2020-21 Courses

Note on graduate course numbers and levels:

Please note that each course carries, along with the ENGL which identifies it as an English Department course, a three digit number, the first digit of which describes the general level of the course, as follows:

5 - MA students and U3 undergraduates (usually Honours BAs);

6 - MA and PhD students only;

7 - MA and PhD students only. 

Note on maximum and minimum enrolments for graduate seminars:

Graduate courses are limited to a maximum enrollment of 12 (for 6/700-level courses) or 15 students (for 500-level courses). 500-level courses with an enrollment of fewer than 7 students, and 600- or 700-level courses with an enrollment of fewer than 4 students, will not be offered except in special circumstances.

Note on registration in 500-level courses:

500-level courses are restricted to an enrollment of 15 students and are open to Master's and advanced undergraduate students. B.A. students must receive permission from the instructor before registering for a 500-level course.   As a general rule, M.A. students are permitted to take two courses at the 500-level and Ph.D. students may only exceptionally register for 500-level courses after receiving permission from the Graduate Program Director. But PhD students should certainly not overlook 500-level courses when making their course selections, particularly if the subject matter of a particular course makes a good fit for a PhD student’s research interests. Similarly, an M.A. student who has a good justification for taking a third 500-level seminar should contact the Graduate Program Director to be given permission to register for it.

Please click on the “full course description” link below any of the following course titles to find a detailed description of the course goals, the reading list, and the method of evaluation.

ENGL 500 Middle English

Monsters, Saints and Heroes - the Fantastic in the Middle Ages

Professor Dorothy Bray
Winter 2021
T 8:30-11:30

Full course description

Prerequisite: None.

Expected Student Preparation: some background in English literature, preferably with a bit of medieval literature.

Description: This course aims to examine the idea of the fantastic and the grotesque in some of the most popular forms of literature in the Middle Ages - heroic romances and legends of saints - in the light of medieval heroic tradition, popular culture, and medieval ideas of monstrosity.

The fourteenth-century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, provides a starting point to explore depictions of the grotesque and the discourse of both monstrosity and sanctity. Reading about saints was not confined to the cloister; these stories were read and heard alongside secular tales, both of which could feature demons, dragons and damsels in distress. The fantastic extended to human-animal interaction, the perception of the foreign and exotic (the ‘other’), and certain tropes in both secular and ecclesiastical narratives where virtue must win out (such as the use of prophecy or the plot line of loss and recovery). The questions which are arise are: what was considered monstrous and what was human? What was the divide between humans and animals, humans and monsters? How should we approach the grotesque?

The course includes (but is not confined to) readings from the South English Legendary and other saints’ Lives (such as the legends of St Eustace, St. Margaret, and St George (with that dragon!)); the fantastic pilgrimage in St Patrick’s Purgatory; some popular Middle English romances; the werewolf tale of Bisclavert by Marie de France; the Welsh tales of Arthur and of Merlin; the fictional Letter of Alexander the Great; and the account of Sir John Mandeville, whose travels to the East provided much influential, fantastic fare.


Evaluation: Seminar presentation, 15%; essay, 25%; term paper, 50%; attendance and participation, 10%.

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students.

ENGL 503 18th Century

The Villain-Hero

Professor David Hensley
Winter 2021
T 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Prerequisites: Limited to Honours and MA students (see note below).

Description: This course will contextualize the villain-hero of eighteenth-century English literature in a European tradition of philosophical, religious, and political problems, social criticism, and artistic commentary from the Renaissance to Romanticism. Against the background of representations of the desire for knowledge and power in Elizabethan drama, the anthropology of Caroline political theory, Satanic revolt in Milton, and libertine devilry in Rochester and Restoration plays, we will examine the villain-hero as a figure of persistently fascinating evil power – a power subversively critical as well as characteristically satiric, obscene, and cruel in its skepticism, debauchery, and criminality. The readings will focus especially on two examples of this figure, Faust and Don Juan, whose development we will consider from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century.

TextsThe reading for this course includes the following books, which will be available at The Word Bookstore (469 Milton Street, 514-845-5640). (The list of texts below is tentative and incomplete, to be confirmed in January 2021.)

  • Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince (Norton or Hackett recommended)
  • Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
  • Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Hackett, Oxford, or Penguin recommended)
  • La Rochefoucauld, Maxims and Reflections (Oxford recommended; or Penguin)
  • John Wilmot, second earl of Rochester, Selected Poems (Oxford) or Selected Works (Penguin)
  • William Wycherley, The Country Wife
  • William Congreve, The Way of the World
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust. Part One (Oxford or Norton)
  • Pierre Choderos de Laclos, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Oxford or Penguin)
  • Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, The Story of My Life (Penguin)
  • Lord Byron, Don Juan (Penguin)
  • Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin (Penguin recommended)

Films: Usually one film will be shown each week. Viewing the films is a requirement of the course, and attendance at the screenings is an expected form of participation. Most screening sessions will last about two hours in a supplementary period following the seminar; some films will be longer. (The following list of films is provisional.)

  • Jan Svankmejer, Don Juan (1970) and Faust (1994)
  • Marlowe, Doctor Faustus (Greenwich Theatre, London; Stage on Screen, 2010)
  • F. W. Murnau, Faust (1926)
  • Hector Berlioz, La Damnation de Faust (dir. Sylvain Cambreling, 1999)
  • Charles Gounod, Faust (dir. Antonio Pappano, 2010)
  • Alexandr Sokurov, Faust (2011)
  • Wycherley, The Country Wife (1992); and Congreve, The Way of the World (1997)
  • Stephen Frears, Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
  • Mozart, Don Giovanni (dir. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 1996; and others)
  • Rupert Edwards, The Real Don Giovanni (1996)
  • Benoit Jacquot, Sade (1999)
  • Frederico Fellini, Fellini’s Casanova (1976)
  • Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, Eugene Onegin (dir. Daniel Barenboim, 2007; and others)

Evaluation: A substantial amount of careful reading, a class presentation, and a close analysis of texts both in seminar discussion and in a final 20-page paper will comprise the work in the course. The evaluation of this work will be weighted as follows: paper (60%), presentation (20%), and general participation (20%). Regular attendance is mandatory.

