LAWRENCE — Before the 17th century, to be “happy” meant one was lucky. But from the 1600s onward, happiness meant what it means today: enjoyment and contentment. A visiting scholar of two prominent 17th century writers will explore this transformation of happiness in a guest lecture at the University of Kansas.
Where did this definition of happiness come from? How did being happy become so central to the emotional life of so many human beings that it would eventually be listed as an “inalienable right” in the United States’ Declaration of Independence? How did happiness change from a relationship with fortune to a relationship with one’s self and situation? These questions will be the basis of the annual Richard W. Gunn Memorial Lecture in the Department of English, presented this year by Katherine Eggert, professor of English at the University of Colorado-Boulder.
Her lecture, “How to Be Happy in Shakespeare and Hobbes,” will explore how two important writers from the 17th century, William Shakespeare and Thomas Hobbes, experimented with the emerging new meanings of happiness. The invention of happiness, she will argue, had as much to do with cognition and thought as it did with emotion and feeling.
The lecture will take place at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Malott Room of the Kansas Union.
An expert in English Renaissance literature and culture, Eggert is the author of “Showing Like a Queen: Female Authority and Literary Experiment in Spenser, Shakespeare, and Milton.” This book explores the interrelations of gender, sexuality, power, genre and imagination in literature produced in response to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Her most recent book, “Disknowledge: Literature, Alchemy, and the End of Humanism in Renaissance England,” discusses the way early modern English authors relate the dubious intellectual status of alchemy to states of mind in which one knows something isn’t true but believes it anyway. A recipient of year-long fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Folger Shakespeare Library, Eggert has served as chair of the Department of English at the University of Colorado-Boulder and as the vice president and president of the International Spenser Society.
The Gunn Lecture was endowed by the late Richard W. Gunn, brother of James Gunn, KU professor emeritus of English and director of the Center for the Study of Science Fiction.
The Department of English is part of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The College is the heart of KU, educating the most students, producing the most research and collaborating with nearly every entity at KU. The College is home to more than 50 departments, programs and centers, as well as the School of the Arts, School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures, and School of Public Affairs & Administration.