English 495--Of Lovers and Tyrants: Love Against Law in Shakespeare

Dr. Michael Bryson
Sierra Tower 832


COURSE DESCRIPTION: This course is about the history of an idea--the idea of love. But it is not the love spoken of in the biblical Song of Songs, or the love spoken of in the New Testament Gospels, or the love sanctified by the Church (and State) through marriage. It is neither eros nor agape, neither exclusively of the body, nor exclusively of the spirit; rather, it is a middle path, one that seeks a genuine person-to-person connection (what our poet calls "the marriage of true minds") which is often marginalized by, and in opposition to Church and State and the institutions of marriage and law. It is, what the Troubadour poets of the 12th-century referred to as fin' amor (pure love, unrelated to notions of property and propriety, and specifically personal--for this love, no other will do, no replacement can be made as is the case with eros or agape). This love is anarchic, threatening to the established order, and a great deal of cultural energy has gone into taming it, even mainstreaming a toothless version of it.

At the same time, in Early Modern England, daughters (and often sons) are regarded as the property of their fathers, to be disposed of sexually/maritally as the fathers see fit. (To be specific, daughters are the sexual property of their fathers.) Thus, love as fin'amor has no place, except as a violation and rejection of the established patriarchal/proprietary order. This course will attempt to trace that history up through Shakespeare's time. We will explore the historical and literary background behind the depictions of lovers and authority figures (most notably Fathers) in a selection of Shakespeare's plays. In making this exploration, we will be ranging from the 12th through the 17th centuries, and reading work that was originally written in Occitan, Italian, Middle English (translations of which are provided), and Early Modern English (here, you are on your own).

EVALUATION METHOD: Summary and analysis of three scholarly essays; final essay.


Summary and Analysis of Scholarly Essays: In the range of 3-4 pages, (750-1000 words): 1) on Troubadour poetry, 2) on Italian poetry of the 14th and/or 15th centuries, and 3) on English sonnets from the 16th century (all three essays must have a clear relation to the subject matter of this course--no essays on prosody or other matters unrelated to love/authority). #1 will be due in class 2/17, #2 in class 3/3, and #3 in class 3/17. Think of these papers as preparation for the final, and try to construct them so that the research you do for them will directly contribute to the final essay.

Final: In the range of 12-16 pages (3000-4000 words), this will be an essay on how Shakespeare uses/abuses/transforms/challenges/reproduces the love/authority themes that play out in the poetry of the aforementioned periods, as well as in the social conditions of his day (see Stone). This essay will be a deeply-researched argument paper that makes use of primary and secondary sources. Print is an excellent thing, of coursebooks are still the coin of the realm in the highest reaches of humanities scholarship, but journal articles are often more immediate in terms of what is going on at the moment. Have a look at the CSUN library's page outlining electronic resources for English. Quotations from the works you deal with—and quotations from secondary sources—should follow MLA format.  The final essay will be due by 11:59:59 PM on May 16th by email (no physical submissions of finals). In your email subject line, put English 495 final, and make sure your name is on your paper, especially if using a non-CSUN address. .


Statement on Academic Dishonesty: Plagiarism is a serious offense that will be treated seriously. Please read the CSUN policy here.

Statement on Being Dull: Dullness is an even more serious offense that will be treated even more seriously. (Un)fortunately, CSUN has no policy, so I am left to my own devices when dealing with dullards and dullardry. "[F]or always the dullness of the fool is the whetstone of the wits" (As You Like It 1.2.52-53).

Weekly Preview

Week 1--(1/27) Introductions
Week 2--(2/3) Troubadour Poetry/Flamenca/Campbell selection
Week 3--(2/10) Italian/English Poetry/Castiglione/Sonnets by Shakespeare (picked and read in class)
Week 4--(2/17) The Miller's Tale and the Cuckolding Plot
Week 5--(2/24) Stone: Family Sex and Marriage in England
Week 6--(3/3) Two Gentlemen of Verona
Week 7--(3/10) A Midsummer Night's Dream
Week 8--(3/17) The Merchant of Venice
Week 9--(3/24)
Romeo and Juliet
Week 10--(3/31)
Off--Caesar Chavez Day

Week 11--(4/7) Off--Spring Break
Week 12--(4/14)
Week 13--(4/21)
Week 14--(4/28) King Lear
Week 15--
(5/5)  Pericles

Final due by email attachment on 5/16 at 11:59:59 PM—no physical submissions

The Humanist (Re)Turn 
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