Uwa centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies 2009 elective seminars for mems honours and masters students

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UWA Centre for Medieval

and Early Modern Studies
Semester 1
The Word: Religion, Print and Literacy in the European Reformations
Protestantism is often described as a religion Œof the word‚ and arguably the sixteenth-century Reformation could not have occurred without the invention of the printing press. Nevertheless, in spite of the prohibition on access to the Bible for the laity before the Reformation, and the perception that this period was characterised by widespread illiteracy, late medieval Catholicism was supported by a large body of devotional literature, much of it aimed at a lay audience. In this seminar series, we will examine the relationship between religion and the written word, across the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in both manuscript and print culture. We will consider such themes as medieval and early modern literacy, information control, religious propaganda and polemic and we will investigate the part print played in driving the Protestant reformations in Europe, the evolution of authorial strategies and reader responses, and the power of the new medium as a force for social and religious change.

Performing Revenge: Tragedy, Morality and Wild Justice

Dr Steve Chinna (English and Cultural Studies)

This seminar unit will explore the ongoing resonance of the revenge motif in performance from the Elizabethan/Jacobean period to the present. This will be through an analysis of the themes, forms and conventions of a selection of Revenge Tragedy play and film/video texts.

The body of works labelled as Revenge Tragedy – a label imposed ‘after the event’ – problematise our often neat divisions between tragedy and comedy, raise questions of authorship and ownership, and produce an ongoing debate over the morality of revenge – how much, how soon, how often, and so forth. Students will explore such topics as:

  • What circumstances may lead individual revengers to forego the justice of gods or kings, or whatever powers that be, to enact their own revenge?

  • Beyond the world of the Elizabethan and Jacobean stages and political contexts, where does the concept of revenge sit in the contemporary world?

  • When is revenge justified?

  • What is tragedy? Has the concept of tragedy, or the tragic, become diffused through media overuse, and can our contemporary texts still generate the figure of the tragic protagonist?


Provisionally, the texts to be studied will include The Spanish Tragedy; The Revenger’s Tragedy; The Changeling; The White Devil; The Duchess of Malfi; Women Beware Women; The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, as well as other more contemporary texts which resonate with the themes of the plays studied. Throughout, there will be a strong focus on these texts as performed – revenge in action.

Semester 2
Pleasure and Pain: A Social and Cultural History of Leisure and Recreation, 1700-1900

Dr David Barrie (History)

This seminar series examines long-term trends in leisure and recreation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Students will explore how the upper, middle and lower classes spent their ‘free time’ in pre-industrial society, the impact of industrial expansion on leisure and recreational pastimes, and the relationship between popular activities and economic, social and intellectual developments. Attention will be given to understanding the social construction of leisure and its consequences, initiatives aimed at controlling and regulating popular pastimes, and barriers to leisure and how these were overcome. Key topics include: plebeian culture and popular celebrations; coffee-house/dinning-room culture in Enlightenment society; the contrasting experiences of Georgian and Victorian women; capital punishment and violence as a form of entertainment; the birth of consumer society and the commercialization of leisure; the development of sporting activities; the Victorian underworld; Victorian values and rational recreation; and tourism and the development of seaside towns. The main focus will be on Britain, but international comparisons will be drawn throughout, especially with Australia
Dream and Vision in Medieval Literature

A/Prof Andrew Lynch (English and Cultural Studies)

From its beginnings in late antiquity and developing Christianity, medieval culture was especially rich in literature of dreams and visions. Under the influence of many different scriptural and classical sources, dreams took on a varied and lively significance in the Middle Ages: they could be understood as irrational reflections of psychological states, as a medium for ethical and philosophical teaching, or as inspired insights into otherwise hidden truths, and predictions of the future. Writers used the dream and vision genres to encompass both the earthly and the supernatural, exploring new complexities of consciousness through their symbolic modes. By the high Middle Ages, dreaming and vision were closely associated with the nature of imaginative creation itself, and with the emergence of a new authority for vernacular poetry.
European literature in this tradition offers an excellent introduction to major features of medieval thought and culture, and to some of its most significant narratives, many of which find interesting correlatives in Renaissance, Romantic and modernist representations of dream and poetic vision.
Texts featured in the unit, in part or in whole, will include works such as: The Book of Revelations; The Old English ‘Dream of the Rood’; Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun: The Romance of the Rose; Dante: Inferno; Chaucer: The Parliament of Fowls, The House of Fame; Pearl; Spenser: The Faerie Queene.


Art and Architecture in Seventeenth-Century Southern Europe
A/Prof Richard Read (Architecture, Landscape and Visual Arts)
This seminar deals with the evolution of the Baroque in Italy and Spain and the Modern System of the Arts which it bequeathed to us.
We begin with the academic controversies which raged in Europe towards the end of the Renaissance. Scholars disagree dramatically about the causes of the increasing self-doubt and lack of confidence that overtook Europe and, particularly Catholic culture, towards 1600. Clearly, the Lutheran reformation and the Catholic failure to cope with it played a major part. Changing views of the material world and the unavoidable development of natural science also had an effect. Perhaps most significant was the change in the pattern of trade which slowly deprived Italy of its economic pre-eminence. This doubt was invoked in increasingly elaborated aesthetic theories and artful forms, the very antithesis of the formal consistency of the Renaissance (usually referred to as Mannerism). The Modern System of the Arts entailed the elevation of painting, sculpture and architecture to the status of the liberal arts and according to Kristeller and others was constituted not only by a religious backlash against Protestantism but a political backlash on the part of the aristocracy against the incursions of science and trading prosperity on the part of the rising middle classes.
The remainder of the seminar deals with the resolution between Renaissance formal ideals and Mannerist extremes (which became known as the Baroque). There are almost as many definitions of the Baroque as there are art historians who have written about it. Yet it does seem the work of artists apparently as different as Caravaggio and Poussin may well have underlying preoccupations which distinguished them from their predecessors.

Cancellations may occur at the discretion of the seminar coordinator if the enrolments are considered insufficient

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