Teaching

Spring 2022

With vaccine and mask requirements in place, I have returned to in-person teaching. Along with my teaching, I advise undergraduate students in our major.

  • Renaissance Drama

This class is perpetually under revision. I dropped Titus Andronicus and The Renegado. I added Cymbeline and kept it at seven plays rather than eight.  As I worked on discussion questions and planned out secondary readings, I realized that while the class is about “unruly subjects” (see below), each play is anchored by women seeking justice.  This suits me just fine.

Fall 2021

I chose to remain online for fall 2021. Decisions were made very early, before we knew if vaccines would be readily available. By Oct of 2021, all students were required to be vaccinated to be on campus. But my class was already underway.

  • Shakespeare Survey

  • Feminist Ethics in Shakespeare

Spring 2021

This semester continued online and continued to be a struggle.  I don’t think that any of us have ever been more tired. Vaccines did give us hope, and as the semester came to an end, all we could do is hope for the best summer we could have.

  • Survey of British Literature: Early Texts to the Eighteenth Century

    “Intersections of Medieval and Early Modern Race & Gender

Undergraduate Major-course

  • Renaissance Drama

    “Shakespeare and his Contemporaries: Unruly Subjects”

    Undergraduate major, elective course.
    While this course remained much the same, I did change some of the plays.  We read: The Tragedy of Mariam (Elizabeth Cary), Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare), Measure for Measure (Shakespeare), The Maid’s Tragedy (Beaumont and Fletcher), The Two Noble Kinsmen (Fletcher and Shakespeare), The Roaring Girl (Middleton and Dekker), Volpone (Jonson), The Renegado (Massinger).  This was a very good group of plays and they worked very well together.

Fall 2020

By the fall, we were fully committed to teaching online for the year. I invested in a new desk and a riser to put my laptop on so I could stand as I taught synchronously.  I did my best to put on my A-game face for students who needed all the energy and light I could give them.  We also spoke honestly with one another about the toll of learning from home, of death, and of loneliness.

  • Survey of British Literature: Early Texts to the Eighteenth Century

    “Intersections of Medieval and Early Modern Race & Gender

Undergraduate Major-course

Broadly focused, this course traces the intersections of race and gender in Medieval and Early Modern texts.  Part of our work will be to think about whiteness as a race and masculinity as a gender, with privilege and influence over the defining characteristics of black and brown people, and women.  In other words, race does not just refer to people of color and gender is not reserved only to women. The time periods this class covers offer us many traditions of literature (romance, drama—comedy and tragedy—epic, poetry and prose) with stories that will feel both remote and familiar.  Our task is not to find universality.  Our task, rather, is to locate the connections of the past to our present time.  What are the histories of race and gender that these texts reveal?  How do they help us understand how we got here?

We examine the change in culture and language from the tales of chivalry and courtly love in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, to the knights and wives of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales; Christine de Pizan’s vision of an ideal female world; the female knight of Spenser’s The Faerie Queene; Shakespeare and Middleton present, respectively, a world of violence and revenge, and a comedy in which the hero is a woman in pants.  Here Shakespeare’s vision of race and gender comes up against Middleton’s suggestion that sometimes a good woman defies gender. Walter Raleigh’s “discovery” of Guiana begins in more obvious ways to form masculine whiteness in contrast to native blackness, to introduce the English people, and more importantly the English Queen, to the riches available to her in Guiana should she decide to take them.  John Milton’s story of the creation of Adam and Eve also informs a construction of Christian exceptionalism that increases the stakes of and defines relations between men and women. We read Aphra Behn’s story of Oroonoko alongside Olauda Equiano’s memoir of his experiences as a slave.  And Mary Astell and Margaret Cavendish provide us with a critique of women’s experiences as women and a vision of utopia, respectively.  The Early Modern period is characterized by religious, social, and political upheaval, as well as the continued expansion of Britain’s imperial project.  Texts are selected to offer examples of several genres, writings by men and women, and about topics on a variety of literary, social, and political perspectives.  Part of our work will be to think about the texts in their time, as reflections of the Medieval and Early Modern status quo in conflict with more rebellious impulses.  In conjunction with our focus on the way that texts and subjects work as agents of rebellion, we will also consider the forms and agents of authority that we encounter in our engagement with the literature of this period.

