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Adultery and the Literary Imagination, Medieval to Early Modern

ENGL 422.640
instructor(s):
T 5:30-8:10

Adultery has been a perennial theme in literature. Adulterous love has been alternately celebrated (for example in the courtly love tradition) and condemned (especially by religious authors). We will begin our exploration of literatures adulterous relationships by reading medieval Romance, where sexual relations outside marriage often defined love at its most elevated. However, as we will discover in this course, a marked anxiety over cuckoldry could never be completely eliminated. This is particularly evident in early modern England, where the consequences of even a suspicion of marital betrayal could be deadly. After the Restoration, literary anxieties seemed to have yielded to a much more relaxed attitude towards infidelity. In the culture dominated by the Rakish Court, the adulterous woman emerges as less a threat to men than an object of their sport. We will read background material from both literary and non-literary texts (poems, tracts, marriage manuals, etc.) before we tackle such authors as Chaucer, Malory, Shakespeare, Middleton, Wycherley, Etherege, and the Earl of Rochester.