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New Undergraduate Course Supplement 2022

ENGL 71.16 Shakespeare and the Problem of Forgiveness: Late Plays & Problem Plays

This course will study the aesthetic phenomenon and social ritual of forgiveness through readings from the second half of Shakespeare’s career. In early modern England, the Protestant reformation had radically reshaped the dominant religious rituals of penance, confession, and absolution. Scholars have often argued that some of the traditions abolished, such as the richly imagined world of purgatory or the importance of intercessory forms of forgiveness, were sublimated into the secular drama of Shakespeare’s stage. Our syllabus will test this argument by following Shakespeare’s turn from revenge toward romance, “problem plays” and dark comedies. Readings in history, critical theory (Foucault on man as “confessing animal”), language philosophy (including J.L. Austin’s How to Do Things with Words), and forays into contemporary fiction (including Miriam Toews’ Women Talking) will inform and broaden our discussions. Is forgiveness differently satisfying or unsatisfying in life or in art? How do aesthetic experiences of reconciliation affect society? Ultimately our goal will be to track the alternative norms and sources of normativity revealed by a philological inquiry into cultural and literary texts as well as socio-linguistic practices whose contemporary analogues might include the confession booth, the rhetoric of the public apology, or the discourse of restorative justice today.

Distributive and/or World Culture

Dist:LIT; WCult:W

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