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Study of a Theme: Stage Moms, Disappearing Dads

ENGL 102.601


Stage Moms, Disappearing Dads


From Medea to Octomom, our fascination with horrible mothers is nothing new.  But where, we might ask, are the fathers?  In this class we will examine not only overly-present mothers but also absent fathers, and our seemingly eternal impulse to engage in “mommy wars,” not “daddy wars” (or, for that matter, “parenting wars”).   Analyzing depictions of depraved maternity and indifferent paternity from Ancient Greek drama through our own time, we will ask what, if anything, has changed about the way we understand gender, sexuality, and society.  What energies and concerns do these mothers and fathers tap into? Might, for example, the misogyny behind portrayals of monstrous mothers hide deeper anxieties about power, bodies, and independence? Is viewing fathers as essentially irrelevant ultimately more sexist than focusing on the dangers of overbearing mothers? When we do encounter examples of “good” mothers or fathers, what allows these men and women to parent effectively?  Plays – to include Medea, Noah’s Flood (Chester Cycle), Titus Andronicus, The Duchess of Malfi, Abdelazar or the Moor’s Revenge, The Beaux Stratagem, A Doll’s House, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, The Little Foxes, Mother Courage and Her Children, and Suddenly, Last Summer, -- will be read alongside contemporaneous writing on parenting, gender, and sexuality, which will help us understand the contexts the plays emerge from.  We will conclude with current depictions of and writing on the “mommy wars,” “affective parenting,” and our continuing tendency to focus on moms and forget about dads.

This course counts as an Arts and Letters course in the Colleges General Education requirement.

fulfills requirements
Sector 3: Early Literature to 1660 of the Standard Major