English and drama

Critical Approaches 1

Module code: Q3120
Level 4
15 credits in autumn semester
Teaching method: Seminar, Lecture
Assessment modes: Coursework

How do we go about reading and interpreting a literary text? What are we trying to do when we analyse a work of literature: are we trying to establish one correct interpretation? How do we decide that some interpretations are more valuable than others? Do we need to understand the original intentions of the author to understand what something means? Is it necessary to understand the historical or political situation from which a work emerged? Do readers interpret texts differently at different historical moments? Could our interpretations of texts be affected by forces beyond our control, forces such as the workings of language, unconscious desires, class, race, gender, sexuality or nationality? How is it that some texts, Shakespeare's plays, for instance, are highly valued by our culture, while others have been lost or devalued? Who or what decides which literature will survive to be read and studied on English modules?

This module will suggest some ways of answering these large and difficult questions about interpretation, and aims to make you think in new ways about the work you do for your English degree at Sussex. The module is divided up into five parts: two five-week lecture blocks in the autumn, and three four-week blocks in the spring. In the autumn you will study two themes: "The Author/Authority" and "The Word"; in the spring you will study "Class and Culture," "Desire and Pleasure," and "Difference." Throughout the module you will read critical and theoretical essays and literary works that contribute to your understanding of these themes. The module will examine many different aspects of literary theory including new criticism, Marxism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, feminism, post-colonial theory, psychoanalysis and queer theory. We will also ask you to reflect on the relationship between the theoretical reading and literature through simultaneously reading several literary texts.

Module learning outcomes

  • Understand central issues in modern literary theory and criticism and put them into a wider theoretical and historical context.
  • Close read and analyse critical essays and arguments.
  • Understand the ways in which these different theoretical perspectives can contribute to a reader's interpretation of fiction, poetry, plays, and culture.
  • Research, design and write a well-structured essay.