Recent Undergraduate Seminars
Shakespeare’s Non-Humans: Creatures, Monsters, Demons, Fairies
This course is designed for students who want to explore Shakespeare’s plays as the basis for critical, creative, and personal writing inspired by non-human life forms, including “monsters,” “creatures,” demons, ghosts, mythical figures, and hybrids. What do these figures tell us about the boundaries of what is considered human or non-human? In what ways are these beings sub- or super-human in terms of ability, moral capacity, emotion and empathy, cognition, biology, or spiritual status? We will consider the creaturely status of Caliban, the diabolical nature of Macbeth, the bodily deformity of Richard III, the undead status of Hamlet Sr’s ghost, the personified powers of nature and magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the material unfixedness of Hermione’s statue. How do Shakespeare’s non-humans provide a basis for devising emerging categories of race, gender, and sexuality? How were these figures performed, and how does the history of Shakespearean theatrical performance map a series of changes to their representation? What roles do the literary and artistic descendants of Shakespeare’s non-human characters continue to play in the fantasies and nightmares of our own popular culture? Assignments will provide opportunities for critical, creative, and personal writing, as well as oral presentation.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
The Winter’s Tale
What forms did intimacy take on the Shakespearean stage, and how was it shaped by new understandings of global distance, as well as by the material and social conditions of the live theater? This course offers in-depth explorations of a wide range of Shakespeare’s plays with special consideration of new forms of intimacy between lovers, spouses, friends, family members, workers, conspirators, adversaries, and strangers. In particular, we will consider how new scales and experiences of space and time transformed interpersonal relationships. For example, how did global travel, trade, and colonialism affect understandings of difference, sameness, and intimacy? How did Shakespeare’s plays imagine new possibilities for intimate forms of violence, empathy, and understanding? How are intimacies shaped by (and sometimes in spite of) the material conditions of space and place? We will address these questions through close readings of the plays, supplemented by critical readings and considerations of social, economic, and geopolitical history. By the end of the semester we will hope to come to a new understanding of the possible meanings of intimacy in Shakespeare, and of how his plays test and transgress the limits of intimate relationships. Drawing links to our own personal experiences of intimacy, will consider the ethics of intimacy, its vulnerabilities, dangers, and abuses, as well as its virtues and pleasures.
Merchant of Venice
Two Noble Kinsmen
Antony and Cleopatra
Comedy of Errors
As You Like It
Writing Trauma and Redemption
This course explores different forms of personal and communal trauma, and the ways that writing offers a means to redemption. By analyzing a range of novels, poetry, plays, and films, we will consider the different ways that trauma has been turned into narrative and how narrative in turn seeks to transform trauma into something else. Readings will be approached from a historical/literary perspective, and will include narrative paths that lead to healing and redemption, but also to resistance and revenge. The forms of trauma we will discuss range from personal and sexual violence, to large-scale communal and cultural violence. We will read a range of fictional texts--many written by US people of color--along with a sampling of trauma theory and other critical writings. We will attempt to understand the nature of trauma and how it is constructed and transformed through narrative processes which can take many forms and which suggest many different possible pathways. We will also think about how our responses to trauma prompt us to ask broader questions about the fate, freewill, cosmic justice, social justice, redemption, and forgiveness.
This course will take the form of a discussion-based seminar and interactive workshop. Over the course of the semester, students will engage in expository, creative, and analytical modes of writing. You must be open to sharing your writing with the class and participating in writing workshops. Writing prompts will be offered, but in many cases you will have the freedom to choose your topic and mode of expression. A final project will enable you to develop one of the shorter assignments into a longer project involving a written and oral component. By joining this class, you agree to participate actively in and foster a sensitive, encouraging, and respectful community.
Louise Erdrich , The Roundhouse
Jamaica Kincaid, A Small Place
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
Octavia Butler, Kindred
Le Thi Diem Thuy , The Gangster We Are All Looking For
Stephanie Black, dir., Life and Debt
Barry Jenkins, dir., Moonlight
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Dionne Brand, A Map to the Door of No Return
Safiya Sinclair , Cannibal
Keith Hamilton Cobb , The American Moor
Mary Lambert, Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across
150 Hicks Way, W333 South College,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst