ENGLISH 417 - Seminar in English Language and Literature
Section: 201 Renaissance Subcultures: Vagrant Subjects in Early Modern Literature
Term: SU 2010
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Credit Exclusions:
May not be repeated for credit.
Waitlist Capacity:
Class Misc Info:
This class satisfies the Pre-1600 requirement for English concentrators.
Advisory Prerequisites:
Senior concentrator in English.
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

How did the errant life, the "unsettled" existence of the wayward, displaced subject of the English Renaissance enter into and shape the literature of the period? This class will look at how different genres from the period employed the figure of the vagrant subject — bastards, rogues, thieves, molls, to name a few — to interrogate dominant notions of identity and status. Part of the reading will provide a genealogy of these historical figures, looking at how laws and popular urban pamphlets participated in shaping a national xenophobia against suspected recusants, gypsies, immigrants, and other social outcasts. We will also look at how later generations of writers reinvented and commodified this underworld in their novels and drama. Some of the questions posed by the class will include:

  • Can one apply the theory of subculture to the Tudor period?
  • How did literatures position themselves in relation to this perceived subculture? How did they represent the vagrant life?
  • How did the vagrant subject, born as it was from the history of displaced rural existence, come to symbolize a new identity associated with urban space and mercantile culture?
  • How did this fictionalized world of canting, con games and swindles serve a larger ideology to misrecognize real populations of immigrants, a hidden caste of priests vilified by Reformation politics, or illegal tradesmen and women?

The critical perspective of the course will begin with the premise that the representation of displaced others in English literature can be read as the psychological "double" of the new middle class reader. How did the representation of the vagrant subject work to shape the tastes, values and ideals of this new middle class reader? Readings will be placed in different critical contexts borrowing selections from theory, social history and literary criticism. Students will become familiar with the songs and ballads traditionally associated with vagabond life and poor laws.

Texts will include Thomas Harman's A Caveat for Common Cursitors Vulgurly Called Vagabondes, Robert Greene's A Notable Discovery of Cosenage. Thomas Nashe's Unfortunate Traveller, Thomas Middleton's Roaring Girl, Ben Jonson's Alchemist, and William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and King Lear.

For their research projects, students will be invited to apply the theoretical focus of the class to other genres and periods of their choosing.

ENGLISH 417 - Seminar in English Language and Literature
Schedule Listing
201 (SEM)
TuTh 9:00AM - 11:00AM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

ISBN: 0140430679
The unfortunate traveller : and other works, Author: Thomas Nashe ; edited with an introduction by J.B. Steane., Publisher: Penguin Reprint 1984
ISBN: 0199540101
The roaring girl and other city comedies, Author: edited with an introduction by James Knowles ; notes and glossary by Eugene Giddens., Publisher: Oxford University Press 2008
ISBN: 0199537313
The alchemist and other plays : Volpone, or The fox; Epicene, or The silent woman; The alchemist; Bartholomew Fair, Author: by Ben Jonson ; edited by Gordon Campbell., Publisher: Oxford University Press Reissued. 2008
ISBN: 0226269566
Unsettled : the culture of mobility and the working poor in early modern England, Author: Patricia Fumerton., Publisher: University Press 2006
ISBN: 0750909765
The Elizabethan underworld, Author: Gamini Salgado., Publisher: Sutton Publ. New ed, re 1997
ISBN: 0743484967
Twelfth Night (Folger Shakespeare Library) (Paperback), Author: William Shakespeare, Paul Werstine, Dr. Barbara A. Mowat (Editor), Publisher: Simon & Schuster 2005
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