ENLG 200-D Festival, Piety and Revelation

ENGL 200-D: Festival, Piety, and Revelation
Professor Betsy Burow-Flak


The festival year of holidays and seasonal celebrations has informed a great deal of literature in English, from the New Year’s gift-giving and subsequent holiday celebrations in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Boxing Day rituals enacted in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to the reflections on festivals of the church year in the poetry of John Donne, George Herbert, Christina Rosetti, and T.S.Eliot.  So, too, has the practice of piety been central in English literature, from the pilgrimage that gives occasion for the Canterbury Tales to the motivations—sometimes genuine, sometimes suspect—for characters from Sir Gawain and Shakespeare’s aptly named Malvolio to the protagonists in various Canterbury Tales and
subsequent fiction or drama. A sense of revelation, as well, often (but not always) religiously or supernaturally defined, infuses a wealth of English literature, particularly in the fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charlotte Brontë, Flannery O’Connor, Patricia Hampl, and Carol Bly, but also in works by
James Joyce, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Raymond Carver, Alice Walker, Bich Minh, Jhumpa Lahiri, Louise Erdrich, and Anchee Min.  Contemporary non-fiction as well, such as that by humorists Garrison Keillor and David Sedaris, often makes reference to religion in the fabric of its observations.
 
In the course, in addition to reading works by the aforementioned authors, we will discuss theories of Carnival vs. Lent, the changing definitions of Christian sacraments in England’s history, religious observances such as the Corpus Christi celebrations and Passion plays, controversies over Catholic and traditional Celtic celebration in Shakespeare’s England, anti and philo-Semitism in England, and various literary forms and traditions, including heroic quest romances, allegory, conventions of courtly love, festive comedy, sonnet sequences, metaphysical poetry, literary epiphany, and more.  The frame of reference for most of the works is Christian, but not exclusively.  You do not need to be a person of faith to take the course; the works of literature are rich on multiple levels and together form the basis for a compelling introduction to literary studies.Assignments will include two formal papers, frequent research or interpretive blog postings on

Blackboard, occasional presentation of those postings to the class, and a midterm and a final exam.