Topic: Renaissance Utopias
Section 1: Tuesday and Thursday 2:00-3:15 PM

Professor: Vanessa Rapatz

The Renaissance was a time of exploration and an age of discovery. As European explorers began to navigate new lands and encounter new peoples, writers began to fold these “exotic” experiences into literary texts. They narrated real travel experiences and created fantastical landscapes that reflected social and political dreams of a rapidly changing world as they ventured to guess what might await us at the edges of the map. We will begin this course by reading one of the most famous new world creations, Thomas More’s Utopia (1516). More coined the term “utopia” from Greek roots that translate to both “good land” and “no-place land,” at once summoning to mind an ideal and its impossibility. Using More’s world as our frame, we will read authors including but not limited to Francis Bacon, William Shakespeare, Michele de Montaigne, Margaret Cavendish, and Aphra Behn, as they explore fantastical lands and encounters with monsters, cannibals, Amazons, and more. Throughout the course, we will also consider the legacies of Renaissance Utopias in our own preoccupation with dystopian and apocalyptic landscapes and futures. From movies such as Zombieland and Mad Max: Fury Road to the 2014 reality television series Utopia, as a culture, we are still clearly seeking the elusive “good” land.

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