Engl 308: 17th-Century Literature: “Ghosts and Mediums”
Ghost: a materialized apparition of the dead. An insubstantial image. An undead thought.
Medium: 1. Something, such as an intermediate course of action that occupies a position or represents a condition midway between extremes. 2. An intervening substance through which something else is transmitted or carried on. 3. the intervening substance through which sensory impressions are conveyed or physical forces are transmitted.
In this course we will trace the impressions of ghosts and mediums in 17th-century British literature, media, and thought. We will, of course, tarry with real ghosts: revengeful witches, the floating heads of murdered kings, and the spirits and icons that beckon to those teetering between life and death in plague-bed.
But we will also take liberties with the term and channel hauntings of violent political revolution; the dissolution of kingship into the apparition of a chaotic Commonwealth; and the wild images of a new science that saw ghostly worlds under a microscope.
Mediums will assist us. We will look at the words, objects, and images that serve as intervening substances between the ethereal and the real/Real. We will also look at the material of the go-between: the newspaper and broadside; the stage; the scrawled on, coffee-soaked personal manuscript, circulated again and again through pubs and coffeehouses like a tweeted meme. And we will look at these media/ums using digital tools and archives that give us augmented perspectives (Ex. The English Broadside Ballad Archive; Mapping Early Modern London; Connected Histories; Locating London’s Past; London Lives Google Corpus; ArchBook). In good measure, we will conjure some critical and theoretical work — from Walter Benjamin and Kathleen Biddick on the ghosts and angels of history to Zombie Philosophy.
Literature (possible): Margaret Cavendish; Milton; John Donne, Andrew Marvell; Aphra Behn and Restoration Comedy; Revenge Tragedy; witchcraft literature; one bastardized re-make of Shakespeare for the Big Stage; and some contemporary films.
The final section of this course will allow students to construct their own project, with possibilities for creative/critical making and research, and/or work on a media artifact or model of media archaeology. We will look at how alternative histories impact our investments in how we “do” history.
Cromwell and King Charles, Delaroche
Frontispiece from Thomas Creech’s On The Nature of Things (1695)