Fall 2018


Fictional Criminals for the Serious Minded (55+)

One perennial literary plot tells of a crime premeditated and enacted by an artfully disguised criminal who, after arduous work by a skilled detective, is finally discovered, caught, judged and punished. What light can fiction shed on real-life criminality, deception and identity?

We will compare skilled criminal deception in three well-known fictions and broaden the discussion to include several other novels of transgression. Using the concept of self-fashioning (the use of aliases, false and created selves, deception and fraud), first introduced by Stephen Greenblatt in his analysis of Othello’s Iago, we will seek parallels between fictional criminals and images of current criminality in the media. We will read a crime novel and a play by Shakespeare, view a film and watch the crime news.

Note: This course involves required readings and a movie viewing.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: A model of criminality: Iago of Othello, genius of self fashioning 

We consider a model of self-fashioning by critic Stephen Greenblatt. we ask how and why Iago fashioned and maintained the “honest Iago” image, and how the major characters supported him. What does his skill say about identity and criminality?

Week 2: Iago’s images of Desdemona, Cassio and Othello: a genius of other fashioning.

What is reputation? How do we fashion it? How does Desdemona’s reputation subtly change, and shift in Othello’s mind from ideal wife to deceitful Venetian courtesan? At the end, cornered, caught, facing ultimate and severe punishment with no way out, what does Iago mean when he says, “I never more will speak word”?

Week 3: Film: Murder on the Orient Express:  self fashioning by all on board, including Ratchett/John Cassetti

Is this a serious novel or popular entertainment?  We explore the question of the Lindberg trial and its relation to the novel and film. We consider proof, evidence, self-fashioning, other-fashioning, and a submerged argument for a better justice system.  we look at the detective at work; what is his method, and how does he square with a real detective?   

Week 4: Murder on the Orient Express,  Branagh’s fashioning of Poirot

We consider Poirot as type and antitype. How does he differ from other well-known fictional detectives like Sherlock Holmes, Morse or Marlow? What is he up against with this particular crime? Most of his work seems to be undoing the self-fashioning of all concerned—does he have a method for uncovering the crime?

Week 5: A Dark Adapted Eye,  Ruth Rendell & Barbara Vine

What is the crime in this novel? Can a crime itself be fashioned? Is the novel a criminological study of a social system and its dysfunctions? We explore the deep gender fractures in the justice system and the law of the period. Did they exist only in that period? We look at the critical views. 

Week 6: A Dark Adapted Eye: What is the Basis of Self and Other Fashioning?

We consider the hero as criminal. What does the novel tell us about criminality? What is the relation of the novel to a possible state crime? Finally, in light of our readings, we conduct a summation and evaluation of the Greenblatt theory.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Required reading and viewing:
Any print version of

  • William Shakespeare, Othello
  • Barbara Vine, (Ruth Rendell), A Dark Adapted Eye

These books will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.

Viewing of:

  • Murder on the Orient Express (2017, directed by Kenneth Branagh, novel by Agatha Christie)
  • Any news channel on a crime event

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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