Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Passages from Chaucer to Shakespeare

ENGL 531.401
W 12-3

Until very recently (in the work of scholars such as Margreta de Grazia), 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 delineates 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.). Such interest in longer time complements explorations of wider space: sites such as Calais (in English hands from 1347 to 1558) will be considered, along with 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 materialist, but classes will offer a smorgasbord of texts and approaches (to include, inter alia, women's studies and queer theory).

English writers covered in this course will probably 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: Chaucer, Bosch, Michel de Certeau's Mystic Fable); 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.

fulfills requirements