Selection of current course options in the English Department.
Please note that these can and do change from one year to the next dependent on staff availability.
Second Year Course Options:
This course is designed as an introduction to the literature of the English Renaissance, beginning in the 1590s with erotic narrative poems by Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare, and concluding with John Milton's drama, Samson Agonistes, first published in 1671. Marlowe and Thomas Middleton represent the extraordinarily rich drama of the period, while John Donne and Andrew Marvell are the most famous of the so-called metaphysical poets. A feature of the course is the attention given to situating these works in their historical and cultural contexts. The online course book has several seminar texts, some of which are also available in the printed version.
This survey course on Victorian literature is framed by the personal: it begins with Queen Victoria’s private diaries of her happiest days in Scotland, and ends just beyond the Victorian period, with one troubled man’s intensely-felt account of his Victorian childhood. Within these bookends, other ways of being Victorian emerge in figures such as ‘the factory lad’, the opium addict, the chimney sweep, lady farmer, wartime nurse, financial mogul and gentleman-traveller. Revealed through the dramatic monologues of Tennyson and Browning are the many masks that men and women wear. In this great period of realist narrative the novel tends to focus on personal stories of social climbing, struggle against injustice, forging an Empire and finding a husband (or wife), but the course also explores other ways in which the Victorian obsession with personal stories is satisfied or criticized, through the pantomime, which has it beginnings in this period, poetry, the short story, play and polemic. We will study great examples of the novelistic form, including sensation, Romantic, domestic realist and sentimental novels. Some works on the course are well-known and truly canonical, while others will be excitingly unfamiliar; all however will contribute to a sense of the variety and contradictions inherent in being Victorian.
This course provides a broad yet complex introduction to the field of Romantic Poetry. Initially, the work of four prominent Romantic poets (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and Shelley) will be examined. As well as examining each poet’s work in detail, key theoretical concepts of the age, including the Sublime and ideas of Romantic poetic identity, will be explored. The course will then move on to explore work by a number of lesser-known and less-studied Romantic poets and writers. Through exploring the Gothic writings of Mary Shelley and John Polidori (Frankenstein and The Vampyre), the work of Romantic women poets (in an intensive five-week block), and the poetry of Sir Walter Scott, the ideas and identities of Romanticism (as constructed within the Romantic period and beyond) will be interrogated, broadened, and at times challenged. This course aims, then, to get you thinking about Romantic poetry in a complex and critical way, to acquaint you with both dominant and less well-studied Romantic writing, and to get you to evaluate the politics of the 21st century literary canon in its selection of certain writers over others.
Debates in Contemporary and Literary Theory
This course will familiarise you with a range of influential critical and theoretical ideas in literary studies, influential and important for all the areas and periods you will study during your degree. It aims:
- to introduce you to the work of key thinkers who have shaped literary theory;
- to introduce you to a selection of contemporary schools of literary theory in their intellectual, political and social contexts;
- to open up contemporary ideas and arguments about literature;
- to outline the 'state of theory' at the present moment;
- to look at two theoretical texts in detail.
By the end of the course, you should:
- have read and become familiar with the work of particular thinkers who are significant for literary studies;
- be familiar with selected significant schools of critical thought;
- have explored the relationship between these ideas and the work of other critics and thinkers;
- honed your abilities of analysis and interpretation, argument, abstract thought and critical engagement with texts.
The aim of this course is to provide an introduction to the study of literary modernism, a period of intense experimentation in diverse sets of cultural forms. It will deal with such issues such as modernist aesthetics; genre; the fragment; time and narration; stream-of-consciousness; history, politics and colonialism; technology, and the status of language and the real. In the first five weeks you will explore novels by Joseph Conrad, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf and short stories by Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and Samuel Beckett. In the next five weeks you will explore modernist poetry by William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens and others.
This course provides an opportunity to explore the wide range of medieval English drama, first introduced in EN1001 with the York Play of the Crucifixion, and to develop understanding of the major literary tradition which fed into the Renaissance theatre.
The lectures include an introduction to dramatic theory, material on medieval theatre and staging, and the historical and religious background to the plays. There is substantial study of the four main urban cycles, some vivid fragments, and at least three late morality plays and interludes.
The seminars always focus on particular plays, selected to represent key aspects of the individual cycles, to give a sense of central themes, and to display the range of treatment of Scriptural, and homiletic material.
