Instructor: Joseph Shack Day & Time: Mondays & Wednesdays 9-10:15am Course Website This course serves as an introduction to Old English, the language spoken and written by the inhabitants of early medieval England from the fifth century until around 1100. Although many of its linguistic features are recognizable in Modern English, Old English must be learned as a foreign language. The first half of the course focuses on learning the grammar of Old English. We begin translating short texts in the third week, before progressing to more complex prose and poetry as the semester continues. Our readings will consist of “classroom” texts used for the education of medieval clergymen and monks: Æflric’sColloquy, an early dramatic text that facilitated language learning by means of a fictional dialogue; scientific texts explaining the workings of the natural world; wisdom poetry that sought to catalogue how members of society ought to act; riddles that offered playful intellectual exercises their audience. Alongside translation, some time will be devoted to discussion organized around our translations and a few select readings to familiarize students with early medieval England and its social, intellectual, and political contexts.
Five Shakespearean Pieces: The seminar will focus on five plays (Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Henry V, The Tempest, and Merchant of Venice) with special attention to staging, literariness, and location.
The First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays was published in 1623, seven years after the playwright’s death. A memorial poem by Ben Jonson, included in the book, described Shakespeare, famously, as “not of an age, but for all time.” This course will argue that the works of Shakespeare—like all great works of literature—are both “of an age” and “for all time.”
What we often call “timelessness” in literature and art is in fact more accurately described as multiple timeliness: the way a work can speak to its moment, whether the moment is that of its conception, its production, or its reception. The plays of Shakespeare, whether they are comedies, histories, tragedies, or romances, have their lives in at least three time periods: the time and place in which they are written (Shakespeare’s England during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and King James), the time and place in which they are set (medieval Scotland in Macbeth, ancient Rome in Julius Caesar), and the time and place in which they are produced, seen, or read (“now,” whether that means nineteenth century England, twenty-first century Cambridge MA, or global Shakespeare today).
Over the centuries since the plays were written, Shakespeare’s plays have almost uncannily connected with developments in social and political history and in human character. It is not an exaggeration to say that in some cases Shakespearean characters, scenes, and phrases, have influenced the way subsequent ages have thought about people and politics, and even how they have acted, or reacted, to historical events. Like the eyes in a portrait that are described as following the viewer around the room, the plays of Shakespeare seem always to be trained upon the audience, no matter what the time or place.
This course will discuss Shakespeare’s multiple timeliness and the effect of “timelessness” that is generated by it—and, by extension and analogy (including some analogies within the plays) the way “timeliness” and “timelessness” intersect in the production and consumption of works of art.
Instructor: Deidre Lynch Day & Time: Tuesdays & Thursdays 1:30-2:45pm Course Website What was it like to read and write a novel at a moment before that term named a stable category and before the genre’s conventions were established? How did it feel to be a writer or reader in an era when the novel was (as some authors put it in the middle of the eighteenth century) “a new species” or “a new province” of writing?
This class is devoted to the remarkable record of literary experimentation that forms the history of the early novel. As we study works by Aphra Behn, Mme de Lafayette, Daniel Defoe, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, Frances Burney, and Jane Austen, we’ll attend particularly to questions of genre and genre hierarchy, fictionality and realism. To investigate what was novel about novels, we will ponder, for instance, how novels differ from epics or histories or the news in newspapers. That pondering will give us rich new insights into the formal devices that empowered this new kind of fiction as it claimed--unlike its predecessors in the narrative line-- to tell the truth: a claim that would eventually, by the time of Jane Austen, underwrite the novel’s emergence as the crucial genre of modern times. At the same time, we will also investigate what this emergence can tell us about modernity itself--about love, sex, and marriage, consumer capitalism, race, and empire. We’ll cap our reading by pairing Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with an extraordinary novel in letters from 1808 (only recently rediscovered, and anonymously published), The Woman of Colour: A Tale.
An introduction to major works in English literature from Beowulf through the seventeenth century, the course will explore various ways that new literatures are created in response to cultural forces that shape poets, genres, and group identity. We will hone close reading skills, introduce rhetorical tropes, and develop techniques of critical writing.