What might utopia, floral still life painting, and a knight’s quest across an allegorical landscape all have in common? This course proposes that, in different ways, each genre tries to imagine environments that are “unreal”: they do not seem to adhere in a strict way to our prevailing norms of spatial and temporal representation. What can they tell us about environmental aesthetics in Renaissance England? And why might other artist-readers in the period have tried to map some of these unreal textual environments?
Course texts will include Thomas More’s Utopia, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene(selections), John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, and an array of art (including Hieronymus Bosch, Giuseppe Arcimboldo, and Rachel Ruysch). We will supplement these primary works with shorter readings in art and environmental theory that attend to techniques of realism, Renaissance practices of observation and description, and the histories of cartography, empire, and gender. In addition to active and engaged participation, students are expected to submit two short papers and take a midterm exam; there is no final exam.
What does it mean to be an animal? To be a human? And what does reading have to do with anything?
Animal studies and the environmental humanities are ideas that are increasingly familiar to 21st-century readers; viewed here through the lens of some of the finest and most intriguing literary works from the premodern Romance world, with important interactions with other literatures around the whole world and influences on them, and spanning a range of forms: from short poems to encyclopaedias, from fables to bestiaries, from saints’ miracles to dramatic multimedia satires.
What, where, and when is this “Romance World I: Medieval to Early Modern” of the course title? We’ll be in places where the linguistic relatives of today’s Catalan, French, Italian, Occitan, Portuguese, and Spanish are used; our two set texts are from the 12th and the 16th centuries CE, but we’ll be talking about manuscript and multimedia cultures from the 6th century onwards … and before and after, from an “in the middle” in the sense of not being in the beginning nor in End Times … and elsewhere: potentially adventuring anywhere in a Global Middle Ages, depending on where students’ interests take us.
We will start small: listening to a frog in a 12th-century Troubadour poem in Old Occitan by Marcabru, “Bel m’es quan la rana chanta.” We will revisit this frog at the end of the course, to see how our readings have changed along the way, and how we have changed through them.
Our two set / required texts in the main body of the course are originally in 12th- and 16th-century French; through them, we will meet animals in associated works from France, Italy, and Spain (and other areas where Romance vernaculars are spoken, in a multilingual world; our 12th-c. set text, for example, is from England). There will be reading about animals, of animals, and physically on animals (through online digitised manuscripts and books in the library); shape-shifting; animals reading (and speaking, interacting, and otherwise showing evidence of sentience and thinking); and reading humans as animals (via Montaigne). Along the way, readings and student presentations may converse with—for example—wolves, dogs, foxes, bears, birds, bees, donkeys, horses, deer, cats, squirrels, rabbits, snails, unicorns, hedgehogs, lions, chickens, sheep, fish, whales, otters, beavers (and of course frogs).
All texts will be worked on in English translation, though students will have the option, if they wish, of using versions in the original (or a modernized variant) in their final projects.
Pacific University Oregon
ENGL 340: Estrangéd Woods; or, Theatre and the Environment
Professor: Dr. Elizabeth E. Tavares
To survey fundamentals of genre, dramaturgy, and theatre studies criticism, this course explores the ways in which performance constitutes an environmental act. Organized into three units is a schedule of plays and other readings from a range of periods and perspectives. Some of these plays take place in nature, some are explicitly about ecology, and in some the environment becomes a political agent. To consider the spatial and material aspects of theatre, the class will attend a professional production in Portland (Macbeth), on campus (Orlando), and then students will have the opportunity to seek out and review a performance of their choosing. By developing a series of three interlocking essays that culminate in a final portfolio, students will have the opportunity to analyze a particular dramatic oeuvre and employ a specific theoretical lens as a means to interrogate the relationship between dramatic form and our environment.
ENGL 2116: Being Bad in the Middle Ages: The 7 Deadly Sins
Professor: Dr. Noëlle Phillips
Sin. This is an ugly and historically powerful word. Ideas of sin and salvation shaped the medieval Western European worldview. The hierarchy of the seven deadly sins – those sins which would endanger one’s soul – was therefore a commonly recurring theme in medieval literature, philosophy, and theology. However, everyone knows that sin is not simply deadly; it can also be fun. The very significance and intensity of the seven deadly sins meant that they had the attraction of the taboo.
