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Ancient and Renaissance Festivity: Its Literary, Dramatic and Social Forms

Semester and Year SP 2018
Course Number IDSEM-UG1729
Section 001
Instructor Susanne Wofford
Days M
Time 2:00 PM - 4:45 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   HUM, PREMOD, EARLY


Open to sophomores and juniors. Same as ENGL-UA 252 004.


This class investigates the role of festive custom and holiday release, and the kinds of performance and literary form that they enable or frustrate, in ancient Greece and Rome, and in Renaissance Europe, with a 20th century postlude. Why does festivity sometimes lead to political revolt and at other times does not? Why does the "carnivalesque" often include festive abuse as well as celebration? We look at theories of festivity and release, at the dionysiac, at the human/animal union in festivity, and at the role of the classical period in shaping Renaissance and even modern ideas of festivity, irony and the festive worship of the gods. We also explore the effect of the Protestant suppression of festive holiday and theatricality in Shakespeare’s England, and at the tensions inherent in festivity between excess and moderation, between the saturnalia and the philosophical symposium. The class begins with classical festivity, with Plato's “Symposium,” Euripides'  The Bacchae , selections from Ovid's  Fasti  and the  Metamorphoses , and Apuleius'  Golden Ass . Readings from the Renaissance include: Rabelais,  Gargantua and Pantagruel ; Shakespeare,  A Midsummer Night’s Dream ,  1 Henry IV, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra,   The Winter’s Tale.  Concluding with carnival practices in the circum-Atlantic world, we take as examples the film  Black Orpheus  ( Orfeu Negro , directed by Marcel Camus), New Orleans carnival and Jazz Funerals, and Paule Marshall’s novel  The Chosen Place, the Timeless People  (1969) in order to see how these older traditions shape modern experience. We will end in 1968 in Greenwich Village with Richard Schechner’s Dionysus in 69.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)