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students.

Note on Enrollment: Permission of the instructor is required. As a rule of thumb, enrollment is limited to 15 MA and advanced undergraduate students (Honours students in their final year have priority). MA and Honours students may register for this course but must confirm their registration with the instructor. All others must consult the instructor before registering. Students who are interested in taking this seminar but cannot register in Minerva should contact Professor Hensley. (Please bear in mind that electronic registration does not constitute the instructor’s permission.)

ENGL 512 Contemporary Studies in Literature and Culture

Contemporary British Theatre

Professor Sean Carney
Fall 2020
T 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Prerequisite: Open to Graduate Students.

Description: The Brexit vote and its aftereffects have turned the world’s eyes towards the United Kingdom and raised pressing questions about British cultural identity and the relationship of “Britishness” to the history of immigration to England.

This course is concerned with representative plays by both established playwrights and the new generation of young dramatists in the United Kingdom. Our particular focus will be the representation of cultural and ethnic diversity in post-Imperial England.

Special attention will also be paid to the “In-Yer-Face” moment of theatre in the mid-1990s (Kane, Ravenhill) as an unorthodox response to the “state-of-the-nation” play and the aftereffects of this theatrical moment on the contemporary UK theatre scene.

We will consider a variety of different dramatic responses to the transformations of British identity in the face of various significant historical events.

Examples of such events include the de-colonization of India, the decline of the British Empire, the increased waves of commonwealth immigration to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s, the Irish Troubles of the 1970s, the dismantling of the Soviet Union following the fall of the Berlin Wall, the siege of Sarajevo and the war in Bosnia, the changing face of terrorism in the post 9/11 and 7/7 era, the financial crisis of 2007-08, globalization, the out-sourcing of labor to India and the growth of transnational capitalism, the “special relationship” between George W. Bush Jr. and Tony Blair, the international proliferation of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, and most recently the (pending) exit of the UK from the European Union.

Texts to be chosen from (tentative):

  • Caryl Churchill, Cloud Nine
  • Brian Friel, Translations
  • David Edgar, Destiny
  • David Edgar, Pentecost
  • Sarah Kane, Blasted
  • David Edgar, Testing the Echo
  • Ayub Khan-Din, East is East
  • Sebastian Barry, The Steward of Christendom
  • Robin Soans, Talking to Terrorists
  • Richard Bean, England People Very Nice
  • Mark Ravenhill, Product, Some Explicit Polaroids
  • Caryl Churchill, Drunk Enough to Say I Love You
  • Anupama Chandrasekhar, Disconnect
  • Jez Butterworth, Jerusalem
  • debbie tucker green, Truth and Reconciliation
  • Phil Davies, Firebird
  • Rory Mullarkey, The Wolf from the Door
  • Caryl Churchill, Escaped Alone
  • Mike Bartlett, Albion
  • Alistair McDowell, Pomona

Seminar presentation with accompanying written component, 20%;
Two ten-page essays, 30% each;
Class participation, 20%.

Instructional Method: Seminar discussions

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students

ENGL 516 Shakespeare

Performing the World: Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Professor Paul Yachnin
Winter 2021
T 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: Members of the “Performing the World” seminar will work together toward a wide-ranging and deep understanding of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. In addition to our central work on the Sonnets themselves, our readings will include selected poetry by Shakespeare’s near-contemporaries (Sidney and Spenser especially) and predecessors(especially Petrarch). We’ll dig into the critical literature, which variously brings forward how the Sonnetsspeak brilliantly to concerns in social politics (including gender, sexuality, religion, and social rank), philosophy (including philosophies of the self, language, knowledge, and natural and human temporality), and the arts (including how poetry lives in the worldand what it is able to do in the world). That extraordinary breadth of address in the Sonnetsthemselves will enable members of the seminar to develop their individual research projects, which will in turn contribute to the shared understanding of how the Sonnetshave become formative new ways of performing the world.

A special feature of the “Performing the World” seminar will be the opportunity for seminar members to meet and workwith the actor and writer Jessica B. Hill. Jessica will share with us her work-in-progress, The Dark Lady, a play that stages an imaginedlove relationship between Shakespeare and AemiliaBassano by bringing the Sonnets intopassionate and brilliant dialogue with Bassano’s Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, the first poem by a Englishwoman to be printed in England.


These texts are available free from Oxford Scholarly Editions Online.

Note that you have to be signed onto the McGill system by VPN to access these texts.

In addition, there are excellent online collections of major sonnet sequences:

Evaluation: Journal 30%; 3-minute presentation 10%; research paper (12-15 pages) 35%; non-academic version of your paper 10%; participation 15%.


Your journal is, first of all, for you to do some thinking by writing at each step of the course. But it is also something you do for marks, so you have to write at least a page (about 350 words) about each week’s readings. Think about writing twelve journal entries in all. You can write about the discussions we’ve had in class, but do undertake to devote most of your thinking by writing about two or three or four unfolding and growing questions and/or ideas that you find particularly important and interesting. Your journal certainly doesn’t have to be formal like an essay. After all, it mostly for you and about your thinking, questioning, arguing. But it’s also going to be read by me, so make it reader-friendly.

From near the start of the course, you’ll be thinking about the research paper that you will want to write. I’ll work with you and provide a sounding board for your ideas. We’ll put on a course conference in the middle of the term. You will have three minutes to present the question and/or argument that you will develop into your research paper. This part of the course is based on the three-minute thesis program, where graduate students compete for prizes in recognition of the clarity, succinctness, value, and appeal of their research. We’ll take the competition out of what we do, but leave in the emphasis on clear, succinct, and engaging accounts of valuable research. We’ll do prep work leading up to the course conference. And note that the presentations will be prerecorded by you on powerpoint with audio.

