English 9185

Early Modern Food from Shakespeare to Milton

Instructor: Professor M. Bassnett.
Summer Full Course Equivalent.

Today, food reflects ethical, cultural, and spiritual identities, reveals political attitudes, and inspires emotions of both delight and anxiety. But we aren’t the first to be obsessed by food and its discourses. Early modern English writers likewise used the language of nourishment to define religious and national identities, to assert and resist hierarchies of class and gender through practices such as hospitality and gift-giving, and to examine topics such as pleasure, sustainability, and the fear of and desire for the unknown. In looking at food, this class aims to introduce a rich and growing field of research that is open to a wide range of historical, theoretical, and critical exploration. We will take a new look at familiar texts, such as Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, with its final scene of unwitting cannibalism, Ben Jonson’s “Inviting a Friend to Supper,” with its clever negotiations of hospitality, and Milton’s Paradise Lost, with its depiction of a world destroyed by an act of eating. But we will also consider lesser-known material, such as Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies, in which death is likened to a cook, and Anna Trapnel’s Cry of a Stone, which links food refusal to prophecy and political resistance. We will also attempt to bridge the gap between modern and early modern by examining a selection of early modern recipe books and engaging with the theories and practices of historical cooking.