A selection of courses from the MA in Early Modern Literature and Culture.*
The Idea of the Renaissance
The Renaissance is an idea that is less than a hundred and fifty years old but has had a permanent influence in the formation of cultural history past and present, west and east, high and low. It is poised around a notion of cultural change which is nonetheless notoriously difficult to date, around a geographical exclusivity which is nonetheless assumed to be of universal significance, and around an idea of artistic purity which is nonetheless bound up with the central processes of political power and patronage.
This course is both an introduction to the ideas and myths of the Renaissance and also an opportunity to consider the practice, place and value of cultural history as an inter-disciplinary study. The course is built around the examination of early printed books, both those in the Library's Travers Collection (and other Special Collections) and through the electronic database Early English Books Online. Seminars will take place in the Reading Room of the Special Collections at the Library. You will receive training in the handling of rare books and in the use of databases.
You will consider a series of different positions and look at the Renaissance as seen by historians, art historians, students of literature, philosophers, and so on. Issues examined will include: the history of the book; censorship and the press; the religious transformations of the Reformation; humanism and government; rhetoric and imitation; writing the past; and Renaissance and Reformation geographies: the idea of Europe and Christendom. Texts will include a balance of primary and secondary material, including Shakespeare's Richard II, Love's Labours Lost, Julius Caesar and Cymbeline will be studied on this course.
The Renaissance Body
In early modern England the body was a major intellectual preoccupation and a focal metaphor informing and shaping cultural structures and artefacts. This period, too, like the cusp of the 21st century, had a very distinctive conception of the person as a construct or artifice, as the product of social intervention and cultural organization. Engaging with interpretative models from the fascinating interdisciplinary field of cultural theory of the body, you will explore the aesthetics of embodiment through a range of literary and visual texts, unravelling the dense significance of the corporeal imagination of the Renaissance. Key themes include: body borders, the supernatural and society; gendered voices, sex and agency; the medical imagination; diabolic inversions (the witch's body); heroic and monstrous masculinities; transvestitism; mystical monarchy; diseased bodies; revolutionary corporealities; body, soul and mind; consuming bodies and eating communities; the fabricated body; and pornography.
This course is designed to look at some less familiar aspects of Shakespeare’s career. The aim is to examine the plays in their historical contexts and to see whether the subsequent stage history of Shakespeare bears any relationship to the meanings the plays might have borne when Shakespeare wrote them. We will concentrate particularly on the public and political significance of the plays and, to a lesser extent, the poetry. Subjects that will be examined include: the representation of English, British and other histories in a variety of Shakespeare's poetry and plays; the political significance of Shakespeare's varying conceptions of national identity throughout his career, paying particular attention to questions of kingship and legitimacy; inheritance; rebellion; republicanism and other forms of government; virtue and rights; and the law.
Race and Colonialism in Early Modern English Literature
This course examines the relationship between English literature and the wider world in the Renaissance. You will consider ideas of race; the theory and practice of colonialism; new knowledge and how it was dealt with; religious conflict, doubt and change; strangers within and outside the realm; and the relationship between factual and fictional writing.