Research Paper
Your course paper will develop a topic of your own devising. Your work will need to take account of the most important research on the argument you’re developing. What you write does not have to be original work, in the sense that it does not have to be an idea or a view that no one has thought of before. But it does have to be work that you care about, have thought a good deal about, and are keen to share with others. So you could write about the Sonnets as a rethinking of the sexuality of the self, which is not a new idea, but you could do that with new evidence, with thinking that takes previous work further than it was willing or able to go, and with a conclusion that might shift the perspective from which we see the relationship among poetry, sexuality, and selfhood in Shakespeare’s time.

Public Scholarship
Once you’ve completed your course paper, you’ll have one more task. This one is non-traditional, even experimental. You’ll create a version of your paper’s central argument as if for a non-academic audience—people who are intelligent and thoughtful but who have not taken the course and who are not in the academy (though they might have an undergrad education in their past). So think about writing a piece on Shakespeare’s Sonnets for the weekend edition of the Globe and Mail, or The Walrus, or maybe as a script for a Ted Talk. We’ll take a bit of time during the course to look at models for this kind of writing.

Participation requires your vital presence in class. You have to zoom to each class with questions, ideas, puzzlement (which you have to speak about), expressions of joy or grief. It is true. It’s really true: there is no such thing as a stupid question.

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students.

ENGL 525 American Literature

Emergence of the Modern Short Story: Poe, Hawthorne, Melville

Professor Peter Gibian
Winter 2021
M 14:30-17:30

Full course description

Description: Intensive study of short prose fictions and critical essays by Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville, as these foundational authors can be seen to work in dialogue with one another, exploring aesthetic problems and cultural preoccupations crucial to mid-nineteenth-century America at the same time that they break the ground for the emergence of the modern short story—anticipating fundamental developments in form and theme that would become the bases for self-conscious, experimental short fiction produced in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Expected Student Preparation: Previous coursework in American Literature before 1900, or in 19th-century British fiction, or permission of instructor.

Texts (tentative; editions of collected short fiction TBA):

  • Poe, The Selected Writings of Edgar Allan Poe;
  • Hawthorne, Selected Tales and Sketches;
  • Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter;
  • Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor, and Selected Tales or Great Short Works of Herman Melville.

Evaluation (tentative): Participation in seminar discussions, 20%; series of one-page textual analyses, 20%; oral presentation, 20%; final research paper, 40%.

Format: Seminar discussion.

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students.

ENGL 527 Canadian Literature

Four Major Contemporary Canadian Poets: Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Robert Kroetsch, and Karen Solie

Professor Robert Lecker
Winter 2021
R 14:35-17:25

Full course description

Prerequisite: None.

(Note: For English Majors, this course qualifies for the required three credits from a course in Canadian literature)

Description: This course deals with the poetry of four major contemporary Canadian poets: Margaret Atwood, Robert Kroetsch, Michael Ondaatje, and Karen Solie. Through a study of some of their most rewarding and challenging poems, we will explore a number of central issues: perceptions of Canada, modern adaptations of myth, politics and poetry, and the representation of female agency (Atwood); the nature of postmodernism and its relation to our understanding of history, creativity, and place (Kroetsch); the confessional mode and questions about the identity of the modern writer (Ondaatje); eco-feminism and renditions of figurative landscapes transformed through human intervention and climate change (Solie). We will devote approximately three weeks to each poet, focusing on some of their richest works. The course will also explore a variety of reading methods that can be applied to the interpretation of poetry in general. A background in Canadian literature is helpful but not required. Evaluation is based on a series of personal responses to the poetry (the online journal entries); a library research project that will familiarize students with basic research skills; collaborative discussion of particular poems that will focus on developing reading methods; and a final paper that will be geared toward potential publication.

TextsA coursepack will be available containing the required texts.

Evaluation: A series of short, online journal entries (40%); a library research project (15%); participation (15%); final paper (30%).

Format: Weekly seminars, discussion.

Maximum Enrolment: 15 students.

ENGL 530 Literary Forms

Early Modern Sex Differences and Discursive Forms

Professor Kenneth Borris
Fall 2020
W 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: A study of diversities of gender, sexual expression, and sexual affiliation in early modern culture from the later fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, encompassing viragos, prostitutes, sodomites, tribades, sapphists, and hermaphrodites among others, as they were represented within different literary forms, intellectual disciplines, and discourses. My own approach will combine sexual history, literary historicism, and historical formalism, and other approaches are welcome. Surveyed disciplines and discourses will include, with varying degrees of emphasis, medicine and the other former sciences (such as physiognomy and astrology), as well as verbal and visual erotica, theology, philosophy, and law. Our readings of primary sources will also encompass imaginative fictions such as Marlowe’s Edward II, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Milton’s masque Comus, and, in translation, Nicholas Chorier’s Dialogues of Venus and some of Michelangelo’s sonnets, as well as Montaigne’s essay on friendship and Caterina Erauso’s remarkable autobiography. Depending on the size of the seminar, each member will likely do two seminar papers, each in a different part of the term. According to their own particular interests, members will determine their own topics for seminar presentations and hence related discussions, as well as discussion topics in the final period. Insofar as possible, presentations will be grouped in a series of informal “conference sessions” on related matters according to a schedule we will establish at the start of the course, that will fully take into account the scheduling preferences of each member. This format aims to create a diverse, open, and responsive seminar.


  • General Course Reader, Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: A Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650
  • Supplementary Course Reader with various additional readings including Milton’s Comus
  • Marlowe, Edward II (edition is optional)
  • Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (edition is optional)
  • Caterina de Erauso, Memoirs of a Basque Lieutenant Nun (paperback)
    Texts will be available at the Word Bookstore, 469 Milton Street, 514.845.5640.

Evaluation: Two seminar papers, about 9/10 pages of text each (12 point), to count 45% each class attendance and participation, 10%.

