We tend to think of romances as love stories, and sometimes they are. But the perfect love object is only one of the inspirations prompting romance heroes to set forth on their harrowing quests. Whether a Holy Grail, a beautiful princess, or a lost or endangered homeland, the quester's goal is uniquely and surpassingly valuable, worth leaving everything else behind in order to discover, possess, or rescue.
Romances, then, are about the passionate desire to find, understand, and preserve value. They cover the gamut from fairy tales to Arthurian adventures to Shakespearean plays to The Matrix, including the highest operas and the most action-packed comic books. Because love is such an important experience of value, romances provide a kaleidoscope of cultural attitudes toward masculinity and femininity, attraction and commitment.
This seminar will include some archetypal romances: the fairy tale of Snow White, the medieval romance of *Sir Gawain and the Green Knight*, William Shakespeare's late play The Tempest, and Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice. We will go on from there to revivals and satires of the genre by Lord Tennyson, Edgar Allan Poe, James Joyce, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Anne Sexton. In the course of our discussions, we will also explore nonliterary romances in painting and film.
Assignments will include quests to the library, adventurous presentations in class, and three surpassingly fine papers.