English 250

Research Seminar: Bondage and Freedom in Early Modern English Culture

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Spring 2011 Arnold, Oliver
Arnold, Oliver
W 3-6 301 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

More, T.: Utopia; Marlowe, C.: Tamburlaine the Great, Part 1; Spenser, E.: The Faerie Queene (Book 5); Shakespeare, W.: The Tempest; Hobbes, T.: Leviathan; Congreve, W.: The Way of the World; Weil, S.: "Analysis of Oppression"; Pettit, P.: A Theory of Freedom


We will begin with three aims (and then see where our various interests take us): (1) to piece out a literary, philosophical, and political history of the early modern exceptionalist claim that the English were uniquely free and freedom-loving and bore toward bondage a hatred that distinguished them from all other peoples; (2) to think about the translation of freedom and bondage as legal and political categories into endlessly productive touchstones for metaphor; and (3) to consider recent theoretical and philosophical work on freedom and unfreedom, especially in relation to (1) and (2). We will read poems and plays about freedom and slavery in relation to: early modern legal, theological, and political discourses; the status of women, children, wards, servants, and apprentices; England's colonial enterprises in Ireland and the new world; and anxieties about the mechanisms and structures that putatively mediated freedom and unfreedom (for example, contracts, consent, elections, etc.). We will ask familiar literary historical questions of the plays and poems that we read and plumper questions about the category of the fictional in both literary and non-literary representations of slavery and freedom. Although the sweep of our readings is already alarming (traveler's accounts of harems; Locke's fantasies about workhouses for the poor; early modern attempts at comparative economics; a play about a love triangle among a British officer, an Iroquois general, and an Iroquois princess [named Irene, no less]; Congreve's fascination with contracts; etc.), I will welcome projects on aspects of our topic in post-1713 British culture or in American contexts.

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