Skidmore College, English Department
EN 105: The Color of Justice
Why is racism such a durable force in the United States? Couldn’t we end it by simply refusing to see differences between people? In this course, we’ll consider the limits of “colorblindness” by studying some of the structures that shape race in America, as well as their effects upon the lived experience of people of color. Reading works by James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Claudia Rankine alongside critical race theory, we’ll first study different forms of racism and the way that race intersects with gender and sexuality. Turning to the history of housing segregation, we’ll then consider the consequences of government policy for what has been called “the racial wealth gap” and ask if reparations could offer an answer to these injustices. Finally, we will turn to mass incarceration and its role in perpetuating racial inequality. Through this course, students will learn to become a more critical readers and thinkers, to undertake different kinds of research in pursuit of answers to difficult questions, and to craft strong and compelling arguments.
EN 110: Introduction to Literary Studies
This course introduces students to the practice of literary studies, with a particular emphasis on the skills involved in close reading. The course aims to foster a way of thinking critically and with sophistication about language, texts, and literary production. We will ask such questions as how and why we read, what it means to read as students of literature, what writing can teach us about reading, and what reading can teach us about writing. The goal overall is to make the words on the page thrillingly rich and complicated, while also recognizing the ways in which those words have been informed by their social, political, aesthetic, psychological, and religious contexts. This course is writing intensive and will include some attention to critical perspective and appropriate research skills.
EN 210: Literary and Cultural Theory
Since its emergence in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, what scholars call “theory” has transformed the way that we think about literature and culture. Culture can easily be defined as a source of aesthetic beauty and moral improvement, or what Matthew Arnold once called “sweetness and light.” But it is also a form of power, a force that shapes our identities, our desires, our beliefs, and our politics. If that’s true, how should we study it? This course poses a series of answers to that question through a broad survey of literary and cultural theory. We will first explore the foundations of theory in philosophies of language, class, and desire, asking how literature makes meaning and what relationship it has to history and power. Then, we will turn to more contemporary movements, including feminism and gender studies, postcolonialism, queer theory, critical race theory, and the digital humanities. Along the way, we will examine works of literature, film, visual art, and digital media to see how theory changes the questions we can ask about literature and culture, as well as the kinds of answers we might offer to those questions.
EN 225: Introduction to Shakespeare
“The purpose of playing,” Hamlet tells us, “is to hold as ‘twere the mirror up to nature.” In this moment, as so often happens in early modern drama, Hamlet becomes metatheatrical. That is, the play begins to think explicitly about the nature of performance, asking what it means to act—when acting requires that you represent yourself as something you are not—and what effect this misrepresentation has upon the social order. In this class, we will take up these questions by learning, first, how plays were staged in the early modern period. What difference does it make, for example, that Ophelia was played by a boy or that the actor playing Othello would have worn blackface? Our answers to these questions will inform the way that we think about Shakespearean drama as a space of cultural negotiation, in which ideologies of gender, power, history, and desire are reimagined at the moment that they are performed. Our readings will include A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1 and 2 Henry IV, Henry V, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, Othello, and The Winter’s Tale, as well as secondary sources that will help us to place these plays within the cultural landscape of early modern England. To gain greater insight into the way that plays make meaning, we will watch some performances in class and, occasionally, stage moments of the plays ourselves. Students will also be expected to write two short essays and one longer research paper.
EN 229W: Beyond Shakespeare
Over the course of his life, Shakespeare wrote or contributed to some forty-one plays—an impressive number, to be sure, but a tiny fraction of the roughly 2,500 plays that scholars estimate were written and performed in early modern England. In this course, we’ll look beyond Shakespeare to some of the most popular, influential, and provocative works of the early modern stage. As we do so, we’ll consider how drama registers changes in early modern society and the effect of those changes upon conceptions of race, gender, and sexuality.
EN 229W: Ovid and the English Renaissance
The Roman poet Ovid exerted a powerful influence on the English Renaissance. This team-taught course will assess the debt of early modern poets and playwrights to Ovid and consider how their poems and plays help us to reread Ovid’s works from new angles. We will focus on such topics as poetic form and its relationship to desire; gender fluidity, revenge, and spectacle across poetry and drama; poetic careers in imperial Rome and early modern England; and more. Our readings will include Ovid’s Amores, Ars amatoria, and Metamorphoses; Lyly’s Galatea; Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and A Midsummer Night’s Dream; and Jonson’s Poetaster. Students will write three essays of medium length and take a final that synthesizes the topics and themes of the course.
