Undergraduate English Courses

358:322 Age of Parody: English Literature 1660-1745

01   TTH5   CAC   17681   MCKEON   SC-106

The Age of Parody: English Literature, 1660-1745

Parody is an especially compelling, and often hilarious, mode of satire because it criticizes its satirical object by imitating it. When done expertly, parodic imitation evokes the formal character of what's being criticized well enough to be utterly recognizable, yet with just enough overkill to make it ludicrous. But parody requires subtlety: too good an imitation dulls the critical edge and seems to exemplify what it's trying to attack.

The period between 1660 and 1745 is generally acknowledged to have produced the richest body of English satire and parody. Its best-known authors are canonical figures--John Dryden, Jonathan Swift, John Gay, and Alexander Pope—who will occupy a good deal of our attention. But we'll also read authors who don't immediately come to mind in this context: other canonical figures like John Milton, Andrew Marvell, Daniel Defoe, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Henry Fielding, as well as brilliant, lesser-known writers like Samuel Butler, the earl of Rochester, Aphra Behn, Bernard Mandeville, and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.

All literary forms and genres are susceptible to parody, and we'll be reading parodies of (and in) several kinds of poetry, essays, plays, romances, and novels. And throughout the semester we'll return from time to time to the question: Why should this period have been the Golden Age of Parody? Are there historical conditions—political, social, economic, religious, intellectual—whose conjunction creates the most fruitful environment for this most delicately balanced and devastating method of critical commentary?

Requirements: Two papers, frequent reading quizzes, and regular attendance.