English 110/036: Approaches to Literature (January 2022)

ENGL 110/036: Approaches to Literature: Literary Monsters and Monstrous Literature

Dr. Gisèle M. Baxter

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Term 2 | TTh 2:00-3:30p

Rey: “You are a monster.”
Kylo Ren: “Yes, I am.”
– Star Wars: The Last Jedi

“Deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world” – Richard III 1.i

What is a monster? We know monsters from myths and legends, folktales, horror fiction and film. We know their variety: the grotesque, the beautiful, the terrifying, the pitiable, the sports of nature and the forces of evil. Dragons, werewolves, vampires, zombies, Frankenstein’s Creature, Dorian Gray, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, Marisa Coulter, many of the characters in The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones: they’re everywhere, from under the bed to the house next door to the battlefield, and right into a great deal of literature. Which leaves us here: in this section of 110 we’ll focus on how literary texts across the genres use representations of monstrosity in ways that inspire both terror and horror, as well as (let’s be honest) fascination and even enjoyment.

We’ll look at William Shakespeare’s Richard III (a play that meditates on villainy and ambition in demonizing its subject for Tudor audiences, yet still fascinates contemporary ones). In doing so, we’ll consider various film and stage adaptations, including Ian McKellen’s 1995 film, which shifts the setting to an alternate-reality 1930s England where fascism takes hold, and more recent adaptations using race and gender-diverse casting, and casting as Richard actors who are themselves physically disabled or disfigured. Other core texts include Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Angela Carter’s short story “The Lady of the House of Love”, possibly another short story or novella, and selected poetry (with a focus on the sonnet form).

Evaluation will be based on two short timed essays, a home paper, and a final exam, plus participation in discussion.

Editions of texts and digital options will be identified in the fall.

See Recent Posts or Archives (June 2021) in the right sidebar menu for descriptions of my other 2021-22 courses.


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