(team-taught with Dan Curley, Classics Department)
EN 229W: Racial Capitalism on the Early Modern English Stage
Calls to defund the police rightly stress a relationship between racism and capitalism. In this course, we will study the origins of that relationship in the early modern period and the role that literature played in its development. First, we will read competing accounts of when, where, and why capitalism came into being, focusing on the importance of race and racism to its emergence. We’ll then use those insights as a framework for analyzing early modern drama, juxtaposing canonical works (Titus Andronicus, As You Like It, and The Merchant of Venice) with less familiar but equally compelling texts (Orlando Furioso, The Fair Maid of the West, and The City Madam) in order to understand how literature engaged, furthered, and at times contested the rise of racial capitalism. In the last days of the course, we will consider the legacy of these ideas in twenty-first century, asking what the study of racial capitalism means for us today.
EN 343R: Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama
Ben Jonson famously wrote that Shakespeare “was not of an age but for all time.” And yet, Shakespeare’s contributions to early modern drama did emerge in a particular time and place, often crafted in response to the work of other playwrights. In this course, we will look beyond Shakespeare’s works to some of the most popular, influential, and provocative plays of the early modern period, including The Spanish Tragedy, Endymion, Tamburlaine, Doctor Faustus, Arden of Faversham, Epicene, The Alchemist, The Knight of the Burning Pestle, A Chaste Maid in Cheapside, and The Duchess of Malfi.
As we study the development of early modern drama, our discussions will focus upon ecocritical issues of space, place, and the environment. In early modern England, theater was, quite literally, a way of seeing the world, as Shakespeare’s company suggested in calling their playhouse the Globe. How, then, does drama represent foreign and familiar places? And what issues of class, gender, race, and environmental consciousness arise from those representations? To answer these questions, students will participate regularly in discussion, compose two short essays, and use digital archives to write a final research paper, a portion of which they will present to the class.
EN 361: Theories of Literary Criticism
Since its inception in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, what scholars call “theory” has transformed the way that we interpret literature and culture. In this course, we will study that transformation by undertaking a broad survey of the foundations of contemporary theory before turning to some of the most prominent theoretical movements of the past thirty years. Specifically, after reading the work of Foucault, Lacan, Althusser, and Deleuze and Guattari, we will focus upon the development of postmodernism, queer theory, posthumanism, biopolitics, critical race theory, transnational studies, disability theory, cognitive approaches to literature, and the digital humanities.
In this way, the course will organize itself around a set of questions. How does culture affect the way that we make sense of our bodies and the world around us? And how should our answers to that question inform the work that we undertake in literary studies? The course presumes no prior knowledge of theory; nevertheless, students who have taken EN 210, “Literary and Cultural Theory,” will find that this course expands their understanding of theory in useful and exciting ways. In addition to writing two short essays, students will pursue their own theoretical interests in a final research paper, a portion of which they will present to the class.
EN 362P: Shakespeare and Embodiment
In The Merchant of Venice, Shylock uses his body to establish some commonality with the Christians who persecute him. He asks, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?” As Shylock suggests, bodies are fundamentally political, in the sense that they represent sites of struggle over identity and power. In this course, we will study Shakespeare’s depiction of embodiment with a particular emphasis upon categories of gender, race, sexuality, and ability. Our readings will include Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, As You Like It, Macbeth, King Lear, and Antony and Cleopatra, as well as several scholarly works that will help us to think about the history and politics of embodiment in the early modern period. At the start of the class, we will also study examples of queer theory, critical race theory, disability studies, and posthumanism to gain insight into the ways that bodies are constructed and contested. Students will participate regularly in discussion, compose two short essays, and write a final research paper, a portion of which they will present to the class.
EN 362R: The Transatlantic Renaissance
At the height of the English Renaissance, as Shakespeare and his contemporaries worked to reshape London’s literary culture, explorers and traders were engaged in an entirely different project—that of extending England’s power across the Atlantic Ocean. They first established colonies in Virginia, Massachusetts, and the Caribbean before using those settlements to rejoin the Atlantic slave trade. How does our understanding of English literature change when it is placed alongside the interlocking histories of settler colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade? To answer that question, we’ll first study English attempts to imagine and to colonize the Americas. We will read Thomas More’s Utopia and Shakespeare’s The Tempest alongside European and Indigenous accounts of such places as Virginia, Guiana, and Brazil, and we will also use digital tools to study how lost plays—or, plays that did not survive the early modern period—may have portrayed “the New World.” In the second half of the course, we’ll juxtapose Shakespeare’s Othello with Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko to consider how the development of the Atlantic slave trade changed early modern conceptions of race and gender.
