Undergraduate and graduate 500-level courses / Seminars

Note: 500-level courses with an enrollment of fewer than 7 students, and graduate courses with an enrollment of fewer than 4 students will not be given unless warranted by special circumstances.

500-level courses are restricted to an enrolment of 15 students and are open to Master's and advanced undergraduate students. M.A. students are permitted to take two courses at the 500-level. Ph.D. students may not register for 500-level courses.

Permission of instructor required.

Please click on any of the following to read the course description, the reading list, and the evaluation.

ENGL 500 Middle English

Apocalypse and Revelation

Professor Michael Van Dussen
Fall Term 2011
Thursday 11:35 am – 2:25 pm

Full course description

Office: Arts 125

Phone: 514-398-6556

michael.vandussen [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Van Dussen)

Description: The perennial fascination with biblical apocalyptic texts (from the Hebrew and Christian traditions) has long led both to anxiety and eager anticipation of the end times, or "doomsday." In the Middle Ages, these scriptural texts were the subject of rigorous exegetical interpretation, as well as application in literary, mystical, revelatory and prophetic discourses. Apocalyptic texts were mapped onto history, giving rise to ominous predictions about future events. Charismatic visionaries attracted reverence and fear, fame and infamy, at times anxiously proscribed by authorities who feared the impact of their premonitions and influence, and at others canonized as holy men and women.

This course examines a wide variety of literary and visionary treatments of the apocalypse, from the writings of Hildegard of Bingen to John Foxe's Protestant martyrology, which he arranged according to an eschatological scheme. After reading some representative biblical apocalyptic texts, we will explore the often blurry distinctions between prophecy, mysticism, millenarianism, and related categories. We will ask: what are the characteristics of apocalyptic and visionary texts as literary forms? What are the distinctions (or are there distinctions) between "literary," "historical," and "theological" discourses in the context of visionary writing? How were apocalyptic visions and prophecies used to comment on contemporary events? And what relationship does visionary expression have with ecclesiastical and secular authority?

Most course texts will be read in the original Middle English. Prior experience with the language is strongly recommended. I will provide some introduction to the language and a portion of several classes will be devoted to reading, translating and transcribing Middle English passages.

Evaluation (provisional): presentation 5%; in-class translations 10%; mid-term paper 25%; final paper 50%; participation 10%

Texts (Provisional. Some of the texts listed below will be available via MyCourses or online databases. This list is likely to change slightly before the start of the fall term):

  • Apocalyptic Literature: A Reader
  • Apocalyptic Spirituality
  • Foxe, Actes and Monuments
  • Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias
  • Langland, The Vision of Piers Plowman
  • The Plowman's Tale
  • Poems of the Pearl Manuscript
  • Purgatory of St. Patrick [Sir Owain]
  • Select poems by Donne, Herbert, Milton
  • Three Purgatory Poems
  • The Vision of St. Paul

Format: seminar

Average enrollment: 15 students maximum

ENGL 503 Eighteenth Century Jane Austen and the Art of the Novel

Professor Peter Sabor
Winter Term 2012
Wednesday 2:35 – 5:25 pm

Full course description

Office: McLennan Library M5-53B: Burney Centre

Phone: 514-398-1675

Peter.Sabor [at] mcgill.ca (Email Peter Sabor)

Description: This seminar is a study of Jane Austen's six novels, in order of their initial composition (not publication): Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion. Because they were published within a seven-year span, a smooth trajectory from Sense and Sensibility (1811) to Persuasion (1818) is often postulated. But Austen began writing her first three novels in the 1790s, and they respond, often satirically, to Richardsonian, sentimental, and Gothic fiction. The course will seek to investigate the distinctive qualities of the novels conceived in the eighteenth century, as well as those begun some fifteen years later, when Austen turned to Mansfield Park, Emma and Persuasion in the second decade of the nineteenth century. Particular attention will be paid to Austen's own commentary on the art of fiction, both within her novels and in other sources, such as her letters, her "Opinions of Mansfield Park and Emma," and her "Plan of a Novel." We will also study some of Austen's juvenilia, including the astonishingly mature "Love and Freindship," as well as her epistolary novella, Lady Susan, and her final, incomplete novel, Sandition, which differs strikingly from all of her previous fiction.

