Spring 2023 Undergraduate English Courses

358:320 Grief and Gender in Early Modern Literature

01    TTH4     CAC  05402    CARGES    HH-A4  

 Grief and Gender in Early Modern Literature

This course will explore the relationships between grief and literature in the early modern period, with a particular focus on gender, as femininity and mourning intersected in complex ways in seventeenth-century England. Our readings will include poetry and plays from highly canonical writers (Shakespeare's Hamlet and The Winter's Tale, John Milton's Samson Agonistes, John Donne's Holy Sonnets) but we will also read women writers who are either recent additions to the cannon or still remain marginalized, such as Margaret Cavendish, Isabella Whitney, Rachel Speght, Aemilia Lanyer, Hester Pulter, and Lucy Hutchinson.

As the past two years have shown us, grief can be an immensely complex issue to approach in a collective setting. Seventeenth-century England had plagues as well, but the cultural trauma of the English Civil War was an especially intense site for collective grief, as deeply personal losses became entangled with national upheaval. Feelings of grief and sadness often inspired writers, but such emotions could be almost impossible to fully express. For women writers, this tension was further elevated by rigid but contradictory cultural expectations about the expression of their emotions.

Course requirements are: attentive reading, active participation (attendance is mandatory), short (1-2 pp.) descriptive assignments, one creative project, one 5-page paper, and a final paper.

Elizabethan literary theorist George Puttenham observed that "Lamenting is altogether contrary to rejoicing...and yet it is a piece of joy to be able to lament with ease and freely to pour forth a man's inward sorrows." This course may cover difficult topics, but we will also focus on the moments of joy, humor, invention, love, and beauty that attend grief.