EN 364P: The Uses of Literature
What is the use of literature today? As the oceans rise and the planet burns, as fascism threatens the foundations of democracy, as white supremacy moves from the political fringe to the mainstream, and as capitalism exploits the many in the name of the few, one could be forgiven for thinking that the answer is “none”—that reading literature is not simply useless, but the ultimate form of privilege.
In this course, we will consider the degree to which that perspective is true by studying theories of what literature is and does. We will contrast an older model of literary studies—known as “critique”—with newer models that posit literature as fundamentally political (and thus capable of effecting political change). For context, we will also study accounts of our current political crises, thinking through such concepts as neoliberalism, intersectionality, and the Anthropocene to gain insight into the way that literature may engage these phenomena. In the final section of the course, students will present their own arguments as to the uses of literature in the twenty-first century, using a cultural artefact (a book, a film, a work of art) of their choosing.
EN 375: Marlowe and the Politics of Form
Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare’s contemporary, was notorious for subverting the dominant ideologies of early modern England. Shortly before he was stabbed to death in a tavern brawl at the age of twenty-nine, Marlowe was accused of being an atheist and of celebrating same-sex desire (he was reported to have said, among other things, “all they that love not tobacco and boys are fools”). Marlowe’s plays were similarly transgressive, as they seem to celebrate characters who, in various ways, were considered Others within early modern England: a Jewish merchant who delights in murdering Christians, an English king who prefers the company of men to that of his queen, and, most famously, a German sorcerer who sells his soul to the devil.
But if Marlowe’s plays are subversive in their content, what about their form? Is there a politics not only in what Marlowe stages, but also in how he stages it? To answer these questions, this senior seminar will begin with a brief exploration of aesthetic theory, where students will use to the work of Caroline Levine, Jacques Rancière, and Walter Benjamin to consider how forms shape the way that we think and feel through the different media of literature, theater, and film. We will then use those insights to study five of Marlowe’s most important plays—Tamburlaine, Part One and Two, Doctor Faustus, The Jew of Malta, and Edward II—as well as recent adaptations of these works, including Derek Jarman’s 1991 film Edward II and the Globe’s 2011 production of Doctor Faustus. Students will pursue their own interests in writing major research papers, which will in turn be the focus of the final section of the course.
Skidmore College, First Year Experience Program
SSP 100: The Color of Justice
Why is racism such a durable force in the United States? Couldn’t we end it by simply refusing to see differences between people? In this course, we’ll consider the limits of “colorblindness” by studying some of the structures that shape race in America, as well as their effects upon the lived experience of people of color. Reading works by James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Claudia Rankine alongside critical race theory, we’ll first study different forms of racism and the way that race intersects with gender and sexuality. Turning to the history of housing segregation, we’ll then consider the consequences of government policy for what has been called “the racial wealth gap” and ask if reparations could offer an answer to these injustices. Finally, we will turn to mass incarceration and its role in perpetuating racial inequality. Through this course, students will also learn to become a more critical readers and thinkers, to craft strong and compelling arguments, and to understand how different disciplines approach the topic of race.
SSP 100: Shakespeare’s Ecologies
Shakespeare wrote at the dawn of what scientists call the Anthropocene, the geological epoch defined by human transformation of the earth’s ecologies. Thanks to our alteration of the earth’s atmosphere and our reshaping of its surfaces, our presence on this planet will be visible in the fossil record long after we have disappeared. What can literature tell us about the history of environmental upheaval and our relationship to that history? In this course, we will study Shakespeare’s representation of forests, islands, and oceans as a way of rethinking the relationships that bring together literature, history, and the natural world. What ecological crises were unfolding at the dawn of the Anthropocene, and how does Shakespeare respond to those crises in such plays as A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Tempest, and Macbeth? Furthermore, as we adapt Shakespeare’s plays for the twenty-first century, what can these works tell us about our own assumptions regarding sustainability and environmental degradation? To answer these questions, we will study different disciplinary perspectives—ranging from history and philosophy to cognitive science—on the nature of the environment, asking how these disciplines can help us to understand Shakespeare’s ecologies. We will also consider how Shakespearean drama has been adapted in different historical contexts, culminating in our study of Akira Kurosawa’s 1957 film Throne of Blood.