English R1B

Reading & Composition: "The Play's the Thing": Literature as Make-Believe

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
6 Fall 2012 Xin, Wendy Veronica
TTh 8-9:30 225 Wheeler

Book List

Austen, Jane: Northanger Abbey; Barrie, J. M.: Peter Pan; Bronte, Charlotte: Villette; James, Henry: The Turn of the Screw; McEwan, Ian: Atonement; Shakespeare, William: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Other Readings and Media

del Toro, Guillermo: Pan's Labyrinth (2006); Nolan, Christopher: The Prestige (2006)


Course Description: Make-believe has an astonishing ability to register itself as fantasy, diversion, duplicity, therapy, etc. This course will introduce students to methods of close reading, argumentative writing, scholarly research, and critical thinking through an exploration of texts that pivot around the idea of play-acting. Our readings suggest that there is a magical property to the deed of literally making belief, a conjuring act of creation. They allow us to muse not only on conscious fictions taken in their most literal sense (i.e. magicians’ sleights of hand or fantasy in The Prestige and Pan’s Labyrinth) but also in their various incarnations as narrative trickery, suspense, or generic experimentation (as in Villette or Atonement). We will consider more broadly how fiction constitutes itself as a form of private amusement and/or public entertainment but also as a more serious meditation on the value of fact and history. What relationship does illusion have to truth? Is fiction ever “truthful”? To what extent do the related tasks of performing, pretending, playing, and lying intersect? How do these texts bewitch their readers into indulging in similar systems of belief?

While we will spend a good deal of class time puzzling over the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the selected texts, we will also focus on strengthening analytical, argumentative, and expository techniques. With this in mind, students will build upon skills gained in R1A, honing their writing and research through diagnostic essays, outlines, drafts, annotated bibliographies, and revisions, all of which will culminate in a final research paper.

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