Library resources are good; several texts will be provided in booklet form; and you are encouraged to make extensive use of the good range of film, video, hypertext and internet resources available. You will never be made to act, but acting presentations are always appreciated, and the course culminates in a highly educational performance of Everyman.
Medieval Dream and Vision
This half-unit explores a major literary genre which attracted all the great poets of late medieval England: the dream vision. It considers the use of the genre in the works of Chaucer, Langland and the Gawain-poet, as well as examining the visions in mystical writing. These authors’ treatments of the genre repeatedly ask us to reflect on the relationship of literature to experience, poetic authority and identity, and the development of English as a literary language. Lectures will explore the cultural, religious and social background to these works, as well as focusing on individual authors and texts.
Middle English texts will be read in the original, Latin and French texts will be read in translation.
Intensive Shakespeare: Comedy, History, Tragedy
This second year half-unit explores in depth three supreme examples of Shakespearean comedy, tragedy and historical drama that are not covered by the first-year Shakespeare course: Richard III (1592-3), A Midsummer Night's Dream (1595-6), and Macbeth (1606). It allows for a closer, more concentrated study of the range of Shakespeare's drama than was possible in the first year, and is designed to pave the way for the advanced third-year Shakespeare option. Teaching for the course consists of 10 two-hour seminars devoted to a close reading of the plays and detailed discussion of the complex critical and theoretical issues they raise. Students will be required to give one oral presentation of a formal seminar paper (1000-1500 words) on a relevant topic of their choice. Clips of film productions will be used throughout. The course has its own MOODLE website, which provides a range of information resources and a discussion forum as well as the agenda and requirements for each week of the course.
Drama and Witchcraft 1576-1642
The texts covered span virtually the whole period in which early modern English drama flourished: from Marlowe in c.1593 to 1634. The texts range from famous plays like Macbeth and The Tempest to little-known comedies like The Wise-woman of Hogsden. Two central texts will be The Witch of Edmonton and The Late Lancashire Witches, plays which deal with historically documented witchcraft accusations and scares. The phenomenon of witchcraft, and the persecution of witches during outbreaks of witchcraft hysteria has fascinated historians: the historical component of this course will be large. Accordingly, non-dramatic texts about witchcraft are also included for study in the course. These will include news pamphlets, works by learned contemporaries expressing their opinions about witchcraft, popular ballads and other archival texts. By the end of the course a wide, even disparate, series of texts will have been read and studied. Some of these plays still do not have modern scholarly editions that present the text in modernised spellings, or the usual editorial assistance to the reader in the form of footnotes and additional editorial stage directions. Therefore there will sometimes be the challenge of reading an unmediated text, and of making judgements on texts where there is no large repertoire of critical commentary to consult. The plays may well also seem artistically, even morally inadequate to the inherently distressing subject they handle. The course, therefore, confronts the participant with coping with historical sources, with evaluating minor plays from outside the normally anthologised canon, and the challenge of assessing plays in which the moral authority of the dramatist is itself debatable.
Theatre and the City 1590 — 1625
This course explores the connections between the rise of London as a metropolis and the flourishing of English drama in the Renaissance. It examines how the stage shows the city; how, as the city evolves, urban space is repeatedly represented and problematized for the entertainment of its citizens. Four plays are read which open up questions of commerce, gender, city limits, liminal space, underbellies and architecture in the urban space: Thomas Dekker, The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1599); Ben Jonson, The Alchemist (1610); Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Roaring Girl (1607-10); Ben Jonson, Epicoene or the Silent Woman (1609); Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta (1592); John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (c. 1614); Thomas Middleton, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside (1611-13); William Rowley, Thomas Dekker, John Ford, The Witch of Edmonton (1621).
In addition a selection of theory will be read on the city from commentators such as Engels, Benjamin, Bachelard and Lefebvre. At intervals throughout the course (weeks 3, 7, 10), we will spend time reflecting on how theory informs, enhances and/or disrupts our readings of the plays.
Early Modern Bodies
Variable, and therefore miserable condition of Man; this minute I was well, and am ill, this minute. I am surpriz’d with sodaine change; … that which is secret, is most dangerous. … The pulse, the urine, the sweat, all have sworn to say nothing, to give no indication, of any dangerous sicknesse.
