The words "Renaissance" and "revenge" are usually followed by a third: "tragedy." This seminar will indeed survey selected Renaissance revenge tragedies, those bloody, perverse, ironic plays written by Shakespeare and his contemporaries. But this seminar will also consider other Renaissance works driven by revenge, including comedies and poems. It will trace the roots of Renaissance revenge in works such as Seneca's Thyestes and Machiavelli's The Prince and the legacy of Renaissance revenge in works such as Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and Tarantino's Kill Bill. We will study revenge as a means of balancing a plot (one injury initiates the action; another ends it), as economic exchange (the inexact calculations of payback), as an aesthetic form (heads baked in pies, corpses arranged in tableaux), as political resistance (the state's revenge is called "justice"), and as grounds for theological questioning (when is an avenger an instrument of divine will?). We will ask, finally, about revenge as a component of modernity, inherited from the Renaissance and canonized in the most conspicuously modern of early modern plays, that masterpiece of Renaissance revenge called Hamlet.
This course focuses on endings. It includes unfinished texts that authors or their executors decided to publish incomplete. It also includes texts with notoriously controversial endings. Students will reflect on what they want from endings and will reflect on the implications of those desires. Most expansively, students will consider and perhaps fashion a fitting end to their majors in English.
As befits its focus on endings, ENG 455 satisfies the requirement for a "capstone experience" within the English major. This course is a tutorial; students will meet with the professor in very small groups and will set topics for discussion through their writing.
Texts may include the following: Anglo-Saxon poem "The Ruin"; Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde; Shakespeare's sonnets and Measure for Measure; poetic fragments by Donne, Milton and Coleridge; unfinished, posthumously published novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and David Foster Wallace; Calvino's If on a Winter's Night a Traveler; Frank Kermode's The Sense of an Ending and Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending; films directed by Stephen Spielberg and M. Night Shyamalan.
First-year students require permission of the instructor.