Feminist Theory and Early Modern Literature
This seminar will examine how we can productively employ current feminist methodologies and conceptual vocabularies to study early modern writers to whom such theoretical concerns and rubrics would have been largely foreign. The course will be grounded on a range of early modern literary authors for whom gendered constructs are of central concern (Sidney, Spenser, Jonson, Wroth, Lanyer, Cavendish, Hutchinson, Marvell, Milton), and we will be particularly focused on the relations among their formal properties, conceptual stances, and historical contexts. We will be equally interested in talking about how we can read these texts through the lens of the evolution of gender studies over the past few decades. Accordingly, we will look at a selection of critical theory (Marx and Engels, Freud, Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault), second-wave feminism (Beauvoir, Brownmiller, MacKinnon, Rubin, Kristeva, Gilbert and Gubar, among others), and more recent debates about gender, race, power, sexuality, and “women’s studies” in the academy (Sedgwick, Butler, Wiegman, Berlant, Warner, Chow, Brown, for instance). In addition, we will read some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century tracts on women, sexuality, and domestic relations, and, finally, a range of early modern literary critics who share our interest in gender, literature, and history.