Undergraduate English Courses

358:320 Literature, Environment, and Politics in the Renaissance

02  TTH6    CAC  19426    HUNT         SC-104

The State of Nature: Literature, Politics, and Environment in the Renaissance

In The Leviathan Thomas Hobbes famously claims that life in the "state of nature" is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Yet, writers in the Renaissance found themselves caught between contradictory ideas of the natural world: on the one hand, nature could be a chaotic, antisocial world in which institutions break down; on the other hand, it was a source of utopian ideals, natural law, and moral guidance. What, then, is the "state of nature" in the Renaissance? This class will read some of the most important works in the period to examine how the Renaissance thought about nature and politics. Works by Thomas More, Michel de Montaigne, William Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Andrew Marvell, John Milton, Margaret Cavendish, Thomas Hobbes, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau will help us answer the following questions: How can literature make sense of natural catastrophes? What role does literature play in prompting ethical responses to the natural world, to animal life, and to other humans? Are human beings and human artifacts "natural" or "unnatural"? This course will also include some contemporary readings and films to help us understand how the literary production of earlier periods remains relevant to our own experiences with a natural world in crisis.

Course requirements will include two papers, short informal written responses, a midterm and final exam.