English 250

Research Seminar: Sensory Aesthetics in Late Medieval and Early Renaissance Poetry and Drama

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Fall 2013 Nolan, Maura
W 1-4 301 Wheeler

Book List

Benson, Larry: The Riverside Chaucer; Eco, Umberto: Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages; Gower, John: The French Balades; Hoccleve, Thomas: My Compleinte and Other Poems; Holton, Amanda: Tottel's Miscellany; Lydgate, John: Mummings and Entertainments; Maclean, Hugh: Edmund Spenser's Poetry; Wyatt, Thomas: Complete Poems


Sensation is a liminal phenomenon, a phenomenon that marks edges and borders. It is the interface between the material world and the physical body as well as between the body and the mind. Medieval writing is full of sensation, from the theoretical accounts of sensation found in scholastic philosophy to the richly sensuous poetics of romance and the raw sensationalism of the fabliau. But the relationship between theories of sensation and the performance of sensation found in poetry or other kinds of imaginative writing – a relationship that, in contemporary terms, would be understood as an aesthetic – is rarely made explicit in medieval texts. Medieval theological and philosophical accounts of sensation focused instead on the relationship between the human senses and divinity as various thinkers sought to understand the meaning of embodiment in a world both material and immaterial. Late medieval and early modern poets embraced sensation as an aesthetic category without offering any theoretical or critical account of the relationship between the human senses and art, though their work did reflect common understandings of the nature and function of sensation drawn largely from religious discourse. This class will read a variety of poetic engagements with sensation, from the 14th to the 16th century, with the goal of developing an account of vernacular poetry and sensory aesthetics that stretches across the medieval and Renaissance divide. We will read Chaucer, Gower, Hoccleve, Lydgate, Wyatt, and Spenser, as well as a wide variety of poems drawn from anthologies and miscellanies and from less well-known poets. We will also read a range of theoretical works on sensation and aesthetics, from Aquinas and Bonaventure, to Kant, Burke, and Adorno (among other aesthetic theorists), to contemporary cognitive accounts of sensory perception and the aesthetic.

This course satisfies the Group 2 (Medieval through sixteenth century) requirement.

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