Donne, Devotions, 7 & 52
Charting a progression from Galenic humoral theory to Cartesian dualism, Early-Modern Bodies considers the representation and significance of corporeality in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century texts. Reading Renaissance plays and poetry alongside anatomical textbooks, manuels of health, erotica, and philosophical essays, the module seeks to contextualise the period’s literary treatment of the body; authors and works studied will range from familiar names such as Marlowe, Donne, and Sidney, to the comparatively less canonical (for example, the plague tracts of Thomas Lodge; Jacques Ferrand’s cure for love-sickness, Erotomania; or Helkiah Crooke’s anatomical treatise, Microcosmographia). Renaissance depictions of the body variously condemn the ‘filthy fleshy pleasures’ of ‘bodily matter, superfluous and unsavery’ while celebrating ‘the Wisdom of the Eternal Mind’ exhibited in a well-ordered cadaver. This module shows how Renaissance writers exhibit period unease about the workings and mysteries of the body, returning compulsively to what is both a site of meaning and a site of corruption. During the course of this module we will explore issues of metamorphosis, humoral theory, gender and race, healthy moderation and grotesque over-indulgence, examining bodies heroic and maternal, bodies articulate and disarticulated, infected by physical desire and plagued by contagious disease. Although Donne’s ‘pulse… urine [and] sweat, all have sworn to say nothing’, nevertheless we will attempt to read the early-modern body and anatomise its meanings.
Paradise in Early Modern Literature
The Renaissance Literature course does not include Paradise Lost among its major texts. This half unit offers the opportunity to study one very important and characteristic aspect of Milton’s epic: his depiction of Eden, the paradise that was lost at the fall. Throughout his account of Paradise, Milton works to make the loss of paradise poignant by lavishing on it all his evocative powers as a poet. We will spend at least three sessions looking at Milton’s epic, covering aspects such as Edenic sex and marriage, Eden’s fauna and flora, and work in Eden. Throughout the course images of Paradise will be given attention, starting with Hieronymus Bosch’s ‘The Garden of Earthly Delight’. Alongside art works, we will touch briefly on some of the Bible scholarship which tried to locate the site of paradise, and deduce its fate. Other texts covered on the course will include:
- The rescue of Rinaldo from Armida’s bower in Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered, translated by Fairfax (1600)
- Spenser, ‘Bower of Bliss’ and its destruction in The Faerie Queene (1590)
- Sir Walter Ralegh’s Discoverie of Guiana (1596)
- The Abbaye Thélème episode in Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel
- Aldous Huxley’s Island (1962)
As well as work by Montaigne, Traherne, Vaughan, Margaret Cavendish, Marvell and Walton.
Gender and Writing in the Eighteenth Century
The twentieth century witnessed the rediscovery of forgotten women writers and, for some time, they were studied in isolation in order to appreciate the nature of their achievement. This rediscovery has led to a reassessment of the writings of canonical male writers and to a willingness to examine how issues of gender affect both men and women; it now makes sense to read them alongside each other. Recent critics have argued that, far from being hostile to women writers, eighteenth-century culture underwent a ‘feminisation’ that affected the literary careers of both men and women. This course will focus on pairs of writers working in different genres and circumstances in order to analyse relationships of influence, co-operation and rivalry.
Fictions of Sensation
The course aims to explore the Victorian concept of the 'sensational' across a range of novels dating from the height of the sensation period in the 1850s and 60s. Attention will be given to novels which are commonly termed 'sensation novels' and others which are not, but which shown the influence of this phenomenon. Issues such as the role of public spectacle, advertising, domestic crime and the demonic woman will be explored in relation to the cultural and social context of this novelistic genre. Students will build upon work done for EN1107; build up an awareness of various genres and trends in the history of the novel; be introduced to important nineteenth-century novelists, both 'major' and 'minor' writers; and build up an understanding of the social, historical and cultural contexts influencing and influenced by the novel in this period.
Aspects of Forster
In addition to the five novels he published during his lifetime, this course will examine a number of Forster’s short stories and some of his critical writings. A detailed textual study his work will form the basis for an exploration of critical debates about Forster’s place within the liberal-humanist tradition, as well as more recent discussions concerning empire, sexuality and race in his work. Alongside this engagement with Forster and his critics, the course will also seek to place his writings within a number of different contexts. This will lead to a consideration of Forster’s relation to the Victorians, to Modernism, Bloomsbury and Cambridge and to an assessment of where Forster himself can be located in terms of literary and cultural traditions.
