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Undergraduate English Courses

358:435 Allegory from The Faerie Queene to The Wizard of Oz

01  MW5   CAC   16203  GULYA  FH-B6

Allegory from The Faerie Queene to The Wizard of Oz

Allegory seems to be about one thing when it is really about another: George Orwell’s Animal Farm seems to be about animals, but is really about the Russian Revolution; C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe seems to be about 4 children helping the Narnians fight off the White Witch, but is really about Christ’s crucifixion. Allegorists, in other words, teach their readers through misdirection. In this course, we will improve our understanding of allegory as a literary form by reading a variety of texts ranging from the medieval period to the present day.

The course itself is divided into three parts. In the first, we will read several short, but representative examples of medieval and Renaissance allegory. We will move from the universal symbolism of the anonymous medieval play Everyman (late 15th century) to the knights and ladies of the first book of Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene (1590). The second section, which will take up the majority of the semester, features some of the major post-Renaissance experiments with allegory: John Bunyan’s allegorical pilgrimage in The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678), John Dryden’s depiction of seventeenth-century politics in Absalom and Achitophel (1681), and Charles Perrault’s delightful and moralistic The Complete Fairy Tales (French, 1697; English, 1729). In the final section of the course, we will analyze several modern texts that use allegory: The Wizard of Oz (1939), The Chronicles of Narnia (1950), and Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). Students will use the body of knowledge they gain from reading earlier allegorical texts to generate new insights into these more modern, more familiar examples of the form. They will also use these modern examples to revisit how we understand the earlier texts.

I have designed the course to fulfill the Restoration and 18th-Century Literature requirement for English majors, but also to appeal to a wide range of students interested in different subjects and time periods. Emphasis will be placed on analyzing and discussing the short, complex texts critically and thoroughly.

Students will write two formal essays and regularly perform close readings of literary passages in short response papers. They will also regularly participate in class discussion.