This course is as much about history, then, as it is about literature.  Designed to give a sense of the trajectory of British literature, English 304 is not meant to provide depth, but rather, is meant to provide breadth.

  • Shakespeare Survey, “Shakespearean Tyrannies”

  • Shakespeare:  Female Bonds

Spring 2020

  • Renaissance Drama

    Upper-level literature

    “Shakespeare and his Contemporaries: Unruly Subjects”

    This course studies the drama of William Shakespeare and his contemporaries to examine how early modern playwrights experimented with theatrical spectacle as a way to engage with, critique, and celebrate their world.  We will examine drama in light of genre, early modern history and culture, and contemporary critical theory.  Comedy, city comedy, tragedy, revenge tragedy, and romance form the backdrop for prostitutes, nuns, warriors, cross-dressers, wives, conmen, revengers, lovers, and tyrants.  We will focus on plays that destabilize and subvert early modern gender binaries and normative sexuality; problematize religious and racial biases; transform acts of revenge and violence into contests between nations and men; turn marital conventions upside down, and interrogate governmental power.  Thus, we will ask what it means to be “unruly”—are all women ruled by men? Are all children ruled by parents? Are all subjects ruled by leaders or kings?  Do gender norms rule gender?  Along with historical and theoretical articles, we will read Measure for Measure (Shakespeare), The Tragedy of Mariam (Elizabeth Cary), Titus Andronicus (Shakespeare), The Revenger’s Tragedy (Middleton and Tourneur), The Two Noble Kinsmen (Fletcher and Shakespeare), The Roaring Girl (Thomas Middleton), The Merry Wives of Windsor (Shakespeare), and Epicoene, or The Silent Woman (Ben Jonson).

    As we now all know, the world ended in March. On the 11th, CUNY faculty were told to go home, develop a way to deliver their classes online and teach from home.  It was an extremely difficult semester as we all struggled with internet problems, wobbly online systems, and death.  In New York City, there was so much death.  Students lost family.  Faculty lost family. We watched in horror as the hospitals overflowed with people whose families might never see them again.  Refrigerated trucks lined up around hospitals. And we all stayed home, except for essential workers, which included store employees who were extremely vulnerable.  We wept. We taught.  And students did their best to stay with it.  And they did. 

Fall 2019

  • Shakespeare Survey: “Shakespearean Tyrannies”

    (see fall 2017)

  • Feminist Ethics in Shakespeare

    Masters-level Seminar

    In this MA-level course I ask students to think about the emergence of a feminist ethics on the early modern stage.  Specifically, I am interested in ethical stands taken by female characters whose acts and points of view are in some sense repulsive but also compelling in light of certain moral questions posed by their plays.  How do such stands retain an ethical force even when they are in conflict with other problematic or even brutal acts committed by the same characters that pose problems of interpretation or reception?  As a class, we will ask whether we can read these characters as parrhesiasts, a term borrowed from The Government of Self and Others by Michel Foucault who studies freedom of speech and questions of sovereignty that I would like to consider in light of the discursive ethics of women in early modern drama.  He considers a form of rhetoric called parrhesia, a term the OED defines in part as “Frankness or boldness of speech.”  Ultimately, Foucault connects rhetorical forms of parrhesia to politics and argues that parrēsia becomes a right of the citizen to correct the sovereign.  We will investigate whether early modern drama stages a parrhesiastic form of citizenship performed by women that allows them to resist domestic and governmental tyranny.  By speaking truth to power, can women emerge as active citizens and speak from a dramatic and political ethical center which is feminist?  If a feminist ethics is concerned about the power of men over women, can feminist forms of parrhesia call attention to structural inequities to which women are subject and by which they become vulnerable?  Can the plays be engaged in what Foucault calls “the dramatics of true discourse” which means that “. . . in the very act of this assertion, one constitutes oneself as the person who tells the truth, who has told the truth, and who recognizes oneself in and as the person who has told the truth” (68)?  And if so, what effect does that have on the plays?  What do the plays become about?  Alongside Shakespeare’s plays (Othello, Measure for Measure, Richard III, All’s Well that Ends Well, and The Merchant of Venice), we read criticism and historical documents from the period. I also added The Tragedy of Mariam, by Elizabeth Tanfield Cary.

