ENGL 3310 – English Literature before 1790
This course is designed to provide a broad survey of English Literature from the Anglo-Saxons to the eighteenth century, including poetry, prose, and drama. Our approach to these wide-ranging texts will be to note the pervasive topos of Death. It seems that Death is alive and well in early English literature—continually reincarnated to serve a variety of purposes—and we’ll explore some of its manifestations. Particularly important will be the relationship between Death and literary form—how, that is, texts use death to suit their conventions or genres. Does a sonnet, for example, speak of Death in the same way as, say, a poetic narrative like Beowulf? How does the fact that Chaucer’s Pardoner allegorizes Death in order to preach against the very cupidity he practices affect the way we view this rhetorical virtuoso? Far from a morbid topic, Death provides writers with the opportunity to boast of the importance of their poetry, seek sexual favors, and expound on various topics, including gender and marriage, religious controversies, class conflicts, the effects of war, the limits of government, and the rights of citizens.
ENGL 4360 – Shakespeare’s Friends & Rivals
Bloody revenge, political intrigue, incest, love, laughter, romance—and pirates! Not an HBO miniseries but an advanced study of the professional London stage from the 1580s to the 1620s with particular emphasis on the drama of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Discussion will emphasize the conventions of dramatic genres and situate the plays in their historical, cultural, and literary contexts. How, in other words, did Shakespeare’s friends and competitors—Marlowe, Dekker, Middleton, and others—respond both to his plays (& he to theirs) and the theater market in which they exhibited their dramatic wares? Did they see one another as rivals or as collaborators—and if so, how and when? To what extent did they borrow, adapt, and/or rival the successful plays of other acting companies? Assignments will focus on the language and structure of the plays and aim to develop students’ close reading skills.
ENGL 4370 – Shakespeare’s Tragedies & Romances
Passion, betrayal, jealousy, incest, intrigue, revenge: four hundred years before your favorite HBO shows, Shakespeare captivated audiences and killed their favorite characters. Find out why these spectacles of love and destruction still endure. Modern film adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays will also be brought to bear on our study. Students will also be introduced to the “other Shakespeare.” No, not Francis Bacon, but the Shakespeare who, beyond the playhouse, wrote poems that were so wildly popular that publishers tried to pass off the works of other poets under his name.
ENGL 4380 – Shakespeare’s Comedies & Histories
This course explores several of Shakespeare’s Comedies and Histories, which students themselves will choose at the beginning of the semester. Our discussions will explore the conventions of these genres and situate plays such as A Comedy of Errors, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Twelfth Night, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry V, and Richard II in their historical, cultural, and literary contexts. Assignments focus on the language and structure of the plays and aim to develop students’ close reading skills. We will also read Shakespeare’s sonnets and may bring modern film adaptations to bear on our study. Vital to our understanding will be late sixteenth & early seventeenth-century notions of novelty and innovation as opposed to custom and commonplace. How, in other words, did Shakespeare view his plays in relation to well-known stories inherited from scripture, the classical tradition, Britain’s chronicle histories, and other legends? To what extent did he see himself as a pioneer of an emergent vernacular literary canon?
ENGL 5300 – “Shakespeare: Comedies & Histories”
What is laughter? What is power? Is there a link between comedy and power? These questions will guide our study of Shakespeare’s Comedies and Histories. We will draw upon the works of Sigmund Freud, Henri Bergson and others who have asked the question, “Why do human beings laugh?” And as we follow Shakespeare’s explorations into the nature of political, cultural, and social forms of power, we’ll bring the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Montaigne, Bacon, Hobbes, and Foucault to bear on the plays. Above all, we’ll apply the theory of mimetic rivalry of French literary critic and philosopher René Girard to the relationship between the comic and the structures of power. This course is also designed to enrich our understanding of how the early modern London playhouses operated. We’ll learn, for example, how a playwright’s manuscript become a working theater script and, later, a printed play as well as how actors received and prepared for their roles.
ENGL 5000 – “Introduction to Graduate Studies”
A course designed to prepare students for the professional study of English. The course will both familiarize students with basic bibliographic tools and scholarly methods and introduce them to issues that are of current critical interest to those engaged in the advanced study of literature. These issues include gender, textuality, reader-response, multiculturalism, feminism, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, literary history and the relationship of literature to philosophy, history, and science.
ENGL 5300 – “Shakespeare’s Frenemies”
Bloody revenge, political intrigue, incest, love, laughter, romance—and pirates! Not an HBO miniseries but an advanced study of the professional London stage from the 1580s to the 1620s with particular emphasis on the drama of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. How, in other words, did Shakespeare’s friends and competitors—Marlowe, Dekker, Middleton, and others—respond both to his plays (& he to theirs) and the theater market in which they exhibited their dramatic wares? Did they see one another as rivals or as collaborators—and if so, how and when? To what extent did they borrow, adapt, and/or attempt to compete with the successful plays of other acting companies?
ENGL 5300 – “Shakespeare: Myths & Cruxes”
Who was Shakespeare? What was his relationship to the characters and plays he created? Answers to these questions have fueled “Bardolatry” for centuries—leading to the claim that Shakespeare is one of, if not the, chief cultural possessions of the English-speaking world. This course will raise these questions as well, but not (certainly not!) to join the ranks of devotees of the “Sweet Swan of Avon,” but rather to historicize the making of “Shakespeare” and to ask how both he and his works have been made and remade innumerable times to suit the tastes of a particular age or literary coterie. Who decided what was “authentically Shakespeare”—and why? How did legends about him arise: whether he poached deer, was secretly a homosexual or a recusant Catholic, or even whether he authored his plays? Of particular concern will be attempts by editors and scholars since the 18th century to conduct tortuous autobiographical readings of Hamlet, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Tempest, and the sonnets. The course will also address what myths about Shakespeare we continue to tell ourselves. In brief, we will adopt two very different approaches: one that will broadly survey myths, legends, and mysteries about Shakespeare and his texts, and another that will wade deep into painstaking textual and bibliographic materials (title pages, speech-prefixes, textual variants, stage directions, etc.).
Other Graduate Courses
ENGL 5300 – “Shakespeare and the Middle Ages”
How did Shakespeare understand his place in the history of English literature? By his lifetime, Geoffrey Chaucer had already been acclaimed the first great English poet. How did the works of Chaucer and other medieval poets influence Shakespeare? Not until 1576, when Shakespeare was twelve years old, did James Burbage build the first commercially successful permanent theater structure. Did this event mark a break from the past, or did Shakespeare and his contemporaries still see continuities? Among Shakespeare’s first contributions to this new profession were highly popular plays in a modern genre—History. But, then, what do we make of the fact that most of the Histories are set in medieval England? How did the Reformation complicate England’s relationship to the past? What happened to religious or supernatural source material when it was staged in a secular theater? We will approach these questions in the broader context of England’s understanding of its own history, and study plays that either draw explicitly from medieval authors and traditions or imagine the proximate past which we now call the “Middle Ages.” To probe these questions—and to raise others—we will examine how, until recently, modern literary historians constructed of a dividing line between the Renaissance and Middle Ages. How has Shakespeare’s popularity influenced this periodization? What do we mean when we call Shakespeare a “Renaissance” or “Early Modern” poet? Why not a “late Medieval” or “pre-Enlightenment” poet?