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Study of a Literary Theme: Madness in Literature

ENGL 102.900

How can the seemingly unintelligible symptoms of mental illness be made legible, significant, and meaningful? The notion of what it means to be mad radically changed in the early twentieth century with Sigmund Freud’s development of the practice of analysis. In this course, we will read several of Freud’s case studies in the context of a long history of representations of madness in literature. Our survey will begin in Ancient Greece with Oedipus Rex before moving to Medieval and Early Modern England. We will study two plays of Shakespeare in detail, Hamlet and Two Noble Kinsmen, asking how madness can be scripted and what role gender has in the representation of insanity. Later in the semester we will study Victorian depictions of mental illness and read selections from Michel Foucault’s Madness and Civilization: The Birth of the Asylum.