First-Year Studies: Fops, Coquettes, and the Masquerade: Fashioning Gender and Courtship from Shakespeare to Austen

This is a course from a previous year. View the current courses

This course looks at the representation of sexual difference and romantic attachment on the page and stage from 1590 to 1820, a crucial period in the consolidation of modern assumptions about sexuality, marriage, and gendered behavior. The emphasis will be on drama and prose fiction, but we will also sample a range of other expressive forms, including lyric and narrative poetry, visual satire and portraiture, conduct literature, and life-writing.  Students will be introduced to some of the most fascinating figures in European literature, all of whom share an interest in the conventions of courtship and the performance of gender: John Milton, England’s foremost epic poet; Aphra Behn, its first professional female author; bawdy comic playwrights like George Etherege and Susanna Centlivre; the innovative early novelists Eliza Haywood and Daniel Defoe; Alexander Pope, the masterful verse satirist; the pioneering periodical writers Joseph Addison and Richard Steele; the sentimental novelist Henry Mackenzie; the shockingly candid memoirists James Boswell and Charlotte Charke; and the founder of modern feminism Mary Wollstonecraft. Bracketing the yearlong course will be extended coverage of the two most influential authors of courtship narratives in English, Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Some limited attention will also be paid to earlier writers on sex and marriage like Ovid and St. Paul, as well as to contemporary gender theory; and, together, we will watch a few films that reflect the legacy of early modern fictions of gender, including work by directors like Frank Capra, Preston Sturges, and Alfred Hitchcock.