ENGL 359
Origins of Literary Modernity Fall 2014
Division I
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One way of better appreciating the types of literature we like to read would be to imagine a world in which they didn’t exist: a world, that is, in which you could not buy a book of poems or pay to see a play in a theater staffed by professional actors or read a novel of any kind, because no-one had ever thought to write one. That image, in fact, accurately describes our world in most places for most of its history. The greater part of the world’s societies have gotten by just fine without literature. The question, then, is why anyone ever thought to open a theater in the first place — or write a novel — or print a collection of lyrics. We’ll want to figure that out, and to explain, too, what kinds of societies are capable of hosting literature as we know it, and what kind of effects literature has upon such societies in turn: how poetry changes when it gets printed in books, how plays change when they get performed in front of ticket-holders, what kind of opportunities were opened up for writers in the generations around 1600, and equally, what new burdens were placed upon them. At one point, lyric poetry in English, the theater, and the novel were all new, and we’ll need to know whether they had anything to do with the period’s other new things: centralized governments, Protestantism, capitalism, science. We will read poems, plays, and at least one early novel, but our chief task will be to consider the competing accounts of these infant forms offered by contemporaries and later literary historians.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 25
Expected: 25
Class#: 1631
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: two papers, totaling 20 pages or so; informal writing weekly; class attendance and participation
Prerequisites: a 100-level ENGL course, or a score of 5 on the AP English Literature exam, or a score of 6 or 7 on the Higher Level IB English exam
Distributions: Division I
Attributes: ENGL Criticism Courses
ENGL Literary Histories A

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