Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies
Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies

Love Gone Wrong: Romance and Religion in Early Modern British Literature

The  Renaissance Institute will be sponsoring a five-week public lecture series on Thursday nights from 630 to 8 PM, from October 1 through October 29. The series focuses on literature and religious conflict in the Renaissance. It is offered in partnership with the Odyssey Program and will meet in the Thompson Conference Center. (Follow the link at the bottom of the page in order to register.) 

"Love Gone Wrong: Romance and Religion in Early Modern British Literature"

An Odyssey Program course for fall 2009

In 1517, an obscure cleric named Martin Luther posted ninety-five theses on the door of the Cathedral of Wittenberg challenging the authority of the Church of Rome. No one — not even Luther himself — could have envisioned how that singular act would change the course of European history, wracking the continent in more than a century of religious controversies, cruel intolerance, and open warfare. In England, King Henry VIII unexpectedly joined forces with the reformers. Known to the Catholic world as Fidei Defensor — "Defender of the Faith" — Henry divorced his Spanish wife Catherine of Aragon in order to pursue the love of the alluring Anne Boleyn, and created the Church of England in the process.

That tragic love story played out upon the stage of Tudor history had many fictional analogues in the courtly and theatrical literature of the time. Members of this course will explore numerous literary treatments of love gone wrong by some of the greatest writers of Tudor and Stuart England in the context of Reformation politics and controversies. These writers reflected in their love stories, and sometimes in their own personal histories, the tensions and violence that followed from the Protestant Reformation.

Our course will begin with Thomas Wyatt's lyric poetry, some of which was thought to have been occasioned by the love affair between Henry and Anne Boleyn. We turn next to Edmund Spenser's epic romance The Faerie Queene, then to John Donne's remarkable Songs and Sonnets. No such course would be complete without William Shakespeare, whose masterworks Othello and The Winter's Tale we shall study next. Finally, we will take up Milton's classical tragedy, Samson Agonistes, which recasts the ancient biblical tale as an epic reminder of England's bloody Civil War and its costs to the people of Britain.

"Love Gone Wrong" will feature lectures by faculty from UT's department of English, as well as experts visiting from other universities. This course is offered in conjunction with the 2010 Literature and Religious Conflict Symposium, presented by the Texas Institute for Literary and Textual Studies (TILTS), and organized by the Renaissance Interest Group of UT's Department of English. Members of this Odyssey course will also be invited to participate in future activities and lectures associated with the upcoming symposium.


Jason Powell (PhD, Oxford University)
"Love and Power at the Court of Henry VIII"

    In 1527, near the middle of Henry VIII's long reign, the English king sought to divorce his aging wife and marry the clever, exotic sister of his former mistress. Her rumored former lover was an ambitious and married 24 year-old named Thomas Wyatt, who then awkwardly fled the court with an embassy to the Italy. He returned later that year (after taking over the embassy, being captured by imperial troops and ransomed by the English king), with a new edition of Italian poetry by Petrarch. The rough, haunting poems he translated and modeled upon Petrarch, some inspired by Anne and the subsequent experience of watching her execution, remade the English poetic tradition and prepared the way for Spenser, Donne and Shakespeare.

Recommended reading: Thomas Wyatt, sonnets and other lyrics

JASON POWELL is Assistant Professor of English at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, the editor of the Oxford University Press Collected Works of Sir Thomas Wyatt (forthcoming), and currently a Donald D. Harrington Faculty Fellow at the University of Texas for the 2009-10 academic year.

Gregory Chaplin (PhD, University of Texas))
"Love’s Martyr: The Heresy of John Donne’s Songs and Sonnets"

    Born into a devout Roman Catholic family that held onto to its prohibited faith despite official persecution, John Donne (1572-1631) struggled to advance himself in the Protestant social order of early modern England. Just at the moment when he had established a promising future, he threw it away for love, running off with the seventeen-year-old niece of his employer, the powerful Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. Composed during this period, his remarkable Songs and Sonnets sparked a poetic revolution: his contemporaries recognized that by casting aside “the lazy seeds of servile imitation” and planting “fresh invention,” he charted a new direction in English poetry. This talk will examine how Donne’s love poems fuse his Catholic heritage with the radical religious impulses of his time to devise a religion of love that allows him to recast the devastating social exile initiated by his secret marriage into a triumph.

