Touched by God or touched by insanity? Prophetic or schizophrenic?
Divine or delusional? Religious fervor and mental (in)stability have
always been closely intertwined. This class will explore how people in
the Middle Ages tried to distinguish the two, and the ways in which
visions and madness found both beautiful and frightening expression in
premodern literature. Questions related to gender, sex, power, the
abject, and the erotic will drive our discussions.
We will concentrate on first-person narratives with special attention to how visionary
literature shaped the genre of autobiography. Readings will be drawn
from some of the most striking texts to survive pre-modern England —
from the fourteenth-century The Book of Margery Kempe to Malory’s
Morte Darthur to Shakespeare’s Hamlet — as well as from modern
psychologists and critics, such as Freud and Foucault.
class participation; short writing responses; two essays; class presentation
No prior knowledge of the Middle Ages or Middle English required.
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