What can Renaissance drama tell us about the longer history of homelessness? In Shakespeare’s time, homelessness was understood in terms of constant wandering and displacement; words like “vagrant” and “vagabond” were the operative terms for describing what we might today recognize as homelessness. “Vagrancy,” which comes from the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander, roam,” highlights this longer history of precarious lives, of people on the move. In this JRS we will read the plays of Shakespeare, Marlowe, and others within a critical discussion of literary treatments of vagrancy. To enrich our discussion, we will also read from a range of historical materials concerning displaced peoples in Shakespeare’s England. How may we augment our understanding of homelessness by turning back to the Renaissance figure of the roving vagrant, the vagabond? In the first half of this course, we will establish a rooting in the period, paying special attention to the language of the plays, dramatic genres, and theatre history. We will also trace the afterlives of vagrant figures in later literature, film, and popular culture; ultimately, we will use this grounding to reevaluate cultural depictions of vagrancy and homelessness across the centuries to our modern day.
The Junior Research Seminar is designed to involve students in the kind of research that literary studies demand. Requirements for the course include one short paper of 3-5 pp and weekly canvas discussion posts engaging with primary and secondary texts. The preliminary paper and ongoing discussions will help develop research methods as well as final project ideas, culminating in either a creative project or a final scholarly research paper of 10-15 pp.