Lauren M Grant
Selections from wits and satirists; poems by John Dryden and Alexander Pope; plays by Dryden, William Congreve, and other wits; the great satires of Jonathan Swift, and the first stirring of the novel.
Many authors of the Restoration and early eighteenth century were interested in exploring questions of “character” in their texts. What did it mean to have a reputable character at this time? What were the consequences of being known as someone with ill character? How can one tell if the characters one encounters on streets and between the pages of literary works are authentic, or merely a performance?
Richard Steele’s Spectator No. 370, offers a particularly literary approach to this cultural question of character:
“It is certain that if we look all round us, and behold the different Employments of Mankind, you hardly see one who is not, as the Player is, in an assumed Character… Consider all the different Pursuits and Employments of Men, and you will find half their Actions tend to nothing else but Disguise and Imposture; and all that is done which proceeds not from a Man's very self, is the Action of a Player” (May 5, 1712).
Here, Steele’s inability to distinguish between “assumed” and authentic “Characters,” and the behaviors that emerge from “a Man’s very self” or those rooted in “Imposture,” threaten his aim to influence and control the tastes and behaviors of his periodical readers.
Taking Steele’s dilemma into account, we too will use these questions of self-definition and character as a starting point for our literary and historical analysis. How do the poets, dramatists, and novelists we will read demarcate the boundary between performativity and authenticity, between the theater and “real” life? Are their characters being themselves or merely playing a part? How do authors privilege authenticity over performativity, or vice versa?
Our course readings will cover fiction, poetry, and drama. A sampling of our readings includes: Eliza Haywood’s Fantomina, Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, John Dryden’s “Mac Flecknoe,” Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock,” William Congreve’s The Way of the World, and John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading
Course requirements will include extensive in class participation, presentation duties, small response papers, a midterm, and a final exam.