Creative Writing Structure and Style
NB: This course is only available to English Single Honours and Joint Honours students (not to students registered for the Creative Writing Pathway)
This half-unit is designed to give Single Honour and Joint Honour students who are interested in doing some creative writing (but not those enrolled in the Creative Writing programme) the opportunity to work through some issues associated with short-story and/or novel writing. Classes will alternate seminar discussions of aspects of the craft of writing with workshops in which student
Literature of the Fin de Siècle
The aim of this course is to examine the 'dark' topics of late-Victorian and Edwardian literature. Perhaps the most important cultural influence on these texts is the negative possibility inherent in Darwinism: that of 'degeneration', of racial or cultural reversal, explored in texts like Wells's The Time Machine, and often related to the Decadent literature of Wilde and others. Dorian Gray, used by Nordau and others as evidence of degeneration, also provides a location for such pathologies: in the 'borderland' of the demi-monde and in the East End of London, with its fantasized criminal zones, opium dens, and white slavers.
With the release of the movies based on The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien seems to be more popular than ever. This course examines Tolkien’s work from the perspective of his engagement with Old English poetry, a subject which constituted an important part of his scholarly activity. We will focus on three Old English poems (in the original and in translation) and Tolkien’s two most popular works of fiction, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Scope of the Course:
- Old English poems: Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, Judith
- works by Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Lay of the Children of Húrin, and other short texts
Aims of the Course:
- critical appreciation of Tolkien’s adaptation of his sources
- critical appreciation of adaptations of Tolkien
- knowledge of Old English language and literature
- understanding of the importance of Old English language and literature in Tolkien’s imaginative fiction
- increased skill in argument, abstract thought, and critical engagement with texts
Dark Reform: Scandal and Satire in American Arts
This course aims to provide an introduction to American literature via the tradition which David Reynolds labels 'dark reform'; a satirical and often populist mode which seek out the abuses which lie beneath the optimistic surface of American life, often through grotesque, scatological, sexualized and carnivalesque imagery. It explores the contention that because of America's history, with its notions of national consensus and fear of class conflict, political critique in America has often had to find indirect expression.
As well as studying a range of literature (mainly prose, with some poetry and drama), and some visual material and film, students will be expected to gain a basic grounding in elements of American history, and read some political and cultural theory. Topics which will be discussed include: race and class in America; the critique of 'big business'; conspiracy theories and the Jeremiad; the carnivalesque; issues of genre and audience.
Third Year Course Options
Rewriting Mythologies in 20th Century Literature
This special topic unit will explore classical myth and its relation to writings in English in the 20th century, and examine roles it has played in literature, criticism and thought. Myths have been plundered for story-lines, styles and themes that include violence, guilt, justice, the family, voyage and transformation. Myth can be used conservatively - positing archetypal stories that essentialize human relations, providing models of heroism, and asserting respect for ‘tradition’. On the other hand, the return to primitive sources can contribute to radically modernising forces, and character, narrative and myth can be playfully recast and updated. To understand myth in the 20th century involves covering both aspects. One strand will trace a history of these deployments and another will examine different modes of ‘rewriting’, as myths are re-told in different ways and for very different purposes. There will be two assessments: one on ‘Theory of Myth’, the other on ‘Rewriting Myth’.
Violence, Sex and Magic in Medieval Literature
The Middle Ages are often characterised in the popular imagination as barbarous, incredulous, prudish, and naïve. In this course we will address the presentation and function of violence, sex, and magic in a range of medieval literature, from the Old English Riddles to Arthurian romance. In so doing, we will aim to understand the sophisticated but sometimes alien world views that lie behind them as well as the literary achievements of the works that contain them. We will study texts from a variety of different genres in both Old and Middle English.
The Girl in the Book
This course examines fictional representations of the girl across a range of texts, from Lewis Carroll’s surreal Victorian portrait of Alice through to Antonia White’s Catholic schoolgirl and Ian McEwan’s remorseful Briony Tallis. As well as enabling an exploration of female development and subjectivity, the texts under consideration also engage with a range of questions relating to sexuality and desire, place and belonging, knowledge and resistance, art and creativity. While some of these texts adopt the traditional form of the Bildungsroman, others seek to adapt or subvert traditional literary and generic conventions. For this reason, a concern with the formal and aesthetic qualities of these fictions will run alongside discussion of conceptual and ideological issues.
The fiction of the last twenty years or so is a gigantic and diverse field. Now global in dimension, the range of novels and writers is simply enormous, and the field is growing at frantic speed. It’s very hard to find out what’s going on, to identify trends and significance. The aim of this special topic unit, then, is to offer a sense of some of the larger themes and patterns in contemporary fiction. It will focus on seven areas which are important for this understanding: Globalism and terror; Memory and Trauma; Nature; History; Technology; Belief and Commitment; the real.