Evaluation: participation 20%, short paper 20%, term paper 60%


  • Jane Austen, Emma, ed. Kristin Flieger Samuelian, Broadview, 2004
  • -------, Mansfield Park, ed. June Sturrock, Broadview, 2001
  • -------, Love and Freindship, Lady Susan and Other Manuscript Works, ed. Linda Bree, Peter Sabor and Janet Todd, Broadview, 2011
  • -------, Northanger Abbey, ed. Claire Grogan, Broadview, 2nd ed., 2002
  • -------, Persuasion, ed. Linda Bree, Broadview, 1998
  • -------, Pride and Prejudice, ed. Robert Irvine, Broadview, 2002
  • -------, Sense and Sensibility, ed. Kathleen James-Cavan, Broadview, 2001
  • -------, Selected Letters, ed. Vivien Jones, Oxford World's Classics, 2004

Format: Seminar discussion and student presentations

Average enrollment: 15

ENGL 505 Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature

Difficulty in Modern Poetry

Professor Miranda Hickman
Winter Term 2012
Tuesday 08:35 – 11:25 am

Full course description

Office: Arts 140B

Phone: 514-398-6571

miranda.hickman [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Hickman)

Expected student preparation: some familiarity with poetry and twentieth-century literature

Description: In 1921, T. S. Eliot observed, with characteristically suave ambiguity, "it appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult." The next year, Eliot would publish The Waste Land, the landmark poem whose dense allusiveness, cryptic idiom, and formal effects of fragmentation and disjointedness would baffle many readers and forge a link in the public mind between poetic practice that made for readerly "difficulty" and the new "modern" poetry. At that point, the work we now call "modern poetry" was increasingly commanding attention as pioneering work that captured rhythms and sentiments distinctive to the new twentieth century.

The purview of this course is "modern poetry"—experimental poetry emerging from the first half of the twentieth century, now read as a watershed moment in anglophone poetry. A twentieth-century counterpart to the revolutionary juncture associated with the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, it was a time of innovative poetic practice, intense theoretical debate about what poetry could be and do, and bold claims that poetry, if rejuvenated, could make a difference to the wider world. Poets of this era, such as T.S. Eliot, Mina Loy, Ezra Pound, H.D., Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, William Carlos Williams, and Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote out of a cultural climate marked by committed, collaborative work toward the renewal of poetic practice.

Considering poets working 1900-1950 in Britain and North America, the course addresses the manifestoes of this early-twentieth-century climate; original publication contexts in avant-garde little magazines of poetry now positioned as "canonical"; exchanges among poets, critics, editors, and publishers about the new rising effort in poetry—and, above all, the inventive poetic practices of the time that paved the way for how poetry is conceptualized and practiced today. Our approach will be guided by Marjorie Perloff's call in 21st Century Modernisms to revisit with new eyes the poetry from this era that we think we know well, look past received ideas about the modern poets, and rediscover the revolutionary potential in the theory and practice of the time.

As Eliot's comment suggests, one assumption prevalent in this environment was that, to register sensitively the complex modern "civilization," poetry itself (as well as poets, Eliot's enigmatic formulation implies) had to become "difficult." The phrasing of the course title, taken from a Yeats poem, is often used to indicate the era's now signature "fascination" with difficulty. If difficulty exerted "fascination," however, the interest in difficulty played out in a wide variety of poetic conduct—Eliot's oblique and allusive idiom; Moore's collections of curios; Stein's "nonsense"; Auden's irony; Stevens's ludic riddles; Pound's polyglot collages, H. D.'s mythopoetic critiques—and engendered much debate. As we explore responses of the time to the problem of how to reinvigorate poetry, we will especially address poetic strategies read as "difficult"—considering the techniques they involved, the projects they served, their consequences for readerly experience, and the extra-poetic quarrels they accompanied. As we seek new approaches to the field, we will also consider how useful the concept of "difficulty," now so intertwined with the history of modern poetry, is for us today.

Evaluation: 1 brief critical essay (5-6 pp.) (20%); oral presentation (15 mins.) (15%); book review (2-3 pp.) (15 %); final essay (15-17 pp.) (35 %); participation (15%).

Texts: Readings will include work by W.H. Auden, E.E. Cummings, T.S. Eliot, H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), Langston Hughes, Mina Loy, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, P.K. Page, Ezra Pound, Muriel Rukeyser, Gertrude Stein, and Wallace Stevens.