Format: Seminar with papers and discussion.

Average Enrolment: 7 to 10 students.

ENGL 540 Literary Theory 1

The Rise of the World Literature Paradigm

Professor Monica Popescu
Fall 2020
M 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: “National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the many national and local literatures, a world literature arises.” This trenchant statement was not issued in the past decade; more than a century and a half earlier, and following in the footsteps of their compatriot Goethe, Marx and Engels made it part of their argument in the “Communist Manifesto.” Yet their call resonates today in the academic world. Since the start of the new millennium countless tomes have been dedicated to asking what is world literature?; how does one read world literature?; how is canon of world literature formed?; what is the relation between the world-system and world-literature?; how does a specific national literature relate to world literature? To these, we will add a few of our own questions to unearth what other models of world literature exist but might have been forgotten by mainstream scholarship. In order to get a better sense of these issues, we will look at paradigms and methodologies from the latter half of the twentieth century that have allowed researchers to transcend a narrow focus on national literatures: Third World literature studies, postcolonial studies, Pan-Africanism, Tricontinentalism, and comparative literature studies. We will engage with contemporary essays and books by Pascale Casanova, David Damrosch, Franco Moretti, The Warwick Research Collective, Maria Khotimsky, Rossen Djagalov, Fredric Jameson, as well as with earlier theorizations by J. W. von Goethe, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Maxim Gorky, as well as within journals like Lotus: Afro-Asian Writings. We will use a couple of novels (for instance Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred years of Solitude.)

Texts: TBA

Evaluation: TBA

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: TBA

ENGL 585 Cultural Studies: Film

Image/ Sound/ Text

Professor Ara Osterweil
Winter 2021
M 14:35-17:25 - Mandatory Weekly Screening: Time TBA

Full course description

Prerequisites: You must be a graduate student OR an undergraduate Honours student to register for this course; in all other cases, you need special permission from the instructor to register.

Expected Student Preparation: Please note that it is both a critical studies seminar AND a creative workshop. Some fluency in critical theory, cultural studies and/or art history is expected. Background in visual art, performance, poetry, dance, or music is encouraged but not required.

Description: This hybrid seminar/workshop is designed to:

1) teach students to create experimental forms of writing and visual media, and

2) to teach students to respond critically and creatively to experimental art and literature.

By focusing on multi-media artworks that incorporate elements of image, sound, and/or text, we shall explore how meaning in contemporary art and culture is often generated across multiple registers. Over the course of the semester, students will be introduced to important examples of experimental film and video, Conceptual art, body art, photography, sculpture, and installation art from the 1960s to the present. In addition to writing critically about these works, students will be asked to experiment with some of the artistic strategies we study in order to create their own self-directed visual art and curatorial projects. In other words, students will not only be expected to discuss, think and write about the works we study, but to create creative projects that respond to them. Occasionally, local and/or international artists will be invited to class to give special seminars and workshops. On other occasions, the class will meet outside of our normal meeting time and place in order to attend contemporary art exhibitions and performances.

Required Films and Artworks

  • Puce Moment (Kenneth Anger, 1949, US)
  • Un Chant d’Amour (Jean Genet, France, 1959)
  • Christmas on Earth (Barbara Rubin, US, 1963)
  • Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, US, 1963)
  • Wavelength (Michael Snow, US, 1967)
  • T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G. (Paul Sharits, US, 1968)
  • Fly (Yoko Ono, US, 1971)
  • (nostalgia) (Hollis Frampton, US, 1971)
  • Theme Song (Vito Acconci, US, 1973)
  • The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (Nan Goldin, US, 1985)
  • Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania (Jonas Mekas, US, 1972)
  • Kitch’s Last Meal (Carolee Schneemann, US, 1973-1976)
  • News from Home (Chantal Akerman, US/ Belgium, 1977)
  • Sans Soleil (Chris Marker, France, 1983)
  • The Blind. At Home (Sophie Calle, France, 1986)
  • Tongues Untied (Marlon Riggs, US, 1989)
  • Blue (Derek Jarman, UK, 1993)
  • From Here I Saw What Happened and Cried (Carrie Mae Weems, 1995-1996)
  • Les Goddesses (Moyra Davey, US, 2011)
  • Love is the Message, The Message is Death (Arthur Jafa, US, 2016)
  • Bird Calls (David Baumflek, Canada, 2018)
  • Altiplano (Malena Szlam, Canada, 2018)

Required Texts:

  • Yoko Ono, Grapefruit
  • Roland Barthes, Camera Obscura
  • Derek Jarman, Chroma
  • Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red
  • Anne Carson, Short Talks
  • Maggie Nelson, Bluets
  • Carol Mavor, Blue Mythologies

Evaluation: Short form writing; experimental slideshow (text + image); video portrait; final video, manuscript, or installation.

Format: Seminar, workshop, student “crit,” and mandatory weekly screening.

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students.

ENGL 607 Middle English Literature

Mixed Audiences: Public and Intellectual in the Later Middle Ages

Professor Michael Van Dussen
Winter 2021
F 14:30-17:30

Full course description

Description: Students in this course will analyze literary texts, dramatic scripts, trial records, and other accounts that comment on or otherwise represent a broadening of social participation in key debates, controversies, and cultural developments in late-medieval England (ca. 1375-1500). During this dynamic period concepts of authorship, communication, textual production, and literate activity were undergoing tremendous change. English was developing quickly as England’s official language, overtaking the use of French and Latin. Heresy and its suppression met with a burgeoning humanist movement, and popular expressions of religious devotion were vibrant and varied. More people were finding it necessary or expedient to navigate legal systems and documents that encroached upon their daily lives. In the second half of the fifteenth century, the new print technology coexisted with a booming manuscript culture. Crucially, all of these developments unfolded in ways that cut across boundaries between Latin and the vernacular, the learned and the lay, the religious and the secular—a fact that was celebrated by some and resisted by others. Intellectual debates that were once relatively confined were now characterized by the concerns and participation of a wider, and mixed, English population.

