Spring 2022 Undergraduate English Courses

358:320 Race and Gender in Late Renaissance Tragedy

02    MW7  7:30-8:50 PM  CAC  08247  CRUZ    FH-B5

Race and Gender in Late Renaissance Tragedy


Early modern critical race theory shows that race-thinking in the Renaissance was not strictly limited to visible differences of body type and skin color, but also involved religious differences, notions of geographic origin, and adherence to ideals of sexual and gender normativity. But in what ways do the articulating concepts of race and gender on (and off) the English stage illuminate our understanding of the period’s dramatic literatures? How do our scholarly commitments to literary history, and our activist commitments to a more just social reality, shape the sorts of critical questions we ask, and the canons we consult? This course will explore the liminal historical frame of the “Late Renaissance” as an alternative to prevailing categorizations of drama written in English between the 1580s and John Milton’s death in 1674. We will read major tragedies such as William Shakespeare’s Othello and Antony and Cleopatra, Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine, and John Milton's late tragedy Samson Agonistes, exploring how the racial and geographic otherness of the tragic protagonists in these cases does (and does not) elicit sympathy from early modern audiences. We will balance our attention to canonical mainstays of the London stage with consideration of lesser-known "closet" plays by Mary Sidney, Samuel Daniel, and Elizabeth Cary: plays on classical and Biblical themes written not for performance on the public stage but for reading, both in private circulation in coteries of aristocratic ladies, as well as in public circulation in the London book trade. Secondary readings will include selected essays by Ian Smith, Kim Hall, Patricia Akhimie, Emily Bartels, Marta Straznicky, and others. We will consider the representation of race and gender in these works relative to England’s place in a premodern global context, focusing primarily on how the work of dramatic literary figuration supports – or subverts – the control and evaluation of differences between bodies.

Requirements: class participation, short assignments, 2 papers (2-3 pp., 6-7 pp.), in-class midterm exam. Attendance at, and participation in, all class meetings is crucial for your success in this course."