We will explore how Shakespeare and his contemporaries viewed literature
itself. What was its moral function? What were the goals of literary
representation? The hierarchy of the genres? The relationship between
literature and religion? Truth and history? We will read Sir Philip Sidney's
Defense of Poetry in detail and Spenser's complaint of the court's neglect
of poetry in one of the poems of his epochal Shepherds Calendar.
Sidney, Defense of Poesie (RE 125-7, 136-49); Spenser, "October," (RE
The Soul and the Invasion of English Tragedy:
We will investigate the changing conception of the soul in late medieval
theology and the contestation of that vision in emergent Calvinist
Protestant theology by examining the late medieval morality play Everyman.
Almost all English drama before the Elizabethans is spiritual and Christian
and spiritual; it either treats the history of salvation in Miracle Plays
recounting the narratives of the Bible or else it treats the soul's struggle
for salvation in the morality plays. By comparing Everyman with Marlow's
greatest work, Dr. Faustus, we will examine the origins of tragedy and
especially of the soliloquy by tracing how the personified abstractions of
the morality plays are interiorized in soliloquy.
Marlowe, Dr. Faustus
Father and Son: The Tragedy of Revenge:
Revenge, Sir Francis Bacon said, was "a kind of wild justice," and in
revenge tragedy the Elizabethans staged the struggle between justice and
power. We shall learn the conventions of the genre, conventions that
Shakespeare shatters in Hamlet by staging a conflict between vengeance and
Christina conscience: "Vengeance is mine, I shall revenge, saith the Lord."
Kyd, Spanish Tragedy
Male and Female: The Courtly Tradition:
We shall trace the introduction of the sonnet form and of Petrarch's
influential representation of love as spiritual ordeal, beginning with
Thomas Wyatt's responses to sexual politics at the court of Henry VIII,
proceeding to the beginnings of the sonnet craze with Sidney's sequence,
Astrophel and Stella, and then studying in detail the creating of poetic
subjectivity in Shakespeare's Sonnets and Donne's Songs and Sonnets.
Petrarch (handout); Wyatt (RE 116-22); Surrey (RE 122-5);
Sydney, Astrophel and Stella (RE 130-6); Spenser, Faerie Queene,
II.xii, III.vi, xii
Shakespeare, Sonnets (RE 416-7, 427-38 and handouts)
Donne, Elegies and Songs and Sonnets (RE 515-9, 520-44)
Sex and Violence: Domestic Tragedy:
shall read an anonymous playwright's account of an actual murder in 1551 of
a man at the hands of his wife and her lover to study how the Elizabethans
saw predatory sexuality and its relation to social mobility and then read
Shakespeare's representation of the sexual Other in Othello.
Arden of Faversham, Heywood, A Woman Killed with
||Sex and Gender: Romantic Comedy:
shall study the struggle between generations, between reason and desire,
between patriarchal law and regenerative nature in one of Shakespeare's
festive comedies, Twelfth Night.
Dekker, Shoemaker's Holiday
||Hollander and Kermode, Renaissance England
(Oxford) [RE]; Kyd, Spanish Tragedy (Norton); Shakespeare, Hamlet,
Othello (Arden/Thomson); Arden of Faversham (Norton); Heywood,
Woman Killed with Kindness (Norton); Dekker, Shoemaker's Holiday
(Norton); Shakespeare, Twelfth Night (Oxford).