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2020 Spring Course Offerings

ENGL 622: Shakespeare: Texts and Contexts

Meetings: Monday, 5 – 7:30 PM

Professor: Glenn Steinberg

The focus of this course is the reconstruction of the literary “horizon of expectations” for Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies at the time of their first performance.  The course is not a course in Shakespeare’s plays per se but rather a course in the literary, dramatic, and cultural texts that shaped the literary expectations, perceptions, and tastes of Shakespeare and his audience.  We reconstruct what an Elizabethan audience might have expected when it went to the theater to see a play – reconstructing Elizabethan expectations “from a preunderstanding of the genre, from the form and themes of already familiar works, and from the opposition between poetic and practical language” (Hans Robert Jauss, Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, p. 22).  Reconstructing this “horizon of expectations” allows us to read Shakespeare – any Shakespeare – better and more easily, because we understand the context from which it came, to which it refers, and through which it makes meaning.  We read both precursors and contemporaries of Shakespeare (from Ovid to John Webster), both the (in)famous and the virtually unknown (from Christopher Marlowe to John Lyly), and both the ridiculous and the sublime (from Ralph Roister Doister to Ben Jonson).  Students take what they learn about Elizabethan expectations in class and write about one or more Shakespeare plays.


ENGL 670: Contemporary Dystopia and Utopia

Meetings: Tuesday, 5 – 7:30 PM

Professor: Jean Graham

Margaret Atwood defines dystopia/utopia as a genre based on “blueprints of concocted societies . . . either ‘this is where you do not wish to live’ or ‘maybe things would be better this way.’” Whether the novel is Atwood’s own The Handmaid’s Tale or Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, this genre is written by idealists critiquing their own societies and offering suggestions for a better way.  We will start with several utopias from the 1970s, such as Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” and Joanna Russ’s The Female Man, and work our way forward to some of the latest dystopias.


ENGL 505: Literary Theory

Meetings: Wednesday, 5 – 7:30 PM

Professor: Harriet Hustis

An introduction to the scholarly methods necessary for graduate work in literature and to the study of theoretical frameworks important to contemporary literary criticism, including formalism, structuralism, Marxism, deconstruction, feminism, post-colonial studies, cultural studies, new historicism, and psychoanalysis. The course exposes students to the primary texts from which those theoretical frameworks are derived and requires students to critique and construct applications of those theories to specific literary texts.


ENGL 550: Seminar in Poetry

Meetings: Thursday, 5 – 7:30 PM

Professor: Laura Neuman

Contemporary poets claim experimental techniques such as interruption, disruption, rupture, fragmentation, swerve, paradox, and ambiguity can be used to radical ends – to resist normative, habitual ways of making sense, for instance, or to offer radical political critiques of social, political and economic systems.  In poetry, claims of an alignment between a political stance and a formal technique run both ways: narrative poets working with the lyric, for instance, have been accused of selling out, or selling trauma to their listeners, while failing to transform the underlying conditions according to which their readers understand such traumas to take place.  Meanwhile, experimental poets are often accused of burying their messages behind obscure and overly difficult techniques, creating work that is illegible, inaccessible to all but a privileged few, and thus not politically effective.  In this graduate seminar, we’ll consider poems and poetics from various sides of this quandary. Is there an alignment between politics and form? When they do align, what factors, historically or contextually, might be at play?  Why have poets so long claimed a politics to aesthetic choices? When do such claims serve or undermine poems or their readers?  These questions will be the focus of our inquiry.