We will begin in the late fourteenth century, with the serious debates surrounding the controversial Wycliffite reformists, who produced the first full translation of the Bible in English and brought sophisticated theological debates out of the Latinate sphere of the university and into the “streets”. We’ll discuss the Bible translation debate c. 1401, legislation aimed at limiting vernacular activity, and trials or dialogues in which the possibilities and limits of lay participation in these debates were negotiated. In this context we’ll study lay participation in sophisticated scholastic and scientific discourses, as seen in the writings of Chaucer and his contemporaries. We’ll read the Book of Margery Kempe to explore the possibilities for (and limits of) female participation in text-based practices, and to get a sense of how laypeople interacted with books and deployed their learning in their communities. A significant portion of the course will be devoted to medieval drama. We’ll study the work of ambitious playwrights who imagine sophisticated audiences that can navigate doctrinal impasses, complex scriptural treatments, the playful intermingling of sacred and profane, and the possibilities of dramatic form. As part of many of our discussions we will attend to changing concepts of authorship, the mingling of law and vernacular poetry, and the idea of public texts in a manuscript culture. Students will be asked to question received notions that link “public” with print, or which place the formation of a public sphere after (sometimes long after) the fifteenth century. Attention to the materials and circumstances of communication and textual circulation will be central to the course, and some sessions will be spent working with original medieval manuscript and early print material in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections. Most primary texts will be read in the original Middle English, though no previous knowledge of the language is required or assumed. Portions of several classes will be spent developing proficiency in Middle English.

Texts (provisional): 

  • Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales (selections)
  • Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe (with selections from the Showings of Julian of Norwich)
  • Thomas Hoccleve, ‘My Compleinte’ and Other Poems
  • John Lydgate, The Temple of Glas
  • Reginald Pecock (selections from various writings)
  • Medieval drama: the Chester Mystery Cycle, the N-Town Plays, and the Towneley Plays (selections)
  • Readings from the Bible translation debate
  • Select heresy trials and records
  • Weekly readings from secondary scholarship

Evaluation: Short papers (25%); long paper (50%); presentation (10%); participation (15%).

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 12 students.

ENGL 615 Shakespeare

Disability and Shakespeare

Professor Wes Folkerth
Fall 2020
W 8:30-11:30

Full course description

Description: Scholarly attention to the figure of the fool in Shakespeare has tended to focus on the festive licence the fool enjoys in his interactions with other characters. Shakespeare’s “artificial” or “wise” fools derive this licence from their mimicry of “natural” fools—individuals of limited mental capacity who were known in the period by a variety of names such as idiotimbecilemomemoron, and numerous similar epithets still in use today. Broader studies of the fool as a literary and historical type also highlight the figure’s ambivalence, an ambivalence which seems to originate in medieval and early modern attitudes toward individuals with intellectual disabilities. The fool’s very lack of cognitive ability was also considered a positive trait, for such individuals remained impervious to and unaffected by the corruptive effects of social life and manners. What rendered the natural fool special in terms of his relationship to the social environment was his aloofness from it. This positive quality was frequently construed in a religious sense as sacred.

Shakespeare’s fools are a class of character that audiences, readers, and even scholars of today typically have enormous difficulty understanding. In this seminar we will study Shakespeare’s works that represent some of the natural fool’s many guises as a familar social type in early modernity, including The Two Gentlemen of VeronaMuch Ado About NothingHenry the Fourth Part OneA Midsummer Night’s DreamHamletAs You Like ItTwelfth NightAll’s Well That Ends Well, and King Lear. Along the way we will also consider the enduring cultural influence of the humanistic “cult of folly” in the work of Erasmus, as well as early modern accounts of fools in the writings of Robert Armin and Timothy Granger. Recent work on the history of intellectual disability by scholars such as C.F. Goodey and Tim Stainton will provide important context for our efforts as we trace the fool’s connections to other closely-related figures such as clowns, fairy changelings, melancholics, and madmen.

Texts: Specific texts are TBA.

Evaluation: Seminar presentation 35%; long paper 50%; participation 15%.

Format: Seminar.

Average Enrollment: 15 students.

ENGL 620 Studies in Drama and Theatre

Performance Theory

Professor Erin Hurley
Winter 2021
W 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: “Performance” has gained widespread currency as a heuristic device and analytic tool in the humanities and social sciences. From pedestrian business usage (“performance indicators”) to rather more involved literary theories of “performativity,” the metaphor of performance has proven useful to a range of academic disciplines and critical projects. Indeed, in Perform, or else, Jon McKenzie speculates that “performance” will be to 21st century thought what “discipline” was to the 19th.

We will read widely in performance theory from the 1970s to today, beginning with an exploration of the ontology of performance through readings of now-classic texts in performance theory, and engagements with a series of performance art events.

Required texts:
(at McGill Bookstore and on reserve at Mclennan Library)
Laura Levin and Marlis Schweitzer, ed. Performance Studies in Canada. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2017.
Custom coursepack

Evaluation: Presentation (30%), final research paper proposal (15%); final research paper (40%); participation (15%).

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 12 students.

ENGL 661 Seminar in Special Studies

Literary Text Mining

Professor Richard Jean So
Fall 2020
W 14:30-17:30

Students interested in this course should email the instructor, Richard So, at richard.so [at] mcgill.ca a brief message - no more than 200 words – explaining why the student wishes to take the course, particularly how it fits with that student's academic path. The student can also mention any previous training or experience in this field. Include your McGill student ID number in the message. Please email no later than August 21st. Decisions will be made by August 28th.

Full course description

Description: This course provides hands-on training in the use of computers and statistical methods to analyze literature – an approach also known as “literary text mining.” In the past ten years, computational methods to study culture, particularly literary texts, have increasingly moved out of the margins. We’ve seen the publication of a string of important articles in major literary studies journals, and the release of several new monographs. At the same time, we’ve seen an increase in the number of academic positions advertised in the “digital humanities” and “cultural analytics” in English and literature departments. As research in this sub-field expands and improves, the digital humanities and cultural analytics will continue to grow, making larger and more significant interventions into the discipline.

