English 180R

The Romance

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
1 Fall 2015 Turner, James Grantham
MW 12:30-2 301 Wheeler

Book List

Shakespeare, William: The Tempest; Shakespeare, William: The Winter's Tale; Shakespeare, William (co-author): Pericles; Sidney, Philip: Arcadia; Spenser, Edmund: The Faerie Queene, Book One

Other Readings and Media

Downloadable from bCourses will be translations of Greek romances including Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon, one chapter from Joyce's Ulysses, and critical articles on the concept and history of Romance.


Everybody thinks they know what “romance” is, but in fact the term is controversial and difficult to define. Does it mean escapist fiction with monsters and enchanters, entertaining but unbelievable? (What makes fiction believable, anyway?) Or a novel that fails because it is too sentimental and the ending too happy? Or a profound allegory of questing for the ultimate truth? Literary theory has expanded the definition of Romance, but it is still a contested and nebulous concept.

This course will select and scrutinize a few key examples of “romances” from ancient Greece and Renaissance England. Chivalric-allegorical poetic romance is represented by Book One of Spenser’s Faerie Queene, neoclassical prose romance by Sidney’s Arcadia, in its original first draft with selections from his later unfinished expansion. Shakespeare’s magical last plays complete the list: The Tempest and The Winter’s Tale, plus parts of Pericles (only some of which is by Shakespeare). We will study these three plays in relation to the earlier prose fiction that Shakespeare adapted for the stage, comparing those sources carefully with the poetic drama. Selected prose fiction from the ancient Mediterranean – works less well known than Homer’s Odyssey but still influential and fascinating – will be available in modern translations, downloadable from bCourses. Alongside these primary texts we will read brief samples of classic literary theory (Northrop Frye), revisionist literary history (Margaret Doody, Patricia Parker), my own research on what “Romance” and “Novel” actually meant in the early modern period, and a brilliant parody of popular romance from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

In the last quarter of the semester students will be asked to pick, and present, one work (from any period) that typifies exactly what they think “romance” means in literature. The Pilgrim’s Progress? Joseph Andrews? Wuthering Heights? The Blithedale Romance? The Lord of the Rings? Fifty Shades of Grey? – the choice will be yours.

This course satisfies the pre-1800 requirement for the English major.

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