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Imagining Evil in the English Renaissance

ENGL 230.601
instructor(s):
R 5:30-8:40

In this course we will examine texts that reflect the Renaissance ideas about the demonic. Notions about an ideal "self"” necessitate the construction of an opposite. In early modern England this evil “"other"” was often associated with alien nationalities, but increasingly it could be found very close to home. We will use the vantage point of religion to look at various “"evil ones,"” analyzing portraits of Satan as well as some of his minions. We will be especially interested in exploring the relationship between a cultural process of demonization and the religious persecution of heretics. We will also connect demonization to the rise of English nationalism. The early modern “"other"” can be defined as a racial or ethnic group, a category that often also contains religious and moral error—thus the literary proliferation of villainous Moors, Jews, Turks, French Catholics, and Italian Machiavels. The “"demon other"” can also appear as fallen members of the opposite gender, e.g. witches or whores. One striking feature of early modern demonization is the capacity for a single individual to contain a number of these differing categories. Among the texts we will be reading are The Malleus Maleficarum (the official handbook for the persecution of witches); Marlowe's Jew of Malta, Massacre at Paris, and Doctor Faustus; Shakespeare’s Othello, Henry IV Part I, and Titus Andronicus; Webster's The White Devil; and Milton's Paradise Lost.