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Shakespeare and Ovid

ENGL 229.401
also offered as: GSWS 228
TR 12:00-1:30

ENG 229 / GSWS 228 : Shakespeare and Ovid


This seminar will approach Shakespeare and his contemporaries, including Arthur Golding, John Donne, Edmund Spenser, and Christopher Marlowe, by way of their translations and adaptations of Ovid. At the heart of this Renaissance inheritance of a classical corpus is are questions of embodiment, gender, sexuality, and violence that structure the very conditions of literary history itself.  We will attend especially to these early modern poets’ engagement with the central conceit of Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the supernatural transformations that call into question the boundaries of the human. How does metamorphosis as a master trope condition other modes of embodiment, especially gender and sexuality? How are we to understand how acts and discourses of desire and violence coincide in the unsettled, unsettling world of shapeshifting figures? How do these concerns, central to the inheritance by the Renaissance of the classical tradition, shape the literary genres in which Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote – how, indeed, do they shape Western literary history as we know it? We will approach these and other questions by means of close literary analysis. All readings will be in English, but readers of Latin are invited to bring their expertise to bear on Ovid’s language. Our principal texts will be the Heroides and Metamorphoses of Ovid; Donne’s elegies, especially “Sappho to Philaenis”; four epyllia or little epics: Spenser’s “Muiopotmos,” Marlowe’s “Hero and Leander,” and Shakespeare’s “Venus and Adonis” and “The Rape of Lucrece”; Shakespeare’s sonnets; and Shakespearean comedies, tragedies, and romances: Titus Andronicus, A Misummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and The Winter’s Tale. Assignments will consist in three 5-6pp. analytical essays and two discussion prompts, as well as regular participation in seminar discussion.

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