Format: Lecture and Discussion

Average enrollment: 15 students maximum

ENGL 516 Shakespeare

Making Publics in Early Modern England

Professor Paul Yachnin
Fall Term 2011
Wednesday 11:35 am – 2:25 pm

Full course description

Office: Arts 115

Phone: 514-398-6559

paul.yachnin [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Yachnin)

Description: In this course, which grows out of the "Making Publics" (MaPs) project http://makingpublics.mcgill.ca/, we will be interested in how theatrical performances and texts, within the enabling context of a market in cultural goods and in a period of great social and ideological change, gave rise to "publics." When they "make a public," people create a new form of association that allows them to connect with others, not by family affiliation, rank, or vocation, but rather in voluntary communities built on their shared interests, tastes, and desires. By making publics, the cultural producers and consumers of early modern Europe challenged aristocratic prejudices about just who could be a public person and greatly expanded the possibilities for public life for ordinary people in their own time and in ours.

Theatrical publics were one kind of early modern public, the emergence of which across a range of intellectual, artistic, and religious areas of activity amounted to an overall expansion of forms of public expression, identity, self-representation, space, and influence for people usually excluded from public life. The many and various makers of publics in early modern Europe also fundamentally changed the meanings of and relationship between the private and the public.

We will begin our work with a brief consideration of the meaning of the key words and a discussion of the new way of thinking about the social and political dimension of Shakespeare's art represented by the theory of public making. Among the topics that will be central in the course are (1) the nature of Shakespeare's and his age's idea of "the public" and public life; (2) the relationship between the private and the public; (3) the representations of the public, public life, and the private / public binary in Shakespeare's plays; (4) the relationship among rank, gender, and publicness; (5) the changes in the idea and experience of urban space created by the commercial theatre; (6) the transformation of play-texts and performances into "social things," a transformation that includes the extraordinary afterlives of the plays over the long term; and (7) Shakespeare and the languages of public life. The seminar as a whole will include discussion of all of these topics; individual seminar members will develop their research projects in relation to one or two of them.

Among the plays that we will consider are the following: Taming of the Shrew, The Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Richard II, Henry VIII, The Winter's Tale, The Tempest.

In the course of our work, we will read a number of key theorists and critics, including Jürgen Habermas (the leading modern theorist of "the public sphere"; Hannah Arendt (a thinker about public life); Michael Warner and Nancy Fraser (theorists of "publics"); Bruno Latour (creator of Actor-Network Theory); and Michel de Certeau (a thinker about the configuration of space, especially in urban environments).

Evaluation: Three one-page responses 10% (based on best two out of three); Conference paper 25%; Final paper 50%; Participation 15%

Format: seminar discussion

Average enrollment: 15 people maximum

ENGL 527: Canadian Literature

Canadian Modernism

Professor Brian Trehearne
Fall Term 2011
Wednesday 08:35 – 11:25 am

Full course description

Office: Arts 245

Phone: 514-398-6576

brian.trehearne [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Trehearne)

Description: In close study of six to eight exemplary figures, the course will examine the birth, growth, and consolidation of Canadian modernist writing in poetry and the novel from 1920 to 1970. Canadian modernism is currently enjoying a critical renaissance triggered by a recent wave of activity in the scholarly editing and publication of little-known or out-of-print works. As a result, the canon of Canadian modernism is more fluid than ever before, and so is the critical understanding of "modernism" that underpins much of this recent activity. We will read our authors as individuals participating consciously in the global modernist project, and as Canadians fashioning a distinct national course and qualities for that project. In the process, we should gain a sense of global modernism's essential characteristics—of what may and may not rightly be called modernist—as well as of its possible national variations. We will be attentive to the Anglo-American and European sources of Canadian modernism, in particular to T.S. Eliot's ideal of "impersonality" and its eventual supplanting by a newly lyric modernism in the 1950s and to the little-noticed Surrealist vein in Canadian modernist writing. Our final readings will give us an opportunity to reflect on the period and conceptual boundaries of modernism and post-modernism. To the extent made possible by students' prior reading and interests, Canadian writers not on the reading list will be brought in, for instance through seminar presentations, for contrast and comprehension.

