This fall, political words are descending on us like rain.
The downpour is meant to soak into our emotions, and the intelligent thing to
do about it is to decide whether to carry an umbrella or wear a bathing suit.
Fortunately, poets and playwrights down the centuries have made their own words
available to us, and with their help we have a whole mall’s worth of waterwear
to choose from.
So we’re going to begin the course with poetry, which is the
most efficient and direct means of communication in words. After poetry has
taught us some of its secrets, we’ll go on to learn how dramatists use words to
create models of people and their lives. We’ll start this second block of the
course with an ancient Greek play, Alcestis,
about a man who fails to become a hero, and then part of a Renaissance English
play, Dr. Faustus, about a man who
does become a hero and dies of his tragic heroism.
You know Dr. Faustus
whether or not you’ve read it, because it happens to be the original story of
the mad scientist. Another play that some of you may know from high school is
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, which
we’re going to read after Dr. Faustus
because it shows us how politics and power affect us through language. We’ll
follow that with Shakespeare’s sequel, Antony
and Cleopatra, which you didn’t read in high school because it’s too
grown-up for kids. But by the time we reach that play in this course, the part
of you that thinks in words will be all grown up itself.
And you’ll see: it’ll be just like growing up in body and
learning to love.
Four five-page papers, midterm and final. Texts: The Norton Anthology of Poetry, shorter
edition; Euripides, Ten Plays,
translated by Paul Roche; Christopher Marlowe, Dr. Faustus; Shakespeare, Julius
Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra.