21L.421 | Spring 2008 | Undergraduate


Study Materials

This table lists various papers, Web sites and other resources, organized by topic.

MIT Online Writing and Communication Center Information on MLA form for citation and the MIT style manual.
The Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing Information and writing and citations.
Oxford English Dictionary Available online for MIT community and at many libraries.
Guidelines for citing sources and quotations in your essays (PDF)  
Glossary of Literary and Rhetorical Terms From Jack Lynch, Rutgers University: how you can tell an iamb from a dactyl!
Gale Literary Databases For biographies, bibliographies, and critical summaries. (Provided via site license to MIT community)
LION (Literature Online) For articles (reviews, scholarship, criticism) in literary journals. (Provided via site license to MIT community)
JSTOR Journals Browser Includes journals in psychology, literature, history, and many other disciplines. (Provided via site license to MIT community)
Ancient World
Greek and Roman Comedy (PDF) A brief topic outline.
Bulfinch, Thomas. The Age of Fable (Or, Beauties of Mythology). New York, NY: Review of Reviews Co., 1913. (Download a version of the text from Bartleby.com)  
Forum Romanum Web site with a section on Greek and Roman mythology.
Greek and Roman Comedy From TheatreHistory.com. Selections from the literature on Greek and Roman theater, playwrights, and traditions.
The Nature of the Amazons Images of Amazons on horseback.
Wilson’s Almanac on Dionysus Festivals, worship, images.

Ancient Greek Comedy

Roman Comedy: Plautus

Notes from Prof. Mark Damen’s course Classic Drama and Theatre at Utah State University.
Drunken Satyr–Phallic Art Photo of a Greek vase painting, 6th-century BCE.
William Shakespeare
Folger Shakespeare Library A good place to find out what’s happening in Shakespeare studies, performance, education, and culture today.
Shakespeare and the Book An online exhibit of the First Folio and other Renaissance texts.
Elizabethan Oaths, Curses, and Insults How to make your own Shakespearean insults.
Video: “Tina Fey and the Shrew Tina Fey on Hillary Clinton, declares her inner bitch. From NBC’s Saturday Night Live, February 22, 2008.
Schalkwyk, David. “Love and Service in Twelfth Night and the Sonnets.” Shakespeare Quarterly 56, no.1 (Spring 2005): 76-100, 118. An argument for service as the ground for romantic love.
Marciano, Lisa. “The Serious Comedy of Twelfth Night: Dark did Acticism in Illyria.” Renascence 56, no. 1 (Fall 2003): 3-19. Abstract: “Close scrutiny of the dramas indicates that, beginning as early Love’s Labour’s Lost and continuing in into the romances, Shakespeare’s comic characters repeatedly come face to face with mortality, learn that one must, therefore, live well, and teach others wisdom accordingly. Having a brush with death and urging others to live wisely are staples of Shakespeare’s comedies. Here, Marciano examines reasons behind the dark dimensions that pervade Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.”
Ake, Jami. “Glimpsing a ’lesbian’ Poetics in Twelfth Night.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 43, no. 2 (Spring 2003): 375-394. Abstract: “This essay argues that the interview scene between Olivia and the disguised Viola in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (I.v) offers an often overlooked opportunity to witness the dynamics by which a language of female-female desire emerges from the materials of conventional heteroerotic discourses. Viola’s successful wooing of Olivia in this scene allows us a glimpse of tentative “lesbian” poetics as one female character imagines and articulates the words that will seduce another and inspire her to erotic action.”
Coddon, Karin S. “‘Slander in an Allow’d Fool’: Twelfth Night’s Crisis of the Aristocracy.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 33, no. 2 (Spring 1993): 309-25. Explores the impact of the play’s Malvolio and Feste subplots on the vision of social order at the end of the play.
Ungerer, Gustav. “Prostitution in late Elizabethan London: the case of Mary Newborough.” Medieval and Renaissance Drama in England 15 (2002): 138-223. An argument for a source for Sir Toby’s Mistress Mall.
Jauss, Hans Robert. “The Paradox of the Misanthrope.” Comparative Literature 35, no. 4 (Autumn, 1983): 305-322. A study of comedy of “character” as developed in Molière’s play.
Rudin, Seymour. “Molière and The Misanthrope.” Educational Theater Journal 17, no. 4 (1965): 308-313. A straightforward treatment of the difficulties of evaluating Alceste’s character: virtuous, possibly tragic hero or bitter egotist?
Aphra Behn

Szilagyi, Stephen. “The Sexual Politics of Behn’s Rover: After Patriarchy.” Studies in Philology 95, no. 4 (Fall 1998): 435-455.

Pacheco, Anita. “Rape and the Female Subject in Aphra Behn’s The Rover.” English Literary History 65, no. 2 (1998): 323-345.  
Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain
PBS: Mark Twain Web site for the Ken Burns film with “scrapbook” materials.
Mark Twain in His Times Web site by Stephen Railton, University of Virginia.
American Authors: Mark Twain Compiliation of resources by Dr. Donna Campbell, Washington State University.
Mark Twain House and Museum  
Oscar Wilde
Craft, Christopher. “Alias Bunbury: Desire and Termination in The Importance of Being Earnest.” Representations 31 (1990): 19-45.  
The Decay of Lying: An Observation Wilde’s 1889 essay, presented here in full.
The Victorian Web A fabulous archive.
Theories of Comedy
Aristotle. On Poetics. Translation by Seth Benardete and Michael Davis. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2002, pp. 14-24. ISBN: 9781587310263. Aristotle’s reported theory of comedy compared to tragedy, from a recent translation.
Buy at MIT Press Bakhtin, M.M. “Rabelais in the History of Laughter.” In Rabelais and His World. Translated by Helene Iswolsky. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1971, pp. 66-96. ISBN: 9780262520249. Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975) was one of a group of Russian thinkers (some of whom he mentions here) who were responding to Russian Formalist ideas. Literature, for Bakhtin, is a formal structural system, but also part of the ideological/historical place and movement that produces it. In this excerpt from Chapter One of Rabelais and His World (1941; translated 1965), Bakhtin discusses the medieval feasts and festivals, such as the Feast of Fools and (my favorite) Feast of the Ass. This healing, regenerating “lower body” laughter eventually moves from the marketplace to “great literature”, such as Rabelais’ novel Gargantuan and Pantagruel (1530’s-50’s) where, Bakhtin says, “It became the form of a new free and critical consciousness.” (97) Thus, the social and historical practice is translated to a literary form.
Bergson, Henri. “From Laughter.” In Comedy: Meaning and Form. Edited by Robert W. Corrigan. San Francisco, CA: Chandler Publishing Company, 1965. pp. 471-477. Henri Bergson (1859-1941) was a French philosopher. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1927. This excerpt from his essay on laughter (1900) emphasizes the human, and indeed the socially specific, as necessary to the comic effect. This idea perhaps reveals a connection to his philosophical work, in which reality has to be seen as historical and contingent. You may find his ideas on the mechanical in comedy relevant to the film Modern Times.
Freud, Sigmund. Excerpts from Chapter VI “Jokes, Dreams and the Unconscious” and Chapter VII “Jokes and the Comic.” In Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. Freud Standard ed. Edited by Strachey, et al. London, UK: Hogarth Press, 1975, pp. 171-177, 188-203, and 221-236. ISBN: 9780701200671. Freud devoted an entire book-length study to Jokes (1905). Jokes constitute for Freud a kind of disguise, and thus a kind of interpretation. They share this quality with dreams, and in this way demonstrate their dependence on the unconscious. He distinguishes Jokes from Comedy and Humour, which belong to the preconscious, and do not rely on a compromise with repressed content. These excerpts from chapters VI and VII discuss Jokes, the Comic, and Humour, respectively. Under Humour you will find references to Mark Twain, Don Quixote and Falstaff. Along the way you will also see references to many other works, including Bergson’s.
Meredith, George. “Prelude: A Chapter of Which the Last Page Only is of Any Importance.” In The Egoist (1879). New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1979. ISBN: 9780140430349. George Meredith (1808-1909) was a late Victorian novelist and poet, author of the sonnet sequence Modern Love (1862). This “Prelude” from his novel The Egoist (1879) reveals his cool, gnomic style, which may take getting used to. The subtitle of The Egoist (a 3 volume novel) is “A Comedy in Narrative,” and you may hear the strong, impish narrative voice, deeply associative and loaded with irony. He is not a realist. The “Comic Spirit” in the Prelude condenses critical knowledge, shocks us out of our routine, and aims at all that is rigid and egoistic, via a sense of archaism and surprise (compare Bergson and Freud). In so doing, the Comic Spirit breathes life into a moribund culture. Meredith’s work bears the marks of strong disenchantment of the late Romantic, the crisis of faith. You can compare him with Thomas Hardy, a writer he championed.
NPR Radio Lab segment on Laughter Includes new research on animal studies, evolution, and social theory of laughter.
Using comic theory (PDF) Suggestions on applying comic theory (per the readings) to one’s essay assignments.
Alison Bechdel
Chute, Hillary. “Gothic Revival: Tracing the Roots of Alison Bechdel’s Exhilarating New “tragicomic,” Fun Home.Village Voice, July 4 2006.  
Dykes to Watch Out For Alison Bechdel’s Web site and blog.
Wilsey, Sean. “The Things They Buried.” The New York Times, June 18 2006. Review of Bechdel’s Fun Home.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2008
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments with Examples