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Summer 2020 section

2020 Alice F. Holmes Summer Institute 
(ENGL 908 - 3 graduate credits)

Early Modern Sexualities
Instructor: Jeffrey Masten, Professor of English and Gender & Sexuality Studies, Northwestern University

July 20-31, 2020
M-F, 1:00-4:00

This course will centrally engage the relation of the study of language and literature to the history of sexuality.  In a course focused on method, we will engage recent critical controversies around the utility of historicism in the study of sexuality -- controversies that should be methodologically useful for students in a range of historical periods.  We will ask:  How can we practice the history and analysis of sexuality in early modern Europe? Is sexuality best described by a continuity of models, or alterity and historical difference? To what extent can we discuss “sexuality” in relation to “identity” in the pre-modern era? How can we analyze the intersections of sexuality and other important and historically variable categories such as race, class status, gender-identification, religion, and so forth?  To address these complex questions, and to begin to ask new ones, we will concentrate on a range of exemplary literary and historical texts from around 1600 in England. We will be interested to explore both the multiple forms and functions of desire, eroticism, sex, gender, etc., in this culture, as well as the terms, methods, and theories we now use to read the sexual past. We will be particularly interested in gaining fluency in the languages of early modern identities and desires -- sodomy, tribadism, friendship, marriage; bodies, their parts, and their pleasures -- as well as thinking about the relationship between sexual lexicons and early modern sexual knowledge and practice.                                                          

Texts will include:

  • theoretical and historical work by Bray, Butler, Enterline, Edelman, Foucault,  Goldberg, Halperin, Herrup, Loomba, Masten, Menon, Rambuss, Shannon, Traub, and others; recently emerging work on trans* approaches to early modern studies;
  • plays by Beaumont and Fletcher, Margaret Cavendish, Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare and Fletcher;
  • erotic-narrative poetry by Beaumont, Marlowe, Shakespeare, in relation to Ovid, Metamorphoses;
  • selected essays of Montaigne;
  • sonnets by various writers;
  • documents around the sodomy trial of the Earl of Castlehaven.

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