The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts and Ideas

Wayne A Rebhorn

ProfessorPh.D., 1968, Yale University

Celanese Centennial Professor, Department of English
Wayne A Rebhorn



English, Italian, French, Spanish, and Neo-Latin Renaissance literature; seminal texts in Renaissance rhetoric


CTI 345 • Self And Society In Renais Cul

33150 • Fall 2010
Meets TTH 1100am-1230pm CAL 21
(also listed as LAH 350)


This course aims to introduce students to the civilization of the Renaissance in Europe from Petrarch and Boccaccio in mid-fourteenth century Italy to Molière in mid-seventeenth century France.  Although our primary focus will be on the literature of the period, we will also consider politics, philosophy, and art, as well as social and intellectual history.  Since we cannot hope to do justice to all these subjects or to a period as immense as the Renaissance, we shall focus on two of its central preoccupations, both of which are harbingers of the modern world: first, its notion of a flexible or protean self and of identity as something shaped and manipulated by the individual; and second, its sense of the historical contingency of the social order, of society as something man-made and hence transformable.  Proceeding in chronological order, we will follow the first of these notions in autobiographical writings and in books which aimed to prescribe just how the self should be fashioned.  At the same time, we will also examine the preoccupation of the Renaissance with society in the utopian literature of the period and in a variety of works concerned with the alienation of marginal groups and with social change.  Actually, these two concerns were never really distinct from one another in the minds of Renaissance people, nor were they kept apart in the works we shall read.  Finally, we shall consider the growth of rationalism and absolutism in the course of the period which ultimately led away from the Renaissance and into the Enlightenment.



Among the works we will read will be: generous selections from Boccaccio’s Decameron; Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier; More’s Utopia; Erasmus's Praise of Folly; various works by Machiavelli, including The Prince; the first picaresque novel, Lazarillo de Tormes; portions of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel; some of Montaigne’s Essays; Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus; Shakespeare’s The Tempest; Quevedo’s The Swindler;; and Molière’s Tartuffe. 



Students will write four essays during the course of the semester, determining the topics for those essays on their own.  On two occasions during the semester, students will present their papers orally to the class and then begin class discussion. There will also be frequent reading quizzes during the course of the semester. The final grade will be determined by the essays (80%), the quizzes (10%), and class participation, including the students' presentation of their essays (10%). 

Curriculum Vitae

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