Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Gender and Early Sexuality in Early Modern Literature

ENGL 735.401
instructor(s):

This seminar will examine the relationship between four intersecting but distinct fields of study: feminist theory, queer theory, the history of sexuality, and early modern literary criticism. During the first part of the semester, we will read some of the key texts that have shaped feminism, queer theory, and the history of sexuality as fields of study (readings may include work by Foucault, MacKinnon, Rich, Rubin, Sedgwick, Butler, Bersani, de Lauretis, Berlant, Spivak, Warner, Halperin, among others). During the second, we will read a range of early modern literary texts and critical commentary to think about how theoretical debates have related to early modern studies (we will focus primarily on poetry by Sidney, Spenser, Shakespeare, Wroth, Lanyer, Marvell, Milton, Rochester, and Behn). Throughout the semester, we will consider the following questions about how past and present critical conversations have been constituted and challenged. What can a study of past representations of gender and sexuality teach us that a focus on contemporary structures and representations cannot? How can feminist and queer theory focused on contemporary debates and politics help us better to understand past experiences and ideologies of gender and sexuality? What do studies of literary or artistic representations of women, men, and erotic relations tell us about “sex”—as anatomical category, as gender ideals and norms, as physical intimacy, as desire and identification— that historical or sociological methods do not?