The course will proceed by reading at least one novel each week, with some compulsory additional reading to frame and shape our debates. The novels on the course will be British and American, with one or two works in translation. Novelists will include Jim Crace, Mohsin Hamid, David Eggers, Sarah Waters, David Mitchell, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ian McEwan, Marilynne Robinson. This course will also allow you to engage with the wider range of contemporary fiction you have read in other contexts.
African American Literature
This course provides a survey of Afro-American literature in relation to the troubled history of race in America. It begins with the first writings of black Americans around 1800, mainly slave narratives, and charts the emergence of more literary forms, culminating in the explosion of activity in Harlem in the 1920s. In the period which follows we examine the political novel in the wake of Richard Wright's Native Son; modernist and postmodernist writings; and recent black women writers.
The course aims to provide students with an understanding of the context of Afro-American culture, including oral culture, the blues, and folklore, and the debates which surround these cultural forms; it addresses notions of race, dislocation (the Middle Passage), religion, and other topics in Afro-American history; and the relevance of gender, class and other issues. It also considers the signifying practices and problematics of the tradition: call-and-response, 'signifying', the divided self, 'passing', etc.
We are not interested in the poem as precious object on the page, with a lot of white space all around, but only in the poem or writing as part of long-term process & as leading to more experiments & investigations...
The course is designed to introduce students to a range of contemporary and experimental poetic writing and to situate writing practices in relation to contemporary theory and criticism. On this course we will consider methods, processes and techniques used by experimental and innovative writers in order to provide you with a range of methodologies for making your own poetic practice.
Each week we will look at different writers whose work raises theoretical and practical questions and we will use these questions as starting points for our own practice. This might mean attempting to write a mesostic in the style of John Cage or making a poem from words found in the daily newspaper. We might then consider what critical and theoretical implications arise as a result of such undertakings.
Literature of Chicago
The course aims to investigate a variety of literature produced about Chicago by writers who lived and worked in the city. Although the course will focus on novels, it will also include some poetry, short stories and nonfiction prose as well. The course will aim to give students a knowledge of the historical development of Chicago in the 20th Century, as seen through its writers, from ‘muckrakers’ such as Theodore Dreiser and Upton Sinclair, through the boosterism of Carl Sandburg, the ‘urban naturalism’ of James T. Farrell, Richard Wright and Nelson Algren, to the later interpretations of Saul Bellow, Mike Royko, Studs Terkel, Stuart Dybek and Gwendolyn Brooks. The course will use the literature of the city to explore a variety of themes, including: urban fiction and urban poetry; immigrant experience; capitalism and urban space; American Modernism; literature and politics; city boosterism; the American short story; fiction technique in non-fiction writing and journalistic technique in fiction writing; literature as sociology; oral history; race and urban experience, race and literary expression
James Joyce: Revolutions of the Word
This will focus primarily on Joyce’s major work Ulysses while putting it into context with Joyce’s other work. It will give students the chance of getting to know and getting to enjoy what has been described as ‘the greatest novel of the 20th century’ and of seeing it in various contexts. These include Joyce’s other writings, the various critical approaches that have found inspiration from Joyce, whether new critical, humanist, post-structuralist, politicizing, feminist, historicizing or textualist responses to his work. In this way the shifts in intellectual history in the 20th century will be examined alongside the rich responses to Joyce. Topics to be discussed will include formal experimentation, the epiphany, aesthetics, Irish fin-de-siecle politics, alcohol, Catholicism, the ‘everyman’ and the ‘everyday’, uses of myth, irony, parody and pastiche, and the limits of language, reason and representation.
Special Author: Brontes
The principle aim of this course is to provide an opportunity for close and detailed study of the seven novels that collectively form the Brontë canon. This central focus will be supported by work designed to provide a clearer sense of the cultural, ideological and historical contexts that inform these texts. It will be supplemented by material that will enable students to trace the development of critical work on the Brontës from the emergence of the Brontë myth in the mid-nineteenth-century to more recent feminist and post-colonial readings.
