This term my graduate class is studying patriarchy in Restoration literature. Here’s our course description:

In History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (2006), historian Judith Bennett reminds us that “Patriarchy might be everywhere, but it is not everywhere the same, and therefore patriarchy, in all its immense variety, is something we need to understand, analyze, and explain.” The question then becomes, how do we historicize patriarchy? Eighteenth-century literature scholar Michael McKeon points out that “to historicize patriarchy requires, among other things, an inquiry into the relationship between the modern systems of sexuality—of sex and gender difference—and class.” This seminar will take up these and other scholars’ work on patriarchy in the seventeenth century to investigate the relationship between the literature of the Restoration period (1660-1689) and changes in class identity, in the construction of the family, in the division of labor between the sexes, in the rhetoric of sexual difference between male and female bodies, and in the “rise” of the ‘heterosexual’/’homosexual’ dialectic that led to a new system of gender and sexual difference. Our aims in this course are to familiarize ourselves with major authors and works of the Restoration, to place these authors and works within a historical context, and to review contemporary scholarship on relationships between literature, patriarchy, gender, and sexuality in the period.

We started by reading portions of Milton’s Paradise Lost, which I really enjoyed reading again. It’s been a few years since I had read any of it. I liked it to so much that I’m thinking about starting my tutorial next quarter with portions of it.

John Dryden After Milton, we read John Dryden’s operatic adaptation of Paradise Lost, The State of Innocence and the Fall of Man, which was never actually performed. It’s a fascinating poem written in heroic couplets, of course.

We had read a couple of critical essays on Milton’s Eve, so we were particularly interested in comparing Dryden’s depictions with Milton’s. I was impressed with my students’ analysis of this adaptation. We ultimately concluded that Dryden (pictured here) seemed more modern in his depiction of Eve. While Milton’s Eve seems to have little real choice, Dryden’s Eve seems much more independent and autonomous.

I really hope at least one of them chooses to write his or her final paper on The State of Innocence. It seems like a fascinating text. If I were currently working on Restoration poetry or drama, I would definitely find a way to slip it into whatever I was working on.

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