This class looks at the roots of American legal discourse through the European cultures that helped shape it. We will trace how this literature not only represents sex, desire, and love as legal concepts but how cultural ideas about sex and sexuality influenced legal institutions. We will read popular representations of desire and ask questions like; how has the representation of sexual consent changed over time? How has bodily autonomy been understood in relation to social class, gender, and race? How have the law and the criminal justice system been a means for leveraging justice? How has the law been used to marginalize, criminalize, or create hardship? And what forms of resistance, agency, and survival do these accounts make visible?
This class will focus on literature from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and use critical insights from feminism, queer studies, disability studies, and legal theory. Students will learn about the cultural histories that undergird today’s legal and political initiatives to control same-sex desire, sex work, pregnancy and abortion, and embodiment.
We will read texts by canonical authors, including Isabella Whitney, William Shakespeare, John Donne, and Aphra Behn, alongside popular materials and case studies.