    This was one of the most exciting and satisfying class I have taught and the students were fantastic about taking on this topic and struggling through discussions about plays with difficult women.

Fall 2018-19 I was on sabbatical

SPRING 2018

  • Shakespeare Survey:  “Shakespearean Tyrannies”

    (see fall 2017)

  • Topics in Shakespeare: “‘Problem’ Women”

           Upper Level Undergraduate Course

This special topics course focuses on both Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean “problem” women, by which I mean women whose points of view and/or actions are troubling, not precisely in line with early modern standards of appropriate femininity, but, perhaps, also ethically questionable.  However, the plays I have chosen do not only call these women’s actions into question, but they also position women within a space of truth, of justice.  I want to explore, then, how these women are troubling and yet also “right,” within a notion of feminist ethics that claims a kind of citizenship on the part of women.  How do women emerge as citizens even as they commit unethical or violent acts?  In what ways do their acts both defy orthodox views of female weakness of mind by placing themselves in control of their bodies, their minds, and (sometimes) their men, but also somehow fail to elicit sympathy from other characters, audiences, or critics?  What makes a woman “a problem?” (We might even ask, what makes a “nasty woman?”)  How do women make their troublesomeness into agency?  We will grapple with choices women make in response to the circumstances of their lives, choices we may not always admire but which practice a form of parrēsia (or “speaking truth to power”), as discussed by Michele Foucault, that installs a feminist form of citizenship and transforms a play’s ethos.  Plays will include:

I have taken to mixing Shakespearean and non-Shakespearean plays in classes like this, so that students will begin to read and be interested in more than just the plays of William Shakespeare.  Consequently, this class will read All’s Well that Ends Well, Merry Wives of Windsor, The Merchant of Venice, Measure for Measure, Titus Andronicus, with Middleton and Dekker’s The Roaring Girl, and John Webster’s The White Devil.  This mixture worked well when I taught a Renaissance Drama (excluding Shakespeare) course in the spring of 2017.  I did not exclude Shakespeare, and that drew more students to the class.  

  • Shakespeare:  “Female Bonds”

           Masters-level Seminar

This seminar is interested in bonds among women and how those bonds enable moments of action and agency.  Paying attention to female power, often enabled by women’s bonds with women that allow them steadily and increasingly to alter the dramatic direction, energy, and matter of the plays, we will trace the plays’ staging of a discursive shift in the early modern rhetoric on women’s virtue and power.  Attending to narratives about female nature and to women’s attempts to seize control of those narratives, we will consider women’s roles in Shakespeare and in the Renaissance in the sense Emily C. Bartels has suggested is a “middle ground” that “allows women to be actors: to speak out through, rather than against, established postures and make room for self-expression within self-suppressing roles.”  This is a way of reading that accounts for both women’s subjection to masculinist interests in the early modern period as well as for their undeniable activity as writers, queens, wives and mothers in their households, so that “they could be good wives and desiring subjects, obedient and self-assertive, silent and outspoken” (Bartels, “Strategies of Submission,” 419). Thus the class will question assumptions about female powerlessness to find moments of agency taken by women, mostly in defense of or to assist one another.  However, we will also examine how women’s agency in the period is tied to the structures of power that officially demand their subjection.  Excerpts from Judith Butler’s The Psychic Life of Power and Excitable Speech and Michele Foucault’s article on “Parresia” will be central theoretical texts to be read alongside historical and critical work by writers such as Laura Gowing, Bernard Capp, Alexandra Shepard, Diana Henderson, Lisa Jardine, and Anne Coldiron. The course is focused on the extent to which female bonds have an effect on our understandings of the plays and of the complex representations of early modern women’s lives.  Plays include, Merry Wives of Windsor, Troilus and Cressida, Much Ado about Nothing, Othello, Cymbeline, The Winter’s Tale.

