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Fall 2013 Course Descriptions

English 5003 - "Unreproved Pleasures Free"?: The Ethics of Pleasure in Early Modern England

Section 001       CRN 98182
“Unreproved Pleasures Free”?: The Ethics of Pleasure in Early Modern England     1530-1800 T

In his recent book The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt considers the influence of the epic poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) by the classical Roman poet Lucretius on pre-modern conceptions of the self and world. “Something happened in the Renaissance,” Greenblatt claims, “something that surged up against the constraints that centuries had constructed around curiosity, desire, individuality, sustained attention to the material world, [and] the claims of the body.” In this course we will investigate exactly what that “something” is. Lucretius’ poem offered Renaissance writers a new way of thinking about pleasure, the body, and the material world. Not surprisingly, many of Lucretius’ ideas—atomism, materialism, the mortality of the soul, and a deep mistrust of religion, just to name a few—were hardly welcomed by everyone. One key component of this debate is Renaissance culture’s vexed attitude towards pleasure. Questions about pleasure opened up several ethical quandaries, not the least of which was a comparison between man and animal, the relationship between the body and soul, and the value of the senses. In this course we will think about how these questions are mediated in the literature of the seventeenth century and in doing so consider how early modern attitudes towards pleasure and the body have informed our own.