ENGL 110/005: Approaches to Literature and Culture
Term 1 | MWF 1:00-2:00p
Literary Monsters and Monstrous Literature
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) and at Ian McKellen’s 1995 film adaptation, which shifts the setting to an alternate-reality 1930s England where fascism takes hold. We will also consider various stage and screen adaptations as approaches to the play, including recent ones using race and gender-diverse casting, and casting as Richard actors who are themselves physically disabled or disfigured. Other core texts include two novels: Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as selected poetry (with a focus on the sonnet form).
Evaluation will be based on two timed essays, a home paper, and a final exam, plus participation in discussion. Each week (except where holidays and timed essays take place) I will deliver two lectures to the whole class, and you will have one small-group meeting with one of our Teaching Assistants. Note: the lectures will be online, delivered on Zoom on Mondays and Wednesdays, and augmented by material on Canvas. The tutorial group meetings with a Teaching Assistant will take place in person on Fridays.
Keep checking this post for updates concerning the course, its texts, and its requirements.
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