English 201. Images, Idolatry and Iconoclasm: Late Medieval to Early Modern: Graduate Seminar

Instructor: James Simpson
Monday, 3:00-5:00pm
Enrollment: Limited to 15 students

Fear of idolatry is a recurrent feature of Western culture. The Christian image threatens to short-circuit the flow of spirituality between humans and God, just as images of the ancient, pagan gods threaten dangerously to preserve the energies of those lascivious and vengeful deities. And images, whether secular or religious, are always potentially threatening to literate culture: they compete with words, and seem to possess a much more immediate power to mesmerize the imagination.  The Protestant Reformation in particular targeted images as the enemy to a true religion of the Word. Legislation in England determined the wholesale destruction of religious images (iconoclasm) between 1538 and 1644. On the other hand, many writers and artists, both secular and religious, look to the image for salvation of sorts. Guided by these perceptions, we will be looking to a range of pre- and post-Reformation texts and contexts. The course will be equally divided between late medieval and early modern texts. Students without Middle English should feel entirely at ease to take this course: all texts will be presented in reader-friendly editions.