Students write a midterm essay based on close reading, a proposal for a research based essay, and a research essay.

FALL 2017

  • “Women, Marriage, and the Law in Early Modern England”

            Undergraduate Honors Seminar

This seminar examines a rhetoric of marital betrayal in documents written by both men and women in which their reciprocal accusations compete for narrative authority over their social and legal standing, familial respect, and financial resources.  Texts will include letters written by Queen Katherine (of Aragon); Queen Anne Boleyn; Elizabeth Stafford Howard, Duchess of Norfolk; Lady Elizabeth Willoughby; and Mistress Elizabeth Bourne (as well as some written by their husbands, brothers, and fathers).  These letters will be read in dialogue with traditional and nontraditional views of women by writers such as Juan Luis Vives, Henry Smith, Jane Anger, and Robert Greene, as well as legal treatises and religious sermons (The Law’s Resolutions of Women’s Rights An Homily Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion and Filmer’s Patriarchia, or The Natural Power of Kings) to round out our understanding of women’s place in the law and the church.  Finally the second half of the course focuses on representations of women, who, like our real women, confront inequities in their relationships with men, by poets and playwrights in the early modern period (William Shakespeare, Philip Sidney, Mary Wroth, Amelia Lanyer, Jane Anger, Elizabeth Cary).

  • Shakespeare Survey:  “Shakespearean Tyrannies”

          Upper Level Undergraduate Course

This class studies the plays as energized by a socio-political and naturalized hierarchy of power descending, as Robert Filmer explains it, from God, to King, to Man:  “If we compare the natural rights of a father with those of a king, we find them all one, without any difference at all, but only in the latitude or extent of them.  As the father over one family so the king as father over many families extends his care to preserve, feed, clothe, instruct, and defend the whole commonwealth.”  An Homilie Against Disobedience and Willful Rebellion agrees, “[God] not onlye ordayned that in families and households the wife shoulde be obedient unto her husbande, the children unto their parentes, the servantes unto their masters, but also, when mankinde increased and spread it selfe more larglie over the worlde, he by his holy worde dyd constitute and ordain in cities and countries severall and speciall governours and rulers, unto whom the residue of his people should be obedient.”  This patrilineal Christian and political order, animated by the rebellion of angels against God, forms the crux of early modern political and domestic theory.  It would appear inviolable, quite seriously not a system that anyone, male or female would want to threaten.  Yet we know it was under constant threat from the political unrest of the Hundred Years’ war, from religious strife throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, from parliament’s growing discontent with King James’s reign and the Civil war that brought an end to his son’s reign, from England’ growing awareness of and contact with the peoples of Africa, Asia and the Americas, and from women’s legal actions that circumvented common law’s apparent stranglehold on women’s legal rights.  Thus the English system of divine right was in constant tension, making one subject’s legitimate monarch another’s tyrant. We examine the plays through the topic of tyranny—marital, sexual, cultural, racial, religious, and political.  Seven of Shakespeare’s plays, a number of documents from the period, and many scholarly essays, address women’s conduct and legal rights, male honor and anxiety, Renaissance conceptions of racial and religious “others,” and absolute monarchy. Plays include, Much Ado about Nothing, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, Othello,  Richard II, Henry V, and The Winter’s Tale.