Welcome to the Department of English at Rutgers University

Course No:  350:542
Index # - 27993
Distribution Requirement:  A2, A3
Monday - 1:10 p.m.
MU 207

Revolution and Culture:  1625-1688

Ann Baynes Coiro 

Revolution and Culture: 1625-1688 focuses on the seventeenth-century English-speaking world during a time of extraordinary cultural and political disruption and change: the first modern revolution fractures the three kingdoms (England, Scotland and Ireland); the ardently divine-right espousing king, Charles I is executed; during the 11 years without a king, Ireland is crushed, and the Caribbean becomes a colonialist target; Charles II is restored; and then his brother James II overthrown. This is a foundational moment in disturbing and still reverberating ways.

Using a revolutionary period that has so deeply shaped subsequent American and British history and literature, our overarching methodological question will be what culture’s role is in a revolutionary moment. We will probe the extent that literary culture can produce, predict or react to a revolution. Professionally, we will debate how and whether we as critics should project our own political viewpoint on the past and how the past shapes our understanding. Here, for example, is my own description for an undergraduate course: “A high-handed executive branch tries to operate alone. Ardent Protestants protest a mainstream culture they find ungodly. Women assume an increasingly central but controversial role across society. Resistance to scientific advances that unsettle old ways of thinking grows. Man-made environmental damage becomes an ethical flashpoint. Credit and resulting debt enable an explosion of growth but also threaten economic disaster. Black men and women become dehumanized items of exchange. War simmers and then breaks out on the border. An almost unimaginable series of civil wars erupts.” Is this pandering? How do we negotiate parallels between the past and the present? We face such question in our classrooms every day.

Our evidentiary texts will include Macbeth, a play that Shakespeare ostensibly wrote to celebrate the first Stuart king but that makes a brutal revolution the play’s central event; apparently sycophantic court masques; weird Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare; poems by aristocratic Cavaliers; and mixed media by revolutionary radicals. Women writers are key during this revolutionary generation; we will read, for example, poems by the American colonist Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish’s dazzling science fiction proto-novel, The Blazing World, and Aphra Behn’s disturbing novel/first person narrative of the slave trade between Africa and the Caribbean, Oroonoko. We will explore Winstanley’s radical prose and closely read Milton’s Paradise Lost (I promise you will feel confident to teach PL by the end of this class).

There will be several short writing assignments. The final, longer but still short writing assignment will be open-ended, meant to address each of your field interests.


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Statue of "Willie the Silent"