Interdisciplinary Honors Seminars

How Does Revolution Happen? Looking Through a Seventeenth-Century Cultural Lens

How Does Revolution Happen? Looking Through a Seventeenth-Century Cultural Lens


Index# 12291

Professor Ann Baynes Coiro

M/H 9:50-11:10

HC S120

College Ave Campus

Will Count Towards SAS – English MAJOR
Will Count Towards SAS – English MINOR

 A high-handed executive branch tries to operate alone. Ardent Protestants protest a mainstream culture they find ungodly. Women assume an increasingly central but controversial role across society. Resistance to scientific advances that unsettle old ways of thinking grows. Man-made environmental damage becomes an ethical flashpoint. Credit and resulting debt enable an explosion of growth but also threaten economic disaster. Black men and women become dehumanized items of exchange. War simmers and then breaks out on the border. An almost unimaginable series of civil wars erupts. All this happened in England almost four hundred years ago. To understand the English Revolution(s) of the seventeenth century is to better understand America today.

Seminar members will discover a past that is in some ways strangely distant but in many other ways eerily relevant. In order to ask how revolution happens, a case study of a country that supposedly revered the “divine right of kings” yet cut off one king’s head and booted another one out of the country is provocative and deeply relevant. Equally central to the seminar’s debate, however, is the ethics of historical equivalence that appropriates the past to neatly explain the present.

Our evidence we will be high and popular culture’s complicated role in a revolutionary moment. Macbeth, a play that Shakespeare ostensibly wrote to celebrate the first Stuart king but that makes a brutal revolution the play’s central event, will be our first experiment. We will then read all kinds of amazing things: including apparently sycophantic court masques, weird Restoration adaptations of Shakespeare, aristocratic Cavaliers and revolutionary radicals. Women writers are key contributors across the political spectrum during this revolutionary generation; we will read poems by the American colonist Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish’s dazzling science fiction proto-novel, The Blazing World, and Aphra Behn’s disturbing novel/first person narrative of the slave trade in Africa and the Caribbean, Oroonoko.

Over the course of the seminar students will read and learn how to analyze key chapters or articles by both historians and literary critics, comparing how these disciplines use evidence to build arguments.

This course values engaged discussion and clear analytic writing. Written assignments will be based on quality not quantity (i.e., they will be brief). Your writing will definitely improve.

About Profesor Coiro

ANN BAYNES COIRO specializes in 17th-century literature and culture. She is currently completing a book on Milton and drama. Her publications include "Milton & Sons: The Family Business," in a special issue of Milton Studies 2008 devoted to Milton and historicism; "'A thousand fantasies: The Lady and the Masque" forthcoming in The Oxford Handbook of Milton (eds. Nigel Smith and Nicholas McDowell, 2009); "The Dramatic Contexts of Milton's Poetry," in Milton in Context(ed. Stephen Dobranski, 2009); and "Old, New, Now" the introduction to a volume of essays she co-edited with Thomas Fulton entitled, Rethinking Historicism: Essays in Early Modern Literature and Culture (forthcoming).

She is the author of Robert Herrick's "Hesperides" and the Epigram Book Tradition (1988) and editor of Ennobled Numbers for the Presse, a special issue of the George Herbert Journal devoted to Herrick (1992). Among her essays are: "Anonymous Milton, or, A Maske Masked(ELH: English Literary History, 2004); "'A ball of strife': Caroline Poetry and Royal Marriage" (The Royal Image: Representations of Charles I, ed. Thomas N. Corns, 1999); "Fable and Old Song: Samson Agonistesand the Idea of a Poetic Career," (Milton Studies, 1998); "Writing in Service: Sexual Politics and Class Position in the Poetry of Aemelia Lanyer and Ben Jonson," (Criticism, 1993); "Milton and Class Identity: The Publication of Areopagitica and the 1645 Poems"(Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1992); and "'To repair the ruins of our first parents': Of Education and Fallen Adam," (SEL: Studies in English Literature, 1988).

She is the recipient of an American Philosophical Society Sabbatical Fellowship and a New Jersey Governor's Fellowship. She won the Milton Society of America's James Holly Hanford Award for her article "Fable and Old Song: Samson Agonistes and the Idea of a Poetic Career," and she has received Rutgers' Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award and the Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching.