Thursday, May 21, 2009

Brainstorming on Death

Wow, you guys rock!

I love the idea of starting with Pearl, but it would have to be in translation. And a medievel drama is also a GREAT idea!

And the Morte Arthur! YAY! And the Art of Death works! You guys rock my world!

Here's what the brainstorming currently looks like:

--Intro - Starting into Early Modern Death
--Morte Arthur (selection)

--Religion and death: Catholicism and Protestantism, ghosts
-Fox's Book of Martyrs: Gardner and what's his name.
-Greenblatt on ghosts, maybe a guest on reformation stuffs
-Book of Common Prayer/Catholic Liturgy in translation
Sermons, Donne and Andrews? Others?
Donne's Holy Sonnets, some Herbert
Sir Thomas More?
Anne Locke, sonnets?
other psalm translations?
Bunyan? (I haven't read this in YEARS! but it would go with Everyman, if I did)

--Death and dying in the common way- Cressy, Neill
Artes Moriendi--Jeremy Taylor, The Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying, would be a late (1651) example.
Childbirth death (Bradstreet, some others: ideas?)
Children's deaths (Jonson, etc)
Wills and testaments
From the biography of Lady Elizabeth Cary (the part on Falkland's death)
Herrick and Marvell (carpe diem stuffs, mower)
Kubler Ross on grieving? other theory? (Not Freud?)

--Domestic violence and death
Arden? (good for broadsheets!)

--Murder and Mayhem
Art representing battles?
Revenge Tragedy (Spanish Tragedy or Revenger's Tragedy)
Spenser on Ireland?
Scaffold speeches?

MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls
Lucrece? or another text representing pre-Christian suicide? (Lear)
Hamlet or another text that thinks about the possibility of suicide post Christianity (not too much Shakespeare would be good!)

--Funerary monuments, epitaphs, eulogies
Poet's Corner, Shakespeare's gravesite, others?
From the diary of Lady Anne Clifford (the part on dragging her dead Mom around the country)
Donne's famous shroud pic, others?

--Charles I
Descriptions, etc
Milton's explanation

I really like the way that starting with Arthur and ending with Charles sort of rounds things out.

I'd love some help nailing down some more specifics, and also theories on death, grieving, suicide, murder... Maybe some Foucault on punishment?

I'm also thinking about some assignments. I'm thinking about a short assignment that asks students to either go to a cemetary and look at how monuments, etc work, how things are laid out, how families are put together, and so forth, OR, to look at a religious practice (preferably their own) and see how it understands death and helps the survivors through.

Here's what the original write up I had to do last fall (for scheduling stuffs) looked (so I have to try to do enough of that to make sense to the folks who signed up):

This seminar will explore early modern English experiences of and responses to death in a variety of genres, including poetry, drama, narrative, biography, graphic images, and funerary monuments. We'll read sections of David Cressy's Birth, Marriage and Death as well as texts on suicide, murder (including domestic violence), and legal issues.

Students will be required to present on a critical or historical article related to the course, to write a short essay on one of the texts, to find and present on a related early modern text not on the syllabus (through EEBO), and to write a substantial research paper on a topic related to the course.


  1. Doesn't Francis Bacon have an essay on death? That might be helpful. (I could be wrong on both points.)

    Mary Sidney's translation of the psalms might fit well -- and you could talk about Philip's death (which is rather Fisher King-esque).

    It looks like it will be a great class!

  2. Ooo, can I take the course? I'm happy to give a presentation on infanticide, or wife murder, or some such gory stuff :)

    By the way, if you go to the royal historical society bibliography ( and use death as a keyword and time frames, you'll get a whole bunch of works on death. . . other keywords might turn up more. Maybe just for you, but still.

  3. Ooh, is it too late to suggest The Duchess of Malfi? It's got so many big death scenes, and it would tie in awfully well with some of the other items on your list, especially revenge tragedy and the ars moriendi material...

  4. I'll be interested to see how this shapes up.

  5. It's focused on Scotland, but I love Deborah Symond's "Weep Not For Me: Women, Ballads and Infanticide in Early Modern Scotland". I've used it a couple of times with students researching on gender issues or the history of infanticide.

    Also, a few other references from my life-cycle course outline:
    - Ralph Houlbrooke, “Death, church and family in England between the late fifteenth and the early eighteenth centuries” Death, ritual and bereavement (London: Routledge, 1989), 25-42.
    - Dan Beaver, “‘Sown in Dishonour, Raised in Glory’: Death, Ritual and Social Organization in Northern Glouchestershire, 1590-1690” Social History 17 (1992), 389-419.
    - Nigel Llewellyn, “Honour in Life, Death and in the Memory: Funeral Monuments in Early Modern England,” Royal Historical Society Transactions 6:6 (1996), 179-200.

  6. richard12:37 PM

    I just finished teaching a course on East Asian crime fiction, and we began with a review of the development of crime fiction in Britain, France, and the US from things like the Newgate Calendar. That's a little late for your time period, though, isn't it?

  7. This sounds so fascinating! I would be interested in seeing a version of your syllabus once you sort it out.

    I've been wanting to teach a similar class in my field (19th century America), and maybe if I get a t-t job I can.

  8. I know you've got a lot of Donne on there already, but what about The Relic?

  9. very cool course. when you say sermons by donne, i assume you mean the last sermon, sometimes called "death's duell"?