The Circle of Stories: Literature and Genre (CANCELLED)

An international summer school (7.5 ECTS, BA and MA-level) at the University of Copenhagen, 5 July to 18 July 2021 (exam deadline 21 July 2021 at 12:00 noon).

Teacher/Coordinator: Brian Russell Graham

Singing the praises of players visiting Elsinore, Polonius, in his verbose way, lists the genres in which the actors excel: “tragedy,/ comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical,/ historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-/ comical-historical-pastoral” (Act II, Scene 2). It has been suggested that in this scene Shakespeare is lightly satirizing our critical thinking about literature in terms of genre, characterized, as it is, by a proliferation of generic categories. But as the Bard would have known all too well, genre provides with an indispensable means of access to literature.

On this course, we will go through a generic arrangement of literature which is comprehensive and therefore represents a complete tour of English literature. We will go through the various phases of the circle of stories, proceeding through gradations involving the subtle differences between romantic comedy and comic romance, tragic romance and romantic tragedy, etc. Focusing on characteristic texts of the different phases, we proceed through the area of romance, moving towards tragic romance, before studying the area of tragic literature itself. From there we proceed towards satire and irony, before, having passed through the phase of comic irony, we emerge in the domain of comedy proper. Such a progression takes us from one of Karen Blixen’s Gothic tales and excerpts from (a modern-English translation of) Beowulf, to Milton’s Adam and Eve before the Fall, from Romeo and Juliet and Milton’s depiction of expulsion from Eden, to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, from Nella Larsen’s Quicksand to Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels, and from The Beggar’s Opera and J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, to some of Blixen’s other Gothic tales.

The course will conclude with a single session dedicated to the literary romance of the Romantic period, where the focus will be on William Blake’s epic poem Milton.

This is an English literature course, but, in connection with its setting in Copenhagen, it has some significant Danish features. Hamlet of course has as its setting Kronborg castle, which we will visit during the course. Less commonly-known, parts of Beowulf take place on the island of Zealand, where Copenhagen is located. In connection with this, we shall visit the beautiful village of Lejre, which may be the location for some of the story. Quicksand is partly set in the capital city in the 1920s – Larsen, the author, lived in Copenhagen for a time. And the main “tour” of literature which structures the course begins and ends with the (originally English-language) Gothic tales of Karen Blixen.

Application deadlines

  • First round: 1 April
  • Second round: 1 June (after availability)