ENGL 340 - Studies in Medieval Literature
Semester Offered: Spring
Intensive study of selected medieval texts and the questions they raise about their context and interpretation. Issues addressed may include the social and political dynamics, literary traditions, symbolic discourses, and individual authorial voices shaping literary works in this era. Discussion of these issues may draw on both historical and aesthetic approaches, and both medieval and modern theories of rhetoric, reference, and text-formation.
Topic for 2017/18b. Conversations with the Dead. Stephen Greenblatt opens a seminal work on Shakespeare by voicing his “desire to speak with the dead.” It’s a familiar desire for literary critics: to connect with authors long dead, to open up a current, a connection through still-living language. This course explores both this critical impulse and works of literature that enact the actual practice of speaking with the dead. We explore Dante’s Divine Comedy, and Dante’s interactions with the “shades” of dead friends, mentors, and enemies; a range of medieval writing, including works by Chaucer, Julian of Norwich, and Christine de Pizan; adaptations of the Orpheus myth; and works within the medieval Danse Macabre (Dance of Death) tradition. We’ll also explore excerpts from a twentieth-century epic poem crafted from transcripts of Ouija board sessions (James Merrill’s The Changing Light at Sandover), criticism from Harold Bloom and Oscar Wilde, poetry by Mary Jo Bang, and contemporary fiction by George Saunders and Toni Morrison. We trace a current of influence and resonance among these authors, and see how different ages imagine different means of crossing over, conversing, and connecting. Sebastian Langdell.
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