This course means to prepare graduate students in English and literature to perform applied research in the digital humanities. In this seminar, students will learn how to write computer code in Python – a standard computing language used in data science – and the rudiments of statistical methods useful for a data-driven analysis of literary texts. By the end of the course, students will be able to perform simple to intermediate computational and statistical analysis on literary corpora, such as collocations analysis, most distinctive words analysis, and topic modeling. Most of the core “shallow” methods for text analysis, like simple counting, as well as several “deeper” methods, like vector semantics, will be introduced in a live context. We will leverage the availability of a number of free online corpora – for example, a large collection of English-language novels from 1800 to 1923 – to build case studies.

At the same time, the second half of the class will introduce excellent recent examples of digital humanist and cultural analytics research from scholars such as Ted Underwood, Andrew Piper, Lauren Klein, Michael Gavin, and several others. The purpose of this is two-fold: first, to allow students to be aware of the “cutting edge” in this field – the most interesting work that is currently happening – and have an opportunity to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and second, to allow them to replicate existing examples of DH work from the ground-up. With the instructor’s help, we will often reproduce these arguments to see how they work. This then provides a useful template for students to develop their own ideas.

There are no prerequisites for this class. All that is required is a healthy dose of curiosity, open-mindedness, and willingness to learn. It is particularly aimed at literature students who do not think of themselves as “good at math,” or even imagine themselves as averse to “science.” The class will be challenging to students with no background in quantitative research insofar as it will train them in habits of thought somewhat alien to the humanities, such as mathematical logic and algorithmic thinking. But the course will entirely be taught through a humanistic lens, meaning that the instructor will introduce all methods and concepts through literary studies examples and the logic of familiar approaches like close reading. In other words, the course is not a seminar in “computer science”; it is a seminar in humanistic research that ideally will become useful as part of the student’s literary studies toolkit.

Texts (provisional): 

  • Andrew Piper, Enumerations
  • Sarah Allison, Reductive Reading
  • Daniel Shore, Cyberformalism
  • Ted Underwood, Distant Horizons
  • Katherine Bode, A World of Fiction
  • Franco Moretti, Distant Reading
    Other texts to be provided on myCourses.

Evaluation (provisional): Weekly problem sets (50%); final project (25%); attendance and participation (25%).

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 12 students.

ENGL 670 Topics in Cultural Studies

Uncanny Film and Literature

Professor Ned Schantz
Winter 2021
T 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: This course is designed to bring together Literature and Cultural Studies students around the concept of the uncanny—a concept that cuts straight to the troubled heart of narrative media in their definition and practice. The course may also appeal to theoretically minded Drama and Theatre students, since the uncanny haunts the scene of theatricality. Together, we will track far and wide a peculiarly mobile generic constellation: the tradition in which “things are not what they seem,” in which tidy complacencies give way to vast unknown forces, where time is out of joint and the individual character/reader/viewer radically lost. We will provisionally expect the uncanny in three overlapping domains: in social worlds that resist navigation, in natural environments that defy mastery, and in technology that creates its own imperatives.

Note: for the first class meeting all students will read the first three items in the coursepack—Hoffmann, Freud, and Royle, as well as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wall-Paper.”


  • Possible novels include: Linden Hills, Duplex, When We Were Orphans, Fingersmith
  • Possible films include: The Invitation, Blue Velvet, Cure, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Evaluation: Weekly journals 60%; presentations 10%; participation 30%.

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 12 students.

ENGL 680 Canadian Literature

P. K. Page and Her Times

Professor Brian Trehearne
Fall 2020
R 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: Patricia Kathleen Page (1916-2010) is now widely recognized as one of the two or three major Canadian poets before Atwood. She has been studied for her modernism; for her depictions of selfhood, psychology and identity; for her variant of feminism; for the fascinating arc of a creative career that included a prolonged period of creative crisis as a poet and a stunning turn to the production of visual art that receives increasing acclaim and scrutiny; and for her practice of memoir, of particular interest to recent post-colonial scholars who investigate her responses to Brazilian and Mexican periods of residence. Receiving slighter scrutiny are her short fiction and her work as a scriptwriter for the National Film Board of Canada during the Grierson era. Page is currently the subject of an expansive editorial project directed by Zailig Pollock that includes digital reproduction of her complete works in all her chosen arts (The Digital Page) and a series of printed volumes making her selected poems, fiction, memoirs, and visual art available. A graduate seminar spending a full thirteen weeks on close interpretation of Page’s works would be fully justified.

In this course, however, we will also try to position this diverse artist as thoroughly as possible in the contexts that make her legible, whether to readers of her time or to us today. These will include contexts with which the instructor is familiar, such as the sources of her written modernism (Imagism, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden) and of her Canadian modernism; her negotiations with the literary cultures of sentimentalism and impersonality; and her engagement with Surrealism, and especially with the Surrealist women painters with whom she associated during her time in Mexico. Of equal interest will be contexts and “times” with which the instructor is less familiar and which will require fully engaged student investigation and input. These may include the techniques, media, and sources of her visual art; the Sufism that inspired her later works; the Spanish courtly verse form known as the glosa, that would dominate her later poetic career and her impact on younger poets; new technologies for the dissemination of Canadian writing, such as radio, television, and film; the theory and canonization of post-modernism in Canadian writing, by Linda Hutcheon and others, in the 1980s; and Page’s own canonical history, which saw her rise from a period of substantial neglect in the late 1980s and 1990s to her widely recognized eminence today.