Special Author: Ashbery
This course provides an overview of the entire career of America's most significant living poet. Starting with Turantdot and Other Poems (1953) we will work through such influential texts as the formally radical The Tennis Court Oath (1963), the prose-based Three Poems (1972) and the Pulitzer-prize-winning Self-portrait in a Convex Mirror (1975), concluding with recent works such as A Worldly Country (2007) and Planisphere (2009). Ashbery's early involvement with the New York School of poets will be discussed, as will his critical reception and his own critical writing. We will work principally from two volumes: the Selected Poems and the Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems. All students must purchase both and are advised to read widely in these volumes before the course begins.
Special Author: Hardy
This course will explore a wide range of Hardy’s writing including major novels as well as some of those which are lesser-known, his short stories and poetry. Hardy’s ‘biography’, purportedly written by his second wife but largely his own work, will be considered in relation to his writing, and some of the topics which the course will engage with will include Hardy’s relationship with the past, with the New Woman and the ‘pure woman’, with the regional versus the nation, and his often difficult relationship with editors, publishers and his readers.
Special Author: Coetzee
Winner of the Nobel Prize and the Booker Prize (twice), J.M Coetzee is regarded as one of the foremost writers of our times. His works, which range from the allegorical to the realist, from the meta-fictional to the modernist, engage with both the ways we think about literature and literary studies and the historical conditions of the various forms of imperialism. His novels negotiate the uneasy generic boundaries between modernism, postmodernism and postcolonialism. Through close readings of a wide array of his novels, and by being properly attentive to the historical backgrounds and theoretical concerns of Coetzee’s texts, we will explore the development of his writing from the 1970s to the present day.
The dissertation is an opportunity to undertake a substantial piece of independent work in an area of your choice, and thus to deepen your understanding of literature, culture and critical theory. The topic is negotiated with the Department and is subject to approval by the Sub-board of Examiners. In proposing a topic, you should bear in mind the range of teaching and research interests available in the Department. The purpose of the dissertation is to allow the student to identify a specific topic of particular interest to him/herself; to assemble and analyse relevant, available evidence on the topic; to analyse issues at length and to reach clear and independent conclusions as to the nature and significance of the topic chosen in the light of recent relevant critical and/or theoretical work in the field.
The dissertation builds on experience gained in essay-writing in the first and second years. It draws on time-management skills, and the ability to work independently. You will need to show knowledge, not only of primary texts, but also of relevant secondary sources.
Beowulf is a literary masterpiece. It is unique, not only in the context of English literature, but also in the context of Old English literature. Although we can read it in the terms learned from other Old English texts, Beowulf always challenges and exceeds the structures erected to contain it.
In this course we will attempt to read Beowulf - both in Old English and in a variety of translations - through three important structures: historical background, poetic technique, and religion. We will also address questions that arise from the act of translation. The course aims to improve your translation skills, to deepen your knowledge of the Old English poetic tradition, to explore issues involved in the translation of poetry, and to develop creative responses to Old English poetry.
Advanced Shakespeare: The Problem Plays
This half-unit course affords an opportunity to study in depth three of Shakespeare’s darkest and most disturbing plays: Troilus and Cressida (1601-2), All’s Well That Ends Well (1602-3) and Measure for Measure (1604).
Teaching for the course consists of 10 two-hour seminars devoted to a close reading of the plays and detailed discussion of the complex critical and theoretical issues they raise. For the first six weeks students will devote a fortnight of close study and discussion to each of the plays, beginning with Troilus and Cressida. Weeks 8, 9, 10 and 11 will re-examine each play in the light of the others to identify key points of congruence and contrast. The aim of these last four sessions is to sharpen your understanding of what is at stake in these plays, considered both individually and as a group, in preparation for the writing of your assessed essay.
In preparation for the course, you are required to read all three plays in the following editions, together with the editors’ introductions: Troilus and Cressida, ed. David Bevington, Arden Shakespeare, third series (1998); All’s Well That Ends Well, ed. Susan Snyder, Oxford Shakespeare (1993); Measure for Measure, ed. Brian Gibbons, 2nd edition, New Cambridge Shakespeare (2006).
You will also find it helpful to view the film versions of the plays available in the College library and in the English Department Office. The BBC Shakespeare All’s Well, directed by Elijah Moshinsky, the BBC2 version of Measure directed by David Thacker, and the BBC’s 2004 live broadcast of Measure from the Globe are especially recommended.
Clips of film productions of the plays will be used throughout. The course has its own MOODLE website, which provides access to a range of information resources and a discussion forum as well as the agenda and requirements for each week of the course.
