John M Webster
The golden age of English poetry, with poems by Shakespeare, Spenser, Sidney, and others; drama by Marlowe and other early rivals to Shakespeare; prose by Sir Thomas More and the great Elizabethan translators.
So, OK. You start off this period with a bunch of guys (yep, guys) writing in Latin, trying to figure out how to teach reading and writing to the boys (and even some girls) of England. Not all that many kids read or write-it's a pretty backwards place. Big yawn.
But somehow, by the end of the century there emerges from all this a writer many believe the greatest England has ever known, William Shakespeare. Moreover, he is surrounded by a crowd of other writers, all trying new things-plays, sonnets, romances, lyrics. It's the Elizabethan age, a place of paradox and literary experiment. It's an age dominated by men, yet ruled by a woman whom many would still say was the most successful monarch England has ever had. In 1588 Elizabeth's tiny navy defeated the Spanish Armada, the most powerful fleet ever to have sailed the renaissance seas-a sign of a place that was going somewhere, you might think. Yet back in London the most successful theatre movement of all time had been chased out of the city by its drama-fearing rulers and forced to set up shop across the river among the prostitutes and pickpockets and bear-baiters! What a place of contrasts!
Everybody knows something about Shakespeare, the single most powerful literary figure of this or perhaps any age. This course will introduce you to the rest of Elizabeth's amazing courtiers and subjects: Christopher Marlowe, Robert Greene and Sir Philip Sidney to begin with, but others as well. We'll also spend a good chunk of time on Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, one of the most remarkable poems ever written, and we'll submerge ourselves for another chunk of time in the bizarre world of Elizabethan love poetry: "When my love tells me she is made of truth, I do believe her, though I know she lies…." So writes Shakespeare in one of his sonnets, and captures in a single line the paradox, the humor and the pathos of being in love. And that's just the beginning.
Student learning goals
Read and interpret Elizabethan age texts actively
Write about the course texts from a historically informed perspective
General method of instruction
Lecture and discussion; small group work
Interest in reading, and no fear of poetry that you won't be willing to defeat!
Class assignments and grading
Reading, of course, and a good deal of writing, much of it low stakes forms of engaging readings and articulating early understandings of assigned texts.
Written work, final portfolio, class participation.