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Witches, Wenches, and Wardrobes: Unsettling the Home in Early Modern England

ENGL 4986.301
MW 3:30-4:59pm


Calling all true crime lovers and fans of the supernatural: Here is a course for you! Long before true crime podcasts, Netflix documentaries, and TV channels like ID, early modern writers were telling salacious stories of adultery, witchcraft, murder, and betrayal which centered on the home. In a strange way, then, our contemporary fascination with these titillating tales joins our present moment and experiences of domesticity with those of the inhabitants of early modern England who similarly saw their homes as potential sites of secrecy and danger. By turning to literary representations of domesticity from the early modern period, this course aims to unsettle assumptions about the home as both private and secure, revealing these spaces to be more peculiar—and perhaps threatening—than they might at first appear. At the same time as we will be engaged with primary readings about the home that are sure to appear strange to us, we will also be engaging with archival materials and secondary, critical literature in order to further defamiliarize domesticity; as it happens, reading attentively and researching deeply are invaluable skills for uncovering the unfamiliar in the familiar. In order to hone these critical skills, we will ask such questions as these: What does the persecution of witches reveal about anxieties surrounding women’s work? What does it mean that mariticide (spouse-killing) was punished in the period as “petty treason?” And how did the intimate contact between women and servants afford opportunities for resistance to patriarchal and state power? As we attempt to answer these and similar questions, students will become familiar with the research skills and tools necessary in order to pursue research questions of their own. Assignments include several short (2-4 page) essays, an annotated bibliography, and a final research paper or creative project with a critical component.


This course is designed to familiarize students with research methods and current scholarship in the field of literary studies.


English Major Requirements
  • Literature Seminar pre-1700 (AEB7)
  • Literature Seminar pre-1900 (AEB9)
  • Sector 2 Difference and Diaspora (AEDD)
  • Sector 3 Medieval/Renaissance (AEMR)
English Concentration Attributes
  • Medieval/Renaissance Concentration (AEMC)
College Attributes
Additional Attributes