This course will examine in detail four quintessential moments that visibly shaped thought and knowledge in the British Renaissance. We will read a prose fantasy by a leading humanist, poetry that is mired in anxieties of love, politics and science, a play that puts self-doubt and skepticism at the heart of early modernity, and finally two books of an epic that gives aspiration, failure and the exercise of justification a grand lyric. The theme of wanting to know, sometimes more than what is obviously knowable, will underlie our reading and enquiry.
Unit 1: Utopia by Sir Thomas More
Stephen Greenblatt, "At the Table of the Great: More's Self-Fashioning and Self-Cancellation," in Renaissance Self-Fashioning
Quentin Skinner, "Sir Thomas More's 'Utopia' and the language of Renaissance humanism"
Unit 2: “In Defense of Poesie” by Philip Sidney
Selections of sonnets by Petrarch, Spenser, Sidney, Shakespeare, Marvel and Donne
Dolan, Francis E. “Taking the Pencil out of God’s hand: Art, Nature and the Face Painting Debate in Early Modern England”. PMLA 108. 2 (March 1993) 224-239
Unit 3: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Peter Stallybrass, Roger Chartier, J. Franklin Mowery, and Heather Wolfe
“Hamlet’s Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England”
Selections from Kastan, David Scott, Ed. Critical Essays on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. New York: G. K. Hall, 1995.
Unit 4: Book I & 2of Paradise Lost by John Milton
Fish, Stanley. Surprised by Sin Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967.
Guillory, John. "From the Superfluous to the Supernumerary: Reading Gender into Paradise Lost." In Soliciting Interpretation: Literary Theory and Seventeenth-Century English Poetry. Eds Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katherine Eisaman Maus. Chicago and London: Chicago UP, 1990. 68-88.
2 papers (2500 words each)
1 creative response to any one of the texts or themes under discussion (this can be a set of poems, a story, a pamphlet, graphic art, anything at all). Word limit can be negotiated depending on the genre)
1 final paper (3500-4000 words) and conference-style presentation at the end of the semester