as-is, without correction, and I wish it had a title. Titles are great.)

In the midst of an army camp sat a young boy. With the impending
doom of a battle of unfair numbers, he makes a speech about his pick-
pocketing companions saying: "They would have me as familiar with
men's pockets as their gloves or their handkerchiefs: which makes
much against my manhood, if I should take from another's pocket to
put into mine; for it is plain pocketing up of wrongs. I must leave
them, and seek some better service: their villainy goes against my
weak stomach, and therefore I must cast it up."

Although a nameless character in Shakespeare's King Henry V, Boy
shows a maturity beyond his age when he seeks a more ethical group
of people to surround himself with. Even as a young boy, Boy
recognized that bad company corrupts good morals and sought to
separate himself from such "bad company". Unlike most young people
who give in to pressure, Boy saw that it was wrong to pick people's
pockets and as any good person stopped serving his masters before he
gave into temptation.

Children often give in to pressure, whether from adults or other
kids. This is considered a part of growing up, but although we will
fall into the trap of peer pressure Boy shows that we do not have
to. One way to keep from giving in is to surround ourselves with
good company. The saying "one bad apple ruins the whole barrel" is
very true. If we surround ourselves with bad people we are likely to
make bad decisions, however if we hang around good people we are
likely to make good decisions. Many times, but not all the time, the
downfall of morally good people is caused by the bad influences of
others. At work a coworker may talk someone into lying about the
number of hours they worked, at school a child may be talked into
cheating on a test, it happens many times.

A really good friend of mine goes to a public school. Although she
is still tempted to do stuff, she eliminates lots of temptations by
choosing her friends wisely. She doesn't hang around with people she
knows are not going to help her be a good Christian. By doing this
she doesn't have to deal with her friends constantly nagging her to
do stuff that she knows is wrong. Another really good friend has
made a similar choice. She chooses to not make some acquaintances
she has her best friends because she knows that it would not
necessarily be the best thing for her.

Although Boy was just a boy, he knew that when it came to making
moral choices it was best to have moral influences. Just a Boy did
not want to go about "pocketing up wrongs" with his companions, we
should "cast up" our bad influences for better companions.

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