Evaluation: A combination, with weighting to be determined, of textual exercises, informational and/or seminar presentations, major research paper (20-25 pages), and participation in class discussion. NB: consistent and informed participation in class discussion is not optional in post-graduate studies and so cannot be in this course. Mere attendance is not relevant to this portion of your grade (typically 25%). A failing grade will be given in this category to those who don't participate consistently, constructively, and in an informed way in class discussions

Texts: The following works / writers will definitely be assigned (date of publication is provided for novels):

  • Buckler, Ernest. The Mountain and the Valley. (1952)
  • Page, P.K. Kaleidoscope [Selected Poems].
  • Smith, A.J.M. The Complete Poems of A.J.M. Smith.
  • Watson, Sheila. The Double Hook. (1959)

Two to four more writers will be selected from the list below:

  • Cohen, Leonard. Beautiful Losers. (1966)
  • Dudek, Louis. Infinite Worlds: Selected Poems.
  • Glassco, John. Selected Poems.
  • Grove, Frederick Philip. The Master of the Mill. (1944)
  • Klein, A.M. The Second Scroll. (1951)
  • ---. Selected Poems.
  • Layton, Irving. Selected Poems 1945-1989: A Wild Peculiar Joy.
  • Livesay, Dorothy. The Self-Completing Tree: Selected Poems.
  • Pratt, E.J. Selected Poems.
  • Scott, F.R. Collected Poems.
  • Smart, Elizabeth. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. (1945)
  • Webb, Phyllis. Selected Poems: The Vision Tree.
  • Wilson, Ethel. The Equations of Love. (1952)

Format: Seminar, with strong emphasis on discussion

Average enrollment: 15 students maximum

ENGL 540 Literary Theory 1

Theories of Fiction

Professor Trevor Ponech
Winter Term 2012
Monday 2:35 – 5:25 pm

Full course description

Office: Arts 370

Phone: 514-398-6595

trevor.ponech [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Ponech)

Description: This seminar will consider some of the main philosophical issues and debates revolving around the concept of fiction. One basic problem we shall tackle is that of the nature of fiction, that is, the puzzle over what facts about the author, audience, or context of reception could identify an utterance or representation as an instance of fiction rather than nonfiction. This general discussion will lead into other, more specialized topics including: fiction's relationship with the imagination; fiction and the emotions; the ontology of fictional characters and entities; and the value of fictional works as vehicles for the transmission and acquisition of knowledge or true belief. Discussion of these issues will be grounded in examples drawn from works of literature, cinema, and theatrical performance.

Evaluation: term paper 80% (5000-6000 words); seminar participation with a written component 20%.

Texts: Gregory Currie, The Nature of Fiction; Amie Thomasson, Fiction and Metaphysics; Kendall Walton, Mimesis and Make-Believe; and a selection of recent articles on the philosophy of fiction

Format: seminar

Average enrollment: 15 students maximum

ENGL 566 Special Studies in Drama

Angels and She-Devils: Women on the Restoration Stage

Professor Fiona Ritchie
Winter Term 2012
Friday 10:35 am – 1:25 pm

Full course description

Office: Arts 325

Phone: 514-398-6583

fiona.ritchie [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Ritchie)

Description: "I come, unknown to any of the rest / To tell you news; I saw the Lady drest; / The Woman playes to day, mistake me not, / No Man in Gown, or Page in Petty-Coat". In December 1660 the first professional female performer was ushered onto the British stage with this titillating prologue. The advent of the actress was the single biggest change to occur in the British theatre of the long 18th century; this course will explore the ways in which the presence of women on stage influenced the drama produced and will analyse the reception of female performers by the theatregoing public. We will examine, for example, the expansion of female roles in adaptations of Shakespeare, the development of "she-tragedy" (a dramatic form which glorified female suffering) and plays which paired actresses as "angels" and "she-devils". Another significant component of the course will be an exploration of the rise of women as playwrights in this period, focusing particularly on their portrayal of female characters. We will seek to determine to what extent the Restoration actress was simply considered an "ornament" to the theatre. Did onstage exploitation of her sexuality preclude her from being taken seriously? Or was she a talented and influential theatre professional? We will also analyse the reception of the female playwright. Did contemporaries view women writing for money as a form of prostitution or were these dramatists accorded the same professional respect as their male contemporaries?

We will cover a variety of representative Restoration plays, as well as some lesser-known works. The course will also survey the social and political context of the Restoration stage, as well as the material conditions of performance. We will at times take a theatre historical approach to the study of the actress and the woman playwright, evaluating such sources as performance records, playhouse accounts, memoirs and theatre criticism, in addition to the play texts themselves. The material will also be approached practically with the opportunity to explore the plays in performance.

