In his 1570 educational manual, The Schoolmaster, Roger Ascham charged romance with celebrating everything counter to proper English values:� �In our forefathers tyme, when Papistrie, as a standyng poole, covered and overflowed all England, fewe bookes were read in our tongue, savyng certaine bookes of Chivalrie, as they sayd, for pastime and pleasure, which, as some say, were made in Monasteries, by idle Monkes, or wanton Canons: as one for example, Morte Arthur:� the whole pleasure of which booke standeth in two speciall poyntes, in open mans slaughter, and bold bawdrye.� �
Though we might send Ascham rolling in his grave, this course will focus on the very genre that he took as the antitype of a proper education. Ascham sees the “open mans slaughter, and bold bawdrye”—the violence and sex that fills romance—as corrupting innocent readers with foreign beliefs that could destroy Protestant England from within. Evidently these fantastic tales of knights, ladies, dragons, dwarfs, magicians have serious implications. What are the ethical and political implications of representing adultery, rape, incest, and torture? What types of emotions and behavior can literature properly represent? And what is the purpose of literature to begin with?
We will begin our survey of romance with such medieval authors as Chr�tien de Troyes and Thomas Malory. Upon turning to the Renaissance, we'll study how Spenser’s The Faerie Queene adapts Ariosto’s wildly popular Orlando Furioso into a Protestant context, and how Mary Wroth’s Urania uses the mock-romance of Don Quixote to probe the contradictions of gender and politics in seventeenth-century England. We will conclude by considering at romance’s early connections to science fiction in Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World (1666) and to issues of colonial and racial injustice in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko (1688). Assignments will include several short papers and a final exam.