Course Description

a book on fire

Is reading fiction safe? While picking up the latest bestseller may not seem like a risky venture, the influence of the fictional worlds encountered through literature has been an enduring source of anxiety in the history of Western thought. Defending Society begins with Sir Philip Sidney’s famous early work of literary criticism, Defense of Poesy (1595). We will explore why Sidney and his contemporaries felt that poesy, or fictional writing, needed defending in the first place – who attacks fiction and why? What makes literature dangerous, whom does it threaten, and what were seen as its most alarming aspects? To answer these questions, we will read through controversial texts – and reactions to them – from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century. Our readings draw from works such as Ben Jonson’s comedy, Bartholomew Fair, Eliza Haywood’s novella Fantomina, John Milton’s Areopagitica, and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. 

Students will develop their expertise in written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal (WOVEN) modes of communication through a series of assignments. These projects include two papers, a video essay, a PechaKucha-style presentation, a collaborative web project, and a final portfolio. Throughout, students will practice asking, researching, and answering original questions.