English R1B

Reading and Composition: Wronged Women: Violence and Gender in Early English Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
14 Fall 2020 Ripplinger, Michelle
TTh 8-9:30


(Note new instructor, topic, and course description as of May 11.)

The brutal representations of sexual violence on the HBO series Game of Thrones have provoked heated debate in recent years. Under what circumstances, if any, is it ethical to represent violence against women? Can appeals to fictionality or historical realism excuse or justify these representations? Such questions may seem modern—but writing over six centuries ago, Christine de Pizan expressed a similar worry about the Romance of the Rose, a popular medieval poem which concludes with an allegorical representation of sexual assault. "What atrocity! What dishonor! [...] What good model or example could this be?" she wondered. Taking up these questions, this course examines how early English authors grappled with the ethics of representing violence against women, as well as the rich tradition of survivors expressing their anger. Together we will place medieval and early modern works in conversation with the classical myths which precede them, while also considering their relation to a line of philosophical thought as old as Plato and as recent as Columbia University undergrads' objections to Ovid's inclusion in the curriculum in 2015. Along the way we'll engage such questions as: What is the relationship between representations of women as objects of violence and the emergence of literary female subjectivity? How have women readers and writers responded to and appropriated language of sexual violence, and to what effect? Finally, what potential does medieval and early modern discourse about rape and and women's rage, coercion and consent hold for us now in the wake of the Me Too movement?

These questions will guide our thinking about works ranging from Shakespeare's Rape of Lucrece and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales to Christine de Pizan's City of Ladies and Game of Thrones, but these works will be our primary subject rather than its object. As we consider how representations of violence against women became a nodal point for thinking about the ethics of literary representation, our engagement with these works will be guided by an underlying goal, which is to strengthen your skills as critical readers and writers. This course will teach you how to pose analytical questions, develop complex arguments supported by evidence, and build research skills that will be applicable for other college writing and your future career. A peer-review process will provide added support as we approach writing a college-level analytical paper as a cumulative series of individually manageable steps. By the end of the semester, you will have produced at least thirty-two pages of writing, including both drafts and revisions. 

Booklist: Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue; Ovid: Metamorphoses: The New, Annotated Edition; Shakespeare: The Poems: Venus and Adonis, The Rape of Lucrece, The Phoenix and the Turtle, The Passionate Pilgrim, A Lover's Complaint; Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus

Back to Semester List