Until very recently, the notion of an epoch-making shift between 'medieval' and 'Renaissance' periods has been assumed rather than examined; medieval/ Renaissance transitions remain as hazily undefined and unexplored as those posited between 'the modern' and 'postmodern'. Many theorists (such as Foucault and Homi Bhaba) have fashioned a simplified or idealized image of the Middle Ages from which the modern (sexuality or the nation state) are said to emerge. This course traces passages from the fourteenth to the seventeenth centuries through a variety of fields (the history of religion, the history of art, the history of state formations, economics, sexualities, sociology, etc.). We may also consider the writings of Boccaccio and Petrarch, the paintings of Bruegel and Bosch, and the life of Joan of Arc (burned by the English in 1431). My personal orientation is broadly cultural materialist, but classes will welcome a variety of texts and approaches (to include women's studies and queer theory, for example).
English writers covered in this course may include Langland (brief extracts only), Chaucer, Margery Kempe (businesswoman, traveller, mystic, housewife), Thomas Hoccleve (staging the first nervous breakdown in English verse), Malory (Morte Darthur and the civil war), More (Utopia), Spenser (Colin Clout; Faerie Queen, Book I), Wyatt and Surrey, Leland/ Bale (and the destruction of medieval textual culture), Shakespeare, and possibily Aphra Behn (Oronoko). Particular issues considered by the course will include: social, sexual, and economic divisions of labor (and their attendant anxieties); the history of anti-semitism (Chaucer, Prioress's Tale; Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice); the rise of humanism and the return of slavery (Chaucer, Boccaccio, Petrarch, More, Hortense Spillers, Toni Morrison). Particular attention will be paid to the precocious urban cultures of Flanders and Holland; the biggest-ever conference on these sites unfolds at Penn from 3-5 March 1999.
Examination will be through a series of essays and a language quiz; there will be no midterm or final.