In this course, students will read a range of medieval and Renaissance texts that take a variety of approaches to the seven deadly sins: intellectual, literary, theological, dirty, funny, fearful, and artistic, to name a few. We will find out what lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, anger, envy, and pride looked like 500-1000 years ago – and discuss what they look like today.
In a widely-read essay, Dipesh Charkrabarty observes that “anthropogenic explanations of climate change spell the collapse of the age-old humanist distinction between natural history and human history” (Critical Inquiry 2009, 201). What, exactly, does Charkrabarty mean here by “natural history”? In pursuing this question, we’ll explore the history of this genre in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, including Philemon Holland’s translation of Pliny and works by Francis Bacon, Margaret Cavendish, Thomas Browne, and Gilbert White, to get a sense of natural history’s goals, its adjacent fields of inquiry (antiquarianism, collections of wonder, experimental science, and encyclopedism), and its practitioners. We’ll then be in a position to assess this genre’s persistence in popular, artistic, and scientific writings about the Anthropocene, which is the new (and highly contested) name for our current geological epoch. Some of this writing even dates the emergence of the Anthropocene to the early seventeenth century. More broadly, we’ll want to ascertain how this body of writing incorporates and updates for the Anthropocene natural history’s abiding goals. Our primary readings here will include Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (2014) and Gregg Mitman, Marco Armiero, and Robert S. Emmett’s Future Remains: A Cabinet of Curiosities for the Anthropocene (2018).
In addition to active and engaged participation, students are expected to submit three short papers; there is no final exam.
As Cary Wolfe observed in 2003, regarding animals as moral nonentities is the epistemological requirement for reducing human others to animal status. Much medieval cultural production seems to rebuke humanist narcissism: in premodern literature we see hybrid human-animal saints, birdsong drowning out human speech, and wild predators as moral actors. But other literature—for instance, Middle English devotional poetry in which the child Jesus gleefully turns Jews into pigs—demonstrates that medieval authors were also well-versed in species denigration as a racial, religious, and sexual cudgel.
This graduate medieval studies seminar examines the boundary between humans and beasts, interrogating how racial, sexual, and other forms of difference overlap with human-animal difference in medieval literature and culture. We will also consider when and how questions of sovereignty and subordination, linguistic difference, disability, childhood, and queerness become affiliated with the bestial, and how both violence and eroticism use the beast as figure and alibi. Also of concern to us will be the relationship between animal studies and medieval studies, and the place of medieval animal studies vis-à-vis ecocriticism, critical race theory and decolonial studies, and other potentially overlapping disciplines.
Primary texts may include Old English riddles, the alliterative Middle English Siege of Jerusalem, the Early South English Legendary, Marie de France’s Bisclavret, Gerald of Wales’s History and Topography of Ireland, Marco Polo’s Description of the World, hunting manuals, and homoerotic love poetry. Theoretical texts will include work by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Mel Y. Chen, Bénédicte Boisseron, Karl Steel, Peggy McCracken, Kari Weil, and Tavia Nyong’o.
University of California, Davis
ENL 232: Allegory, the Unthinkable, and the More-than-Human in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1596) and Amoretti
Professor: Dr. Tiffany Jo Werth
Modern readers might think of Edmund Spenser as the author of one of England’s longest poems writ, as Ben Jonson quipped, in “no language.” An unfinished work, it praises Queen Elizabeth I, memorialized as Gloriana, Belphoebe, Cynthia, or the “Faerie Queene.” Yet while the poem seemingly shadows this human monarch, she barely appears and its world teems with what cultural geographer Sarah Whatmore terms more-than-human life: a “clownishe” and elfin knight, a mournful tree, an unfriendly dragon, false avatars, a crafty shape-shifting hermit, a resourceful dwarf, an iron man, gender-bending heroines, giants and a blatant beast, within an interwoven plot that tells of two rivers in love, a sea deity who sulks, graces and angels who disappear, self-guided lances, a headstrong horse and a happy human-cum-hog. This course explores the limits of literary modes such as allegory, the poetics of lyric, and the long form of the early modern romance alongside questions that stretch the meaning of “human.” Together, we will analyze Spenser’s “worlding” that anticipates many recent posthumanist theories (ecofeminism, the Chthulucene, game theory, geontologies, and other unthinkables).