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Fall 2010

'The Mirror of Custom': Comedy and the Arts of Living in Society

Instructors: Thomas Simpson (French & Italian), Francesca Tataranni (Classics), William N. West (English, Classics, and Comparative Studies)

"Comedy," wrote one ancient critic, in a definition that would continue to echo and change to the present moment, "is the imitation of life, the mirror of custom, and the image of truth."  With these words, he suggested that comedy conveys a uniquely human truth by imitating both the life of the individual and the customs of the community within which it was preserved and pursued.  For comedies do not just mirror the forms and ideals of the societies that produce them; instead, they show ways of living within those norms and structures, of reforming them where they fall short and of accommodating oneself to them where one can.

Winter 2011

True Love and Perfect Union: Love, Marriage, and Social Theory

Instructors: Lane Fenrich (History, Gender Studies), Chloe Johnston (Performance Studies), Greg Laski (English), Andrew Warne (History)

This course traces some of the manifold ways in which marriage has occupied a central place in American thinking about the Good Society from the mid eighteenth century to the present. The premise is simple: marital theory was and is social theory. When Americans debated what the ideal marriage should look like, who should be able to enter into (or leave) it, how married and unmarried couples should be treated, and so on, they were also—and usually quite explicitly—expressing deeply held beliefs about citizenship, gender, race, economics, and the future of the Republic. In the process, they created new categories, new modes of expressivity, and new, often far more stratified social hierarchies. This course invites students to think about those relationships from multiple chronological and disciplinary perspectives, to bring the best the humanities have to offer to bear on the question: what is the relation between private life and the public sphere?

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