This course offers an introduction to literary and critical study from a comparatist perspective. It focuses on a relatively small number of texts and examines topics such as: how literary forms and genres shape our reading of texts; how their conventions manifest themselves; how these conventions vary within different cultural traditions; how the functions and effects of literary texts change over time, and from place to place; and how such texts (oral, written, visual; canonical or 'popular') provide occasions for revealing and refining their readers' values and for sharpening their critical thinking. We will examine the ways in which authors' words and ideas -- presented in common, shared texts -- construct for their readers differing, even contradictory, meanings and carry varied significance for individual readers.
We will read (in a non-chronological sequence) some major works from diverse places and times, including medieval Iceland (Njal's Saga); Norman and Elizabethan England (Marie de France's Lais; Shakespeare's Richard II); and twentieth-century Ireland and U.S. (James Joyce's Dubliners and Brian Friel's Translations, and Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping). Though our main texts for the course exist primarily in words meant to be read, we will also look at the ways in which such texts are performed (and transformed) in the theatre (we'll attend a performance of Shakespeare's Richard II) and on film (John Huston's The Dead). We will also read and discuss some other, short texts (biblical parables and lyric poems), as well as some critical and theoretical materials.
Requirements for the course will include a number of short writing assignments and two longer (4-5pp.) papers. The main readings for the course will consist of the following books (read, probably, in this order):
Joyce, James. Dubliners. Ed Margot Norris New York: Norton, 2006. Marie de France. Lais. Ed Glyn S. Burgess and Keith Busby. Penguin, 1999. Friel, Brian. Translations. Faber and Faber, 1981. Shakespeare, William. Richard II. Ed. Anthony B. Dawson and Paul Yachnin. Oxford World Classics, 2011. Njal's Saga. Trans. Robert Cook. Penguin, 2002. Robinson, Marilynne. Housekeeping. Picador, 2004