English 250

Research Seminar: Compassion and Representation in Early Modern England

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2008 Arnold, Oliver
Arnold, Oliver
Thurs. 3:30-6:30 2525 Tolman

Other Readings and Media

Shakespeare, W.: Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, King Lear; Milton, J: Paradise Lost ; Kyd, T.: The Spanish Tragedy. A (very heavy) course reader will include a wide range of early modern materials (tracts about slavery, an obscure play about a slave revolt, speeches in the House of Commons, tracts about the poor, sermons, and poems by Sidney, Spenser, Donne, Crashaw, Herbert, Layner and others) and selections from theoretical and philosophical texts by Aristotle, Agamben, Zizek, Boltanski, Berlant, Ricoeur, Garber, Girard, and Nussbaum.


How did early modern subjects represent and conceptualize compassion, pity, and sympathy? We will be especially interested in compassion as a complex point of intersection among literary, political, theological, and devotional discourses and practices. Put another way, we will ask how fictions, the poor, and Christ, to take a few examples, were distinguished�or conflated�as objects of compassion. We will also juxtapose the ways in which early modern theories of compassion and other cultural logics�sacrifice, political representation, revenge�construct identity and the relationship between self and other. The importance of imagination, fiction, and fictionalizing to the development of compassion as a social, moral, and political category will be a persistent concern. If Hamlet�s astonishment over the player�s capacity to shed tears for Hecuba seems to instantiate the problem of compassionating fictions, many Renaissance authors suggest that it is easier to feel compassion for fictions or persons so distant from us that they have the status of fictions. We will also think about compassion as ideology, the relation between regarding others and self-fashioning, and what is at stake in making distinctions among compassion, sympathy, and pity. The reading list will take us all the way from Elizabethan sonneteers to the early 18 th century, when compassion emerged as one of the central terms in British culture.

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