As this is the course’s first iteration, it will work partially on a workshop model in which a given week’s discussions give rise to a set of questions that will be assigned for follow-up reports by students to the next week’s seminar. As far as is practicable, the subject matter of those reports and investigations will be suggested by students on an ongoing basis, and the instructor’s role (apart from a necessary evaluation) will be to make sure such impromptu assignments are equally distributed among all participants across the semester. The course is on P.K. Page, and its primary objective will be a thorough knowledge among all seminarists of her works, but the ideal realization of the course will also develop students’ understanding of the variety of cultural and historical contexts within which any such major author of the twentieth century can be studied.


  • the presently available selection of Page’s poetry: Kaleidoscope, ed. Zailig Pollock, The Porcupine’s Quill, 2010
  • as well as her late volume Holograms, Brick Books, 1994
  • one or both memoirs may be assigned: Brazilian Journal, eds. Suzanne Bailey and Christopher Doody, The Porcupine’s Quill, 2011; Mexican Journal, ed. Margaret Steffler, The Porcupine’s Quill, 2015
  • depending on the Fall 2020 status of The Digital Page, the instructor will seek access for seminarists to yet-to-be released materials
  • a course-pack will likely be necessary for access to Page’s fiction and some other writings


  • 25%: Some combination of short research and writing tasks: for example, a two-page report on a given facet or context of Page’s works (e.g. “Women Surrealist Painters”), assigned one week and delivered verbally to the seminar the next week. The mark will assess both the verbal delivery of your report and the discussion it occasioned, a short bibliography you will distribute guiding your peers’ further research, as well as a formal polished document submitted for marking shortly afterward. I presently envision that you will complete two such short assignments in the semester. Given the workshop model of the course, the timing of your assignments may not be knowable in advance;
  • 50%: Major research paper, minimum 20 maximum 25 pp. It will combine close study of a selection of Page’s works and research into the intellectual, historical, cultural, and / or critical contexts you think essential to their study. Your paper’s topic must be proposed and approved at least one month in advance of the due date, at or shortly after the end of term;
  • 25%: Preparedness for and participation in all seminar discussions, including discussion of research and reports presented by your peers. NB: attendance is not relevant to this portion of your evaluation, since at the graduate level it is assumed you will attend every class without exception. A failing grade (below “B”) must be given in this category to those who don’t participate consistently, constructively, and in an informed way in class discussions.

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 8 students.

ENGL 690 Seminar of Special Studies

Aesthetics in an Uneven World

Professor Sandeep Banerjee
Winter 2021
M 11:35-14:25

Full course description

Description: We live in a world that is a coherent whole, intimately connected through structures of capital and supranational political and legal institutions. At the same time, it is also profoundly uneven, manifested not only in the underdevelopment of the Global South but also through the dynamics of core and periphery in metropolitan regions of Euro-America. This course focuses on combined and uneven development to understand how it has shaped – and continues to shape – aesthetic forms and norms in both the metropolitan as well as peripheral regions of the world. Specifically, it will interrogate four formal categories in a global and comparative framework: Realism, Modernism, Irrealism, and the National Allegory. Drawing on literary texts, critical work from literary and cultural studies as well as theory, this seminar will attempt to think through the aesthetics (and politics) of uneven development on a global scale.

Texts: We will study a selection of novels, poems, and short stories by authors such as Rabindranath Tagore, William Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, Mulk Raj Anand, Alejo Carpentier, Jibanananda Das, Toni Morrison, and Arundhati Roy.

Theoretical texts may include essays or extracts from longer works by Gyorgy Lukacs, Theodor Adorno, Raymond Williams, Herbert Marcuse, Gayatri Spivak, Fredric Jameson, Aijaz Ahmad, Benita Parry, Susan Andrade, and Ulka Anjaria.

This is an indicative list. Final texts will be decided in August 2020.

Evaluation: Participation; critical responses (x10); final paper.

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: TBA

ENGL 722 Milton

Professor Maggie Kilgour
Winter 2021
R 11:30-14:30

Full course description

Description: A close reading of Milton’s major poetical works, focusing on Paradise Lost, but beginning with selected early poetry and some prose, and finishing with a brief look at the double volume of Samson Agonistes and Paradise Regain’d. We will trace Milton’s development as a poet and its relation to his political thought, considering especially the relations between poetry, freedom, and change. From Areopagitica on, Milton is a passionate defender of the freedom of the imagination as essential to a democratic society. His God is above all a creator who inspires creativity in others – not only Adam and Eve, but also the poet himself. Paradise Lost has itself has inspired many later responses and reworkings by writers and visual artists, from Dryden’s State of Innocence to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Through critical readings and individual projects we will consider Milton’s pivotal role in the canon and the many myths of Milton, Romantic revolutionary, as well as the source of Bloom’s anxiety of influence.


  • Stella Revard ed, John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009)
  • Barbara Lewalski ed, John Milton: Paradise Lost (Blackwell, 2007)
  • Selections from the prose, on-line
  • Selected criticism

Evaluation (tentative): Book review 10%; editorial exercise 10%; reception project 10%; participation (includes class Prolusion) 20%; final 20 page paper 50 %.

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 15 students.

ENGL 731 19th-Century Studies

Literary Experiments: Science, Technology, and Science Fiction, 1791-1915

Professor Michael Nicholson
Winter 2021
W 14:30-17:30

Full course description

Description: The course will explore the remarkable long nineteenth-century turn to fictional experiments during the era that saw the invention of modern geology, the rise of evolutionary discourse, the origins of science fiction, and the institution of new industrial technologies. Our diverse investigations of the changing relationship between literature and science during the age of empire will encompass mad doctors, reanimated bodies, lost worlds, two-dimensional universes, and artificial people. This course seeks to account for the historical relations between new scientific paradigms, technologies, and theories and laboring-class, feminized, and non-Western bodies.

Instead of understanding the scientific and the literary as separate spheres, however, we will trace their mutual construction and imbrication in the face of increasing disciplinary differentiation. This seminar will thus necessarily reflect on the relationship between scientific and literary forms, interrogating the professionalization of science and rise of the universal discourses of so-called subjectivity and objectivity. While our discussions will encompass the relationship between Victorian debates about vivisection, degeneration, and progress in an increasingly global world, they will also examine prior Romantic concepts of natural history, taxonomic discourse, and deep time.

