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English- EN 203/FE 133: Tradition and Change in Literature: Ars Amatoria: Love, Society, and Literature

Block 1: Steven Hayward

Block 2: Katherine Carlstrom


This two-block course fulfills the Critical Perspectives: West in Time requirement.

In this class we’ll be discussing the theoretical, historical, and literary knowledge of love as it as it has been understood in the West. We begin with basic concepts of love as articulated in classical antiquity and the Bible and from there we move forward, through the elaborations of the concept of love in Shakespeare and afterwards, the prides and the prejudices of Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters, the sufferings of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary amidst Romanticism and industrialism in the nineteenth century, right up to present day versions of the idea we see elaborated in the film "Love Actually.” 

Throughout the class, poems, plays, short stories, novels, and films provide the lenses through which we consider our subject. In so doing, we will be addressing many of the key issues that have preoccupied literary, art, and cultural criticism in the late twentieth century: aesthetic value and judgment, the social contexts of cultural practice, the role of intellectuals and artists, and the structures of literary and artistic authority. Our perspective here will also be thoroughly comparative: how does one see love in the sixteenth century as opposed to the twenty-first century? Are medieval lovers different from postmodern lovers? What are we talking about when we talk about love?  

This last question—what are we talking about when we talk about love?—is one that we will take with utmost seriousness. The goal of this class is to introduce discussion and encourage exploration of the technical, theoretical, and philosophical choices artists make when representing the vicissitudes and the merits of love; to see how these choices relate to the history of literary form and reflect cultural and historical particularity; and, finally, to allow students to study these choices through hands-on practice by undertaking to write about love themselves.

In practical terms, the class will equip you with the tools you’ll need to begin your career as a literary critic and a writer at CC. You’ll explore how to read, interpret, and write about literature. You’ll learn the specific techniques involved in performing a “close reading” of a literary text, and you’ll read and learn to identify a variety of poetic, dramatic, and other literary forms as well as become familiar with the terms poets and critics use to discuss the way a poem works: figurative language, sound patterns, rhetorical structures.  You’ll also develop your skills in scanning poems.  These include recognizing rhyme schemes, identifying a variety of meters and metrical feet, and being able to discuss the effects of substitutions within the syntax of the line and sentence in a poem.

We’ll also be reading a good deal of drama—Shakespeare, principally—and will discuss dramatic structure and the specificity of the dramatic medium. You’ll also learn about research methods and what constitutes a successful approach to a research project. We’ll talk about how sources are to be cited, but we’ll also confront thorny questions of how to think critically about your sources, how to employ them most effectively within a critical essay, and how to surface relevant materials in a research landscape that is changing on a daily basis.

Finally, we’ll also have several opportunities during the course to discuss the process of literary production with professional poets and novelists who will visit the class on a regular basis. In addition to filling your West in Time requirement (WIT), our class will provide students with an opportunity to experiment with different forms of writing and learn about what constitutes effective and powerful writing in a multiplicity of genres. A great introduction to CC for lovers of language, literature, and writing!

A two-block course with two instructors; one grade will be given for the course as a whole.


  • Possible field trip to attend a play. Will have two field trips for a breaking bread meal at the Hayward house.
  • Class will spend one night at the cabin.