Literatures of Genocide and Mass Atrocity
Genocide and mass atrocity has been, and is, very common in the twentieth and twenty first century. The focus of this course is literature and cultural representation of these genocides and mass atrocities. Beginning with the novella ‘Heart of Darkness’, which introduces colonial genocide and atrocity, the course will then look at a number of Holocaust and post-Holocaust texts, then discuss other colonial sites of atrocity. It will conclude by looking at cultural representations of the genocide in Rwanda, mass murder in Sudan and other atrocities in Africa. There will be theoretical reading to accompany each text.
Shakespeare Adaptation: From the 17th — 20th Centuries
This course will chart the performance history of four of Shakespeare’s key texts as they have been performed and adapted to suit audience tastes across four centuries. King Lear, Richard III, Macbeth and Henry V have been altered for performance in important and culturally significant ways. Attention will be paid to the textual alterations and the contextual events, both political and theatrical, that have caused these plays to be viewed very differently by audiences at different moments in history. The course will proceed chronologically beginning with an assessment of what can be known about Shakespeare’s own theatrical practices and work forward to develop methods of research that incorporate a range of sources, both performance-oriented and textual.
The first five weeks will consider the plays as they have been seen on stage and screen from the building of the first Globe Theatre up to the Second World War. This will include an analysis of the important adaptations of the plays by Nahum Tate and Colley Cibber but also the radical adaptation of Richard III by Bertolt Brecht. The second five weeks will move to look at the way that Shakespeare on stage and screen formed a significant part of the cultural debate around ‘Britishness’ in the 20th century. Students will be encouraged to take on projects for their assessed essay that tackle a wide range of historical moments and political movements.
Rites of Passage
This course aims to introduce students to a number of important post-war British and American novels. As well as representing very diverse responses to the Bildungsroman genre, these texts will enable students to explore questions relating to identity, representation and narrative. Central to this course is an exploration of masculinity as a cultural, psychological and social construct.
Odysseus’ Scar: Time in Modern Literature and Film
Beginning with Erich Auerbach's classic analyses of time in Homer and Woolf, this course will explore the way in which the flow of time is conceptualised in modern literature. It aims to relate the modernist understanding of time to changes in technology, especially the rise of cinema, and to theories of consciousness and trauma.
The bulk of the course will focus on literary, philosophical and psychological texts of the modernist period in which, in the work of Henri Bergson, William James and others time becomes 'thickened', a topic for investigation rather than a constant vector. The impact of technological and social developments on the sense of time - the wristwatch, telegraphic time-signals, uniform railway timetables, international time agreements, time-and-motion study, cinema - will also be discussed. Other topics considered will include time and linguistic tense; story and narration; memory and history; the time-loop plot; shell-shock and trauma. The circle between technology and time will be completed with an analysis of the inheritance of modernist experimentation in two recent cinematic plots.
Art of Noise
The Art of Noise is an interdisciplinary course that explores the role of sound in the literature and art of the 20th and 21st centuries. Sound is discussed as the subject matter of literature; as a feature of the performance or reading of a text; and as the medium for non-literary and non-musical artworks. The unit begins with discussion of the impact of industrialisation and recording technology in the 19th century. We then look at the ways in which the changing aural landscape of the early 20th century is registered in some literary texts. The course also explores the treatment of sound and language in some major modernist texts and in such movements as Futurism and Dada. Students will read examples of drama and contemporary poetry. They will also be introduced to sound- oriented work written for the screen and to the relatively new field of sound art.
A Year in the Life of Victorian Fiction: 1855
This course aims at a cultural depth of field by focussing on important novels published in one year at mid-century, in their historical, artistic and popular contexts. We will be accessing the excellent collections of Victorian newspapers and journals in Founder’s library depositories in addition to online resources, to examine how these novels appeared in their serialized forms, as well as looking at the news items, ads, illustrations and excerpts from lesser-known serialized novels which accompanied particular weekly or monthly instalments of the five chosen texts. Focussing each week on a particular instalment of one novel, we will attempt to capture the specific cultural moment of its appearance by asking questions such as, what paintings were on view at the Royal Academy at the time? What were the news headlines? What reports were coming from the Crimea about Florence Nightingale and the war more generally? What ‘silly novels by lady novelists’ (as George Eliot dubbed them in a review of the following year, 1856) had appeared on the scene? While bringing our own current theoretical and critical approaches to the study of these novels, we will also aim to experience them in the cultural context of 1855, immersing ourselves in one year in the life of Victorian fiction, in one term.
Lives of Writing
This course will introduce and question the various meanings, uses of and values given to literary manuscripts in the last two hundred years. Recently, literary manuscripts and writing processes have come under increasing scrutiny — not only within Universities but in novels themselves (in Byatt’s Possession and Cunningham’s The Hours for instance). In lectures and seminars we will get behind the printed pages of texts and discover the processes that went into their production, bringing fresh interpretations as a result. We will analyse ‘avant-textes’ to find out what they tell us about form, intention, authorship and process. It is planned that the course will involve ‘hand-on’ workshops with literary manuscripts in and around London. You will have the chance to work on manuscripts that no-one has worked on before.
This course will read a wide range of examples of pastorical literature, art and music, from the classical origins of the mode up to the present day. It is likely to include:
- Classical Pastoral Conventions: Theocritus and Vergil
- Edmund Spenser, The Shepheard’s Calendar (1579)
- Shakespeare, As You Like It (1603)
- Crabbe's The Village (1783)
- Wordsworth and Coleridge, Lyrical Ballads (1789)
- Beethoven, Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 (1808); Samuel Palmer; Turner.
- George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859)
- J R R Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings (1951-53)
- Ted Hughes, Moortown Diary (1979)
- Environmentalism: 21st Century Pastoral
Visual and Verbal in the Long Nineteenth Century
This course will address the relationship between literature (including novels, poetry and prose) and the visual arts from c.1760 to the 1890s. Theoretical issues of how we are to define the visual and the verbal arts, and the question of their compatibility, will be explored through a number of case studies of visual-verbal interrelations and conversations throughout the period studied.
The course will also address the rise of the visual as the dominant cultural form of the Victorian period, tracing the development of illustrated media and new visual technologies including photography and early cinema, and the concomitant rise of the new phenomenon of the art critic — the professional interpreter of images - in the 1890s. Week 5 will include a study-visit to the Royal Holloway Picture Gallery.
The subject of the visual denotes not only questions of seeing, but questions of being — as both our route of access to the external world and as ‘windows to the soul’, our eyes reveal, expose and define our sense of self. This course will also explore, then, the scientific study of optics in the 19thC to explore its implications for ideas of subjectivity and knowledge. In addition, the ideological use of ‘looking’ as an instrument of power and control will be investigated through examination of Victorian social and penal policies, and the racial and class profiling engendered by the new ‘pseudo-science’ of physiognomy.
The Great American Novella
The aim of this course is to approach questions about the Great American Novel (what it means, why it matters) by looking intensely at a series of shorter works that all offer themselves for close reading and analysis. The course will consider these works from the point of view of the writer — the sorts of decisions the writers made in fitting their texts within a tradition, and adding something new to it. The Great American novel is a useful starting point for a certain kind of discussion — about quality, as much as anything else. This course will put questions of quality at the forefront of literary analysis, offering in an English class the kind of perspective on literature most commonly confined to creative Writing: questions of what works, why, and what doesn’t will make up a part of each seminar, and students will be encouraged to treat all the primary sources on their own merits without recourse to secondary material.
By the end of this course students will have a working overview of two centuries of American literature and a clear sense of the choices made by a series of writers in tackling a similar task: how to turn a small story about a person into a much larger story about a place and a time. They will be able to respond to literary texts without recourse to secondary material and they will be able to analyse the relationship between a fictional form and the history of a country.
Novellas under discussion will include The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne), Bartleby the Scrivener (Melville), Daisy Miller (James), Ethan Frome (Wharton), The Awakening (Chopin), The Old Man and the Sea (Hemingway), Seize the Day (Bellow), Goodbye, Columbus (Roth), and The Crying of Lot 49 (Pynchon). Assessment will be by extended essay.
Creative Writing Special Focus
The Creative Writing Special Focus course concentrates on a particular mode of writing, genre, theme, issue or idea. Each focus draws on an individual staff area of interest and expertise, with the focus changing each term. Students take one particular focus in the Autumn term and one in the Spring.
Students will be encouraged to make creative work in relation to the focus, and to develop their writing practice in relation to wider contexts relevant to the contemporary writer. This will make an important connection between the creative ambitions of the course and writing beyond the University. By the end of this course, students will have become familiar with a variety of contemporary practices which involve writing. They will have engaged critically with contemporary debates involving writers and the practice of writing. They will have reflected on their own work in presentations and in essay forms. They will have developed their own writing practice in relation to an expanded field of writing practice and theoretical debate.