Evaluation (tentative): Participation 10%; Performance presentation 30% (previous theatre experience not required); Paper proposal and annotated bibliography 10%; Final paper (15-20 pp.) 50%

Texts: Plays studied may include William Wycherley's The Country Wife (1675), John Dryden and William Davenant's adaptation of Shakespeare's The Tempest (1670), Aphra Behn's The Luckey Chance (1687), Thomas Otway's The Orphan (1680), Nahum Tate's adaptation of Shakespeare's King Lear (1681), Mary Pix's Ibrahim (1698), William Congreve's The Mourning Bride (1697), Delarivier Manley's The Royal Mischief (1696), Nicholas Rowe's Jane Shore (1714). The plays will be provided in a coursepack, along with the secondary readings assigned for each class meeting.

Format: Seminars based on group discussion. We will also use class time to workshop the plays in order to better understand how they functioned in performance in the Restoration theatre. However, no previous theatre experience is required.

Average enrollment: 15 students maximum

ENGL 568 Studies in Dramatic Form

Contemporary Tragedy

Professor Sean Carney
Fall Term 2011
Thursday 3:05 –5:55 pm

Full course description

Office: Arts 360

Phone: 514-398-6597

sean.carney [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Carney)

Description: The critical argument concerning the possibility of tragedy and tragic experience within the condition of postmodernity remains open to debate. On one side, George Steiner's infamous thesis on The Death of Tragedy (1961) stands as the most forceful declaration that the form and its unique content are no longer feasible within a secular, reified society. On the other hand, recent books like Terry Eagleton's Sweet Violence (2003) and Rita Felski's edited collection Rethinking Tragedy (2008) constitute persuasive theoretical resuscitations of tragedy and ask us to consider what tragedy offers to present experience. Whatever their critical positionings, these critics demonstrate that the question of tragedy is vital and animates a vein of contemporary scholarly discourse.

In this course we will study the theory and practice of tragedy, with special attention to the possible appearance of tragedy within postmodernity. We will read theoretical essays drawn from a wide range of critics including, Steiner, Eagleton, Raymond Williams, Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, Martha Nussbaum, Peter Szondi, Charles Segal, Frances Fergusson, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Juliet Mitchell, Jean-Pierre Vernant, G.W.F. Hegel, A.C. Bradley, Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, Sigmund Freud, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Gilles Deleuze. At the same time, we will study contemporary tragedians, particularly those who identify their own work as tragedy and theorize about the concept of the tragic in their work, such as British playwrights Edward Bond and Howard Barker. It is likely that the plays to be studied will be restricted to a national literature, most likely the contemporary United Kingdom.

Evaluation (provisional): Two ten-page essays, worth 30% each = 60%; One seminar presentation: 25%; Seminar Participation: 15%

Texts: A course kit of critical readings and a selection of plays, probably including Edward Bond, Howard Barker, Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Howard Brenton, Timberlake Wertenbaker, David Edgar, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett

Format: seminar discussion

Average enrollment: 15 students

ENGL 587 Theoretical Approaches to Cultural Studies

Memoir and Memory

Professor Berkeley Kaite
Winter Term 2012
Wednesday 2:35 – 5:25 pm

Full course description

Office: Arts 320

Phone: 514-398-6598

Berkeley.kaite [at] mcgill.ca (Email Professor Kaite)

Description: This course is devoted to some contemporary memoirs and autobiographical photography with a view to investigating issues of authority, authenticity, discourse, truth value, memory, silence, confession.  There are many ways to focus a course such as this and a focus is necessary given the historical sweep of the genres and given the current mania for autobiography and memoir writing.  Our literary focus will be on "fathers."  All the books we will read address that issue head-on, and obliquely, and all are written by children about their parents.  Texts are by Kathryn Harrison, Alison Bechdel, Paul Auster, Philip Roth, Bernard Cooper and Shalom Auslander.  The focus of the photographers is on "mothers and children."  We will look at the work of Sally Mann, Annie Leibovitz, Marianne Hirsch and Annette Kuhn.

Evaluation (provisional): Attendance and participation:  20%; Short précis of books and chapters: 60%; Oral presentation: 20%


  • Kathryn Harrison, The Kiss
  • Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
  • Paul Auster, The Invention of Solitude
  • Philip Roth, Patrimony
  • Bernard Cooper, The Bill from my Father
  • Shalom Auslander, Foreskin's Lament

Photography: (selections from)

  • Sally Mann, Immediate Family
  • Annie Leibovitz, A Photographer's Life, 1990-2005
  • Marianne Hirsch, Family Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory
  • Annette Kuhn, Family Secrets: Acts of Memory and Imagination

Format: seminar

Average enrollment: 15 students