This seminar will also reevaluate the origins of science fiction and its generic relatives: utopian fiction, adventure fiction, gothic literature, and scientific romance. We will study how these works anticipate present-day insights and interventions in science and technology studies and feminist science studies. These early literary experiments offer visions of what Darko Suvin terms the simultaneous experience of “estrangement and cognition” and what Sherryl Vint terms the imagination of “possible future selves . . . as sites for identification.” These works collectively redefine the borderlines between nature and culture, experimenter and experiment, body and machine, and here and elsewhere. Together, we will attempt to map the contested ground of the nineteenth century’s alternative visions of scientific community and practice, exploring what counts as science and who defines the role of the scientist.


  • Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden (1791)
  • Charlotte Smith, Beachy Head (1807) and selected sonnets
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818), “Roger Dodsworth: The Reanimated Englishman” (1826), and “The Mortal Immortal” (1833)
  • Robert Chambers, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844, selections)
  • Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species (1859)
  • Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870)
  • Sheridan Le Fanu, In a Glass Darkly (1872), including Carmilla
  • Samuel Butler, Erewhon (1872)
  • Edwin Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (1884)
  • Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) and selected stories
  • H. Rider Haggard, She: A History of Adventure (1887)
  • H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895) and The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896)
  • Bram Stoker, Dracula (1897)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World (1912)
  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915) and selected short fiction
  • Selected essays/book chapters from Alan Bewell, Donna Haraway, Gillian Beer, Sherryl Vint, Darko Suvin, Laura Otis, Robert Mitchell, Bruno Latour, Anne K. Mellor, Theresa Kelley, George Levine, Lorraine Daston, Robin Valenza, Kevis Goodman, John Rieder, Alan Richardson, Sandra Harding, Londa Schiebinger, Sander L. Gilman, Jon Klancher, Evelyn Fox Keller, Thomas Kuhn, Ian Duncan, Peter Logan

Evaluation: Participation (15%), reading responses (25%), presentation (10%), seminar paper (50%).

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 12 students.

ENGL 734 Narrative Prose of the 18th Century

Epistolarity: The Novel in Letters from Pamela to “Lady Susan”

Professor Peter Sabor
Fall 2020
T 8:30-11:30

Full course description

Description: Epistolary fiction, in which the narrative is conveyed through an exchange of letters, has ancient and medieval antecedents. This course, however, begins with Pamela (1740), the first (and much the shortest) of Samuel Richardson’s three novels, in which he began to develop the epistolary techniques that he would deploy further in his later fiction. We shall also study two of the earliest, and finest, of the many parodic responses to Pamela: Henry Fielding’s Shamela (1741) and Eliza Haywood’s Anti-Pamela (1741). We shall then turn to three comic novels published in the decade from 1769 to 1778: Frances Brooke’s The History of Emily Montague, set partly in Quebec City and showing the interplay between French, English and Huron communities; Tobias Smollett’s final novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, in which the author experimented with epistolary fiction for the first and only time; and Frances Burney’s dazzling first novel, Evelina, in which she exploits the resources of epistolarity to the fullest, only to abandon it in her three subsequent novels. We shall conclude with three of Jane Austen’s short youthful writings of the 1790s: “Love and Friendship,” “Lesley Castle,” and “Lady Susan.” For all her admiration of Richardson, Austen was acutely conscious of the limitations of epistolary form. After parodying it in her juvenilia, written when she was in her mid-teens, she wrote the novella-length “Lady Susan,” which she completed but did not attempt to publish. In considering why Austen, like Burney, made the move from epistolarity to third-person narration, we shall fulfil part of the course’s principal objective: to examine the various advantages and disadvantages of telling a novel in letters.


  • Samuel Richardson, Pamela, Oxford World’s Classics
  • Henry Fielding, Shamela and Eliza Haywood, Anti-Pamela, Broadview
  • Frances Brooke, The History of Emily Montague
  • Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker, Norton
  • Frances Burney, Evelina, Oxford World’s Classics
  • Jane Austen, Manuscript Works, Broadview

Evaluation: Seminar presentation (30%); term paper (50%); participation (20%).

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: TBA

ENGL 770 Studies in American Literature

Twenty-First-Century American Fiction

Professor Alexander Manshel
Fall 2020
M 14:30-17:30

Full course description

Description: What is contemporary literature? Is it a literary-historical category? An aesthetic one? An empty placeholder? To hear Theodore Martin tell it, “the contemporary has its problems”: historically indeterminate and formally ambiguous, “a moving window” without a proper frame. Students in this course will study a selection of major works from the early twenty-first century, alongside the critics who have grappled with them, in an effort to bring the contemporary—and its problems—into focus. From the so-called “war on terror” to catastrophic climate change, from rapid technological advancement to rampant inequality and the global refugee crisis, this course will work to investigate literary representations of recent history, as well as to situate those representations in longer literary-historical timelines. Paying close attention to issues of form, we will try to identify both what is new—and not so new—about twenty-first-century American fiction. Toward the end of the semester, we will hold a public symposium on contemporary literature, presenting original work, fielding questions from other scholars, and identifying avenues for further research. The final text in the course will be nominated and selected by the seminar.


  • Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
  • Mohsin Hamid, Exit West 
  • Ben Lerner, Leaving the Atocha Station
  • Tao Lin, Taipei
  • Cormac McCarthy, The Road
  • Richard McGuire, Here
  • Ottessa Moshfegh, My Year of Rest and Relaxation
  • Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
  • Philip Roth, The Plot Against America
  • Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
  • Colson Whitehead, Zone One
    Final Text TBD by Student Vote

Evaluation (tentative): Participation (10%); research presentation (20%); conference paper (30%); final paper (40%).

Format: Seminar.

Maximum Enrollment: 12 students.


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