Recommended reading: John Donne, selected poems

GREGORY CHAPLIN is an Assistant Professor of British literature at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts, and the co-editor of The Norton Critical Edition of Seventeenth-Century British Poetry.

(3) OCTOBER 15
Eric S. Mallin (PhD, Stanford University)
"Damn'd if he do: Othello and Marriage"

    Othello is black, foreign, probably raised as a Muslim, hyper-articulate, a famed warrior; in other words, he lists as far from an early modern audience's knowledge and experience as dramatic currents allow. But Shakespeare also signals that Othello reaches towards a statistical norm. And what makes him normal, recognizable? He is married. And he loves his wife. But he hates — hates! — his marriage. I shall argue that Othello's specifically religious way of thinking helps to doom his imagined state of wedded bliss, and that the marital institution contains more terrors than any enemy he has faced.

Recommended reading: William Shakespeare, Othello

ERIC S. MALLIN is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas, and the author of Inscribing the Time: Shakespeare and the End of Elizabethan England (California) and Godless Shakespeare (Continuum).

(4) OCTOBER 22
Hannah Chapelle Wojciehowski (PhD, Yale University)
"The paradox of Forgiveness in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale"

     Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale is a story of love gone catastrophically wrong. Leontes, a madly jealous king, wreaks havoc on his marriage and family, his friendships and his court, and his kingdom. The playwright sets up this extreme conflict as a means of exploring the dynamics of reconciliation and forgiveness. We will focus on the play's final scene, one of the most improbable and spellbinding that Shakespeare ever wrote, in order to contemplate the questions that Shakespeare seems to ask:  is forgiveness possible? If so, what are the conditions for its enactment? How does it work? We shall attempt to answer these questions with a little help from the German reformer Martin Luther and from French philosopher Jacques Derrida.

Recommended reading: William Shakespeare, The Winter's Tale

HANNAH CHAPELLE WOJCIEHOWSKI is Associate Professor of English and the author of Old Masters, New Subjects: Early Modern and Poststructuralist Theories of Will (Stanford). She has recently finished a new book entitled The Collective Unbound: Transculturation and Its Metaphors in the Renaissance.

(5) OCTOBER 29
John Rumrich (PhD, University of Virginia)
"Bigots in the Middle"

    The great eighteenth-century critic Samuel Johnson claimed that Milton’s Samson Agonistes is an artistic failure because it lacks a middle. He concludes by insulting readers who nevertheless approve of Milton’s final masterpiece: “this is the tragedy which ignorance has admired, and bigotry applauded.” We will look into the term “bigotry,” used here and elsewhere in critical responses to the tragedy, as a way to better understand the continuing, controversial relevance of a drama whose hero kills himself and thousands of his enemies by destroying a great, symbolic edifice.

Recommended reading
: John Milton, Samson Agonistes

JOHN RUMRICH is Arthur J. Thaman and Wilhelmina Dore Thaman Endowed Professor of English at the University of Texas. His recent publications include The Norton Critical Edition of Seventeenth-Century British Poetry and The Complete Poetry and Essential Prose of John Milton.


The cost for this lecture series is $150. A 20% discount (to $120) is available for UT Austin faculty, staff, and students; Texas Exes members; OLLI members and OLLI wait list; Littlefield Society members; and Odyssey alumni who have taken an Odyssey class in the last two years.

If you are paying by credit card you can register on the secure web site at www.utodyssey.org. Registration by phone can be made at 512-471-2934. For full details see the Fall 2009 course bulletin at http://www.utexas.edu/ce/tcc/files/forms/ODY_Fall_09_Brochure_14.pdf.

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